Samsung has introduced their new Galaxy S8 phone and it’s a stunner. Its appearance makes big advances over today’s phones and shows why Samsung hardware engineers are some of the best in the business, except for possibly their battery engineers. More about that later.
It’s a sleek, futuristic package that’s unlike any other phone. The biggest advance is an increase in display size, without making the phone unwieldy to hold and use. The 5.8-inch quad-HD (2,960×1,440-pixel) Infinity display is taller, but not wider. It’s called “Infinity” because it wraps around the sides, eliminating the angular edges and border found on current phones. The fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back of the phone and the home button is now virtual, accessed by touching the bottom of the screen, with both features providing even more room for the display.
The new display works well, letting you see longer lists of emails, more icons, and, turned sideways, longer lines of text and more panoramic videos.
The phone has two excellent cameras: a rear 12-megapixel, f/1.7 aperture and dual-pixel sensor, and a front camera with 8 megapixels, f/1.7, and autofocus. Images are superb, even in low light. While I’ve not reviewed it, some reviewers claim the Google Pixel camera has a slightly better camera among Android phones.
This is the first new phone from Samsung since their Galaxy Note 7 debacle in which some of the phones exploded due to defective batteries. The S8 has a 3000mAh battery that is more conservative in size, but manages to last a 10-hour day of typical use. The battery is non-removable and sealed, but the phone does have a memory slot that allows you to expand beyond the built-in 64GB of memory. You can assume that this phone and battery is the most tested of any model for safety. Samsung lost billions of dollars because of the Note 7 and knows all eyes are on this new model.
While Samsung beat Apple to the market with a major overhaul of their older models, the S8 comes with several incomplete or unfinished features. Its facial recognition feature, an alternative to unlocking your phone with a password or finger scan, is unreliable, working less than half the time. Its own voice-assistant software, called Bixby, didn’t work very well. It uses a dedicated button to access, yet that button was wasted on a feature that you’ll likely not use. And the button can’t be used for any other function. Bixby is designed to help you manage things on your phone, but Google Assistant proved much better. Bixby also can recognize objects and take you to a store to buy them, much like the Amazon app does. I think it is something you’ll use a few times, but not repeatedly.
While Samsung excels with their hardware design, they’ve made little progress with their software and usability. They continue to pile on features that make the phone more difficult to use. Rather than use the basic Android OS, as the Google Pixel does, they’ve added a load of additional apps and software that complicate things. Just as on earlier models, you’ll find duplicate browsers, calendars, mail clients, payment options, and dialers. And whenever you open one, you get a pop-up window asking whether you want to make it your default or not. What it means is when you take the phone out of the box, you’ll need to make a series of decisions about your preferred apps to prepare your phone for use.
Samsung is trying to prove that they’re not just a hardware company and can do it all like Apple, but they make things worse.
As gorgeous as a phone it is, you may end up covering it up with a case to protect the phone from damage. Based on testing by Square Trade, an insurance company that warrantees phones, they found the unique curved glass display more easily cracked than older phones when dropped face down, and the glass back cracked when dropped face up.
Unless you need a phone right away or are an Android fan, I’d wait a few months to see what Apple will be announcing. I expect their rumored iPhone 8, due out this fall, will include a similar borderless display and a similar form factor with a taller display. Ironically, some of Apple’s displays on its new phone will come from Samsung.
The Galaxy S8 is available from the major carriers and costs about $750.