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Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: Leading the Android race, but with some flaws
'I want this phone but I will not buy it'. This is the story of Samsung Galaxy S8+, the latest flagship phablet from the Korean tech giant. I have heard the above mentioned words several times in the last ten days wherever I took the Samsung's latest flagship- the Galaxy S8+ out from my pocket.
- Gorgeous design
- One-of-its kind display
- swift performance
- great camera
- latest Bluetooth 5.0
- Feels fragile
- Awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor and Bixby button
- battery performance could have been better
- occasional software glitches
Everyone was just stunned to see the extraordinary all-display mobile phone, which is nothing less than a concept gadget straight from the drawing board of a crazy designer. Everyone wants to buy it, but at the same time they are also quite skeptic to spend a fortune on such a device that feels quite fragile in everyday use.
For those who do not feel the same (and even to those who feel otherwise) I would like to mention that the Galaxy S8+ is more than just a gorgeous looking handset with an astonishing screen.
The phablet seems fragile but is crafted out of sturdy metal and durable Gorilla Glass, offers the most advanced mobile processor, a great camera, a water-resistant design and some other great things going in its favor. However, it's not perfect and it's most talked about aspect- the gorgeous design can be its biggest problem.
How? Let's find out with the help of the review of Samsung Galaxy S8+, competing in the race of the best flagship smartphone of 2017.
Design: Outrageously gorgeous but impractical at times
Why can't we have concept phones in real? I guess this must be the question the designing team had to answer while sketching the Galaxy S8 and the S8+. The new Galaxy smartphones are the future of mobile devices, the most modern and slickest handsets I have ever used.
They take inspiration from the previous Galaxy devices (S6/S7 Edge), the other bezel less handsets and the recently launched LG G6, the first handset with the 18:9 aspect ratio. However, we can agree to the fact that what started by LG, others and Samsung itself is simply taken to the next level by the company's design team.
The Galaxy S8+ features one of the largest displays in the market without bulking on the exterior form factor. The smartphone has an endless 6.2-inch display which Samsung calls an Infinity screen. It is fitted on a body that is more or less similar in size when compared to the previous Galaxy S7 Edge.
However to accommodate the 18.5:9 aspect ratio, the new Galaxy devices are made taller by eliminating unwanted bezels on top and bottom and the Samsung's traditional oval home button. This taller but not very wider design easily fits in your palm and makes you wonder why it took so long to design such a big and at the same time, a compact and manageable mobile device.
Nevertheless, I believe LG and Samsung have started a trend and the world is going to see more of such taller and bezel-less smartphones in the coming months.
What I don't want the upcoming devices to take from Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the awkwardly placed physical buttons; the fingerprint scanner and Bixby AI button. Samsung has really messed up with the placement of these two very important buttons.
It's quite tough to unlock the handset in the first attempt because the biometric scanner is placed too high for your index finger to reach without adjusting your grip.
In my case the index finger always messed up the camera glass, which then needs to be cleaned up with a cloth/paper to capture clear images. And even when you get into the habit of placing your finger correctly on the biometric sensor, its strike rate is not 100 percent.
I believe this is due to the shape of the sensor, which does not go in sync with your finger's profile. I would have preferred an oval or a circular fingerprint scanner rather than the elongated one that makes it a task to unlock the phone.
Ultimately I tried my hands (technically my eyes) on the 'Iris scanner' which seems like a much needed cover up to give you one less reason to hate the oddly placed and oddly shaped fingerprint scanner.
It works decently but is still not the best solution as the results were not always appreciable, especially not in bright lights where sensor failed to recognize the irises and I had to use PIN or pattern to unlock the handset. When it works, it works like a charm, without wasting a second even when there's not a trace of light.
The face unlock was even more problematic as it forced me to believe that the shape of my face is changing on everyday basis. The strike rate is less than 50 percent and it doesn't even work in dark. So you are left with an awkwardly placed fingerprint scanner, a stupid face unlock, a decent iris unlock feature and the usual PIN and pattern unlock mechanism.
If that is just not enough to irritate you then the physical button on the left, just below the volume rockers is by far the worst thing about the design of the new Galaxy devices. It's placed to activate the Samsung's new software venture in artificial technology- the Bixby artificial assistant.
I don't mind trying a hand on the new product, but absolutely not when I am watching a YouTube video and unintentionally bring it in action while tweaking the phone's volume. The video stops immediately and you are given some cards to check news, places, calendar events, etc. Samsung should have used the space on the right side where Sony places there dedicated camera control.
Placing the Bixby button just below the volume rockers simply makes the design complex and non ergonomic in everyday usage.
And while the new Galaxy devices seem flimsy and fragile at times, they are quite durable. Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ are IP68 certified and can be submerged in 1m of water for about 30 minutes.
To sum up all, the new Galaxy devices definitely seem futuristic, try to implement the sophisticated technologies but fail, and ultimately push you to settle with basics of smartphone usage. Sounds confusing, that's what you feel while using the Galaxy S8+.
Display: I am addicted to Galaxy's Infinity display
Samsung has given us some of the best mobile phone displays in last few years. The new Infinity displays start a new trend altogether. They are super vibrant, taller with the help of new aspect ratio (18.5:9) making them the best displays to experience the multimedia content. The display resolution is set to 1080p by default but you can take it to a maximum of 2K (2960 x 1440), which takes the pixel density to a whopping 529ppi.
The HD resolution, i.e. 720p is the minimum you can touch within display settings. This can help you save some battery power in case you are travelling and want your device to last longer.
The new aspect ratio and the amazing 83% screen to body ratio squeezes more content in a compact form factor. You get to see more written text and images on web pages, more Insta feeds and Facebook stories, etc. on the phone's display which is an enjoyable experience.
Watching 2K videos and playing games is simply delightful on the Galaxy S8+. The colours look exceptionally punchy, blacks are deeper and the good level of brightness makes it easy to use the smartphone outdoors.
There's more to this Infinity display. The 2K panels on the new Galaxy devices have also been awarded the Mobile HDR Premium certification by the UHD alliance. What this means is that the new Galaxy S8 and S8+ support HDR 10 content, which significantly increases colour range and delivers enhanced contrast between various highlights and shadows rendered on screen. This makes for vivid and lively video, image and gaming content on your handset.
The LG G6 is another flagship handset selling at comparatively lower price-point that also supports HDR 10 content. Moreover, LG is also offering Dolby Vision support, which is not supported by Samsung devices.
But the smartphone that actually takes the cake in all of this HDR is the recently launched Sony Xperia XZ Premium. Priced at Rs. 59,990, the smartphone sports the world's first 4K HDR screen, which makes it the only handset to support Netflix's HDR content, which comes only as the part of UHD package offered by the streaming app. Amazon also offers HDR content on its Amazon Prime video service.
Camera: The same Galaxy S7 Edge camera with some minor improvements
The predecessor to Galaxy S8/S8+, the Galaxy S7 Edge was my sole camera device for quite a long time and I still consider it as one of the best camera on a mobile phone in the market. The latest Galaxy handsets use the same tried and tested hardware, but with some noticeable improvements.
The new Galaxy devices have a 12MP Dual Pixel rear camera that integrates OIS, phase detection autofocus and works on f/1.7 aperture. You can capture slow motion, time-lapse, and 4K videos with the rear cameras.
And while every other smartphone maker is implementing dual-camera technology, Samsung is still trying to win over the race with mono camera setups. And I must say the company has once again done a great job with the optics on Galaxy S8 and S8+.
While you get amazing clarity, detailing and vibrant colours in daylight, the pictures shot in low-light are also very appealing as they take advantage of enhanced multi-frame image processing. The technology is also applied to 8MP front camera to deliver good selfie images when light conditions are not favorable. The front shooter also works on the bright f/1.7 lens.
Talking about the modes and filters, you have an Auto mode which will be your companion for most of the part while you capture images in day or night. But you can select Pro mode that allows you to adjust ISO, Exposure, Color balance, Shutter speed, Focus, and White Balance.
The Selective focus, one of my favorite camera modes from the days of Galaxy S7 is also available to deliver on great portrait shots. The mode allows you to tweak the depth of field after clicking a shot. You can keep the subject in focus or can change the focus point as you perceive an image.
The camera interface on new Galaxy devices also offers a range of new filters. A swipe to left will give you the list of filters that can be applied to see the live effect while you capture an image. You can download more filters from Samsung store.
Talking about the picture and video quality, the camera output matches the likes of Galaxy S7 Edge and captures plenty of details. The camera offers great dynamic range and colors look lively and vibrant on the AMOLED Infinity display. The images also have good level of contrast and sharpness.
The videos look equally better, especially shot in 4K resolution. However, it is worth mentioning that the video mode is not able to utilize the 18.5:9 aspect ratio and you can only shoot in 16:9 aspect ratio.
Performance: A flagship performer by all means
With a price tag of Rs. 65,000, I expect nothing less than the flagship chipset, GPU, ample RAM and the latest software. Thankfully the Galaxy S8+ has all the above mentioned things and the ability to deliver on performance part.
The smartphone is backed by the Exynos 8895 processor, equivalent to Snapdragon 835 and is built on the 10nm manufacturing process.
The company says that the processor is 10 percent more powerful and the GPU unit, the Mali-G71 MP20 is 50 percent more capable in delivering fast rendering of graphics while playing games or watching videos.
The octa-core Exynos CPU is engineered by integrating four Samsung V2 custom cores clocked at 2.3 GHz and four Cortex-A53 units clocked at 1.7 GHz to keep a check on power efficiency. The hardware brings improvements in camera processing, audio-video decoding, LTE modem, graphics rendering and in heat dissipation.
The processor is paired with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal memory which can b expanded by up to 256GB via microSD card. By default the display is set to 1080p resolution to maintain a balance in efficiency and performance, but you can activate the 'Performance Mode' from the notification panel which sets the resolution to the maximum, i.e. 2K (2960 x 1440p).
Honestly, you will not even realize if the screen is working on 1080p, however why to pay such a hefty amount if you are not willing to make a full use of it. I kept the screen resolution set to 2K for most of the time and technically I did not notice any major difference in battery power reduction when compared it to the times when the screen was set to 1080p. The gaming and video playback on the 2K infinity display is a delight.
The Mali-G71 MP20 is able to deliver console level graphics on the Galaxy S8+, which are rendered without any performance issues. I had an amazing time playing the Injustice 2 and Asphalt 8 on the 2K infinity screen. And in overall, you can literally throw anything on this flagship handset without worrying about the horsepower.
As far as software is concerned, Samsung has overall done a good job and the new Samsung UX offer a smooth and comparatively much better experience than the Samsung's previous TouchWiz iterations. Samsung's new skin comes with newly designed stock icons and is comfortably smooth and fun to use for most of the part.
But sometimes, it can give a tough time even with the most basic day-to-day stuff. For instance, the notification tray on my Galaxy S8+ showed some stability issues. The Airplane mode icon went unresponsive a couple of times and I had to tap it multiple times and lock/unlock the device to get it worked. There's a noticeable lag every time you open the Samsung's customization pane to change icons, wallpapers and themes.
But Samsung has really improved on the animations part that makes the handset feel absolutely fluid in day to say use. Moreover, the Samsung UX brilliantly utilizes the extra screen size, i.e. the new 18.5:9 aspect ratio for a new kind of mobile experience.
Running on Android 7.0 Nougat, the smartphone can display two active applications in equally divided square boxes on the infinity screen, or can adjust their size as per your requirement.
The lock screen, notification panel, button layout and the on-screen icons are customizable and you can also hide the apps installed on your phone. You can also place a button on the homescreen that opens the app drawer because by default a slide up or down opens up the app section, which I believe is more convenient to use. Moreover the one-level UI is also present to place all the apps on the homescreen.
The edge screen gets a variety of panels including Apps edge, Task edge, People edge and Device maintenance. Samsung has also added Smart select, a new edge panel that allows you to cut out a part of whatever is displaying on your screen in oval or rectangle shape.
You can then save it, extract text, draw on it and can also share it on WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, message, Gmail, etc. You can also pin the selected image on the screen.
Talking about the Bixby, I found it to be good in whatever limited tasks it can perform. It displays all the information fetched from apps in the form of cards. You can authorize apps within the Bixby settings to show as cards on Bixby home. There's a section that shows which apps can are available as Bixby home cards.
The cards show a nice stack animation when you scroll them up. You can pin a specific card on top, hide it or discard it from the Bixby home. The calling card fetched from the dialer app let you check the time of a missed call.
You can call or text the person right from the card itself. It shows birthdays of your contacts, your daily activity- the steps, the calories burned, the kilometers covered and the last recorded hear rate. Besides, news, trailers, mails and suggestion on apps and themes are also a part of Bixby.
Summing up all, Bixby has a limited set of functionality as of now but it seems to be a pretty good addition in Samsung's software repository. Will it be able to sideline the Google Assistant is a big question, however we recommend you to give it a chance.
Overall, the software performance on Galaxy S8+ is impressive and is by far the best we have seen on a Samsung device in a while.
Battery and Audio: I wish my galaxy S8+ could last more
With so much of technology packed inside metal and glass, you need a powerhouse to keep it going. In the case of Galaxy S8+, it is the 3,500 mAh battery unit running the show. The battery is supported by a fast charger that can restore the 100 percent power in less than two hours.
And if you fear that the Galaxy S8/S8+ will explode like the previous Galaxy Note 7, then I would like to tell you that the Korean giant took the Note 7 failure quite seriously and have invested a lot of time and money in making sure the adversity never repeats itself.
Coming back on the battery performance part, with such an amazing display onboard you are bound to stream videos throughout the day and play graphical intensive games. Besides, the inevitable camera usage, social networking, emails, calling, and the fact that you will also keep the screen on just to praise the design and lively Super AMOLED Infinity display, takes a toll on the battery life.
With such kind of usage pattern, my Galaxy S8+ lasted for a little more than 14 hours, which is good but not the best in the market. It is worth mentioning that I played the games and streamed the videos on QHD resolution and kept it on 1080p during regular usage. As the battery reached the 25 percent mark, I tweaked the resolution to 720p to save some power.
Depending upon your usage pattern, you can make your latest Galaxy device last a day on a single charge. The fast charger is helpful in recharging battery to its fullest in about 90-100 minutes, which is not as fast as OnePlus's Dash charging but still serves the task.
The audio performance on Galaxy S8+ is good. The sound through the speakers is loud and clear the AKG earphones in the package are also impressive. You will find Google Play Music as the default music player on the new Galaxy devices to stream your local music files. You can also stream music from Samsung's backed cloud service built right into the Google Music Player.
The app is also backed by SoundAlive tool which offers an effective equalizer to tweak the audio. The handset also has UHQ sound resolution enhancer, like we have seen in Sony devices that upscale the audio in compressed files to deliver on audio performance.
Connectivity and Storage: Latest Bluetooth 5.0 and ample storage
Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ comes with the latest Bluetooth 5.0 that allows you to connect two devices simultaneously. What this means is that you can play same audio on two different wireless devices, which is quite useful. Besides, the smartphone has all the required connectivity features you would expect from a smartphone in 2017. It supports Wi-Fi 802.11ac, NFC, GPS and VoLTE.
The handsets support two SIM cards or one SIM card and one microSD card at same time. As far as storage is concerned, Samsung Galaxy S8+ comes in two storage variants, 64GB and 128GB internal memory that can be expanded by up to 256GB via microSD card.
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are undoubtedly the best possible comeback for Samsung after the Note 7 fiasco. The new devices are the most meaningful update to the ever popular Galaxy series of Samsung handsets and a proof that the company can survive from a failure (Galaxy Note 7) of such a significant scale.
From a product viewpoint, Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+ are engineering marvels, the concept phones in the real world but with some design flaws, which I believe will be addressed in the next iteration.
They pack the latest and the fastest processors, abundant RAM, storage and deliver the best-in-class multimedia playback experience with the new unconventional 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Especially on Galaxy S8+, the screen is a joy to use.
The camera performance is pretty much the same we have seen on the Galaxy S7 Edge and delivers great results. Next in the list is software performance which is significant improvement over the last few generations of Samsung UI.
The Bixby AI may seem irrelevant to some users with Google Assistant on board, but it does a good job, seems more accessible and can come out to be a great software companion in the upcoming months. The battery backup is decent but could have been better. The Bluetooth 5.0 is really useful but the awkwardly placed Bixby AI button and the fingerprint sensor have to be dealt with.
Overall, Samsung Galaxy S8+ at a price-point of Rs. 64,900 is undoubtedly a flagship product offering the best of design, screen, camera, and performance. It is expensive, not perfect but one of the best Android devices you can buy in the year 2017.