After attending the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch event, I had the chance to try out the device for a couple of hours and put together my 10 best smartphones of 2017 so far post with the Galaxy S8/S8 Plus at the top of my list. After a week with the T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, my pick remains valid and Samsung has a fantastic device coming soon to a store near you.
You have probably seen the TV commercials focusing on the new Infinity Display and it is rather stunning to hold a Galaxy S8 Plus with a 6.2 inch display next to a 5.5 inch iPhone 7 Plus and enjoy the narrower design and better form factor of the Galaxy S8 Plus. Samsung has it all in the Galaxy S8 Plus and it is going to be tough to beat, but it’s also not perfect and it is expensive, But its price in China should be the cheapest, so we recommend buying in China.
- “The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ usher in a new era of smartphone design and fantastic new services, opening up new ways to experience the world,” said DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics.“The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are our testament to regaining your trust by redefining what’s possible in safety and marks a new milestone in Samsung’s smartphone legacy.”Samsung also highlighted several key areas that the Galaxy S range is designed to excel at. These areas are as follows:
Premium Camera: The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are equipped with an advanced 8MP F1.7 Smart autofocus front camera and 12MP F1.7 Dual Pixel rear camera for the best low-light, zoom and anti-blur photos with enhanced image processing.
Powerful Performance: Packing powerful performance and connectivity, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ feature the industry’s first 10nm processor, enabling heightened speed and efficiency. It is also gigabit LTE and gigabit Wi-Fi ready with support for up to 1 Gbps so users can quickly download files, regardless of the file size.
Robust Entertainment: As the world’s first mobile device certified by the UHD Alliance as MOBILE HDR PREMIUMTM, Galaxy S8 and S8+ let you see the same vibrant colors and contrasts that the filmmakers intended while watching your favorite shows. In addition, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ offer next-level gaming experiences with vivid and superior graphic technology, as well as Game Pack, featuring top game titles, including select titles supported by the Vulkan API.
Global Standard in Mobile Security: The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are built on Samsung Knox, a defense-grade security platform. In addition, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ will offer a wide selection of biometric technologies including a fingerprint scanner, iris scanner and facial recognition so users can select a secure biometric authentication method that works best for them.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Specs:
Body: 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm, 173g
Screen: 6.2” Super AMOLED, 1,440 x 2,960px resolution (531ppi)
Memory: 4GB RAM + 64GB storage; 6GB RAM + 128GB storage; microSD slot
OS: Android 7.0 Nougat
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus: Camera
The main, rear-mounted camera will be a 12MP sensor with an f/1.7 aperture similar to the Galaxy S7. However, there are differences, as the Galaxy S8 is rocking Sony’s new IMX333 sensor, which should result in some very impressive uplift to overall performance.
Bixby has also been integrated inside the camera app, so you can select images and stuff in the viewfinder and Bixby will scan it and identify it. Bixby links with Samsung Pay, so you can see where Samsung is going with this – point and shoot payments, basically.
Example: you’re friend has a pair of cool, new boots. You like them, but rather than asking him where they’re from, you simply snap a picture of them and get Bixby to buy them for you (via Samsung Pay).
This is a pretty impressive feature with huge implications for the future. Apple is apparently working on something similar inside the iPhone 8 as well and how the two services differ will definitely make for interesting debate later on this year.
As for the rest of the camera setup, you now have an 8MP front-facing camera for selfies and HD video calling. We haven’t had a chance to test out the handset yet, so obviously we’re reserving judgement until then. But suffice to say this camera setup should be one of the best in the business. I cannot wait to test it out properly!
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus: Battery
The Samsung Galaxy S8 will pack in a 3000mAh cell, while the Galaxy S8 Plus will use a larger – but still not that large – 3500mAh battery. Keen readers will know that these batteries are the same sizes as the one’s used inside the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 EDGE.
Why keep them the same? Samsung obviously has some new optimisations and tweaks that it is using to ensure an uplift to battery performance versus last year’s models. Either that or it simply isn’t taking any chances by squeezing a too large cell inside a mobile phone, as it did with the Note 7.
This is the first Android smartphone to launch with the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. The processor brings advanced imaging support, as well as the first phone to launch with Bluetooth 5.0.
Also: Galaxy S8 Review: Flagship smartphone leaves competitors in the past | CNET: The most beautiful phone ever has one wildly annoying issue | TechRepublic: Makes every other phone feel like a cinder block | Video: Samsung Galaxy S8: The good, the bad, the beautiful
I was sent a Midnight Black S8 Plus to test for a couple of weeks and ordered my own Orchid Gray one that should arrive in a day or two from T-Mobile. US carriers are not yet slated to received Coral Blue or Maple Gold models.
Last year Samsung purchased Harman and it looks like consumers are benefitting as Samsung includes a pair of AKG earbuds in the retail box. According to Samsung, the in-box earphones were precisely tuned by AKG to provide end-user customers with a truly pure sound, free from distortion – for gaming, for videos, and for listening to music.
Other box contents include a USB Type-C to USB connector, a Type-C to microUSB connector, a USB Type-C cable, a SIM/microSD tray ejection pin and a quick start guide.
LG was the first to release a smartphone with the unique 18:9 display aspect ratio on the LG G6 with Samsung following up with its 18.5:9 Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. This is a new trend that shows there are still ways to offer a unique experience in a world of black slabs. It is much easier to handle a narrower phone that increases the usable screen through height and seeing more on the display is always helpful.
Minimizing the bezels gives the smartphone a modern look, but we saw inadvertent finger presses on the Galaxy S7 Edge. Samsung solved this issue on the Note 7 by modifying the sides and took it a bit further on the Galaxy S8 Plus. In the week that I have been using the S8 Plus, I have yet to experience a single inadvertent press on the sides.
DisplayMate confirmed that the S8 Plus has the best smartphone display and gave it a first ever A+ rating. The display is the main interface and having the best on your phone is important to productive use. It’s wonderful to use two apps at once on the large 6.2 inch screen and it doesn’t get any better than the Galaxy S8 Plus.
Thankfully, Samsung continues to include a standard 3.5mm headset jack, along with a solid pair of AKG earbuds in the retail package. There is only a mono speaker on the bottom that offers just an adequate audio experience.
The volume button is positioned on the upper left with a new dedicated Bixby hardware button placed just above the middle of the left side. At this time when you press the button the Galaxy S8 Plus will launch Bixby cards. In the near future, pressing this button will launch the voice assistant.
The power button is on the right side. The microSD/SIM card tray is accessed from the top. A USB Type-C port is located between the headphone jack and mono speaker on the bottom.
Unlike other flagships like the iPhone 7 Plus and LG G6, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus has a single rear camera. It is a 12 megapixel variant with dual pixels and f/1.7 aperture for improved low light performance. The Galaxy S7 camera was one of the best last year and the S8 Plus continues to offer excellent performance. The camera is nearly flush with the back, with just a slight raised edge around the camera lens.
The flash and heart rate sensor are positioned to the left of the camera. The fingerprint scanner is oddly positioned to the right of the camera. Given that these are all nearly flush with the back, I have had trouble accurately placing my index fingers on the fingerprint scanner. I would have prefer to see the fingerprint scanner placed below the camera, similar to what we see on the LG G6 and most other smartphones with rear fingerprint scanners.
The iris scanner is positioned above the display and seems to work well. The phone sometimes prompts me to raise the phone higher before my eyes are recognized. Overall, it takes longer to turn on and use the Galaxy S8 Plus than the LG G6 or iPhone 7 Plus since you first have to turn on the display to initiate the iris scanner and unlock the phone. Fingerprint scans work to both turn on the display and unlock the device so they are faster, but finding the scanner is a bit of a challenge on the S8 Plus.
The always-on display (AOD) is something unique that is not currently present on the iPhone. The current AOD gives you the option to have your notifications, time, and media player appear when the display is off. Double tapping the notification and holding up your phone to unlock it with the iris scanner will open up that specific notification in the appropriate application. I prefer this over notifications that just inform you that something is waiting for your action. You can play, pause, and navigate your music right from the always-on display too.
After a week of daily use, I am able to go a full day with a single charge of the 3,500 mAh battery. It appears that battery life is about the same as my Apple iPhone 7 Plus. The fact that the Galaxy S8 Plus has wireless charging support means that my device is topped off most of the time since it is convenient to just set the S8 Plus down on a wireless charging pad while at my desk. While it is not an essential feature, wireless charging works well for me to keep my devices fully charged without touching a cable.
When I first saw the S8 Plus revealed, I was worried about the missing hardware button that I have come to rely upon for quickly launching the camera and unlocking the phone. Thankfully, Samsung enabled a double press of the right power button as a camera launch action so that works well and is actually a better placement for the button while holding it in your hand.
For the first time ever, having the three main buttons appear only on screen lets you choose to swap the back and recent apps buttons so the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus can function like most Android phones. I know many will be pleased to have the back button now on the left side of the home button and it is great to have the option on this new Samsung phone.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus runs Android 7.0 with Samsung Experience version 8.1. The eval unit I tested included the 1 April 2017 Android security patch.
You can choose to have your home screen appear with just widgets and selected apps or have all apps appear on a home screen panel, similar to an iPhone. You can also choose to have a 4×5, 4×6, or 5×5 grid appear on the home screen panels so that you can fully optimize the space available to you on the large 6.2 inch screen. The apps grid can also be either 4×6 or 5×6.
Similar to the Huawei EMUI experience swiping down from anywhere on an open area of the home screen panel will take you to the app launcher with a search bar at the top to help you quickly find and launch apps.
You can also press and hold on the virtual home button to launch Google Assistant. Tap on the recent apps button to choose which apps to launch in split screen mode. With 6.2 inches available to work with, you can be productive on the S8 Plus with two apps open side-by-side.
Previously, Samsung included the option to have your far left home screen panel appear as a Flipboard feed. This default panel is now titled Bixby Home and contains all of cards you select.
There are some Samsung apps included on the device, including Galaxy Apps, a web browser, file explorer, Samsung Health, Samsung+, an email client, calendar, contacts, image gallery with editing tools, messages app, Samsung Connect, Samsung Themes, secure folder, Samsung Notes, and Samsung Pay. T-Mobile includes the T-Mobile app and device unlock utility. It’s great to see very little carrier bloatware on the T-Mobile variant of the device. You may see more of this on Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint Galaxy S8 units.
The email client is excellent for keeping my work Exchange account separate from my personal Gmail account. The calendar is also useful with handy daily agenda pop outs appearing over the month view. The image gallery is more functional than Google Photos, with advanced editing and creation tools available to the user.
The camera performs well with plenty of modes in the camera software to help you get creative and share your experiences in photos and video. These include auto, pro/manual, panorama, selective focus, slow motion, hyperlapse, food, virtual shot, and more than can be downloaded from Samsung.
While it is not important for the enterprise, the new Samsung camera app does support some creative filters, text you can add to your photos, and a collection of stickers similar to what you see in apps like Facebook Messenger and Snapchat.
While the Bixby voice assistant is not yet ready and won’t be released immediately when the device is available, you can still use the Bixby Home, Bixby Vision, and Bixby Reminder.
The Bixby Home cards interface appears similar to Google Now cards, but are associated with apps. You can toggle the settings to control which cards appear on your device and then the Bixby software. Opening up the settings reveals a large number of card options available to you. Even when selected, these cards will only appear when they are useful to you. For example, your morning appointments will appear at the top of the Hello Bixby page, but as the day wears on the cards will change with time in an attempt to make Hello Bixby a useful and productive landing page.
Bixby Vision lets you use your camera to search for images, find products online, get information about nearby places, translate languages, decode QR code, and more. Business cards can be captured and saved into your contact list, text can be extracted from objects and you can find detailed wine information.
Bixby Reminder looks to be an alternative to a Google Now/Assistant reminder and it will take some evaluation for me to make the jump to such a system from Evernote, Wunderlist, and Google Keep. You can create reminders based on contextual information, similar to reminders created with Google Assistant.
INITIAL DEX EXPERIENCES
Over the next two weeks I will be taking business trips to Florida and New York with plans to use Samsung DeX as much as possible as my primary computing device with an article discussing my real-life experiences. In the meantime, I connected the DeX unit to my Dell 22 inch monitor with an HDMI cable, a Samsung Bluetooth mouse, and a Bluetooth keyboard. I also plugged in the USB port from my monitor and was surprised that the touchscreen monitor worked perfectly well with DeX.
I was blown away by the responsiveness of the Galaxy S8 Plus, the ability to easily use multiple apps on the display at once, and the support for every single app I had installed on the Galaxy S8 Plus. There are DeX-optimized apps like Microsoft Word and Excel and you get an almost desktop like experience with these apps through DeX.
I watched some of the Fury movie on Google Play and the angle of DeX meant that audio sounded good out of the mono S8 Plus speaker. Playback was flawless and for the first time since I started trying out these kind of systems (do you recall the Redfly Companion?) many years ago I think Samsung may actually have a setup that lets the masses truly use their smartphones as their only computer. Stay tuned for more coverage on DeX.
PRICE AND COMPETITION
The LG G6 at China at just $289 while the Galaxy S8 Plus is on sale for $329, $40 more than the LG G6. While the S8 Plus is A little more expensive, is worth it.
There are plenty of excellent Android smartphones priced at half the cost of the Galaxy S8 Plus, but if you want the latest technology and sleekest design then the S8 Plus is it.
The Apple iPhone 7 Plus equivalent, 128GB unit, is priced at a comparable $325. Apple iPhone and Samsung smartphone buyers tend to purchase the devices in the millions, despite the high prices.
DAILY USAGE EXPERIENCES AND CONCLUSION
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was a stunning device, but the failures in its battery design and manufacturing process sent it to an early grave. Samsung took the advances it made in the Note 7 from the Galaxy S7 Edge and brought them to the Galaxy S8 Plus. In addition, we see a new minimal bezel large screen with 18.5:9 ratio and removal of the center physical home button.
Samsung continues to set the bar for smartphone technology, leading with the latest mobile processor, best smartphone display, well supported mobile payment technology, and more. While the price is high for the Galaxy S8 Plus, it definitely looks, feels, and performs like the best smartphone available and won’t disappoint.
It is unfortunate that the Bixby service is limited at time of launch with the Bixby voice assistant slated for a release in the next few months. There are some modules of Bixby available today and they are proving useful, but the potential for Bixby voice remains to be seen. There is a dedicated button on the left side for Bixby and I trust that Samsung will soon deliver on its promise.
While I appreciate the options for unlocking the device, I have had trouble accurately hitting the fingerprint scanner on a regular basis. It helps to have a case on the device since the fingerprint scanner is flush with the back and a case works to align your finger with the scanner. I have also had trouble getting Google Assistant to launch with the device in standby mode and even with the display turned on. The LG G6 responds quickly every time to my voice prompt, leaving me to wonder if Samsung hampers it in some way to encourage Bixby use.
I only spent about 30 minutes with Samsung DeX, but in just that short amount of time it was clear it is well ahead of what I experienced with Continuum. I am excited to try using DeX on the road the next couple of weeks.
If you don’t use the S Pen much on the Note line, then you will be satisfied with all of the advancements in the Galaxy S8 Plus. More time is needed to fully test out the battery life, Bixby voice, and long term performance of the Snapdragon 835.