SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 REVIEW

Introduction

What was once an impossible fantasy – a sketch in someone’s book, a render of an ambitious concept – is now a reality. These are just some thoughts that come to mind holding the Galaxy S8+, the big and bold next step Samsung took.

And yet, such is the progress the smartphone industry has been making that the Galaxy S8+, with its exquisite, elongated shape and borderless display, was the logical way forward rather than a result of a vain experiment.

Bigger is better, the old mantra goes, but is it really that simple? How deep does the average pocket go and how far does the average thumb stretch? And, most importantly, how tall is tall enough? Samsung were after more screen in less body and that is far from the only argument in favor of the new 18.5:9 aspect ratio, nor is Samsung alone in its endeavor.

The LG G6 is already a reality, with its 18:9 display and Google itself is on board as well, more than encouraging the widescreen experiments. Yet, it will be some time before media content catches on so the S8 pair do come with some early-adopter hurdles. But, if the widescreen mobile experience is truly the way of the future, there is hardly a better way to start the journey than the 6.2″ Galaxy S8+.

Display

When it comes to AMOLED technology, Samsung has pretty much been the industry leader for quite a few years now. Top notch displays have been gracing the company’s flagships for generations and the new Galaxy S8 pair does live up to that reputation.

The industry is shifting to new ultra-wide screens but the transition will inevitably take some time.

Apps and games are one thing, Android can scale those so no big deal. Media content, on the other hand, will either take years to adapt to the new format or won’t do it at all. Either way prepare to see a lot of black bars around your videos or photos or live with some stretching or cropping.

It’s not all bad – the new format is better for watching movies and their trailers as they come in the even wider 21:9 format. Netflix is making a push in that direction as well. And even viewing older sources, living with letterboxing isn’t really all that bad, since, at the end of the day you are still getting more usable space than on the Galaxy S7 edge. The only real difference being that bezels can’t magically turn into extra screen real estate when needed, while the S8 and S8+ effectively offer an alternative that can.

Speaking of streaming services and new content standards, HDR is quickly becoming the buzzword. We get it, if we are really going through with this wide aspect revolution, then we might as well get all the extra colors and contrast along with that. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ support the HDR10 standard, but not Dolby Vision, which the LG G6 has.

However, the HDR situation is currently a bit more complicated than that. Samsung’s new Infinity Display panel holds the UHD Alliance’s “Mobile HDR Premium” certification – it is the first smartphone display to get it. It got there through a combination of 113% coverage of DCI-P3 and 142% of the sRGB color spaces, impressive levels of brightness and contrast ratios DisplayMate recently gave the S8 panel its highest ever “A+” rating, so it should be perfectly well prepared for HDR, regardless of formal certification.

Netflix seems to hold most promise, as a provider of next-gen content at the moment. However, neither the S8+ nor the G6 can currently get to HDR sources through the service. From what we can gather, Netflix currently offers HDR only as part of its UHD package. That requires a 4K or UHD device to view. Since the S8 and S8+ have a resolution of 2960 x 1440 or QHD+, they don’t meet current criteria.

Amazon has promised to adjust its system to accommodate the Galaxy S8 pair and the G6 soon, so they can benefit from the HDR part of the higher-res sources. This is what we meant when we mentioned early-adopter hurdles.

Battery

Size aside, few things actually set the Galaxy S8 and S8+ apart. In fact, the battery is the only other major difference. The Galaxy S8+ packs a non-removable 3,500mAh battery, a good 500mAh more than the regular S8. Since the Note7 misfortune, Samsung has delivered plenty of evidence that it has boosted quality control to make sure the issue never repeats itself.

The Galaxy S8+ managed a solid 88 hours in our regular battery test routine. Overall, this falls in line with what we expected, considering the endurance of last year’s S7 edge and the S8+ hardware differences. The new screen has both a larger surface area and more pixels than the predecessor and the S8+ still managed to last over an hour more than the S7 edge in Wi-Fi browsing and 45 minutes during video playback.

To be fair, our test clip is in 16:9, so the rest of the phone’s pixels were essentially off during our runs. A lot of this improvement could be attributed to polished software. However, we can’t fail to acknowledge the new and efficient 10nm manufacturing process in both the Exynos 8895 and Snapdragon 835 chips.

On the other hand, 3G talk time and standby are both a bit lower compared to the S7 edge. The latter could partly be explained with the extra load of Bixby running in the background.

All of the posted results were achieved through testing at the phone’s native QHD+ resolution. Battery percentage data was recorded programmatically straight from the handset, to ensure the highest possible level of precision.

For the sake of thoroughness, we ran the tests in 2220 x 1080 pixels and 1480 x 720 pixels modes as well. The minor differences we recorded were in the minutes, and are well within the margin of error of the tests. Perhaps an alternative usage pattern might lead to some meaningful advantages of going low-res, but our experience doesn’t point in that direction. One such potential scenario is gaming, but then again you already had the option to limit resolution within Game launcher. This falls in line with what we observed while re-testing last year’s Galaxy S7 and S7 edge flagships after the Android Nougat update introduced variable resolution.

The Always On display feature was always going to be a battery drainer, no two ways about it. Samsung’s claim that it would cost you 1% per hour seems about right and it does leave a huge impact on the overall endurance rating.

Since its launch, the AOD setting has been optimized and now allows you to schedule times to activate it. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on how long you keep the phone out of your pocket.

All of these numbers were achieved using the international Exynos 8895 version of the S8+. We would love to put the Snapdragon 835 variant through its paces as well but, in honesty, we don’t expect any major differences.

Samsung is still sticking with its Adaptive Fast Charging solution. Frankly, it does a good job topping the 3,500mAh battery in about 90 minutes. There is also support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0.

Much like the company’s last-year flagships, the Galaxy S8+ is also capable of wireless charging compliant with both WPC (Qi) and PMA. Samsung will also sell you a fast wireless charging pad, which can fill up the battery nearly as fast as cable.

USER INTERFACE

Android 7.0 with Samsung UX

The Galaxy S8+ boots Android Nougat, but in typical Samsung style there are plenty of customization on top. The company’s overlay now goes by the simple Samsung UX – the Grace UX name from the Note7 has seemingly died with the phablet itself.

And while the Nougat builds for the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge were mostly a direct reuse of the Note7’s user interface design, the Galaxy S8+’s gets a thoroughly revised version with new iconography and other goodies. Before you get to those, however, there’s an Always On Display to greet you, and all sorts of unlock options.

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