Hands-on Preview: Samsung Galaxy S8

Written by techgoth

So, the Samsung Galaxy S8. You’ve heard of that, right? Of course you have, and you also know what it looks like and what the specifications are, don’t you? If not, you probably should do, because this phone is probably the most leaked major smartphone in history. It’s so leaky that Samsung probably should have codenamed it Leaky McLeakface.

There is no substitute, however, for actually getting your hands on a smartphone. Getting up close and personal, tapping the touchscreen, eyeballing the display, and jamming it into your pocket. A few minutes of hands-on time can reveal secrets that no leak ever can, and to lay your hands on the Galaxy S8 is to discover the single most important thing about it. 

This is a 5.8in phone that, in essence, feels like a 5.2in device; the question is how? Has Samsung achieved this through the equivalent of engineering voodoo or industrial-design magic? 

The Galaxy S8’s dramatically rounded corners, familiar curved screen edges that taper into nothingness, and the ultra-thin 8mm profile all do their bit of course, but it’s the new screen aspect ratio of 18.5:1 (the same, incidentally, as the screen on the LG G6) and the virtual elimination of the top and bottom bezels that make all the difference here.

These changes transform a 5.8in phone from a pocket-stretching monster into something practical for everyday use. Samsung was keen to point out that you can use the Samsung Galaxy S8 one-handed, and while this is stretching reality a little, the point still holds; it’s much easier to use in one hand than the 5.7in Google Pixel XL, which I’ve been using for the past few months as my main phone. And as has become the norm for the recent generations of Samsung smartphones, the S8 also looks absolutely glorious.

Samsung Galaxy S8 - Arctic Silver

So sure, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is still a smartphone (you heard it here first, folks). It’s still a rectangle of glass, metal and silicon available in the usual cheesily named selection of colours (midnight black, orchid grey and arctic silver, in case you were wondering), but Samsung has made enough tweaks and refinements to make it genuinely special. 

There is one word of caution, however. This concerns the fingerprint reader, which has moved from the front of the phone below the screen to the rear, next to the camera lens. With no room for it on the front – Samsung has at last moved to onscreen home, back and Recent Apps buttons – this is a design decision that has been somewhat forced on Samsung. However, putting it next to the camera rather than below it will be something that will take some time to get used to.

At least you can still unlock the phone using iris recognition, with Samsung improving the accuracy of recognition and adding facial recognition this year as well.

Samsung Galaxy S8 in black

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Key specifications

Just in case you want to know what the precise specifications are, here’s a quick rundown for you, including the Australian release date and what we know about pricing. Rejoin after the table, however, if you want to know what this phone is really like to handle and use:

Samsung Galaxy S8 specifications

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus specifications

18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED, HDR-capable display 18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED,  HDR-capable display
68.1 x 148.9 x 8mm (WDH) 73.4 x 159.5 x 8.1mm (WDH)
Octa-core, 10nm Samsung Exynos CPU (comprises 2.3GHz quad-core and 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs) Octa-core, 10nm Samsung Exynos CPU (comprises 2.3GHz quad-core and 1.7GHz quad-core CPUs)
IP68 dust and water resistance IP68 dust and water resistance
64GB UFS 2.1 storage 64GB UFS 2.1 storage
microSD slot microSD slot
3,000mAh battery 3,500mAh battery
USB Type-C USB Type-C
12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor 12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor
8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture 8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture
Gigabit LTE/4G capable Gigabit LTE/4G capable
Android 7 Nougat Android 7 Nougat
Australian release date: 28 April Australian release date: 28 April
Australian price: 1199 Australian price: $1349


Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Price, key features and specifications

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is, Samsung claims, the first smartphone to use a processor built using the 10nm manufacturing process. That’s not strictly true. It’s among the first: the Sony XZ Premium, announced at MWC earlier this year, also has a 10nm chip – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

A smaller manufacturing process typically indicates greater efficiency, and could contribute to better battery life, although since the battery is the same size as in the S7 (3,000mAh), improvements are likely to be marginal. 

Samsung also says that the chip is 10% faster for CPU operations over the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, and for graphics it’s 20% faster. That’s certainly borne out by what we know about Snapdragon 835’s performance and leaked figures via Geekbench of the Samsung equivalent – the Exynos 8895 – with the latter being, reportedly, a hair quicker.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Bixby

The Samsung Galaxy S8 will also see the launch of Samsung’s rebranded voice-control system, now called Bixby. This is Samsung’s attempt to challenge Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant by providing “multi-modal” control over the phone and its functions as well as voice-driven text recognition for search, emailing and messages.

You can use Bixby to fling content from your phone to your TV, discover more information about items or landmarks you’ve just photographed, set reminders, and interact with the homescreen.

Samsung Galaxy S8 - Bixby digital assistant

With Bixby, there’s no need to utter an embarrassing keyphrase to launch it: simply press the Bixby button, which lives on the left edge of the device opposite the power button, and talk.

The bad news is that Bixby isn’t ready yet. We’ll have to wait until later this year to find out whether it’s any good.

Samsung Galaxy S8 display

One thing that’s unlikely to let us down is the display. On the Samsung Galaxy S8 you get a super-widescreen 5.8in screen with a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440, a pixel density of 570ppi and an aspect ratio of 18.5:9.

It’s an AMOLED panel, so contrast is effectively perfect. Although I won’t have the chance to test it fully until I have a review device in my hand, if past efforts are anything to go by, it will be bright and and perfectly readable in bright sunlight as well.

As with the S7 and S7 Edge, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s display is rounded off at each edge with virtually no visible border, and sports the usual Edge display functions. What’s new is that the bezels at the top and bottom are barely there, and that the corners are rounded off, a little like the corners on the LG G6’s screen.

It’s a great look, but the only new thing here is Mobile HDR Premium compatibility. Given the current paucity of HDR content on mobile, this is a bit of a moot point right now.

Samsung Galaxy S8 camera and software

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s camera merely builds on last year’s model and doesn’t rip up the rulebook. Instead, it takes advantage of new capabilities in the phone’s chipset to grab three frames in rapid succession every time you take a picture, combining them together to create a sharper photograph.

Obviously, a phone launch is hardly the best environment in which to test such refinements, but what I can say is that I approve wholeheartedly of what Samsung has done with the software, adding a handy zoom function to the onscreen shutter button – just hold and drag to zoom in and out. It’s a marvellously simple solution to a genuine problem.

It’s also good to see that Samsung has implemented Android 7 Nougat here, although as always, it’s cloaked in the firm’s own love-it-or-loathe-it launcher software. The biggest changes are the Home, Back and Recent apps nav buttons that now live at the bottom of the screen instead of on the chin of the phone as capacitive buttons.

Samsung has added its own twist here, though, by introducing a pressure-sensitive sensor beneath the home button. This appears to have no practical function, however, and does nothing but buzz lightly whenever you press down on it.

Samsung Galaxy S8 (top) and S8 Plus (bottom)

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Samsung DeX

Perhaps the oddest and simultaneously most interesting aspect of the Samsung Galaxy S8 launch is Samsung DeX (desktop experience). Each of the new phones comes with the built-in ability to run a windowed Android-based desktop computing environment, simply by dropping the phone into the DeX dock and hooking up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The DeX dock is neat enough, with an Ethernet port and HDMI port on the rear, as well as a micro-USB port for charging and (rather worryingly) a built-in fan to keep the phone cool, and it can be neatly folded away for storage and transport. And the DeX environment itself looks advanced enough to get some reasonably serious work done on it. Samsung has even gone as far as working with Citrix to make sure you can also run full Windows on it, via virtual desktop.

However, this has the whiff of Microsoft Continuum about it. That was a system that was supposed to revive Windows Mobile phones by doing effectively the same thing. In reality, no matter how neat DeX looks, I think it’s still too early to get excited about phones replacing our laptops, desktops and mobile communications just yet.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus - DeX

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Early verdict, price and release date

I’ve been to enough phone launches over the years to know that the days of dramatic advances are long behind us, so I’m not too fussed that the Samsung Galaxy S8 looks to be a pretty minor upgrade on the S7.

It will be slightly faster. The camera will, probably, be slightly better, and I really do like the new taller shape and slim bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. Battery life, too, should be similar if not improved by the efficiency of the new 10nm chip. This is all about marginal gains adding up to make a measurable overall improvement.

The only things I don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy S8 (and, by extension the S8 Plus) are the placement of the fingerprint reader and the rather high price of $1199. Aside from that, though, I thoroughly approve of Samsung’s new flagship.

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