Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review ─ Large and in charge

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Samsung releases some of the most influential and most buzzed about flagships every year. They are always full of the latest and greatest tech, and often the benchmark for comparison with other phones on the market. It’s not easy to hit a homerun every year, and thanks to the Note 7 disaster, Samsung needs a win more now than ever. Does the Samsung Galaxy S8+ have what it takes?

Design

For the past few years, Samsung has been nailing smartphone design. Their phones have been unrivaled in style and added features. This year the curved screen goes through yet another evolution. The Galaxy S8+ now features what Samsung coined as the “Infinity Display,” essentially a marketing term for the use of very slim bezels. Make no mistake, they are extremely slim.

Besides that, it keeps the same basic build principals they have used since the Galaxy S6. With curved glass on the front and back and a metal frame around the edge. There is a bottom firing speaker like on the Galaxy S7, except the USB port has been upgraded to USB-C. The speaker sounds fine, but due to the placement, it is very easy to cover up and muffle the sound. The SIM tray is at the top and holds a nano-SIM as well as a microSD card up to 256GB.



Audiophiles can rejoice as the S8+ still includes the 3.5mm headphone jack. The power button is located on the right side of the phone. While the volume rocker and dedicated Bixby button are found on the left. The buttons are all very solid and require just the right amount of pressure to activate. Last but not least, the Galaxy S8+ includes an IP68 waterproof and dustproof rating, giving it the endurance to withstand up to 30 minutes in 1.5m of water.

Screen

The screen is a gorgeous 6.2-inch 18.5:9 WQHD+ AMOLED panel with a 2960×1440 resolution and rounded corners. Samsung has consistently won awards for having the best mobile display, and I see no reason for that to be any different this year. Put simply, Samsung knows what they are doing when it comes to displays, and the S8 family really shows that.

While the screen is magnificent with its deep blacks, vivid colors, and overall brightness. I did have two issues. One would be the default resolution is set to 2220×1080 as a power saving measure. I immediately raised mine to the full 2960×1440 resolution. It’s nice to have as an option for saving some power, but I want all the pixels, not just some.

Another issue comes from the change to the 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Due to this non-standard ratio some games and most videos will have black bars on the sides. There is a setting to stretch these to fit but it can cause the picture to look distorted. However, there are a couple of benefits that come with this new slimmer profile. For starters, it is much easier to reach the side of the screen now and there is more screen real estate for running two apps in multi-window.

The curved screen with the “barely there” bezels looks gorgeous and feels more immersive to use. It’s little more than a gimmick but it is a beautiful gimmick. For the most part, while using the S8+ I didn’t have an issue with the thin bezels ─ until I tried using the phone while lying down. When holding the phone at this angle my fingers crept around the edges enough to interrupt my usage. The thinner bezels on this phone also triggered Samsung to switch from hardware buttons to on-screen navigation keys.

Fingerprint Scanner

With that change to the navigation buttons, what happens to the fingerprint scanner? It’s now found on the back like many other phones. Usually, this makes the fingerprint scanner more ergonomic to use. Unfortunately, it’s not near the center where your finger naturally rests. Instead, Samsung made the (poor) decision to place it to the right of the camera. This makes it awkward to reach when holding right-handed, and slightly less awkward when holding with your left hand. This design blunder is even more apparent on the larger S8+ model.

Iris Scanner

One way Samsung tried to compensate for this mistake was with the addition of an iris scanner. First seen in the disastrous Note 7 mentioned above, it is now part of the S8 phones. The iris scanner was very helpful for unlocking the phone quickly and easily. That is, when it works. I had an 80% success rate, give or take, with the iris scanner.

The times when it worked it was fantastic. I was especially surprised when it worked in a dark room only lit by the TV. When the iris scanner didn’t work, it was quite frustrating. The phone would ask you to move it around and even after following the instructions, it would still fail, requiring you to fall back on your PIN or the misplaced fingerprint scanner.

Bluetooth 5

Bluetooth 5 is another example of Samsung packing the latest and greatest into the S8+. This new standard promises faster transfers and longer distances. However, before you can take advantage of these features, you’ll need to get new accessories that also include Bluetooth 5. Longer range definitely does seem to have a small presence on this phone with current accessories though.

Until you buy any of those you can still enjoy a great new feature called dual audio. Thanks to this feature you can stream audio to two different Bluetooth devices at once. Perfect for those times when you want to add another Bluetooth speaker for more volume. Ever wanted to share a song with a friend? No longer do you need a headphone splitter as long as you both have Bluetooth headphones.

Software

The Samsung S8+ is running Android 7.0 with their custom skin. This changes the look of much of stock Android such as the navigation keys, quick settings tiles, and the settings menu. Thankfully if you are not a fan of the style, there are many themes to choose from. Even better now that the S8+ uses on screen keys you can change the order of them. Now you can swap the back and recent apps buttons to match stock Android. This is a very welcomed change, but it’s a pity you cannot change the style of the keys without a third party app.

The always-on display got a big upgrade that now allows you to see the app icon much like on LG’s phones. There are also additional themes which can be downloaded for customizing the clock and image. The Edge panel is still accessible with a swipe from the right side of the curved display. However, as much as Samsung tries to make this useful I still never find myself using it.

One of the most useful features for me was the one handed mode. The taller display makes it very challenging to reach menus at the top or swipe down your notification tray. This makes it far easier to use one handed and I found myself using this several times a day.

Samsung Pay

When it comes to a Samsung flagship you cannot forget Samsung Pay. This fantastic payment system based on the magnetic secure transmission is the best way to do mobile payments. Thanks to the use of MST Samsung Pay is compatible with 90% of credit card readers. This far surpasses Android and Apple Pay and it’s a fantastic addition that Samsung includes.

Bixby

Bixby is Samsung’s attempt a Google Assistant competitor. It can be activated with a dedicated button on the left side of the phone. At this time it’s feature set is very limited. It can show you cards of information it thinks you will find useful or give you information from pictures you take. Think of Google Now, but less useful. It also performs a similar function to the upcoming Google Lens, but it’s nowhere near as powerful.

Bixby Vision really didn’t seem to be all that useful, particularly with images. It did fine with shopping results and could find similar images, yet it was disappointing that’s all it does so far. Like many of Samsung’s apps and services, they are mostly less useful versions of what Google offers. It is also a waste of a button on the S8+ as it cannot be assigned to do anything else.

Camera

The Samsung S8+ bucks the trend of dual camera gimmick and keeps it simple with one good single lens camera. I support this 100%. All I want in a phone is a good camera, I don’t need a gimmick. The rear camera is a 12MP f/1.7 shooter featuring optical image stabilization.

The photo quality is good, but it is definitely not perfect. A common issue Samsung has had with its photo processing over the years is white balance and crushing the blacks. Unfortunately, the Galaxy S8+ is no different in these aspects. Photos often have a yellow tint and lost detail in the darker areas. Regardless of these flaws, the Galaxy S8+ takes great photos. Thanks to the fast focus, feature packed camera app, and detailed photos, it is still one of the best cameras on Android.

The front facing camera is an 8MP shooter with an f/1.7 aperture. Samsung added autofocus to the front facing camera this year making taking selfies even easier. If you enjoy filters then you’ll be excited to know the default camera app now includes them. I’m not a big fan of filters myself, but Samsung likes to try to throw in a little something to please everyone.

Performance

The Samsung S8+ uses the Snapdragon 835 and 4GB of RAM. This should be plenty of power to offer a great experience, and that’s mostly true. However, I did encounter a few issues. While I had no issues running games and apps, I encountered my first issue trying to use YouTube and Hangouts in split screen.

Every time I would try to watch a video and open a second app the video would stutter and the screen would turn black. This also happened each time I tapped into the text field to bring up the keyboard. I tried performing a factory data reset but even after that, the problem persisted.

My second issue is when the S8+ crashed and shut off completely while in my pocket. This only happened once, but I was surprised, to say the least. These are not issues I would expect to see from some of the best and fastest mobile hardware. Besides these two issues, the phone ran well for me.

Battery

The 3500mAh battery in the Galaxy S8+ offered fantastic battery life. I was able to end each day with 4 hours or more screen on time. With light to moderate usage, I was able to go over a day and a half without charging. All of this was without employing the lower resolution or using battery saver.

When it’s time to charge you won’t be left waiting, thanks to the S8+ utilizing quick charging and wireless fast charging. Whether you choose to plug it in or use wireless charging you won’t be waiting long.

Final Thoughts

Every year Samsung produces a phone that is hard not to love. The hardware is always the best of the best, and the design continues to get better every year. In an attempt to please everyone Samsung packs in every feature you want and some you don’t even care about. For this reason, some might consider their phones bloated. While others see it as a perfect all in one solution. There is no denying that they always produce one of the best phones of the year.

Regardless of how expensive the price tag you are getting more features than any other phone on the market. No phone is perfect and there are always things to love and hate about each one. When it comes to Samsung for me there will always be more to love than to hate. The S8+ is a perfect example of that. Despite any flaws, it is a fantastic phone and it is one that will please most people.

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