The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have officially arrived, and everything indicates that it was worth the wait. Samsung has made every effort to make its leading-edge smartphone series “cutting-edge.” The Galaxy S8 takes large-display phones to a whole new level by pushing the industrial design envelope to new heights, building yet a higher barrier to entry. We looked at both phones to evaluate many aspects of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ handsets, so let’s dive deeper into the details to see if that is a perfect handset for YOU. [review last updated on April 18]
“Infinity” HDR Display: impressive!
Without a doubt, the most prominent feature of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is the display which incredibly covers most of the front of the display. You can see it for yourself, but it simply looks out of this world. It has a ratio that is slightly wider than LG’s 2:1 and has a phenomenal look and image quality. Never has a smartphone display looked so good.
"NEVER HAS A SMARTPHONE DISPLAY LOOKED SO GOOD"Phones such as the Aquos Mini SH-M03 and more recently the Xiaomi Mi MIX and of course the LG G6 have pursued this very goal, with LG landing the first real punch by offering a high-volume phone which doesn’t have tradeoffs such as having the camera at the bottom of the phone. The Mi MIX still sold out in 10 seconds, but it is difficult not to say that the Galaxy S8 has the best large-display implementation right now.
Not surprisingly, Samsung’s Super-AMOLED displays have been praised by the geekiest reviews out there, and constantly rank as top displays. This level of quality is what you should expect from the Galaxy S8.
Both S8 and S8+ are designed for a good one-hand grip (by today’s standard). The S8 an extraordinary 5.8” Quad HD+ (2960×1440, 570 PPI) which is extremely sharp. The Galaxy S8+ is just 1.5 mm narrower than the S7 Edge, but is a little longer. The narrower width improves the grip a little and allows for an impressive 6.2” display (S8+), also in Quad HD+ (2960×1440, 529 PPI).
Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?
It is no secret that “larger displays” are one of most demanded feature from smartphone buyers. Increasing the display size improves every experience: productivity, entertainment, and photography (capture and slideshows) are three obvious things made better by larger displays.
At the same time, people also demand phones that are “compact” and “one-hand friendly.” The solution to that is to increase the phone’s display to body ratio to 83%, a key metric for large-screen portability. LG’s G6 fired the first salvo in that new arms race.
Older attempts to introduce large screens such as the Galaxy Mega 6.3 in 2013 or the original Huawei Mate (6.1”) generated some size friction, and the market quickly converged to the general form-factor of the Galaxy S7/S7 edge.
I wish I still had a Galaxy Mega 6.3 to compare with today’s Galaxy S8+. What a difference a few years make! With the Galaxy S8, Samsung takes an undeniable lead in large-display phones.
Additionally, the Samsung Galaxy S8 display is certified for mobile HDR, which means that it is extremely bright and that the phone is capable of decoding HDR content as they were intended to be watched.
Industrial Design: best in class
The display is only the facade of what is the most advanced industrial design for smartphones. The aesthetic speaks for itself, but even when you look at it from a technical point of view, the Galaxy S8 design is exceptional: it packs a huge amount of computing power and battery capacity in relation to its relatively small internal volume (especially when accounting for the edges’ curvature).
Key data: 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0 mm, 155g (S8) and 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm, 173g (S8+)
This time, there’s no “flat” version of the Galaxy S Series. Samsung has completely transitioned to the “Edge” design that was introduced with the S6 Edge and was so popular that Samsung was caught off-guard during the initial S6 roll out and had to open more S6 Edge production lines.
"THE MOST ADVANCED INDUSTRIAL DESIGN"The “edge” design is beautiful, but it can also be a bit controversial to users who do not like the how it feels or complain of touch false-positive. The good news is that the Galaxy Note 7 dual-curve design, which the S8 inherited from, has removed this problem. In several days, I have not experienced any false-positive touch issues. Samsung has managed to keep the visual beauty of the edge display, while tweaking the design to make it work functionally like a flat design. The edge also feels less “sharp” (because it is).
To pack as much screen-area in a chassis that is comparable to the S7 Series, Samsung has to move the fingerprint sensor to the back of the phone (a trend started with the LG G2) and remove the mechanical Home button. However, Samsung did add a “Home button” sensor underneath the screen to preserve the functionality. Well done! The fingerprint sensor can sometimes be confused with the camera sensor. I was a bit worried about this design at first, but although it’s not as “clean” as having a centered sensor, it worked much better than I expected. I use the Iris-scan and the fingerprint unlock.
Metal and Glass: Premium feel
The industrial design is an evolution of the one introduced with the (defunct) Note 7, including the symmetrical curvature (front/back) which successfully improved the grip sensation from the S7 Edge.
The front and back are “all glass” and feels very slick to the eyes and very soft when holding the handset — the placement is a bit odd, which is probably why Samsung added the face unlock. We’ll see how it goes as we use it. I think that Samsung went a bit heavy with the branding in the back of the phone, and that removes a little bit of “class” to an otherwise exceptional design.
I would argue that the S8 is the most premium-looking industrial design right now. Obviously, it is a matter of preference, but if you factor in the aesthetics and the technical aspects, the Galaxy S8 is far ahead. For example, the excellent Huawei P10 feels great, but it has a 5.1” display and a less powerful computing platform (but a great 3200 mAh battery).
I like the P10 better than the iPhone 7, which remains quite good itself but that iPhone design style is getting old. The Google Pixel is also an excellent phone, but the thick top and bottom bezels and the relative bulk of the handset fail to “wow” when it comes to design. The Galaxy S8 extends the design lead already enjoyed by the S7 Series as it combines beauty, large display, chassis compactness and leading computational power in one product.
Resilience: IP68 Water and Dust Resistance
As it was the case with Galaxy S7, the Galaxy S8 / S8+ are IP68 rated which means that the design is water-resistant with the highest protection available for smartphones. This is a big deal when some statistics show that 50% of phones that meet a violent death, do so because of water contact. In markets like Japan, water-resistance is a mandatory feature because buyers demand it.
You should be mindful of the potentially weak resilience of the Galaxy S8/S8+ against shocks. The Galaxy S7 Edge was arguably prone to glass breakage (drop contact) not only because there’s glass everywhere, but the curvature made it more likely to hit hard surfaces during drops.
LG has used physical resilience as a selling point with the tough LG V20, and even the glass-laden LG G6 has been designed with some shock-resistance in mind (read our review). It is fair to say that there is always a trade-off between beauty and toughness, and if you ask me, the Galaxy S8 does look better than the LG G6, but I expect the G6 to be a bit tougher upon drops. We explained the logic of how phones are designed to survive drops when we looked at the V20, The same principles are valid for most phones.
If you are clumsy, get a Galaxy S8 case and thank me later. It is a bit of a pity to hide such a beautiful phone, but better be safe than sorry. Samsung has plenty of cases available, including a “bikini” minimalist design that mainly protects the corners (50% of falls happen on corners).
Camera: no new hardware, but still great and very fast
Note: the photo sample gallery images are reduced to ~1/4th of the original resolution and compressed for web delivery. All shots are done handheld in HDR-auto mode (default).
The Samsung Galaxy S8 camera is based on the same hardware as the Galaxy S7’s. Samsung has confirmed to Ubergizmo that some improvements have been on the software side, although the company did not communicate about specific features during the initial media pitch. The Galaxy S8 camera has an updated user interface, but overall, it provides an experience similar to the excellent S7/S7 edge. I really wish that it had a wide-photo secondary camera though. I’m not sure how long Samsung can abstain from adding that one."I REALLY WISH THAT IT HAD A WIDE-PHOTO SECONDARY CAMERA"
Key camera data
- 12 Megapixel main camera with OIS Image Stabilization and f1.7 aperture
- Sony IMX260 12MP sensor with Dual-Pixel AF sensing (probable, but unconfirmed)
- 8 MP front camera with f1.7 aperture
It is important not to underestimate the importance of software in mobile photography. For example, the LG G6 uses the same sensor has other Android phones, but its engineers have been able to squeeze much more out of it. Also, the Google Pixel has proven that software can make a huge perceptible difference in image quality.
That said, if you read our Google Pixel review, you would notice that whether or not the Galaxy S7 or the Google Pixel is “the best” mobile camera is partly a matter of preferences. The same thing will be true with the Galaxy S8. We will need to run more synthetic tests to see how Samsung has tweaked the S8 camera, but using the S7 as a baseline seems very safe. In short, the Galaxy S8 is a top camera phone, but the Samsung Galaxy S camera aura of invincibility dimmed when the Google Pixel arrived. The Galaxy S camera used to absolutely dominate. Now it has to share the spotlight with the Google Pixel.
"THE GALAXY S CAMERA USED TO ABSOLUTELY DOMINATE. NOW IT HAS TO SHARE THE SPOTLIGHT WITH THE GOOGLE PIXEL"Camera tuning aside, the Galaxy S8 remains the fastest camera, thanks to its Dual-Pixel Sensor, a technology that allows any of the 12M pixels to also act as an auto-focus sensor. Dual-Pixel Diode will always beat other sensors which have a mere few hundred focus pixels in AF speed. The only downside of Dual-Pixel Diode is that it takes a toll on sheer resolution (12MP vs. 16MP), but 12 Megapixel is not a bad place to be.
Learn more: Dual Cameras vs. Single Camera
The Samsung Galaxy S7 had one version equipped with the Feb 2016 Sony IMX260 Sensor with 1.4 μm pixels while another had a Samsung ISOCELL SL5K2L1 sensor. Assuming that Samsung wanted to keep the Dual-Pixel technology, there are two primary sensor alternatives: the Sony IMX362 (Nov 2016) which has nearly identical specs to the IMX260, or the 16 Megapixel Sony IMX398, which has smaller pixels (1.12 μm, not so great in low-light).
The Google Pixel has a Sony IMX378 with 1.55 μm pixel, but no Dual-Pixel Diode – which explains why the AF speed and quality are not as good as the S7 and S8. At the end of the day, it seemed pretty sensible to keep a proven camera hardware and tweak the software, until the next-gen sensors come out.
Battery: large, in comparison to the phone’s volume
The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have battery capacities of 3000 mAh and 3500 mAh respectively. While it is true that the S7 Edge had 3600mAh, the overall battery experience should be comparable. The Galaxy S8 phones also come with integrated wireless just as last year’s series.
On the one hand, the Galaxy S8 gets a much more power-efficient main processor (40%+ more) with the Snapdragon 835, but on the other hand, it is not clear how much power-savings we will get system-wide. There’s a chance that battery life could be better, but that is extremely difficult to measure in real-world conditions. We will see when the retail units land in the office.
Although we did not yet have time to test the charge speed, we expect the Galaxy S8 to charge at a rate of ~50 mAh/mn, which means that it would go from 0% to 50% in 30mn. This is in-line with the large majority of high-end handsets, except the Huawei Mate 9, which charges at the crazy rate of 77 mAh/mn.
It has been reported that the Galaxy S8’s battery has a better life cycle (it should last longer). It’s encouraging, but only time will tell if the claim is true. This is one of those things that is really hard to measure independantly.
After the Galaxy Note 7’s battery disaster and apologies, Samsung has done extensive work to find the root causes (independent labs also agreed) and drastically changed its battery-checking procedures and manufacturing as to never repeat those problems that led to multi-Billion dollar losses. The Galaxy S8 batteries are probably the most checked ever at Samsung.
Software: Android 7.0 and new productivity features
Samsung Bixby voice user interface (UI)
"ANYTHING DONE USING TAPS, IS ALSO POSSIBLE WITH VOICE"During the many leaks over the past weeks, Bixby has often been described as a Virtual Assistant. It is not. It is a voice user interface. The premise of Bixby is that anything done using taps, is also possible with voice.
Bixby is smart enough to handle the tens of thousands of possible actions normally done via the Android UI. We have not had time to tried them all, but Samsung assures us that that is indeed the case.
There is a dedicated Bixby button on the left side, just below the volume rocker. The cool thing with Bixby is that when you have wet or dirty hands, you are still able to easily do many things with your phone. We’ve since learned that the Bixby button cannot be used for anything else, but there’s a hack that lets you do it anyway.
Voice is not always the optimum way of getting things done, but it is up to you to decide when to use it. My metric for success is whether or not I can get something done faster. Tweaking things buried deep in the settings is often one of them.
Bixby also has a visual component that can “see” (using the main camera) and give you information about various objects/things. How extensive the database is remains to be seen, but we’ll have to try it in the real world to completely evaluate how good it is.
Samsung DeX turns your Galaxy S8 into a desktop computer
"A REAL DESKTOP VIEW WHICH FEELS FAMILIAR"DeX is a new feature introduced with the Galaxy S8 that lets your phone expand to a full desktop experience, including a wired keyboard and mouse connected to the DeX phone dock. Once in the dock, it is possible to unlock the phone by looking at it, or via any other means normally available.
On the big screen, it is not a blown-up version of the phone, but a real desktop view which feels familiar. Many applications have been optimized for a large-display experience, including MS Office, the Internet Browser, and other key apps. At the moment, there isn’t a list of compatible available, but basic computing should be covered.
The desktop interface is completely multi-window friendly, and things like right-click contextual menus or copy/paste are functional. Obviously, while potentially very convenient, this is not meant to completely replace laptops, but if you use case lends itself to it, this could be a fantastic way to setup a basic work setup, maybe a secondary one, or something at a friend’s place.
This could be particularly interesting for some companies or workers since it is possible to run Windows over Citrix from the Galaxy S8 + DeX. Additionally, the phone is already qualified by many IT departments when it comes to security, etc… This kind of technology started with the Motorola Atrix 2 (2011), but Samsung’s DeX makes it extremely functional.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 offers many ways to secure and unlock the handset. Besides the usual screen-based ones, you also have: Eyes unlock, Fingerprint, Face unlock. The Eye unlock in theory the most secure because the eye has higher entropy (=unique biometric points), followed by the fingerprints and finally the Face Unlock.
Face unlock is new and works very well. I did set it up and used it to confirm its efficiency. Security-wise, it should be considered as a convenience feature and isn’t as hard to crack than the Eyes or Fingerprint unlocks. Also, the face unlock uses the selfie camera (and not the IR camera like the eye unlock), so you will need decent lighting for it to work.
With a large array of options to lock your phone, every user can find the best trade-off between security and convenience. Also, keep in mind that Samsung offers a Secure Vault app that allows you to secure content and apps, even when the phone is unlocked.
For general security, everything in Android is present of course, and there’s Samsung’s own Knox layer that enterprises like very much. This is outside of the scope of the review, but something to research if that is of particular interest to you. I think that the Galaxy S8 is probably one of the most secure phone, thanks to Knox, Iris scanning and fingerprint reader.
Performance: A New Class of Android
Before the S8, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 was the highest-performing chip available on Android. The recently launched LG G6 and the Google Pixel are both using it with success. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are the first handsets to be launched with the Snapdragon 835 chip which represents the best that the Snapdragon Platform has to offer.
Key system data
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (4×2.3 GHz + 4×1.7 GHz) – depends on region
- Samsung Exynos 9 (4×2.35 GHz + 4x 1.9GHz) – depends on region
- 4GB of RAM, 64 GB of UFS 2.1 local storage – may vary by region
- LTE CAT16 (Snapdragon 835)
"A PERFORMANCE DISCONTINUITY UNREACHABLE TO ANY OTHER COMPETITOR TODAY"Samsung has confirmed to Ubergizmo that the U.S would get the Snapdragon 835 variant of the Galaxy S8. However, specific countries could get another chip: Samsung’s Exynos 9 processor (both are manufactured with Samsung’s leading 10 nm semiconductor process). We have not had a chance to look at the performance of Exynos 9, but you may recall that the Galaxy S6 was an extremely powerful handset equipped with an Exynos 7 chip.
When this article was first published, we used the Snapdragon 835 MDP (developer device) as a performance proxy. Since then we have run benchmarks on the final Galaxy S8/S8+ hardware, and they confirmed our initial assessment.
The Galaxy S8 brings a sharp performance improvements in CPU and Graphics speeds. Even on a very broad system-wide such as Basemark OS II, you can see how the score jumped from the Galaxy S7.
When you look at specific workload such as CPU (Geekbench) and GPU (3DMark), the scores are remarkable. To learn more about single-core and multi-core benchmarks, read my “Are More Cores Better?” article.
The conclusion is this: Snapdragon offers enough performance (~20% CPU and ~40% GPU increases) over Snapdragon 821 to create a new class of Android handsets. This typically happens when a new generation of chips offer enough speed to create a performance discontinuity unreachable to any other competitor today. If you are a believer side by side speed tests, check the Galaxy S8 vs. iPhone 7 video speed test.
Additionally, the Galaxy S8 is also the first Bluetooth 5.0 smartphone. BT 5.0 has 4X longer range and 2X faster speed. It is built to accommodate IoT devices but also to improve on a number of things that BT 4.0 did not do well enough. For example, the range was sometimes too short for wireless speakers and smart home appliances.
VR benefits the most from this new performance
Because of the huge gain in graphics performance, the VR capabilities of the Galaxy S8 are very high. Combine this with the excellent display and the availability of the 2017 Samsung Gear VR and Controller, and you have an excellent mobile VR system.
Unfortunately, Samsung has confirmed to Ubergizmo that the Galaxy is not compatible with Google DayDream VR for now, although there’s no technical reason that it could not be. We’ve reported that it is possible to install DayDream after rooting the S8.
Gigabit-class 4G LTE capability
The Snapdragon 835 version has an integrated Qualcomm X16 LTE modem which was the first to reach the “Gigabit-class” status and can be considered as one of the stepping stones towards a 5G transition. A gigabit network was recently launched by Telstra in Australia.
Peak “gigabit-class” (close from 1Gb/sec, but not quite) LTE download speeds are not the only point of faster LTE technologies. The increased speed is great, but what Gb-speed truly does is freeing up radio spectrum resources. Faster data transfers mean that handsets free radio resources faster, thus making the overall network better and more available to everyone.
Conclusion: a new class of Android hardware
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is the first of what is effectively a new class of Android smartphones. Extra large display, excellent camera performance, large battery, cutting-edge design/materials, next-generation performance, and networks: these are the attributes of the Galaxy S8, and they all contribute to improving real problems such as user experience, battery life, and overall productivity.
"THE GALAXY S8 IS THE NEW KING"It is true that specific S8 features can be challenged by remarkable competitors such as the LG G6 (large display, wide camera) or Google Pixel (camera). However, the Galaxy S8 has the advantage of being a higher-performance Android phone, but more importantly, the best overall smartphone package today (features/design/perf/camera). In short, the Galaxy S8 is the new king.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 might dominate the Android handset landscape at least until mid-summer when competitors using the same computing platform start shipping to the public. Interestingly, the Galaxy S7 remains an extremely potent force that the competition still has to reckon with, especially if its price drops following the introduction of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will start shipping on April 21 to the U.S and the roll out will continue from then on…
Our comparison of the two large-display Titans: LG G6 vs. Galaxy S8, the in-depth look.