Samsung and Verizon are introducing the first 5G smartphone to the US, the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G. A participation trophy should go to the Moto Z3, which is a 4G smartphone that you can clip a 5G backpack onto, but if you’re looking for a fully self-contained 5G phone, the S10 5G is the first. Today, the S10 5G is out exclusively on Verizon, and it can be picked up for an astounding starting price of $1,300.
As the first 5G phone, the Galaxy S10 5G lets us put our assumptions about first-generation 5G hardware to the test. Last year, when Qualcomm announced its 5G chips, we expected the first 5G hardware to be big and power-hungry, and the S10 5G seems in line with that theory. To start, the S10 5G isn’t a normal Galaxy S10 with an extra 5G modem, it’s a fourth size class of the Galaxy S10 (after the S10e, S10, and S10+). It’s essentially an S10++.
The bigger size is most likely required to fit all of the extra hardware needed to make 5G work, which consists of a separate 5G chip and around four extra 5G antenna modules. Since Samsung needed to super-size the Galaxy S10, it might as well have thrown in a gigantic 6.7-inch display, a bigger 4500mAh battery, a fourth rear camera (this one is a depth sensor), and a front 3D sensor.
The Galaxy S10 5G appears to be made with significantly less metal than the regular Galaxy S10. The metal band that surrounds the S10 is a lot thinner on the 5G version, to the point where it is too thin to house the volume and power buttons and needs to expand to fit them. Now, instead of mostly metal sides, the 5G version has mostly glass sides, which should allow for better 5G reception. 5G mmWave signals have very poor penetration, to the point where even your hand can block the signal. To get around this shortcoming, Qualcomm has recommended putting mmWave modules in the sides of a phone, so the top, bottom, left, and right house an antenna chip. An antenna layout like this would explain the lack of metal on the sides, since that metal would block the mmWave antennas from receiving a signal.
A whopping 1Gbps speed test
— George L. Koroneos (@GLKCreative) May 16, 2019
Verizon is, of course, out in full force promoting the wonders of 5G and how it will revolutionize everything. Verizon’s Public relations manager, George L. Koroneos, showed off a pretty impressive speed test on Twitter with the S10 5G. The phone hit over 1Gbps download on Verizon’s network, with a ping of 27ms.
Koroneos’ demo was using Verizon’s Chicago 5G network, but keep in mind that 5G coverage is extremely limited. Verizon’s 5G coverage is currently only in Chicago and Minneapolis, and even then, it is only in specific locations. Koroneos notes the speed test was taken “in front of my hotel,” so you would probably also need to be in front of Koroneos’ hotel to replicate his speed test. 5G coverage is more accurately measured in addresses rather than blocks or cities right now, and most of the time, it’s hard to find a signal at all, even if you are in a “5G city.”
5G mmWave will also probably never progress beyond cities. T-Mobile has said that 5G mmWave “will never materially scale beyond small pockets of 5G hotspots in dense urban environments,” and Verizon has cited economic concerns as limiting its 5G rollout.
That’s still not going to stop the advertising push for 5G, regardless of how limited coverage is and how compromised the phone design is. With smartphone sales declining, 5G represents a new opportunity for companies to sell people on upgrading—whether or not you can get a signal is a minor concern.