Samsung Galaxy S8 hands-on review: Will Samsung’s new flagship be the BEST phone of 2017?
So, the Samsung Galaxy S8. You’ve heard of that, right? Of course you have, and you also know what it looks like and what the specifications are, don’t you? If not, you probably should do, because this phone is probably the most leaked major smartphone in history. It’s so leaky that Samsung probably should have codenamed it Leaky McLeakface.
There is no substitute, however, for actually getting your hands on a smartphone. Getting up close and personal, tapping the touchscreen, eyeballing the display, and jamming it into your pocket. A few minutes of hands-on time can reveal secrets that no leak ever can, and to lay your hands on the Galaxy S8 is to discover the single most important thing about it.
This is a 5.8in phone that, in essence, feels like a 5.2in device; the question is how? Has Samsung achieved this through the equivalent of engineering voodoo or industrial-design magic?
Of course not, but there is something special at work here. The Galaxy S8’s dramatically rounded corners, familiar curved screen edges that taper into nothingness, and the ultra-thin 8mm profile all do their bit, but that’s nothing new. It’s the new screen aspect ratio of 18.5:1 and the virtual elimination of the top and bottom bezels that make all the difference here.
These changes transform a 5.8in phone from a pocket-stretching monster into something practical for everyday use. Samsung was keen to point out that you can use the Samsung Galaxy S8 one-handed, and while this is stretching reality a little, the point still holds; it’s much easier to use in one hand than the 5.7in Google Pixel XL, which I’ve been using for the past few months as my main phone. And as has become the norm for the recent generations of Samsung smartphones, the S8 also looks absolutely glorious.[gallery:7]
So sure, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is still a smartphone (you heard it here first, folks). It’s still a rectangle of glass, metal and silicon available in the usual cheesily named selection of colours (midnight black, orchid grey and arctic silver, in case you were wondering), but Samsung has made enough tweaks and refinements to make it genuinely special.
I do have one word of caution regarding the design of the Samsung Galaxy S8, however, and this concerns the fingerprint reader, which has moved from the front of the phone below the screen to the rear, next to the camera lens. With no room for it on the front – Samsung has at last moved to onscreen home, back and Recent Apps buttons – this is a design decision that has been somewhat forced on Samsung. However, putting it next to the camera rather than below it will be something that will take some time to get used to.
Perhaps Samsung is so confident in its improved iris recognition tech and new facial recognition system that it thinks users won’t bother using the fingerprint reader all that often. I’m sceptical, however; fingerprint recognition is a proven technology, it works well and relegating it to this position is going to irritate a lot of people.[gallery:27]
^ The Samsung Galaxy S8 (left) bears many visual similarities to the LG G6 released earlier this year but the former is a lot prettier
Samsung Galaxy S8 vs Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – what’s the difference?
Of course, Samsung usually release not one but two flagship smartphones every year and 2017 is no different, with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus launching alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8. Unsurprisingly, it’s more expensive and the price is eye-wateringly high at £779. The question is, what are you getting for that extra £90? On paper, not a lot. The phone has a larger 6.2in screen screen
On paper, not a lot. The phone has a larger 6.2in screen, which means it’s a bigger phone and so isn’t quite as usable in one hand as the regular S8. Its larger chassis also means that it has a bigger battery, which is essential given that larger screens drink power at a higher rate. However, when it comes to the rest of the specifications, the two phones are identical to each other. The resolution of the screen is the same, the cameras are the same, the processors are the same and the RAM. The storage is identical and the release date is the same. Even the layout of the buttons, speaker grille, headphone socket and fingerprint reader are mirrored.
That’s not to say that the S8 Plus won’t perform differently to the S8. That bigger battery (3,500mAh vs 3,000mAh) might help it last a couple of hours longer, but I’m not going to know that until I’ve had the opportunity to test both phones. In essence, though, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is the Samsung Galaxy S8 but with a slightly bigger screen and a slightly less practical size. Whether that’s worth the extra cash remains to be seen.
Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Key specifications, price and UK release date
Just in case you want to know what the precise specifications are, here’s a quick rundown for you, including the UK release date and what we know about pricing. Rejoin after the table, however, if you want to know what this phone is really like to handle and use:
Samsung Galaxy S8 specifications
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus specifications
|18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED, HDR-capable display||18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED, HDR-capable display|
|68.1 x 148.9 x 8mm (WDH)||73.4 x 159.5 x 8.1mm (WDH)|
|Octa-core, 10nm Samsung Exynos CPU (comprises 2.3GHz quad-core and 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs)||Octa-core, 10nm Samsung Exynos CPU (comprises 2.3GHz quad-core and 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs)|
|IP68 dust and water resistance||IP68 dust and water resistance|
|4GB RAM||4GB RAM|
|64GB UFS 2.1 storage||64GB UFS 2.1 storage|
|microSD slot||microSD slot|
|3,000mAh battery||3,500mAh battery|
|USB Type-C||USB Type-C|
|12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor||12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor|
|8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture||8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture|
|Gigabit LTE/4G capable||Gigabit LTE/4G capable|
|Android 7 Nougat||Android 7 Nougat|
|UK release date: 28 April||UK release date: 28 April|
|UK price: £689; preorders open now||UK price: £779; preorders open now|
|Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus best deals in the UK: Pre-order Samsung’s new flagship with these hot deals|
Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Key features and performace
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is, Samsung claims, the first smartphone to use a processor built using the 10nm manufacturing process. That’s not strictly true. It’s among the first: the Sony XZ Premium, announced at MWC earlier this year, also has a 10nm chip – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.
A smaller manufacturing process typically indicates greater efficiency, and could contribute to better battery life, although since the battery is the same size as in the S7 last year (3,000mAh), improvements are likely to be marginal.
Samsung also says that the chip is 10% faster for CPU operations over the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and for graphics it’s 20% faster. That’s certainly borne out by what we know about Snapdragon 835’s performance and leaked figures via Geekbench of the Samsung equivalent – the Exynos 8895 – with the latter being, reportedly, a hair quicker.
Incidentally, as usual, us Brits will be getting the Galaxy S8 with this slightly faster Exynos 8895 chip inside as will others in Europe and Asia, while those in the US will get S8 handsets with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. Since both chips are manufactured by Samsung in the same factory using the same manufacturing process, I imagine there won’t be too much difference in efficiency or areas. Both chips will offer the possibility of connecting at up to gigabit 4G/LTE speeds.
Best Samsung Galaxy S8 deals
|– Vodafone – £42/month + £100 upfront (24 months)|
– Unlimited mins & texts | 24GB (4G) data | Total cost £1,108
– Buy now from Carphone Warehouse
|– EE – £45.99/month + £79.99 upfront (24 months)|
– Unlimited mins & texts | 5GB (4G) data | Total cost £1,183
– Plus: Free 6 Months Apple Music for iOS & Android
– Buy now from Carphone Warehouse
|– O2 – £44/month + £100 upfront (24 months)|
– Unlimited mins & texts | 5GB (4G) data | Total cost £1,156
– Buy now from Carphone Warehouse
|READ NEXT: Best Samsung Galaxy S8 deals|
Samsung Galaxy S8: Bixby
The Samsung Galaxy S8 will also see the launch of Samsung’s rebranded voice-control system, now called Bixby. This is Samsung’s attempt to challenge Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant by providing “multi-modal” control over the phone and its functions as well as voice-driven text recognition for search, emailing and messages.
You can use Bixby to fling content from your phone to your TV, discover more information about items or landmarks you’ve just photographed, set reminders, and interact with the homescreen.[gallery:19]
And with Bixby, there’s no need to utter an embarrassing keyphrase to launch it: simply press the Bixby button, which lives on the left edge of the device opposite the power button, and talk. This might well be key to getting people to use the system more often; I use a Pixel XL as my daily driver and hardly every use the “OK Google” key phrase to activate voice recognition, yet I use Google Assistant every day for quick web searches and for setting destinations in Google Maps.
However, I can see the button approach being divisive as well and just as likely to annoy people who accidentally mistake it for the power button.
What the presence of Bixby also means is that the S8 won’t likely play nicely with Google Assistant. To my mind, Google’s digital assistant is the best around and streets ahead of Siri, Cortana and Alexa when it comes to voice recognition accuracy, so this is a disappointment.
And if you’re still itching to give Bixby a good tryout, however, there’s more bad news. Bixby isn’t ready yet, at least not for the European market. Us Brits will have to wait until later on this year to find out whether it’s any good.
Samsung Galaxy S8 display
One thing that’s unlikely to let us down is the display. On the Samsung Galaxy S8 you get a super-widescreen 5.8in screen with a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440, a pixel density of 570ppi and an aspect ratio of 18.5:9.
It’s an AMOLED panel, so contrast is effectively perfect. Although I won’t have the chance to test it fully until I have a review device in my hand, if past efforts are anything to go by, it will be bright and and perfectly readable in bright sunlight as well.
As with the S7 and S7 Edge, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s display is rounded off at each edge with virtually no visible border, and sports the usual Edge display functions. What’s new is that the bezels at the top and bottom are barely there, and that the corners are rounded off, a little like the corners on the LG G6’s screen.
It’s a great look, but the only new thing here is Mobile HDR Premium compatibility. Given the current paucity of HDR content on mobile, this is a bit of a moot point right now.[gallery:18]
Samsung Galaxy S8 camera and software
The Samsung Galaxy S8’s camera merely builds on last year’s model and doesn’t rip up the rulebook. Instead, it takes advantage of new capabilities in the phone’s chipset to grab three frames in rapid succession every time you take a picture, combining them together to create a sharper photograph.
Obviously, a phone launch is hardly the best environment in which to test such refinements, but what I can say is that I approve wholeheartedly of what Samsung has done with the software, adding a handy zoom function to the onscreen shutter button – just hold and drag to zoom in and out. It’s a marvellously simple solution to a genuine problem.
It’s also good to see that Samsung has implemented Android 7 Nougat here, although as always, it’s cloaked in the firm’s own love-it-or-loathe-it launcher software. The biggest changes are the Home, Back and Recent apps nav buttons that now live at the bottom of the screen instead of on the chin of the phone as capacitive buttons.
Samsung has added its own twist here, though, by introducing a pressure-sensitive sensor beneath the home button. This appears to have no practical function, however, and does nothing but buzz lightly whenever you press down on it.[gallery:25]
Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Samsung DeX
Perhaps the oddest and simultaneously most interesting aspect of the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch is Samsung DeX (desktop experience). Each of the new phones comes with the built-in ability to run a windowed Android-based desktop computing environment, simply by dropping the phone into the DeX dock and hooking up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
The DeX dock is neat enough, with an Ethernet port and HDMI port on the rear, as well as a micro-USB port for charging and (rather worryingly) a built-in fan to keep the phone cool, and it can be neatly folded away for storage and transport. And the DeX environment itself looks advanced enough to get some reasonably serious work done on it. Samsung has even gone as far as working with Citrix to make sure you can also run full Windows on it, via virtual desktop.
However, this has the whiff of Microsoft Continuum about it. That was a system that was supposed to revive Windows Mobile phones by doing effectively the same thing. In reality, no matter how neat DeX looks, I think it’s still too early to get excited about phones replacing our laptops, desktops and mobile communications just yet.[gallery:14][gallery:16]
Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Early verdict, price and release date
I’ve been to enough phone launches over the years to know that the days of dramatic advances are long behind us, so I’m not too fussed that the Samsung Galaxy S8 looks to be a pretty minor upgrade on the S7.
It will be slightly faster. The camera will, probably, be slightly better, and I really do like the new taller shape and slim bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. Battery life, too, should be similar if not improved by the efficiency of the new 10nm chip. This is all about marginal gains adding up to make a measurable overall improvement.
The only things I don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy S8 (and, by extension the S8 Plus) are the placement of the fingerprint reader and the rather high price of £689, which makes it £90 more expensive than the equivalent Apple iPhone 7 and Google Pixel. Aside from that, though, I thoroughly approve of Samsung’s new flagship.
|Samsung Galaxy S8: Full phone specifications|
|Processor||2.3GHz/2.35GHz octacore Samsung Exynos 8895 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (depending on territory)|
|Screen resolution||1,440 x 2,560|
|Front camera||8MP, f/1.7|
|Rear camera||12MP, f/1.7, OIS, 1/2.55in sensor size, 1.4um pixel size|
|Storage||64GB UFS 2.1|
|Memory card slot||microSD|
|Bluetooth||5.0 (plus ANT+)|
|Wireless data||4G (Gigabit)|
|Dust/water resistance rating||IP68|
|Dimensions||68.1 x 148.9 x 8mm|
|Operating system||Android 7.0 Nougat|