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Samsung Galaxy S8 review


When 5 inches is the de-facto standard for a compact Android handset, yet you want to prove that more is always better, what do you do? Well, it depends on the definition of more. You can do something crazy, stupid or impossible. Samsung? They decided to be sensible. Design a phone, build a screen, put the screen where it always goes. Business as usual.

It's pretty much the same phone as the Galaxy S7. Size-wise, that is. Only with a 5.8" display where there used to be a 5.1" screen.

5.8=5.1. How is this possible? Well, maybe the new Galaxy S is from the same book as this.

Now, back to present time. The LG G6 has been around for some time, and we also asked you to look beyond the diagonal in our Galaxy S8+ review earlier this week. Displays are getting taller and breaking out of the 16:9 box they were trapped in for a few years now. But while LG opted for a square times-two 18:9 ratio, Samsung went with 18.5:9, because why not.

Both of this season's premium Galaxies are in this bizarre 2.06:1 aspect, but the regular S8 is petite. It's a millimeter wider than an iPhone 7 with a screen surface of some 40% more than the small-sized Apple (that's real estate, not diagonal, so it isn't apples to oranges). Put the S8 next to an S7 and the new one is actually narrower, and visibly so. So from the get go we'd say that the S8 has the most screen you can get in a phone this size, and even a few sizes up.

The flat S-series design is no more. This year's phones both feature the signature Samsung curved screens. Ever so subtle and nothing like the Note Edge that started it all. Evolution.

his very much finite Infinity display is what makes the headlines, but it's not without a consequence. The Home button is history - in its place an onscreen navigation bar, the fingerprint sensor relocated, the pressing sensation emulated (sort of) by haptic flutter.

The screen aside, there's the habitual bump in processing power, courtesy of a brand new 10nm chip - be it Samsung's own Exynos, or Qualcomm's Snapdragon (still manufactured by Samsung). RAM has stood still at 4GB (though certain regions may get a 6GB version), and an 8MP autofocus front-facing camera replaces the 5MP fixed-focus shooters that were around for far too long on the company's flagships.

Samsung Galaxy S8 key features
Body: Polished aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass 5 front and rear; IP68 certified for water and dust resistance. Arctic Silver, Orchid Grey, Black Sky, Maple Gold, and Coral Blue color schemes.
Display: 5.8" Super AMOLED, 2,960x1440px resolution, 18.5:9 (2.06:1) aspect ratio, 570ppi; HDR 10 compliant (no Dolby Vision).
Rear camera:12MP, f/1.7 aperture, dual pixel phase detection autofocus, OIS; multi-shot image stacking; 2160p/30fps video recording.
Front camera: 8MP, f/1.7 aperture, autofocus; 1440p/30fps video recording.
OS/Software: Android 7.0 Nougat; Bixby virtual assistant.
Chipsets: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835: octa-core CPU (4xKryo 280 + 4xCortex-A53), Adreno 540 GPU. Exynos 8895: octa-core CPU (4x2nd-gen Mongoose + 4xCortex-A53), Mali-G71 GPU.
Memory: 4GB of RAM (a 6GB option likely in some markets, later down the line); 64GB of storage; microSD slot up to 256GB, UFS cards support.
Battery: 3,000mAh Li-Ion (sealed); Adaptive Fast Charging (same as S7); QuickCharge 2.0 support; WPC&PMA wireless charging.
Connectivity: Single-SIM, Dual-SIM available in certain markets; LTE-A, 4-Band carrier aggregation, Cat.16/13 (1Gbps/150Mbps); USB Type-C (v3.1); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac; GPS, Beidou, Galileo; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0.
Misc: Fingerprint reader; iris recognition/face recognition; single speaker on the bottom; 3.5mm jack; bundled AKG headphones.
Main shortcomings
No stereo speakers
Fingerprint scanner in an inconvenient location (though admittedly easier to reach than on the S8+)
The bulk of the photo and video content doesn't make the most of the available screen area due to the unusual screen aspect ratio
The S8's blessing is also its curse - there isn't exactly an abundance of 18.5:9 content for you to gobble. But with Google backing up the push for wide/tall displays, and Apple rumored to ride the same train come fall, it's really a matter of time - and not a long time either.

Seriously though, with all its multimedia aspirations, the S8 really has no excuses for not packing a pair of stereo speakers. Even if it's the makeshift solution of an earpiece doubling as an amp.



If you haven't guessed by now, we're not impressed with where the fingerprint reader is, and - senior editor note - that's the politically correct revision of what the reviewer actually said. In all fairness though, on the tiny S8 it's not such an exercise to reach, though the camera lens will inevitably get familiar with the ridges in your skin. Cue in those under-display readers already.

That's the future (near as it may be), but we're living in the now and around here the Galaxy S8 is what it is - a beautiful phone. Join us on the next page for the unboxing and hardware checkup.

Unboxing
The Galaxy S8's package can easily go unnoticed - it's a similar ink-black box to the one the S7 and Note7 came in last year. The only thing flashy about it is the phone's given name printed in sparkling blue front and center.

The contents aren't unlike the Note7's retail bundle, though the Harman acquisition has brought about an AKG-branded (and engineered, one would assume) set of earbuds.

Package contents - Samsung Galaxy S8 review AKG headphones - Samsung Galaxy S8 review 
Package contents • AKG headphones

Adaptive Fast Charging is what is says on the charger, but aside from the black color, it's basically the same unit as the one supplied with the S7 and Note7. It's rated at 9V/1.67A and 5V/2A, and complies to the Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 standard, but not higher. You also get a male USB-A to USB-C cable and two adapters (Type-C to full-size A and Type-C to microUSB 2.0).

Samsung Galaxy S8 360-degree spin
The Galaxy S8 measures 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0mm, which is the exact same height as the LG G6 and 2 full millimeters shorter than the Galaxy S7 edge from last year. It's slightly taller than the plain S7, but narrower than pretty much everything, the 5.1-inch S7 included. In fact, it's only a millimeter wider than the 4.7-inch iPhone 7 - Infinity Display, indeed.

We've been trying to point out at every occasion that a 5.8-inch diagonal in 18.5:9 aspect is not directly comparable to a 5.1-inch or 4.7-inch in 16:9 ratio. But the fact is, with the S8 you're getting substantially more actual screen area in device that's easily as pocketable as both the S7 and the iPhone 7.

It's not weightless, though, that's for sure. Tipping the scales at 155g, it's 17g more than that same iPhone 7, but still 8g lighter than the G6. It's 3g heavier than the S7 - not that you'd notice.

Hardware overview
The S8 is a major departure from long-standing Samsung Galaxy design traditions. Now, we might have said something along those lines when the S6 came about, its glass aluminum sandwich replacing the plastic of old, but this is bigger. The Home button's gone missing. The Home button!

A staple of Samsung smartphone design, the physical Home button that you could always count on to take you to the place where you belong has been retired. Samsung's made the switch to on-screen buttons - quite understandable when it's all screen now on the front, but still a huge adjustment for long-time users of phones by the Korean brand.

Always On Display is always on (unless you turn it off) - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Wake it up for onscreen navigation - Samsung Galaxy S8 review 
Always On Display is always on (unless you turn it off) • Wake it up for onscreen navigation

The on-screen nav bar is nothing new in the Android world really. In fact, Samsung's perhaps the last maker to adopt it in one way or another. The S8 does a trick we haven't seen before, though, - hard-press that virtual Home button, and the phone will give off a very real and (somewhat) localized vibration response. It's not unlike the iPhone 7's Taptic engine, but you could say that here it's a little more bizarre, as you're pressing the screen, and not a dedicated button cutout.

The Home button had another use, and that's fingerprint recognition. We're inching towards a moment when fingerprint sensors will be placed underneath the display, but we're not there just yet. By the looks of it, Samsung had such a solution planned for the S8, but things fell through. You certainly can't design that fingerprint sensor on the back on purpose - it's got to have been a last minute, last resort type of decision.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
We found ourselves searching for it rather than finding it naturally like on the LG G6 or the Google Pixel. It's also a little easier to reach with the right index finger than the left, some of us here found. What's not debatable is that it's less of a pain to use on the S8 than the S8+ where due to size it's even further.

Fingerprint sensor next to the camera - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Flash and assorted sensors on the other side - Samsung Galaxy S8 review 
Fingerprint sensor next to the camera • Flash and assorted sensors on the other side

Certainly, the Galaxy S8 has iris recognition to make up for the awkward fingerprint reader placement. That in itself doesn't make its location any less inconvenient. As with all such things you'll eventually get used to it - ask the tens of millions of iPhone 7 users about their own Home non-button.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
Now that the steam's been vented, let's get to the good stuff. The Galaxy S7 and even S7 edge simply look old next to this S8. Only a year has passed, and yet what was cutting-edge design in 2016, is now just meh when we have the S8's Infinity Display.

Samsung's bezelless is some next-level bezelless even when compared to the LG G6 that introduced us to the concept of wacky aspect ratios a few weeks earlier. The high screen to body ratio is one thing, but Samsung adds the signature curved side edges, and... Well, sorry, G6, you were the best looking phone for a month and your short-lived reign has ended.

Big one, small one, last year's small one, this year's competitor - all together - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Big one, small one, last year's small one, this year's competitor - all together - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Big one, small one, last year's small one, this year's competitor - all together - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Big one, small one, last year's small one, this year's competitor - all together - Samsung Galaxy S8 review
Big one, small one, last year's small one, this year's competitor - all together

We'd better get used to curved screen corners too - the edge-to-edge craze mandates that measures must be taken to preserve those precious display panels in case the unthinkable happens and you drop the thing. LG made a big deal of its G6 design with durability in mind, and while Samsung hasn't mentioned anything about it, the corners speak for themselves.

The Galaxy S8 is Gorilla Glass 5, front and back - Corning's latest toughened glass debuted on the Note7 and it's the protection of choice for the S8 as well. It's better than previous generations in terms of shatter resistance and virtually as good as GG4 when it comes to scratch resistance. It's not a miracle worker, though, and YouTube says that waist-level drops can still be deadly, so handle with care.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
And if you do drop it, it better be in water - the S8 stands a higher chance of survival there. It carries an IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, and should have no issues after being submerged in water up to 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. Water resistance should really be standard on a flagship phone and we don't mean going halfway - looking at you, IP53 Pixel.

The Galaxy S8 will be available in 5 colors, though not all markets will necessarily get them all. The new color for this generation is Orchid Gray and we're torn between that and Coral Blue for our favorite hue. Also history has shown that further down the road Pink Galaxies tend to appear, so that might happen to the S8 as well.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
A new design touch with this model is the aluminum frame that's now dyed to match the back color. And unlike the matte finish on the previous model, the S8's frame gets a shiny polish for a change. Perhaps not as durable in the long run, though the dings are so far purely speculative - we haven't managed to hurt an S8 or an S8+ in the days they've been around.

Shiny frame - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Volume rocker and Bixby on the left - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Lone power button on the right - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Lone power button on the right - Samsung Galaxy S8 review
Shiny frame • Volume rocker and Bixby on the left • Lone power button on the right

No color options on the front, though - all versions are black. That is, whatever is left of the front that isn't display, which isn't much. We guess the choice to go all black has a lot to do with the top bezel that's crammed with sensors meaning plenty of cutouts spoiling the look - there's a status LED, an infrared illuminator for the iris recognition, ambient light and proximity sensors, the earpiece, the 8MP selfie camera, and the iris recognition camera itself. Whew.

As far as bezels go that's a pretty slim one, and packed with sensors, too - Samsung Galaxy S8 review 
As far as bezels go that's a pretty slim one, and packed with sensors, too

Plus, the black chin and forehead practically disappear when the display is off, fueling the illusion of a truly bezelless design. As our Ice Platinum G6 would attest - you can't quite do that with colored bezels.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
A few other things that need to be mentioned here include the USB-C port on the bottom of the phone with a trusty 3.5mm audio jack to its left. The primary mic is here as well, joined by the (still) single loudspeaker. Up top you'll find the secondary mic (which also enables directional recording, interview-style) and the SIM/microSD slot - ours is the single-SIM flavor, but on dual-SIM models it will be the hybrid type.

People with OCD, don't look at the USB-C port - Samsung Galaxy S8 review Standard Samsung arrangement - Samsung Galaxy S8 review card slot on top - Samsung Galaxy S8 review card slot on top - Samsung Galaxy S8 review
People with OCD, don't look at the USB-C port • Standard Samsung arrangement • card slot on top

It is just us being used to larger phones, or is the S8 super narrow? Well, it's both. The smaller Samsung flagship is really easy to use single-handedly and doesn't require much stretching, unless you need to reach out for the notification shade. Even that is doable, though, with some grip readjustment, but you should still be able to support the bottom of the handset with the heel of your hand.


5.8-inch display: picture is sharp, edges aren't
The S7 edge has curves, the G6 has rounded corners - well, the S8 has both. The Infinity Display of the Galaxy S8 is a 5.8-inch dual-curved Super AMOLED panel of 2960x1440 pixel resolution in a 18.5:9 aspect ratio. And you thought the G6's proportions were weird.

Out comes the microscope and under it we see a lot of tiny, differently-shaped subpixels in the typical Diamond Pixel arrangement. Blue and Red subpixels are half the number of green ones - theoretically their own resolution is 2,960x720 pixels, but through the magic (math, really) of subpixel rendering and the mere fact of having so many of them, the S8 can reproduce QHD resolution.

Samsung Galaxy S8 review
We measured a maximum brightness of 440nits on the S8 when set to manual, practically identical to the S8+. Auto can boost that all the way up to 620nits, slightly lower than the big bro, but still plenty bright. Both phones outshine last year's models in manual and auto alike. We recorded a minimum brightness of 1.8nits, which is also excellent.



Mind you, due to the nature of AMOLED panels, higher absolute values are possible (and have been achieved by other reviewers) if the area that needs to be lit is smaller. However, in the interest of fair comparisons, we've stuck to the usual APL (average picture level) we've used in the past.

Sunlight legibility is where the S8 sets the benchmark - it's the new record holder in our outdoor visibility test, dethroning the Nokia 808 PureView (which we dropped from the comparison chart some time ago, as it's no longer relevant, strictly speaking). Admittedly, the S8+ nearly matches that, but 'nearly' is exactly the operative word.

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