Samsung Galaxy S8
We’re huge fans of the Galaxy S7, so couldn’t wait to see if Samsung would produce a better phone with the S8. We weren’t disappointed.
The Galaxy S8 isn’t as expensive as some feared, costing £689, with the S8+ costing an extra £90. That’s still pretty pricey though, and a chunk more expensive than the Galaxy S7 which launched at £569.
If the Galaxy S7 was stunning in design, then we’re not exactly sure how to describe the S8 apart from that it’s on another level. It makes its predecessor, and other phones, look rather dated.
Samsung has brought its edge screen technology to both phones this year, so you don’t need to buy the larger S8+ to get the full experience. This not only looks great but has a big advantage when it comes to keeping the size of the phone from getting out of control.
The S8 is pretty much the same width, thickness and weight compared to its predecessor. It’s just a few millimetres taller, but jumps from 5.1- to 5.8in when it comes to screen size. So what would typically be an unwieldy device feels barely any different in the hand.
It’s an impressive piece of craftsmanship, largely down to significantly reducing the bezels at the top and bottom. A screento-body ratio of over 83 percent is impressive stuff.
The physical home button and accompanying capacitive keys have been removed to achieve this. Now you have on-screen navigation and a pressure sensitive home button built into the display – we’ll talk about this later.
The fingerprint scanner is now on the rear, though awkwardly next to the camera rather than below it. Right-handed users are likely to smudge the camera when using it. This is our main bugbear in terms of the design and it should really be below the camera, despite creating an unsymmetrical look.
A lot of users will be pleased to see that the headphone jack has been retained on the bottom. Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S8 is made from a lot of glass, so is a little slippery. Because of this Samsung has used Gorilla Glass 5 on the rear for extra protection. You’ll probably want to get a case to protect this expensive slab of metal and glass though, which is a shame considering the outstanding design.
As you’d expect, the Galaxy S8 is fully dust- and waterproof, so has an IP68 rating. That extra button you see on the left side of the phone is to quickly launch Bixby, Samsung’s artificial intelligence assistance.
The S8 comes in five colours, though only three will be available at launch: Midnight Black, Orchid Grey and Arctic Silver (the latter with arrive at a later date). Samsung may well bring the blue and gold options at the later date, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Compared to the Galaxy S7, the new S8 isn’t dramatically different when it comes to specifications and hardware on offer. That’s partly because the S7 ticked a lot of boxes, though there are new components, with the screen being the most obvious change.
As mentioned in the design section, Samsung has impressively increased the size of the display from 5.1- to 5.8in. This is despite the phone being only slightly taller in shape. If that’s not big enough, the Galaxy S8+ has a whopping 6.2in screen.
Like the LG G6 (page 48), the Galaxy S8’s display’s rounded corners look great and match the curvature of the phone’s metal frame. Samsung has also opted for a similar aspect ratio of 18.5:9 meaning the screen is very tall (or wide in landscape). Samsung calls it the ‘Infinity Display’.
You can fit more on the screen, of course, and the aspect ratio
If the Galaxy S7 was stunning in design, then we’re not exactly sure how to describe the S8 apart from that it’s on another level
suits content such as videos much better, so you can, depending on the source content, watch videos without annoying black bars.
The phone sticks to Samsung’s preferred SuperAMOLED display technology ensuring great contrast and colours. The screen resolution is WQHD+, 2960x1440 in this case because the screen is so tall. A pixel density of 570ppi is enough for anyone. It’s worth noting it defaults to Full HD+ (2220x1080), but you can change it in the settings if you wish. The lower resolution improves graphics performance and also aids battery life without a noticeable drop in quality. If you want, you can also drop it down to 1480x720. Specifications aside, the Galaxy S8 also now has the well-known edge screen as standard, so there’s no need to buy the edge version any longer (like the Galaxy S7 edge). The curve is more subtle than previous edge devices though, so you just have the edge panels rather than any other additional functionality.
There are some new features to make the screen easier to use one-handed which we’ll cover in the software section, and the display is always-on should you want it to be.
One last thing to mention about the screen is that it has Mobile HDR Premium certification by the UHD alliance. The ability to display HDR content sounds good but you’ll only get it with certain titles on Amazon Prime Video. More partners will be announced.
Once again, the Galaxy S8 has have a different processor for different markets around the world.
Samsung has been a bit vague on the subject but, as we suspected, the UK model has the firm’s new Exynos 9 8895 chip rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 that the two companies collaborated on.
The firm’s latest eight-core processor has clock speeds of 2.3- and 1.7GHz (four cores each) and a Mali-G71 MP20 GPU. The firm claims a 10 percent increase in CPU performance and a 20 percent gain on the GPU side. We’re very impressed with the performance here with some of the highest benchmark results we’ve seen. It’s the graphics boost that’s particularly noteworthy considering the resolution. We tested at default settings and switching to the full amount of pixels didn’t drop the frame rates much.
Memory and storage
Not a huge amount has changed in this department. The phone has 4GB of RAM and comes with 64GB of storage as standard. As usual, the phone has expandable storage so you can add up to 256GB via the microSD card slot.
As you’d expect from a flagship Samsung phone, the Galaxy S8 is packed with all the latest connectivity specifications.
To this end, it has dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS, Bluetooth 5.0 and LTE Cat 16. It also uses a reversible USB-C port like recent Samsung devices and rivals. The heart-rate monitor also remains, but has been moved to the other side of the camera module.
Fingerprint and Iris scanners
As we touched upon earlier, the fingerprint scanner has moved to the rear in order to fit a much larger screen. We’re all for this – LG has been doing it since the G2 – but the placement isn’t very ergonomic.
Samsung appears to have prioritised the symmetry of design over functionality here, so most users will be making the camera lens grubby when reaching for the sensor. The scanner is fast when it works, but its placement and size make it frustrating to use, especially with a case on.
The firm says you won’t need the fingerprint scanner as much
because of the improved Iris scanner, which debuted on the Note 7. While this works, it’s still frustrating to use a lot of the time as you’ll need to hold the phone up like you’re taking a selfie, hold it the right distance away and require things like good lighting. If you’re concerned about security, then the S8 is likely to be a bit annoying, with the best options being a pattern or numerical PIN rather than the more advanced biometrics.
There’s no change from the fantastic camera inside the Galaxy S7. So the S8 has a 12Mp Dual Pixel with an impressive f/1.7 aperture and other features such as optical image stabilisation (OIS) and 4K recording.
The camera also offers ‘multiframe image processing’ where it takes three shots instead of one and uses the extras to do things like reduce blur and perfect other elements like focus.
It’s the new processor that makes this already awesome camera even better. Some shots, unedited, are unbelievable (opposite).
There are loads of different filters and shooting modes to play with including the usual suspects. There’s even a new food mode for showing off your restaurant orders or home cooking skills.
We were suitably impressed with the S7’s camera and although it’s essentially the same tech here, the S8 is one of the best phone cameras on the market.
When it comes to the front camera things are similar with a matching f/1.7 aperture, though the resolution has been bumped from 5- to 8Mp. The wide aperture means you can shoot in much harder conditions than most phones and the results in general are sharper and more detailed than before.
If you’re worried about jumping to a much larger screen size Samsung has made tweaks to help you operate the phone with one hand. In the camera app we found it easy to switch between the cameras, modes, filters and even zoom all with different thumb swipes.
Samsung hasn’t made a fuss about battery life on the Galaxy S8. This may be due to the fact it has the same 3000mAh capacity as its predecessor. Nevertheless, it’s good to see features such as USB-C, fast charging and wireless charging as standard.
Battery life will always be better when a phone is new and unused but we are, nevertheless, impressed with the S8. During our time with the phone, it lasted almost 48 hours of moderate usage.
Manufacturers don’t typically sell phones because of the supplied software, and this is largely the case with the Galaxy S8, though it has some interesting elements.
Android 7.0 Nougat
As you’d expect, the phone comes preloaded with the lasted version of Android (7.0 Nougat) and Samsung hasn’t messed about with it too much. The interface remains clean and easy to use, but still has lots going on behind the scenes.
You get a lot of preinstalled apps, though most are useful including Google’s, Microsoft’s and Samsung’s own. The app draw is now accessed with an upwards swipe, which will take some users a while to get used to. You can swipe up from the end of the menu to return to the home screen.
There’s tonnes of things you can customise with the software, including the home screen and app draw grids. It’s easy to get lost in the settings menu with the amount of options with things you simply won’t know about unless you go and look. An example of this is the fingerprint sensor gestures, which are switched off by default. They allow you to open and close the notification
panel by swiping, which is handy with a tall screen like this.
Since the navigation buttons are on-screen you can swap back and recent apps around – handy if you’re coming from another phone and not used to Samsung’s layout. You can even adjust how sensitive they are to avoid pressing them by mistake. Snap Window Moving to a bigger screen, despite the phone not being much bigger, presents a problem. A larger display means it’s harder to reach it all with one hand. As mentioned earlier, things such as the camera app have new controls to help you out. A new feature for the S8 is called Snap Window and takes advantage of the tall screen size. It’s essentially a new part of Multi Window and allows you to snap a chosen section of an app to the top part of the screen. Below it you can carry on like normal on a still larger chunk of the real estate. Bixby Bixby might sound like a new cuddly mascot but it’s Samsung’s answer to the likes of Siri and Google Assistant. There’s even a Bixby button on the side, so you can access the feature quickly, without unlocking the device. Sadly, you can’t change what it does. The idea is you can talk to Bixby and it will understand the context of what you’re doing.
There’s also Bixby vision, which does clever things. If, for example, you point the phone’s camera at a local landmark Bixby will provide information about it, along with places in the area to eat.
It’s worth noting that much of the functionality is available via Google Assistant (which is on the phone) and Bixby will be limited to selected Samsung apps to start with. You also won’t be able to use the voice element at launch with UK language support arriving at an unknown later date.
Until then, you’ll have to make do with Bixby Home – the interface loads if you push the physical button on the side or swipe right from the home screen. Here you’ll get, in a very similar way to Google Now, all kinds of information that should be useful such as the weather, news, fitness stats and suggestions.
While this sounds great during our time with the phone we weren’t convinced by it, especially with the lack of voice support at launch. Google Now is already a much better alternative and probably always will be.
DeX We’re actually more interested in DeX, a docking station which lets you use the Galaxy S8 as a makeshift PC for £129. You connect the phone via USB-C and the dock as two USB ports, Ethernet, HDMI and a cooling fan.
You can also use it with a wireless keyboard and mouse and once the phone is docked you’ll get a custom desktop-style interface where you can open and resize apps in separate windows like you would on a PC or laptop.
Other new accessories include a new Gear 360 2 camera and a tweaked Gear VR headset bundled with a motion controller.
Samsung has taken the best phone around and made it even better with an impressive screen and design. It ticks a shed load of boxes you’d want a flagship to do. It’s the best phone of 2017 so far but it is expensive and the biometrics are a let down. We’re keen to see what the likes of Apple, HTC and OnePlus can do to challenge.