Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus hands-on

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After an unwanted interlude caused by the incendiary Note 7, Samsung returns to the flagship game with the latest in their Galaxy S line, bringing a familiar but further refined body that is edgier than ever.

In-depth: Galaxy S8 specs, features, and first price and availability details!

With the new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, unveiled this morning in New York, Samsung is saying good-bye to staples like the home button and the flat screen – how passé – and is looking forward to a new AI system and other exciting features like smartphone desktop integration. Will users love these changes? Or will they revolt like they did when Samsung tried to take the microSD card slot away?

The stakes for Samsung here couldn’t be higher: the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are under close scrutiny, at a time of turmoil for the biggest phone maker in the world. Find out what Samsung’s latest and greatest have to offer, in this first hands-on look at the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus.

Indeed, there are two versions of the newest Samsung device and the names no longer utilize the “Edge” moniker, making it clearer than ever that the curved display is the Galaxy calling card moving forward.

These large displays are surprisingly easy to handle.

The screen edges come with the usual tropes – Edge UX and light up features, for example – but it is the curved display that helps these phones defy expectations, as these large displays are surprisingly easy to handle.

The smaller Galaxy S8 crams a 5.8-inch screen onto a body that feels much smaller thanks to the way the curves slide down to meet the hand. Of course, this is hardly new for the Galaxy line; however, consider that the Galaxy S8 Plus does the same thing with a whopping 6.2-inch screen.

Some things had to change in order to make this display a reality – namely, a resolution and aspect ratio shift to 18.5:9 totaling 2,960 x 1,440 pixels, which makes for very wide screens (when held in landscape mode).

A resolution and aspect ratio shift to 18.5:9 totaling 2,960 x 1,440 pixels makes for very wide screens in landscape mode.

For the S8 Plus, the phone gets a bit taller than it does wider to accommodate the resolution and that helps keep it from feeling way too unwieldy. The result is a phone that is actually somewhat manageable – while the S8 Plus is still a bit too big for comfortable one-handed usage, any other phone with a flat panel would be immensely tougher to handle.

Altogether, the S8 Plus requires a bit of work to handle, but the original S8 simply feels sublime. All hand sizes are different though, so your mileage may vary.

Another change comes in the removal of the physical button – yes, this is actually happening.

Another change comes in the removal of the physical button – yes, this is actually happening – and a shift in the position of the fingerprint reader. Hardly anything is found above and below the screen now, including a logo, which will feel very different for longtime Samsung fans.

While this means more screen real estate, which is always welcome, this also means the fingerprint reader had to be moved to the back, right next to the camera lens, and maybe that’s a little… less welcome. The positioning isn’t too bad for the Galaxy S8, but it already proved to be a nuisance to reach on the Galaxy S8 Plus. Plus, putting the fingerprint scanner off-center is strange and will require different ranges of motion for left- and right-handed people.

The change toward larger displays also means soft-keys, which themselves have a bit of Samsung flair to them. The navigation bar is customizable, even down to the background color and the order of the function keys (stock Android fans, you can finally put the back button in its proper place).

The S8 introduces customizable soft-keys, so stock Android fans can finally put them in their proper order.

The home button can appear on the lock screen where it can be held down to unlock the phone, in case you can’t or won’t use some of the more advanced security measures, like the fingerprint sensor or iris scanner.

Bixby is like Samsung’s version of Google Now, triggered by a dedicated button.

Speaking of software, the latest addition to the Galaxy suite of apps is a whole new layer of assistance called Bixby. Bixby is a little bit like Samsung’s version of Google Now and Voice Search, and it can be triggered with yet another hardware change – an extra button below the volume rocker. Simply press the dedicated button and speak your request: no hot word required.

Our time with Bixby only really showed the splash screen, which can be accessed with a swipe to the right on the home screen. The Bixby home screen shows contextual slides including calendar entries, previously shot photos, and news stories. However, further functions can be unlocked via voice input – which we saw in action during a demo – including changing the screen brightness and taking a selfie.

There is also a layer of Bixby built into the camera, where Samsung’s own software can scan and translate through dozens of languages or pull up product information for just about any item.

Samsung bills Bixby as a multi-modal assistant, that you can interact with using voice, touch and the camera. The goal is to eventually have a panoply of apps that are compatible with Bixby and, when that happens, you will be able to complete almost every task you would need just by interacting with Bixby.

When it announced Bixby last week, Samsung made it clear that the current version of Bixby is just a first step on the long road to truly capable AI. As such, the digital assistant won’t even be available at launch in most countries – we know South Korea will get it first, followed closely by the US, while Europe should expect it in the latter part of the year.

We will spend a lot of time with Bixby to see what it offers, and if it is truly a welcome new layer to the Galaxy experience or a redundancy to the also included Google Assistant.

The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus feature a water- and dust-resistant construction that we were almost aggressively invited to dunk into the water tanks in the demo area. That body protects a bevy of hardware bits that users have come to expect from the company’s flagship line.

Those include a 10 nm octa-core processor that is likely to be a choice of the latest Snapdragon or the latest Exynos, 4 GB of RAM, expandable storage, a headphone jack (thank goodness), every sensor and connection type possible including Samsung Pay, and a 3,000 mAh battery for the S8 and a 3,500 mAh battery for the S8 Plus.

Aside from the Bixby layer, the camera is also quite familiar and sticks to the tried and true setup of previous years. 12 MP for the rear camera at f/1.7 aperture gets some post-processing enhancements that seams together multiple versions of the same frame for better detail.

Aside from the Bixby layer, the camera is quite familiar and sticks to the tried and true setup of previous years.

The front facing camera is 8 MP at the same aperture, with some smart autofocus capabilities now built-in. We don’t have any samples to show in this hands on, but we will of course put the Galaxy S8 camera through its paces in our full review.

There are more capabilities that can be unlocked using various tools of the Samsung ecosystem, like the Gear 360 and the Samsung DeX docking station, which blows up the already large home screen to literally desktop size. These will be covered in other pieces here at Android Authority so we encourage you to check them out.

With the Galaxy S8 family, Samsung strived to make changes in just the right places, even if some bring a pretty major shift in familiarity. Gone are the Samsung logos on the front, the tactile home button, and flat panels. In are Bixby and its new button, a relocated fingerprint reader, and screens that simply don’t quit. These changes mark a new chapter for Samsung, its flagships, and its most loyal users.

Read next: Galaxy S8 color comparison!

Our first look at the Samsung Galaxy S8 makes us excited to get our hands on the review units sooner rather than later, but the release information currently puts pre-orders at March 30, with the phone making it into your hands by April 21. Most carriers in the US will be offering the Galaxy S8 for $750 and the Galaxy S8 Plus for $850.

Keep an eye out for our full review and our final thoughts on the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus in the coming weeks.

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