As posted on Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ prove you can never have too much screen
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is good enough to make people forget the Note7.
Beautiful, thin, and wrapped in glass, it’s a handset that elicits ooh’s, ah’s and requests for more time with it. That isn’t the only measure of a good smartphone, but it’s a start.
For Samsung, getting something out into the market quickly was imperative. The Galaxy S7, a critical and commercial success, is now almost a year old and, as for the Note7, well, the smell of smoke was still in the air.
What’s most gratifying about the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is that the phones do not feel rushed. If anything, Samsung pushed the envelope, taking a screen about as far as it can go (or, as Samsung likes to hyperbolically claim, to “infinity”) and making the especially risky decision to move the fingerprint sensor to the back.
Not every choice is a winner, but the Samsung Galaxy S8 looks and feels like one.
It’s worth mentioning up front that the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ are, for all intents and purposes, the same phone, save the size of the chassis and screen. Display resolution is identical, which means you get more pixels per inch on the smaller S8. Both phones are wrapped in Gorilla Glass, and the back of both devices are fingerprint magnets. The guts are the same (there’s a small difference in battery capacity). Just think of the 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ as a stretched-out version of the 5.8-inch S8.
Unlike the choice between Apple’s iPhone 7 and an iPhone 7 Plus, there is no grand benefit, aside from battery life, to choosing the larger model. The 6.2-inch Galaxy S8+ has the exact same cameras as the 5.8-inch S8: a 12-megapixel camera in back and an 8MP selfie camera on the front.
I focused much of my attention on the larger S8+, but my comments could just as easily be applied to the “regular” S8, which I also had on hand.
The front of the S8+ is virtually all screen, and what a screen it is.
A 6.2-inch smartphone sounds comically large. However, the Galaxy S8+ is unusually narrow, with a screen aspect ratio of 18.5:9. Plus, the edges are tapered — front and back — much in the same way the Galaxy S7’s back edge was. The result is a phone that looks a bit long but is comfortable to hold and, at least to my hands, doesn’t feel large at all.
To put this in context, Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus is 6.2 inches tall and the S8+ is 6.3 inches. You don’t stretch your fingers top to bottom on the S8+, so you don’t notice the height disparity (the Galaxy S8+ is almost a millimeter/0.04 inch thicker than the iPhone 7 Plus). The Galaxy S8+ is, however, noticeably narrower than the iPhone 7 Plus: 2.9 inches to 3.1 inches. And the curved sides make the S8+ feel even smaller.
Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ blows away Apple’s iPhone when it comes to screen size and resolution. The front of the S8+ is virtually all screen, and what a screen it is.
The aptly named Infinity Display is a Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440, which Samsung calls Quad HD+ — essentially an elongated version of Quad HD — and a pixel density of 529 ppi on the S8+ (570 on the S8). The iPhone 7 Plus has an HD screen with 401 ppi.
And all that resolution shows; it’s just a beautiful screen to behold. Everything from the Android 7/Samsung TouchWiz interface (which gets cleaner and better with every iteration) to movies, TV, games, and websites look sharp, vibrant and colorful.
This is one of the first smartphone screens I’ve ever used with curved corners. I saw everything from Samsung features to games follow those curves, but just as many retained their sharp corners, (with the virtual home/back/app buttons appearing at the bottom, and the thin activity strip at the top). So honestly the corners made no difference to me.
Not everything, though, can take advantage of all that ultra-widescreen real estate. Full resolution photos shoot at 4:3 aspect ratio, leaving huge black bars on either side (you can shoot in a wider format, but you end up losing some resolution). Some games, apps and video automatically resize to fill the whole screen, but not all.
The Galaxy S8 is notably one of the first high-end Samsung phones without a physical home button. This isn’t much of an issue. Where the button used to exist is just more screen, and an onscreen representation of a home button is often present. Flanking the home button are the open apps button and the back button — also virtual.
Hidden under the bottom of the screen is a pressure sensor. When you press harder on the home button or just in that area (since the button is sometimes hidden), you’ll feel a haptic vibration and are taken back to the home screen. The apps and back buttons don’t get the same haptic response. There’s a vibration when to tap them, but nothing when you press harder. Samsung limiting the haptics to the home button is a bit disappointing when you consider Apple has had full-screen 3D Touch since the iPhone 6S. To be fair, you could argue that the utility of full-screen haptic response is still questionable.
I didn’t think I would like the virtual home button, but I quickly got used to it. This is not to say I’m in love with it. Without a fingerprint reader in the same spot, unlocking the phone is invariably a two-step process.
If you use a PIN, you’ll need to press home, swipe up and then enter it. Biometrics are arguably more convenient, but there are still two steps: press home and look for iris scanning, or press home and hunt for the rear-situated fingerprint scanner.
A few other things worth noting about the Samsung Galaxy S8+ body: There’s a volume rocker on the left edge. Below that is the dedicated Bixby button (more on that later). On the right edge is the sleep button. Along the bottom edge is a mono speaker. It’s next to a USB-C port and the 3.5mm headphone jack. Not only is Samsung still supporting this legacy port, it’s shipping the S8 devices with a pair of Harman AKG in-ear earphones.
The phone is dust- and water-resistant. I repeatedly submerged the Galaxy S8+ in water without issue (except that you can’t use the phone in the Samsung Gear VR headset until the USB-C port is completely dry… that usually took about 20 minutes). Samsung rates the phone for 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) of fresh water for up to 30 minutes.
Pretty much everything that follows here is thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 CPU and 4GB of RAM Samsung stuffed inside the Galaxy S8 and S8+. The 835’s eight cores deliver impressive benchmarks: A Geekbench 4 multicore score of 6,314 and single-core score of 1,835. While Samsung’s multicore score beats the A10 chip in the Apple iPhone 7 Plus (5,937), it falls significantly behind Apple’s single-core score (3,401).
On the graphics side, Geekbench produces two numbers that might not be directly comparable. There’s Renderscript for Android, where the Galaxy S8+ got 7,620, and the Metal Score for iOS where the iPhone 7 Plus got 12,497. It’s hard to say what any of those numbers mean, so I focused on observable performance. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ clearly has cycles to burn.
The $850 phone also features 64GB of base storage, expandable to 256GB (or more when higher-capacity micro SD storage cards come along).
Samsung packed more biometric security options inside the Samsung Galaxy S8+ than are necessary. Each one — face recognition, fingerprint scanning, and iris scanning — works well, though some are more consistent than others.
Using my mug to unlock the phone was a pleasure… except when it didn’t work. Strong light off to one side seemed to confuse the camera. I was also disappointed to learn that I couldn’t use my face with Samsung Pay. One thing I did verify, though, is that I couldn’t use a digital photo of my face to fool the face recognition, so reports that it was possible are likely due to pre-release software.
Samsung introduced iris scanning in the Galaxy Note 7 and it works even better on the Samsung Galaxy S8+. It struggled only in low-light situations. As a more secure option, iris scanning can be used with Samsung Pay.
Both Iris and facial scanning let you use the front of the phone. The third option, fingerprint reading, is activated though the pad on the back.
There are so many things wrong with Samsung’s choice to relocate this reader.
Registering a finger requires you to watch the screen while tapping the button on the back. It’s right next to the 12 MP camera, which feels a lot like the fingerprint sensor (the heart-rate sensor is on the opposite side of the camera).
I honestly struggled to register a fingerprint and, as I feared, kept touching the camera lens. Also, having the fingerprint reader so high on the phone means it may not be in easy reach for someone with smaller hands. Why Samsung didn’t at least position the reader more toward the middle of the back of the phone is beyond me.
Samsung made a more calculated choice on the photography side. It kept the 12MP camera from the last Galaxy S7 smartphone. It’s still a good, high-resolution camera with tremendous control if you want it. However, overall, Samsung still tends to oversaturate pictures, making skies bluer, reds redder, and so on. When compared to photos from Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, they are more visually appealing, but simply not entirely true. The sky wasn’t that blue and the Empire State Building isn’t that color.
Samsung spent more time, apparently, on the front-facing selfie camera, raising the megapixels from 5 to 8. That’s one more megapixel than you’ll find on the iPhone 7 Plus, but both cameras take excellent selfies. I give Apple’s iPhone the edge on skin tone and hair color accuracy. Samsung’s camera, even without the beauty filter, makes me look a little pinker and healthier than I really am.
This is also the first smartphone camera with built-in selfie lens effects. That’s right, if you can’t wait to open Snapchat or Instagram Stories, the Galaxy S8+ lets you apply animated stickers to your face on your homegrown selfies, stills and video. You can then share them out on whatever app you want.
Samsung also offers some very nice gesture-based controls. My favorite, introduced with the Note 7, is the ability to swipe up or down on the screen to switch between front and back cameras. However, Samsung has added gesture controls for volume, brightness and playback as well.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ (and S8 proper) is the first phone to feature Samsung’s digital assistant: Bixby. Sort of. Bixby is less a digital assistant than a context assistant. Ostensibly, it’s there to offer insight into the meaning of pictures, QR codes, signs, your schedule and more. It knows which apps are running and what they do.
Bixby is so important in the Samsung Galaxy S8 ecosystem it has its own physical button on the phone. That voice version of Bixby and the handful of apps that support it was not ready in time for this review.
For now, Bixby is sprinkled throughout the phone. It’s a swipe to the right as Bixby Home or a press of the Bixby Button, a card-based Google Now knockoff that collects all your key digital info in one place, including upcoming appointments, recent photos, feeds from your social accounts and news.
In the camera, there’s Bixby Vision. You can use it to identify objects, find deals and capture and translate text. Bixby Vision, for me, had about a 60 percent success rate. Since the technology is cloud-based, I expect its accuracy to improve over time.
When the voice assistant portion of Bixby arrives later this month, a press of that dedicated button should bring up a voice-recognition interface. When that happens, you’ll find a different kind of digital assistant, one that uses the context of what you’re doing with the phone at that moment to intuit your fuzzy request. Samsung calls this cognitive tolerance and I can’t wait to test it.
Like Galaxy phones before it, the S8+’s right edge is hiding a lot of functionality. A swipe left from the edge reveals an Apps Edge with instant access to a collection of user-defined apps. Another swipe reveals the People Edge where you can place quick access to five contacts. A third swipe reveals Smart Select. Of the three edge selections, this is the most fun. There are two image selection tools (rectangle and oval) a “Pin to top” option and the real highlight: GIF creation.
I used it while watching YouTube videos to quickly create GIFs. It’s pretty easy. You select the button and a resizable window appears. It lets you play the video underneath and then select record on the GIF marquee. Once you stop recording, the GIF is created and you can choose to save, share or discard.
As you can see with my example, I struggled a bit with YouTube video capture. Every time I touched the GIF record button, a YouTube video pause button appeared on screen and was captured at the start of my GIF. I’m not sure how to get around this.
Connectivity and calls
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a phone. That’s right, we still make calls on these pocket devices. I can attest that it admirably serves this purpose with clear call quality on both sides.
My test unit was, by the way, on the T-Mobile network, which also gave me an opportunity to try out T Mobile TV, the carrier’s four-year-old streaming video service. It’s been years since I’ve been on T-Mobile and I was impressed with the quality of its mobile broadband service. I streamed a few half-hour comedies while on my train commute and the video quality was excellent.
Wireless charging and battery life
Both the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and S8 offer fast wireless charging. This doesn’t mean no wires are involved. There’s one for the wireless charging pad, but once that’s plugged in, you simply drop the phone on the charging pad. The fast charging means the phone is fully charged in under two hours.
As for battery life, the Galaxy S8+’s 3,500 mAh battery consistently outlasted my day. It’s a big battery and I would expect no less. The smaller S8 has a 3,000 mAh battery.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is an excellent smartphone. The large, curved screen is mesmerizing. You won’t miss the physical home button. The missteps, like a misplaced fingerprint sensor and the fact that Samsung has no response for the iPhone 7 Plus 2x optical zoom or cutting-edge Portrait Mode, do not hobble the device.
As an Android device, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is at the top of the list. Is it a better phone than Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus? Without a better rear camera, optical zoom and the removal of all those extraneous and duplicative apps (do I use Samsung’s email or Google? Should I use Samsung’s browser or Chrome?), no. Apple wins for the cleaner experience. But if Apple wants to maintain that lead, it may want to consider some curves and a much bigger and more high-resolution screen for the iPhone 8, X or whatever we’re calling it this week.
Samsung Galaxy S8+
Infinity display • Excellent design • Impressive power • All-day-plus battery life
Terrible fingerprint sensor placement
The Bottom Line
The stunning Samsung Galaxy S8+puts Samsung back on track.