Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: An Android showpiece with many hits and few misses

If you’re lucky enough to have no limitation to your budget for a new smartphone, what do you buy? The options are fairly limited since not a lot of devices can truly claim to be the complete package. If you’re a power user and want the pure Android experience, you’ll probably want the Google Pixel or Pixel XL. If you’re looking at simple sophistication, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus are for you. But if it’s a feature-packed all-round Android experience you seek, that’s where the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ come in.

Today, we’re reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S8+, the larger and more expensive of the two devices, with a price tag of Rs 64,900. This is a phone that comes fully-loaded, from a state-of-the-art SoC to a screen ratio and resolution that is cutting edge, with everything from water resistance to face recognition in between. We’ve put the Samsung Galaxy S8+ through the paces, and here’s our full review.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Look and Feel
Pull the Samsung Galaxy S8+ out of the box and the first thing you see is a smartphone that is absolutely beautiful. There are three color options available: midnight black, maple gold and coral blue, and our review unit is the last of the three. Although the sides and frame is metal, the rear is pure glass, and this is one department where Samsung has always managed to stand out. The back has the camera, flash, heart-rate sensor and fingerprint sensor, all arranged at the top, albeit not too neatly.

The sides of the phone have a layout that can be considered fairly standard, with the power button on the right, volume keys on the left, the hybrid SIM tray at the top, and the USB type-C port, 3.5mm jack and speaker grille at the bottom. Also of note is the dedicated key for Samsung’s Bixby AI-based virtual assistant, which is on the left just below the volume keys. The key takes you into the Bixby Home screen, where you can access contextual information and prompts, and notably can’t be reassigned.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the phone is IP68 water resistant, letting you submerge the phone in up to 1.5m of water for up to 30 minutes without worrying about ruining the device. Of course, you don’t need to abuse this ability, but it’s nice to know that your phone will survive certain water-related accidents. You also get a heart rate sensor at the back, for what it’s worth.

The phone, despite its size, weighs a very manageable 173g, and is only 8.1mm thick. Of course, thanks to the curved screen at the edges and the slim profile at the sides as a result, it feels a lot slimmer than it really is. The curved edges are touch-sensitive as always and can be used for certain functions, including shortcut keys for some apps and to display information using the always-on screen mode when the phone is on standby.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Screen
The 6.2-inch screen of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is one of its biggest talking points, taking up a staggering 84 percent of the front of the device. Touted as Infinity Display, there’s very little non-screen space above and below the actual screen, and the larger size also means that the screen ratio is different. However, having less non-screen space at the front means that the Samsung Galaxy S8+ can have a larger screen without feeling quite as large. Indeed, despite a 6.2-inch screen, the phone feels more like a typical 5.5-inch phone to hold.

With a screen resolution of 1440×2960 pixels, the phone has a somewhat odd 18.5:9 screen ratio. This makes things a bit awkward with some apps that can’t scale up to the screen’s resolution, since you have to deal with black bars on either side or bear with distorted visuals. Most videos are either in 4:3 or 16:9 ratios, so you’ll have to bear with black bars in those cases as well. Some of the pre-installed apps are of course built with the ratio in mind, so these don’t have any issues with scaling up. This includes Samsung entire suite of apps, Facebook, certain Google and Facebook apps, and system apps such as the calculator and calendar.

The screen is a super AMOLED affair, which makes for excellent contrast and punchy colors, but having an AMOLED screen means that color accuracy isn’t ideal. However, if you prefer vibrant and bright visuals, you won’t be let down by the Samsung Galaxy S8+. The screen can get bright to the point where you eyes start to hurt, and this helps when using the phone outdoors.

The curved screen at the edges might look great and help with the bezel-less effect, but I find it to be a bit bothersome in actual use. Sure, it helps tremendously in showing information conveniently in the always-on mode, but the curves end up causing some annoying distortion. I also barely ended up using the edge shortcuts during my time with the phone, so it’s not something that I feel has any practical use beyond making the phone look good.

Another noteworthy feature is that the screen is HDR-capable for video content. This isn’t Samsung’s first phone to feature this technology; the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7 was the first phone to feature an HDR-capable screen. The LG G6 also comes with this, although it supports the Dolby Vision format, while Samsung has gone with the HDR10 format. There’s no practical difference between the two for now, and what you see is similar with both technologies.

However, there isn’t a lot of HDR content available at the moment, and the only clips you’ll find are demo clips and some TV shows on Netflix, provided you’ve subscribed to the premium plan. Fortunately, I was able to try out both on the phone, and there is a visible difference in the quality of the colors and brightness with HDR content. Colors certainly look more natural, while the increased color gamut lets you see more detail in video, particularly better visuals inside dark zones of the clip. It’s worth noting that HDR performance is nowhere near what we’ve seen on TVs from Sony, LeEco and Samsung itself, so there is some way to go before smaller screens can do HDR as well as big TVs.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Security

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ lets you use a variety of ways to unlock the phone securely, such as the traditional pass code/pattern method, fingerprint scanning, face recognition and iris recognition. Theoretically, the quickest of these is the fingerprint method, which scans from standby mode and unlocks the phone quickly. However, the odd position of the fingerprint sensor and the size of the phone makes it rather hard to use, and often you have to try a second or third time to get your finger on the sensor properly. The face recognition uses the front camera to match with your face, but this turns out to be completely useless in low-light situations. The best of these methods is the iris scanner, which works properly most of the time, but needs you to first wake the phone, then swipe up to activate the scanner, before properly positioning your eyes in front of the phone. It’s quicker than it sounds, but it’s still a two-step procedure.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Specifications

When it comes to specifications, few phones can match up to the Samsung Galaxy S8+. This is a powerhouse device, with top-end hardware under the hood. At the heart of the system is the Exynos 8895 SoC, fabricated on the 10nm process and, alongside the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, is currently the most powerhouse smartphone chipset in the world.

There’s also 4GB of RAM, 64GB of internal storage and a 3500mAh battery. Samsung’s fast charging is present, although it isn’t quite as fast to charge the phone as Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0 or OnePlus’ Dash Charge. You also get 3.5mm audio connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, USB Type-C for data transfers and charging and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection on top of the screen.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Software

With Android Nougat 7.0 on top, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is running current-generation software for the time being, at least till the next version of Android is out later this year. The overlay is the Samsung Experience UI, which is a continuation of TouchWiz and has undergone significant improvements over the last few years to become a much more polished, clean and easy to use interface. Most of the improvements and system apps in this iteration have been scaled to use the phone’s native 18.5:9 screen ratio, and the level of bloatware is much less than Touchwiz of the past. It appears to be a single-layered interface at first, but the design is similar to that of stock Android Nougat, where swiping up from the home screen brings up the app drawer, without needing a dedicated button for all apps.

During my time with the phone, I received two over-the-air software updates, with incremental software improvements and bug fixes, including the latest Android security patches. Pre-installed apps include the suite of Samsung apps such as Health, Gear and connect, as well as basic apps such as a voice recorder, calculator, file manager and more. The settings menu is fairly well laid-out and it is easy to find and control the functioning of the phone from here.

Also of note is the Bixby personal assistant. While it isn’t a voice-based assistant like Siri (yet), it does work somewhat like Google Now to give you contextual information based on your usage habits, such as news, weather, schedule, health statistics and more. It’s fairly basic for now, and the fact that it has its own dedicated button that can’t be reassigned seems like a waste of a button, but it might expand to offer more in the coming months.

Another function of Bixby which does work already is the image scanner. The phone will scan any images you capture or have on the phone to give you further actions online using Pinterest to power image searches. For example, scanning a bottle will take you to online portals which sell you bottles, and such. It does work properly but is little more than a glorified Pinterest search tool.Samsung Galaxy S8+ Camera

Smartphone manufacturers are attempting to offer a differentiating factor in the camera department, with innovations such as dual-camera, zoom lens and super slow-motion video shooting. Samsung has been uncharacteristically toned-down in its approach to its camera, but with good reason. Although the camera on the Galaxy S8+ is a single-lens 12-megapixel affair, Samsung has put its efforts where it counts. This is, in fact, the best camera we’ve used on an Android smartphone thus far. Improving ever so slightly on the performance offered by the Samsung Galaxy S7, the S8+ is a capable shooter in practically any conditions.

The camera excels in low-light conditions, ensuring that you’ll get the best possible pictures when you shoot at night or in dark places. In proper light, the results are fantastic. Colors are properly replicated, pictures are composed and in proper focus with the bare minimum effort, and images shot on the phone are visibly better looking.

Apart from these points, the phone’s ability to stabilize shots in unstable conditions is fantastic, as is the ability to shoot focused and clean shots even when you’re in motion. We took a few shots out of a moving train, and all of these were sharp and focused with minimal effort. Close-up shots, cityscapes, and indoor shots all showcased the phone’s ability to take great pictures no matter what the conditions. The same applies for shots taken with the 8-megapixel front camera, which are good enough for the occasional selfie. The video is fantastic as well thanks to the ability to shoot at 4K or smooth 60fps at full-HD. The 240-fps slow motion mode produces some entertaining results as well.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Performance

With a combination of the most advanced SoC available today, 4GB of RAM and Android Nougat, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ offers you the best performance you can get from an Android smartphone today. Benchmark scores can corroborate that, and we got a score of 1,72,541 on AnTuTu, which is the highest we’ve seen on an Android smartphone released in India to date. Practical performance is truly at that level as well, and if there was ever an example of a fast phone, this is it. While 2016’s top-level devices such as the OnePlus 3T, Samsung Galaxy S7 and Google Pixel are no slouches themselves, there is a visible and perceivable improvement over these on the Samsung Galaxy S8+.

Gaming, multitasking, web-browsing and ordinary usage all showcase the capability of the phone, and you’re promised a seamless and flawless experience across the board for your investment. Indeed, a lot of it has to do with the Exynos 8895 SoC under the hood, which proves to be a more-than-adequate chipset for a top-end device. Intense tasks do generate a bit of heat on the device, but it’s within acceptable limits. While we weren’t able to compare performance with the Snapdragon 835 variant that is sold in certain markets, we will wait till later this year to tell you just how the SoC performs when it is launched on upcoming devices.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Battery Life

The 3500mAh battery on the Samsung Galaxy S8+ may seem a bit inadequate for a top-end device with so much power at its disposal, but it does manage to live up to expectations. I was able to get a full day of moderate usage out of the phone, and while heavy usage does tend to have a more intense effect on the battery, typical mixed use of the phone should be enough to keep the phone running through the day. This is decent, considering there is a large high-resolution screen to power, but this is also helped by the fact that AMOLED screens are less power-hungry than the IPS-LCD screens we see on most phones.

Charging is relatively quick as well, thanks to Samsung’s adaptive fast charging standard. It isn’t the quickest fast charging standard around, but you are assured a full charge in about 90-100 minutes when you use the bundled charger.

Verdict

Samsung has done it again; the Galaxy S8+ is a true flagship phone that packs in all of Samsung’s values and approach towards making winning devices. Although it isn’t perfect, what the Samsung Galaxy S8+ does manage to do is pack in the cutting edge in technology, hardware and smartphone technology, all into a single package that looks great, feels awesome and performs exactly as a Rs 64,900 smartphone should: without a flaw.

Let’s be clear, the phone isn’t without its flaws. The size of the phone and odd position of the fingerprint sensor makes its use inconvenient, the facial recognition and iris scanner have their own problems, Bixby barely does anything of use for now, and the curved screen has no practical function at all, serving only to enhance the aesthetics of the phone. In fact, if anything, the curved screen causes distortion when viewing images or videos.

But if you can get beyond these issues, the rest of the phone is absolutely brilliant, from the blazing fast performance to the fact that the camera will take good photos and videos in just about any conditions. While the size of the Samsung Galaxy S8 may be a bit more convenient, the S8+ offers the phablet experience without feeling too large and is certainly a better smartphone than any other Android devices available today.

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