Samsung Galaxy S8+ Australian Review: Is bigger better?
The plus-sized variant of the Galaxy S8 improves battery life and gives you more screen real estate to play with.
Usually when a smartphone manufacturer announces a new phone range that includes some kind of "plus" model, you can count on that plus meaning a larger screen, battery and additional goodies not found on the lesser siblings in the same product family. That’s the approach that pretty much every manufacturer, including big names such as Apple and Huawei has taken, because at the premium end of the pool, you’ve got to work extra hard to justify the exceptional asking prices that you demand.
That’s not quite the approach Samsung has taken with the Galaxy S8+, the larger brother of the Galaxy S8. Yes, it’s a larger phone, and indeed, it has a larger battery, but in every other aspect it’s identical to the S8. We really adored the Galaxy S8 in our review, so giving us even more has got to be better, right?
Samsung Galaxy S8+: Design
The Galaxy S8+ uses the same essential design as the Galaxy S8, including the same "infinity" display that more or less does away with the bezel on the sides in favour of curved edges that have appeared on previous handsets such as the Galaxy S7 Edge. in the case of the Galaxy S8+, it’s as if Samsung’s design crew took the S8, dropped it on a photocopier set to 20% enlarge and hit the copy button.
The end result is certainly striking. The Galaxy S8+ delivers a 6.2 inch Quad HD (2960x1440) display in a frame that measures in at 159.5x73.4x8.1 mm with a carrying weight of 173 grams. By way of direct family comparison, the smaller Galaxy S8 measures in at only 148.9x68.1x8.0mm and 152 grams, and if you want to get competitive, 158.2x77.9x7.3 mm and 188 grams is the size and weight of the iPhone 7 Plus, a phone that only gives you 5.5 inches of screen display.
The Galaxy S8+’s design certainly stands out by being accentuated by size, especially in the more striking colours. We tested with the Midnight Black variant of the Galaxy S8+, but it’s also available in Orchid Grey and Maple Gold in Australia. We can’t speak for the other colours, but again, like the Galaxy S8 while it’s an incredible look, the glossy black finish is all too rapidly a home for every possible fingerprint smudge, which does somewhat spoil matters.
A 6.2 inch phone should, by all rights be hard to hold, but the combination of the curved sides and very thin profile of the Galaxy S8+ somehow subverts this. If you’ve got very tiny hands you may struggle as you would with any large smartphone, but I can’t say I had any problems wrapping my hand generally around the Galaxy S8+. It is rather sheer at the back, with only small ridges to delineate the single camera lens and fingerprint sensor, so there’s some potential for slippage there.
Samsung Galaxy S8+: Why you’d want one
- I like big batteries and I cannot lie: Samsung hasn’t pushed the barrow out in terms of extra "plus" features, but the larger frame has allowed it to up the Galaxy S8+ battery size to 3,500mAh. The Galaxy S8 had already impressed us with its overall battery life, but the Galaxy S8+ takes it to a new level, beating absolutely every other handset we’ve tested across premium, mid-range and budget lines in terms of overall battery life. Anecdotally single day should be a breeze even with heavy usage, and in comparative premium handset terms using Geekbench 3’s battery test, the Galaxy S8+ absolutely dominated:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score Galaxy S8+ 14:55:30 8955 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 11:55:00 7150 Samsung Galaxy S8 11:47:50 7078 Apple iPhone 7 Plus 11:11:20 6713 Samsung Galaxy Note7 11:02:20 6623 Samsung Galaxy S7 10:01:20 6013 Google Pixel XL 9:14:20 5543 LG G6 9:09:30 5495 Huawei Mate 9 9:00:30 5330 Sony Xperia XZ 8:24:20 5042 Apple iPhone 7 7:50:10 4701 HTC U Ultra 7:25:40 4456
The battery score there is particularly noteworthy, because it indicates that the Galaxy S8+ was working hard through its entire battery test duration. If you’re sick of running out of battery power on your large screen phone, this is an easy recommendation.
- Superior processor performance: The Galaxy S8+ features the same core processor as the Galaxy S8, although not all Galaxy S8+ models are identical. If that sounds confusing, that’s because Samsung manufactures the Galaxy S8+ with two different processor cores; either Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 or its own in-house Exynos 8995. Both use a 10nm manufacturing process designed to deliver superior processing performance and battery life, and here in Australia we officially get the Exynos variant. That’s what I’ve tested with, so I can’t comment on the Exynos/Qualcomm difference just yet.
That being said, it’s no great surprise that the Galaxy S8+ performed as well as the Galaxy S8 in both anecdotal tests and benchmarks. There weren’t any apps I could throw at the Galaxy S8+ that particularly gave it pause for thought, even though it’s flinging pixels and polygons around a somewhat larger display. On the benchmark front, the Galaxy S8+ and Galaxy S8 were essentially neck and neck:
Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better) Samsung Galaxy S8+ 2020 6690 Samsung Galaxy S8 1989 6628 Huawei Mate 9 1925 6068 Apple iPhone 7 Plus 3374 5649 Apple iPhone 7 3452 5599 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 1359 5333 Samsung Galaxy S7 1378 4718 Oppo R9s Plus 1466 4415 LG G6 1810 4228 Apple iPhone SE 2449 4171 Google Pixel XL 1629 4051 HTC U Ultra 1648 3848 Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604
Like the Galaxy S8, the S8+ didn’t top the tables in 3DMark’s Ice Storm Unlimited test, but you really wouldn’t know that in actual ingame play, where it performed smoothly:
Handset 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Result Apple iPhone 7 Plus 37956 Apple iPhone 7 37717 HTC U Ultra 29968 Apple iPhone SE 29276 Samsung Galaxy S7 28903 Samsung Note7 28646 Google Pixel XL 28458 Huawei Mate 9 28457 Samsung Galaxy S8 28409 Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge 28402 LG G6 28344 Samsung Galaxy S8+ 28120 Sony Xperia XZ 26279
- Good camera: Camera optics are an increasingly important part of smartphones, and Samsung has taken the rather controversial approach with the Galaxy S8+ of essentially using last year’s technology, delivering a 12MP F/1.7 OIS rear camera and 8MP AF F/1.7 array onboard. It’s a creative step below the dual lens approach seen on competitor products such as the iPhone 7 Plus, LG G6 or upcoming Huawei P10, but it’s still a very capable camera in its own right. Samsung’s camera app is built on an ease of use premise with simple gestures for switching from the rear to front lenses, changing camera modes and filters and zooming digitally from the shutter button. Here’s some sample shots taken with the Galaxy S8+ camera:
Samsung Galaxy S8+ Sample Photos
As with the Galaxy S8, if you’re upgrading from the Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge you won’t see much of an uptick from the rear camera, although improvements in the front camera could appeal if you're a big selfies fan.
- Water resistance: The Galaxy S8+ is quite the hefty phone to drop into a bucket of water, but science demands that we test out Samsung’s claims around the phone. It’s survived every dunking to date in fresh water, and that it absolutely should do given its IP68 rating. There’s less assurance if you drop it in other fluids, which means that you perhaps shouldn’t go swimming in the family pool with it, but for accidental drops in the toilet (I won’t judge) or sink it should survive just fine.
- Wireless or wired fast charging: The all-glass finish of the Galaxy S8+ means that it’s entirely suitable for wireless charging if that appeals to you. There’s no wireless charger supplied in the box, but Samsung’s own fast charger can add juice to the Galaxy S8+ at a rapid rate. If you forget your own charger, Samsung even provides a micro USB to USB C adaptor so you can use someone else’s charger or even laptop, although you might have to wait a while to fill that 3,500mAh battery from a slow charger.
- Great movie screen: The benefit of a larger screen is that, without wanting to seem too obvious, it’s bigger. Quite a bit bigger when you consider that at 6.2 inches, it’s only 0.8 inches smaller than many of Samsung’s previous Galaxy Tab tablet devices. With Quad HD (2960x1440) resolution, it’s higher resolution than them too. That makes it a great match for video watching, especially if you throw video in the cinematic 18:5.9 aspect ratio. The flipside of this is that lower quality video or poor adaptive streams show their flaws all the more obviously, but with the right video it’s a sublime experience. That larger screen also lends itself nicely to multi-tasking Android applications if you want to use the Galaxy S8+ as a productivity platform, but where’s the fun in that?
- DeX-trous potential: If you’re happy to splash a little cash, Samsung is equipping the Galaxy S8+ with more than a few neat accessories. The DeX dock turns the S8+ into its own productivity suite with full-screen video off a connected monitor and mouse and keyboard capabilities. I’ve only had the briefest of time with a DeX dock, so stay tuned for a full review, but there is potential here. It remains to be seen if Samsung can live up to it.
It’s also not giving up on the VR space, with an upgraded Gear VR headset that comes with an included controller. VR is quite the competitive space, but that large and brilliant screen, immense battery and powerful processor make for a compelling VR argument, at least based on the small amount of hands-on time I’ve already had. Again, stay tuned for a full review of the new Gear VR headset.
- Fast downloads and uploads: Like the S8, the Galaxy S8+ incorporates Qualcomm’s x16 LTE modem for data communications. That’s a category 16 modem, which means that it’s capable of up to 1Gbps downstream under ideal lab conditions. In our testing on Telstra’s gigabit network we found speeds of up to 100Mbps were more achievable than anywhere near that top end figure, but that’s still nicely fast, if potentially a little costly if you like streaming 4K video.
Samsung Galaxy S8+: Why you might not want one
- Chunky size: This is the curse of any large phone. By definition they’re big items, and that makes them a little trickier to slot into a pants pocket and harder to hold in the hand. Unless you’ve got extraordinarily long fingers, don’t expect to get all the way to the top of the screen without sliding the side down your palm or ideally holding it with two hands.
- Lots of unlock methods, lots of problems: The Galaxy S8+ features the same trio of additional screen unlock methods as the regular S8, and just like it, there’s a problem with every single one. If you want simple face unlocking the front camera can handle that, but it’s not a particularly secure method. Iris scanning is much more secure, but it’s ultra-fiddly if the light isn’t just right or if you wear glasses. I found often I’d end up staring at my own eyes (a weird and socially awkward matter all by itself) for up to 30 seconds trying to get it right before giving up and entering a manual password instead because it was faster. Finally, there’s the fingerprint sensor, which is located on the back of the phone next to the camera lens. It works, but the location and size of the Galaxy S8+ means that it’s even harder to get it right without looking. Both LG and Google, via the G6 and Pixel respectively place the fingerprint sensor lower down on the phone body, and it’s mind-boggling that Samsung didn’t pick up on this simple trick to make unlocking the Galaxy S8+ easier.
- Bixby needs improvement: Ask Samsung, and Bixby, its AI assistant that it intends to install in everything from smartphones to washing machines is the best thing since somebody thought of segmenting baked flour and yeast mixtures vertically. Just don’t ask Bixby that, because at launch it’s ill-prepared to deal with the Australian accent. Indeed, it’s entirely absent at launch with the promise that voice-activated Bixby will appear "in the coming months". What that leaves Bixby as is a simple user organiser, which isn’t unique, alongside a very patchy image recognition engine that seems to serve up quite random pinterest results and not much else. Google Assistant is present if you want an AI that actually works, but right now, Bixby is potential that sits unrealised, and that makes the inclusion of a dedicated Bixby button that you can’t remap to other tasks more of an annoyance than a benefit.
- Curves need to be more than sexy: There’s no doubting that the curved infinity display on the Galaxy S8+ is attractive to the eye. That’s fine as far as it goes, but Samsung also uses it to push its "Edge" display idea, where slide out menus of contacts, apps and a clipboard can appear with a gentle swipe. It’s a solution in search of a problem, because there’s no real benefit to it that you can’t solve with onscreen icons in the first place for your frequent contacts and apps anyway. To make matters worse the opening gesture is downright unreliable. Roughly half the time I try to invoke the Edge gesture the screen interprets it as a sideways swipe across whatever app is open at the time with unpredictable results. Samsung has been trying to make Edge happen for years now, and it’s seemingly out of new ideas. Maybe it’s time to give it away.
- Mono-tone-us: There are plenty of premium smartphones that trade on their quality audio. In the case of the Galaxy S8+ that’s via the included wired AKG headphones which are very good for pack-in headphones, but the same isn’t true of the Galaxy S8+’s mono speaker. It’s the same size and position as on the Galaxy S8 at the base of the phone, right where it’s very easy to accidentally place a finger or palm over it, muffling it almost entirely. When competing phones offer stereo speakers, mono feels a bit half-hearted.
Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?
The Galaxy S8+ does earn its "plus" suffix thanks to the larger display screen and increased battery capacity, and it’s that additional power that really makes it stand out from the regular Galaxy S8 model. It’s a very nicely styled product with plenty of processing power, and an easy top five contender in the premium smartphone space in 2017. If you like phablet-style phones, right now this is the model to buy.
Its most immediate competitor would be the near identical Galaxy S8, and I’d argue strongly that it’s going to be a better fit for most users than the S8+ itself. Yes, the battery life is a little lower, but as we found in our review, that’s not the same thing as being bad. It’s still got great battery life, the same appealing style and near identical performance too, but it costs less, fits into the hand and pocket a little easier and as a result is a little easier to unlock with a fingerprint as well. Either phone is great, but the regular S8 has just a little more appeal at the above $1000 price point.
If Samsung isn’t your brand of choice in smartphones, you still have plenty of other choices to consider. Equally large and just as visually appealing, although a little less powerful is the HTC U Ultra. If you want more photographic choices via a dual lens array, consider LG’s G6 or Huawei’s Mate 9. If you’re not in a rush to change phones, Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium showed considerable promise when we saw it at Mobile World Congress, and Huawei should also be formally announcing the Huawei P10 locally any day now.
Where can I get it?
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ can be purchased online through the Samsung store, with pre-order deliveries from 21 April 2017, and general availability at retail from 28 April 2017. Its outright retail pricing in Australia sits at $1349 for a 64GB Galaxy S8+ in either Midnight Black, Orchid Grey or Maple Gold finishes. If you pre-order early enough, either direct through Samsung or with a carrier you should score a free Gear VR headset to go along with your shiny new Galaxy S8+
If you’re after a contract, mobile, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is also being offered across Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile on 24 month terms at a variety of plan levels. Here’s how each of the carrier’s Galaxy S8 plans compare:
Samsung Galaxy S8+ Specifications
|Display||6.2in Super AMOLED|
|Front Camera||8MP AF (F1.7)|
|Rear Camera||12MP OIS (F1.7)|
|Processor||Samsung Exynos 8995|