You know the feeling when everything just makes sense and feels right? That's what I've been feeling as I've spent the past few days with the Galaxy S8. The new flagship from Samsung features a modern design that will set the trend for 2017. Its highlights include the display with its 18.5:9 aspect ratio, changes in the user interface and great performance. However, there have been some compromises, too - battery capacity, for instance. Read on to find out if the strengths of this device can outweigh the weaknesses.
Samsung has now launched a limited promotion where you'll receive a free entertainment kit with the purchase of a Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. All the details can be found in the release date and price segment.
Highlight recent changes
- ✓User interface
- ✕Moderate battery life
- ✕Fingerprint scanner position
- ✕Bixby assistant
Samsung Galaxy S8 release date and price
The Galaxy S8 will be available from April 21, and pre-order prices are starting as low as $720. It will be available in three colors: Orchid Gray, Midnight Black and Arctic Silver. All major carriers in the US will offer the device, and pre-ordering is already available through the Samsung website. Some carriers are offering a free Gear VR with purchase and special discounts as well. Dual SIM capability will be available in some markets, but it doesn't appear to be available in the US. Check out our unboxing video to find out which accessories are included in the box, and see our hands-on video below to get a feel for the phone.
Samsung has launched a limited offer in the US under the name "Infinitely entertaining", where if you purchase a Samsung Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+, you will receive an entertainment kit. The kit includes a six month Netflix subscription, a clear view standing cover, and a 64 GB Evo+ memory card. The offer will run until May 16, 2017 and will require you to fill out a "offer claim form (which needs to be submitted between May 5th and June 30th). The only drawback of this promotion is that only 200,000 kits are up for grabs.
Samsung Galaxy S8 design and build quality
As I said at the beginning of this review, holding the S8 just feels right. The slight change in dimensions from the previous generation is too slight to make a real difference.
The same isn't true of the display though. The new Samsung flagship's display makes use of 83.6 percent of the surface space, while its predecessor uses just 72.1 percent. The difference in display size has a much bigger impact on the experience than the phone being an extra 6.5 mm taller than the S7.
The optimization has allowed the South Korean manufacturer to put a 5.8-inch screen on the Galaxy S8 while keeping the phone virtually the same size as the previous generation. To do this, it was necessary to ditch the physical home button on the front - making it the first of its series to do so.
Every time I pick up the phone to check a notification, I'm struck by the display's design. The S8's screen is referred to as Infinity Display, because it gives the impression that the whole front of the device is taken up by the screen. This is because, unlike previous models in the S series, the front of all the devices (no matter the color variant) are black - so you can't differentiate between display and bezel.
Even the sensors and front camera are camouflaged, so it's only when the screen is on that you can discern the thin bezels surrounding the display panel.
To our dismay, not everything is in its proper place. On the back of the S8, the fingerprint scanner is located just beside the camera lens. Honestly, it's not too difficult to unlock the phone with a fingerprint or even slide your finger across the sensor to check your notifications. That's not the problem.
The issue is that every time you want to unlock the phone, you have to feel around to find the scanner and hold the device with both hands. It's awkward, inconvenient and you end up having to clean the camera lens every time you want to take a photo or video.
Considering that the vast majority of people don't reflexively clean the lens of their camera before taking a picture, I'd say this will hurt user experience. However, Samsung does offer other methods of unlocking the screen.
Regarding the materials, the S8 has Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, and from my experience, the back is better at preventing fingerprints. The aluminum frame is extremely thin on both sides, and as Samsung decided to add a dedicated button for Bixby, there's been a change in the visual balance of the device.
I've often found myself pushing the Bixby button and activating it accidentally, thinking it was the volume down button. What's even more annoying is that Bixby won't be fully functional until well after the S8 starts shipping to the majority of customers.
As the S8 comes with IP68 certification, you don't have to worry about getting the phone wet, and you can even record video or take pictures underwater. However, it can't go more than 1.5 meters deep or spend more than 30 minutes submerged. As a consequence, however, the speakers need a bit of time to dry to go back to their full quality, which makes sense.
Samsung Galaxy S8 display
Samsung’s main focus is the front of the Galaxy S8, and this is most obvious in the display. No one wants to drag a huge tablet everywhere, so Samsung has balanced a large screen with a body that isn’t too big.
LG faced the same problem with the G6, and used an 18:9 aspect ratio instead of the classic 16:9. With the S8, Samsung uses an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, with a resolution of 1,440 x 2,960. Compared to normal QHD phones, this makes the display of the S8 400 pixels taller.
To achieve this 18.5:9 aspect ratio, the Galaxy S8 has a taller screen than the average smartphone available on the market. In addition to integrating the new standard that is already being used by the film industry, we were able to see more content on the Galaxy S8 screen than we could see on the Galaxy S7 screen, for example. In addition, the ratio 18.5:9 ratio allows for using smaller fonts, better utilization of UI elements, and optimized use of the multi-window feature.
There are a lot of benefits to this aspect ratio. However, it's a new technology, and not all apps support it. As a result, most games and videos will display a black bar at the top and bottom of the screen, or on the sides. So, some games in 16:9 format may lose pixels to compensate for these black borders.
With the Sky Dancer game as an example, the menu buttons are cut off, and due to the curved edges of the S8, the experience was even worse than what we had with the flat screen on the G6.
I also noticed that, unlike with the LG G6, the Galaxy S8's software is less intuitive and it takes longer to select the full screen option even for apps that support it. So, to improve my experience, I configured which apps to use the full screen for in the Display menu - that means the game doesn't have to start from scratch each time just to change the screen ratio.
Unfortunately, even if Samsung refines this feature and makes it more intuitive to switch between 16:9 and 18.5:9, as long as apps don't support the ratio, the screen's size won't be fully taken advantage of. Fortunately, apps like Netflix and YouTube can be used without any issue in this mode.
The S8 has a Super AMOLED display that uses a wide color space. The panel is super bright, has accurate color representation and offers deep blacks thanks to its AMOLED screen. However, the whites tend toward blue - this doesn't interfere with the quality of the experience, though.
On another note, some users in Korea have complained that their S8 and S8+ devices have discolored, red-tinted displays. Samsung has responded saying that it "is not a quality problem and it can be adjusted with the phone itself. If the color still appears to be reddish, customers can change it at the service center." However, even after attempting to correct the display color settings, the reddish tint persisted for users.
The problem may have been caused by the "deep red" technology used to achieve color balance, an unnamed industry analyst told Korea Herald, but Samsung is still saying there is "no problem with the phone itself." The company has now told the Korea Herald, "Because there are some complaints about the red-tinted screens, we decided to upgrade the software next week for all Galaxy S8 clients." So, expect an upgrade by the end of April that will help you further adjust the color of the screen and hopefully fix this red display problem.
Even the smaller of the two S8 devices has an edge display. Just like the LG G6, the corners of the screen are rounded, which looks nice when watching videos or playing games. When you look at the front of the phone, you barely notice the subtly curved edges, so it doesn’t interfere with the viewing angles as much as it did with the S7, though they do sometimes still reflect a bit too much light.
The S8's display is set by default to offer Full HD+ resolution (2,224 x 1,080), which is smaller than QHD+ (2,960 x 1,440). Samsung did this first with the S7 when it updated the smartphone to Android 7.0 Nougat to save battery life. This can be changed in the device settings.
I'm a fan of this function. Just as the processor isn't firing up all eight cores all the time, a smartphone doesn't always need to be in top performance mode. Samsung offers the option to optimize based on what you're doingL gaming, entertainment, or demanding activities. Using the edge display as a shortcut, you can select any of these modes quickly and optimize for a range of use cases - from battery saving to high quality video.
When the S8 is set to use maximum specs, however, there's a huge difference in the display quality and audio quality - not to mention how quickly the battery drains. So this feature isn't a gimmick - it's a tool. Knowing how and when to use it will really improve your experience of the Galaxy S8.
Samsung Galaxy S8 special features
DeX: the Galaxy S8 turns into a desktop PC
Samsung DeX is an exciting feature that works with the Galaxy S8 and the S8+. DeX is a docking station that the S8 plugs into via USB type-C, and gives it an HDMI output and two USB ports.
After being plugged in, the S8 needs just a few seconds to connect to the monitor. The desktop interface is based on the multi-window features of Android. This interface supports mouse and keyboard, and the Samsung browser displays the desktop versions of websites. Multitasking also works. The performance was satisfactory, but DeX didn’t seem as fast as a classic PC.
Because Samsung’s interface is based on the multi-window feature of Android, it will support apps right from the start. Apps that don’t support multi-window are displayed in a narrow window. For others, you can resize the app window as you wish. For many apps, like Facebook, you can also use the browser alternative.
Bixby: Samsung’s digital assistant
Samsung has high hopes for Bixby. The voice assistant will, among other things, revolutionize voice commands for the S8 and compete with Microsoft, Apple and Google's own assistants. Launching this with the S8 may not have been the best choice on Samsung's part, as it hurts the experience more than it helps - and only the cards function is available right now. You access them by swiping to the right on the lock or home screens. Much like Google Now cards, they show your day's schedule.
Instead of listening for a trigger word or phrase, Bixby starts with the push of a button. There is a specific button for this on the left side. This is a bold move from Samsung because if Bixby doesn’t take off, the S8 will be stuck with a useless hardware button on the side of the phone.
Initially, Bixby will only be available in Korean and American English. Other languages will soon follow, including US Spanish, but no timetable has been provided yet. It's recently been announced by Samsung that Bixby will not support voice commands when it launches alongside the Galaxy S8. The company have said that users won't be able to speak to Bixby until "later this Spring."
There will be a feature called Bixby Vision that will recognize things using the camera and show you information about them, or point you to Amazon to buy the product.
At first, Bixby will be supported by 8 to 10 of Samsung’s apps. App developers will soon be given access to the SDK to make their apps Bixby-compatible. In the mean time, Google Assistant is fully functional on the S8.
Samsung Galaxy S8 software
The evolution of Samsung's custom UI continues on with the Galaxy S8. Based on Android 7.0 Nougat, Samsung has made some refinements to key points of the interface and it's now referred to as Samsung Experience 8.1. It's clean and fluid, a bit like the Pixel launcher.
Since the physical home button was removed, now there are virtual navigation buttons that can be rearranged to your taste. I use the multitasking / home / back configuration since it actually helps me use the device with one hand more easily.
When you slide your finger down across the screen, you'll open the app drawer - making it even more simple to use one-handed. It's a pity, however, that Samsung hasn't adopted the same notifications presentation as Xiaomi's MIUI.
Just like with the Pixel, swiping across the fingerprint reader on the back allows you to open the notifications bar, but swiping down on the screen just would have been more intuitive.
The Samsung Experience is lightweight - and by that, I mean relatively bloatware-free. What caught my eye is that instead of including popular apps like Facebook and Instagram, Samsung included Google's Duo video calling app. Microsoft Office and Skype do come on the phone too, though.
In relation to the software, there are two functionalities that make the experience really positive. Samsung Flow allows you to continue what you were doing on one device when you switch to another - picking up where you left off on a news article for example. The Samsung cloud offers a super reliable backup functionality that made it easy to restore the data from my S7 on to the new phone.
Another feature that really sets the S8 apart is the facial recognition, which unlocks the screen lightning fast. There are some criticisms about how secure it is, and some have been able to unlock the screen using a photo of a person's face, supposedly. After several tests in the office, my colleagues and I were unable to circumvent the feature as some have. Regardless, the method can't be used for making payments. The feature works very quickly, but it's almost impossible to use in low light situations.
Samsung Galaxy S8 performance
The device we reviewed for our had an Exynos 8895 processor, which is said to have 10 percent more processing power than its predecessor. In terms of graphics capabilities, it also has a Mali G71 GPU. However, despite being quite fluid in day-to-day activities, I did not feel a big difference in using the S8 compared to the S7. The US version of the S8 is equipped with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 835 - and, unfortunately, we haven't had the chance to test it yet. With the Exynos processor, we had no issues playing Assassin's Creed Identity, Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons or Sky Dancer, and multitasking was a breeze. Even in the optimization mode, the performance was very good.
The US Galaxy S8 will have 64 GB of internal memory and 4 GB of RAM. In Korea alone, there is a 128 GB version with 6 GB of RAM. Universal Flash Storage ensures quick loading times, for the first time with Generation 2.1.
Of course, given our short time with these demo devices, it's hard to evaluate whether the S8 will have some of the same shortcomings as the other S series smartphones. It is often said that Samsung smartphones’ performance suffers with age, which I can confirm with my Galaxy S7.
Samsung Galaxy S8 audio
Samsung purchased audio experts Harmon Kardon in Fall 2016 and the first result of this acquisition is the headphones supplied with the S8. The AKG headset delivers superior audio quality and has DSD64 / 128 playback support depending on the file format.
Although normally good, the quality of the AKG headset is truly outstanding when we use the Galaxy S8 in Entertainment Mode, because it activates the UHQ (Ultra High Quality) optimizer, which improves sound for songs and videos. Using the shortcut feature on the Galaxy S8's edge, whenever I'm listening to music, I turn on this option. Or you can leave this feature always enabled from the Settings menu.
This feature can only be used when the headphones are or a stereo Bluetooth speaker is connected. Overall, I liked these AKG headphones, but I still prefer the experience with Sony's noise canceling headphones.
The speaker quality is above average but not fantastic, like with the S7. The sound is loud but metallic at high volume, so we lose a lot of bass when listening to music or watching movies.
The call quality is very good, and you can hear the person on the other end clearly without having to turn the volume up all the way.
Another interesting thing is that the S8 supports Bluetooth 5.0, allowing you to connect two Bluetooth devices (headphones or speakers) to the phone at the same time. We tried it out, and it works great - allowing a user to turn the volume up or down on one device without affecting another. Plus, you can connect two Bluetooth speakers at the same time and really get the volume up high in your home.
Samsung Galaxy S8 camera
In recent years, Samsung has paid a lot of attention to the camera on its mobile devices. With the Galaxy S6 and S7, it showed the whole industry what advancements were possible. But the competition doesn’t sleep. LG presented a dual wide-angle camera and Google’s Pixel phone has what is probably the best smartphone camera on the market.
In 2017, Samsung again used a 12 MP sensor and dual pixel technology for fast and precise focus. For low light environments, Samsung gave us an f / 1.7 aperture and 1.4μm pixels. The sensor used this time is the SLSI_S5K2L2_FIMC_IS, developed by Samsung itself and not by Sony, as we had with the Galaxy S7 line. Samsung offers an optical image stabilizer and support for the RAW format. The S8 uses multi-frame processing, meaning it will take several pictures per shot and merge them into one automatically, to make for better end results.
The front camera sensor is also made by the manufacturer, comes with 8 MP, autofocus and an aperture of f / 1.7. The quality of the front camera is superior to that of the Galaxy S7, and is one of the best on the market in my opinion.
Using the automatic mode, the camera experience is very good in well-lit environments, we have clear, colorful, good-light images with good contrast and good exposure. If you enable HDR mode, images will have optimal color and tone balance. But overall, it's not revolutionary, Samsung has remained merely competitive. Check out some examples in this gallery of images I created in Google Photos.
The camera offers the option of 4K video capture and shifting focus during shooting is fast. The fact that we can record images andvideos directly on the microSD card is fantastic for traveling and conferences. Slow motion videos can be captured at 240fps and 720p.
Our camera expert's opinion:
According to our in-house photography expert, Stefan Moellenhoff, in low light situations, as is typical of most non-high-end cameras, the colors are a bit too warm. We also see a slight increase in noise and a loss of small details depending on how dark the scenery is for the photo. Galaxy S8 image processing algorithms generally do a good job of maintaining balance between noise and detail / color maintenance.
The main highlight of the Galaxy S8 compared to its competitors is the software. The app is incredibly fast when taking pictures and auto focus usually does a good job - even in low light conditions.
In addition to being well-designed, the Pro Mode allows the user to manually adjust settings such as white balance, shutter speed or ISO sensitivity. Although it is a shame that the maximum ISO is limited to ISO 800 - in places with bad lighting conditions, higher ISO speeds, for example, could be useful. In Auto Mode, the Galaxy S8 uses four-digit ISO speeds. For most users this will probably go smoothly.
Samsung Galaxy S8 battery
The Galaxy S8 has a 3,000 mAh non-removable battery. We expect this to last about a day, given the screen size and specs. It makes sense that Samsung didn’t get too ambitious in terms of battery capacity with the S8, given the Note 7 disaster. The Galaxy S8 will have wireless charging capability.
As we didn't have the US version of the S8 to test, we could only gauge the battery life for the European version with the Exynos processor. On a medium-use day, I used the Galaxy S8 on 4G and Wi-Fi connections, with Bluetooth enabled, and screen brightness set at 40-75 percent (depending on the time of day). I watched videos on YouTube and Netflix for about an hour, I surfed the internet to read news, edited articles on the site, accessed Twitter, kept up with WhatsApp conversations, played games for at least 40 minutes, and listened to music for 30 minutes. The result was having to charge the cell phone almost twice a day. That's more often than I have to with my S7. To mitigate this, I use the screen in Full HD+ instead of QHD+. On the other hand, charging the battery was fast - going from 0 to 100 percent in about an hour and 40 minutes.
Samsung Galaxy S8 technical specifications
|Dimensions:||148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm|
|Battery size:||3000 mAh|
|Screen size:||5.8 in|
|Screen:||2960 x 1440 pixels (568 ppi)|
|Front camera:||8 megapixels|
|Rear camera:||12 megapixels|
|Android version:||7.0 - Nougat|
|Internal storage:||64 GB|
|Chipset:||Samsung Exynos 8895|
|Number of cores:||8|
|Max. clock speed:||2.3 GHz|
|Connectivity:||HSPA, LTE, NFC, Bluetooth|
After the disaster that happened with the Note 7, anticipation for the Galaxy S8 has been very high, as another huge mistake would be catastrophic for Samsung. So, Samsung played it safe under the spotlight by continuing the evolution of the S series' design by making one of the most beautiful smartphones on the market while not getting to technically ambitious. Samsung compromised on the battery life for this device, and that is its biggest downfall.
Despite software optimizations, which offer a longer battery life - if you're paying top dollar for a smartphone, you should be able to take advantage of its full performance without being so held back. The S8 makes it possible to have it all, but you'll have to charge the device at least twice to make it through your day. Having fast charging eases the pain of this, but only so much.
The strikingly modern design, incredible screen and robust software options are things only a high-end device like the S8 can offer. Bixby more of a dream than reality right now, like the DeX docking station. But, if you can cope with the small battery, the S8 is the smartphone to have.
In conclusion, I think the S8's strengths outweigh its weaknesses.