Review of "Samsung Galaxy S8"

published 10/01/2018 | kurii
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"Samsung S8"

So for the Galaxy S8, Samsung made an effort to do something different. It combined everything it did in the past few generations of its phones and added some new ideas to produce something different from everything else on the shelf of the average phone store today.

Of course, Samsung had to do this, because for the past six months it’s been dealing with the biggest public crisis any electronics company has faced in modern times. The Note 7, the last major phone it released, had a crucial design flaw that caused its battery to spontaneously catch fire. Samsung had to recall the phone twice and then was finally forced to cancel the Note 7 entirely.

Now Samsung faces two challenges with the Galaxy S8: create a new phone that will get people excited, and at the same time make them forget about all of those other phones catching fire just last year.

After using both the $720 to $750 Galaxy S8 and its larger sibling, the $840 to $850 Galaxy S8 Plus, for the past week, I can say with certainty that these are phones worth getting excited about. They are easily the best phones released so far this year, and may turn out to be the best phones of the year, period.

They might even be good enough to make you forget all about the Note 7 and its fiery batteries.

The most common reaction I heard from people who saw the S8 units I’ve been testing is "wow." That’s because the S8 is a stunning device to look at and hold. It truly doesn’t look like any other phone you might have used before, and it’s refined and polished to a literal shine.

The big reason the S8 looks so different from any other phone is its new screen, which Samsung has dubbed the "Infinity Display." It features a new 18.5:9 aspect ratio that’s similar to the 18:9 screen on the LG G6, but taller and skinnier than the traditional 16:9 screens the vast majority of other smartphones have. On the Galaxy S8, it measures 5.8 inches diagonally from rounded corner to rounded corner; on the S8 Plus it expands to 6.2 inches in the same dimension.

The taller aspect ratio means that in terms of raw screen area, the S8 and S8 Plus aren't as big as their diagonal measurements imply. But don't let the complicated math take away from the bottom line: they are huge screens in very small bodies. Putting an S8 side-by-side with an iPhone 7 almost feels unfair to the iPhone — the Samsung’s screen is just so much larger, yet the phone’s overall dimensions are practically the same.

That screen is pushed to the outer edges of the phone’s frame, taking up 83 percent of the front panel and leaving very little bezel above and below it. In addition, the sides are curved, finishing off the infinity pool effect and making it feel like you’re holding just a display. Samsung is going all-in on curved screens this year — it’s the company’s big differentiator — and you can’t buy a "flat" version of the S8 at all.

The company’s commitment to curved screens serves both aesthetic and practical purposes. Not only are the curved edges beautiful to behold, they allow Samsung to make the phone narrower than if it had a flat display. A narrower phone is easier to use in one hand and both the S8 and S8 Plus are much easier to handle than other phones with similar-sized displays.

Earlier Samsung phones with curved screens had a tendency to register touches on the sides of the display when you didn’t intend them, making the curved design more frustrating than it should have been. But the company has largely addressed this issue with the S8, as the curves are not as aggressive and the glass blends seamlessly into the metal frame of the phone. I didn’t have an issue with errant touches with either the S8 or the S8 Plus in my time with them.

That new taller and skinnier screen shape does cause some problems, however. I appreciate the narrower width overall, but the height of the screen can make it difficult to reach the notification tray with my thumb, even on the smaller S8. And then there’s the issue of app compatibility. Many apps work just fine on this new screen shape, but a number of popular ones, such as Pocket, Netflix, Speedtest, Dark Sky, and Spotify don’t automatically stretch to fill the screen, leaving black borders above and below the app. You can force these apps to fill the screen with a couple button taps (recent apps, then the circular button that appears on the app in the carousel) and I haven’t seen any issues with most regular apps.

Games, on the other hand, are a bit different. Super Mario Run, for example, does not use the entire screen, and if I force it to, elements will be cut off on the left and right sides of the screen, making it hard to hit some of the buttons in the menus and non-gameplay areas. My colleague Vlad Savov experienced a similar issue on the S8 Plus with Egg Inc. Playing a game in the 16:9 aspect ratio it was designed for is not a terrible experience — you still have quite a large display canvas to play on — but until developers update their apps and games for this new tall and skinny world, you won’t be able to make use of all the screen you’re buying with the S8. Fortunately, Google is encouraging developers to get on board, as it seems like this shape will be popular with phones going forward.

Samsung bills the new aspect ratio as better suited for watching widescreen video, and notes that the viewing area is 36 percent larger on the S8 compared to the S7 playing the same 21:9 video clip. Sure enough, watching the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi trailer on the S8 is an impressive experience, as the content spans edge to edge on the phone’s screen. The S8 can automatically detect 21:9 video and present it as large as it can be without cutting off any of the content, but I only found it working on clips I watched in YouTube. Movies played in Google Play Movies did not automatically use the full screen, though I could hit a button to do so, while video in Netflix remained locked to 16:9 no matter what. As with games, this is an issue that will probably be solved in due time, but if you’re an early adopter of an S8, most of the video you’re likely to watch on it won’t be taking advantage of all the screen has to offer.

Despite those early-adopter issues, I’m a fan of the new shape and the fact that it lets me have a much larger display without making the S8 too unwieldy to use. On top of that, the Quad HD Super AMOLED panel is wonderfully vibrant and sharp, and it’s very bright, even outdoors under direct sunlight. It’s no exaggeration to say this is the best smartphone display I’ve ever seen.

The new screen shape dictates many of the other hardware features on the S8. Because the screen dominates the front of the device, there is no room for Samsung’s traditional home button, so the company followed the path of almost every other Android smartphone maker and utilized on-screen virtual buttons for home, back, and recent apps on the S8.

Samsung also made the area of the screen where the home button appears pressure sensitive, so you can push harder on it to wake the display or go back to the home screen at any point, even in full-screen apps where the home button isn’t visually displayed. It’s not unlike the iPhone’s Force Touch feature, but it’s limited to just the spot where a home button would have been if the screen wasn’t there taking its place. It’s a clever solution and provides virtually the same experience as a physical home button, so longtime Samsung users should feel... right at home with it.

Of course, without a home button, there’s no fingerprint scanner on the front of the phone. Samsung addresses this by putting the reader on the back of the device, which is something Google, Huawei, LG, and others have done for some time. But instead of placing the fingerprint scanner below the camera, near the middle of the phone where your index finger naturally rests, Samsung installed it far up the back of the phone and right next to the camera.

The high placement of the scanner makes it difficult and awkward to reach with my index finger, even on the smaller S8. I have to practically perform finger stretches before I can reach it with any sort of regularity on the S8 Plus. Second, because it is right next to the camera and has a similar shape and feel to the camera module, I frequently touch the camera lens instead of the fingerprint scanner, smearing the lens with all of my lovely finger oils. The placement is a real shame, because otherwise, the fingerprint scanner is one of the fastest and most responsive I’ve used. Samsung has also included Pixel-like gestures on it, so you can swipe down on the scanner to reveal the notification tray, provided you can ever actually reach it.

To make up for the fingerprint scanner’s exceedingly poor placement (Samsung told me that it is where it is because the battery prevented it from being put below the camera), the S8 has two other biometric means of unlocking the phone. The iris scanning that first debuted on the ill-fated Note 7 makes its return, and while I'm sure it's very secure, it’s awkward to use, requiring me to hold the phone uncomfortably close to my face and open my eyes comically wide to trigger it.

New for the S8 is a face-scanning feature that is supposed to be the most convenient method of unlocking the phone. I say "supposed to be" because in practice, it almost never worked for me, despite being very impressive in demos before the phone’s launch. More often than not, the face scanner would not see me at all, leaving me staring at the phone awkwardly, waiting for something to happen, before eventually capitulating and putting my pattern in. Samsung also says the face-scanning feature isn’t as secure as the iris or fingerprint methods, so not only is it slower and less reliable to use, it’s less secure, too.

Aside from that major stumble, the rest of the S8’s hardware is practically flawless. The fit and finish is unparalleled, and the curved display is matched by a symmetrically curved back glass panel. All of this glass does make the phone a bit of a fingerprint magnet, and it’s going to be more prone to scratching and damage than an all-aluminum phone. But the glass back allows for Samsung’s wireless charging, and like last year’s S7, the S8 is water resistant to IP68 standards, so it can withstand 1.5 meters of submersion for up to 30 minutes at a time. In practical terms, that means you don’t have to worry about your phone getting ruined when one of your tipsy friends spills their beer all over it at happy hour.

The S8 and S8 Plus use USB Type-C ports for wired charging and data transfer, and both phones include a standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Samsung is also throwing in a set of AKG-branded wired headphones with the S8 models (the company recently purchased AKG’s parent company, Harman), which sound fine. They are better than Apple’s EarPods by a good mile, and are comfortable and easy to wear. But the headphones are more like a nice bonus than a reason to buy the phone, and they are certainly not worth the $99 Samsung claims they are.

Overall, apart from the fingerprint scanner, the theme of the S8’s hardware is polish, both literally and figuratively. It’s a glossy, metal-and-glass monument to Samsung’s manufacturing capabilities, and it’s just really, really nice.

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Comments on this review

  • Soho_Black published 12/01/2018
    NH as this appears to have been copied. However, if you can prove you are the original author, or if you resubmit the review in your own words, I will re-rate.
  • Secre published 11/01/2018
  • thedevilinme published 10/01/2018
    I guess multiple accounts and copying are fine now
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Product Information : Samsung Galaxy S8

Manufacturer's product description

Android 7.0 - 4G - Bluetooth, Wifi

Product Details

Manufacturer: Samsung

Cellular / Type: Smartphone

Cellular / Operating System: Android 7.0

Display / Diagonal Size: 5.8 in

Optical Sensor / Sensor Resolution: 12 Megapixel

Communications / Wireless Interface: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Cellular / Mobile Broadband Generation: 4G

EAN: 0762042123955


Form Factor: Touch

Weight: 155 g

Product Name: Samsung Galaxy

Flash Memory / User Memory: 64 GB


Listed on Ciao since: 10/04/2017