Samsung has finally managed to leave its smartphone rivals far behind in the design segment. With the new Galaxy S8 and S8+ flagships, the Korean tech giant has shown the world its prowess with respect to how smartphone technology can be powerful, and yet remain beautiful. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ flagships are beautiful beasts. However, although they look pretty delicate, they are significantly tough. The S8 does show a great blend of beauty and power, and the Korean giant is showing the world a glimpse of how next generation smartphones could evolve.
For the remained of this review I will be referring to just the Samsung Galaxy S8 as both the S8 and the S8+ are pretty much the same identical device except in terms of size of the device itself. Images shown off will be from one or both devices but will not be labeled as per which device they came from specifically. It’s also worth mentioning that the specific devices I’m reviewing came from Verizon Wireless directly as that’s the contact that I have that sent them to me. Currently you can pick up the Samsung Galaxy S8 from Verizon for approximately $15.75 per month(credit approval required) and you can grab a Samsung Galaxy S8+ for about $17.50 a month(credit approval required).
Galaxy S8 Design
The design of Samsung hardware has been exceptional in my book for a lot of years. They make solid hardware that I wish more OEM’s would copy or try to replicate. With the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, this is no different. Unfortunately the last Galaxy device I played with was the Galaxy S6 as I have one in the drawer still today, but I can tell you the jump from the S6 to the S8 is amazing.
Regardless if you’re holding the smaller S8 or the larger S8+, the device just fits in your hand like a mobile device should. It’s solid and feels like it very well made and I guess it should since these devices aren’t cheap by any means.
The curved edges are something new to me as well as I haven’t really owned any devices with curved edges like this before. Yes, I’ve played with the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge or whatever it was, but that’s slightly different compared to the curves on the S8 and S8+ screens. These curves are actually built in and feel like a part of the device instead of an extension. They don’t make it feel like the devices are going to slip right out of your hands and crash to the floor or the concrete and that doesn’t matter if you have a case on the device or not.
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 Galaxy 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.
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 a bit later; 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 meters.
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 Galaxy S8 stand out. Unlike with the LG G6, though, the display here melts into the sturdy metal rim.
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 and there are several things to consider. 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%.
The Galaxy S8 doesn’t use Qualcomm’s Quick Charge technology as it uses its own Samsung Adaptive Charging. This is a bit slower than the Qualcomm technology in my tests but it works well. It takes just over 1 1/2 hours to get a full charge from a dead phone state which isn’t too bad. It also uses the new Type-C port that a lot of Android devices are switching to and there’s also wireless charging capabilities if you’re interested in that feature/option.
Overall I’m pretty pleased with the battery life of the Galaxy S8 and while it could stand to be a bit better, it could certainly be a lot worse. But as stated above, Samsung is probably a bit conservative when it comes to batteries in their mobile devices and they probably will be for a while to come and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Software And Software Performance
Let me set the record straight here. I have never been a fan of Samsung’s software since I first started using or testing their devices back when the Galaxy S3 came out. To me it’s absolutely horrible and so inconsistent in so many ways that it just makes it something not worth using in my own personal opinion.
With that said, I wasn’t expecting things to be any different with the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+ and for the most part that’s not true any longer. Samsung has made a lot of great changes to their UI/UX and have brought it to a much more usable state than what it’s ever been prior to the S8 and S8+.
There are still inconsistencies on various menus especially when it comes to the app drawer and the homescreen. However, part of this that I see is because I do happen to work for Nova Launcher and we pay close attention to details when it comes to things like this so in Samsung’s defense on the S8 and S8+, they did very well and have come a long way.
My first complaint however is the fact that this is an $800+ device which means it’s a flagship device and one of the best of the year in most cases and unfortunately just like with the LG G6, Samsung elected to ship the S8 with Android 7.0 instead of at least with Android 7.1. I’m not sure what the reason or the logic is behind this, but to me it’s just plain stupid and uncalled for.
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.
Like LG did with the G6, Samsung has elected to go with an 18.5:9 screen ratio on both the S8 and the S8+. 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.
The last part of the software features is the fingerprint scanner. Even after two weeks of using both the S8 and the S8+, I found the fingerprint scanner in a very awkward and weird place compared to most devices. To me the FP scanner isn’t really something most companies should be experimenting with. They should put it in a place that’s naturally comfortable to most people and leave it there. But we’re talking about Samsung here so it’s no surprise they are testing something new. Will it stick to this position in the Note 8 or even the S9 next year is something we’ll have to wait and see.
Camera And Camera Options
For me the camera of a new device is one of the things I really look forward to checking out. Not because I’m some professional type photographer, because I’m not, but to check out all the features, options and new things that so many new devices offer. The LG G6 really excelled in this department as far as all of the different types of pictures you could take. This is where the S8/S8+ and the LG G6 are different in so many ways as Samsung does offer some neat things, it just doesn’t offer as many as the G6 does in my opinion.
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 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 colorful 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.
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 auto focus are still fast, while optical image stabilization does give the S8 the upper hand over the Pixel for pub and club shots.
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, stabilize 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 auto focus, 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. This is the one feature that I feel a lot of social media focused users will really enjoy. The filters are decently done and add a bit of fun to taking pictures.
The one big downfall I found is that when you switch to this mode and start taking pictures using filters, you need to make sure you change the mode on the camera as you can still take pictures just like normal but it’s a horrible quality of photo. Sadly there’s not some screen pop-up or anything telling you that you aren’t using this mode and that picture quality isn’t what it is in normal picture taking mode. Video tops out at UHD, but stick to 1080p and you’ll benefit from HDR and impressive tracking auto focus.
The big question is, would I recommend or purchase the S8/S8+ myself as a daily driver? I would say no but not for obvious reasons and not for reasons stated here. As I mentioned I work for Nova Launcher and because of that I personally see how Samsung really destroys Android in so many ways and makes life of 3rd party launchers a complete disaster and a headache. Because of that and even prior to me going to work for Nova, I have vowed to not own a Samsung device for that reason.
However, put that aside and look at the device itself, the hardware and the actual improvements to the software side of things, then I’d have to say the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a device worth owning and it’s a device that a ton of people will indeed purchase. Rightfully they should as we know when it comes to Android, Samsung is the leader in hardware for Android.
While the devices are easily $800+ and to a lot of people that’s a lot of money especially in today’s marker where mid-class devices are much more of a big thing than ever before, I feel it’s totally worth it as far as what you are getting. The camera is hard to beat which for so many people is the largest reason why they buy the devices they buy. The device itself is amazing and just feels natural in the hand and something that I feel other OEM’s should try to mimic if at all possible.
If you’re not able to purchase the device outright, always remember that most carriers offer plans just like Verizon Wireless does. Verizon is the one who sent me these review devices and for that I’m hugely appreciative to them for doing. As stated above you can pick either up for under $20 a month which is one heck of a great deal if you ask me. Might be something worth checking out.
Samsung Galaxy S8 And S8+$804.42
Design And Form Factor10.0/10
Audio Support And Performance9.2/10
Graphics And Display9.5/10
- Fingerprint Scanner
- Solid Body
- Light Weight
- Water Resistant Body
- Expandable Storage
- Only Three Color Choices
- Ships With Android 7.0
- Only 64GB Models Available
- Only Expandable Up To 256GB