With nine days until the widespread availability of the Samsung Galaxy S8 the pre-orders are starting to ship, and with Samsung reporting this to be their most successfully pre-ordered phone to date – things are looking up for Samsung and we’ve been using the Galaxy S8 now for a week, and it’s a bloody good phone.
To slow me back into the Samsung ecosystem, I switched to the Galaxy S7 at the end of March in New York for the S8 launch, and stuck with it until the S8 arrived to review. This meant there was no awkwardness of switching phones – just a straight device change with an ecosystem upgrade.
From the get-go I felt comfortable with the Samsung Galaxy S8 – having chosen the smaller of the two to kick off my review – I prefer a smaller phone, it’s as simple as that.
So – what’s good, and what has me worried?
Battery Saving Mode
This is one of those features you stumble across after a hard days work. Sure, plenty of phones have an emergency battery mode, the iPhone has a Low Power Mode, and devices like Sony, LG and Huawei have their own battery saving modes.
What impressed me about the Power Saving Mode on the Galaxy S8 was the flexibility. You can choose how much the brightness is decreased, you can limit background usage, remove the Always On Display function – but perhaps most impressive, you can limit the CPU speed and the screen resolution.
From the get go, enabling that lower screen resolution and CPU speed limiter will give you an extra 45 minutes or so in your day – might not seem like much, but that could really make a difference.
Interestingly, the much touted “Always On Display” which gives you a simple clock and notification on a black screen without turning the phone on – could give you a couple of hours extra life in the day – if you turn it off!
I’d suggest from day 1 enabling some of these features, and I should say I’ve not noticed anything lacking when it comes to screen resolution or CPU speed – and doubt any regular user would.
While on the battery, I’m getting a full day with ease, and the quick charge is sensational – so – enjoy that.
As part of Samsung’s acquisition of Harman/Kardon the company now owns some solid audio brands and some smart audio folks are on the payroll. In the box with your S8 you’ll get a pair of in-ear AKGs. These offer excellent sound quality, and a no tangles nylon cable.
Probably won’t make the TV commercials, but that’s a cracker feature out of the box.
Despite some clickbait hungry web writers suggesting Samsung’s new Facial Recognition was a security flaw, I found it to be exactly what it was intended to be – a convenience. As someone who prefers Fingerprint speed for turning the phone on, I thought this worked remarkably well.
Much faster than tapping in a four-digit PIN and that’s the most important metric.
Critically, It’s not a security function. You won’t find a banking apps allowing facial recognition as a login feature. Facial recognition’s security level sits below a four-digit PIN – on the Samsung Galaxy S8, it’s amazing, it’s fast, and convenient – but you’ll find Iris to be just as good
As a login mechanism using the Iris scanner requires a two-step process (Facial Recognition is just one step – power button on).
First you power on, second you swipe up. At this point if looking directly into the front camera and sensors your Iris’ are scanned so fast you can barely blink.
It’s genuinely impressive – and it’s more secure than a fingerprint, thus Samsung’s dedication to getting it active in the S8, having launched it in the doomed Note 7.
Screenshot Web with Link
Now here’s something cool I’d never seen before, and am not 100% sure on the purpose of – but I like it. If you are on a website in Google Chrome, and take a screenshot – the URL of the page you were on is also saved.
Then, in the photo gallery, when you view that screenshot you get an extra “go to URL” icon.
Great way to save shopping ideas perhaps?
No Home button
I’ve not missed it. For functionality, the physical button is useless. Having the on-screen button is perfectly fine – you won’t miss it for a second when using apps, trying to navigate the phone. Will you miss the fingerprint scanner there? Read on.
There was no fanfare about the camera at the launch of the Galaxy S8.
Though there was a lot of discussion about the front facing “Selfie” camera. This now has facial recognition – and allows a better focus on subjects in that mode.
I can see an improvement in the front camera for sure, and while that rear camera is almost like for like with the last model – damn it’s good. Very good.
Plus, as other manufacturers like Alcatel are doing, Samsung has added some Snapchat like filters to give the kids the chance to have some fun with funny faces too.
It’s bloody impressive. This thing looks different, front, and back, it’s a different phone. In a store it will stand out, which is precisely what Samsung need it to do. Hard to argue that being different is an advantage in this space.
It’s too tall – I’ve had to move all my apps down the bottom to really make use of it. Even on the small S8 I’m over-reaching my thumb. Yes, the multi-tasking split screen is super bloody impressive, I still have never found myself actually doing that in real-world usage.
And the edge to edge “infinity” look is really impressive to look at, but I’ve accidentally opened apps, had struggles pressing app buttons that appear right on the curve and have had people say to me it’s not as comfortable to hold as an iPhone or the similarly tall screened LG G6.
It’s not for me, but perhaps that’s such a personal thing for the most part. I do miss the “non-edge” version though.
When watching videos I’m already used to the black bars left and right of screen, I’m not screaming for 18:9 content nor have I come across any. Just not sure that’s a valid reason for the change.
The unit I have is basically the rival to Apple’s Jet Black iPhone. Gloss, shine, stunning mirror-like finish. But mine already has two scratches it. Minor sure, but I can’t help thinking it will wear quite fast.
And no, I don’t want to cover it up with a case – I never have on any phone. But if you’re buying an S8 – you should consider this.
At the same time, carry a microfibre cloth around, those fingerprints might drive you mad.
While Huawei moved their fingerprint scanner from the back to the front, Samsung have moved theirs from the front to the back.
Firstly, it’s an outstanding scanner, unlock the phone to home screen with one touch.
But it’s out of reach. It’s not in a naturally convenient spot. Seems a fail, but once you’ve used Facial Recognition or Iris scanning you’ll wave bye bye to fingerprints forever.
Interestingly, Samsung’s default keyboard is rubbish. It recommends things you should be saying but doesn’t make the changes.
Typos galore in emails and text messages. Not a deal breaker, install the Google Keyboard – it’s sensational.
Bixby is one of Samsung’s biggest hopes. They want a personal assistant to rival and beat Apple’s Siri.
In theory Bixby does that.
But in reality, Bixby isn’t available in Australia, and the swipe right home-screen add on that is Bixby, that is also summonsed from the dedicated Bixby button on the left of the phone, is as Useful as Apple’s “Today” notifications and widget page.
Bixby can “see” what an object is via the camera, impressive, but not amazing or useful – yet.
If Samsung wanted my love on this one, let me assign that button on the left hand side to whatever function or app I chose! Not yet, and not likely.
I’ll make a final judgement on Bixby once it launches properly with voice recognition in Australia
So – what’s the upshot?
This is one hell of a good phone. Great performance, great camera, amazing screen.
My “concerns” are observations, not deal-breakers – sure – I’d prefer a non-edge version. I’d keep it in power saving mode from the get go, and just ramp it up for the apps that need it.
At $1199 we’re really starting to push these prices up, but you’re getting a stunning phone for the price – The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the best phone on the market today, they’ve nailed it.