Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Best Phone Ever?

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Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Best Phone Ever?
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We’ve waited and waited, and finally we’ve laid hands on the brand new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, successors to the all-round-excellent S7 and S7 Edge.

And let us tell you, they are awesome.

The specs

This is what you get for your money:

Samsung Galaxy S8:

  • 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0mm, 155g
  • 64-bit octa-core processor: 2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad
  • 5.8-inch quad-HD+ curved ‘Infinity Display’, 2960 x 1440, 570ppi
  • Dual-pixel 12MP main camera, F1.7, OIS
  • 8MP selfie camera, F1.7, autofocus
  • 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64GB internal storage
  • MicroSD up to 256GB
  • 3,000mAh battery
  • Android 7.0
  • USB Type-C, wireless charging, fast charging (wired and wireless)
  • IP68 dust and water resistance

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus:

  • 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm, 173g
  • 64-bit octa-core processor: 2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad
  • 6.2-inch quad-HD+ curved ‘Infinity Display’, 2960 x 1440, 529ppi
  • Dual-pixel 12MP main camera, F1.7, OIS
  • 8MP selfie camera, F1.7, autofocus
  • 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
  • 64GB internal storage
  • MicroSD up to 256GB
  • 3,500mAh battery
  • Android 7.0
  • USB Type-C, wireless charging, fast charging (wired and wireless)
  • IP68 dust and water resistance

Design

From the numbers, both phones sound huge, but the curved screen does a lot to make them feel smaller and more manageable in the hand. That said, the S8 Plus is still about the size of my face.

The first thing Samsung fans are going to notice is the absence of the pressable home key, which is usually found on the bezel under the screen. However, while everyone assumed from leaks that the button was entirely gone, it’s not: it’s literally underneath the screen, and works kind of like 3D Touch on the iPhone. Having expected to strongly miss the Home button, using the phone I didn’t even notice it was gone.

The Android nav keys are still there, too, just as software rather than Samsung’s usual physical Back and Apps keys – though because it’s Samsung, the nav keys are the wrong way round by default, with Back on the right. Tut!

The fingerprint sensor is now on the back, Honor-style, next to the rear camera. This makes it mega-easy to use as a shutter button while taking a selfie, as we used to with the rear-mounted heart rate sensor on the S5. As ever, it’s lightning-fast to unlock.

The back, as you might expect, gets very fingerprinty. The hyper-shiny aluminium shell looks gorgeous and doesn’t feel slippery in the hand, but there’s no question that it picks up finger grease like a mofo. We’ve seen lots of colours of the S8 in the leaks of the last few weeks.

Display

Oh, that screen. We thought our eyes had been treated enough with the S7 Edge, but the S8’s Infinity Display takes it to another level. This time, there’s no flat variant: both handsets have the rounded corners and beautifully curved screen of the Edge line, and the very thinnest of bezels to make the whole thing appear as near to seamless as we could hope for right now.

The front of the phone is covered with uninterrupted, high-shine glass from end to end, and as Samsung puts it, the screen “spills over the phone’s sides.” Thanks to the insanely high screen-to-body ratio, the phone both feels smaller than it should for the display size, while also seeming like it’s all screen. It’s comfortable to hold (and I have small hands), and I had no problems with accidentally touching the display as some people predicted from leaked renders. Of course, that might change in day-to-day usage.

The display uses Samsung’s new aspect ratio, the not-very-catchy 18.5:9 which they reckon will become standard because it “bridges the divide between movies and TV.” That’s almost the same as the 18:9 on the LG G6, but it feels different on this phone: the curves really make a difference to how you perceive the screen size.

As you’d expect from display experts Samsung, the screen is gorgeously bright, colourful and clear, and has received Mobile HDR Premium certification from the UHD Alliance. In other words, it’s lovely. It also keeps the always-on display feature of recent Galaxy phones, so you can check the time without depleting your battery.

Hardware

If, like me, you were a little disappointed to see 4GB of RAM – even in the S8 Plus – when the OnePlus 3T and newly-unveiled Huawei P10 Plus offer 6GB, worry not. This phone is a beast.

We ran Geekbench 4’s benchmarking app on the S8 Plus and got a pretty amazing result:

For reference, the top scores for Android are currently both held by the S7, with 1790 for single core and 5218 for multi. So the S8 should absolutely storm the rankings. Daa-aaamn that’s a good score.

It sounds like Samsung’s worked extra-hard on the CPU for the S8, creating the world’s first 10nm processor. In other words, they’ve miniaturised each transistor to one ten-thousandth the width of a human hair. Nope, we can’t wrap our minds around it either. What’s easier to understand is that it’s improved the CPU by 10% on the S7, and the GPU by 21%.

Samsung also claim it’s “more efficient than any other processor” in terms of energy use, but we haven’t seen enough yet to verify that.

The phones are water- and dust-proofed to IP68, and can now be unlocked by ‘eyeprint’ as well as fingerprint. In other words, you can unlock by scanning your irises. We haven’t had a chance to test that on the S8 yet (or rather our chaperone wouldn’t let us!), but when we’ve tried it on other Asian phones at tech conventions, it’s very accurate and super-quick. How it works for those of us who always manage to get makeup on our contact lenses remains to be seen.

Software

Samsung software is one of the most unfairly complained-about bugbears in the smartphone world. If you haven’t used one of the more recent Galaxy phones, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. They’re not at all like they were when I returned my Note 2 because I couldn’t take any more skeuomorphism (read: brown leather textures everywhere).

The software on the S8 has taken another step forward from the last generation: it’s been redesigned to fit the lines of the Infinity Display. That means they’ve adjusted everything from icons to typography, and while the results won’t change your life, it does definitely look nicer.

The S8s run Android Nougat out of the box, and while they definitely look ‘Samsung-y,’ all the good bits are still in there. The menus, as ever, have been reorganised and made a little more colourful, but they’re still very navigable if you’re familiar with Android:

The only thing that annoyed us in testing was that the app drawer no longer has a big icon, you swipe up from the bottom of the home screen to access it. And it still scrolls the wrong way. But that’s small fry.

Cameras

We had high hopes, and we weren’t disappointed. The dual-pixel 12MP main snapper takes ridiculously quick, detailed shots – although of course so far we’ve only been able to test it in the bright light of the event hall. How it’ll perform in lower light is something we’ll have to report back on later.

Some samples:

A picture of the S8 taken on the S8. Meta.

Samsung’s added multiframe processing to both cameras, which is a fancy way of saying the phone actually takes three shots for every shutter press, then uses the results to optimise the final image. You only see one, but it’s a blend of the best bits of the three. It’s not something you’re ever going to notice, but it’s there.

On the selfie camera, there’s all the usual beautifying/face thinning/eye-enlarging stuff, but Samsung’s now whacked in a load of Snapchat-style filters to turn you into various creatures and characters.

Like Snapchat’s, they work very well and move with you, but they’re not really necessary. Nor are all the random words you can stick on top of your selfie, but we guess some people might like them. Maybe.

Storage

Not much to say here: you’ll get 64GB, and you’ll like it. In other words, neither the S8 nor the Plus come in any other sizes, it’s 64 or bust. On the handsets we tested, there was about 15GB used up out of the box, leaving just under 50 to play with.

Both handsets have microSD support up to 256GB, too.

Battery

This is usually the weakest area on a Samsung flagship, and honestly the battery capacity is slightly disappointing on both the S8 and the Plus (3,000 and 3,500mAh respectively). Yes, that’s a lot of power, but those displays are huge and pixel-packed, so we doubt this phone’s going to make it to bedtime without a top-up.

However, Samsung’s making up for it with built-in wireless and fast charging, and has also merged the two into wireless-fast-charging. How fast remains to be seen when we have more time with the phone, but if it stops people complaining about slow wireless charging (are your diamond shoes also too tight?), we’re in.

For those inevitably asking the ‘what about battery safety?’ question, it seems pretty obvious that Samsung has worked extra-long and extra-hard to make sure there is absolutely no risk of this phone burning your house down. Because if it does, no one will buy their phones ever again.

After the Note 7, Samsung conducted a thorough investigation into what happened, released the findings publicly, and implemented a new 8-point battery check which is a fair bit beyond what they have to do to comply with the law. So there’s a good chance the new phone is technically safer than some of its competitors.

In short, they know they dropped the ball before, so this time they’ve superglued it to their hands.

Extra features

The S8 comes with Bixby, Samsung’s own version of Siri or Alexa. It looked impressive enough in the demo, but unless you speak Korean, you won’t be able to use its voice commands until May. However, you can try out the visual search, which theoretically lets you see something through the camera and get links to places to buy it. We’ve heard that spiel before and we’re not convinced, plus it wasn’t ready for us to try at the event, so we’ll reserve our judgment on that.

Possibly the most world-changing feature, though, is Samsung DeX. Plug your S8 into the DeX dock, hook up a monitor, keyboard and mouse and you can instantly use your phone as a PC. 

No, it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it’s the first time it’s been done credibly. Motorola tried it back when phones didn’t yet have desktop specs, and Windows gave it a go with Continuum, but…  Windows Phone. Samsung might make this mainstream.

If they don’t, Apple will.

You get a pair of high-end AKG (by Harman) earphones in the box, plus of course you can use the S8s with the new Gear VR and its controller. And there’s some kind of IoT controller called Samsung Connect, but again, we’ll report back on how well that works when we’ve been able to try it.

Price and availability

If you’re excited about the S8, you don’t have long to wait before it’s out in the UK: it’ll be in shops on the 28th of April, but you can preorder now and get your phone 8 days earlier on the 20th.

The China S8 is priced at $289 and the Plus is $299. Very cheap, Both phones have already been announced for all the big networks.

Early verdict

Based on what we’ve seen so far, the Samsung Galaxy S8 blows its Android competition out of the water. It’s beautiful, feature-packed, and fun to use – and while we doubt the battery will stand up to much intense gaming, there are no obvious downsides to this phone so far.

We’ll have a full review for you when we’ve had more time with the S8, but for now, this is looking like the best phone of 2017. And it’s only March.

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  1. Beautiful screen.. lots of features……upgrade from my Nexus 6P.. just transferred my sim….up and running in two minutes.

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