The Samsung Galaxy s8 and s8 plus have been on the market for several months, and now that all the review hype has now calm down, I have finally found sometime and decided to jot down my thoughts on Samsung’s latest and greatest devices for 2017. We all know what happened to Samsung’s previous phone that got rave reviews, the Galaxy Note 7 which unfortunately got into exploding issues. Although Samsung wants to reincarnate it as the Note FE or 7R at a lower price point, we doubt it will sale as much as they expected and with the Note 8 due August according to rumor-mill. Okay Roger focus, back to the S8. For this article I played a round with the Galaxy s8+ for over a month as my daily driver, which is not any different from its younger sibling the s8.
The Galaxy s8 is Samsung’s big come back, with a lot of hardware and software innovation. The first thing to say is that I can’t promise you this phone won’t explode, but I think that they took great pains to try to make sure that wouldn’t happen. This can be seen with how conservative in terms of the battery sizes they used. Samsung recently did a big publicity tour about their new 8 point battery test process after the Note 7 debacle.
The other thing that you do when you have a bad product situation like Samsung did is that you want to make a big statement with your next flagship premium type product and Samsung never disappointed. The phone maker has figured out away to put a big display in a body that is much smaller than you would think can handle that screen and that’s whats they did on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and I think that is by far the most important new feature in it and the principle reason you might want to buy it.
This Screen is to die for
The screen is curved glass, which they’ve done a couple of times before, I thought the way they did it they tried to use the curved sides of the glass to put different kinds of content in it. The first time they tried it, you had to like tilt your head to read the bullet news that was running on the side. With the s8 the design makes more sense, as the glass is curved at the edges just at a beautiful perfect angle in such a way that it seems to melt in the body of the phone. Its all usable. I found no accidental touches on it but I did find that I could deliberately touch on it. So what makes the screen so special? Well, it covers 83 percent of the front of the phone. How did they do that? (Bigger and comfortable to hold) They cut way back on the bezels, they took away the physical home button and made a virtual haptic tactile button. Depending on the app, the home button can be hidden but you can still find it and feel it. And, they made the phone narrow by changing the aspect ratio of the screen and the phone, so its now 18:9. Regular iPhones are 16:9 which was an aspect ratio chosen for video. The aspect ratio for the s8 is chosen to say “hey we’ve got this huge screen here that is really comfortable in your hand”. The way they did it is that its taller than its predecessors.
The overwhelming thing about the s8+ is the screen, you can see the content with full screen experience, which means longer lists, more web content in one screen and that is the big deal and its great. In terms of fit and finish and interacting on this curved screen design they done a great job. Samsung’s first curved screens were like a side project, they would put out whatever Galaxy s along side an edge version and now its no more. The company has realized what the screen is for– to make the phone bigger and easier to hold and not for weird ticker displays on the side.
Fingerprint sensor placement is a mishap
But, there are some big buts, which is like the annual Samsung story always. The hardware is spectacular, and the biggest and most stupid decision for the s8 and s8+ and you every well know by now is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. Yes, I said it, I’d think they raked the spectacularity of the hardware by doing a truly stupid thing with the fingerprint sensor by placing it way up next to the camera. Pixel and Huawei phone owners have fingerprints at the back where your finger naturally goes right at the back where the sensor is. The problem with this one is that its a tall phone and the sensor is way at the top where most people with average hand size will have to stretch to use it. And with the fingerprint sensor next to the camera lens means you will leave the lens smudged.
Luckily, there are three unlocking methods on this one. You have facial recognition (never used that much), Android pattern, iris scanning which is is effective but in order to make it work well I found myself opening my eyes wide, but works even in low light conditions. It also gets super slow at times but I found it kind of cumbersome especially for me who puts on prescription glasses. Overall, I found my self using a combination of typing the unlock pin, fingerprint scanner and iris scanner. Some where within the setting you can also set to to unlock the phone by long pressing the home button. The technology that would allow them put the fingerprint sensor underneath the virtual home button was not ready, but they better get their act together and implement that in the Note 8, because chances are high that Apple will implement it with their next iPhone 8 flagship device.
Having seen every Samsung design, they’ve come an incredibly along way in terms of fit and finish of these devices and so the location of the fingerprint sensor on the s8 and s8 plus is I think a big mess. So to summarize, I agree with every review out there, great design and poor choice of finger print sensor placement.
Whatever criticisms you have for this phone, you can’t avoid to state the fact that what Samsung has done here is to set the benchmark for what this next class of really big phones should be like. There has been a lot of effort that way and how Apple responds to it is going to be interesting at least on the hardware side.
Software is great and Meh and the same time
Yes, Samsung is still making software and its is kind of allover the place. Honestly, even if the new Samsung user experience has been refined and changed for what they think is for the better, I always find myself putting a new theme on top of what comes by default.
There is two kinds of software that they make. One is that they skin Android and some years ago there was a lot of heavy skinning which they called TouchWiz. But now, Google’s default user experience (UX) is much more better and refined, that when these OEMs skin their phones in the name of differentiating themselves from the competition, it just blots down the entire UX especially when you load more apps during the lifetime of the device.
Now here is Samsung’s software problem, they keep trying to do these duplicative software things to make them a platform. They are desperate to be a Samsung platform with apps like their now dead Milk Music Steaming service (RIP), Samsung Pay and Bixby Virtual Assistant (to be discussed later). But look, Google also has all these which currently work well if not better, so when Samsung also loads the same apps that do a similar thing on the same device, it just takes up a lot of storage space. I don’t begrudge them for trying to be a platform, but all I can say to them is “You want to be a platform, make your own Operating System”. Here is the reality Samsung, you really can’t be a platform and expect people to write software for you unless you control the software platform– and you don’t. Yes, I know you have a thing called Tizen, but you notice its not on this phone and its not on any of your other Premium phones as its only on your Smartwatches, low end phones and TVs (which are completely hackable apparently).
So, the day Samsung will take their Tizen OS and make it as good as Android or iOS, then, they will have their your own software platform. But, that will not be in the near future as we’ve seen the fall of Blackberry OS and Windows Phone which is because they lacked that huge developer following that the current duopoly enjoys. I think it would be great to have another big platform player, but its not what Samsung is doing here.
What I commend about Samsung is that they’ve listened to their customers for years and have refined the software experience since the Galaxy s4. They have managed to bury all the crazy gimmicky features of the olden days within the settings. You can see they struggle with their software so much with every iteration. The issue is that you never know if the thing that Samsung is hyping this year is even going to be iterated or improved on next year, or just be hidden away or turned into something else. I think they are getting better at it, but this phone still has a bunch of that olden stuff floating around.
Did we need Bixby?
There is a dedicated hardware button for Samsung’s own virtual assistant on the phone which is not ready by any stretch of any imagination, with no voice recognition at least in my region. By default, you can’t say ‘Okay Google’ to this phone, the way you can on other Android phone as have it bring up Google Assistant. Its all just waiting for Samsung’s now half baked voice assistant feature to be released worldwide. With this phone in particular, that’s the evidence of the break between what Samsung wants its phone platform to be, and what Google wants its phone platform to be. This is all implemented on a button that doesn’t do so much right now and you can not remap it to do other things (at least officially)
There are two aspects of Bixby that are working now; one is a kind of passive effort to help you organize your life and pro-actively tell you things which is something that Google pioneered with Google now. When Samsung initially introduced Bixby, they said it will be totally focused on making you do tasks on your phone, but what they have now has virtually none of that or at least none of that goes beyond what the other guys do. I mean you can do a lot of tasks with Siri to be honest. Now if you hit the Bixby button all you see are Google Now-esq cards with information like your next calendar appointment, News, Music, whats trending on Twitter and Facebook.
The other feature is that they built something in their camera app that lets you recognize images and it will either bring up other images of that object, or it will help you shop for it things online again. Most of my attempts to get Bixby recognize the right images were futile. The problem is that such services may not work in your current locale plus also remember you should have your internet turned on as you use Bixby Vision.
I really can’t judge Bixby until it has gone down a few iterations. So they will get a pass on this one.
Camera is still great
When it comes with the camera. Samsung incorporated a new sensor in the s8 but kept the same 12 Megapixels on the rear camera and an improved 8 Megapixel on the front for better selfies. But, if you have a Galaxy s7, you will be hard pressed to see a huge improvement in picture quality since the s7 was already a great shooter. Frankly, I found both cameras working well, with picture perfect shots about 95 percent of the time. With the new craze of dual camera designs that the iPhone 7s plus and the new One Plus 5 have, we think Samsung will shift to this with the Note 8. Most camera comparisons with the either the iPhone or the Google Pixel, have shown that the s8 can hold its own.
In summary, you won’t go wrong with this phone, but if you have an s7 and s7 edge, there is no need to upgrade. If you are coming from a different device or having an older Galaxy, this is worth it assuming you have the UGX 3.1 – 2.9 million to spend depending on where you buy it from.
The big test for Samsung is that can they do something better with Bixby that will really stand out and meaningfully additive to Google Assistant or Siri. With all said and done, I will still use the Galaxy s8 plus as my daily driver till the next phone lures me away.