The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the only smartphone to have ever made us look at our iPhone's Retina display with disgust. Yes, it's expensive, but it's also undoubtedly the best smartphone on the market right now. Assuming it isn't prone to catching on fire, Samsung's onto a winner, and Apple should be pretty worried about it.
This is the best smartphone in the world right now
ON THE FACE OF IT, with its glossy design, curved display, and 12MP camera, the Galaxy S8 isn’t wildly different to last year’s S7 Edge. Once you get your hands on it, though, it soon becomes apparent that the S8 is not only different from its predecessor, but also from the huge number of high-end smartphones also battling for your attention.
Looks-wise, the Galaxy S8 is a thing of beauty. Its reflective aluminum and Gorilla Glass chassis, albeit a nightmare to keep smudge and fingerprint-free, looks gorgeous and feels high-end, and although it can feel a little slippy (a la HTC U Play), the handset’s subtle curves make it comfortable to hold.
It’s not just its curvaceous design that makes it easy to grip, as the S8 is incredibly compact for a 5.8in a smartphone – more so, in fact than the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, which, frankly, makes us look like an idiot when attempting to handle. As someone with small hands, reviewing a 5.8in a smartphone is typically a daunting experience, but with its dimensions of 149×68.1x8mm, and with a weight of just 155g, the Galaxy S8 isn’t much bigger than the 5.1in Galaxy S7, and barely bigger than our 4.7in iPhone 7.
While the design is near identical to that seen on last year’s Galaxy S7, the S8’s screen-to-body ratio of 84 percent makes the handset feel unlike any other smartphone on the market. Sure, the LG G6 also offers an “all-screen design,” but Samsung has carried it out with much more elegance, with the curved edges of the S8’s screen making it appear as if the display melts into the sturdy metal rim of the handset.
This barely-there bezel means there’s no longer room for a fingerprint sensor on the front of the S8, and the clicky home button has been binned in favour of a ‘virtual’ button, which arrives in the form of a pressure sensor hidden under the OLED display. In turn, the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back of the device, mere millimetres away from the camera sensor. Not only does this make it difficult to reach, but every time we’ve attempted to use it we’ve left a smear on the lens.
While unlocking the S8 with your fingerprint is undoubtedly a bad experience, Samsung has sort of made up for it by adding an iris scanner to the front of the device, similar to that seen on the Note 7. It’s been improved since then, and when it works, it works impressively fast. However, we struggled to use it in dim lighting – or when we’re slumped on the sofa, for example.
Naturally, the Galaxy S8 comes certified to the IP68 standard, which means it’s resistant to water (it works – we dropped it in the bath) and dust. This will unlikely prevent the S8 from scuffing, though, and while we’re yet to mark our review model, we noticed a nasty scratch on the handset when we first went hands-on with it.
Elsewhere on the handset, you’ll find a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There were rumors ahead of the S8’s launch that Samsung would follow Apple by dumping the standard headphone jack, but, thankfully, the firm has clearly realized that would be a terrible idea.
You’ve probably already guessed that we’re quite fond of the display on the Galaxy S8. The 5.8in QHD+ OLED panel, which Samsung is calling an “Infinity” display thanks to its curved edges, which are no longer reserved for a standalone ‘Edge’ model, and dominates the front of the device thanks to the S8’s aforementioned 84 percent screen to body ratio.
Not only is it gorgeously sharp and vibrant, putting our iPhone 7’s 4.7in 750×1334 pixels panel to shame, it’s curved edges make for great viewing angles, and although it still struggles under bright sunlight, what smartphone doesn’t. You’ll still find Samsung’s added ‘Edge’ functionality, which lets you swipe the right of the display to access your most-used apps or favourite contacts, but we switched this feature off, as given the compact size of the handset makes it quick enough to access apps without needing additional shortcuts.
This is aided by the handset’s 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which not only makes the device better suited for aimlessly scrolling through Twitter but makes it ideal for watching films, eliminating the letterboxing that you get on most phones. Admittedly, most of the material you’ll be watching is shot in 16:9, which means the full width of the screen gets wasted. Some apps will suffer from the same issue, but Samsung has introduced a Game Mode that sees Super Mario Run, for example, fill the whole entirety of the display.
The inky-black OLED is also utilised for the S8’s always-on display, which showcases the time, data, battery percentage and notifications. We found that having this glanceable information meant that we were picking up, unlocking the handset and getting distracted by inane Twitter chatter less frequently, which can only be seen a good thing.
There’s also a blue-light filter, similar to that recently introduced on iOS, which lessens the harshness of the vibrant display if you’re browsing Reddit in bed, for example.
Performance and storage
Samsung has been quick to tout the Galaxy S8 as the first 10nm smartphone on the market, having arrived ahead of Sony’s Snapdragon 835-powered Xperia XZ Premium.
Galaxy S8 buyers in the UK won’t find Qualcomm’s flagship chip under the hood of their handset, and will instead find Samsung’s homegrown octa-core Exynos CPU running four cores at 1.7GHz and four at 2.3GHz. Samsung is claiming a load of gubbins, such as a ’30 percent’ increase in performance, but all you need to know is that it’s fast. Incredibly fast. We’ve been using the S8 for just shy of a week, and haven’t yet managed to cause it to show any signs of stuttering or slowdown.
The S8 blows the competition out of the water when it comes to benchmarking, too. The phone’s multi-core CPU benchmark score came out at 6880 in Geekbench 4, trumping the 5228 scored by the Galaxy Note 7. While there’s few, similarly-specced smartphones to have come out this year to compare this against, the Google Pixel XL scored 4086, for example, and the OnePlus 3T 4321. Yep, the Galaxy S8 is a powerhouse.
On the storage front, the Galaxy S8 comes with 64GB storage. There’s a 128GB model, too, but Samsung has for some reason decided to make this available in China and Korea only. We can’t complain, though, as there’s a built-in microSD slot that means the storage can be expanded up to 2TB. If 2TB microSD cards existed, that is.
The words ‘Samsung’ and ‘software’ in the same sentence have never filled us with my joy. However, it seems the firm is trying to shake its reputation for loading up Android with bloatware and widgets and is offering a stripped-back experience on the S8 and, believe it or not, we’re actually fans of it.
One of the most noticeable changes on the S8 is to the app tray, in that, er, there isn’t one on the home screen. However, swipe your finger up or down from the main display and you’re taken to your apps, which feels like the most natural way this has been implemented on an Android phone yet. In a way, it’s more iPhone-like and makes getting to apps quick and easy.
The app icons themselves are sharper and more rounded, and the general look and feel of the menus are more fluid than before, with fewer angular shapes and more of a ‘natural’ feel. Again, more iPhone-like.
Thankfully, Samsung hasn’t shoved too many of its own apps onto the S8. Of course, you’ll find the usual Calendar, Email and Health apps, along with Samsung’s Knox security suite which let’s biz users set up a standalone secure work environment. It has added some nifty software touches, though, and we found ourselves using the split-screen mode, that lets you use two apps simultaneously, quite frequently. Oddly, though, this isn’t turned on by default.
Of course, though, Samsung’s most notable software addition is Bixby, its long-awaited rival to Apple’s Siri. The much-hyped Bixby Voice functionality isn’t yet available in the UK, and probably won’t be for some time, but Bixby Home, Reminder and Vision will be up and running at launch.
Bixby Home, which will fire up when the dedicated Bixby hardware key is pushed (and is also accessible by swiping left on the display), is an HTC-style homescreen, filled with things Bixby ‘thinks’ you’ll want to see, be it your daily schedule, recent news, emails, and activity stats.
Galaxy S8 Bixby Home
While we’ve long-avoided HTC’s similar feature, we found ourselves checking Bixby Home multiple times a day – and while we haven’t been using the S8 for long, it’s noticeably started to learn out routine and show us more relevant information.
Bixby Reminders does what it says on the tin, although it only works with a handful of Samsung’s own apps at present, while Bixby Vision is a nifty camera feature, that lets you scan an object to receive more information about it, or to be offered up a link to buy it online.
Beyond Bixby and a sprinkling of software touches, which also includes a one-handed mode, power saving functionality and a handy screenshotting Smart Capture features, the Galaxy S8 serves up a largely intact Android experience. What’s more, a long-press of that virtual home button now serves up Nougat’s impressively-contextual Google Assistant.
On paper, it’s hard to get excited about the S8’s camera. Its 12MP f/1.7 sensor, complete with optical image stabilisation and LED flash, is near identical to that found on the Galaxy S7, and there’s none of the fancy dual-lens guff found on the iPhone 7 Plus or Huawei P9.
None of that matters, though, as the S8’s camera is, undoubtedly, one of – if not the – best smartphone camera we’ve tested. This is largely thanks to what Samsung is calling multi-frame image processing, which sees the camera take three images each time a photo is taken to make sure each image is extra-sharp and offers up the best lighting.
It really works, too. Photos taken in natural lighting pack a punch and a full of natural colour and detail, while images taken in dim or dark conditions are far sharper than most other smartphones are capable of shooting, Yes, even our iPhone 7.
Samsung has added a heap-load of different settings and features to the camera app, including Instagram-style filters, stickers, and a bunch of tools for making yourself look like an alien, including Huawei-esque skin tone filters (ugh).
Look beyond those, though, and the Galaxy S8 also allows you to switch between pro mode, panorama, slow motion, hyperlapse and food (???) mode, and can even save photos as RAW files to edit later. Pro mode is impressive (we live with a professional photographer who was blown away) but our favourite feature is Selective Focus (above), which means you’re able to you’re able to choose the depth of field after taking an image. It’s nothing new, but we were impressed nonetheless.
On the front of the S8 you’ll find an 8MP f/1.7 camera, which is perfectly good enough for selfie-taking and Snapchatting. If you’re into that kind of thing.
The Galaxy S8 packs a 3,000mAh battery. Yep, that’s the same size of the battery inside the Galaxy S7, but Samsung is claiming that its new 10nm chip should make for a longer-lasting device. It hasn’t quoted how long exactly, but we found that the Galaxy S8 made it through a day and a half before we had to stick it on charge.
Fast Charging support is included (along with wireless, but we’re yet to test this) which means the handset juices up quicker than most. We were able to juice the handset from empty to full in around 90 minutes.
Price and availability
And here comes the kicker. The Galaxy S8 is one of the most expensive smartphones on the market, with Samsung having slapped it with an eye-watering £689 SIM-free price tag. Pre-orders are shipping later this week on 20 April and it’ll be available to pick up in-store from 28 April.