About Samsung Galaxy S8
Phones have become a little stale. Whether it’s an iPhone 7, Huawei P10, Sony Xperia XZ Premium or any other flagship phone, they all look and feel the same. But just when I thought a phone couldn’t surprise and delight me any more, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has proved me wrong.
From the moment I picked up the S8 – and its larger, 6.2-inch sibling the Galaxy S8+ – I realised it was even more special than I expected. This is a phone that feels innovative, a phone that I can’t help but recommend – price in China only $319.
Nothing comes close to the Galaxy S8 design-wise. It’s the best-looking phone I’ve ever seen, leaving every other handset trailing in its wake.
The curved rear, as seen on the Galaxy S7, nestles perfectly in your palm, while the glass shimmers as the light hits it. The device is available in three colours – a dark black, bright silver and a grey with a blueish tinge – with no ugly white front plate in sight.
My review unit is the black option, and it’s properly black all over, with shiny sides that blend into the display. It feels like one complete piece, with the glass, screen and metal combining all together.
The volume rocker and standby switch are joined by a new button on the side. This is a dedicated Bixby button – which I’ll cover in more detail in the Software section – and while it shows Samsung is taking its new virtual assistant seriously, it feels too much for Bixby to have its own button.
The S8 is thin and incredibly light at 155g, but it feels sturdy and precisely made. The last time Samsung opted for a huge change of direction with its flagship, many of the basic features were lost in the transition. Thankfully, this isn’t the case here. A microSD slot continues to sit tucked away with the nano-SIM, the criminally underrated Qi wireless charging is also present, and the device is IP68 water- and dust-resistant too, so it will survive a dunk in water for 30 minutes to depths of 1.5 metres.
Samsung has also retained the headphone jack; I’d be very surprised to hear that anyone thinks that’s a bad idea. Apple’s decision to remove a physical headphone connection looked like it might signal the demise of the 3.5mm jack, but Samsung has gone in the other direction, by including a pair of very good AKG wired buds in the box.
Like the recently launched LG G6, the front of the Samsung Galaxy S8 is almost all screen – and it’s this that really makes the S8 stand out. Unlike with the G6, though, the display here melts into the sturdy metal rim.
It’s a much subtler curve than on the Galaxy S7 Edge; far more like the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 in fact, which makes it a lot easier to use. Accidental touches were common on older Edge phones, with your hand hitting the screen when you were just holding the device, but I haven’t experienced this with the S8. There’s still a bit of extra reflection on this portion of the screen, but it’s a small trade-off for such an eye-catching look.
As with any phone, though, not everything is perfect. Having such a big display and tiny bezel means there’s no room for the fingerprint-sensing Home button to sit on the front.
Instead, it’s on the back, next to the camera, and I hate it more every time I use it. First, it’s tiny, meaning those times I actually hit it, it doesn’t recognise my finger. But its real issue is the positioning; it’s so unintuitive. You have to wiggle your finger around the camera – which, incidentally, throws up a message on opening the app to remind you to clean dirty smudges of the lens – and guess where the scanner is?
I don’t understand why it isn’t at the centre, as it is every other phone that has a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner. I suspect Samsung wanted to build it into the display, but just ran out of time.
I’m also not convinced about how well this phone will hold up after months and years of use. The addition of Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back should offer a little more protection, but I’ve ended up with both a cracked Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S7 after drops onto carpet from barely 2ft high. Hopefully, things will be different with the Galaxy S8 – but it feels like a delicate phone.
The strange position of the fingerprint scanner
The phone is also prone to showing fingerprints, but that’s par for the course with this amount of glass and shiny metal. I’d go with the Midnight Grey colour option if you’re really averse to smudges.
Not only has Samsung crafted what is, in my opinion, the best-looking phone out there, but it’s slapped on the finest display too. Although, when you consider that Samsung has demonstrated the best screen tech for a number of years, this isn’t really a surprise.
There’s more to the display than just the curves. First, it has a new aspect ratio of 18.5:9, rather than 16:9. This means it’s taller, essentially giving you more space in a body that isn’t that much bigger than that of the S7. While the Galaxy S7 had a 5.1-inch display, the S8 bumps that to 5.8.
It sounds huge, but the phone itself is compact and Samsung is keen to point out that it can still be used comfortably in one hand. I wouldn’t say that you can do quite ‘everything’ with one hand – especially reaching to pull down the notification tray – but this is far from a phablet.
The 5.8-inch display size is in some ways deceiving, however. Don’t pick up this phone thinking it will have the same size of screen as the Nexus 6P or HTC U Ultra in a much smaller body. This is a tall screen and it’s bigger than the S7, but it’s much narrower than proper phablets. Width-wise, it’s barely wider than an iPhone 7 and noticeably narrower than the Pixel XL.
Like the majority of Samsung phones, the panel is AMOLED and has a slightly odd quad-HD+ 2960 x 1440 resolution. It’s also ‘Mobile HDR Premium’ certified, so you’ll be able to stream HDR (high dynamic range) shows from Amazon Prime and Netflix when those apps are updated. Arguably, HDR is the most important evolution in TV tech is recent years, offering better contrast and a brighter picture.
Colours are gloriously vivid, but it manages to avoid oversaturating brighter shades while still displaying the deepest black. Like the iPhone 7, it covers the DCI-P3 cinema-grade colour gamut for a much wider spectrum of colours, and in certain situations, the brightness can break the 1000-nit barrier. Considering most phones, including the LG G6, only go up to about 650 nits, this is seriously impressive stuff. In fact, this screen is so bright that I can keep it on 25% brightness and it’s perfectly visible indoors.
In a move that’s surely to try to stretch out the fairly small 3000mAh battery, when you unbox your Galaxy S8 it will be set to display at 1080p rather than quad-HD. Most people probably won’t notice the difference – and that’s fine. But I’d suggest hopping into Settings and switching things up. Downscaling can leave some apps with oddly big fonts and a softer look on texts and icons.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the best phone out there for media binging, and I’ve started picking it up instead of my iPad when I want to watch something on the go. There’s a clever mode called ‘Video Enhancer’, which boosts the contrast and brightness in certain apps – Netflix, Prime Video, YouTube and so on – to give a pseudo-HDR effect. I wouldn’t recommend keeping it on all the time, due to the increased battery drain, but it does make a fantastic display even better.
Under the stunning body is a serious amount of power, although where you live in the world will determine the SoC (system-on-chip) at the heart of the device. Brits, and those in Europe and Asia, will get Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 chipset, while folk in the USA will get a device with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.
Whichever CPU you end up with is unlikely to make a huge difference on performance. But considering I’ve so far used only the Exynos version, I can’t say too much about the 835.
Both are the fastest CPUs out there, built using a 10nm production process for improved efficiency. There’s 4GB of RAM – any more is basically pointless for a phone at this stage – and it has a roomy 64GB of internal storage with support for up to 256GB microSD cards.
During my time with the Galaxy S8, I can’t say that it’s been noticeably faster than a Snapdragon 821 device such as the Pixel XL or LG G6. However, the latest processors do add in a few features that are aiming to future-proof devices such as this.
There’s Gigabit LTE support, better battery life relative to the cell used, and the ability for quicker charging. Having more power also makes it possible to enlist DeX, Samsung’s way of turning the S8 into a mini-computer that can be plugged into an HDMI monitor.
Another future-looking feature is Bluetooth 5.0, which you won’t be able to take advantage of fully until relevant devices with it are released. But, for now at least, you can finally pair two Bluetooth-enabled devices to the S8 at once and play music through both of them.
Games run as you’d expect from a flagship phone running the latest GPUs – the Mali G71 for the Exynos model and the Adreno 540 for the Snapdragon; they load quickly and play without any dropped frames. However, there hasn’t been a huge jump in the quality and power needed to run these intensive games since the Galaxy S7 arrived. DeX will be a real test of the phone’s power, but I haven’t had much time to test this yet.
There’s a bigger gap in performance in synthetic benchmark tests, where the Galaxy S8 scores 2013 in the Geekbench 4’s single-core test and 6659 in the multi-core version. That’s on a par with results from a test Snapdragon 835, and slightly above phones running the Kirin 960, which scores 1935 and 6237 in the same tests.
I would have liked to have seen better single-core scores, since the majority of daily tasks utilise only this. The iPhone remains at the top in this category, with its 3434 single-core score.
In the AnTuTu benchmark, which tests everything from 3D performance to RAM speeds, the S8’s 173,292 score is among the best. Notably, its 70,546 score in the 3D gaming tests put it above the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6, which both scored 60,000.
Unfortunately, speakers still don’t appear to be a priority for Samsung – the downward-facing one here is terrible. It’s easy to block with your hand when you’re watching landscape video, and the sound itself is tinny and distorted at higher volumes. With the diminishing bezel, it’s likely that speakers will continue to get worse. Phone-call quality is fine, as is Wi-Fi performance, but neither is revolutionary or better than what you’d experience on much cheaper phones.
The Galaxy S8 is a fast handset – but I increasingly expect that, rather than being surprised by it. The chip-makers are advancing much faster than the apps for these flagships, and it does feel as though much of the power available here is probably wasted.
Software used to be one of Samsung’s weaknesses, and although far from being one of the company’s strengths in the S8, improvements are clear to see.
In fact, the software layer on top of Android 7.0 is good-looking and functional. Icons are more mature, and the on-screen buttons – a first for a Samsung S-series phone – are angular and edgy. I’m particularly a fan of the haptic feedback you get when you push the virtual home button, which can be accessed even when the display is off.
The stark white colour scheme is clean and crisp, and all of Samsung’s native apps have adapted that look. Google Assistant is on board, although there’s no Daydream support, since that sort of clashes with the newly updated Gear VR and its snazzy motion controller.
The biggest software addition for the Galaxy S8 is Bixby, Samsung’s rival to Siri – and it’s probably the biggest disappointment, too. This digital personal assistant pops up everywhere, plus there’s a dedicated Bixby button on the side, so you don’t need to call out an awkward phrase to get it going. The thing is, it feels half-baked and not quite ready yet.
The left-most homescreen is Bixby’s home – but mostly, it just mimics Google Now. It will throw up some news, maybe a reminder to ring Mum, and push some funny YouTube videos, but we’ve seen this all before. You can’t even talk to Bixby yet, which appears to be a basic omission – and when it finally does arrive later in the spring, it will be limited to US English and Korean.
Bixby does have one redeeming feature. In the camera app, it will let you snap a picture of an item and use the AI to either find similar items, or get you a link to buy it. Again, this isn’t new, but at least there’s some use there.
Bixby feels like multiple different features thrown together, each of which is already part of Android. Maybe in the future it will improve, but for now there’s a handy option to turn it off.
Another new software feature is ‘DeX’. I like to think of this as ‘Microsoft Continuum, if it wasn’t terrible’.
Like Continuum, DeX requires a sold-separately dock that connects to an HDMI-equipped monitor and turns your Galaxy S8 into a mini-PC. The dock also has power, two USB-A ports and an Ethernet connector, along with a smattering of fans in the base to keep the phone from becoming too hot.
If you connect the phone via the USB-C port inside the cradle, a new desktop – which looks a lot like Windows 10 – pops up. Your apps are displayed in a very familiar layout and there’s a software dock along the bottom that lets you access all the phone and text functions of the phone.
What makes this so much better than Continuum is app support. Apps are resizable and bounce between phone and tablet versions depending on how much you stretch them, and you can multiple apps open at the same time.
My time with DeX so far has been limited, so I’m going to use it a little more before I deliver my final verdict on it.
Samsung has done a great job to make the transition from a 16:9 aspect ratio to the 18.5:9 here as seamless as possible. Most Android apps scale perfectly, but you can manually stretch those that don’t. Most of the games I’ve tested needed to be manually stretched, but I’d happily take this over having two black bars at each end.
Video has the potential to be the stickiest area – but again, clever software tricks provide a solution. Take YouTube, for instance – a place where most videos are displayed in 16:9 On the S8, when you’re watching a YouTube video, a box will pop up and give you the option to crop in to fill the whole screen and make better use of the space. As with anything cropped, you’re likely to lose some parts of the picture, but at least the option is there. There’s less of an issue with movies, though, since these tend to already be shot at wider aspect ratios.
Samsung has been playing about with a few different biometric methods of unlocking the phone for a while now, but they all seem to finally come together in the Galaxy S8. And they sort of need to, especially if you dislike the position of the fingerprint scanner as much as I do.
The iris scanner from the Note 7 is present, but it’s much faster; and there’s a less secure – but even quicker – face-recognition tool. The iris scanner is good, but I find having to look directly at the camera every time I unlock the phone something of a chore. The facial recognition is faster, when you’ve finally got it to recognise your face, but it can easily be fooled by a photo. Neither is perfect, but at least you can combine them with the fingerprint scanner and a more traditional pattern unlock.
Would I like an easier-to-reach fingerprint sensor and none of the extra stuff? Of course. But it wouldn’t stop me from buying, or recommending, this phone.
The S8 is a sizeable improvement over the S7 in almost every area, but the camera has received the fewest upgrades – on paper, at least. There’s no dual-sensor system here, no wide-angle lens or variable aperture. Instead, there’s a single 12-megapixel sensor behind a wide f/1.7 lens that uses the same Dual Pixel tech as the S7.
The only obvious addition is a new multi-frame image processor that takes three shots every single time you snap, reducing blur and leaving you with a sharper shot. But simply looking at the spec sheet reveals only half the story.
The Galaxy S8, like the Google Pixel, shows it’s as much about the optics and sensor as how the software and image signal processor (ISP) work together. The photos achieved by the Galaxy S8 are truly stunning, and it’s a huge jump from the already excellent Galaxy S7.
The first thing you’ll notice about the camera is just how fast it is. A double-tap on the power key opens the camera quicker than any other phone, and focusing is equally snappy. I’ve probably taken over 1000 photos with the Galaxy S8, and no more than two or three have had to be deleted because they were either out of focus or the sensor had focused on the wrong spot. That’s incredible for a phone – even Google’s Pixel.
It’s a versatile camera too, whether you’re taking landscape shots or portraits in daytime or at night. The fantastic auto-HDR mode – something that’s turned on by default and I would suggest keeping on – levels out exposure and contrast when there’s bright sunlight, leaving you with intensely colourful shots. Sometimes you’ll find the colours more vibrant than they actually are, especially on the already quite saturated display, but that isn’t something I necessarily dislike.
- Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy S8 G950FD Unlocked Phone (64GB) – $319
- Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy S8 – $299 from China Electronics Shop – Saleholy.com
The level of detail is fantastic
Landscapes have plenty of depth and the auto-HDR mode balances exposure well
Natural bokeh is much better than a fake effect
Pictures have plenty of depth
Detail is some of the best around too, even though there are phones with much higher megapixel counts. Whether it’s dew on a blade of grass, a raindrop on a leaf, or a single hair on a dog – they’re captured perfectly.
The wide f/1.7 aperture lens might not be any wider than the Galaxy S7’s, but it lets enough light through to create that lovely shallow-depth-of-field look. There are no fake aperture modes to give a blurry background, but the camera gets a much more natural-looking bokeh effect all by itself.
That wide aperture helps with low-light shots too, with more light getting into the sensor, giving you better results. The shutter and autofocus are still fast, while optical image stabilisation does give the S8 the upper hand over the Pixel for pub and club shots.
Even with poor lighting shots looks good
Colours look strong even at night
I can’t say enough good things about the camera on the Galaxy S8 – it’s reliable, versatile and churns out shots that need little to no tinkering pretty much every time. The app is great too, and it’s functionally comprehensive yet easy to use. You can save photos as RAW files, stabilise your videos, or add a Live Photos-esque moment of movement before the actual photo. There’s a pro mode too, but the auto mode is so good that you probably won’t need it.
On the front there’s a new 8-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture. It has autofocus, which remains a rarity on selfie cameras, and takes great pictures too. If you like Snapchat-style augmented filters, then Samsung includes a bunch of them.
Video tops out at UHD, but stick to 1080p and you’ll benefit from HDR and impressive tracking autofocus.
The biggest concern I had about the Samsung Galaxy S8 was the battery life. Considering the fallout from trying to cram a big battery inside the slim Note 7, it’s probably no surprise that Samsung has been a little conservative with the cell inside the Galaxy S8.
But can a phone with a 5.8-inch quad-HD+ HDR-ready display really last the whole day on a 3000mAh battery? That’s the same size of battery that managed to make it through just a day on the 5.1-inch Galaxy S7.
The answer is yes – but it isn’t so straightforward. The fact is that, more than ever, how long the battery lasts will depend on how you use the phone. You can change the performance, the screen resolution, whether or not brightness is boosted when you’re watching videos, and each of these will affect the battery in different ways.
Out of the box, with the screen resolution bumped to quad-HD+ and the brightness at a very viewable 30%, I managed a comfortable day of use – 4hrs 30mins screen-on time – with about 10% left when I went to bed. That’s a busy day, and quite an impressive result. Dropping the resolution to 1080p got me about an extra 5-6% at the end of the day; turning off the Always-on Display bought me another 3-4%.
Watching a video stored on the device with the Video Enhancer on? Well, that will eat through the battery pretty darned quickly. An hour of downloaded Google Play Movies content took it down about 20%. It’s a similar story with Netflix.
This isn’t an amazing battery, and my conclusion is that you’ll need to charge it every night. But the deep customisation and battery-saving modes all work well, and by using them I have yet to have a dead device come evening.
Like the S7, the S8 uses Samsung’s own Adaptive Charging rather than Qualcomm’s Quick Charge. It isn’t the quickest charger either, taking about 1hr 40mins to fully charge from dead. Samsung has switched to the reversible USB-C port – making it probably the biggest phone so far to switch – but wireless charging remains an option.
SHOULD I BUY THE SAMSUNG GALAXY S8?
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is a new beginning for flagship phones. It’s a gorgeous sliver of tech that utilises its power for extending the experience beyond the 5.8-inch display, but manages to still be a phone that’s easy to use.
It crams a huge screen into a compact body, without sacrificing features such as water-resistance and expandable storage, and takes phone design to the next level. Once you’ve picked up a Samsung Galaxy S8, all other phones will somehow feel less interesting.
The screen, the camera, the design are all top-notch; there really isn’t anything missing here. Slightly small battery aside, there isn’t an obvious compromise.
Not everything hits the mark, but considering there’s so much here and Samsung is trying all these different things, that’s not surprising. I could live without the iris scanner and I could live without Bixby, but they don’t really diminish anything by being included.
The only true negative is the awful fingerprint sensor, but I’m sure after a few months even that might become second nature.
But, the Galaxy S8 genuinely feels like an upgrade from any other phone I’ve used in a long time. And for me, that makes it worth splashing out.
Unless Apple finally innovates again with the iPhone 8, right now the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the best phone you can buy this year.
- Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy S8 G950FD Unlocked Phone (64GB) – $319
- Buy Now: Samsung Galaxy S8 – $299 from China Electronics Shop – Saleholy.com
Easily the best phone around right now. The Galaxy S8 feels like the future.