Samsung's Android software rises above the rest

Samsung has, once again!, reworked its take on Android. This time, we're not dealing with major functional shake-ups, but rather a visual rethinking. The operating system that comes pre-installed is Android 7.0, so all the latest Google features will be available, but what makes Samsung phones so enticing for consumers, perhaps equally as strongly as the elegant hardware design, is Samsung's unique software UI, which is now dubbed Samsung Experience (previously, it was called TouchWiz).

The new visual style of the user interface is interesting and unique. The iconography has a simplisic style with clean, yet thoughtful shapes and curves. The new gradient wallpapers with animated ‘stars’ overlay correspond well to this new style, although we can’t say they are exactly attractive. What’s more, these animated wallpapers seem to slow the Galaxy S8 and S8+ down somewhat, which is why we recommend switching to a static image.

Phone, Messaging, Calendar

Now let’s take a look at the essential communication applications. The phonebook is incredibly clean – it contains only two tabs: Recents and Contacts. In what seems like a questionable move, the favorites aren’t found in their own, separate tab, but at the top of the contacts list. What’s probably a bigger insult, however, is the fact that the tabs are close to the upper edge of the screen, which obviously not the optimal placement with such a tall screen. Samsung claims it has tailored its software to the tall screen, but when there are such decisions where the tabs in some of the most used apps like phone and messaging are put at the top, instead of close to the easy-to-reach bottom edge, it makes you realize those efforts haven’t gone too deep.

The screen is big enough, so typing tends to be a comfortable experience with the Samsung Galaxy S8. The portrait keyboard has a clean, yet functional design, with enough space between keys. There is a handy number row above the letters, although we would have liked to see the frequently used ‘comma’ and ‘apostrophe’ keys somehow included in the main layout.

The Samsung calendar app is very likeable. It’s quite modern, with nice, soft colors, a convenient week view, and swift appointment creation.


Promising, but half-baked at launch

Along with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, Samsung is debuting its own virtual butler, Bixby. It’s ultimate goal is to be a successful Google Assistant alternative/replacement by offering similar, or even richer features. While Samsung has promised to make Bixby capable of operating almost every aspect of the phone for the user, by means of voice, currently its expertise is limited to a number of things: vision, reminders, and homescreen info cards. Notice that voice commands aren’t supported by Bixby at launch – this functionality will be rolled out later, perhaps sometime in May. At the moment, voice commands are handled by Google Assistant.

Bixby Vision is best described as a smart, contextual camera, which can detect a number of categories, such as QR codes, images, places, text, and… wine. You can point Bixby’s camera at an item, and if it manages to recognize it correctly, it can offer you a shopping link (mostly from Amazon), and/or an image search (powered by Pinterest). Weirdly, wine has its own separate category, probably because Samsung partnered with Vivino, which is an established wine database service. Using Bixby vision is a hit or miss experience – its object recognition accuracy is decent at this point, but definitely needs more work if it is to be more practical than a simple text search, which is Vision’s ultimate goal. When it gets the objects right, the image search feature (Pinterest pics) works well, but shopping is not very reliable, often returning no or inaccurate results. Products with labels on them, such as a branded box of chocolates, work well, but more generic-looking things, like a black laptop or a phone, for example, seem to be almost impossible to recognize.

The leftmost homescreen page on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus is, for some reason, called ‘Hello Bixby’, instead of just ‘Bixby’. It’s an HTC BlinkFeed slash Google Now kind of screen, which aggregates a bunch of organization and lifestyle features, such as alarms, next calendar appointments, reminders, latest news, weather forecast, frequently visited webpages, and more. It’s nice and fits the overall concept of a virtual assistant; it acts like a summary of your day.

Bixby is a promising Samsung feature, and even though it’s still in its infancy and doesn’t offer anything that isn’t already available on rival platforms, it’s something Samsung should definitely keep developing, because it’ll soon prove to be a valuable competitive asset.

Privacy and Security

This has to be the most versatile phone when it comes to security features! With no ultimate locking method, Samsung has simply chosen to include everything and let the user decide what to use. We're talking a rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, iris scanner, and face detection. While all three can surely be reliable device-securing features, neither is particularly well implemented in the Galaxy S8.

  • Fingerprint scanner: With not enough physical space left on the bottom bezel, Samsung was forced to move the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone. The exact positioning is controversial: it's placed right next to the camera lens. Having all the stuff neatly lined up there sure looks nice and clean, but it's just not comfortable. Reaching the sensor requires quite a bit of stretch, and depending on which hand you hold the phone with, your experience may range from inconvenient to frustrating. The fingerprint sensor itself is good enough, but its positioning may ultimately make you opt for one of the other unlock methods available.

  • Iris scanner: The iris scanner that made its debut on the Note 7 is back, and it suffers from the same issues as before, including failed attempts, long scanning times, and limited optimal position/distance for a successful reading. It's said to be the most secure method of them all, but it just isn't practical enough for everyday use.

  • Face recognition: This is the newcomer here. Facial recognition is a way simpler method than iris recognition – it doesn't involve a special IR cameras, lights, etc. It simply uses the front (aka selfie) snapper of the phone, and the rest is software. Facial recognition is much faster than the iris scanner, but it's also not as secure. In fact, we managed to successfully fool it using a picture of the user's Facebook profile. It's not super easy to fool it, but it's absolutely possible. We'd say this unlocking method is just fine for everyday usage, as long as you don't keep any super-private and super-sensitive info on your device. Plus, if you do have such info, but for some reason want to stick with facial recognition, you can always put that info in the special Secure Folder, where it'll be hidden behind a second, tougher layer of protection.

Performance and Memory

Top hardware components, but not quite top performance

In terms of the chipset moving things inside, there are once again two main variants with Samsung’s new flagships. In the US, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, while in most other markets, it’s Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 chipset doing the computing. Both system-on-chips are extremely powerful and built on the state-of-the-art 10nm process, the main benefit of which is higher power efficiency. The Snapdragon 835 sports an octa-core CPU, running at up to 2450 MHz, and is complemented by the Adreno 540 GPU. Meanwhile, the Exynos 8895 comes with an octa-core CPU of up to 2.5 GHz, and the Mali-G71 MP20 GPU. The in-depth testing for this review has been done with the Exynos version of the phone, but performance and power efficiency are expected to be on par between both variants.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are generally very quick – no significant hiccups with regards to performance are observed. As mentioned earlier, there’s a bit of lag introduced by the default animated wallpapers, but once those are swapped for a static image, things tend to move in an instantaneous manner. The system also doesn’t seem to suffer from any temperature-related or stability issues. However, some heavier games may not run completely fluidly, even at the default FHD+ resolution. To be more precise: 3D gaming is perfectly possible and most titles are playable, but the frames per second in some of the more intensive ones (NOVA, Heroes of Order and Chaos, Asphalt Xtreme) just don’t reach the comfortable 60 fps, which is a shame. Turning the screen resolution down to the HD+ (1480 x 720px) setting doesn’t seem to improve things much. Simpler games, like town builders and the like, would naturally run with no such issues.

Samsung is being pretty generous with the storage space, as all Galaxy S8 and S8+ models come with 64 GB of internal memory, which is A LOT of space. But even if you happen to be a 4K video maniac, there isn’t much cause for concern, as the microSD card slot on board makes for an easy expansion.

AnTuTu Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 166646.66
Samsung Galaxy S7 136695
Apple iPhone 7 168795
LG G6 157208
Vellamo Metal Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 3074
Samsung Galaxy S7 3632
LG G6 3632.33
Vellamo Browser Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 6759
Samsung Galaxy S7 5339
LG G6 4733.33
JetStream Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 55.503
Samsung Galaxy S7 62.049
Apple iPhone 7 144.71
LG G6 57.368
GFXBench T-Rex HD on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 60
Samsung Galaxy S7 53
Apple iPhone 7 57.3
LG G6 50
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 41
Samsung Galaxy S7 29
Apple iPhone 7 59.1
LG G6 14
Basemark OS II Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 3201.66
Samsung Galaxy S7 1943
Apple iPhone 7 3355
LG G6 2122
Geekbench 4 single-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 2008.33
Samsung Galaxy S7 1840
Apple iPhone 7 3464
LG G6 1797
Geekbench 4 multi-core Higher is better
Samsung Galaxy S8 6575
Samsung Galaxy S7 5462
Apple iPhone 7 5605
LG G6 4285

Internet and connectivity

Samsung's own Internet browser is a real alternative to Chrome

Samsung continues to develop its own Internet browser, which seems like a good idea. It offers a solid alternative to Chrome, probably the best alternative out there. It’s very fast and fluid, and gets some essential things better, like scrolling velocity or pinch-to-zoom intensity. Unlike in Chrome, most of Samsung Internet’s controls are placed on the bottom, including the Back and Forward keys, as well as the Tabs button. Working with tabs is slightly clunky, because there’s a relatively slow animation between pressing the Tabs button and the actual appearance of the tabs, but this is a very minor issue.

With an immense number of supported LTE bands, the Galaxy S8 is one well connected handset. Not only that, it’s also future-proof with LTE-A Pro Cat 16 compatibility for theoretical download speeds of up to 1 gigabit/s, and upload of up to 150 megabits/s. There is no cellular network out there that will let you stream data at such speeds, of course, but the radio itself is evidently top notch. All kinds of other communications are also supported, including NFC and MST for easy mobile payments in countries where Samsung Pay is already operational, like US, China, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Singapore, and some others.

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