The Samsung Galaxy S8 is one of those phones that just has to do well – it’s up against some massively impressive competition in 2017 – and the good news is that this is, indeed, a very strong phone.
The amount of S8 leaks we’ve seen are staggering, both in their volume and accuracy, but they don’t tell the whole story about a phone that’s certain to be at the top (or very near the summit) of most ‘best phone‘ lists this year.
The Infinity Display is the headline feature of this handset – while it’s not all screen, it’s as close as can be. Samsung has also been very clever in the way it’s got around the loss of the front-facing home screen button, managing to make the handset usable without requiring the mechanical key on the front of the Galaxy S8.
We should probably get the fact that this is the most expensive Samsung has ever made out of the way right now. The Samsung Galaxy S8 price is $724 (£689,
The actual Samsung Galaxy S8 release date is April 21 in the US and April 28 in the UK, with pre-orders now available
Samsung has shocked us in a small way by announcing Bixby, its own take on an intelligent assistant, before the launch of the phone. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is clearly the launch vehicle for the AI service, and there’s even a dedicated Bixby key on the side of the Galaxy S8 so you’ve always got instant access to the portal.
The first phones to use Bixby will be those in South Korea and the US, with places like the UK getting it later as Samsung works to integrate the accents with its service.
We should probably talk about what Bixby actually is: it’s meant to be a frictionless assistant that can follow you through voice, the camera or touch, learning what you want it to do, and not requiring you to know a specific set of phrases to make it work.
That said, Bixby isn’t a service for now. Samsung intends to build on it, make it available to all the apps on the phone and offer a software developer kit to the app makers in the future.
The look of the Samsung Galaxy S8 is what will sell it to the legions of fans clamoring for a new phone from the brand. The front of the phone is mostly just display, and it’s by far the lowest bezel-to-screen ratio we’ve seen on a globally-available flagship phone so far. While the Infinity Display (as Samsung is calling this edge-to-edge effort) isn’t completely bezel-less at the sides, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s rounded edges give it a very pleasing feel in the hand.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back, by the camera, and it’s rather hard to use from the natural holding position for a phone in your palm. It is something you could get used to, but we’re not sure why Samsung put it so close to the camera when it could have been closer to the middle of the phone. The move has the potential to be annoying – however, you can use iris scanning or facial recognition to unlock the phone just by holding it up slightly.
We had huge worries over whether the iris scanning was going to work in this instance, as the system on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was terrible. You needed to hold the phone in a very particular way under certain lighting, and even then it wasn’t accurate.
The iris scanning on the Galaxy S8, however, is miles faster, and better at noticing who you are, although you do still need to hold the phone at a very precise angle.
Better than that is the facial recognition, which is almost instant in its ability to work out who you are. It is, of course, not as secure as iris scanning, as it can probably be duped with a decent picture of the S8 owner’s face, but as a method of opening a PIN-secured phone without having to peck at the screen a thousand times a day, it works very well.
Samsung has, once again, refined its user interface to provide its own Samsung Experience (formerly Touch Wiz) skin on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. This UI’s upgrades fuse Android and Samsung’s own design ethos together well.
There’s still a home key of sorts on the front of the Galaxy S8 too, with a virtual, pressure-sensitive key sitting just below the screen. It’s similar to the way in which the new iPhone 7 TouchID key doesn’t actually press in, but vibrates in a way that makes you think it has.
The interface on the Samsung Galaxy is blisteringly fast under the finger.
The specs tell the same story as the experience: a 12MP sensor on the rear, with an f/1.7 aperture a fast autofocus. Those specs contributed to, arguably, the best camera on a Smartphone in 2016, and Samsung clearly doesn’t want to tinker with the formula.
The front-facing camera has been upgraded to 8MP and is clear and sharp too – with a great low-light sensor once more we’re confident this will be a great selfie phone.
Samsung has curiously added effects to the front-facing camera, in a weird attempt to mimic the likes of the Snapchat app. That said, becoming a cartoon pup with a single tap is a very enjoyable experience.
There’s only a 3000mAh battery in the Samsung Galaxy S8, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a problem – the only issue we can see is that the longer screen that’s on offer has more pixels to power, but with a CPU/GPU combination that’s more powerful than before there are some efficiencies to be offered in terms of saving the battery life.
There’s also wireless and fast charging on board by default – Samsung didn’t talk up the battery prowess in any way during its briefing, which means it’s likely there’s no massive upgrade to the speed of charging or to the wireless power management.
It’s odd that Samsung hasn’t made a big deal about these two key elements of a phone; if you want to make a world-beating handset you need long battery life and a great snapper. Samsung had both of these last year, but will reusing the same spec have the same effect?
In terms of the Samsung Galaxy S8 spec, there are no surprises here for anyone who’s been keeping tabs on the leaks. 4GB of RAM sits alongside either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, or Samsung’s own Exynos 8895; we’ve not had these chips confirmed to us yet, nor which region is getting which variant, but our sources have told us that this is the configuration we can expect.
There are a host of accessories on offer for the Samsung Galaxy S8, and our favorite by far is the Samsung Dex, which turns Android into a true desktop-class environment.
The effort is minimal: plug your phone into the dock, connect a monitor and keyboard and you’re away. You can edit documents on the go through Google’s productivity apps or Microsoft Office, or connect to a remote desktop using Citrix or Amazon Workplaces.
It’s a great mix of power and design, with the screen on the front rightly being the headline feature of this phone – the new display on the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the most attractive we’ve ever seen on any phone.
There are some question marks that could lead to possible issues down the line though: will the camera and battery, which appear to be shorn of upgrades, be good enough for two years’ use?
The Samsung Galaxy S8 appears to be the phone to beat in 2017 – and it looks like the competition will have a hard time doing that.