Home Mobile devices Samsung S8/+ – goes beyond any known Galaxy (review)

The new Samsung 5.8” S8 and 6.2” S8+ go well beyond the capabilities of previous Galaxy class S smartphones, taking the term “glass slab” to new heights – a galactic overachiever.

As of today, it is the best-looking phone, it has the best performance, the most features, a flawless execution of Android 7.0, it is water- and dust-resistant, shoulder height drop-resistant, has wireless and fast charge, a brilliant Super AMOLED screen, the best camera, top drawer electronics and a build quality that would be hard to beat … a “Rolls Royce” if you will to keep the Galaxy spirit and aspiration alive.

I say as of today because Samsung is traditionally the first to release a flagship to market in March/April and who knows what will be released over the year. But a flagship smartphone is not developed overnight – the whole design to release phase takes about two years and is based on projected technology available about six months prior to release. It is unlikely any of its Android competitors will do more than meet some, or all, of its features.

With the caveat that I have only had the phone eight days instead of the usual two weeks, this review looks at all aspects of the new Galaxy S8 and GS8+. The only difference is the screen size and battery capacity.

Spoiler alert: There are currently no better Android phones on the market and apologies for this unreservedly positive, objective review.

Why such a big screen?

S8 screenThe previous Galaxy S7 series comprised a flat 5.1” GS7 and a 5.5” GS7 Edge with the wrap-around screen. While no official sales figures have been released, Korea’s Pulse news (and others) reported that the more expensive and larger Edge version was outselling the GS7 two-to-one. Australian retail sources have a similar story.

That surprised Samsung as its previous generation GS6, GS6 Edge, and Edge+ provided no substantive indication that larger curved screens were going to be as popular.

So why the big curved only screens?

First, it is taller, not wider, with a new 18.5:9 screen ratio. The 5.8” GS8 is 148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm (5.1” GS7 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm) and the 6.2” GS8+ is 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 (5.5” GS7 Edge 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm).

So, you get more screen height but it also suits the trend for Hollywood to move to the Univisium (unity of images) format to unify all future theatrical and TV to a single aspect ratio. All credit to LG and its 5.7” G6 for getting there first. Apple and Google Pixel 2 are rumoured to be going that way too.

Second, is the increasing demand, especially from Asian users, for larger screens, driven by the increasing use of the smartphone as the sole Internet access and computing device. You can do so much more on a 5.8” or 6.2” screen.

I like big phones and between reviews, I use the 5.5” GS7 Edge. I feel just as comfortable with the 6.2” GS8+. However, I suspect the 5.8” GS8 will outsell its larger brother.

That screen – there is no better!

Samsung leads the pack with Super AMOLED technology – top-class displays, best colour and pure blacks, now with HDR10, and an almost unbelievable 113% coverage of DCI-P3 and 142% of the sRGB colour spaces.

Samsung has continued with the Diamond Pentile design (two smaller green, to one larger red and one even larger blue pixel) that gives a wider field of view and less colour shift off-angle. It also allows for punchier, more saturated colours. For the technical minded, it offers Photo mode (Adobe RGB), Cinema mode (DCI-P3), Basic (sRGB) and adaptive (let it do the best it can for the image/conditions).

Note that it defaults to 2220x1080 (HD+) for power management reasons, but can go to 2960x1440 (2K or UHD) at the swipe of a finger. I found it hard to visually tell the difference.

Black is pure black (no LCD gate wash like on an IPS/TFT/LED/LCD screen), brightness is up to 647 cd/m2 and contrast ratio is infinity. It is perfect to use in total darkness to bright sunshine. All of this while sipping power.

Samsung is gradually increasing OLED production and has recently supplied screens to OPPO for its R9s series, OnePlus for the 3T, ZTE for its amazing Axon 7, and Google for its Pixel/XL. It is rumoured that the iPhone 8/Plus may use AMOLED from Samsung.

Out of the box

Samsung’s typical elegant black box holds:

  • The phone (in Midnight black, Orchid Grey, and Maple Gold).
  • A new black fast charger – 5V/2A and 9V/1.67A (this is the same voltage as the GS7 and it is less aggressive than say Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 to help prolong battery life and reduce heat during charging).
  • A black USB-C to USB-A cable.
  • AKG (harman kardon) premium buds/mic with 3.5mm audio plug. These have a woofer and tweeter and replacement silicone tips.
  • A USB-A female to USB-C adapter for Smart Switch (USB Host) use.
  • A USB-C to micro-USB female adapter (to allow the use of a micro-USB cable to charge).

SS S8 box

I prefer the Midnight Black. It feels good in the hand and just big enough to for one-handed use. The phone is not slippery to hold as the glass covers would suggest.

Set-up is easy – select the language, log into Google (if you want to, or avoid it altogether), log into mySamsung (mandatory) and that is it.

The nice thing about buying a Samsung Galaxy is the amazingly easy-to-use Samsung’s Switch app that uses either NFC, cable, or PC/Mac/iCloud to transfer everything from an iOS, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry over.

I tried it using an S7 Edge, Huawei Mate 9 and Google Pixel XL as “senders” and everything came over flawlessly – just re-enter passwords (for security) and it was up and running in about 20 minutes.

Looks-wise it is sleek and subtle, the top and bottom bezels are very small, the side bezels almost non-existent (called an Infinity Screen), there is no camera bump on the rear – a tall, slender, class act.

Security, fingerprint and fingerprints

The Gorilla Glass 5 on front and rear is there to protect the phone from up to shoulder height drops. Unfortunately, the rear glass is a fingerprint magnet – interestingly the front glass is highly fingerprint-resistant.

A lot has been written about the fingerprint scanner pad being moved to the rear beside the camera – LG does it, Apple may do it, ZTE Axon and many others do it too.

Yes, if you are clumsy you can place your finger over the camera lens, yes, it can be a pain to access the rear scanner – but if that is the worst critics can level at it, then Samsung has a winner.

The key to ease of use is to also store an upside-down fingerprint from the other hand so when you pick it up in your right hand you use a left finger to unlock it. It works a treat.

S8 irisIt may be easier to use iris recognition. Simply enrol the iris and when you swipe the lock screen up a window appears to verify it. IR recognition is not as fast as the fingerprint scanner, but it works (with glasses too) and may be a good for two-factor-authentication.

It is also used to access the secure folders set up with Samsung Knox that can contain apps and data. Iris cannot be fooled as it requires a living, eyeball – unlike the fingerprint scanner and facial recognition that could be tricked by a dismembered finger or a photo.

It also has a pin, pattern, and facial recognition – the latter is the least secure at present, as it has been fooled by a photo, but Samsung is working on a fix to ensure that the image has a 3D depth and IR-detected body heat to prevent this.

Rear camera – it out pixels Google’s Pixel by using its competitor’s tricks

First let’s get over the move to dual lens cameras – they are trendy for artistic brokeh (reducing the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens) as used in Huawei’s excellent Leica designed Mate 9 and P9 and terrific for ultra-wide angle tourism shots as used in the LG G5 and G6.

 While Huawei and LG et al compete on dual camera features, Samsung had the best single lens camera, bar perhaps the Google Pixel by one DXOMark point, in 2016.

So, they stuck with S7 specs, updated the Sony sensor to the latest model, upped its smarts, refined its app, added far more processing power, better image signal processors, and copied Google’s pixel/image stacking that essentially takes the best pixels from a bracket of shots taken in that microsecond you push the shutter, and constructs the best shot.

In comparison with the S7 Edge and Google Pixel XL, its shots are visibly better. It does everything in an idiot-proof auto mode including seamlessly swapping from HDR to flash or using both (most camera only have HDR or flash).

The app is now more intuitive too. Swipe up for a selfie, down for the rear camera, left for a range of settings and right for a range of filters. And there is a full range of settings.

It is important to note that the default still image is 4:3 (12MP 4032x3024) and if you want to shoot in 16:9 its 9.1MP (4032x2268) – there also an 18.5:9 mode at 7.9MP (4032x1960).

It uses dual pixel, phase auto-detect focus (PADF) that is incredibly fast, as well an optional tracking AF for moving subjects.

I also like the shape correction option that corrects image distortion and selective focus features. These are all done in software backed by fast hardware – the lens and sensor record the true image and effects etc., are post processed.

Video includes UHD (3840 x 2160 @ 30fps), QHD (2560 x 1440 @ 30fps), FHD (1920 x 1080 @ 30 or 60fps) down to VGA 640 x 480. At 4K it records at 48Mbps file size and 48KHz audio in MPEG-4 and at FHD @30fps (all options) at 14Mbps.

For most use and most functionality, FHD @30fps is best as it allows the use of HDR, video effects, autofocus and tracking autofocus, as well as getting the best out of optical and electronic image stabilisation.

Motion photo is an option and it records a short video/still/video for an animated few seconds. It is great to record surprised expressions, jumping dogs etc. and does not affect the still image.

It also has voice control – say cheese etc., uses the volume key as a shutter button, and quick launch via a dual press of the power key etc.

What about the pictures?

I took over 300 shots ranging from outside in the early morning to late evening and inside in good to no/low light. All were set to idiot mode – full auto everything. Many were “reference” shots I use to compare different smartphone cameras as well. I compare these on a calibrated monitor to see consistent results.

In brief, the camera was better than all tested to date under all circumstances and was visibly better than the Google Pixel XL and Samsung S7 Edge. Shots were sharp, the lens and big pixels extracted as much light as possible, OIS worked a treat, colour/white balance was excellent, and detail was enormous.

I don’t mean to take away from LG, Huawei, Google et al — all have very competent smartphone cameras — but this is the best all-rounder I have used and Samsung regains its title as camera king until something better comes along.

Panorama: great and will do 360° shots as well.

Selfie: 8MP, variable autofocus, HDR, OIS, f/1.7 aperture, panorama mode, screen fill flash and a range of slogans, captions, filters, and funny masks to overlay on a face. It also has settings for food, skin tone, slim face, spotlight, large eyes, and shape correction (to stop the egg head effect – I want a double chin remover!). Again, these are all done in software and post processing.

 S8 selfies

Camera summary: The best camera to date with an amazing array of options and a comprehensive Pro mode as well.

Battery

The S8+ 3500mAh battery has a theoretical endurance rating of 88 hours and that relates to a full two-day use between charges. Using the always-on display drops that rating by about 20% per day.

Video loop – a 1080p, 16:9 movie at 50% screen brightness lasted just over 15 hours. I have not had time to conduct more test scenarios – it is as good as the S7 Edge.

Samsung uses adaptive fast charging that is allegedly kinder to the battery. It filled from zero to 100% in 90 minutes. Samsung’s Wireless PMA charging took 120 minutes and standard Qi charging about 180 minutes. A standard 5V/2A charger takes about two hours.

Performance

It appears that the two processors — Samsung’s 10nm Exynos 8895 and the 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 — are pretty much neck and neck in performance and the Exynos is ahead in battery management primarily because four of its eight cores are clocked lower than the 835. Exynos uses a Mali-G71 MP20 GPU and the 835 uses an Adreno 540 – pretty similar results.

Samsung claims 27% more performance and 40% less power consumption than the S7. It uses a big.LITTLE architecture with two clusters comprising four cores each.

According to a performance check by Phone Arena, “On paper, those two chips sure sound pretty similar. The details may differ, but they're both trying to do largely the same things, and are crafted with some very similar-looking technologies".

I suspect the next few firmware updates will see any gaps narrow and there will be an amply detailed analysis of both systems-on-a-chip.

What we do know is that on Geekbench 4 (multi-core) the GS8+ Exynos scored 6338, the Huawei Mate 9, 6112 and the GS8 Qualcomm 835 scored 6106. For comparison, Apple iPhone 7 Plus is 5664.

Mobile gaming and VR should be excellent, given the raw performance of the processor.

How does it sound?

S8 AKG

The GS8 has a single earpiece speaker and a down-firing bottom speaker – this set-up is fine for hands-free use, but nowhere near the oomph required for great VR and movies. It is capable of around 70dB voice and 80 dB ringing — adequate, not great — compared to the Mate 9 at around 83/85dB.

The 32-bit PCM and DSD64/128 music feeds are clean to Bluetooth and an AV Amp. Samsung has a SoundAlive tool – a 9-band equaliser and Adapt Sound to tune the headphones to your ears (this is becoming a regular feature on newer flagships).

But the AKG buds are most impressive and I don’t know how they do it using a 3.5mm audio jack instead of USB-C and a DAC. Inside each is a woofer and tweeter for some of the best sound I have ever heard from supplied buds.

Bixby – a digital assistant in the making

S8 Bixby

Bixby is currently more about marketing hype than reality. It is the beginnings of a useful personal assistant, perhaps more so that Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant if only that Samsung want it to be better and it is part of Samsung’s vision and ecosystem for the future.

I used Bixby’s camera interface to identify things like trees, flowers, wine bottles and car varieties – it is still very early days and to its credit, it did try to present reasonably close results. For example, it knew that a car was a Toyota Corolla, but the magnificent autumn deciduous trees in Canberra (maple) had it trying to match colours rather than identify the tree type.

Bixby shows much promise and I am tuning its home screen, but it is too early to report on it. Voice activation is still a couple of months away.

iTWire has an overview of Bixby here

DeX – desktop experience

The media have not been provided with a DeX dock yet – and while the concept is more than marketing hype, I have not explored it in detail yet.

SS S8 Dex

DeX ($199) allows connection of an external keyboard, mouse, and monitor and provides a 16:9 desktop workspace powered by the phone. It claims to support any app that has been optimised for DeX and at present, these include many Microsoft (Office 365), Google and Adobe apps and the list is growing as developers only need to make minor changes to offer a desktop 16:9 experience.

What I did test was a Logitech Bluetooth keyboard and trackpad and Wi-Di (Miracast) to a 16:9, 1080 monitor and I got a full landscape screen that reflected whatever I did on the phone screen – open and type in Word, Excel etc. Not all apps are DeX-enabled and some may require subscriptions e.g. Office 365.

This functionality has been in Galaxy and other Android phones for a while, but this one appears to have the horsepower to provide a seamless desktop like experience.

Phone

Apart from phone voice and call quality — which is a given — the GS8/+ has LTE Cat 16 with a 1 gigabit per second capability. It achieves this by using up to four discrete LTE connections and four/five carrier aggregations via 4 x 4 MU-MIMO antennas.

As usual, the carriers cannot provide this speed. Around Sydney suburbs, I got the typical 233/50Mbps. Outside Telstra HQ in George Street I briefly got 350/60Mbps.

On a Wi-Fi test with a D-Link DIR-895L router (tri-band AC), I got speeds from a low of 368 to 656Mbps – much higher than any other smartphone tested to date, including the GS7 Edge that regularly achieved from 200-300Mbps.

LTE Cat 16 bands include 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 20, 28, 29, 30 38, 39, 40, 41 and there may be up to 20, according to Qualcomm x16 specification.

The second SIMM slot appears to access 3G only. It is shared with a microSD card.

Specifications – Australian Model SM-G955F

  • Screen: 6.2”, 2960 x 1440, 529ppi, 84% screen to body ratio, 18.5:9 format, Super AMOLED (S8 is 5.8”) covered in Gorilla Glass 5 and special non-reflective and fingerprint resistant coating; red status LED, Always on Display; onscreen wake-up sensor (home key style) on-screen and back and recent apps buttons.
  • Processor: 10nm, 64-bit, Samsung Exynos 8895, eight core 4x2.3 GHz & 4x1.7 GHz; Mali-G71 MP20.
  • RAM/Storage: 4GB LPDDR4/64GB UFS 2.1/microSD to 256GB (uses second SIMM slot), OTG and 2TB external device support.
  • Rear Camera: 12 MP, 1/2.5" sensor size, 1.4 µm pixel size; f/1.7, 26mm; dual pixel phase detection auto-focus; OIS/EIS; auto HRD10 and auto LED flash; pixel/image stacking; 2160p @30fps record. The sensor has been updated to IMX333 with the same specs as the S7 IMX260.
  • Selfie: 8 MP, f/1.7, autofocus, 1440p@30fps, Auto HDR, OIS – great for selfie-stick use.
  • Comms: Wi-Fi AC, dual band, 2 x 2 MU-MIMO, VHT80/1024 QAM; Bluetooth 5.0 LE (A2DP, aptX up to 2Mbps); NFC; GPS.
  • Security: Fingerprint, iris, face recognition, pin and pattern locks plus Samsung Pay and web sign in security access.
  • Battery: 3500mAh (3000 for S8), 88-hour endurance rating, USB-C 3.1 (10Mbps) adaptive charge 5V/2A and 9V/1.67A and will charge from standard USB chargers. Wireless Qi and PMA fast charging.
  • Audio: 3.5mm socket, AKG premium buds and mic (value US$99) with 11mm woofer and 8mm tweeter, single down firing speaker in the base and front firing earpiece speaker; 32-bit PCM and DSD64/128.
  • LTE Cat 16 (1Gbps/150Mbps) bands include: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 20, 28, 29, 30 38, 39, 40, 41.
  • Other: Samsung Pay NFC and MST, Samsung Pass (Web sign-in), DeX, Bixby (with dedicated activation left side button); Samsung Health and heart rate and blood oxygen sensors (below the flash).
  • Colours: Midnight black, Orchid Grey, and Maple Gold.
  • IP: IP 68 and Gorilla Glass 5 shoulder height drop.
  • Dimensions/Weight: The 5.8” GS8 is 148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm x 155g and the 6.2” GS8+ is 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm x 173g.
  • Android: Nougat 7.0 with upgrade to 8.x this year, Samsung UX as first seen on the Note 7 Grace UX.
  • Warranty: standard 1 year.
  • Australian website: http://www.samsung.com/au/smartphones/galaxy-s8/
  • Price: S8 is $1199 and S8+ is $1349 with 4/64GB storage.
  • Availability: pre-orders now and retail availability 28 April.

What’s wrong with it?

No FM radio, does not make coffee (and if you are awake at this point of the review you may need one), a tad expensive, rear glass fingerprint magnet, non-removable battery, no optional cigarette lighter, or stylus... mmm let me think!

The Korea Herald reported some users experienced light red tints on the screen. All I can say is that the test unit it is perfect. If you buy one, spend a few moments before taking delivery to check (boot up). If it has this issue check Settings > Display > Screen Mode > Colour balance – if that does not work Samsung will exchange the phone.

What’s right with it?

The consensus from journalists and reviewers alike is Samsung has done an excellent job while staying with the traditional glass slab design – it is a wow design. Once Bixby and DeX get an airing, I will have more to say.

Conclusion

Samsung, you have done it again and produced a galactic overachiever. As a 2017 flagship, its easily 10 out of 10 in meeting or beating every paradigm that iTWire uses to review and assess smartphones and you have added in Bixby and DeX as potential game changers. Putting the GS7 Edge beside the GS8+, the S7 looks so old fashioned.

Top five Pros:

  • Outstanding camera – bar none.
  • Outstanding super AMOLED infinity screen (size and quality) – bar none.
  • Cat 16 LTE and the highest Wi-Fi speeds ever recorded.
  • Great battery life, wireless and fast charge.
  • Everything works flawlessly and IP68/Gorilla Glass 5 tops it off.

If iTWire readers would like any more aspects of the phone investigated, please ask in the comments below.

S8 ecosystem

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

 

 

 

 

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