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Despite the incidents of 2016, with a vice president arrested for corruption and the events related to Note 7, Samsung has managed to sell many smartphones anyway. However, even such a huge corporation can be affected if the customer’s opinion has crumpled. For this reason, the Korean company worked hard on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones putting forever behind the Note 7 flop.
The new smartphones offer everything that was good in the previous generation and improve technical specifications and user experience through small but significant and targeted changes. We’re looking at two of the best Android smartphones of all time.
The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch display with a new ratio of 18.5:9. The Galaxy S8+ instead has an even bigger (6.2 inch) screen, and is a bit longer and wider, capable of hosting a 16% more capacious battery.
For the last years Samsung has been providing it’s top range smartphones with a glass and aluminum shell, but this year the realization is even more accurate than usual. The symmetry is total, the front and rear glass meet the metal frame at the same angle. All is rounded, with no detail that will guide the gaze away from the huge display. The new models basically represent the culmination of a design path that began 5 years ago with the Galaxy S3. This shape and choice however also have a flaw: the two smart phones do not offer an optimal grip and above all they smudge easily. But in the hand the ergonomics are really fantastic.
Samsung used the latest generation AMOLED panels with a QHD+ resolution of 2960×1440 pixels for the screen. The format of the screens offers more vertical space while still having a dimension that allows for easy use even with one hand, especially in the case of the 5.8 inch S8.
The quality of the screens is excellent: the new AMOLED panels are both bright and accurate in color reproduction, thanks to the support of the DCI-P3 standard, able to guarantee the reproduction of a wider color pallet than the traditional RGB. S8 and S8+ are also HDR capable.
Reducing the top and bottom bezels forced the Korean company to remove the home button as well. The two new smartphones therefore no longer have physical keys but only three software navigation buttons in the classic reverse order of Samsung, recent apps, home and back (you can reorganize them if you want). Instead, the home button has been replaced by a tactile area (at the center), which offers excellent haptic feedback – basically, it’s the same solution Apple adopted for the latest iPhone. However, the removal of the physical key and the introduction of bio metric recognition technology did not lead to the elimination of the fingerprint sensor.
It is located on the back, next to the camera, a position already adopted by many manufacturers. The new position is not as uncomfortable as it might seem – especially on the smaller S8 – but it is not the best solution. You will have to change your habits and hold your smartphone “a little higher”, otherwise you will not get to the sensor with one move.
The Galaxy S8 measures 8mm, while the S8+ 8.1 mm, sufficient in both cases to accommodate a big capacity battery and a non protruding camera lens. The Galaxy S8 is equipped with a USB-C port that supports fast charging.
Samsung has boosted the audio and is now better than the one found on smartphones like Huawei P10, OnePlus 3T and LG G6. A concrete testimony that Samsung is still concerned about the audio quality of its top range.
Apart from the group of sensors aligned along the narrow frame at the top of the screen, the only other major innovation in the design of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is the presence of an additional button on the left side of the smartphone. It is used to launch Bixby, Samsung’s digital assistant.
The Galaxy S8s are equipped with Android 7.0 and the latest version of the Samsung custom interface, with a very minimal design and an emphasis on white backgrounds with blue accents. However, the icons move away from the classic forms of Material Design and the navigation buttons have bizarre abstract shapes. That said the new Samsung launcher is really great, with a home screen that uses gestures and allows you to do a lot with very little.
The drawer app icon is hidden by default, encouraging users to swipe up or down to open the list of apps, still organized horizontally. The new Galaxy also offers several ways to unlock your device: iris scanning, face recognition, or fingerprint sensor.
This is not a new feature but this implementation has been very successful. A tap on the touch area automatically starts scanning. The Iris scan is fast and secure. Depending on light conditions it can take a few fractions of a second. But the important thing is the alignment with your eyes that affects the operation. As you walk, you won’t always be able to align the sensor correctly.
Samsung has hidden away a lot of menu options, from the ability to color the navigation buttons to a fully customizable equalizer that fits your specific set of headphones. There is also a one-hand mode, particularly useful with the Galaxy S8+ and the ability to swipe down on the fingerprint sensor – Huawei style – to see the notifications.
Apps that are not optimized for this screen format can be adapted and Samsung has taken care of optimizing the YouTube app intelligently by cropping images to occupy the entire screen.
There are also new options for the always-on display, which Samsung calls Face Widgets, a trio of widgets that can be accessed via a double tap on the clock, which also includes music playback controls and a fairly simple app for managing tasks. Obviously, this time both Galaxy S8 models come with Edge screen support but the associated features didn’t seem to be very useful and were soon disabled.
More useful and interesting are the energy saving settings which include the ability to set a resolution of 2220 x1080 pixels that contributed to the excellent autonomy achieved both with the Galaxy S8 and the S8+. In general, we appreciated the decrease in bloatware by Samsung
You cannot talk about the Galaxy S8 without mentioning Bixby, Samsung’s AI that permeates the entire device. Bixby currently includes three main modules:
Bixby Home: a place where feeds from the entire Samsung ecosystem are collected, from calendar appointments to recent photos. Home is located to the right of the main home screen.
Bixby Reminders: a place and time scheme-based task management app integrated with Bixby Home.
Bixby Vision: A way to find and buy products using your device. This is one of the potentially most interesting features of Bixby, but at the moment it is very limited and does not work that great.
Performance and autonomy
Both smartphones are equipped with the same SoC, namely the Exynos 8895, while an American version with the Snapdragon 835 is also available. There are also 4GB of Ram and a total of 64GB of storage.
The user experience is always optimal, there are no slowdowns and everything runs smoothly, even with many applications open at the same time. The SoC, an octa-core model produced with a 10nm FinFET processor, is able to offer high performance while limiting energy consumption.
In fact, both the Galaxy S8 and the S8+ have a battery equivalent to that of its predecessors – 3000mAh for the Galaxy S8 and 3500mAh for the Galaxy S8+, but they offer much better autonomy in everyday use, thanks to the better efficiency of the SoC, but also the use of Super AMOLED panels with lower energy consumption.
We obtained an autonomy of 14 to 15 hours. A major advance over the Galaxy S7, but it may not be enough for those who use the smartphone intensively. With the Galaxy S8+ we recorded an autonomy of 17-18 hours. And thanks to Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging technology and fast wireless charging, battery life has significantly improved compared to the Galaxy S7 family.
On paper, the only enhancement is the front camera, which features a new 8Mpixel sensor with auto focus. But there have also been several small but significant improvements in the main camera, equipped with a 12Mpixel sensor, combined with a bright f/1.7 lens capable of an incredible bokeh (the fading effect of the background) in macro mode.
The focal length is currently slightly longer, the lens distorts less towards the corners and the portraits look a little more natural. For the rest, the Galaxy S8 maintains the same basic features as its predecessor, offering one of the fastest and most reliable cameras on the market. The HDR, when active, is used in a greater variety of situations, similar to what Google does with its Pixel phone.
Photos taken by the Galaxy S8 are therefore more natural, have a better color range and more details.
The camera app has also been reinterpreted, it is very fast to launch and offers the same minimal style as the rest of the interface, offering quick access to what really matters. There are many filters, Snapchat style and augmented reality effects, as nice as useless (but loved by many), but the main functions are really good and well implemented. The camera can capture 4K video at 30 FPS or 720p in slow motion at 240 FPS. The optical image stabilization is as good as always, although in videos is not on par with the Google Pixels.
In 2016 Samsung presented two smartphones that, although aesthetically similar to their predecessors, were drastically detached in many respects. The Galaxy S7 had inherited the best aspects of S5 and S6, merging them into two highly appealing devices. The Galaxy S8 is much more like the S7 edge. Samsung has retained several aspects that made it a success, from the microSD memory slot to waterproofing, to the camera capable of taking great photos in poor conditions, and added subtle changes.
Among the most obvious is the screen and the less successful repositioning of the fingerprint sensor. Even the small software changes complement the display, and every design decision seems to have been made to maximize functionality. Whether you’re considering the Galaxy S8 or the S8+, it’s almost certainly one of the best Android smartphone that you can buy right now, thanks to its futuristic appearance and the large amount of usable surface compared to the Google Pixel or even to the Huawei P10.
The question you should ask yourself is whether to choose the S8 or the S8+. The “small” version is the safe choice, the S8+ will be too big for some. Choose wisely.