Samsung needs the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus phones unveiled today to make you forget all about the Note 7 debacle. And there’s a good chance they will, because these phones are pretty dope.
In their all-black versions, they look and feel as if they were made by pouring molten onyx into a mold. These aren’t unibody devices, but they might as well be. They feel like river-polished rocks, ones with OLED screens spilling over the edges.
That wraparound design element helps these big-screened phones feel smaller than their size might suggest. The S8 has a 5.8-inch display, while the S8 Plus is 6.2 inches on the diagonal. Both feel slimmer than their predecessors, thanks in part to a unique 18.5-by-9 aspect ratio on those screens. As a result, they’re two relatively huge phones that feel surprisingly normal in the hand.
As beautiful as these phones are, it’s what’s inside that counts. Not just the components, which are as top-tier as you’d expect in a flagship phone. In this case, hot on the heels of the Note 7 recall, the battery is at the top of everyone’s mind.
After the Firestorm
Samsung thoroughly overhauled its battery test procedures in the wake of the Note 7 mess. The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are the first handsets released since the Note 7 recall, and they’re the first devices to go through the company’s eight-step testing and inspection regimen.
Capacity-wise, both phones are on par with their predecessors. The Galaxy S8 sports a 3,000mAh pack, while the bigger Galaxy S8 Plus bumps that up to 3,500mAh. They’re the first Galaxy S phones with USB-C charging ports, so you’ll need to toss all those legacy MicroUSB cables in the nearest junk drawer.
Like the S7 and Note 7, these handsets feature quick-charging that juices them up quickly. The US versions of the phones will likely run on Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 chip, which is capable of delivering five hours of battery life in just 15 minutes. Samsung says the phones squeeze even more life out of those cells with its new 10-nanometer Exynos processor. That Exynos configuration is only an option for Samsung phones sold outside the US, however.
You’ll definitely need the juice, because these phones feature large (and niiiiice) AMOLED screens. Each display covers 83 percent of the front of the handset and a bit of the edges, packing a 2960 x 1440 resolution on both the Galaxy S8 (570ppi) and S8 Plus (529ppi). The phones’ dramatically smaller bezels leave little room for a physical home button, so Samsung installed a pressure-sensitive zone at the bottom of the screen.
The screen-heavy design required moving the fingerprint sensor to the back, near the camera lens. Not that you really need it, given the other biometric login features—an IR iris scanner (also found in the Note 7) and facial recognition software that uses the selfie camera. Long story short, you can unlock these phones with your face.
About that camera. The main camera on both phones didn’t get an upgrade, not that it needed it. The S8 and S8 Plus share the fast-focusing, f/1.7 main shooter as the last generation of Galaxies, but Samsung added an autofocus system to the eight-megapixel selfie cam.
Playing the Hits
Beyond the battery and camera, the S8 phones share many of the best features of the Note 7 and Galaxy S7. They’ll survive 30 minutes under water, so go ahead and bring them on a waterslide. Both offer a roomy 64GB of storage and a microSD tray, both pack an ample 4GB RAM, and both include a handy 3.5mm headphone jack. And of course they work with the latest Gear VR headset, which now has a handheld controller.
Samsung’s new voice assistant, Bixby, also makes its debut with these phones. You launch it with the press of a dedicated button on the side, right under the volume controls. During a pre-release demo, Samsung reps used Bixby to adjust screen brightness, shoot a selfie, and control a Samsung TV. The native functionality might be limited at first, but the company will launch a mesh router, Samsung Connect Home, that lets Bixby interact with the entire Samsung SmartThings ecosystem.
Bixby also lets you identify or buy things you point the camera at, using Amazon’s book database and Vivino’s virtual wine cellars to pull that off. The same camera-driven features can translate signs and provide info about real-world landmarks. For some apps, your voice will be able to do anything a tap or a swipe can do. If you’re not feeling Bixby, remember that these are Android N phones. In other words, you can still summon Google Assistant by holding down the home button.
True to Samsung’s habit of packing every possible feature into a handset, the phones double as desktop computers. The function, called Samsung DeX, works like this: You place an S8 in a separately sold dock, connect that dock to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and get a desktop OS interface for hardcore doc-jockeying. Some Android apps, such as the stock Samsung browser, Word, and PowerPoint, support resizable windows and full-screen action on the monitor.
While using them as computers or VR headsets is great, the real hook with these phones is how gorgeous they are. And they’re not just surface beauties, as their specs will make them competitive with any other flagship phone.
You’ll have to wait on pricing, as well as the phones themselves. Preorders start March 30, with a ship date of April 21. And while Samsung is hoping the S8 series will cause Note 7 amnesia, the new phones are also borrowing much of what made the Note 7 so great. Before all those explosions, that is.