Galaxy S8+ vs S8: hands-on with Samsung's new phones

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Galaxy S8+ vs S8: hands-on with Samsung's new phones

Thinking of pre-ordering one of Samsung's latest flagship smartphones? We give our early verdicts to help you decide.

So, the Samsung Galaxy S8. You’ve heard of it, right? Chances are you already know what it looks like and even what the specifications are, because this phone is probably the most leaked major smartphone in history.

Still, leaks and rumours are one thing; it’s quite another to get confirmation of the specs at Samsung’s official launch – along with actually getting our hands on the new smartphone and its new bigger sibling, the Galaxy S8+. There’s no substitute to getting up close and personal, tapping the touchscreen, eyeballing the display and jamming it into your pocket.

Being the latest of Samsung’s premium phones, they’re priced according – in fact, at $1,199 for the Galaxy S8 and $1,349 for the Galaxy S8+, they’re a bit pricier than their predecessors, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge. Don’t expect any plans below $75 per month either.

However, based on our initial impressions of the handsets, Samsung looks to have again raised the bar with its two flagships.

Both phones will be available from most major Australian mobile carriers and retailers from 28 April.  They will be available for pre-order from today (31 March) – which includes a bonus Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset – from those outlets or from Samsung's website

We’ll look at the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ in more depth, but first, here are the key specifications.

Specifications

Samsung Galaxy S8 Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus
18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED, HDR-capable display 18.5:9 aspect ratio 1,440 x 2,960 OLED,  HDR-capable display
68.1 x 148.9 x 8mm (WDH) 73.4 x 159.5 x 8.1mm (WDH)
Octa-core (2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad or 2.35GHz quad + 1.9GHz quad), 64 bit, 10nm processor Octa-core (2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad or 2.35GHz quad + 1.9GHz quad), 64 bit, 10nm processor
IP68 dust and water resistance IP68 dust and water resistance
4GB RAM 4GB RAM
64GB UFS 2.1 storage 64GB UFS 2.1 storage
microSD slot microSD slot
3,000mAh battery 3,500mAh battery
USB Type-C USB Type-C
12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor 12MP rear camera with f/1.7 aperture and multiframe image processor
8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture 8MP front camera with f/1.7 aperture
Gigabit LTE/4G capable Gigabit LTE/4G capable
Android 7 Nougat Android 7 Nougat
Price: $1,199 outright; from $75 per month on a plan (with 2GB from Virgin) Price: $1,349 outright; from $80 per month on a plan (with 2GB from Virgin)

Next: Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S8.

Samsung Galaxy S8

The Galaxy S8 is a 5.8in phone that, in essence, feels like a 5.2in device. The question is how? Has Samsung achieved this through the equivalent of engineering voodoo or industrial-design magic? 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG's G6 (right).

The Galaxy S8's dramatically rounded corners, familiar curved screen edges that taper into nothingness, and the ultra-thin 8mm profile all do their bit of course, but it’s the new screen aspect ratio of 18.5:1 (the same, incidentally, as the screen on the LG G6) and the virtual elimination of the top and bottom bezels that make all the difference here.

These changes transform a 5.8in phone from a pocket-stretching monster into something practical for everyday use. Samsung was keen to point out that you can use the Samsung Galaxy S8 one-handed, and while this is stretching reality a little, the point still holds; it’s much easier to use in one hand than, say, the 5.7in Google Pixel XL. And as has become the norm for the recent generations of Samsung smartphones, the S8 also looks absolutely glorious.

So sure, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is still just a smartphone. It’s still a rectangle of glass, metal and silicon available in the usual cheesily named selection of colours (midnight black, orchid grey and arctic silver, in case you were wondering), but Samsung has made enough tweaks and refinements to make it genuinely special. 

The Galaxy S8, S8+ and Google Pixel XL.

There is one word of caution, however. This concerns the fingerprint reader, which has moved from the front of the phone below the screen to the rear, next to the camera lens. With no room for it on the front – Samsung has at last moved to onscreen home, back and Recent Apps buttons – this is a design decision that has been somewhat forced on Samsung. However, putting it next to the camera rather than below it will be something that will take some time to get used to.

At least you can still unlock the phone using iris recognition, with Samsung improving the accuracy of recognition and adding facial recognition this year as well.

Key features and specifications

The Galaxy S8 is, Samsung claims, the first smartphone to use a processor built using the 10nm manufacturing process. That’s not strictly true. It’s among the first: the Sony XZ Premium, announced at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, also has a 10nm chip – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.

A smaller manufacturing process typically indicates greater efficiency, and could contribute to better battery life, although since the battery is the same size as in the S7 (3,000mAh), improvements are likely to be marginal. 

Samsung says the Galaxy S8 will include either the Snapdragon 835 or the Samsung equivalent, the Exynos 8895, depending on the region. Based on recent history with the Galaxy S7, Australia is probably more likely to get the Exynos 8895. There are small differences in the clockspeeds in the two processors’ cores, but bottom line is both are 64-bit, octa-core chips that are seriously quick.

The Snapdragon 835 is 10% faster for CPU operations than the Galaxy S7 and 20% faster for graphics than the Galaxy S7, according Samsung. And according to leaked figures, the Exynos 8895 could be even a touch quicker.

Bixby voice-activated assistant

The Galaxy S8 will also see the launch of Samsung’s rebranded voice-control system, now called Bixby. This is Samsung’s attempt to challenge Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant by providing “multi-modal” control over the phone and its functions as well as voice-driven text recognition for search, emailing and messages.

You’ll be able to use Bixby to fling content from your phone to your TV, discover more information about items or landmarks you’ve just photographed, set reminders, and interact with the homescreen.

With Bixby, there’s no need to utter an embarrassing keyphrase to launch it: simply press the Bixby button, which lives on the left edge of the device opposite the power button, and talk.

The bad news is that Bixby isn’t ready yet, at least not for US and European markets. We’ll have to wait until later this year to find out whether it’s any good.

Display and camera

One thing that’s unlikely to let us down is the display. On the Samsung Galaxy S8 you get a super-widescreen 5.8in display (when viewed horizontally) with a resolution of 2,960 x 1,440, a pixel density of 570ppi and an aspect ratio of 18.5:9.

It’s an AMOLED panel, so contrast is effectively perfect. Although we won’t have the chance to test it fully until we have a review device, if past efforts are anything to go by, it will be bright and perfectly readable in bright sunlight as well.

As with the S7 and S7 Edge, the Samsung Galaxy S8’s display is rounded off at each edge with virtually no visible border, and sports the usual Edge display functions. What’s new is that the bezels at the top and bottom are barely there, and that the corners are rounded off, a little like the corners on the LG G6’s screen.

It’s a great look, but the only new thing here is Mobile HDR Premium compatibility. Given the current paucity of high dynamic range content on mobile, this is a bit of a moot point right now.

The Samsung Galaxy S8’s camera merely builds on last year’s model and doesn’t rip up the rulebook. Instead, it takes advantage of new capabilities in the phone’s chipset to grab three frames in rapid succession every time you take a picture, combining them together to create a sharper photograph.

Obviously, a phone launch is hardly the best environment in which to test such refinements, but what we can say is that we approve wholeheartedly of what Samsung has done with the software, adding a handy zoom function to the onscreen shutter button – just hold and drag to zoom in and out. It’s a marvellously simple solution to a genuine problem.

It’s also good to see that Samsung has implemented Android 7 Nougat here, although as always, it’s cloaked in the firm’s own love-it-or-loathe-it launcher software. The biggest changes are the Home, Back and Recent apps navigation buttons that now live at the bottom of the screen instead of on the chin of the phone as capacitive buttons.

Samsung has added its own twist here, though, by introducing a pressure-sensitive sensor beneath the home button. This appears to have no practical function, however, and does nothing but buzz lightly whenever you press down on it.

Samsung DeX

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Galaxy S8 launch is Samsung DeX (desktop experience). Each of the new phones comes with the built-in ability to run a windowed Android-based desktop computing environment, simply by dropping the phone into the DeX dock and hooking up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The Samsung DeX desktop environment.

The DeX dock is neat enough, with an Ethernet port and HDMI port on the rear, as well as a micro-USB port for charging and (rather worryingly) a built-in fan to keep the phone cool, and it can be neatly folded away for storage and transport. And the DeX environment itself looks advanced enough to get some reasonably serious work done on it. Samsung has even gone as far as working with Citrix to make sure you can also run full Windows on it, via virtual desktop.

However, this has the whiff of Microsoft Continuum about it. That was a system that was supposed to revive Windows Mobile phones by doing effectively the same thing. In reality, no matter how neat DeX looks, we think it’s still too early to get excited about phones replacing our laptops, desktops and mobile communications just yet.

Early verdict

We’ve been to enough phone launches over the years to know that the days of dramatic advances are long behind us, so I’m not too fussed that the Samsung Galaxy S8 looks to be a relatively minor upgrade on the S7.

It will be slightly faster. The camera will, probably, be slightly better, and we really do like the new taller shape and slim bezels at the top and bottom of the screen. Battery life, too, should be similar if not improved by the efficiency of the new 10nm chip. This is all about marginal gains adding up to make a measurable overall improvement.

We'll be able to give a more considered verdict after we've thoroughly tested and spent more time with the handset. But so far, so good. The only things we don’t like about the Samsung Galaxy S8 (and, by extension the S8 Plus) are the placement of the fingerprint reader and the rather high price of $1,199. Aside from that, though, we thoroughly approve of Samsung’s new flagship.

Next: Samsung Galaxy S8+ hands-on.

Samsung Galaxy S8+

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is much the same as the Galaxy S8 reviewed on the previous page; it has the same features, same internals, camera, storage options, and screen aspect ratio and resolution.

The Galaxy S8 and S8+ (bottom)

What makes it different is the sheer size of the thing. The screen measures 6.2in across the diagonal, which would make a regular phone practically unusable. The last super-sized phone we used for any length of time was the Huawei Mate 8, and that was stretching the boundaries at 6in.

However, as we've explained in our hands-on review of the Samsung Galaxy S8, you can't compare the S8+ to other phones on screen size alone. As Samsung has adopted a taller and narrower profile screen than most of its rivals, the Galaxy S8+ actually feels quite comfortable to hold in one hand. That's mainly because the 18.5:9 aspect ratio allows Samsung to add extra screen real estate without expanding the physical width of the phone too much.

In fact, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a mere 73.4mm wide, which is only 0.8mm broader than last year's S7 Edge. It is noticeably taller at 159.5mm, but thanks to incredibly narrow top and bottom screen bezels, it isn't as unwieldy as it could have been.

Nonetheless, although the S8+ is reasonably practical to wield one-handed, it isn't a particularly pocketable phone. As you can see from the photo below, it's a little taller than the Google Pixel XL (by nearly half a centimetre) and it's pretty hefty at 173g – so those who like to keep their phone in their pocket will need to make sure those pockets are up to the task.

Aside from the size of the phone itself and the screen, the only difference between the two phones is that the battery inside the Galaxy S8+ is bigger by 500mAh, at 3,500mAh.

It's available in silver, blue and black, and looks just as swanky as the regular S8, but it also means the fingerprint reader is also in the same slightly weird place: off-centre, beside the rear camera.

Key features and display

We won’t go into too much depth here about the Samsung Galaxy S8's key features, because we've already covered that ground in some depth in our review of the Galaxy S8.

Suffice to say, though, that this is not a huge upgrade. There's a faster processor here – the 10nm Samsung Exynos 8895 or Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, depending on which territory you live in – 4GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and a microSD slot.

The 6.2in, 18.5:1-aspect AMOLED display is mobile HDR-compatible, just like the LG G6, and there's also IP68 dust and water resistance so you can submerge the phone temporarily in up to 1.5 metres of water without catastrophic consequences.

The rear camera hasn't seen much of an upgrade, remaining at 12 megapixels, but it does now take three frames every time you shoot, combining them together in a bid to create sharper images. The front camera is better than the S7 Edge's, though, at 8 megapixels and with an aperture of f/1.7.

Samsung's Apple Siri rival, called Bixby, looks impressive, but won't be arriving on the Samsung Galaxy S8+ until later in the year, after Korea and the US get it.

You will also be able to run DeX from the phone – a desktop, Android-based operating environment similar to Microsoft Continuum – but there's currently no word on the pricing of the DeX dock you need to do this.

Early verdict

In essence, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the same phone as the S8, just with a bigger screen, a bigger battery and a larger, more unwieldy profile.

Which is better? Again, we'll be able to give a more considered verdict after we've thoroughly tested and spent more time with the handset, but our initial impressions are that the 6.2in Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a step too far in terms of its size.

It's just too big, and although we’d be happy to carry around the regular Samsung Galaxy S8 in our pocket day to day, we think the height of the Galaxy S8+ height could soon outweigh the utility and wonder of that larger screen.

We've been here before with big phones, of course. Many of us thought the first 4.5in smartphones were ludicrously big at the time, so our opinions might change.

But, given the choice right now, we think the Samsung Galaxy S8 is plenty big enough for most people – and it’s $150 cheaper than the S8+.

This article includes first-look reviews of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ that originally appeared at alphr.com.

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Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing
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