Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review
Update: You can now read our Galaxy S9 and S9+ review!
Such a tense moment, isn't it? Up until last year, Samsung was experiencing considerable setbacks due to rising competition from lower-cost Chinese phone vendors, and the fact the Galaxy S5 and S6 weren't exactly the most memorable products ever. The company managed to recover with the successful launch of the Galaxy S7 line, only to be hit again later in 2016 by the blunder the Note 7 turned out to be.
Such cataclysms are sometimes enough to knock even big companies down for good, but not Samsung. The tech empire is showing enviable resilience, now being ready to deliver 'the next Galaxy' to your doorstep, and boy is it quite the package! It comes in two sizes: the standard-sized Galaxy S8, and the super-sized Galaxy S8+. The difference in screen and battery size is the only thing that separates the two. And if you've been eyeing the big one, it's your lucky day: welcome to our Samsung Galaxy S8+ review!
Low-cost phone makers like Xiaomi or Meizu managed to narrow the gap a couple of years back, putting pressure on premium device manufacturers like Samsung. In this new environment, it is of paramount importance for the Korean company to step up its game and prove to consumers that its products are worth the extra investment.
Bezel-less done right
This here is a new breed of Android smartphone. Samsung calls it 'infinity phone', due to the super-slim bezels, but there’s more to it than this. It's not only about the thin bezels, or the elegantly curved screen. It's also about the mature and diverse colors, the way it feels in the hand, and the fresh new software experience. All of this, together, makes the Galaxy S8+’s design stand out from the crowd.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 family comes in 5 wonderful colors: Midnight Black (black), Arctic Silver (gray), Coral Blue (blue), Maple Gold (gold), and Orchid Grey (light violet). All variants feature a black front, and honestly, they all look striking. Previous Galaxy S iterations came in some dazzling hues that were interesting to look at, but kind of eccentric. This new 5-color line-up is fresh, yet mature and easy on the eyes – it's surprisingly well selected. Unfortunately, only the black, gray, and orchid colors will be officially available in the US.
The physical buttons (power, volume, and Bixby) don't have legendary level of feel or clickiness, but they seem perfectly serviceable. There's no longer a dedicated home button – it's been replaced by an on-screen one, but you can still use it to wake the phone up, thanks to the pressure sensitive sensor in the home button area beneath the screen. Just press firmly in the bottom center area of the S8+, and you'll feel a slight vibration, followed by the screen lighting up. Unfortunately, the pressure sensitive pad doesn’t seem to serve any useful purpose beyond this.
The Galaxy S8+ is IP68 certified for a strong level of dust- and water-resistance – not only is it beautiful, it's also tough! If we had a giant “APPROVED” stamp, we'd plaster it all over the Galaxy S8 Plus right now.
Undoubtedly a quality AMOLED screen, but do we really need the extra-tall aspect ratio?
For a device this big, obviously the display is of gigantic importance. And hold onto your seats as we tell you that the Samsung Galaxy S8+ comes with a 6.2” panel! However, there's an important note to make here: the new screen has an aspect ratio of 9:18.5. Up until now, phone screens came in the more widespread 9:16 ratio. The Galaxy S8 Plus' 9:18.5 ratio means its screen is taller than usual. Not necessarily much wider, but considerably taller.
How does that change the user experience? Well, it's actually a double-edged sword. This display format allows software developers to show more content on screen, such as additional information, or some kind of contextual app controls, for example. On the other hand, if this screen format isn't used efficiently, it may lead to inconvenient UI, with some important elements ending up in a very hard to reach corner of the screen. It also means most video content will have black bars on the sides, as it's distributed in 16:9 aspect ratio. The same goes for some games and apps out there.
For the most part, though, the extra-tall display doesn't stand in the way, it doesn't make things look bad or inconvenient. But does it really enhance the experience?
If we're looking for some magical way in which this 9:18.5 display is supposed to improve everything, the answer is no. Software still works the same exact way it used to, so between the Galaxy S8+ and, say, the S7 edge, there isn't really that much of a difference in the way you'll be doing or viewing things. With the push to reduce bezels, however, and Samsung's reluctance to just make the phone itself smaller/shorter, something has to fill this newly vacated space, and 'more screen' is the obvious answer. There is one major benefit to this tall screen we can think of, and that's the ability to see more content in applications whose purpose is to show you content. Think the web browser, where you read articles and browse through long web pages, or the Kindle app, where you read books (it'll fit more on each page, meaning fewer page turns), or the calendar, where more events will be visible at a time in agenda view. This is where the main benefit of this screen is found.
Tech-wise, it's a Super AMOLED panel with resolution of 1440 x 2960 pixels. That's more than enough pixels, resulting in 529 ppi (pixels per inch) – incredible pixel density that makes even tiny fonts appear fine. Other than that, this is an AMOLED display not much different from those of previous top Samsung phones: it gets plenty bright when outdoors, as well as very dim when viewed in the dark, which is all great. Viewing angles are still wonky, meaning brightness is retained, but colors quickly shift to colder ones even when viewed at slight angles. To add some context here: IPS LCD screens usually behave in the opposite way, where we observe reduced brightness or contrast, but retained color characteristics at angles.
Once again, the default color mode is ‘Adaptive’, which characterizes with a slightly cold temperature (bluish cast) and unnecessarily oversaturated colors. It feels a bit excessive, which is why we recommend switching to some of the other available modes. Traditionally, we’d suggest using the ‘Basic’ mode, as it happens to be closest to the standard sRGB colorspace, but it doesn’t look good at all on the Galaxy S8 and S8+. In addition to a slightly lacking red, color intensity on Basic is weak across the board, causing the screen to look desaturated and lifeless. Because of that, we recommend using the AMOLED Photo mode, where colors aren’t exactly true to life, but are at least pleasantly vivid, with natural enough balance.