“Is it gonna blow up?”
“Did Samsung get their act together?”
“Seriously, is it gonna blow up?”
These are all questions most users of Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S8, get asked on the daily. I most certainly have, and here’s your answer: it doesn’t look like it. It’s been almost a couple of months since the phone went on sale, and we haven’t seen one report of an S8 or S8+. This is huge for Samsung as this device was their most critical one to date to get right. After the Note 7 debacle, most customers likely lost their trust in the company. But fortunately, Sammy came back strong.
And they did it well.
For starters, the flagship feature of the new S8 is clearly the display. Samsung touts the phone as having the world’s first Infinity Display, but that’s just fancy marketing talk for saying the device exits the usual rectangular screen in favor of one with a new aspect ratio, rounded corners, and nearly no bezels. I mean, seriously, look at this thing. There’s barely any border surrounding the screen at all.
Sure, there’s definitely a small one on the top of the S8, but that houses the front-facing camera, notification LED, earpiece for phone calls, and the new iris scanner. This bezel at least has some type of purpose to it. And yeah, there’s even a small chin that doesn’t exactly bring anything to the table, but the electronics for the display have to go somewhere. Think of it as the flat tire found on the Moto 360. It’s there and you’ll notice it, but you really won’t mind it.
I have to say, the 5.8-inch Quad HD+ display on the S8 is beautiful, as is every Samsung display front recent years. It’s AMOLED so you get punchier colors, improved brightness, and extra battery life since unnecessary pixels can be turned off (this is extra helpful with dark or black wallpapers), while the 18.5:9 aspect ratio makes the device easier to handle in one hand. Sure, its taller than your typical 16:9 smartphone, but I prefer the longer form factor since I can easily stretch my thumb to the other side of the phone while, say, sending a text.
Samsung is also using its now-famous Edge approach with the S8’s display which curves the sides of the screen and brings forth extra software functionality. This just makes using the device even more pleasurable since swiping through menus feels amazing, using the Edge tools are stupid convenient (more on these later), and the S8’s general aesthetic is bumped up to 11. The curve on this year’s Galaxy S phone is more subtle than years past, while the actual curve of the glass meets a near-seamless glossy metal rail, therefore ridding the device of sharp edges similar to what’s found on the S7. Overall, I really appreciate Samsung’s attention to detail with the Edges on the S8, because it just gives an impression of quality and beauty, two terms that can also be used to describe the rest of the phone as well.
Now look, even though the Infinity Display may feature super sharp picture quality, poppy colors, and excellent brightness, it definitely has its downsides. For one, while watching videos or using certain apps, you’ll get two black bars on either side due to most content, applications, and games being produced in 16:9 rather 18.5:9. This isn’t a huge problem, but it’s definitely not preferable.
Samsung provides a little button, however, where if you tap, whatever content your streaming or app you’re interacting with will crop to fill the entire display. Again, this isn’t preferable since you won’t see certain portions of videos or have access to controls in certain apps that haven’t been optimized for longer screens, so you may just wanna stick to the black bars until more developers and content creators adopt the 18:9 aspect ratio.
There’s also a glare problem present specifically while interacting with the S8 while in landscape mode. Due to the curves on the sides of the display, any light around you will reflect off the edges and obstruct your view slightly. Most people I’ve spoken to about this issue don’t really think it’s that big a deal since it really isn’t, but it’s definitely notable since you won’t get this effect with standard, flat displays.
With all that aside, the rest of the Galaxy S8 is pretty fantastic. There’s glass on the back of the phone that attracts way too many fingerprints, a USB-C port sits on the bottom alongside a speaker and headphone jack (take that, iPhone 7), a volume rocker and power button which offer excellent clickiness are present, and a unique approach to fill one of the gaps left out by the Infinity Display is amazingly implemented. Let me explain.
Due to the Infinity Display taking up much of the room up front, Samsung had to ditch physical navigation keys in favor of virtual buttons which nearly every Android phone has been doing for a number of years. However, long-time Galaxy users may miss the physical home button since you can press it to wake your screen or feel a more natural sensation when navigation back to your home screen thanks to a click. So what does Samsung do? They put it under the display. Sorta.
Smack in the middle of the bottom of the phone sits pressure detection, similar to 3D Touch on the iPhone but in only one area of the S8. By pressing in this location a bit harder than you normally would, you’ll receive a strong, more natural feeling vibration indicating the button was “depressed.” This function works while the screen is either on or off which makes it pretty convenient, while it can also be used to navigate you directly into your phone like Galaxies of the past. I have to say, this implementation is quite clever even though it doesn’t exactly feel as natural as a physical button. That being said, I’ve enjoyed just pressing a bit harder on the home button to navigate home or wake my screen to view notifications. But of course, it comes with one huge caveat, and that’s the fingerprint scanner.
Rumor had it that the Galaxy S8 would beat the 10th anniversary iPhone to the punch and implement the fingerprint scanner underneath the display. This ultimately didn’t happen since Samsung couldn’t figure the technology out and they were running out of time, so they just opted for virtual navigation keys and the blatant wrong location for a separate fingerprint scanner, one that sits next to the camera sensor on an unusually tall smartphone. Stretching your finger over to this sensor is an absolute pain since you’ll be required to do some type of phone shimmy, while the actual sensor isn’t that identifiable without looking at it. Therefore, you’ll get fingerprint smudges all over your camera lens, and coincidentally, the S8 will warn you when this happens as you’ll see below.
One way to solve this problem is with a case or skin on the back of the S8, but regardless, you’re gonna have to retrain your brain to remember the sensor is up further than you’re used to. I can’t help but think Samsung could’ve put the scanner somewhere else on the phone like right below the camera or something, but this was a last-minute decision anyhow. “Who cares, right?”
I’ll tell you who cares: everyone who wants to use the fingerprint scanner.
Luckily, even though using the fingerprint is terrible, Samsung has built-in other methods of unlocking your phone. Sure you can use the typical PIN, password, or pattern, but there are two additional ways unique to the S8 to get inside. These include an iris scanner and a face detection system.
Starting with the former, the iris scanner works like it did on the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 in which it scans your eyes and will allow you to unlock your phone just by looking at your phone in a certain manner. Normally, you have to position a phone a certain way to line your eyes up correctly, but Samsung’s latest implementation of the technology doesn’t exactly require this. Rather, there’s just a certain area on the screen you’ll grow keen to look at if you use iris scanning every day which will position your eyes so the S8 can scan them properly. This works while your irises are both naked or blocked by something such as a pair of glasses. It’s a pretty convenient feature to have since I won’t have to stretch my finger across my phone just to unlock it, but I wouldn’t say it’s the fastest by any means as for me, it takes about 3-5 seconds for it to recognize my eyes.
On the other hand, the facial recognition Samsung built into the Galaxy S8 is lightning fast. I mean, it’s just stupid how well it works. The company says this new implementation is different when compared to Google’s own native version which began shipping with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich back in 2011, while Sammy also claims it’s more secure. I won’t say it’s either of these statements since a), the feature doesn’t work any differently than how it did in the past and b), the function can be tricked with just a picture of you or with someone who’s face is similar to yours. Therefore, I ultimately kept this feature off, iris scanning and fingerprint recognition on, and a pattern as my backup. Anyone that wants to hack into my phone can take note of these details. 😉
Moving past security, the actual performance of the Galaxy S8 is superb. There’s a Snapdragon 835 processor onboard paired with 4GB of RAM, an Adreno 540 GPU, and 64GB of baseline storage which, by the way, can be expanded via microSD card. Playing games, switching through apps, and just using the phone during my heavy days as the manager of MBEDDED is just an overall great experience. And it should be, since this phone starts at $720 and costs a minimum of $750 from AT&T.
Speaking of which, we tested AT&T’s network speeds and signals during our testing of the Galaxy S8, and we’d normally receive download speeds of around 40-50 Mbps and upload speeds of 8-12 Mbps at max. Mind you, the carrier’s signals throughout South Jersey aren’t all that great and get pretty spotty pretty fast, but this hasn’t exactly spoiled my experience with the S8. Rather, it spoiled my experience while using AT&T, something I hate to admit since I’ve recommended so many people to the network.
It’s worth noting the Galaxy S8 supports Gigabyte internet, but we weren’t able to test it during our review period. Guess we’ll have to touch base sometime in the future.
Normally, I wouldn’t go too far into detail about a specification like Bluetooth, but the S8 deserves your attention in this department. It’s the first phone to ship with the new Bluetooth 5.0 standard which allows for a whole bunch of crazy new connections. For one, pairing to a Bluetooth device is twice as fast, a smaller delay is present while controlling playback of music or a video, four times the range of a Bluetooth connection is here so you can take a step outside while your phone sits at your desk upstairs, and eight times the data can be transferred over a Bluetooth connection. This specific spec of Bluetooth 5.0 allows for Samsung to include something called Dual Audio.
Essentially, Dual Audio allows you to connect two Bluetooth speakers to your Galaxy S8 and allow for the same or different audio to play from both of them. For instance, a single track from Spotify can play out of both speakers at the same time, or the audio from Spotify can play from one and music from a game can be played out of the other. This is one of those features you didn’t realize you needed until you used it, so I’ve definitely enjoyed my time jamming out to Bruno Mars on two speakers at the same time.
While we’re on the subject of audio, the Galaxy S8’s bottom-firing speaker isn’t all that great. It lacks bass, sounds tinny, and seem slike it’s washed out. Unfortunately, this is the case scenario for many IP68-rated phones (yes, this phone is water and dust resistant, in case you were wondering) or any phone with any protection against the elements, so I’ve just kind of dealt with it and used my LG V20 when I wanted more. Also, there’s a headphone jack at the bottom that sounds fine. It’s not great, but I don’t care. I will NOT take advantage of it.
Speaking of which, in the box of the Galaxy S8 come specially tuned AKG earbuds that plug into the headphone jack. Samsung says they cost $99 on their own, so they’re a nice perk for buying this expensive phone.
Essentially what you’re getting here are typical in-box earphones with a spunky design and slightly upgraded sound quality. They sound better than something like EarPods since they’re not as bass-heavy and sound much clearer, but they don’t exactly compete with the various Boses of the world. As an added bonus, they come with a pretty much tangle-free cable and replaceable ear tips to fit comfortably in your ears, so overall it’s a nice bonus that should step up your audio game if you’ve been using other in-box headphone solutions.
As for cameras, there’s two on the Galaxy S8. No, I’m not referring to a fancy dual camera setup or anything, just the front and rear cameras. It’s unclear why Samsung opted for just a single rear camera on the S8 since so many companies’ flagships tend to have this feature nowadays, but I guess they had to save something for the Note 8, right?
Regarding the rear, there’s a 12MP sensor on the S8 which features an f/1.7 aperture, phase detection autofocus, optical image stabilization, an LED flash, and Auto HDR. Yes, this is the same sensor found on the back of last year’s Galaxy S7, but Samsung says they’ve upgraded the image processing in this case to make the quality of taken pictures and videos better than the previous generation. As we don’t have an S7 on hand to compare, we can only show you photos from the S8. But as you’ll see, they look pretty fantastic regardless.
Colors are as vibrant as you’d expect coming from a Samsung phone, while sharpness is on point and highlights tend to not very frequently get blown out. Even low light performance is pretty great. So even though you won’t be getting any super wide-angle photos with this camera, the S8’s main shooter will definitely get the job done.
It’s also great for heavy photographers. There’s a custom Pro mode in the S8’s camera app which, I have to say, is super clean. You can control everything from this interface – white balance, focus, shutter speed, you name it. This way, you can get the shot you so desire. You can also use some pretty pointless filters that seem like a straight copy of Snapchat, but hey, who doesn’t like dressing up like Michael Jackson?
As is the case with most expectations of the S8’s camera, there’s also 4K video support that looks just as good as photos do: colorful, sharp, and not over exposed.
Flipping the phone around, Samsung has upgraded the front-facing camera to 8MP with an f/1.7 aperture, 1440p video capture, and autofocus. That last feature is the main addition to Samsung’s selfie shooter as not many phones on the market currently have such a function. Hey, now your selfies will look extra sharp and less blurry. That’s fun, right?
All in all, the cameras of the S8 is near perfect. It’s really hard to take a bad picture with it. I wish I could say the same for all other phones on the market today.
With every new Galaxy comes new software, and Samsung actually takes things up a few notches in this department. Out of the box, the Galaxy S8 ships with Android 7.0 Nougat with the Samsung Experience UI on top. The company has done lots of refinement to their software skin this time around, and I have to say, this is officially my favorite Android skin of all time.
Seriously, this level of customization is hot.
For one, icons have adopted a new wired look with simple colors in the background while frames sit around other icons that don’t feature native support for Samsung Experience, a fresh set of wallpapers makes the phone look that much more clean (personally, I enjoy the live Infinity wallpapers), and an improved always-on display allows for a greater level of customization through the theme store which can also be used to access additional wallpapers, icon packs, sounds, and more. The default launcher is also great this time around with a swipe up or down bringing you your list of apps, similar to that of the Google Pixel. There’s even a swipe-down gesture available for the fingerprint scanner which I thoroughly enjoy even though I have to slide the phone physically down my hand.
Unfortunately, this iteration of TouchWiz or whatever you wanna call it isn’t perfect. Sometimes when trying to open an app, there’s around a two-second delay before the app actually decides to open, while manually switching apps in the recent apps viewer doesn’t necessarily provide the snappiest experience. But putting my nit-picking aside, this is still a phenomenal skin that doesn’t even deserve to be put in the same category as past iterations of Samsung’s custom UIs on top of Android. It just feels more sophisticated, more refined, and best of all, less childish.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, there’s a whole new suite of Edge panels. You can switch between your recent apps which I found myself doing regularly, create a GIF or take a screenshot of an area on your screen, view sports scores, check the weather, or even use a calculator simply by downloading additional panels from the Galaxy Apps store. All of this functionality can be accessed by swiping in from either the right or left side of the S8’s display, whichever you configure. There’s also a feature called Edge Lighting that displays a certain color when you receive a notification or a phone call from one of your contacts. These, of course, are just little touches, but they definitely go a long way in making the Galaxy S8 a pleasure to use software-wise.
To address the elephant in the room, introduced with the Galaxy S8 is Samsung’s new virtual assistant they call Bixby. It’s not using Viv technology, mind you, as Samsung has publicly said they built this entirely in-house. The company says it’ll eventually reach other products like fridges and TVs rather just phones, but for now, it’s exclusive to the S8 and S8+.
So what can it do? Unfortunately, at least for now, not much. Samsung said Bixby would one day be able to control your phone with your voice like you would your finger (that feature’s called Bixby Voice), but this isn’t launching until later this year. It also has a long way to go since right now, it just feels like a ripoff of Google Now.
A swipe all the way to the left of your home screen will open Bixby Home which shows you weather data, fitness stats, recent apps, your gallery, and some news, while tapping an icon in the camera app can birng up Bixby Vision which can identify products and tell you to buy them. This feature never really worked very well for me as I’ve scanned many a product box and 40% of the time it was right. Of course, any bottle of wine you scan will be identified thanks to Samsung’s integration of Vivino, but unless you like a good pinot or cabernet in the evening, you likely won’t ever use Vision.
Oh yeah, and Bixby can set reminders. Because you should be able to as if you can’t already do that with 1000s of other apps.
All in all, I never really used Bixby. But this is because it can’t do much yet. Of course, once Bixby Voice is introduced, I’ll probably do a follow-up to this review, but until then, I’ll be sticking with Google.
That being said, you can expect Samsung to continue to support Bixby. I mean, they built an entire, dedicated hardware button on the side of the S8 and S8+ that can only access Bixby and nothing else. They’ve gotta continue to improve Bixby. Otherwise, they wasted millions of buttons that could’ve been power buttons one day. But they’re not, and they’re assigned to a commitment Sammy better take seriously because if they don’t, the company’s public AI efforts will get off to a pretty rough start.
Finally, let’s talk battery. The S8 sports a sealed-in 3,000mAh cell that, mind you, isn’t the largest in the world. It also doesn’t help since the screen is bigger and has 2960×1440 pixels, the Snapdragon 835 is much more powerful than the 820 and requires more juice, and all the fancy animations and effects suck power dry most of the time. Ultimately, this has led to myself experiencing roughly 2-2 1/2 hours of screen-on time on the daily which is rather unfortunate. Surely, with a flagship phone costing upwards of $700, you may expect more. But unfortunately, you’ll be thoroughly disappointed.
On the contrary, I am able to get through a full day’s worth of mid-to-heavy usage on the S8. Using Bluetooth constantly for my LG Watch Sport and Bluetooth headphones, streaming music from Spotify and Apple Music, and following the route to my radio gig using the built-in GPS all take a toll, and yet I still have around 15-25% battery left by the end of the day even if I don’t have the screen on all the time. And when I need to charge up, there’s a USB-C port on the bottom which enables Quick Charge 2.0 to allow the battery to load up with 50% juice in roughly 25 minutes, a pretty impressive feat if I do say so myself. I can also pop the S8 on a Qi or PMA wireless charger if I’m in desperate need of some more juice. All in all, you won’t find a shortage of available charging options on the Galaxy S8 (and S8+, for that matter) while most users can expect to get through at least a full day of use out of the cell onboard.
And no, the batteries don’t explode. We’ve seen no evidence supporting this speculation so far, and since Samsung has poured so many resources and money into assuring this won’t happen again, I can almost confidently say neither the S8 or S8+ will burst into flames in your pocket. I say almost because I don’t think any of us were expecting the Note 7 to explode either, so here’s to a bright future for Samsung not lit by fire on countertops and wall outlets.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 sports the entire package. There’s a bright, beautiful screen, unique software features and looks that make it stand out from the rest, awesome cameras, an excellent build, fast charging, good battery life, a microSD card slot for expanding available storage, a stupid fast processor, and all of those Samsung quirks you won’t know you need until you use them. So should you buy the S8? That’s up to you. If you have at least $720 to spend on your next smartphone, go ahead and buy the S8. It’ll surely last you the next two years and then some. But for those who are debating this phone with something cheaper, you may wanna stick to just saving a bit of cash.
Regardless, if you’re even interested in the S8 or S8+, I say just buy it. It’s a near-perfect smartphone that will suffice nearly all of your needs. And yes, there’s a small chance it’ll blow up, but that’s a risk you’ll have to take to get such a beautiful, well-crafted smartphone.