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Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ Initial Review: Samsung’s Back

Samsung has something to prove with the Galaxy S8 and S8+

Korean juggernaut Samsung was dealt a rare, humbling blow after the fiery and unexpected end of the Galaxy Note 7. Despite being one of the best big-screen, small body phones that we’ve ever tested, battery faults and a bungled recall doomed the phablet, and shook consumer confidence in the brand. Samsung knew that the Galaxy S8 and S8+ needs to be absolutely flawless to regain the trust of many of their loyal fans who were affected by the Note 7 recall, and to show the world that they still have what it takes to make the best mobile devices on Earth.

After spending quite a bit of time with both the Galaxy S8 and S8+, we think that Samsung absolutely nailed it. Not only did they build on the design language that made the Galaxy Note 7 such a joy to use even with its large display, they also managed to flawlessly implement a couple of new tricks along the way. It seems that each year Samsung has managed to up the ante when it comes to creating innovative, cutting-edge devices, and one look at the new phones confirms what we felt during our time with the phones: Samsung’s back.

Samsung Galaxy S8 specifications

  • Samsung Exynos 8895 octa-core processor/Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-G71 MP20 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 5.8-inch WQHD Super AMOLED display, 2960 x 1440 resolution, dual curved edge
  • 64GB expandable storage, via microSD
  • 12-megapixel rear camera, f/1.7 aperture, Dual Pixel, OIS
  • 8-megapixel front camera, f/1.7 aperture, AF
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • Fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, facial recognition, heartbeat sensor, IP68 certification, USB Type-C port, Bixby AI
  • 3000mAh battery, fast charge
  • Android 7.0 Nougat (TouchWiz UI)

Samsung Galaxy S8+ specifications

  • Samsung Exynos 8895 octa-core processor/Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor
  • ARM Mali-G71 MP20 GPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 6.2-inch WQHD Super AMOLED display, 2960 x 1440 resolution, dual curved edge
  • 64GB expandable storage, via microSD
  • 12-megapixel rear camera, f/1.7 aperture, Dual Pixel, OIS
  • 8-megapixel front camera, f/1.7 aperture, AF
  • Dual SIM
  • 3G, LTE
  • Fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, facial recognition, heartbeat sensor, IP68 certification, USB Type-C port, Bixby AI
  • 3500mAh battery, fast charge
  • Android 7.0 Nougat (TouchWiz UI)

Big-screen, small body

One of the things we really liked about the Galaxy Note 7 when we reviewed it earlier last year was how small it was considering the screen real-estate you get. Samsung’s use of a QHD edge-to-edge Super AMOLED panel gave the phone a display 5.7-inches big while retaining the size of a 5.5-inch phone.

5.8-inch Galaxy S8 versus 5.5-inch OnePlus 3T

This is pretty much the same playbook that Samsung followed with the new Galaxy S8 and S8+, but at a bigger scale. Samsung decided to forgo many of their trademark design cues to squeeze the most amount of screen in the smallest space possible. Samsung’s removed their trademark physical Android navigation buttons and fingerprint scanner on the bottom of the phone’s chin to give the front of the device more space for the Super AMOLED display. Even Samsung’s front logo wasn’t spared, but the end result was worth it – a massive, edge-to-edge display (dubbed the Infinity Display) squeezed in between a thin top and bottom bezel.

The result? The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch panel in a space that’s no bigger than the Galaxy S7, a phone, may we remind you, that has a 5.1-inch display. That’s a size difference of 0.7-inches. The Galaxy S8 has a bigger screen than most phones today despite having a body that’s smaller than a majority of the devices being offered by their competitors. Samsung has managed to finally make a big-screen phone that’s not awkward or annoying to hold one-handed.

The Galaxy S8+ is even more impressive, possessing a 6.2-inch, WQHD Super AMOLED panel. And even though we sound like we’re repeating ourselves, despite having more screen real-estate a majority of the phablets sold today, the Galaxy S8+ has a footprint of a 5.5-inch phone, making it the handiest 6-inch device we’ve ever used.

Both phones have a screen to body ratio of 83% (specifically 83.3% for the S8 and 83.9% for the S8+), and aspect ratios of 18.5:9. That’s a little different from the funky 2:1 display ratio that’s present in LG’s uber tall G6. Samsung assures us that most popular apps scale seamlessly on the phones’ displays.

Both devices hit all the expected features of AAA flagship phones: glass and metal body? Check. IP68 water resistance? Check. Fingerprint scanner? Check. USB Type-C connector? Check. Heartbeat sensor? Check. And so on and so forth – Samsung loaded both phones so many features that it’d be easier to list down what they didn’t include in the phones. We’re actually drawing a blank there.

Layers upon layers of security

As expected, Samsung took the iris scanner that’s found on the Galaxy Note 7 and made it even better. Aside from the iris scanner, you can now unlock the Galaxy S8 and S8+ with your face, since the phone uses facial recognition in addition to the Iris scanner. You now have 4 ways to secure and unlock your phone (PIN/pattern/password, iris scanner, facial recognition, fingerprint scanner) with 3 of them being biometric.

Setting up the iris scanner is pretty straightforward and follows the same process as the one in the Galaxy Note 7. Interestingly, we found that the facial recognition software worked the fastest of the three biometric methods, as you only need to glance at the phone for it to recognize your face to unlock itself. Of course, it’s the least secure – a fingerprint is still better, with the iris scanner being the toughnest nut to crack of the three, though for convenience we’d opt for the facial recognition option.

Just like the Note 7, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ has Samsung’s Knox security software baked in, which allows you to hide sensitive content in password protected folders to hide them from prying eyes.

First phone with a 10nm processor

Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and S8+ runs brand new top-of-the-line processors from both Samsung and Qualcomm built on a cutting-edge 10nm manufacturing process: Exynos 8895 and Snapdragon 835. Galaxy S8 and S8+ phones sold in SEA will have the Exynos 8895 with it as is Samsung’s custom in this part of the world, though you shouldn’t be envious at the Qualcomm equipped phones that the US and China will receive. The Exynos 8895 is pretty formidable on paper as it’s composed of four Cortex A53 cores running at 1.7GHz and four of Samsung’s own custom M2 cores running at 2.5GHz. The new 20-core Mali-G71 MP20 GPU is a huge step up from the previous iteration of the chip, and Samsung says that the phone has 27% better performance than the 8890, and around 40% better power consumption.

That’s a big deal, since Samsung has not changed the battery capacity on the phones compared to the previous version – 3000mAh for the S8 and 3500mAh for the S8+.

People looking for crazy 6GB RAM and storage solutions will be disappointed with the S8 and S8+, since both phones come packing just 4GB of RAM and 64GB of expandable storage.

Samsung’s UI, TouchWiz, has not changed too much, and that’s a good thing. The Korean company started streamlining and de-bloating TouchWiz with their efforts last year, and this year’s iteration is more of the same. Samsung’s cognizant enough to know when their stuff started becoming a pain in the butt.

The newest change this year is Bixby – Samsung’s own attempt at a machine-learning, AI-powered assistant to rival Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Samsung says that Bixby is able to recognize people, places and things that you take photos of and show you relevant information based on the images you took, as well as shopping recommendations and accommodations of vacation spots. Sadly, the last feature isn’t going to be available in SEA for now. Bixby will be able to handle all the things that you’re able to via touch on your phone, and gets smarter every time you use it. The feature wasn’t available for us to test during the preview that Samsung provided us with.

A better selfie camera and new software keep the shooting experience fresh

Samsung re-used the Dual Pixel packing, f/1.7 aperture camera on the Galaxy Note 7 with the Galaxy S8 and S8+. It’s not surprising, since that camera was one of the best cameras ever to grace a mobile phone. The Korean firm did change a few things up with the new flagships though. Samsung’s included a new, multi-frame tech with the cameras on both phones that combines images before, during and after you press the shutter button to produce a superior image.

While the rear camera received a few tweaks, the front camera has been completely overhauled. The front-facing shooter now boasts a 8-megapixel resolution with an f/1.7 aperture and auto-focus capability. In addition, you can now add stickers ala Snapchat to your selfies, with the camera being smart enough to apply animated stickers to at least 5 people in the frame.

A whole ecosystem of accessories

Along with the launch of the Galaxy S8 and S8+, Samsung will also be introducing a whole slew of accessories with the phone. Several cases (including a cool, LED lit one) will be offered to buyers, as well as the funky two-piece “bikini” case that can be mixed and matched depending on your mood. There’s a new Gear 360 model for the phones as well, and a new, improved GearVR model that has its own controller to combat Google’s DayDream platform. But among the accessories shown to us today by Samsung, the most interesting is the Dex, a desktop stand that acts like Microsoft’s Continuum concept for its Lumia phones, except the Dex actually works seamlessly with the devices. We’ll be doing a separate article for all the accessories since there’s a whole bunch of them.

A price that’ll hurt your wallet

With all the features that the new phones have, it’s not surprising that the new models have heart-stopping SRPs compared to last year’s offerings. The Galaxy S8, for example, will be priced by Samsung in the Philippines at Php 39,990, while the Galaxy S8+ will be priced even higher, at Php 45,990. Pre-orders for both phones start on April 17 and will run to April 29, with pre-order customers will get a free Bluetooth wireless speaker that’s valued at Php 5,099 to soften the blow. The phones will hit the market on the first or second week of May.

John Nieves

John is a veteran technology and gadget journalist with more than 10 years of experience both in print and online. When not writing about technology, he frequently gets lost in the boonies playing soldier.

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  1. The Galaxy S8, for example, will be priced by Samsung in the Philippines at Php 39,990

    The smaller P10 gets a retail SRP of Php 28,990, while the P10 Plus is priced at Php 34,990.

    With the S8’s pricing and the inevitable pre-order freebies (Gear VR in the US), the LG G6 and the Huawei P10 family are dead in the water. LG’s G series are typically cheaper than Samsung’s S series and i doubt they would price it at just P35K. Huawei and LG must rethink their local pricing scheme for 2017 if they want to survive in this country.

    Even if we don’t take the pre-order freebies into account, every S8 comes with an AKG IEM valued at $99 or PhP5000. So for just P5000 more than what you’ll pay for the P10 Plus, you get an IEM worth P5000, waterproofing, probably a better camera, a larger edge to edge screen, better performance, better long term support, and better developer support. For this year at least, Huawei should stick with the P9/P9 Plus pricing for the P10 series while LG should price the G6 at whatever price Samsung will be selling the S7 Edge.

  2. I will wait for the review of the battery life on these phones. I do hope so it can appease those large screen display

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