First impressions of Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+: engineering marvels, with screens running from edge to bevelled edge
The screen fills most of the surface, and the display has punchy colours and deep blacks – this beautiful phone is really immersive. Shame that Bixby, the AI assistant, isn’t quite fully operational
Two things will likely come to mind when you first grab hold of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and its bigger brother, the S8+. The first is how small these phones feel in the hand, thanks to the trimmed top and bottom bezels (13mm each). The second: “Wait, this phone won’t blow up like the Galaxy Note 7, right?”
You’ll think this not because you’re paranoid – there are surveys and research showing the battery fiasco will not deter people from buying Samsung phones – but because Samsung keeps reminding you.
There are several baffling software features inside the S8 that suggest the Note 7 weighs heavily on the minds of Samsung’s engineers.
Most noticeable is that the phone comes shipped with a default screen resolution of just 1080p, which is lower than the 2k resolution the handset is capable of. When you try to bump the display to its full-power glory, a warning box pops up telling you that this may affect the battery. Also, the phone doesn’t seem to want you to turn screen brightness to maximum, because the brightness bar turns from blue to red once you slide past 90 per cent.
Samsung, it would appear, is really worried about you pushing this phone’s relatively modest battery (3,000 mAh on the S8 and 3,500 mAh on the S8+) too hard.
Warnings aside, the S8 is a hardware engineering marvel. Gone are the sharp edges of last year’s S7 Edge. Instead, the dual curves on the S8 are more subtle, and meet the metal frame seamlessly.
The AMOLED display panel, once you’ve changed resolution back to the max, is brilliant and filled with punchy colours and deep blacks. Because the bezels are so slim, and because the sides curve off the edges of the phone, you will really feel like you’re just holding a screen when you’re watching full-screen media.
Since the bottom bezel has shed so much fat, Samsung’s trademark home button that once sat below the screen has been removed in favour of on-screen buttons. A haptic feedback engine underneath a portion of the screen simulates the “clicky” feel of pressing a real button.
The S8 comes with both a fingerprint reader and an iris scanning sensor, the latter letting you unlock the phone with your eyes.
The other big feature on this year’s flagship is Bixby, an AI digital assistant that Samsung believes will compete with Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant. But the company couldn’t get Bixby’s voice search function ready in time for launch, so nobody can use Bixby fully until at least a month after launch (and even then, Bixby will work in only English or Korean for the foreseeable future).
Elsewhere, the S8 uses almost the exact same camera hardware as last year’s phone, which is forgivable because the S7 had one of the best cameras on the market last year.
The S8 is arguably the best designed smartphone yet. But the annoying location of the fingerprint reader, which is on the back of the device in an awkward off-centre position next to the camera, and the dedicated Bixby button on the side that cannot be reconfigured to do something else, could put a damper on overall user experience.