For the last two weeks I’ve been approached by at least 10 people for the same two questions that always came together. The first was: Oh, Is that the new Galaxy? And the second: Well, but does it explode? This proves how much of a footprint Samsung owns in the smartphone market, where people associate the name Galaxy more to a phone than to the Milky Way, and where one mistake has only made the brand even more viral.
Marketing is a powerful thing. 2017 has served to show that even negative publicity is still publicity. It’s still a brand making headlines, and only helping it generate awareness in the consumer space. If you thought the mistakes made with the Galaxy Note 7 were going to cripple Samsung, think again. The Samsung Galaxy S8 has been met with record-breaking results; something Samsung hadn’t been able to achieve since the Galaxy S IV.
Marketing can go both ways though. The reason why Samsung took so long to re-gain the popularity it had with the Galaxy S IV is mainly because consumers realized that good marketing doesn’t necessarily mean you’re buying a great product. People soon realized that most of what made that phone special were just a ton of gimmicks you would never really use, and a cumbersome experience can do a brand worse than bad publicity.
Cue in the Galaxy S8. This is probably the biggest departure Samsung has ever made from the typical Galaxy we knew. Is it just another marketing stunt, or are you really paying more for a better product? Read our full Galaxy S8 review to learn more.
For details on the larger variant, make sure you tune in to Juan’s separate coverage of the Galaxy S8+. This Galaxy S8 review is focused on my time using the regular S8. I actually received both units at the same time, but decided to review the smaller variant for a few important reasons.
The first is ergonomics. Sure, the Galaxy S8+ is actually smaller than the iPhone 7 Plus I was using before it, but some of Samsung’s design choices make it more cumbersome to use, even for my larger-than-average hands. Also, because products like the LG G6 did a great job in getting me to sip on that taller-display-on-a-small-phone Kool-Aid. I find the idea of a larger display over a smaller chassis to be genius. Sure it’s relatively the same surface area as other regular-sized phones if you do the math on surface area, but a narrower body is easier to hold and operate with one hand.
The second reason is because with the exception of a smaller battery, you’re pretty much getting the same phone. Samsung doesn’t force you to buy a larger phone in order to get its best features, something which other competitors should follow.
Focusing on build, Samsung made some interesting changes. The metal trim is now protected by a glossy coating that remains intact even after three drops onto tile. The buttons continue to be just as clicky, and color options like the Orchid Gray model that I chose can handle fingerprints and smudges very well. And even if many aren’t fans of the curves all around, they contribute in providing that surreal feeling of holding a large phone that feels small in the hand.
Those curves also contribute in creating what Samsung calls its Infinity Display. This is probably one of the best displays of the year given its blend of rounded corners, curved edges, and Super AMOLED technology. Samsung also added its mDNIe technology to this display, making it capable of playing back HDR video. At 5.8-inches diagonal, it nearly kills the bezel at a whopping 83% screen to body ratio, and with palm rejection being addressed fully in this new model. The screen is capable of Quad HD+ resolution, but is versatile enough to scale to 1080p+ or 720p+ to help with power efficiency. This is proof that the display spec race is over. I’ve tested this phone at 1080p+ for all my review period, and you know what? It’s all you need.
Buried inside we’ve got some of the best specifications in the market thanks to a either a Snapdragon 835 or Exynos 8895, in addition to 4 gigs of RAM, and base storage of 64GB that’s expandable. You also continue to enjoy the benefits of IP68 water and dust resistance, fast and wireless charging, a 3000 mAh battery, and new toys like Bluetooth 5.0 for those that want to stream music to two pairs of headphones at a time.
To blend with the elegance of the hardware, we have Samsung Experience UX 8.1. Those of you who fell in love with the software that came on the Galaxy Note 7 will be delighted here. The company continues its trend of minimalism in absolutely every detail, and as much as I’m not a fan of Android skins, this one falls under my short list of exceptions.
This user interface is capable of a ton of unique tricks that aren’t enabled out of the box, as Samsung continues to tune-down its approach to software. I’d suggest you watch my 24 hours video for more details on the full list of what this UI can do in a unique way.
My final thoughts are that I’m really liking Samsung’s attention to detail in the basics. The company’s Always On display is now more robust with notification icons and a quick way to react with them.
If you need a quick short cut to anything, it’s just a swipe away from the edge, and I’m shocked over how much I use this now. I’m also a big fan of the hidden home button, and little things like being able to swap the order of the navigation buttons. One of my favorites continues to be Secure Folder to help me protect information, in addition to having a second copy of apps in case you have multiple accounts.
Concerns for a taller display were also considered. I continuously rely in touching the home button three times for enhanced one handed use, though you can also choose to activate this from sliding from the bottom. And as for scaling, I’m surprised at how fast third party apps are adapting, with important services like YouTube already enhanced for it, even if the content won’t always do so for obvious reasons. One thing I notice is that the UI is smart enough to detect when content is built for it and automatically adjusts, whereas competitors like the G6 still don’t.
And as for the Camera, let’s just say that by now we all know that a Galaxy is a Galaxy. Juan’s real camera review is one of the most extensive he’s ever done, and for great reasons. This continues to be one of the cameras to beat, even if most of the enhancements are in image processing compared to last year’s model.
Double click that power button and enjoy some of the best photos a smartphone can take with amazing color saturation and detail. Just like last year my advice remains to just take the shot.
Even when you see a grainy view finder at night, let the camera show its prowess when you see that final shot. Video is also one of this phone’s high points thanks to great stabilization from the primary sensor…
The selfie shooter got a bump in megapixels, which I’m sure is great for fans of it,.. But I’m honestly annoyed at the crop that Samsung has adopted for video. The field of view has become just as bad as with the iPhone, and I’m hoping they fix that.
Other features like performance can be delightful for the most part given the power of this 10nm processor. Games are surely benefited by this, with no lag or stutter to be seen, no matter what title I play. The only thing is that I can’t really call this phone the fastest performer out there. Once you load up the launcher with your stuff, and you start using it as a normal power user would, you’ll notice that the UI is quite the RAM hog. The result is mixed performance, with minor stutters when moving around certain menu items.
Bixby is seriously one of those features I wish Samsung would’ve waited to launch. Pressing the button sometimes does nothing, and even so it takes forever to launch. It also slows down the launcher, so take my advice: Pinch within the home screen, swipe to Hello Bixby and switch it off from the launcher, and just call on it from the button if you ever desire to. Bixby vision is a neat trick, but I sometimes find it quicker to simply search for a product than to have to wait for Bixby to react. This is sadly a half-baked mess that reminds me of the old Samsung full of gimmicks.
I’d say this phone could really use Android 7.1 ASAP, and not just for UI improvements, but also for power efficiency. A 3000 mAh battery is small for a display this large, with cases where I rarely reach a full day of moderate use, and where the 7.1 enhancements could really come in handy.
Cool are things like the insane amount of ways you can unlock this phone, with the Iris Scanner topping my list of favorites given its speed, and the fact that it even works through sunglasses. If the sun is too bright, you have the oddly placed fingerprint scanner to assist. Over time I’ve become used to its placement, but I do recommend using a case in order for the hump to assist you in finding it. This is another of the reasons I moved away from the Galaxy S8+ as you actually need to adjust the way you hold the phone to reach it.
A major and welcomed improvement comes at the hand of audio for the most part. Yes, you will still hate the placement of the speakers, but I fully agree with Juan’s Real Audio review in that this phone made dramatic improvements to headphone audio, and I even notice a louder kick when using it for phone calls.
Pricing and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is not what I’d call an affordable phone, but this is the first time I’ll ever say you’re actually getting more for your money. At its initial price of $729, you get a great phone that starts at 64GB of storage, and a good pair of headphones tuned by AKG. The headphones alone are $100, and most competing devices start at just 32GB of storage.
To conclude our Galaxy S8 review: there is a lot of good to be said about the “New Galaxy,” as everyone calls it. Those of you that were left nostalgic by the beauty of the Note 7 will be happy to see even more beauty shown off here. There is a lot of genius being placed on this design… So much so that I highly suggest that you go to a store and hold one to fully understand what I mean.
The only challenge continues to be the same we’ve always dealt with Samsung. Beautiful software should not be an excuse for stutters, or the slow speed at which Galaxy phones get updated to newer versions of Android. I’m not calling these deal breakers, but really just problems that are getting old for a phone this expensive.
Would I recommend the Galaxy S8? Sure! My minor list of complaints can be fixed with an update. This design and form factor are definitely the future for smartphones. A future which you can already access today.