Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus Smartphone Review
Aside from the fingerprint sensor this is one of the best phones we've ever seen
What are the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus?These much-anticipated handsets are the two big phones of 2017 for Samsung and come on the heels of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 which had to be withdrawn after overheating battery issues. Public anticipation is as nothing compared to the degree of expectation within the walls of Samsung – the Galaxy S8 needs to be a success for the Korean giant.
The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8in display and the larger Galaxy S8+ (or Plus) version has a whopping 6.2in screen. Screen and battery apart, the two phones are identical.
DesignThe S8 has one of the most striking designs yet for a smartphone. It’s an evolution of the Galaxy Note7 and is elegant, classy and unmissable. It comes in three colours including Midnight Black which, like the iPhone 7’s Jet Black version, has a high-gloss finish which is reflective and attractive. The glass front and back blend together seamlessly and make for a highly appealing phone that looks good and feels great.
Part of the reason it feels great is the shape. Instead of the 16:9 ratio display favoured by many smartphones, this one has a longer screen with 18.5:9 proportions. This means you can get more screen without more width. The larger S8+ is a touch taller than the iPhone 7 Plus but is not as wide, despite the fact that the Apple phone has a 5.5in display and the Samsung squeezes in that 6.2in screen.
It’s a noticeably longer, narrower shape and it fits in the hand brilliantly in both sizes. Samsung is trying to balance two desires: maximum screen size on the one hand and manageable phone width on the other. In this regard, the S8 is a notable success. Those smooth, curved edges to the screen and the back of the phone are a big part of that success, and make it especially tactile in the hand.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 has antenna bands on the top and bottom edges of the phone and these are coloured to match the phone so they’re almost invisible. Also on the bottom of the phone are the power socket (USB-C) and headphone jack. The top edge of the phone is blank apart from the tray for the sim card and microSD memory card.
In design terms, the S8 is a real triumph, apart from the fingerprint sensor, to which we’ll return in a moment. It’s on the back, just next to the 12MP camera, flash, and heart rate sensor. Also on the back is the company’s name – there’s so much screen there’s no room on the front for anything else.
The glass front and back make for a highly appealing phone that looks good and feels great
DisplayTurn the phone on and you suddenly see how much of the phone is screen. The screen-to-body ratio adds up to 83.6 per cent of the S8 and slightly more, 84 per cent on the S8 Plus. The corners of the display are curved, like the phone itself, and the fact that the display has sloping edges adds to the general curvaceousness.
It’s a high-resolution display, 1440 x 2960 pixels on both sizes of phone, which means it’s 529 pixels per inch on the S8+ and 570ppi on the smaller version. Both screens look tremendous. Colours are bright and vivid, without being over-saturated. This is a High Dynamic Range (HDR) screen, with the intention that details can be seen in bright skies and dark shadows simultaneously. A video enhancer feature aims to improve colours as well, and this works with apps such as YouTube.
In general use, this is a highly attractive screen, with great detail, lots of eye-popping colour and enough resolution to make even tiny text sharp enough for reading. In video playback, by the way, those cute curved edges vanish. Well, they weren’t what the cinematographer intended, were they? I’d say it’s the best screen I’ve seen on a phone, though Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium with its 4K HDR display may look even better when it’s released in the next few weeks. For now, though, this is spectacular.
When you turn the Samsung on and you suddenly realise how much of the phone is screen
SecurityOur phones have so much information on them now, they need to be secure. Not just so our personal photos, contacts, calendar and so on remain personal but so we can use the phone as a virtual wallet or credit card. The upshot is these days you need to unlock your phone. Every phone can do this with a PIN code. Some have a fingerprint sensor, including this one, and there are alternative security features here, too.
One is the iris scanner which featured on the short-lived Note7. Here, though, it’s been improved so it is much faster than before. You raise the phone so your eyes are in the right position, swipe the screen and the phone unlocks. If you fancy it, you can replace the two circles on screen into which you must look, with cartoon eyebrows or a cat face. These don’t affect the capability of the phone to read your irises, but they make it a more entertaining exercise.
There’s also a facial recognition system – which doesn’t work in conjunction with the iris scanner, you can only have one of them active at a time – and this works reasonably quickly too but not quite as reliably. And then there’s the fingerprint sensor. This is very quick, but there’s a problem. It sits on the back of the phone (which is also where other makers like LG and Huawei put this sensor) but uniquely it sits just to the right of the camera lens, as you look at the rear of the phone.
The problem is that when you hold the phone the other way round, with the screen facing you, you need to remember that that means your finger has to touch the sensor on the opposite side. I found this confusing and wiped my finger across the camera lens over and over again. This sensor placement is the single biggest mistake in the otherwise brilliant design of the phone. I would expect it to be removed next time around but how it made the cut this time is beyond me.
Incidentally, in terms of credit card capabilities, Samsung not only has Android Pay in the S8 but will one day have Samsung Pay as well. This is different because it works not just with regular contactless card readers but with older-fashioned readers that rely on the magnetic stripe on the back of your credit card as well. Samsung Pay hasn’t been turned on in the UK yet, however.
The fingerprint sensor placement is the single mistake in an otherwise brilliant design
CameraThere are so many hefty upgrades on this phone, it’s a bit surprising that the rear camera hasn’t changed much from the Galaxy S7. That phone’s camera was widely praised, and rightly so, which means the fact that the 12MP sensor hasn’t changed isn’t such a bad thing. It has the same f/1.7 aperture and the advanced dual pixel capabilities from last year which helped towards a very fast focus and good low-light capabilities.
The interface has been improved to make it easier to use whether you want simple point-and-shoot capabilities or more sophisticated features. And you can launch the camera very quickly: double-press the power button and it’s there. Press the shutter button and you’ve taken a picture with the whole process taking barely a second.Results from the front-facing camera, an improved-from-last-year 8MP model, are pretty good, too. It has the same f/1.7 aperture as the rear snapper and automatic HDR capability. There are lots of features in the camera here, including one where you can shoot 4K video and snap 9MP still shots at the same time. The front camera has ways to make selfie-taking especially easy. But it’s the picture quality from the rear camera which is the real standout and puts the S8 in the top tier of smartphone cameras.
BixbyThis is Samsung’s rival to Apple’s Siri voice assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant. That last one is also on the S8 and for now is a more advanced option.
Bixby doesn’t yet work with voice, though it will, first in Korean and then in US English with other languages to follow. The idea is that it will make it possible for anything you do on the phone with your fingers to be done with your voice. It’s an intriguing future, but it ain’t in the present yet. You launch it, not by saying “Hello Bixby”, but by pressing a dedicated physical button on the left edge of the phone.
So far only a couple of elements are working, like Bixby Vision. This pops dots onto the screen when the camera is active, and it can recognise a packet of soap powder, for example, so you can see where you can buy it or find it online. It works moderately well but is definitely a work in progress. Which is a good description of everything to do with Bixby. It could be great one day, but for now Google Assistant will serve you better.
The phone is featured packed but voice assistant Bixby is a work-in-progress
FeaturesThere are plenty of cool items to consider with the S8. First of all, there’s the always-on display – something LG has on its flagship handsets as well. It means that the most commonplace of reasons to wake your phone, to check the time, is now achieved without touching it. Even when it’s sleeping, the screen shows the time (analogue or digital clock), date, battery level and a range of notifications such as weather, emails, text messages and more. You can even display a favourite photo here, too. Battery usage for this display is pretty low, around 1 per cent per hour. Worth it, I’d say.
The always-on display also shows the home button. This is a newly redesigned button. Previously, Android phone makers have opted for a physical home button, a capacitive touch button or used the bottom bit of the display. This phone has a special pressure-sensitive area at the base of the display, right in the middle. Press on this, even when the whole screen is busy displaying video or an app that covers this area, and you feel a haptic response, activating the home button. This is not the 3D Touch screen of the iPhone 7, where the entire screen can respond to different pressures. This is one specific area – miss it and nothing happens. Some had thought that this where the fingerprint sensor would sit, behind the display but if so, it seems Samsung couldn’t get it to work in time. That would have been great, but the current home button is still a useful addition to the interface.Speaking of interfaces, the software on this phone has had a big refresh. The switch from faux-3D app icons to simpler, flatter images began with Microsoft and was taken up with gusto by Apple. Others followed but many, including Samsung, were left with unattractive designs. That’s all changed this time around with a stylish, simplistic, even elegant look to the apps – an incomplete outline of a bell for Reminders, part of a cog for Settings, a light-touch image indicating the essence of the app they represent rather than complicated photo-realistic copies. It’s excellent and way better than Samsung has done before.
Bluetooth Dual Audio is a cool, and so far largely overlooked feature on the phone and is emblematic of the attention to detail Samsung has bestowed on the handset. If you’ve ever listened to a Walkman with someone else, one earbud in each of your ears, you’ll know that’s an arrangement that’s intimate but not always comfortable. With this set-up you can play music from your phone through two pairs of wireless Bluetooth headphones at the same time. Neat.
PerformanceLots of features, a great display, a splendid camera. Well, it would all count for little if the S8 was sluggish or stuttery. It’s not. The phone comes in two different versions depending on where you live. The one that goes on sale in the EU, the Middle East and Africa uses the Exynos 8895 chipset and 4GB of RAM.
The result of this combination is a powerful, punchy and altogether nippy phone which is responsive and effective, whatever tasks you throw at it. The 64GB storage is good and will be more than enough for most, though the presence of a microSD memory card slot lets you add a lot more storage if you need it.
The Galaxy S8 is the most elegant and accomplished Android phone to date
BatteryThe battery on the S8 and S8+ is good. Worries surfaced when it was revealed that there was no change from the previous S8 battery (3000mAh). Maybe this is down to the memories of the Note7 and Samsung has played it safe this time round. However, it lasts a full day with ease for all but the heaviest use and is only slightly less than the S7 which was certainly above average. The S8+ with its 3500mAh cell lasts well, too.
- Beautiful design
- Superb screen
- Feature packed
- Great performance
- Fingerprint sensor poorly located
- Bixby is a work-in-progress
- It's not cheap
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus Smartphone ReviewThe Galaxy S8 is the best phone Samsung has made. Well, you’d expect that. But it’s genuinely one of the best phones I’ve ever seen, and easily the most accomplished, elegant Android phone, despite strong competition from HTC with its immaculate build quality, LG with its innovative screen shape (it beat Samsung to the punch with a longer, thinner display) and so on. Sony could beat it with the Xperia XZ Premium but that apart it’s the standout phone of the year so far.
True, there are significant issues, most importantly the misplaced fingerprint sensor that stops you from seamlessly unlocking your phone. Bixby isn’t ready yet and Samsung Pay, where are you? But this is a performer that looks amazing both in terms of hardware and software, fits the hand amazingly whether you plump for the 5.8in or 6.2in models and has plenty in the way of innovation.
This phone is not cheap – £689 if you’re buying the smaller Galaxy S8 model sim-free, another £90 on top for the larger Galaxy S8 Plus – but you really do get a lot for your money.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £689.00
Call and Signal Quality9
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts8
App support and functionality9
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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