Samsung Galaxy S8 should we call it a phone? or not?
Over the past few years, Samsung has transitioned away from its plastic past to a refinement of its glass and metal build, and the Galaxy S8 presents the future of this design language. There’s two sizes to the Galaxy S8 but neither comes with an Edge moniker, with Samsung calling its taller curved screens the Infinity Display. The focus with this year’s phones isn’t the curved display however, but more so how Samsung has managed to squeeze so much screen real estate into the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. Thanks to the switch to a 18.5:9 format and the removal of the home button and Samsung branding on the front, we have phones that feel a lot smaller than they should.Think back to previous phones with displays of 5.5-inches or larger and they felt great at the time, but even the Galaxy Note 7 feels positively large compared to Samsung’s latest flagships. The 5.8-inch display inside the Galaxy S8 comes inside a body that’s slightly taller but narrower than the Galaxy S7 (148.9 x 68.1 mm vs 142.4 x 69.6 mm). Similarly, the Galaxy S8 Plus is a little taller and wider than the Galaxy S7 Edge (159.5 x 73.4 mm vs 150.9 x 72.6 mm) despite a screen that’s 0.7 inches smaller.Both phones are a little thicker at 8 mm and 8.1 mm respectively, but the difference is negligible compared to the much better in-hand experience. The added screen real estate sees a bump in the weight as well, at 155 grams and 173 grams respectively, but this helps the Galaxy S8 feel more premium in the hand.
Moving around the phone, the volume keys are on the left and the power button on the right, as with previous Samsung phones. The left sees the addition of a dedicated shortcut for Bixby and Bixby Home, Samsung’s new AI assistant, which we’ll touch on later. Up top is the SIM card tray while on the bottom, you’ve got the headphone jack, USB Type-C port, and single bottom-firing speaker.The back is where Samsung has made arguably the worst design decision on the Galaxy S8; removing the home button means Samsung had to find a place for the fingerprint sensor and they chose to combine it with the heart rate monitor next to the rear camera. While other OEMs have chosen to put fingerprint sensors in the center of the device, Samsung’s decision means it can have its logo right underneath the camera, but as a result, the fingerprint sensor is cumbersome to use.
The position doesn’t feel natural and on the regular Galaxy S8, it’s a stretch with large hands, while on the Galaxy S8 Plus, it’s awkward unless you have very large hands. As you’ll often be fumbling blindly to find the fingerprint sensor, you may end up with fingerprints on the camera lens itself, so Samsung has included a reminder when you launch the camera to wipe it down.
Being forward-thinking and attempting to redefine the meaning of a big phone isn’t without its challenges, and while Samsung has made an excellent attempt, the location of the fingerprint sensor does render a very good sensor near-useless. However, thanks to other biometric options, it’s a small compromise for what is one of the best-designed smartphones ever made.
Thanks to a taller screen, the removal of the home button, and bezels that are slimmer than ever, Samsung has managed to put a bigger screen in a footprint that’s barely bigger than last year. Samsung is known for making stunning smartphones and the Galaxy S8 is its best yet, ushering in a new era of smartphone design and laying down a marker for Samsung’s rivals.
All of this leads to what we’ve come to expect from Samsung displays – an extremely vivid Super AMOLED display that punches colors harder than before and is a joy to use. Rated as one of the first HDR-capable smartphones, the Galaxy S8 screen ups the brightness and color saturation of the screen when viewing content like YouTube and apps that support HDR, such as Netflix. It’s a noticeable improvement when switching in and out of the app, but it means that the Galaxy S8 offers the best mobile entertainment experience on a smartphone to date.The 18.5:9 aspect ratio means Samsung has managed to pack more pixels into its display, with the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus both offering displays at 2960 x 1440 pixels. On the Galaxy S8, this translates to a pixel density of 570 pixels per inch, while on the Galaxy S8 Plus this is a little lower at 529 pixels per inch.The additional pixels mean a taller display overall, but there is some pillar-boxing when watching widescreen content so you’ll have black bars on the sides. You might find the bars distracting for most media content, but you can force apps to full screen mode either through the display settings menu or by tapping the icon in the recent apps menu.
Out of the box, both phones come with the display scaled down to Full HD+, but you can tweak this and things like color saturation in the display settings.The additional pixels mean a taller display overall, but there is some pillar-boxing when watching widescreen content so you’ll have black bars on the sides. You might find the bars distracting for most media content, but you can force apps to full screen mode either through the display settings menu or by tapping the icon in the recent apps menu.Running the Galaxy S8 display through our testing, we found the screen has a max brightness of 373 nits with auto brightness turned off and 515 nits with it turned on. During sunlight we found a visible punch in the brightness and although the display isn’t technically the brightest, it is definitely pleasing to the eye. With a color accuracy of 7180 Kelvin, the Galaxy S8 doesn’t have the most accurate display in its default out-of-the-box state, and has a warm tone, but with all of these effects turned off, the display is the closest we’ve come to the ideal temperature of 6500K with a temperature of 6440K.Overall, the addition of so much real estate is a more than welcome trade-off to Samsung removing the home button and much of the experience remains the same otherwise, including the Edge UX and Always On Display, which have a couple of actionable additions. Past Samsung devices have always sported great looking displays, but the Galaxy S8 is in a class of its own and offers one of the most immersive experiences on a smartphone to-date.
As the latest Samsung flagship, you can expect the latest processing package and the Galaxy S8 doesn’t fail to deliver. Depending on your market, you can either expect the latest Exynos 10nm chipset or the Snapdragon 835, both coupled with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of on-board storage, which is expandable via a microSD card. The Exynos version comes with the Mali-G71 MP8 GPU while the Snapdragon 835 has the Adreno 540 GPU.As you might expect, there are no performance concerns with the processing stack that powers the Galaxy S8 and we’ve noticed no issues with performance in applications or while gaming. When running Super Mario Run and Jade Empire – which are both heavy mobile games – there were no issues with dropped frames or lag.The Galaxy S8 also powers the DeX, Samsung’s new docking accessory that allows you to turn your Galaxy S8 into a full desktop computer. It’s testament to the processing power of both chipsets that they’re able to deliver a full desktop experience with little more than a couple of small hiccups and ever so slight latency when recognizing the input from a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.The only noticeable performance issue I personally experienced is with the iris recognition which, like on the Galaxy Note 7, fails to work properly if you wear glasses. Samsung warns you to remove glasses or contact lenses when setting up the iris recognition, but this means you’ll have to either look over the top of your glasses or lift them up for iris recognition to be useful. Josh hasn’t had any issues with this, so it might be an issue with my handset and when the iris scanner can see your eyes unobstructed, it is lightning fast.
As you might expect, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus come equipped with a heavy hardware stack which includes expandable storage, a 32-bit audio DAC, dual-band Wi-Fi, and a plethora of connectivity options.The Galaxy S8 is also one of the first phones to support Bluetooth 5, which brings with it a much longer range and the ability to have an active connection with two different devices. In the real world, this means you can connect to two Bluetooth speakers or a speaker and headset at the same time and play audio through both simultaneously.Right next to the USB Type-C port on the bottom of the phone is the single bottom-firing speaker and the headphone jack. The loudspeaker has the same issues that are inherent to its design, mainly a tinny sound, and overall, it’s decent at best. Samsung’s acquisition of Harman Kardon should eventually result in much better audio, but it likely came too late for the speakers on the Galaxy S8.However, with the headphone jack, Samsung has taken a different approach by focusing on headphones instead of including a third-party DAC or built-in amp. Instead, they’ve included a pair of high-quality earphones made by AKG, and while we have a full review of these headphones coming soon, we can say they are significantly better than the headphones included with any other phones.
The headphones are surprisingly “bassy” for small earphones and feature a premium feeling design that includes a fabric cable and in-line controls. Diving deep into the sound settings, there’s a bunch of equalizer toggles that can be used to cater the audio experience to your preferences. There’s an Adapt Sound tutorial that helps you tune the output to your own ears and the result is a headphone experience that manages to be surprisingly deep for the average user. Given what’s happened in a short-space of time, we expect Samsung’s acquisition of Harman Kardon to result in a vastly improved audio experience on future flagships.
Samsung has refined its camera over the past few generations of its phones to produce what is arguably the all around best smartphone camera on the market. The Galaxy S8 camera may not be heavily changed from the Note 7, and even the Galaxy S7 Edge before it, but enhancements in the overall picture taking experience mean Samsung’s legacy of high quality photography continues.The big changes in the cameras come at the front, where Samsung has included an 8 MP shooter with a Smart Autofocus system. Autofocus is not something found too often on front-facing cameras and selfies benefit from the higher megapixel count, resulting in good photos in most lighting conditions. In low light, the pictures lose some sharpness as the shutter requires more time, but this is expected, especially from a camera that lacks image stabilization. The main camera is a 12 MP shooter with large dual pixels, f/1.7 aperture, optical image stabilization, phase detection autofocus, and an LED flash. The interface is largely like before, prioritizing swipes and certain gestures to keep shooting simple and as easy to use in one-hand as possible. There are no new modes in the camera, though there is the addition of 1080p recording at 60 frames per seconds for smooth video recording. Video recording also sees the addition of manual controls in the Pro mode, including manual focus for finer control over the focus of your videos.Samsung touts that the camera has multi-frame processing, which means it takes multiple shots of the same image and puts them together to get the best colors and detail from a scene. This aside, the experience and quality are almost identical to the Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S7, with images featuring high amounts of saturation and detail in all but the very darkest of conditions. The camera isn’t the most accurate – Samsung devices never produce the most accurate photos – but the bump in saturation and detail mean the photos look more appealing to the eye compared to other phones.
The only real difference in the camera UI is the addition of a small eye icon in the bottom left of the viewfinder, which fires up the biggest addition to the camera, and the phone itself: Bixby.