What are the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- 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 Review
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.
Call and Signal Quality
Email, Browsing, Calandar, Contacts
App support and functionality
Value for Money
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