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Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Comeback Kid

We review the Samsung Galaxy S8!

To say that Samsung has something to prove with the Galaxy S8 is an understatement. While the Galaxy Note 7 debacle didn’t do much to curb their bottom line, the loss of consumer confidence (at least, temporarily) and the lead in the big-screen smartphone market hurt the company more than they would admit. It was under this atmosphere that the company developed the Galaxy S8, aptly codenamed “Dream” in the latter stages of 2016. Samsung knew that only an exceedingly impressive and innovative smartphone would soften the memory of their exploding Note 7. Samsung had to release a near flawless product to make up for the mistakes of their previous flagship.

And they delivered all of that and more with the Galaxy S8. The phone is one of the most technically impressive devices that the Korean company has ever released, and should put questions about Samsung’s future in the smartphone business to rest. Despite being one of the most expensive Android smartphones released so far this year, it’s also one of the best flagships that you can spend your money on when it’s officially released later this month.

Samsung’s back, and better than ever.

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)

An amazing display that you can’t find anywhere else (yet)

Samsung’s one of the first companies in the world to utilize edge displays in their smartphones, from their first tentative steps with the Galaxy Note Edge and moving onto the Galaxy S6 Edge, before going all out with the Galaxy S7 Edge and Note 7. And while you’ve seen smartphones with edge-to-edge displays before, the one in the Galaxy S8 is really something else. First off, the display (dubbed the Infinity Display) is bigger than your average Android smartphone, at 5.8-inches. The other main differentiating factor is that the phone is barely bigger than the regular S7 in terms of size.

The Galaxy S8 compared to a typical 5.5-inch Android phone

That’s right – Samsung managed to fit a 5.8-inch panel into a space that other manufacturers cram a 5.1-inch display in. People love big screens (there’s a reason why phablets enjoy such great sales) but not the accompanying bulk that’s needed for these devices. The S8 combines the best of both worlds.

Of course, there’s a bit of cheating involved – that 5.8-inch measurement includes the curved panel bits, and Samsung made the phone a smidge taller which results in a funkier 18.5:9 aspect ratio. Despite that the phone still feels amazing to hold, and honestly there’s very few phones out in the market right now that my dainty wife can traverse one-handed without having to awkwardly adjust her grip, never mind a phone that has a 5.8-inch panel.

Note the black borders on the side of the display

Samsung did have to change the design language of the Galaxy S8 a bit to make that display a reality. Their engineers had to remove their logo and more importantly, the physical home key and the navigation buttons that have long been a Samsung staple to reduce the top and bottom bezel to, well, almost nothing. The result is a phone that has an 83% screen-to-body ratio. That’s pretty close to the actual screen-to-body ratio of another almost bezel-less-but-not-really phone, the Xiaomi Mi Mix, which has an 84.72% screen-to-body ratio.

Uncropped YouTube video in native 16:9 format
Same video, cropped to fit. Notice the cropped areas on the top and bottom

That amazing display comes at a price though. Most apps and videos are tailored for a regular, 16:9 aspect ratio, which obviously is different from the one used in the Galaxy S8. In some apps like Netflix, for example, there’s noticeable black bars on the side, which reduces the viewing area significantly when watching movies. That’s also true for YouTube, though there is an option for you to go full screen by cropping a little bit of the top and bottom of the video you’re watching for the sake of a bigger viewing area.

The same issues crop up in some apps and games. While you can also expand the display in some games, the software fix isn’t perfect. Some on-screen buttons for NBA 2K17 became unresponsive after we switched to full screen mode. This maybe addressed via software patches in the future, but it’s an issue worth noting before buying the phone.

The Galaxy S8 also has this nifty feature that allows you to downgrade the WQHD resolution down to just full HD to save power.

Just like Samsung’s previous generation flagships, the Galaxy S8 is IP68 rated – no need to worry about it getting wrecked when you drop it in water.

Multiple unlock methods to choose from

The use of biometric security on phones is fast becoming standard on all but the cheapest Android phones in the market today, and the Galaxy S8 uses not one, but four ways to keep your device secure from prying eyes. Aside from the typical PIN/password method of locking your phone, the S8 also utilizes a fingerprint scanner (which has been moved to the rear of the phone, near the camera) as well as facial recognition software and an iris scanner.

Samsung utilized the iris scanner on the Galaxy Note 7, and have tweaked the software a little bit so it’s quite faster this time around. Despite that, I found that the facial recognition option to be the fastest of the unlock methods for the device, as you’ll just have to glance at your phone for it to unlock. There’s a downside though – while facial recognition is the fastest method to unlock your phone, it’s also the least secure, as a photo of your face on another device is enough to spoof it.

We’re a little miffed at the re-positioned fingerprint scanner though – we don’t know why Samsung couldn’t just have put it right at the bottom of the rear camera just like everyone else. As it stands, the placement of the scanner makes it awkward to reach for lefties and leaves the camera lens smudged each time you reach for it.

Bixby is there, but barely

In addition to that amazing display, another highlight feature of the S8 is Bixby. It’s the company’s own attempt at an AI assistant, similar to Google’s, well, Assistant, and Apple’s Siri. Why use their own AI software when there’s already a Google equivalent? Simple – Samsung doesn’t want to depend on Google for software as much as possible (the Android OS notwithstanding). Bixby is just an extension of that mindset, and Samsung is going to great lengths to make Bixby better than Google’s offering.

Unfortunately, Bixby isn’t quite 100% yet. Samsung’s dream for the virtual assistant is that it’ll be able to manipulate and navigate through your phone just as you would using touch. Right now though you’re limited to just Bixby Vision which analyzes and shows you information about places and objects you take photos of in the web. Pressing the dedicated Bixby button on the button of the volume rocker pulls up the Bixby screen, which gives you a bunch of cards that has information that you can customize and change.

The best mobile processor on the planet

Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is the first phone in the planet to use a processor built on a new, power-efficient 10nm process. We should say processors, with an s, since the Galaxy S8 will come in two flavors: a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset meant for the US and an Exynos 8895 meant for SEA markets like ours.

While most people would prefer the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 option, know that Samsung’s Exynos 8895 is no slouch. It’s extremely fast, and preliminary tests and benchmarks puts it ahead of Qualcomm’s offering in terms of speed and power efficiency. The S8 felt fast, quick and responsive, and while many will lament that the 4GB RAM pales in comparison to the 6GB that’s usually offered nowadays in newer flagships, we never really felt that the phone needed more memory during its time with us.

The phone comes with Android Nougat, along with Samsung’s TouchWiz UI. Samsung’s done a good job de-cluttering TouchWiz in its past iterations, and the one in the S8 is the cleanest one we’ve seen yet. The removal of the physical home button means that you’ll have to navigate through the UI via the on-screen navigation buttons. It takes getting used to especially if you’re a Samsung devotee.

Audio quality is pretty great with the Galaxy S8, made even better with the inclusion of a free pair of AKG-branded headphones. If that wasn’t enough, the Galaxy S8 is the first phone to come equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, which allows two Bluetooth headphones to connect at the same time.

One of the best cameras in the business

While the Galaxy S8 still uses a camera that has the same megapixel size as the previous generation, it’s a brand-new sensor underneath. The camera opening is the same, at f/1.7, and the camera still has the Dual Pixel tech that made the Galaxy Note 7’s camera so good. The front camera gets a slight upgrade, and now comes in at 8-megapixels, and has the same f/1.7 aperture as the rear camera.

Samsung’s included a new multi-frame image technology with the S8, which basically combines photos taken before, during and after you press the shutter button to create the best image possible. There’s still a comprehensive manual mode in the camera as well for taking photos if you don’t feel that the automatic mode is doing your photos any justice.

Which shouldn’t be, since the camera on the Galaxy S8 is one of the best we’ve ever seen on a mobile device, even on full automatic. Images are clean, sharp and full of detail. Low-light performance is outstanding as well – photos shot under a single street light looked amazingly clear considering the circumstances.

Same battery as last year, but lasts just as long

We were a little disappointed to learn that the Galaxy S8 still had the same battery size as the one found in last year’s iteration, despite the bigger screen size. 3000mAh may sound like a large amount for a phone, but we’re talking about a device that has a massive 5.8-inch panel here.

Thankfully, the Galaxy S8 is able to get us through a regular work day with a little left over in the tank. The phone’s battery life mimics the Galaxy S7’s, and is able to get through the day on high-performance if you manage your battery right. Switch to full HD, and you’ll get a better margin when it comes to battery life – instead of a struggling 10% at the end of the work day, you’ll still have around 20% left in the tank.

The phone has fast charge capability as well via the USB Type-C connection on the bottom of the phone.

Verdict: It’s the best phone so far this year, despite it’s relatively high price

After spending around a week with the Galaxy S8, we’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the best phone we’ve seen so far this year. While Samsung has never failed to impress us with their flagship offerings, the company has pulled out all stops this year. The S8 isn’t a one trick pony – it’s a well rounded smartphone that doesn’t rely on gimmicks to make you look.

The only problem we see with the S8 is price – with a steep Php 39,990 price tag, it’s one of the most expensive Android devices sold this year, eclipsed only by its bigger brother, the S8+, priced at Php 45,990. The decision to upgrade to Samsung’s new phones won’t come lightly for most people. But for the faithful that do take that plunge, we promise that you won’t regret it.

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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