Samsung changed everything. Again.
Well, maybe that’s not entirely correct. I suppose what I mean is that Samsung has changed how I feel about its phones again.
For a long time Samsung was kind of just there. It made phones that had great specs but looked terrible and put me off by either those terrible looks or just being the big guy that everyone bought into on the Android side. For some of us geeks, our phones say a lot about who we are and I didn’t want to be just like everyone else who bought the latest Galaxy. That’s my own personal hang-up, but we all have them.
But, something changed a few years ago. Unless you’re living under a rock or you really don’t pay attention to tech, you know that Samsung changed up the design of its Galaxy S flagship with the S6. Metal and glass, curved displays, premium materials. No longer did the Galaxy S line have hardware you had to suffer through to have the best specs and the most features packed into your device.
I still wasn’t sold. I watched as my good friend got the Samsung Galaxy S6 because on paper it was the best choice. Horrendous battery life and slow updates plagued the device. The S7 was great, if not a bit small, while the S7 Edge was harder to handle than I was willing to put up with.
And then there was the S8. Try as I might I couldn’t distance myself from it while all the leaks were coming out. I ended up with one on launch day. The specs, the display, the unmatched beauty of the hardware. Some combination of them pulled me in and it has me now. I bought my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus with open eyes to Samsung’s past sins and while it hasn’t been perfect so far, it has changed how I think about phones the same way my first iPhone did.
I don’t know if this is a review in the sense that you would normally think of a review. I’m going to tell you some things I love, some things to watch out for and I’m going to trust you to make up your mind whether this is the phone for you because you’re an adult (or close to it) and you have to make your own decisions in this world.
What I love
If I started anywhere other than the Infinity Display I might hurt the feelings of the Samsung Engineers who designed it and the PR reps reading this. It is, without a doubt, the best feature on a smartphone right now and it isn’t even close.
When other reviewers say that the Galaxy S8 (or in my case, the S8 Plus) has the best display on a phone ever, they’re not joking. The previous crown probably went to the Note7 (RIP) or the Galaxy S7 but now it belongs to the S8. The AMOLED display is now measured out at a ratio of 18.5:9 instead of the old 16:9. That means its over twice as tall as it is long. It gives the feeling that you’re holding this huge slab of awesome in your hand and it’s a little easier to hold because of how slim it feels.
We generally know the AMOLED story by now. The black pixels are just turned off to give it an infinite contrast ratio. The colors are over saturated (although you can mess with that a bit in the settings) to make everything pop even more. It may not be the most lifelike display out there, and if that’s your preference more power to you, but it does look amazing.
Since the display doesn’t follow the normal aspect ratio, some apps or videos will have black bars on the sides or top and bottom. Every app that I’ve stretched has worked out perfect, even some apps that didn’t work on the G6, which also has an abnormal display ratio. I have the black Galaxy S8 so the bars on the sides of the videos aren’t noticeable when I’m watching a video, and even if they were, you can zoom in to get rid of them. It’s not a perfect solution but watching some of the highest resolution content you can find on YouTube on this display is an experience akin to watching a 4K TV for the first time.
Holy shit does this thing have an amazing battery. Sure, we all use our phones differently but I’m a pretty general case. I screw around on Reddit a lot, watch a lot of videos, stream the radio broadcast for my favorite MLB team (Go Reds!), text, chat on Kik and Facebook Messenger Lite. Really standard stuff.
To give you some idea of where I’m coming from though, most phones die out on me before the end of the day. The only phones that really could keep up with me are the Moto Z Play with its absurd battery life and the OnePlus 3T. I don’t have hard numbers in front of me, but I know that I would charge those phones before bed, take them off the charger and let them idle through the night and use them all the next day. I almost always got through the day.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus doesn’t have the best battery life out there but it does sit somewhere between the Moto Z Play and the OnePlus 3T. I could top out around 10 hours of screen on time with the Z Play and I usually get around seven to eight hours with the Samsung Galaxy S8. I don’t often have WiFi on because honestly I have unlimited data from T-Mobile and if they aren’t bugging me about it, I don’t worry much.
I generally stay on auto-brightness because Samsung seems to be one of the only OEMs out there that has it figured out. But, when I do pop up the screen to the brightest levels, I can tell a noticeable difference in battery life. It drains FAST. Luckily, the S8 has a stupid bright screen and I almost never have to pop the screen up that high. Think super sunny day where you don’t want to take your sunglasses off. That damn bright. Battery life numbers are something that determines whether I keep a phone and the S8 certainly has the potential to stay as my daily driver because of good the battery life is.
Battery life numbers are something that determines whether I keep a phone and the S8 Plus certainly has the potential to stay as my daily driver because of good the battery life is.
Calling the Samsung Galaxy S8 the best built phone on the market is a little more subjective that saying it has the best screen on the market. It has the glass front that wraps around to the aluminum frame. That frame connects to the glass back which feels fantastic in the hand.
For me, this is exactly what a premium phone should feel like. It’s hard to describe exactly how the phone feels in the hand which is why you need to go into a carrier store and play around with it before dropping over $700 on it. Just know that as soon as you pick it up, there are going to be fingerprints everywhere.
I’ll just leave it at this. There are no lines that look out of place. There are no curves that feel anything other than subtle. There are no ports that don’t look finely machined. Samsung seemingly put everything they had into making the Samsung Galaxy S8 look and feel like the pinnacle of smartphone design. Some of you aren’t going to like the sleek curved look and prefer something like the flat angular look of the G6 over it and that’s fine. Variety is the spice of life. All I know is that when I pick up the Samsung Galaxy S8, I don’t want to put it down again.
What I don’t love
We started with the display in the last section, so let’s start there again. For this gripe, I don’t have much of an issue with Samsung itself as much as I have a gripe with Corning, the makers of Gorilla Glass.
Gorilla Glass is the sheet of glass that sits on top of the Samsung Galaxy S8. Corning has been making Gorilla Glass for ages now and it ends up on basically every smartphone released every year. This year we’ve been treated to Gorilla Glass 5 and the law of ascending numbers says that Gorilla Glass 5 should be better than Gorilla Glass 4 that was on the Samsung Galaxy S7 last year, right?
In theory, maybe. In practice, it seems not.
I’m on my second Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. The first device I picked up on launch day had several deep scratches on it within the first 48 hours. While you can sit there and say “yeah, but scratches happen”, they wouldn’t have to this phone under normal circumstances. The Friday I picked the phone up and most of the Saturday after I was in the hospital with a family member and could barely touch my phone let alone find something to scratch it on. I was back in the store on Monday to exchange it. Strike one.
Strike 2 has already shown up. There’s what appears to be an abrasion on my second Galaxy S8 Plus. I can normally overlook it but to say I’m less than pleased would be a gigantic understatement. A friend of mine who writes for another site has seen scratches show up on his review unit Samsung Galaxy S8, his personal Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, and review unit LG G6 which all have Gorilla Glass 5. Perhaps this is just confirmation bias because it has happened me and my friend, but there’s also a thread over on Android Central’s forums with other people complaining about it too. If you plan to pick this phone up, also plan to pick up a screen protector you’re comfortable with.
It’s time for the old “bash on Samsung’s software” party, right? Well, no, not exactly. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed what Samsung has done. In fact, I haven’t even moved off the stock launcher since I installed my apps. That’s partially so I could review Samsung’s software and partly because I actually like the stock launcher now.
While the launcher is the more forward facing part of the system, the software isn’t just the launcher. The settings menu has seen some tweaks, and I don’t know if they’re really for the better. In previous versions of TouchWiz, you could pin settings to the top for easy access. That’s gone and I can’t really figure out why they’d remove such a convenient feature. A lot of settings aren’t where I’d expect them to be, but Samsung does suggest other settings areas at the bottom of the screen and I can generally find it from there.
The Theme store is fine, if not a tad pricey, and the app drawer can be organized just like stock Android is even though it isn’t that way out of the box.
So, all of that is fine. My beef is what the software does to the phone. Bixby is completely redundant since I use Google Assistant and shows up in the camera app more than I’d like. The nagging messages about turning the volume up too loud, turning the screen up too bright, or whatever else Samsung feels like complaining about that day are really very annoying.
Almost as annoying as the phone coming out of the box at a lower resolution than advertised. Due to a software setting, the S8 comes out of the box at 1080p. I’ve been using it at that resolution because I can’t tell the difference when I pop it up to 2K, but if you’re going to advertise a screen resolution, it should at least be that out of the box with an option to change it, not the other way around.
And, whatever they’ve done in the software to make this phone stutter when going through lists, please fix it. Holy crap is it annoying. The Pixel XL, V20, G6, OnePlus 3T, and Moto Z Play, all phones I’ve used in the last 9 months seemed to have gotten this figured out and they’re all on older processors. If you can’t get scrolling and frame drops out of the system on the latest and greatest that Qualcomm has to offer, you need to hire better engineers.
This review wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive take on what makes the Samsung Galaxy S8 right for you. We didn’t touch on the camera (which remains mostly unchanged from last year), the bump in storage to 64GB from 32GB, the unbelievably quick charging times, the decent bottom-firing speaker, or the truly awful placement of the fingerprint sensor. Most of those things you can figure out yourself just by looking at the facts and figures, you don’t need me to insult your intelligence by telling you how amazing it is to have double the storage or something.
What you need to know, however, is how this phone makes me feel. I consider myself a phone geek (or a phone douche, as my friends call me) and this is the first phone I’m truly considering keeping long term. Normally it’s three or four months and you’re out.
If you’re going out to buy a phone for the next two years, this is the best phone on paper and it will be for a while. Hell, it might be until Samsung’s next phone comes out in the fall. But go play with it first. Reading a million reviews online won’t do anything to help you if you walk into the store, pick it up and hate it.
As for me, I can’t seem to put the thing down.