Is the media misleading you about the Samsung Galaxy S8 display?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is arguably the best smartphone currently available on the marke; it has the one of the best designs of any phone in history; and, it is certainly the best phone Samsung has ever made. That said, there is one thing that has bugged me in the hype of the launch of the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus -- do consumers really understand what they're getting in the display?

The issue is this: Samsung's "Infinity Display" is gorgeous, but most places you might look for information about said display will tell you that the device has a Quad HD display with a resolution of 2960x1440. However, by default the phone is only running at Full HD (2220x1080). This is not a new story. Those of us who follow these things (aka all of you reading this) probably knew about this last month, because the news did come out. The strange thing is how quickly the story faded away until now when all of the reviews have come out for the device and only a few even mention the display resolution.

Samsung hasn't really gone out of its way to mention this either. If you go to the official page for the Samsung Galaxy S8, the main page leads off with a section about the Infinity Display and how amazing it is (and to repeat: it is amazing), but you have to scroll way down and then click through to the specs page before you see the real story:

Samsung isn't exactly trying to hide the information, but it can be hard to know the phone runs at 1080p by default because any other spec site you check will list the device as having a QHD display without the asterisk that Samsung adds in, and few of the reviews mention it. But, the availability of the information is only part of the story, because if you don't know there's something to look for, why would you look in the first place?

The reasons for the resolution change are pretty simple, of course. Samsung is obsessively paranoid about its batteries since the Galaxy Note 7 debacle, and because of that used smaller batteries than you might expect and has taken precautions around the battery life. One of those precautions is to have the default resolution set to 1080p in order to improve performance and battery life. There's really nothing wrong with that reasoning. And, of course Samsung couldn't just replace the panel with a display that maxed out at 1080p because then the Galaxy S8 wouldn't work well enough for VR applications.

This is as premium a device as is possible to buy, but the default settings don't have it running at its highest potential. It feels odd that very few people are mentioning that because customers should have the right to know what they are buying in a top-of-the-line phone. 

Does it actually matter?

Honestly, I don't know. For a long time, I've been on the side of performance over specs. Once smartphones hit the 720p display resolution mark, it's hard to tell the difference with anything higher-res, unless you have them side by side and are actively trying to see those differences. Even today, the 1080p display you'll find on low to mid-tier phones, or the 1344x750 display on the iPhone 7 look great. Samsung is pushing the idea of the Infinity Display, because it sees the value of the Galaxy S8 display in the curved edges, which it sees as minimizing the overall size of the phone while maximizing the size of the display. The resolution doesn't (or maybe shouldn't) matter all that much because most won't notice. 

And, the fact that so many trusted, professional reviewers have chosen not to mention it adds to the feeling that shouldn't matter. The phone is amazing and the display looks great, whatever the resolution may be. If running it at 1080p makes the phone run better and offers better battery life, that's a fine trade-off in my opinion. But, it's a trade-off that customers should understand before they buy the device because it might not be readily understandable once they have the phone in their hands. Samsung has work to do in repairing its reputation and pointing out how careful it is being with the battery is probably a good choice. 

But, beyond Samsung, it just feels strange that no one in the media is mentioning that Samsung's flagship phone with flagship specs isn't running up to its flagship potential either. I know Samsung is fine with it going unnoticed, but it feels like we should at least acknowledge that having a QHD display either matters or it doesn't really mean anything. 

There are plenty of people out there who have consistently made the argument that pushing phone specs has a limit and after a certain point, it doesn't matter anymore. We've seen Apple focus on more vague "performance" stats because it knows that its optimizations more than make up for what could be seen as lesser specs. It's unclear if Samsung has gone that far over in shipping the Galaxy S8 running at 1080p despite its QHD panel, but it comes close and raises the question of whether Samsung is tacitly acknowledging that specs don't matter as much as performance.
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