This could be just the comeback that Samsung needs
SAMSUNG HAS MADE the Galaxy S8 and S8+ official, and thanks to the huge number of leaks building up to Wednesday’s launch, it’s pretty much exactly what you expected.
You’ll find a 5.8in QHD+ curved “Infinity” display, a 10nm processor under the hood, and Samsung’s Bixby artificial intelligence (AI) assistant pre-loaded, although many will be disappointed to discover that the Siri competitor won’t be available to us Brits at launch.
The INQUIRER went hands-on with the Galaxy S8 ahead of its official unveiling, and you can read our first impressions below.
Besides its new color options of Midnight Black, Orchid Grey, and Arctic Silver, the Galaxy S8 doesn’t look too dissimilar to its Galaxy S7 predecessor with its premium metal and glass rear panel. It looks stunning, but just like last year’s model, it’s a nightmare for picking up fingerprints and, er, your reflection.
IP68 certification is correct and present, which means the handset is water-resistant and should withstand a fair few tumbles and knocks. However, the model we tested had already picked up a nasty scratch in its rear, which means you’re probably going to want to protect the eye-catching Galaxy S8 with a boring, plastic case.
The heart rate sensor remains on the rear of the phone, but this time it’s joined by a fingerprint sensor that sits to the right of the handset’s camera sensor. Given the souped-up iris scanner on the front of the phone, which during a demo appeared to successfully identify a face impressively quickly, you probably won’t find yourself using this too much so you needn’t fear the camera lens picking up your grubby prints.
There was pre-launch chatter that Samsung would embed the fingerprint sensor into the display, but it’s reported that the tech wasn’t ready to ship. Instead, though, the firm has embedded a pressure sensor that acts as a home button into the lower part of the glass panel. It’s similar to the Force Touch home button on the iPhone 7 but far more satisfying to use.
We struggled to comfortably reach the repositioned fingerprint scanner on the rear of the S8, although those of you with normal-sized hands unlikely will run into the same issue. Despite packing a 5.8inc screen, the Galaxy S8 is by no means bulky thanks to the near bezel-less front panel, which we’ll speak about more in the next section.
In fact, despite packing a 5.8inc screen, the Galaxy S8 is by no means bulky thanks to the near bezel-less front panel, which we’ll speak about more in the next section. It’s just a few millimeters taller than the Galaxy S7, and around 20g heavier.
It’s very slightly chunkier than the Galaxy S7 at 8mm-thick, too, although the Galaxy S8’s design is more curvaceous than that seen on the year’s model, which not only makes it look and feel more luxurious but also helps it to sit more comfortably in hand.
The display is the big talking point of the Galaxy S8. It’s an “infinity” screen, similar to that seen on the LG G6, which means it stretches across the entire front of the handset, leaving just a tiny bezel at the top and bottom. The 5.7in the display is curved, too, with Samsung no longer reserving its Edge screen technology for its Edge-branded handsets.
In the flesh, the screen is gorgeous. It offers a 1440×2960 QHD+ resolution and pixel density of 570ppi. While this is lower than the PPI offered by the Galaxy S7’s AMOLED panel, the display on the Galaxy S8 is just as crisp and bright as before, while the addition of curved edges makes for more impressive viewing angles and an all-around more enjoyable viewing experience.
The screen supports mobile HDR, like the now-defunct Galaxy Note 7, and comes with an 18:9 ratio. This makes watching footage far more satisfying than on the S7, thanks to its better brightness levels and true full-screen picture.
Samsung is touting the Galaxy S8 as the first 10nm smartphone, likely because it hits the market before Sony’s Snapdragon 835-powered Xperia XZ Premium. UK buyers will get Samsung’s homegrown Exynos 9 processor, which the firm claims offers 27 percent higher performance compared to its previous 14nm chip, and 40 percent less power consumption.
As you’d expect, we experienced no signs of slow-down during our hands-on time with the Galaxy S8, but we’ll reserve full judgment on the handset’s performance until we get one in for review.
This 10nm chip, which makes the Galaxy S8 Gigabit-LTE ready, comes paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage (although only 49GB of that was free on the model we used) which can be expanded up to 256GB via microSD.
There’s also a 3,000mAh battery under the hood, although Samsung has yet to cough on what we can expect from it. Our S8 model was showing 33 percent battery after we’d put it through its paces, and said it had five-and-a-half hours of juice left in it. Naturally, wireless charging support is offered along with Fast Charging via USB-C.
As you’d expect from a flagship smartphone launching in 2017, the Galaxy S8 runs Android 7.0 Nougat. This is topped with Samsung’s ‘Experience’ skin, naturally, which brings a number of custom software experiences to the handset.
The most notable of these, as we already knew, is Bixby, Samsung’s take on Google Assistant and Siri. Before we delve in, though, Bixby will only be available in Korea and the US at launch, with a UK launch planned for later in the year. However, change its language settings to US-English and put on your best New York accent, and you’ll be able to take it for a spin ahead of the official rollout.
Bixby does some nifty tricks and even comes with its own button (below) which is found on the left-hand side of the S8. Until its launch in the UK, this button will activate Bixby Home, a sort of make-shift customized home screen similar to that found on HTC smartphones.
Bixby claims to be more contextual than Siri, and while we’re yet to try it out fully, a demo of the AI assistant seemed to prove Samsung’s claims true. Barking “show this on the TV”, for example, will mirror your handset’s display on your television while asking it to “find photos from London” and then “put these photos in an album” appeared to work without seamlessly any confusion.
Snap Window is another new feature on the S8 and S8+, and Samsung claims it’s been designed for easy one-hand operation. For example, you can ‘snap’ a YouTube video to the top part of the handset’s display and continue stalking people on Facebook on the lower part of the screen.
Samsung Connect also makes its debut on the firm’s latest flagship. It’s similar to Apple’s ‘Home’ app, in that it allows you to control your connected devices from your handset – be it your Samsung fridge, Hue lightbulbs, or, er, Roomba. It worked flawlessly during a brief demo, but support will be limited at launch, with only 2017 Samsung and SmartThings devices supported at launch.
Samsung is clearly hoping that businesses will be woo-ed by the Galaxy S8, too, and has loaded the phone up with biz-friendly apps, including its own secure Knox suite and bundled Microsoft Office tools.
Pre-installing Word and Excel apps aren’t all Samsung is doing to target the enterprise. The Galaxy S8 also launches with DeX, a docking station that allows you to turn the phone into a fully-fledged PC. Simply stick the phone into its dock, and you can operate a desktop optimized version of the phone’s OS using an attached display, keyboard and mouse.
We took the feature for a spin and were, much to our surprise, able to open multiple windows simultaneously without the handset showing any signs of struggling. What’s more, Samsung has partnered with Amazon, Citrix, and VMWare to equip DeX with VDI support, which means you can run a full version of Windows from the connected S8.
The Galaxy S8 hasn’t had much of an upgrade in the camera department and sports the same 12MP f/1.7 sensor as that found on last year’s model. However, Samsung has equipped the S8 with its multi-frame image processing technology – usually reserved for its full-fledged cameras – which sees the handset capture three images each time a photo is taken, and then optimize these to provide the “best possible” picture.
If you’re a fan of sandwiches and cats, you’ll be pleased to hear that Samsung has added built-in filters to the S8’s camera app. Snapchat fans can also look forward to a selection of stickers, while fans of, er, Huawei phones will be pleased with the Galaxy S8’s added skin-tone-thingy.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is undoubtedly a triumph and could be just the comeback phone that the company needed following last year’s dramatic Note 7 recall.
Sure, it’s similar to the LG G6 with its all-screen front, but the Galaxy S8 feels much more high-end with its curvaceous metal and glass design, albeit apparently scratch-phone, and has the potential to offer better performance and battery life thanks to its 10nm chip. We’re also more fond of Samsung’s software add-ons, and although we’re disappointed at the lack of Bixby in the UK at launch, features like Snap Window and DeX sort of makeup for it. We also do a great New York accent (maybe).
However, the Galaxy S8 is expensive, with Samsung slapping the smartphone with a £689 SIM-free price tag, making it just £10 cheaper than the iPhone 7 with 128GB storage. The Galaxy S8+ has been given an even more eye-watering £779 price.
We’ll reserve full judgment until we get the Galaxy S8 in for a full review.