Samsung Galaxy S8 Australian Review: A sleek and near-perfect phone
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 very nearly lives up to its immense hype, meaning that it’s a very fine phone indeed.
There’s no doubting that it’s been a rocky six months for Samsung. The Galaxy Note 7 should have been a triumph, and but for that pesky issue with handsets bursting into flames, it would have been.
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Since then, however, the hype has been inescapable. The Samsung Galaxy S8, as Samsung pitches it, is a revolutionary device that will "unbox your phone" and deliver so much more than any smartphone has before. While Samsung has enjoyed a dominating position in the Android space, those are still bold claims for the Galaxy S8 to live up to. We’ve been assiduously testing the Galaxy S8 here at finder to seperate the hype from the reality of the Galaxy S8, and the news is (mostly) good.
Samsung Galaxy S8: Design
The Galaxy S8’s design is a key part of its appeal, as should be the case for any phone sitting in a premium price bracket. The Galaxy S8 packs in a 5.8 inch Quad HD (2960x1440) display into a frame that measures only 148.9x68.1x8.0mm, thanks largely to the total lack of side bezels. The Galaxy S8 still has a tiny top and bottom bezel, largely because the front camera and iris scanner has to sit somewhere on the display.
Samsung refers to the curved edge display on the Galaxy S8 and sibling Galaxy S8+ as the "infinity" display .It’s an extension of the same curved display found on previous handsets such as the Galaxy S7 Edge, and it’s highly visually appealing. It accentuates the smoothly curved edges of the Galaxy S8 when you’re looking at it, but it’s when you’re holding it that you feel the benefit.
Holding the Galaxy S8 feels like you’re gripping a single piece of finely shaped glass in your hand, and if you stop to consider the screen size, there’s no way it should feel this small. By way of comparison, the Apple iPhone 7 Plus measures in at 158.2x77.9x7.3mm, so it’s considerably larger in the hand, but you’re only looking at a 5.5 inch display on that particular handset.
Samsung has clearly accentuated smooth design on the Galaxy S8, with the rear of the phone featuring the thinnest possible edge around the camera lens array and fingerprint sensor. The one slight design misstep here is that they’re both ringed by the same thickness of band, so you can’t quickly tell one from the other if you’re not actively looking at it.
I tested out the Midnight Black variant of the Galaxy S8, although in Australia it will also sell in Orchid Grey and Maple Gold variants. The glossy black finish looks great from a distance, but rather predictably it’s an utter fingerprint magnet in day-to-day use. If you want to show off your shiny new Galaxy S8, be ready to carry around a cleaning cloth with you at all times.
Samsung Galaxy S8: Why you’d want one
- Powerful processor: The variant of the Galaxy S8 that Samsung will officially sell in Australia comes with the Exynos 8995 processor, which means it’s using Samsung’s own in-house silicon rather than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835. I haven’t been able to test and compare against the Snapdragon 835 to see whether or not we’re getting the "best" version of the Galaxy S8, but what I can confidently say is that Samsung has brought the goods when it comes to raw performance. On an anecdotal level I couldn’t stump the Exynos 8995 with demanding apps even when they were pushing the screen resolution heavily. This was reflected in the Galaxy S8’s benchmark performance. Here’s how it compared against a range of premium handsets using Geekbench 4’s CPU test:
Handset Geekbench 4 CPU Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 4 CPU Multi Core (higher is better) 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 Motorola Moto Z 1477 3853 HTC U Ultra 1648 3848 Sony Xperia XZ 1636 3604
That gap between single and multi-core performance from the iPhone 7 family and the Galaxy S8 does suggest that the S8 could be pushing single-core apps a little harder, although it could also be indicative of Apple’s tight control of its entire ecosystem from software up as well. In any case, the S8 rather handily sees off its immediate Android competition in straight performance benchmarks.
In 3D benchmarks the S8 stumbles slightly against its competition, only narrowly edging out last year’s Galaxy S7 Edge:
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 Sony Xperia XZ 26279
Benchmarks don’t always show the entire picture however. I’ve thrown plenty of high-intensity games at the S8 without particular issue during the review period with no issues. Its ability in the VR space certainly doesn’t suggest the kinds of figures 3DMark chewed out of it.
- Great battery life: Samsung has been forced to spend up big on battery technology and safety following the Note 7 debacle, and certainly there has been no smoke escaping from my review unit as yet. That safety spend and focus certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt Samsung’s ambitions in terms of battery life, with a 3,000mAh onboard battery powering the Galaxy S8. Single day battery life, even with heavy usage, is quite easy to achieve, and if you're a moderate user two days should be equally easy. Throwing the Galaxy S8 through Geekbench 3’s older battery life test confirmed its superior battery prowess:
Handset Geekbench 3 Battery Test Duration Geekbench 3 Battery Score 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
When your only competition is your own phone, you’re doing something right. I’ve not had the opportunity to test the Galaxy S8+ and its 3,500mAh battery as yet, but logically it should do even better again.
- Good camera: Samsung hasn’t pushed the limits of phone photography as far as some of its competitors, and it’s tempting to put the decision not to opt for a dual lens array as found in phones such as the Huawei P10, iPhone 7 or LG G6 into the minus column. Still, the Galaxy S8’s 12MP F/1.7 OIS rear camera is a very competent camera in the premium space, and Samsung’s simplified camera app makes it easy to take decent photos. Here are some sample shots taken from the Galaxy S8:
Samsung Galaxy S8 Sample Pics
While we might have liked Samsung to adopt a multi-lens capability simply because it does give you more flexibility in your photographic choices, the Galaxy S8 is a very good camera phone, essentially taking the view that if it isn’t broken, why fix it? The one slight downside here is that it’s a somewhat less compelling upgrade if you’re coming directly from last years Samsung Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge, both of which feature very good cameras indeed. Next time, aim for great, rather than just good, Samsung.
- Water resistant: This has been a feature of Samsung’s premium phones, and even the mid-range Samsung Galaxy A phones of late, and it’s present and correct in the Samsung Galaxy S8 as well. We’ve repeatedly dunked our Galaxy S8 in the name of science, and with its IP68 rating, it’s come through every time. That’s not a licence to drown it in plenty of pool water or the surf, because that rating does, strictly speaking, work for clean lab water only, but a little bit of accidental immersion shouldn’t affect the S8 in any significant way.
- Plenty of charging options: The Galaxy S8 switches over to the newer USB C standard for charging, with Samsung supplying a standard charger in the box, but it’s also wireless charging capable if that’s more your style. USB C is becoming more standard, but it’s nice to note that Samsung provides both type A and microUSB adaptors in the box, so even if you forget your charger you can easily hook up to an older style adaptor, or plug directly into a PC or Mac to get some extra juice.
- Great display screen for video: The curved display won’t suit absolutely every application, and like the LG G6 the Galaxy S8 presents user options for stretching the screen display to your particular desires. Where the S8 shines is in video display, thanks to its vibrant 5.8 inch Quad HD (2960x1440) display. It’s very much a case of quality dependent on what you feed it, with lower resolution YouTube video coming out distinctly blocky, but present the S8 with some high quality video and you can just sit back and enjoy.
- Enhanced device ecosystem: I’ve only had a small amount of hands-on time with the new Gear VR headset that accompanies the new Galaxy S8, but what I’ve seen shows a lot more promise for Samsung’s particular take on VR. Manufacturers haven’t exactly been falling over themselves to deliver Google Daydream compatible headsets, and the Google Pixel that does work with the Daydream VR headset is a Telstra exclusive. Everyone’s selling the Galaxy S8, so if you want an inexpensive (or in the case of early pre-orders, completely free) entry point to the world of virtual reality, it's an easy way in.
In a similar vein, Samsung’s DeX dock has a lot of potential, although I’ve yet to be able to independently test how well it enables laptop-free working. It’s an approach that has been tried before with minimal luck. Motorola tried to push it with the Atrix but the hardware wasn’t up for it, while Microsoft’s push for Continuum via its phones is solid enough technology hampered by the fact that virtually nobody buys Windows phones. Samsung’s market presence and the relative affordability of the DeX dock could change all of that. We’re waiting on access to Samsung’s new peripherals to give a final verdict, but there’s certainly potential here.
- 1Gbps network capable: The model of the Galaxy S8 sold in Australia carries within it Qualcomm’s X16 LTE modem. It’s the same essential part as found in Telstra’s Nighthawk M1 hotspot, with the same Category 16 capabilities of up to 1Gbps download speeds. In reality you’re unlikely to see that in operation, but it does give the S8 plenty of headroom for further network expansion. Just keep an eye on your usage, because at those speeds, mobile data charges can rack up rapidly.
Samsung Galaxy S8: Why you might not want one
- Security unlocking mishmash: The Galaxy S8 features a plethora of ways to lock the phone down, which would normally be a very big plus. There’s the usual options of PIN or password, but beyond that the front camera can be used for simple face matching for unlocking, or iris scanning for a more secure take on unlocking. Around the back of the phone you’ll find the fingerprint sensor located next to the camera lens. All good and shiny, right? Not so fast. Unfortunately each and every one of these approaches has problems. The face scanner can be unlocked with a photo, which isn’t terribly secure. The iris scanner is far more paranoid, but this means in limited light or if you wear glasses you’ll often find yourself fiddling around with screen position to get it to actually work, at which point you could probably use a PIN or password more easily. The fingerprint sensor works rapidly, but its positioning on the rear of the phone right next to the camera lens is downright dumb. The LG G6 has a similarly rear-mounted fingerprint scanner, but it’s located well underneath the lens, which is both easier to reach and simpler to identify without looking. I can only presume that internal layout considerations meant that Samsung couldn’t take a similar approach, because it’s much easier to use.
- Bixby is limited at launch: Bixby is Samsung’s take on an AI assistant, a step which is very much in line with all of its competitors. Samsung talks a very big game with Bixby in terms of how it intends to implement it across everything from smartphones to smart fridges, but at launch, it’s a rather lobotomised product, largely because it’s not tuned for Australian English. At launch it's a tap and type only interface, with speech to come "in the coming months" according to Samsung. What is available of Bixby does mostly work, more or less, but it makes the presence of the dedicated Bixby button on the left hand side more of an annoyance than a perk at this point in time. If Samsung can build Bixby out to be more than its competition it could be a welcome inclusion, but right now it’s more of an underdeveloped feature.
- Edge display still struggles for meaning: The infinity display on the Galaxy S8 is undeniably pretty, and maybe that’s all it needs to be. Like the S7 Edge and its own curved predecessors, the curved display also hides what Samsung refers to as "Edges" that provide theoretically fast access to your most frequent contacts, apps and a screen capture utility by default. Samsung provides a few other Edge options through its own app store, but it’s fundamentally a solution in search of a problem. In the same number of taps you could access any of these features from the regular screen, and probably with more accuracy. Getting the edge display to slide across as distinct from registering a cross-screen swipe within the current app is something of a gamble most of the time. Edge isn’t a bad feature, but it’s one that still desperately needs some kind of killer application and an easier invoking gesture to make it truly meaningful.
- Mono speaker If you're a fan of using your phone as your direct speaker for music or video, you may find the Galaxy S8's bottom mounted speaker a little bit underwhelming. In the premium space we're seeing more and more attempts at proper stereo, and while the size of phones gives that some limitations, mono is markedly worse, especially as the placement of the speaker also makes it far too easy to accidentally cover and mute with your palm.
Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?
Samsung’s pitch for the Galaxy S8 as being "revolutionary" doesn’t entirely ring true, partly because this is just a smartphone at its heart, and partly because it’s a rather logical conclusion point for its current design language. Had it genuinely changed the smartphone game by, say, offering a flexible screen or changing apps the way the original iPhone overtook the Nokia and Blackberry handsets that were the norm at the time it could be called revolutionary, but it's doesn't hit either of those goals.
So the hype is perhaps a little overstated, but the reality of using the Galaxy S8 shows that Samsung still fundamentally understands what a premium phone needs to be in 2017.
The Galaxy S8 is a seriously sexy looking handset that backs up those good looks with plenty of power, both in a processing sense and in terms of its overall battery life. It’s the complete package, and easily the best phone we've tested in 2017 so far.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t face some significant competition worthy of your consideration. If what you want in a premium smartphone is a device that looks great in your hand, consider the HTC U Ultra. If you hunger for more dual-camera Android action, the LG G6 can be had for less through Telstra, and there’s always the upcoming Huawei P10 to fill that particular gap, or for that matter Huawei’s very affordable Mate 9 as well. If you’re curious about the difference a Snapdragon processor should make, Sony’s Xperia XZ Premium impressed us mightily at Mobile World Congress, and we’re expecting it to launch around the middle of the year.
Equally, if you're in a position where your budget is constrained, we're seeing a lot of bargains around outright purchase of last year's Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge right now, sometimes for less than half the Galaxy S8's asking price. They're not quite as shiny or cutting edge, but they're still great phones if you want to stay within the Samsung family.
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 $1199 for a 64GB model in either Midnight Black, Orchid Grey or Maple Gold finishes. Early pre-orders will also be sent a new Gear VR headset to use with the 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.
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Samsung Galaxy S8 Specifications
|Display||5.8in Super AMOLED|
|Front Camera||8MP AF (F1.7)|
|Rear Camera||12MP OIS (F1.7)|
|Processor||Samsung Exynos 8995|