ON THE FACE OF IT, with its glossy design, curved display and 12MP camera, the Galaxy S8 isn’t wildly different to last year’s S7 Edge. Once you get your hands on it, though, it soon becomes apparent that the S8 is not only different to its predecessor, but also to the huge number of high-end smartphones also battling for your attention.
Looks-wise, the Galaxy S8 is a thing of beauty. It’s reflective aluminium and Gorilla Glass chassis, albeit a nightmare to keep smudge and fingerprint-free, looks gorgeous and feels high-end, and although it can feel a little slippy (a la HTC U Play), the handset’s subtle curves make it comfortable to hold.
It’s not just its curvaceous design that makes it easy to grip, as the S8 is incredibly compact for a 5.8in smartphone – more so, in fact than the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, which, frankly, makes us look like an idiot when attempting to handle. As someone with small hands, reviewing a 5.8in smartphone is typically a daunting experience, but with its dimensions of 149×68.1x8mm, and with a weight of just 155g, the Galaxy S8 isn’t much bigger than the 5.1in Galaxy S7, and barely bigger than our 4.7in iPhone 7.
While the design is near identical to that seen on last year’s Galaxy S7, the S8’s screen to body ratio of 84 per cent makes the handset feel unlike any other smartphone on the market. Sure, the LG G6 also offers an “all-screen design,” but Samsung has carried it out with much more elegance, with the curved edges of the S8’s screen making it appear as if the display melts into the sturdy metal rim of the handset.
This barely-there bezel means there’s no longer room for a fingerprint sensor on the front of the S8, and the clicky home button has been binned in favour of a ‘virtual’ button, which arrives in the form of a pressure sensor hidden under the OLED display. In turn, the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back of the device, mere millimetres away from the camera sensor. Not only does this make it difficult to reach, but every time we’ve attempted to use it we’ve left a smear on the lens.
While unlocking the S8 with your fingerprint is undoubtedly a bad experience, Samsung has sort of made up for it by adding an iris scanner to the front of the device, similar to that seen on the Note 7. It’s been improved since then, and when it works, it works impressively fast. However, we struggled to use it in dim lighting – or when we’re slumped on the sofa, for example.
Naturally, the Galaxy S8 comes certified to the IP68 standard, which means it’s resistant to water (it works – we dropped it in the bath) and dust. This will unlikely prevent the S8 from scuffing, though, and while we’re yet to mark our review model, we noticed a nasty scratch on the handset when we first went hands-on with it.
Elsewhere on the handset, you’ll find a USB-C port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There were rumours ahead of the S8’s launch that Samsung would follow Apple by dumping the standard headphone jack, but, thankfully, the firm has clearly realised that would be a terrible idea.
You’ve probably already guessed that we’re quite fond of the display on the Galaxy S8. The 5.8in QHD+ OLED panel, which Samsung is calling an “Infinity” display thanks to its curved edges, which are no longer reserved for a standalone ‘Edge’ model, and dominates the front of the device thanks to the S8’s aforementioned 84 per cent screen to body ratio.
Not only is it gorgeously sharp and vibrant, putting our iPhone 7’s 4.7in 750×1334 pixels panel to shame, it’s curved edges make for great viewing angles, and although it still struggles under bright sunlight, what smartphone doesn’t. You’ll still find Samsung’s added ‘Edge’ functionality, which lets you swipe the right of the display to access your most-used apps or favourite contacts, but we switched this feature off, as given the compact size of the handset makes it quick enough to access apps without needing additional shortcuts.
This is aided by the handset’s 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which not only makes the device better suited for aimlessly scrolling through Twitter but makes it ideal for watching films, eliminating the letterboxing that you get on most phones. Admittedly, most of the material you’ll be watching is shot in 16:9, which means the full width of the screen gets wasted. Some apps will suffer from the same issue, but Samsung has introduced a Game Mode that sees Super Mario Run, for example, fill the whole entirety of the display.
The inky-black OLED is also utilised for the S8’s always-on display, which showcases the time, data, battery percentage and notifications. We found that having this glanceable information meant that we were picking up, unlocking the handset and getting distracted by inane Twitter chatter less frequently, which can only be seen a good thing.
There’s also a blue-light filter, similar to that recently introduced on iOS, which lessens the harshness of the vibrant display if you’re browsing Reddit in bed, for example.
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