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Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before

Posted: , by Stephen S.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before

For a large number of smartphone fans, the new year hasn't really started until Samsung throws down with its latest flagship handsets. The Galaxy S models are some of the most popular you'll find, and each spring we eagerly sort through heaps of rumors, leaks, and discussions about what's to be expected from Samsung's latest and greatest. Today all that waiting is over, as Samsung formally welcomes the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ to its lineup.

In order to stay on top of the Android market as Samsung does year after year, you've got to walk a fine line between giving users more of what they're familiar with – what they've responded favorably to in the past – while mixing in the right amount of the new and different, introducing them to new technologies, turning expectations on their head, and maintaining that reputation as a technology leader.

We have spent some time with the new S8 and S8 Plus. Here are our impressions!

Do the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ manage to pull off that balance? Has Samsung risked going too far with “new and different?” We've spent some early hands-on time with both phones in order to get to know them, form some initial opinions, and hopefully get to the bottom of addressing those concerns.

Design


The shape of smartphones is changing, and Samsung's helping to lead the way with the GS8 and GS8+. For years, we've seen manufacturers push further and further towards the idea of bezeless phones – those with expansive screens that do all they can to stretch across the entire surface of a handset's face. Samsung's curved-edge displays have already been a very noteworthy step in that direction, but these new phones go further for Samsung than ever before towards realizing that mission.

A large part of that is the new extra-tall shape of the screens, with aspect ratios that push past the familiar 16:9, and even the 18:9 of the LG G6, to a preposterously tall 18.5:9. The end result is a phone with just bare slivers of non-screen space at the top and bottom.

Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before
Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before
We'll take a closer look at that screen in just a second, but first let's investigate the consequences of this new arrangement. As you've probably seen from countless leaks, Samsung's breaking with tradition with the Galaxy S8 Phones and doing away with its familiar home button. To an extent, it almost feels like an effort of modernization, with so many other phones having long abandoned their physical buttons, but we can't deny it was something that made Galaxy models stand out.

Instead, Samsung's joined the on-screen virtual-Android-button party, but not without throwing one very important bone to users who will miss the home button: some haptic feedback that delivers a satisfyingly clicky response to each tap of that virtual button. It's not quite the same (and how could it be), but like we saw on the iPhone 7, it may be just enough to keep users happy.

As for the bodies of these phones, we're looking at smooth curves, sleek glass back panels, and a design that feels very “Samsung” while still looking fresh. Samsung's not ditching headphone jacks just yet, and like we saw on the Note 7, USB Type-C connectivity makes a return. Another Note 7 holdover is the GS8's iris scanner, letting users unlock the phone with their eyes. And if that's not your thing, the fingerprint scanner hasn't disappeared, but instead been relocated around back.

Comparing the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, it's interesting to see Samsung embrace the idea that the only thing separating these phones should be their size. While last year you were choosing between the flat-screened GS7 or curved-screen GS7 edge, this time it's curved or nothing; all you have to decide is if you want a 5.8-inch or 6.2-inch display.

Color choices are set to include black, orchid gray, silver, blue, and maple gold, though not all markets will have access to all those colors.

Display


Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before

Samsung's calling the super-tall screens on the GS8 family its Infinity Display, and while this isn't quite a bezel-free experience, we very much understand why the name fits. The curved-glass AMOLED panels are unlike anything we've seen on a smartphone before, and the prestige from having a phone that doesn't quite look like anything else out there is bound to drive a few sales.

Both phones share the same 1440 x 2960 resolution, and as we'd only expect from Samsung screens, the image quality is very impressive. We'll have to take these models back to our lab and run a full diagnostic, but we definitely like what we're seeing from these first hands-on interactions.

Probably the biggest challenge with these odd new screens is how to reach all the way across them. Now with the GS8, we have the benefit of a phone that's slightly narrower than the GS7, helping you to stretch from edge to edge. The GS8+, meanwhile, is a bit wider than the GS7 edge. But even if everything there were still equal, we now have much taller screens to contend with. When we're dealing with screen-side elements, like the notification shade, that has the potential to cause trouble, and even with the smaller GS8, we struggled to pull it down one-handed.

Perhaps this is just a case of learning a new way to hold these new and unusual phones, and we'll come around to these new screen shapes in a day or two. At the very least, the jury's still out on this one.

User Experience


Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before

The most interesting thing happening to Samsung's software on the GS8 and GS8+ is the arrival of Bixby, the company's new voice-driven virtual assistant. Samsung's betting so heavily on Bixby that it's even introducing a dedicated hardware button on the edge of these phones, giving users an always-there way to access the service.

You've no doubt already used a smartphone virtual assistant or two, and Bixby is largely cut from the same cloth as its competition: it will perform web searches, help you find products, remind you of upcoming items on your schedule, and the like. But Bixby goes beyond those others with the extent to which it empowers hands-free usage.

Samsung Galaxy S8 new UI
Samsung Galaxy S8 new UI

Samsung Galaxy S8 new UI

Samsung envisions a world where anything you can do with touch, you can do with your voice, and while the demos we saw came in somewhere short of total voice control, there's a lot of groundwork there to help Samsung follow through on that goal.

Bixby also attempts to make the most of your Galaxy experience by recommending actions based on your historic behavior. If it spots you performing the same task on your phone every day around the same time, or when your GPS indicates you're in the same place, Bixby will try to spot that pattern and be at the ready to lend a hand, in advance of you asking for any help.

There's ample potential here, and Samsung sure seems like it's making the right investments in keeping Bixby a priority, but we're very much going to want to spend a lot more time to see what it can (and can't) do.

Looking at hardware for a moment, both phones run the latest 10nm-process chips, are equipped with 4GB of RAM, and offer 64GB storage with the option for microSD expansion.

Camera


Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ hands-on: there's never been smartphones like these before

For all the GS8 and GS8+ are doing new, Samsung's camera upgrades are seriously conservative. Both phones land with the same kind of 12MP f/1.7 Dual Pixel cameras we saw on the GS7. Then again, that worked really last year, so we can't help but think, “why fix what ain't broken?”

That said, other smartphone cameras have come a long way in the past year, and there's a risk that Samsung may be doing itself a disservice by not taking bolder action with new hardware. Our one saving grace may be enhancements to image processing, with speedier operation that Samsung says should improve low-light operation.

While it's old hardware around back, the front-facers get an upgrade to 8MP sensors, while also picking up face-tracking auto-focus.


Battery


More efficient 10nm processors should contribute to battery life

Last year Samsung gave the GS7 and GS7 edge 3,000mAh and 3,500mAh batteries, respectively. Now we've got bigger screens, with half a million more pixels, and … we're still looking at those very same battery capacities for the GS8 and GS8+.

If that concerns you, you're not alone, but it may not be the end of the world for users demanding day-long smartphone operation. Component upgrades, like these new 10nm processors, could deliver power-efficiency boosts that help offset some of what the new screens consume. At least, that's one theory, but this is one aspect of a new phone that's perilously tricky to judge from a quick hands-on. Again, more investigation is warranted.


Expectations


Your feelings about Samsung and its phones notwithstanding, one thing you can't accuse Samsung of with the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is playing it safe. These phones aren't just Samsung's latest, but bold, challenging handsets that seek to change what we ask from our mobile devices.

Every year we show you plenty of concept phones, whether fan renders or tech-demos from various trade shows. With the Galaxy S8 and S8+, it feels like you're actually taking one of those phones-of-the-future home with you.

But for as impressive as the designs of these phones are, and how we can't take our eyes off those expansive Infinity Displays, it takes more than artful sculpting, next-gen fabrication, and one of the biggest brand names in smartphones to make a handset a winner.

Will these screens prove simply too large to comfortably interact with in day-to-day usage? The extra-tall screen on the LG G6 was one thing, but Samsung pushes the envelope even further. Will Samsung regret not arming its flagships with bigger batteries, or doing more to upgrade the cameras? It's questions like these that will ultimately determine just how strongly we can recommend Samsung's latest. Keep an eye out for our full reviews of both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ in the weeks to come; for now, you can whet your appetite for the pair with our image galleries and hands-on videos. Enjoy!






56 Comments
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posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:06 23

1. Spyro (Posts: 192; Member since: 29 Mar 2017)


I gotta say. The design of this phone is pretty slick. A big step up from last year's S7.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:14 6

9. geordie8t1 (Posts: 89; Member since: 16 Nov 2015)


agreed, funny isnt it because personally i thought the S7E was the best looking phone of the year and this has definitely taken it to a new level, the only downside for me personally but not a issue, i wanted the silver one but seeing that the front is black and the back is going to be a separate colour just takes a little away from the sleek design, however i will get the black version S8+ so problem fairly solved :-)

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 12:51 2

29. BearHug (Posts: 6; Member since: 27 Jan 2017)


Your observation is valid. But I think Sammy made the front black on all color variants because of the multiple holes at the top. The holes would look awful on anything but black.

And personally, I think that's a decent trade off.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:40 1

35. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


Naaah, the onscreen buttons and notification area at the top take all the additional screen-estate so it's pretty useless.

Apps will not use the whole screen which defeats of having this resolution.

Then there's +500000 more pixels to drive which will eat your battery and decrease onscreen performance. Especially since OEM's can disable GPU-cores as they see fit.

Naah I'd rather have more fps in games and video than more pixels which i don't see anyway. It seems that Samsung's engineers have forgotten that eyesight deteriorates with age.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:08 4

2. SleeperOne (Posts: 370; Member since: 25 Feb 2017)


This is really beautiful phone, and no I do not own a Samsung Galaxy of any kind (comment section is going to explode any moment).

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:10 6

3. Mreveryphone (Posts: 1159; Member since: 22 Apr 2014)


Gorgeous! Nothing is better than this phone to date...

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:22

11. kiko007 (Posts: 4978; Member since: 17 Feb 2016)


"Nothing is better than this phone to date..."

Performance wise, yes, there are better phones. If you mean aesthetics, it's nice looking no doubt.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 11:59 1

25. Macready (Posts: 1406; Member since: 08 Dec 2014)


"Performance wise, yes, there are better phones"

Impossible to say before a final version has been run through its paces. It's safe to say that the GPU performance will be class leading though.

posted on 30 Mar 2017, 03:15

49. ShaikhJGI (Posts: 217; Member since: 10 Jan 2014)


+1 Agree with both @kiko & @Macready here :)

posted on 01 Apr 2017, 16:44

56. TechieXP1969 (Posts: 13532; Member since: 25 Sep 2013)


Performance-wise? No theer isn't. Only an idiot would compare the speed of a phone that has no features with one that does.

Its just stupid. Enjoy your nice boring iPhone and deal with it.

iPhone in a hurry to crash even with its limitations.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:11 4

4. willywanta (Posts: 406; Member since: 04 Jun 2014)


Alright, my wallet is so ready!

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:42

36. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


Mine is empty. :-(
The last 2 Samsungs ruined my bank-account.

I'm afraid I'm gonna go for that Nokia 3310 this year instead.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:12 1

6. tango_charlie (Posts: 325; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


Phone looks indeed nice, but the battery capacity is definitively a deal breaker. NEXT please!

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:52 2

19. HansP (Posts: 90; Member since: 16 Oct 2011)


My 14 nm processor-based GS7 with a 3,000 mAh battery often lasts two days on a charge. This isn't a Chinese-brand phone full of bloat and preloaded spyware, draining your battery.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 11:39 1

24. trojan_horse (Posts: 3927; Member since: 06 May 2016)


And the S7 edge can make 3 days on a single charge with moderate use.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:45

37. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


My Chinese-brand phone doesn't have any bloat or spyware. The few apps it had were standard fare like twitter and a few games which I could remove.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:14

8. ishaqthkr (Posts: 56; Member since: 26 Mar 2015)


Man, i will end up dropping the phone while learning a new way to hold it.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:50

38. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


Yeah, that's the s**t with these glass sandwiched phones. You REALLY need a TPU-case because

1) they're as slippery as wet soap
2) smudges like crazy
3) scratches
4) fragile as hell (despite the back also being made with Gorilla glass).

First thing I did was to buy a leather pouch AND a TPU-case. You might think I'm nuts but I carry my phone inside tpu-case and inside the pouch.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:15 2

10. Bankz (Posts: 1338; Member since: 08 Apr 2016)


The design while good, is sorta meh tbh

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:55

20. HansP (Posts: 90; Member since: 16 Oct 2011)


Yup, we've all seen it before, haven't we?
In our wildest imaginations!

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:50

39. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


Indeed, last month: LG G6 :-)

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:24

12. Mikele (Posts: 53; Member since: 19 Nov 2013)


Sammy sets to rediscovered their strengths!! More cash at hand but with reasonable prices for the S8 and S8+ has been expected for more profits

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:29

13. pmsap (Posts: 100; Member since: 26 May 2015)


No camera improvement?! Wow!! That's shocking!! Battery let's wait to see. S8 is definitely a project phone. Note8/S9 will have to be a more polished version.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:33

14. nebula (Posts: 833; Member since: 20 Feb 2015)


"phones like this almost shouldn't exist " That line cracked me up. First video 3:27. You are one one lucky man that live on the planet earth :)

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:54

40. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


Unfortunately it also had a price hike. So again it'll be less affordable than the previous model which already was more expensive then the one before.

No wonder they have this additional dock. As people can't afford a normal PC at home anymore. Which is a trend that I personally don't like. I still prefer a big screen/high performance PC at my desk than a fragile one in my pocket.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:34

15. Moose (Posts: 389; Member since: 05 Jan 2015)


Nice looking phones but I certainly wouldn't want the bigger one, disproportionately long and narrow from a looks point of view. Maybe OK functionally but I don't really need a 5.8 inch display anyway.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 18:55

41. epdm2be (Posts: 607; Member since: 20 Apr 2012)


The biggest problem I see is the decrease in battery and increase in screen-resolution and the awkward position of that fingerprint-scanner. As if they want to enforce their "iris scanner".

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:38 1

16. Atrixboyyy (Posts: 393; Member since: 03 Nov 2011)


beautiful device.. battery needs to prove itself before i go pick one up.

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 12:59

30. King_bilo (Posts: 114; Member since: 20 May 2015)


my thougts exactly. Lets wait for the battery and if it can do a day with heavy during daytime, i'm in

posted on 29 Mar 2017, 10:46

18. Einstein333 (Posts: 72; Member since: 22 May 2012)


No dual camera?? too bad! A second longer tele lens would be very helpful. I expect more than this from a flagship device!

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