PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 REVIEW
It kept us waiting a little longer than in previous years, but in March Samsung finally rewarded our patience with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. These smartphones then went on sale in April as the best phones of 2017 to date.
Now the Galaxy S7 was already a pretty decent phone – in fact Samsung has won the crown in our best smartphones chart for the past three years running. Is it too much to ask for the company to improve on an already good thing?
Well, yes and no. Because the Galaxy S8 is a fantastic flagship, but it’s not flawless. It’s also facing stiff competition from more recent flagships.
UK PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The Galaxy S8 isn’t as expensive as some feared, costing £689 with the Plus model costing an extra £90. That’s still pretty pricey, though, and a fair chunk more than the Galaxy S7, which launched at £569. But it’s so much less than the £999 iPhone X.
You can order the S8 directly from Samsung or Carphone Warehouse. You can also order it on contract from as little as £37.99 per month from EE, Vodafone and O2 (through Carphone Warehouse) or from Three.
It’s good to see more in the box than most phones including two USB-C adapters (one to full size USB and the other to Micro-USB) and a pair of AKG headphones with extra tips.
Available in Midnight Black, Orchid Grey, Coral Blue and Arctic Silver, a new Burgundy Red option. It will be available in Korea from 28 November, rolling out to other markets soon.
DESIGN AND BUILD
If the Galaxy S7 was stunning in design then we’re not exactly sure how to describe the Galaxy S8 apart from that it’s on another level. It makes its predecessor, and other phones, look dated.
Samsung has brought its edge-screen technology to both phones this year so you don’t need to buy the larger Galaxy S8 Plus 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 a really impressive piece of craftsmanship largely down to significantly reducing the bezels at the top and bottom. A screen-to-body ratio of over 83 percent is impressive stuff.
The physical home button and accompanying capacitive keys are gone to achieve this. Now you have onscreen navigation and a pressure-sensitive home button built into the display – we’ll talk about this more later.
The fingerprint scanner is now on the back, but awkwardly placed 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.
Many users will be pleased to hear that Samsung has retained the headphone jack on the bottom. The Galaxy S8 is made from a lot of glass once again so it’s a little slippery, but has a Gorilla Glass 5 back to resist damage. 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 like its predecessor 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 -see the software section for more on this.
There are five colours to choose from but in the UK we got just three at launch: Midnight Black, Orchid Grey and Arctic Silver (the latter an EE exclusive).
SPECIFICATIONS AND HARDWARE
Compared to the Galaxy S7, the new Galaxy S8 isn’t dramatically different when it comes to the specs and hardware inside. That’s partly because the S7 already ticked a lot of boxes, but there are new components with the screen being the most obvious and impactful change.
As mentioned in the design section, Samsung has impressively jumped from 5.1- to 5.8in when it comes to screen size. This is despite the phone only being a little taller in shape. If that’s not big enough, the Galaxy S8 Plus is a whopping 6.2in.
Like the LG G6, the Galaxy S8’s display had rounded corners which look great, matching 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 suits content like videos much better so you can, depending on the source content, watch videos without annoying black bars. Depending on what you’re viewing, the viewing area is up to 36 percent bigger.
The phone sticks to Samsung’s preferred SuperAMOLED display technology ensuring great contrast and colours. The Galaxy S8 screen resolution is WQHD+, 2960×1440 in this case because the screen is so tall. A pixel density of 570ppi is enough for anyone.
It’s worth noting that it defaults to Full HD+ (2220×1080) 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 1480×720.
Specs 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 features different processors in differing markets around the world.
In the UK model it has Samsung’s own Exynos 9 8895 chip; elsewhere it features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, a chip it helped Qualcomm to build.
Samsung’s latest octa-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 but here’s the deal.
The Galaxy S8 still has 4GB of RAM and comes with 64GB of storage as standard. There’s a 6GB/128GB model, but that’s currently reserved for the Asian market.
As usual, the phone has expandable storage so you can add up to 256GB via the Micro-SD card slot.
As you’d expect from a flagship Samsung phone, the Galaxy S8 is packed with all the latest connectivity specs.
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 mentioned already, the fingerprint scanner has moved to the back 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 the placement and size of it make it frustrating in 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 bothered about security then the Galaxy 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 Galaxy 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 does ‘multi-frame 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 does this when it thinks it needs to, such as when capturing a moving object or in low-light situations.
It’s the new processor that makes this already awesome camera even better. Some shots, unedited, are unbelievable.
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 Galaxy S7 camera and, although it’s in essence the same tech here, the Galaxy S8 is one of the best phone cameras on the market. We’ve now updated our best camera phones article with 2017 models, so you can see how it compares for yourself.
When it comes to the front camera things are similar with a matching f/1.7 aperture, but the resolution has been bumped up 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 big song and dance about battery life on the Galaxy S8. This may be partly due to the fact it has the same 3,000mAh capacity as its predecessor.
Nevertheless, it’s good to see features such as USB-C, fast charging and wireless charging all as standard. You’ll get around 20 percent battery from a 15 minute charge.
Battery life will always be better when a phone is new and unused but we are, nevertheless, impressed with the Galaxy S8. It lasted almost 48 hours (including two nights) albeit with fairly light usage so on average we expect a little over 24 hours.
GALAXY S8: SOFTWARE
Manufacturers don’t typically sell phones on the software, and this is largely the case with the Galaxy S8 but there are some interesting things to talk about.
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 mucked about with it too much. The interface remains clean and easy to use but still has lots going on behind the scenes.
You get quite a lot of preinstalled apps but most are useful, including Google, Microsoft and Samsung’s own. The app drawer is now accessed with an upward 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 are tonnes of things you can customise with the software, including the home screen and app drawer grids. It’s easy to get lost in the settings menu with the sheer number of options – there are 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. These allow you to open and close the notification panel by swiping, which is handy with a tall screen such as this.
Since the navigation buttons are onscreen you can swap around back and recent apps – 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.
Moving to a bigger screen, despite the phone not being much bigger, presents a problem. A larger display means it’s more difficult to reach all of it with one hand. As mentioned earlier, things like 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.
We said not selling a phone on the software is ‘largely the case’ here because Samsung is making a big deal about Bixby.
It 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 (a firmware update has blocked a third-party app).
The idea is you can talk to it with your voice without worrying what you can and can’t say. It will also understand the context of what you’re doing. Samsung demonstrated using Bixby to set a wallpaper after launching the gallery with minimal taps.
Bixby Vision can also do some clever things like tell you about a local landmark you point the camera at along with additional information about what’s around you like places to eat or provided online prices for a product without scanning the barcode.
It’s all very well but 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.
The biggest problem, until now, has been that you can’t use the voice element in the UK. However, an English-language version of Bixby will be rolling out to devices in the UK from 22 August.
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.
It all sounds very nice but we’re not 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.
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. Read more about the Samsung DeX dock.
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.
The demonstration appeared to work very well and could make the Galaxy S8 a decent productivity device for anyone wanting to do general, basic office work. Samsung has even optimised its own browser so it loads the desktop version of websites.
Note that we’ve only seen the DeX dock in action but will bring you a full review if we can get a sample.
Other new accessories for the Galaxy S8 include a new Gear 360 2 camera and a tweaked Gear VR headset bundled with a motion controller. An update that adds Daydream support to the Galaxy S8 is also reportedly rolling out now.
Samsung Galaxy S8: Specs
- Android 7.0 Nougat
- 5.8in Quad HD display (2960×1440), 570ppi
- Dual curved edge display
- Exynos 8895 octa-core processor
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB internal storage
- Micro-SD card slot (up to 256GB)
- 12Mp rear-facing camera with OIS
- 8Mp front camera
- Pressure sensitive home button
- Fingerprint scanner
- Heart rate monitor
- 11ac dual-band Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX
- 4G LTE Cat 16
- Headphone jack
- 3000mAh non-removable battery
- Wireless charging
- IP68 dust & waterproof rating
SHOULD I BUY SAMSUNG GALAXY S8?
Samsung has taken the best phone around and made it even better with an impressive Infinity screen and premium design. It ticks a shedload of boxes – as you’d expect from a flagship. It’s one of the best phones of 2017, and is nearly half the price of the iPhone X. But the biometrics are a let down.
If you want a slightly larger screen and battery, then the S8+ also gets our approval. Though now, the OnePlus 5T offers staunch competition on specs and price.