A note to the reader: I originally wrote this review in April 2017; the content herein was migrated from my previous blog site.
This first part of my review aims to answer the question, “Why would someone pick up this product?” The answer? I mean, have you seen this thing? A killer display, top-end specs, a battery that (hopefully) doesn’t blow up…what more could you ask for?
All joking aside, ever since Samsung’s blunder with the Galaxy Note 7, the tech community has been waiting for what might be the next big thing from Samsung. I’m a Samsung fan, at least in theory (less in practice), but as an owner of the original Galaxy (the Vibrant under T-Mobile), the Note 2 AND the Note 4—I’m very familiar with the great products that Samsung brings to the market.
Over the last couple of years, cameras on phones have become, well, full-fledged cameras. The S8+ is no exception to that, although some people would have liked to see Samsung make a bigger update to the camera from the S7 and S7 Edge. But the screen—that is the reason you come to play this game. When I think of a truly hot smart phone design, I don’t usually think “screen.” Sure—screen is important but it’s not the be-all end-all, at least not before the S8 and S8+ were released. The screen on this phone IS the design…and it’s executed magnificently.
Upon release, there are a couple of different buyers of this phone. The first is the tech junkie…and that’s where I fall in. The latest, the greatest, the hottest—you gotta have it, and you are willing to pay for it. Then there’s the other folks; the ones who happened to be ready for an upgrade at the time the pre-orders started. Best I can tell, both buyers will love the device.
Still, there are a couple of really big factors in picking up a phone like this. You buy this phone because you must have a top-notch camera in your phone. 4K video, sharp rear-facing shots, a really great (if you’re into that sort of thing) selfie camera…even though the improvements over the S7 line seems nominal, there are upgrades here. It IS a new camera, and it delivers.
You also buy this phone because you’re in bed with Google, or Samsung (this coming from someone who is in bed with Apple). I use all the Apple suite of products, pay for their cloud storage, buy their phones and laptops (to the dismay of my bank account balances)…so I recognize the value in living within an ecosystem. If everything you do is already in the Google cloud, and ecosystem is important to you, you’re much more likely to stick with an Android phone. And all those things, no matter how basic (email, photo storage, etc.), are handled without any hesitation from the S8+.
And like I said before—you’re buying this thing for the screen. It’s not just about having a super-bright, super-efficient AMOLED display; it’s about having a freaking ginormous display in the body of something that across the industry will have a much smaller display on average. Samsung’s Infinity display with “bezel-less” sides and very little chin and forehead makes for an exceptionally brilliant screen, albeit one with a bit of a weird aspect ratio. But, I’m ok with it.
You also buy this if you don’t want to wait for the next iPhone in September…because that’s a long way away.
Nothing on this phone should be bad—so build quality, camera, processor, memory, storage, setup, boot time—all are delivered exactly as expected with what is (at least today) among the top 3 best smart phones in the world.
We’ll start with the screen. Initially, an edgeless display is a bit of a weird experience. I think I’ll adjust over time, but a combination of the weird tall aspect ratio and the curved display makes for a very different phone experience. The curved display does wonders for handling the device, allowing it to be a bit thinner and easier to hold with one hand. From an experience perspective, where the display bends away from your vision there is a bit of a glare line that makes sense but is a bit on the annoying side. Overall, it’s a very good display—clear, bright, HUGE—but it also takes a little bit of an adjustment if you’re used to a more traditional phone design.
The battery on the S8+ is a 3000mAh battery, which is just fine, but seemingly nothing exceptional. As most other reviewers are saying, I guess it makes sense that Samsung is going to play it safe here. But they didn’t have to. For me personally, I typically plug in phones while I drive, which is enough to keep me from having to charge more than once every couple of days. And the battery on my current phone (iPhone 7+) is stellar, getting me almost 2 days of charge if I need it—and 24 hours without issue. With the S8+, In the first week, I’ve gone stretches of 36 and 48+ hours on a single charge…so in spite of the seemingly small battery, Samsung’s power consumption management in addition to the low-draw display and processor make this a solid performer from a battery perspective.
Let’s talk about some of the not so great features:
The speaker on the S8+ is not great. A flagship phone should have better sound output. Again, it’s understandable, since the screen takes up so much freakin’ space…but when you’re with friends and you have to show them that new movie preview they haven’t seen yet, you need some good-performing audio. Samsung doesn’t deliver there with the S8+; that said, the included AKG earbuds included with the phone are really solid earbuds and could easily replace my go-to pair. Maybe those make up for a bad speaker, maybe they don’t.
The Bixby button. C’mon Samsung….what are you guys thinking there? I’m an Apple user, who doesn’t use Siri (unless I’m in the car), and even I think you should just go with Google on the digital assistant. All the work is already done for you. I’m not even that upset about not being able to remap the button, but at least let us disable it so we don’t accidentally press it. It is worth mentioning that pushing the Bixby button a second time exits the app, so that’s a nice plus.
I also want to talk about ports…this is imPORTant (see what I did there?). Samsung releases this top-spec phone in 2017 with a USB-C port. That’s great. But what kind of cable do they include with the phone? A USB-C to USB-A cable! REALLY? What’s nice is, they give you adapters right in the box—but why not include the cable that can support REALLY high-speed data transfer natively, then adapt it DOWN; instead Samsung provides a cable that can’t really do anything more than your old USB cables and an adapter to make it USB-C on both sides (without all the advantages of USB-C). I definitely understand that most people are going to connect their device to a USB-A port, and even the included power brick has a type A port…but Samsung could have really innovated here, like they’ve done in the past, by making everything native USB-C to USB-C and adapt down from that high standard only if required. Computers are now starting to make this a standard port, so why not head that direction now? (Insert statement about “courage” here.)
Also a quick note about buttons and sensors. As far as unlocking the phone is concerned: pattern, pin, facial recognition, iris scanner, fingerprint scanner—these are all great ideas, but not all of them (except for maybe the fingerprint scanner) are executed well. I will say that I tend to disagree with most reviewers that the placement of the fingerprint sensor is not ideal; adjusting to the sensor’s position isn’t too bad. What does take some adjustment is getting the dang thing to unlock when you want it to without having to wait; also, keeping it from unlocking when you don’t want it to, like when you’re walking around in the grocery store and Rebecca Black starts blaring, and you try to look around as if it’s not you. This, like any other phone takes time to adjust—but as an avid iPhone user who is used to a front-facing fingerprint sensor, I’m adjusting to the position of the sensor on the back of this phone and think that I will miss it when using my iPhone.
So, with the few negatives above—there are a tremendous number of positives that very well might outweigh those negatives. If you’re a native “Googler” and you like top-spec phones, are looking for a big-screen device with a great camera, this is a great phone for you.
The design is stellar, but the all-glass finish makes it a bit on the slippery side. Of course, that’s nothing the a case or a skin can’t fix—but a case will inevitably cover up (at least in part) what makes this phone great: the edge-to-edge display. If you’re the kind of person who leaves their phone unprotected, make sure you have the insurance, and add this to your collection. And go to dbrand and get a killer skin (how ‘bout that Black Dragon).
If you currently have a small(er) phone, and want a nice bump in screen real estate without adding too much to the physical size, you should consider the S8 before the S8+; it is $100 less, has the exact same specs (with the exception of battery and screen size), but still will perform just as it’s bigger sibling.
The list is short—but people who should stay away from this device include those native “Applers” who aren’t convinced they need to go to Android (yet). I thought this might be the phone to make me consider switching back to an Android device as a daily driver, but I’m not 100% sure this is the one. And, as with any Android phone, if you don’t want to spend a lot of time tinkering with settings, skip this one and go buy yourself an iPhone (you sheep).
But, if you are thinking you’re going to pick up an S8 or S8+, the time to buy is now. This phone is for all intents and purposes the best mainstream phone you can get right now. Samsung is a year out from the S9, although the Note 8 should be announced in the next handful of months, so if you’d like to get your hands on that maybe you should hold off on the S8.
Admittedly, the preorder was the time to buy, since you got some cool freebies with it (only 6-8 weeks for processing), but there are still deals to be had.
Overall—this is a top-notch phone that will be a good fit for almost any buyer. The camera is great, the screen is stellar. Samsung’s UX is way better than it used to be (although I still think stock Android has the leg up), and the build quality is as good as you can get in a smart phone right now. As much as the aspect ratio of the screen itself is kind of irritating, the physical dimensions of this phone make it much more manageable than you would initially think a phone with over 6 inches of screen would be.
But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows…I’ll admit that a perfect smartphone that appeals to everyone is a bit of a unicorn in the industry, but the items that come off a bit annoying on this phone may be deal breakers for some. I’m still bothered by the choice of included cables and adapters, although I’ll admit that it’s nice of Samsung to include for free what some manufacturers (like one that rhymes with “shmapple”) would make you buy separately.
All in all, it’s hard to go wrong with this phone if it fits into your ecosystem, and your budget.