A deeper look at Samsung's Galaxy S8
- 01 May, 2017 22:08
The Samsung Galaxy S8 has redefined smartphones -- it's all curves, no bezels and truly one of a kind.
Samsung needed to create a device that would make everyone forget about the Note 7's exploding batteries and it accomplished that. The S8 and S8+ are two of the best smartphones on the market. They aren't perfect, but Samsung came close.
What might be most exciting about the latest Galaxy flagships is that Samsung has made smartphones fun again. Smartphone design has grown tired, with every device featuring some version of a flat, bezeled display. Samsung was the first to get to the table with a innovative bezel-free design, and you can expect smartphone design to follow.
The Galaxy S8 is an Android device that finally values form just as much as function, something Apple figured out over a decade ago. The Galaxy S8 is a sleek, high-end device, and it's predicted that it will gain more traction in the enterprise than past Android devices.
Galaxy S8 design
The Galaxy S8 is beautifully designed with smooth, curved edges that complement the tapered OLED Infinity Display. It feels just as premium as it looks -- no plastic in sight with a body coated in Gorilla Glass 5. The design looks like it could be fragile, but I've dropped my own S8 more than once, with a slim case, and it's held up. I remember thinking the same about the iPhone 4 -- every new smartphone feels fragile until you're used it for a few months.
The display took over the physical home button, and instead Samsung included a pressure sensitive button beneath the display. I like the haptic feedback. It's not like the Apple iPhone 7, where it feels like you're pushing the actual display in. But it's better than your standard vibrating feedback, you feel like you can give it a decent push even when the display is asleep.
Of course, one of the biggest complaints about the home button is that Samsung didn't integrate a fingerprint scanner into the display. Instead, the fingerprint button is on the back of the device, next to the camera. This results in smudging the camera as you awkwardly reach around to find the scanner.
I went in with low expectations of the fingerprint reader, and I've mostly relied on other authentication methods. But after more than a week of use, I've gotten used to it. I always keep a case on my devices, and the cut out for the camera makes it easier to blindly feel for the reader.
Overall, I don't think it's a deal breaker, but it will ultimately be your personal preference. Sometimes a new phone also means building new muscle memory, and after two weeks with the S8, I have no problem reaching my pointer finger up to the fingerprint scanner.
Just like past devices, the Galaxy S8 is IP68 water and dust resistant, with wireless charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack -- Samsung also included a USB Type-C charging port. The rear-facing dual-pixel camera is 12-megapixels -- same as the Galaxy Note 7 -- but the front-facing camera has been upgraded to a wide-angled lens with 8-megapixels.
Although the rear-facing camera is the same as last year's, Samsung has boosted software performance for higher-quality images.
The camera works fantastic in low lighting and, as with all Samsung cameras, images feature a slight boost in contrast. Whether you like the boost in contrast and saturation is personal preference, but I found images sharp, clear and vibrant.
[ Related story: Enterprise showdown: 5 ways the iPhone beats the Galaxy S8 ]
Galaxy S8 Bixby button
This is technically part of the design, but the Bixby button deserves a section all to itself because it's also the worst part of the design. It was a bold move for Samsung to include a dedicated button for its new voice assistant, Bixby. It's especially bold when you consider Bixby is brand new, no one has ever used it before and most Android users are loyal to Google's voice assistant.
Initially, Samsung said the button would be remappable to another assistant or app -- which I was happy about. I use Siri and Google Assistant to do one thing -- set timers. A dedicated Bixby button felt excessive when I'm only going to use it to avoid forgetting laundry in my apartment's shared washers.
Samsung decided to remove the ability to remap the Bixby button. Not only is that change disheartening, the physical location of the Bixby button is frustrating -- it's exactly where you'd expect to find your volume down button. The app is useless in its current state. I couldn't even ask it to set a timer if I wanted to.
There's one silver lining to the Bixby button, depending on how much of an optimist you are. After my husband received his pre-order, he discovered at least one use for the Bixby button. If you delete every card and app from the Bixby screen, it becomes so glaringly bright white that you can use it as a flashlight.
If Samsung wants users to be loyal to Bixby, it needs to make the app so good that no one will want to remap the button.
Customers don't spend over $700 on a smartphone just to be pushed into using any feature. This one feels like a clumsy nod to Apple's strategy, with Samsung slowly trying to entrench people into its ecosystem -- the exact thing most Android users are trying to avoid.
[ Related story: Samsung targets the enterprise with Galaxy S8 and S8+ ]
Galaxy S8 display
The 5.8-inch OLED display on the Galaxy S8 speaks for itself -- it's gorgeous, with a stunning resolution of 570 ppi. Not only is it unique, but the rounded edges of the Infinity Display create an immersive experience. Whether you're reading an article, watching a YouTube video or playing a mobile game, the edges of the device just melt away.
The curved edges are also practical.Tthe S8 looks large, but it doesn't feel that way when you hold it. I've found the iPhone 7 Plus, Pixel XL and past Galaxy flagship devices too wide for my hand, but the Galaxy S8 is the perfect size, even with a case.
The 18.5:9 aspect ratio is a little odd at first, but apps that aren't already optimized for the new ratio can be "cropped to fit," including YouTube videos. And with the growing trend of bezel-free displays, it's easy to imagine the S8's odd ratio will soon be common-place.
Another advantage to the tall display -- especially for business users -- is how effective it is for multitasking. You can float apps on the display in bubbles, quickly opening them to use a fully-functional, but scaled down version of one app without leaving another. On smaller displays, multi-window features always felt gimmicky rather than practical.
But the S8's tall display makes Android's multi-window function useful. I never had to switch out of another app to answer a text or browse my playlists like I did on my iPhone.
Galaxy S8 performance
If you purchase the device in the U.S., you'll get a Galaxy S8 with a Samsung Exynos processor. Outside of the U.S., the device features Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 processor. It comes equipped with 4GB of RAM and I found the combination of Samsung's processor and RAM perfect for regular use. The device ships with 64GB of on-board storage, and it's expandable up to 256GB with a MicroSD card.
It's tempting to compare performance of the Galaxy S8 to the iPhone 7 Plus -- and for good reason. They're two of the best devices you can currently buy. I think the iPhone will always come out on top when pushed to the limit -- for example, uploading or downloading large files.
Apple has fine-tuned its lightweight mobile OS to run seamlessly on its own hardware using a proprietary processing chip. Alternatively, Android has a lot more manufacturers and devices to please. That is, it needs to work across multiple devices, run widgets, allow for multi-window mode, support launchers and ROMs and offer users high-level customization.
When you consider all the things an Android device asks of its OS compared to an iPhone with iOS, the performance of the S8 is extra impressive. Coming from an iPhone 6, I expected a choppier performance on Android. But with the S8, it's been a seamless experience. I haven't experienced any lag or poor animations; performance has been smooth and snappy.
Galaxy S8 battery life
It's no surprise that Samsung played it safe with the S8's battery. The S8's 3,000mAh battery is smaller than the battery in the Galaxy S7 edge, but Samsung claims it has a longer lifespan, losing only 5 percent of its capacity over two years. I can't test this claim without a time machine, but if it holds true, that's exciting news.
In daily, average use, the battery is enough -- it's not great, but it's enough. Of course, it's going to depend on your settings, apps and general habits, and I find that in my first month with a new device I use it more often than I normally would.
Over the past two weeks, I've pushed the S8 to the limits. I've loaded the device up with well-known battery drainers like Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. I kept Bluetooth on all day and used the S8 as my main streaming device for YouTube and Spotify.
With heavy use, the battery got me through an entire workday, with a recharge in the evening. On days with lighter, more typical use -- days when I went out and reached for my smartphone less -- the battery got me through the day, well into the evening.
The device charges insanely fast with Samsung's fast charge technology. It will display the amount of time you have until a full charge, which is useful if you're trying to get out the door. The fast charging made up for the average battery performance since I could quickly top the battery off.
I expect that once the honeymoon phase wears off I'll have no problem stretching the battery life further. But if battery life is truly important to you, you might want to look at the S8+, which has a 3,500mAh battery.
While Bixby's execution was a misstep, one area where Samsung finally got it right is with its proprietary preloaded software. My Verizon pre-order arrived with a handful of annoying Verizon apps and games pre-loaded onto the device, but I uninstalled most of them. My T-Mobile review unit had far less bloatware than the Verizon device, and again, most of it was from T-Mobile, not Samsung, and I could uninstall the apps.
Samsung no longer tries to force you into using its native apps. They come tucked away in a tidy folder on the app tray and most of them can be uninstalled -- not just hidden. With other apps, like reminders and the weather app, Samsung doesn't even include a home screen or app tray icon unless you enable the feature in the app's settings.
Galaxy S8 enterprise potential
If any Android device has the potential to edge out the iPhone in the enterprise, it's the Galaxy S8. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have more to offer businesses, but the Galaxy S8 presents a legitimate alternative for IT.
Enterprise adoption will also be pushed by BYOD -- the growing trend of employees using a personal device for work. The Galaxy S8 is primed for BYOD; Samsung Knox not only helps with EMM, it makes it easy for users to keep personal and business data separate. And with the Samsung Dex -- a docking station that lets you use the S8 or S8+ as a full desktop -- businesses will be more motivated than ever to embrace the S8.
Samsung has built a smartphone that sets a new standard for other manufacturers, it's a hit with consumers and its appeal could sway the enterprise. With more display real-estate, a high-end design and impressive performance, employees can truly be productive on this device.
And with the potential of docking stations like DeX -- full review coming later -- Samsung might be on the cutting edge of consumer technology and business mobility.