The first reviews of the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have dropped a day ahead of their official launch in many markets, and there’s one thing to take away from them: Samsung just knocked it out of the park with its best smartphones to date.
Despite the problems the company encountered with the Galaxy Note 7 last fall, it has managed to produce two new devices that don’t disappoint. From gorgeous design and impressive cameras to the best display on the market, the Galaxy S8 series has it all.
It might not perfect, but the changes and improvements Samsung has made show Apple what a smartphone should be in 2017, and make it even more difficult for the iPhone to catch up.
Here’s our review roundup.
Samsung used to make some of the ugliest smartphones money could buy. It had a fondness for tacky plastic and faux leather, and alongside a device like the iPhone, a Galaxy S handset looked like a toy. But in recent years, that’s changed.
Since the Galaxy S6, Samsung’s latest flagships have been downright stunning, with curved glass and cool aluminum frames. The Galaxy S8 series steps it up a gear, with dramatically slimmer bezels that make way for its spectacular Infinity Display.
“The most common reaction I heard from people who saw the S8 units I’ve been testing is ‘wow.’ That’s because the S8 is a stunning device to look at and hold,” says The Verge. “It truly doesn’t look like any other phone you might have used before, and it’s refined and polished to a literal shine.”
The Telegraph calls the Galaxy S8 “the best looking phone ever made.”
“Samsung has been ambitious with the Galaxy S8. After the nightmare that was the Note 7, it had to be. The result is a brilliantly-designed phone that sets a new standard for what phones should look like in 2017.”
“The Galaxy S8 is hard to resist once you see it in the flesh,” says Wired. “Samsung has made an Android phone more desirable than an iPhone. For all its faults, for all the ways Samsung could spend less time and money on gimmicks and more on on-going software support, for all the cheaper options out there, there’s no other phone we’d rather have right now.”
There are a couple of gripes, however. Some reviewers bemoan the shiny glass that picks up fingerprints far too easily, and the placement of the fingerprint scanner, which sits alongside the rear-facing camera and can be difficult to reach when holding the Galaxy S8 in one hand.
Stunning Infinity Display
If design isn’t the Galaxy S8’s biggest selling point, then that title has to go to its jaw-dropping Infinity Display. You won’t find a review with anything negative to say about it; every single one gushes over its beautifully vivid colors, impressive brightness, and the way in which it seamlessly wraps around the phone.
“For the people in search of buying advice, here’s all you need to know about the S8 and S8 Plus’s screens: They’re awesome,” says Engadget. “Color reproduction on both is excellent and, as always, there are different screen modes in case your tastes are more specific. The screens get bright enough to combat the warm spring sun and viewing angles are excellent, too.”
“The screens are amazing,” adds Android Central. “Great viewing angles are expected these days, but Samsung has once again found a way to make the Super AMOLED panel on both versions of the phone bright and, more importantly, accurate. They are DCI-P3 compliant, which gives them a wider color gamut than a typical RGB palette.
“That, in addition to being HDR certified, makes them technically proficient, which is great, but you’re also getting one of the most pleasurable viewing experiences on a phone today.”
“The Super AMOLED screen gets impressively bright, offers darker blacks, and its mobile HDR Premium certification means it boasts greater color volume, meaning you can watch colorful High-Dynamic Range (HDR) content, which is the new hot thing in video,” says Digital Trends. “This has the best screen we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.”
Even greater cameras
The Galaxy S8 series is packing the same 12-megapixel cameras Samsung used last year for the Galaxy S7. But over the last 12 months, the South Korean company has been tweaking them and improving its software to make them even greater.
It has also made huge improvements to its Camera app, and introduced a new 8-megapixel front-facing camera — one of the first selfie cameras with autofocus. Once again, Samsung offers some of the best cameras available in a smartphone.
“Standard photos on the Galaxy S8’s single 12-megapixel are consistently good,” says CNET. “They’re crisp, colorful and eminently sharable. Low light shots are relatively bright and detailed (the darker the scene, the more image noise you’ll see), and selfies on the 8-megapixel front-facing camera are also terrific.”
“As with last year’s phones, the S8 is an incredibly capable camera in low light conditions,” adds Android Police. “The f/1.7 lens hoovers up a surprising amount of light even in challenging conditions, and with a steady hand you can get some pretty crisp shots where other phones would just render an unpleasing mess of noise and blur.”
“There is an improved 8-megapixel front camera with a wider field of view for group selfies,” says Engadget. ” It has a f/1.7 aperture too, so it’s decent enough in low light and in general it’s a great performer. Selfies were clean, detailed and nicely colored, especially when viewed on the punchy AMOLED screen.”
There’s room for improvement here, however. Some reviews point out that Samsung still hasn’t quite mastered color accuracy, while others complain that there’s just one rear-facing camera as opposed to two like on the iPhone 7 Plus.
The general consensus is that you’ll get stellar photos and videos out of the Galaxy S8 — especially in good lighting conditions — but you’re missing out on the neat portrait effects offered by Apple.
Samsung’s software is vastly improved
Samsung wasn’t just famous for bad design years ago; it also produced terrible software, too. It made Android a bloated mess, with a cluttered and confusing interface filled with gimmicks and useless features no one ever used. It’s a surprise old Galaxy S phones sold so well.
But Samsung has been making huge improvements to its software in recent years, too — and it’s never as good as it is on the Galaxy S8.
“In a refreshing change of pace, the software on the S8 is, dare I say, good,” reports The Verge. “Built on Android 7.0 Nougat, the S8’s software is remarkably restrained for Samsung. This is reflected by the simple home screen, which features just a handful of app shortcuts and a nice big weather widget front and center.”
“Samsung’s new launcher is pretty great, with a gesture-friendly home screen that does a lot with a little,” adds Android Central. “The changes may seem arbitrary to anyone coming from a non-Samsung phone, but current Galaxy users will see the continuity in these design decisions. For what it’s worth, this is the first time I’ve ever used a Samsung phone without wanting to immediately throw away the launcher for something clearly better.”
“Samsung’s Nougat interface is one of the better-looking ones, and the plethora of features means there’s an abundance of customization options,” explains Android Authority. “The Galaxy S8 proves that Samsung has tried to do everything at once, and while there may be some redundancy, the addition of so many features offers more customization than what’s found on most devices.”
“There are a ton of features in this phone — most of which have been in Galaxy devices for a while — and they all feel polished and useful,” concludes Digital Trends.
Bixby needs work
Bixby was supposed to be the Galaxy S8’s headline feature — Samsung’s long-awaited challenger to Siri and the Google Assistant. It’s there, and it has some neat features, but it still needs plenty of work. Some key components — like voice recognition — aren’t even available yet.
“The idea behind Bixby is that it will be a much more capable, integrated assistant than Siri or Google Assistant, capable of carrying out tasks like sending photos within an app as well as integrating reminders and so on,” reports The Telegraph.
“The catch is that Bixby’s only half ready. The most interesting part – voice control – isn’t available in the UK or US at launch, so it’s impossible to really assess it. The Bixby camera seems like one of those clever technologies that are probably not going to be used much in the real world, while the Hello Bixby screen is basically a less-useful version of Google’s equivalent.”
“Samsung thinks Bixby is so important to this device that it put a dedicated button on the side of the phone that only launches Bixby,” adds The Verge. “That would be fine if Bixby was anything to get excited about, but in its current state, it doesn’t do much at all.”
“Bixby might get better in the future, but most users are better served by downloading Google Now from the Play Store and using Google Assistant,” says Ars Technica.
Engadget is confident Bixby will get better in time. “I have high hopes for Bixby,” writes Chris Velazco. “After all, it took years for Siri to become really useful. So expecting Samsung’s assistant to be equally functional in less time isn’t really fair.”
Performance is impressive
In the U.S., the Galaxy S8 is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 835 chip. It’s faster and more power efficient than its predecessor, thanks to a new 10-nanometer manufacturing process that places all of its tiny transistors closer together.
Coupled with 4GB of RAM and ample storage, it makes the Galaxy S8 a great performer.
“The S8 and S8 Plus are effortlessly fast machines, and hardly anything I threw at them over a week of testing got them to stutter,” says Engadget. “Workday multitasking, games like Hearthstone and Dead Trigger 2, even playing emulated GameCube games — it all ran fabulously.”
“As you might expect, there are no performance concerns with the processing stack that powers the Galaxy S8 and we’ve noticed no issues with performance in applications or while gaming,” adds Android Authority.
Battery life could be better, but there are no explosions
As is always the case with modern smartphones, battery life on the Galaxy S8 could be better. It’s not bad — most reviewers say they got at least a day of use in between charges — but a little extra would be nice.
The good news is that the Galaxy S8 charges insanely quickly, and its battery doesn’t have a tendency to explode like the Galaxy Note 7’s. At least there have been no reports of that yet.
“My take so far is that battery life is at least as good as the Snapdragon Galaxy S7 edge from last year, a phone that offered above-average performance in this area,” reports Android Police. “In single-day heavy use, the phone could reliably get 5 hours of screen time, sometimes creeping closer to 6 hours.”
“Over the past two weeks, the Galaxy S8 battery life has proven to be on par with most flagships, but not spectacular,” adds Android Authority. “TouchWiz gives you lots of different power saving features and combined with the Super AMOLED display, you can stretch out the battery life even further.”
“Both phones include fast wired and wireless charging, which makes it convenient to charge them when necessary, but neither really pushes the boundaries of smartphone battery life as we know it,” explains The Verge.
Samsung schools the iPhone
Reading through all these reviews, it’s clear that the gap between flagship Android devices and the iPhone is now wider than ever. Apple was already lagging behind the competition, and the improvements Samsung has made this year means catching up will be even more difficult.
It won’t be hard for Apple to match or even beat the Galaxy S8’s performance, but I don’t expect the iPhone to offer anything as good as the Infinity Display for some time. Apple’s Retina display have been lackluster for years — especially when it comes to pixel count — and that’s likely to remain the case with this year’s iPhone 8 refresh, unless you opt for the rumored premium model with an OLED screen.
The Galaxy S8 has other advantages, too, like iris scanning that’s surprisingly fast, a headphone jack, and expandable storage. Bixby offers features you don’t get with Siri, and combined with the Google Assistant, it’s a more capable and more flexible experience.
Of course, the iPhone has its selling points — chief of which is the iPhone 7 Plus’s dual-lens camera, which Samsung is yet to replicate. Rumor has it that will change with the Galaxy Note 8 later this year, but for now, you won’t be getting any of those fancy portrait effects on a Galaxy smartphone.
It seems Apple can’t afford to deliver another disappointing iPhone upgrade this year. The iPhone 8 (or whatever it will be named) needs to be just as incredible as the rumors are promising, with a fancy new design, better displays, even greater cameras, and new features.
As things stand, you’d be mad to choose an iPhone over the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+.
“They are the best Android phones you can buy right now, with stunning displays, beautiful design, and great performance,” concludes The Verge.
“For the all-around big-screen experience, Samsung has knocked it out of the park and while the likes of LG and Huawei definitely come close, the design of the Galaxy S8 means it stands tall above the competition,” adds Android Authority.