Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Fashionable but flawed
I’ve had the 64GB Galaxy S8 about a month after it launched, and it’s been the phone I’ve used daily since then.
I’ve used it for making and taking calls, sending SMSes, playing games, checking my email, talking with friends, calculating stuff, navigating to new locations using Waze and Google Maps, browsing the web, taking photos and selfies, and watching YouTube. So everything a regular person does with their phone, then.
I’ve also benchmarked it using Antutu just so my geeky heart can revel in those numbers (it’s really fast – its Antutu benchmark score stands at 171035 vs. my girlfriend’s S7 score of 132 705), and fiddled with its settings to get my background, ring tone, and customised tones for friends/relatives/people I hate just right.
Functionally, the S8 is a marvel. Doing all of the above is very easy thanks to Android 7.0’s improvements and Samsung’s own interface refinements built over top of it (now called Samsung Experience, version 8.1), made all the smoother by the zippy eight-core processor and 4GB of RAM Samsung has packed into the phone. This phone is fast, the screen resolution and clarity made possible by its 568 pixels-per-inch rating is simply stunning, and it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie set in the very near future.
The much-vaunted iris-recognition to unlock the phone turned out to be pretty useful, too, allowing me to unlock the phone by simply focusing my eyes on its “Look here” instruction text. It has worked most of the time, too, although it’s struggled in direct sunlight and low light conditions (but that’s entirely understandable); fortunately, Samsung also lets you also unlock with a PIN code or a fingerprint scan.
The fingerprint scanner is even faster than the iris unlocking once you get used to where to place your finger – on the rear of the phone, to the left of the camera lens if you’re looking at the screen. I found it easy to learn and became accustomed to doing it really quickly.
And boy, does it feel good to hold. Despite being made of plastic, the S8 feels fantastic in my hand; it’s thin and light and the buttons press easily without feeling too stiff, and the screen is highly responsive to my touches. Plus, the whole “Unbox your phone” thing Samsung was touting before it launched is very, very cool – having a screen that extends almost to the very edge of the phone on all sides makes for some really pleasant video and photo viewing, and seems legitimately futuristic.
Battery life & charging
I love how fast my S8 charges to 100%: from completely empty to 100% full takes about two hours when plugged into the mains via the included USB-C cable, but I don’t let it run down that far very often. By the end of the work day, if the phone was full when I left home, I usually still have between 40 and 60% of a charge left even if I use the phone a lot during the day.
I don’t always charge it overnight, either – rather, I plug it in when I wake up, let it charge while I get ready to work, and it’s usually full or close to when I finally walk out the door. For my needs, it’s perfect.
I also have a wireless charging pad; it’s really convenient as I don’t have to plug the phone into anything to charge it. But charging wirelessly takes much longer to get the phone to 100%, so I tend to stick with the charging cable.
The S8’s camera is more of the same with a few tweaks. Hardware-wise, it features the same 12MP shooter as that of the S7, while the front-facing camera has an upgraded 8MP sensor. Image quality is very close to that of the S7, but more detail in similar shots and an overall more natural look in pics shot with the Automatic setting doing the decision-making.
+My girlfriend and I took the same picture of our cat – 16:9, 9.1MP, Auto mode on – and my S8 made him look a little more natural while her S7’s image appeared a little over-saturated and a teeny bit less detailed.
Where Samsung did fantastic work was in making using the camera that much easier – one of many small tweaks lets me double-tap the Power button, taking me straight to my camera, and I’m ready to take snaps in less than a second.
So yes, the S8’s camera is a slight improvement over the S7’s; the new goodness is more to do with the interface tweaks and options available than it is with the hardware itself.
I was surprised at how easy it was to turn the phone into a workstation, and how fast and responsive the resulting “desktop experience” was. Basically I snapped the phone into the DEX dock, connected power, HDMI, and an external keyboard and mouse, and voila, instant workstation.
The resulting desktop operated like a Windows PC on low-to-mid-range hardware. Apps open, but sometimes with a bit of a delay, and the interface takes some getting used to, but if you realise it’s just Android, only different, you’ll soon get used to it.
If all you need to do is write emails, browse the web, create documents, and other office-y tasks, being able to dock the phone and not having to carry a laptop between work and home should prove a major boon to heavy-bag-weary workers everywhere.
Overall, I am far more impressed with DEX than I thought I’d be. Samsung’s done a great job here.
Curved screen: Fashionable, but flawed
That curve, though. Sure, a curved edge is nice to look at, and the little tab that sits on the right edge that I can slide open to reveal my most often-used apps is convenient, but it’s not essential. I’ve also discovered that I like the look and feel of the flat screen of my girlfriend’s Galaxy S7 a lot more.
The biggest issue, though, is that the curve introduces a serious structural weakness to the phone that leaves it incredibly vulnerable to drops. It’s so bad that the US-based extended-warranty service provider, SquareTrade, called the S8 “the most fragile handset ever” after running the S8 and S8 Plus through several durability tests – six-foot drops onto the front, back and corners of the phones – all of which both phones failed after the very first drop.
So, on reading about that on Sammobile.com (and seeing it corroborated on other sites), I decided I wouldn’t be taking any chances and promptly went out and got myself a cover and a screen protector. I bought an X-Doria Defense clear case for the edges, and arranged for a Zagg Invisishield glass cover for the screen. The Invisishield came with a very clever applicator that ensured I got the screen on just right, and the case went on very easily.
Thing is, the phone became much heavier, and the buttons far stiffer than they were as I was now pressing them through the case. Worse, the screen was no longer as responsive as it was without the cover, requiring more finger pressure for my touches to register. It’s a small price to pay to keep the phone intact, for sure, but it’s a price I wish I wasn’t paying at all.
And therein lies my biggest concern with the S8: sure, it’s pretty amazing and everything I’m looking for in a high-end phone when used naked, but because it’s so fragile, and I don’t want to lose a R15.5k phone to a stupid drop or have to fork out thousands for a new screen, I feel I simply have to protect it, thereby compromising its awesome look and feel.
It’s still a lovely phone, but I would be a lot happier with one that’s less fragile.