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Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: In Depth

5
A new era for Samsung?

The Good

  • Exquisite design
  • Class-leading display
  • Excellent performance

The Bad

  • Divisive software design
  • Duplicate apps
  • Bixby is incomplete at launch

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: The Samsung Galaxy S8 has a lot to prove. It not only has to outclass its predecessor in every conceivable manner but also help Samsung dispel the dark cloud that’s loomed overhead ever since last year's Galaxy Note 7s started exploding.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Design

There’s unquestionably something special about the way the Galaxy S8 looks. It’s tall, narrow footprint stands out against the sea of wider, squatter smartphones currently on the market, made possible by its unorthodox 18.5:9 aspect ratio display.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Front Samsung Galaxy S8: Back

Like its predecessor, you’re presented with a reflective glass front and back with curved edges that meld almost seamlessly into the metal frame around its edge, which in the case of the Midnight Black model, is colour-matched giving the phone an appearance as if hewn from a solid block of jet. Despite retaining the S7’s penchant for fingerprints though, it’s an undeniable masterpiece of smartphone design.

Pushing the screen to the fringes of the phone’s frontage also means that you no longer have Samsung’s once signature hardware controls along the bottom so elements like the fingerprint sensor now live in an offset position on the back, skirted by a slight lip making it easier to feel out. It’s perfectly accessible for right-handed users but a little more awkward for lefties. Underneath the camera would have made a little more sense.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Fingerprint sensor

The S8 is also the first ‘S’ phone to integrate reversible USB-C, which sits alongside its single down-facing loudspeaker and a headphone jack, whilst the phone also retains the much-appreciated IP68 dust and water resistance of previous Galaxys.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Screen

By way of Samsung’s engineering wizardry, the S8 is somehow able to sport a 5.8-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED display whilst still being smaller than last year’s S7 Edge. The screen not only wraps around the sides of the phone’s front but also features rounded corners, which paired to its near bezel-free design create what Samsung calls an aptly futuristic-sounding ‘Infinity Display’.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Screen

That distinctive aspect ratio also brings with it a 2960x1440 resolution, ensuring imagery is unquestionably seamless, not to mention bright and vivid with best-in-class viewing angles.

Samsung Galaxy S8: One-handed mode

The now virtual home button sits at the bottom of the display offering pressure-sensitive haptic feedback even when it isn’t visible on-screen and there are a number of useful software tools too, like a blue light filter for low light operation, an invaluable one-handed mode and a revamped take on split-screen multitasking that puts the extra height of the S8’s display to particularly good use.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: OS

Android 7.0 on the Galaxy S8 looks notably different to previous incarnations of the company’s TouchWiz overlay. Samsung seemed pretty proud of the new language found throughout the phone's icons and graphics but the overall aesthetic feels a little contrived and over-designed if you ask us.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Bixby

Samsung also continues to throw its own apps and services in on top of Google’s already competent offerings. The problem has lessened over the years, but it’s still present, with the likes of the browser and notes apps being notable inclusions, as well as Bixby.

It’s arguably the biggest question mark hanging over the S8's software right now, particularly as one of the most fundamental aspects of a digital assistant, voice integration, isn't going to be available in most markets until later this year.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Edge screen

It launches from a dedicated button on the side of the S8, (which you can’t reprogram) and collates news, weather, recommended apps and your schedule all into one place. There’s a vision element which uses your camera to link to information on objects, landmarks and even wine, whilst that missing puzzle piece also sounds like it’ll be the most useful - letting you do anything you can already by touch, with voice.

It’s not all bad though; Game Launcher places handy tools at your fingertips, secure folder lets you lock off select apps and media from prying eyes and Samsung Connect streamlines interactions between the phone and the other connected devices in your life.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Performance

The European S8 is powered by Samsung’s new Exynos 8895 processor and 4GB of RAM. In benchmarking it outperforms the Snapdragon 835 in most instances by a hair but in real-world use you just need to know that it offers a fast and near-seamless user experience; whether you’re gaming, shooting 4K video, multitasking or simply swiping around; that is to say, it feels like a flagship through and through, and will likely serve you well over your average 24-month contract.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Multitasking

On the security front the S8 packs in a ton of tech, with a fingerprint sensor, retina scanner and face detection all at play; although that last option doesn’t perform anywhere near as consistently or as seamlessly as we were led to believe in the demos and press material. Still, its inclusion is yet another skill in the S8’s exhaustive feature set that helps make the overall package that little more appealing.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Perspective shot

Only the most tenacious media hoarders will likely take up issue with the phone’s generous 64GB of base storage, which can be expanded via microSD up to a further 256GB. The 3000mAh battery, meanwhile, doesn’t break any boundaries but still offers up to a day and a half of use and supports fast charging, wireless charging and fast wireless charging, just like its predecessor.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Cameras

A look at the specs and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Samsung hasn’t touched the optics powering the S8’s primary camera since last year, however, rather than rewriting the rulebook, the company has simply refined both the hardware and software on offer making an already spectacular imaging experience better.

It starts with a clean, intuitive new interface similar to the one we originally encountered on 2017’s Galaxy A5. You swipe to change modes, add filters and jump to the front-facer, whilst the shutter button doubles as the zoom slider and you have access to everything from manual control to a dedicated food mode.

Across the board the S8 shoots with more natural colouring and fractionally better exposure control than its predecessor, no doubt helped by the phone’s automated multi-shot capture method, which combines the data of three snaps each time you tap the shutter.

The S8 also shoots in HDR by default and the 8-megapixel front facing snapper packs in more detail and better colour capture than last year’s flagship with a tasteful beauty mode and a Snapchat-style overlay feature out the box.

You can also shoot in a range of video resolutions and frame rates right up to 4K at 30 frames per second, with aggressive but effective image stabilisation at play, not to mention great directional audio recording, nice colour reproduction and solid motion capture.

If you want to know all about the Galaxy S8's camera tech and see how it compares with the mobile shooters on the Galaxy S7, Pixel and iPhone 7, check out our in-depth Galaxy S8 camera review. We've also taken an in-depth look at the different Galaxy S8 camera modes, so you can read all about the bonus features.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review: Verdict

It would seem that the Galaxy S8 not only helps push the troublesome Note 7 further back into memory but also presents Samsung as a company renewed for 2017. Some elements of the phone’s hardware are iterative whilst others break new ground.

Samsung Galaxy S8: Handheld

Its look and feel herald the next generation of smartphone design, its feature-set is arguably the richest and most diverse on the market (we didn't even mention Samsung DeX, the new Gear VR and the new Gear 360 it plays nice with) and yet Samsung hasn’t thrown out what made its last flagships so good, only reworking and refining the great camera experience still on offer from the S7 twins.

At £689 SIM-free and at least £50-a-month on a plan with the lowest upfront cost (£9.99 for a 24-month Vodafone contract from Carphone Warehouse) it’s an unsurprisingly expensive handset. That said there’s something special about the S8, enough so that it perhaps justifies its high price tag more readily than Apple or even LG does with their current top dogs.

Read next: Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ Tips and Tricks

Key Specs

  • 5.8-inches
  • 2960x1440
  • 155 grams
  • Android 7.0 Nougat
  • 12-megapixels
  • 8-megapixels
  • 2.3GHz/1.7GHz octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB. Expandable via microSD up to 256GB
  • Yes
  • Samsung Connect, iris scanner, facial recognition, IP68-certified, Bluetooth 5.0, Bixby virtual assistant, Game Launcher

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