Every year, Samsung releases many phones including those in the Galaxy S flagship series. There have been many good Samsung phones over the years and they have sold in millions worldwide. And, every year they are compared to iPhones, Pixels (or the now defunct Nexus) and LG phones.
The Galaxy S8+ has carved an entirely new niche though. The difference this year is in the stand-out design. I used the S8+ for over two weeks and, during this period, noticed several turned heads as people tried to check my device out — a phenomenon hitherto mostly associated with the iPhone.
While the phone is definitely ending up on the podium this year, there are some factors that might come in the way. Let's take a look.
The S8+ is the best looking phone, ever. Period. Coming out of Apple's shadows, the Korean smartphone giants have made the world take notice. There is a possibility that if Apple comes out with an almost bezel-less iPhone design, many would label it 'copycat'. There is something strikingly beautiful about a front curved display from top to bottom. True, others have executed this earlier, such as Xiaomi with the Mi Mix last year and LG with the G6 this year.
But Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy S8's distinctiveness lies in the length of the display in a not-so-large body. In fact, the screen has almost the same length as the iPhone 7 and is much narrower. It definitely has more screen property than Apple's latest. Diagonally, the display is 6.2 inches long. More on the screen in the next section.
The phone's narrowness makes it a delight to hold. You feel spoilt by the device's perfect curves that complement your grip. After using the Galaxy S8+ for a while, picking up another phone such as, say, OnePlus 3T, felt slightly unwieldy. Although the Galaxy S8+ does tend to feel slippery because it is made of glass.
However, Samsung engineers seem to have made a couple of lazy decisions. The ports and the speaker grill at the bottom are not aligned, and the speakers might get covered while holding the phone in landscape mode.
And then, there is the disastrous arrangement of the fingerprint sensor just beside the camera on the back. Samsung needs to go back to drawing board on this. It is not just the inconvenience but the quality of the fingerprint sensor which gives you a mild headache.
While using the phone, I often had to adjust my grip to reach the topmost part of the phone. While the fingerprint sensor does allow you to pull down the notification tray, the placement of the sensor itself doesn't make it easy.
Samsung's flagships' display is going to make other phone makers jealous for a long time. There is little doubt that the company has given it the utmost importance. The screen is set to FullHD mode by default. You can go to settings and crank up the resolution to QHD but that is likely to drain more battery. You can degrade the resolution to 1480×720 to save battery but the screen doesn't look too good at that point. Everything looks too huge and the setting is totally unnecessary.
When it comes to normal operations, the curved screen edge is not a hindrance in this iteration of the phone. However, it can get a bit irritating when playing games in landscape mode because you have to have very precise touches on the top menu. Same thing goes for watching videos. Some part of the video tends to overflow to the edge giving it a weird look.
The unusual 18.5:9 ratio leaves us with a new dilemma of how to measure phone screens. Saying that Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch screen doesn't cut it. Because, another phone with a 5.8-inch screen and 16:9 aspect ratio would result in latter having more screen area (Hello, Pythagoras!). These two devices are quite narrow compared to other smartphones.
The colour projection on the display is top notch. There are multiple modes for colour management. If you keep the phone in the auto mode, the screen will show deep and saturated colours that are pleasing to the eye. Samsung has really mastered the art of making Super AMOLED displays over the years. And this one blends in with the design so well.
The company has something called the edge panels as well, which you can pull out from the right edge to perform tasks such as using a calculator, getting to favourite contacts, and opening apps. However, it became an obstacle in overall operation many times, so I got rid of it in settings just a few days into the usage cycle.
The good experience
Surely the best thing about the phone is its screen. There is so much screen acerage that it makes performing even mundane functions a bit exciting. Thanks to the design, you feel that you are just using a screen and not a phone. Whether reading an article or viewing your social media timeline, there is always that extra space. Recall those memes about how tall the next iPhone was going to be, based on the iPhone 7 Plus design? Well, Galaxy S8+ makes the tall phone a reality with its tall screen.
Watching videos on S8+ is generally a great experience with its onscreen colour scheme, though there are very few movies and shows in the widescreen format aspect ratio.
Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ have been certified by the UHD Alliance as the first handsets with Mobile HDR premium certification. This means that the phones have the dynamic colour range to display the equivalent of a 4K UHD TV. This is to achieve better pixel quality overall, using the DCI-P3 colour standard used in TV screens.
The problem is that there is lack of content which can comply with the Mobile HDR standard. There are some shows on Amazon Prime available in India but they feel a bit out of tone in the mobile experience.
Using other media forms on the phone was a delight. I played a lot of FIFA Mobile on the phone and thoroughly enjoyed it because I had a bigger screen to deal with the game dynamics. Samsung engineers have done a great job with the Exynos processor. With the new 10 nm FinFET production technology, the heat management performed really well. Not once did I face the problem of the phone warming up despite running multiple tasks. The 4 GB RAM capacity is adequate for the phone.
Samsung has also done a good job on the software, despite some hiccups. During the setup process, it gives users the choice to pick the apps that can be downloaded from the Samsung app store. However, the stock app icons are poorly designed. The setting menu is very searchable and clean. The device management menu really impressed me because even a novice user can control the various aspects such as battery, memory, and storage.
Samsung has to be commended on presenting the phone with great packaging and goodies — an art that OnePlus has mastered. There is a 15 W fast-charging adapter supplied with the new device. There are a couple of dongles to help the users adapt to the USB C. But the best thing about the packaging is the pair of AKG in-ear headphones. These are among the top earphones that I have used ever. It reminds me of the old Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones which used to come with great earpieces and a bunch of goodies.
Speaking of which, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ battery life is generally good. On a constant basis, it gave me more than 5 hours of screen-on time. Which is commendable considering I played games, took photos, checked social media and emails, handled calls and performed other tasks all the time. Galaxy S8+ has a 3,600 mAh battery which takes more than 2 hours to charge. The Galaxy S8 has a smaller 3,000 mAh battery which might give a different battery experience.
The bad experience
The pain of unlocking the phone made me want to scream every time. There are many options of unlocking the S8+. First of all, the fingerprint sensor is really bad. You have to have the precision of a sharpshooter to place your finger on the sensor, which is awkwardly located, to get it right. You can expect a lot of misses. Samsung team should have taken some lesson from the Pixel team to understand how fingerprint unlocking works.
The second option is the IRIS scanner which works well generally. But there is the problem of it failing multiple times in sunlight. Also, your eyes have to be in a certain place for the IR camera and sensor to detect it. Samsung provides masks or placeholders to adjust your face. So, you need to hold the phone in a certain way every time for unlocking it.
Face detection is the least favourite of my unlocking methods as there were many bloopers during my two-week plus of usage. Here is the main annoyance — every time your phone is not at a particular fixed angle or if it is lying face down on the table, you'd have to rely on pattern/PIN unlock for sure.
Although Samsung has done a good job on software generally. I am not sure if they will be able to roll out Android O on time after it officially launches. Recall that the Galaxy S7 received the Nougat update quite late in the day. Also, there are still minor latency issues that many Android phones face from time to time. I faced several app crashes in the two weeks that I used the S8+.
There is something irksome about badly worked apps. Samsung's edge screen, for instance, has cutout corners. Or, its photos rotate because of the aspect ratio. In many apps, such as Google Play Music, the play bar would get stuck on multiple occasions. I am not sure at this point if that was Google's fault or Samsung's, but many apps have design glitches. If you are using some other Android phone and want those rounded corners, check out the cornerfly app.
Lastly, let's talk about the elephant (the extra button) on the phone which activates Bixby, Samsung's ambitious AI personal assistant much like Siri or Alexa or Google Assistant. Bixby is not quite fully baked yet and right now, double tapping on the button opens a feed like Google Now. It includes your social accounts, news from Flipboard and some other details. It doesn't really feel necessary to have this feed on Google Now. The voice commands which Samsung boasted a lot about at the launch haven't really been launched anywhere besides Korea. And, we really don't know how useful they will be.
Bixby Vision is limited in India and users can only do an image search to find pictures similar to what is there in front of them.
Samsung has produced really good cameras in its Galaxy S and Note lines of phones. The Galaxy S7 was certainly one of the top contenders last year. This year too, Samsung has stuck with a 12 MP sensor although it is not a Sony sensor like it was last year. Is this the best camera produced by Samsung? Surely. Will this be the best camera this year? Hard to tell but it should end up at a podium position.
The camera's philosophy seems to be — point, click and share. It clicks beautiful pictures without any editing or tweaks. Sure, there is the Samsung propensity to saturate photos a bit but, overall, the colour accuracy is much better than the previous iteration of the flagship. There is sharp contrast presented in the pictures thanks to the dual pixel technology.
There are many smartphone makers trying to be the selfie experts by ramping up the 'beautification' element in the software. But Samsung has stuck to the basics by producing good photos through the 8 MP sensor on the phone. The selfies are really well captured. To add a little fun element, it has included Snapchat like face masks in the camera app.
The dual pixel uses a bigger than average pixel size to capture the image. Moreover, every single photo-diode in the image processing sensor is used for phase detection autofocus, providing a clear picture in a short amount of time.
The software is super snappy for the camera. The app opens pretty fast and you can start shooting right off the bat. It is very simple to use, with the basic controls visible clearly. On the top, there are toggles such as flash, HDR and more.
Additionally, there are many modes available if you swipe right on the interface. These modes are, namely, auto, pro, food mode, sports mode, virtual shot, panorama and more. The food mode concentrates on the centre of the screen while blurring out the boundaries. I used pro mode on many occasions and got good results.
The Galaxy S8+ is one of the best most phones I have ever used. The usage experience was really sublime. The phone was really a joy to experience. The ₹57,900 and ₹64,900 price tags on Galaxy S8 and S8+ might seem a bit steep but the devices will sell like hot cakes for sure. The experience is mostly about the display. You can't take your eyes off it, literally.
However, this beautiful piece of machinery does have a few kinks that Samsung should iron out.
There are already Note 8 and Galaxy S9 rumors coming out in the market. Till the Pixel comes out this might be the best hardware experience you'd have at least in Android space.