Samsung Galaxy S8 hands-on review: After near enough a year’s worth of speculation, rumours and leaks, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is finally a reality and what a beautiful one it is at that. Here’s our hands-on review following our initial encounter with the phone preceding its London launch.
Whilst the principles underpinning the S8 are similar to those of the S7 the cumulative effect is something a little different and unquestionably more beautiful. The lines of the phone aren’t that dissimilar from the Galaxy Note 7, with a rounded metal frame set between curved glass on the front and back giving it a pleasing symmetry.
Despite the absence of the ‘Edge’ name on the S8 and its bigger brother the S8+, both phones actually sport a similar ‘infinity display’ that bends around the front on either side. In the case of the S8, the screen is notably larger than the S7 Edge’s at 5.8-inches but without making the phone feel significantly wider or bigger overall.
The new 18.5:9 aspect ratio (designed to more closely emulate the native aspect ratio used in film) gives the phone an elegantly tall and thin appearance when held in portrait, whilst the rounded corners of the display echo the rounded elements of the body. Much like LG’s G6, the screen also pushes to the fringes of the phone’s front, making for a near bezel-free appearance that media junkies will love.
By extending the screen Samsung’s also ditched the physical home button and backlit capacitive buttons found on every one of the S8’s predecessors. Instead you’re presented with on-screen navigation keys closer to those found on stock Android, however, the central home button is pressure sensitive, letting you press on the screen to navigate back home and receive haptic feedback in the process, even when the icon isn’t visible – not unlike the Press Touch technology that debuted on Huawei’s Mate S back in 2015.
Losing the home button has also meant shifting the fingerprint sensor. Despite rumours of one being set into the cover glass, it now resides on the phone’s back instead, set to the right of the new, flush camera arrangement. It’s arguably in a better position from a comfort perspective anyway, following suit to the likes of the Huawei Mate 9 and Google’s Pixel phones.
Above the display, you’ll find a new 8-megapixel front-facing camera boasting autofocus, face detection and like the 5-megapixel snapper used by its predecessor and a pleasingly wide f/1.7 aperture. Alongside it sits a new iris scanner, which on first impressions appears even snappier and more reliable than the one featured on the ill-fated Note 7.
Aside from removing the protrusion, the camera hardware on the phone’s back seems almost identical to last year’s flagships, with a single 12-megapixel sensor also packing an f/1.7 aperture along with OIS and dual pixel focus technology. The biggest difference appears to be more software driven, with a new interface designed to work more elegantly with one-handed use and a capture technique that takes three images when you press the shutter, combining them to minimise noise and retain the most detail.
The body of the S8 is, like its predecessor, is IP68 certified, boasts a 3000mAh battery and the company’s own fast-charging technology, as well as wireless and fast wireless charging. In fact, the only real difference on the power front is that this is the first ‘S’ flagship to ditch microUSB and upgrade to a newer reversible USB-C connection. Despite the change, the optional updated Gear VR virtual reality headset, available alongside the S8, will still be backwards compatible with both S7 and S6 series phones too.
The screen is a fundamental part of what makes Samsung’s flagships so beautiful and although it might be a little early to call it, the offerings from both the S8 and the S8+ could make it the phone display of the year. The Quad HD+ (2960×1440) resolution fills that new aspect ratio display with pixels, ensuring a near seamless image, whilst Sammy’s talents with Super AMOLED panels allows for incredibly vivid imagery, excellent contrast and superb overall brightness.
What’s more both S8 phones are the first to have been awarded Mobile HDR Premium certification from the UHD Alliance, a move that will no doubt help this phone give the LG G6 a run for its money with its HDR 10 and Dolby Vision-compliant display.
As well as being better suited to movies, Samsung also wanted to point out that the taller display also allows for more screen real estate when multitasking – 14 per cent more space to be exact, or an additional 400 pixels.
What you’ll actually be looking at when you fire up the S8 is a revised version of Samsung’s own TouchWiz interface running atop Android 7.0 Nougat. The most notable aesthetic change is a shift in icon design, but beyond that, it feels relatively similar to the Android 7.0 experience found on last year’s S7 and S7 Edge. At least it would if not for Bixby.
The S8 also possesses a new virtual assistant, accessible from multiple points throughout the phone’s interface, but also by way of a physical hardware button on the left side of the phone’s frame. Bixby doesn’t actually replace the Google Assistant, which is still present on the S8, but it boasts some unique functionality.
There’s a Bixby screen a swipe right from your main home screen collating news, weather and calendar information, but like Google’s Assistant you’ll be able to ask it threaded questions and it is context aware – able to read on-screen content and offer up actions relating to it.
Bixby Vision is an extension of the new assistant that lets users scan objects, landmarks or brands to find out more about them, find out information on a particular area or even jump into a purchase environment.
Sammy’s new assistant will also interface with Samsung Connect, the phone’s hub for all things IoT, serving as a one-stop destination to control everything from your fridge and you vacuum to your lights. Right now Connect works with SmartThings, Nest and Philips Hue, but greater compatibility is in the works.
To power all of this, both S8 phones are running (in the UK at least) on Samsung’s newest Exynos chipset – an octa-core offering backed up by 4GB of RAM that we’re hoping will punch above the likes of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 SoC and be able to go toe to toe with the new Snapdragon 835 powering the next wave of rival Android flagships. Storage meanwhile has thankfully been doubled over last year’s top Sammy, with the base capacity now clocking in at 64GB accompanied by microSD expandability up to 256GB on top.
So that is the Samsung Galaxy S8, confirmed, here and on its way to market. Beyond the fringes of its own hardware, the S8 will be able to interface with the new Samsung DeX dock, which lets you switch to a desktop environment with windowed multitasking and ethernet support as well as a revised version of the company’s Hear 360 camera with a greater emphasis on live-streaming functionality, as well as the aforementioned Gear VR, which also interfaces with a new touch-based motion controller.
Samsung Galaxy S8 pricing and availability
We’re yet to hear just how much the Samsung Galaxy S8 will be SIM-free when it touches down in the UK in one of its three launch colours (arctic silver, midnight black and orchid grey) or when exactly that will be, but once we know, you’ll know.
Read next: Samsung Galaxy S8+ hands-on review
Head to O2’s Galaxy S8 webpage to check out the tariffs and pre-order Samsung’s phone. All pre-order customers should receive the handset eight days before it goes on general sale, while O2 is also offering benefits such as a free JBL speaker worth £120.