(Pocket-lint) - Samsung broke the mould with its Galaxy S8 handsets, producing two devices that are the same spec, apart from screen size and battery capacity. If you want this phone, just pick the size that fits you with no compromises or additional considerations.
That's a rare thing indeed: Apple's iPhone has different resolutions and cameras, Huawei's P10 models vary in a whole range of specs; Google's Pixel, the purest of Android phones, offers a different resolution on the larger device's display. Even with the 2018 update, the Galaxy S9, Samsung put different cameras in sibling models.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ was the highlight phone of 2017, but a year on, is it just a retired model, or still worthy of your attention?
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Designed around the Infinity Display
- Dual-edge 18.5:9 aspect Infinity Display
- 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1mm, 173g
- IP68 water/dust resistance
While the transition from Galaxy S6 edge+ to Galaxy S7 edge had some blink-and-you'll-miss-it changes, the Galaxy S8's looks catapults this phone into the future. There's a sweeping run of changes to this phone, but it's distinctly Galaxy. Dual curved edges, sculpted sides and a glass back is all familiar territory, as is the water resistance.
There's a big change on the front is the reduction of bezels top and bottom, shifting the aspect ratio to 18.5:9 (close to 2:1). Korean rivals LG pipped Samsung to the post with the launch of the LG G6, but this shift in aspect very much set the trend for 2017 and beyond, with event the Apple iPhone X following along.
The aim is to increase the screen-to-body ratio and give you more display without resulting in a wider overall phone. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ has a 6.2-inch display, but it's only 73.4mm wide. That's narrower than the iPhone 8 Plus, while only being fractionally taller - but giving you over half an inch more display.
Of course, changing the aspect results in that display increase: it's taller rather than wider, so although the diagonal is larger, you don't get the same display area as you would from a 6.2-inch 16:9 phone.
Essentially, Samsung has expanded the display into sections of the phone that used to be top and bottom bezel, shifting the controls onto the display and, amongst other things, ditching that logo bar at the top. Moving the controls onto the display is something that Samsung has avoided for many years, but it now necessitates moving the fingerprint scanner to the rear of the device and a pressure-sensitive home button under the display - but more on those later.
Surprisingly, although the S8+ has that huge display, it isn't too bulky. Keeping the width in check means it's easy enough to grip, although there's no avoiding the fact that it's nigh-on impossible to reach the top one-handed without changing your grip.
Is the S8 too big? For some, perhaps, but then there's the same spec Galaxy S8 that offers the same experience, but in a slightly smaller 5.8-inch package.
About the only downside to the S8+ design is the speaker. There is a single speaker on the bottom and its performance is rather flat and boring. This is something that Samsung corrected in the new Samsung Galaxy S9+, although you'd have to consider whether loud speaker performance is that important to you.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus specs
- Samsung Exynos 8895, 4GB RAM
- 64GB storage + microSD
- 3500mAh battery, USB Type-C, wireless charging
- Gigabit LTE
- 3.5mm headphone socket
Outside of design, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ comes with fully-updated internals. For the geeks, this phone is the first to be powered by a 10nm chipset, although through 2017, most other manufacturers launched similarly-powered flagships.
There's a serene slickness to the Galaxy S8+ in operation. It skips through daily tasks without breaking a sweat, like a lithe athlete. It gobbles up everything in its path, rolling on like an unstoppable machine. The move to 10nm architecture brings with it new efficiencies and the new-generation GPU offers more clout for gaming and movie-watching antics.
The generous range of multi-tasking options take advantage not only of the power, but also the display's quirky aspect ratio. Multi-tasking isn't new to Samsung, it's been an option for a couple of years, but there's a feeling that Samsung is leading and Google is following: what came first - TouchWiz multi-screen or Nougat's split screen? You already know the answer.
The result is a first class experience and over the weeks and months that we've used the Galaxy S8+ we've experienced nothing but smooth running. This isn't a phone that gets overly hot either, it all feels calm, controlled and at the top of its game. That's as much a testament to the user experience provided by Samsung's software as it is from the hardware that powers it. Naturally, the Galaxy S9+ is a touch faster, but even a year on, the S8+ is no slouch.
The USB Type-C connection on the bottom charges a 3,500mAh battery. That's a pretty big number, but it's becoming par for this size of device. It performs as you'd expect, offering day-long battery life and often carrying on into the next day without too much bother. Hit your phone hard with a lot of display time, however, and it will naturally drop faster. It's doesn't offer the greatest endurance - the Huawei Mate 10 Pro might be of interest if that's what you want.
There's support for wireless charging for an ad hoc top-up, plus fast charging to bring you back into contention in no time at all - but there's also a focus on optimisation for battery performance. Not only does it take advantage of Nougat's enhanced power-saving features like Doze, but there's reasonable power saving options to toggle on too, with loads of customisation so you get the result you want.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ also has a headphone socket. It might sound like an odd thing to say, but 2017 saw a number of smartphones lose this legacy connection: fear not, your Galaxy will work with your old headphones.
A display to die for
- 6.2-inch, 2960 x 1440 pixels (529ppi)
- AMOLED Infinity Display with dual edges; 18.5:9 aspect ratio
- Mobile HDR Premium certification
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is all about that display. In our opinion, it's the best-looking display you'll find on a mobile device. Even with the updates to the Galaxy S9+, the S8+ still holds its ground.
The performance of this display is staggeringly good. It uses an AMOLED panel - something that Samsung has a reputation for using on generations of Galaxy S devices - which, in the S8+, delivers a depth and richness that makes those other devices feel a little dated and lacklustre.
The new 18.5:9 aspect, which eats into much of the space which otherwise would be bezel, is the other eye-catching point. Some may say this is just to show off, to keep things interesting, to ensure this phone looks like more than a boosted Galaxy S7 edge. There's some credence to that argument, but equally this Infinity Display does look fantastic.
Importantly, however, it's a display that offers jaw-dropping visuals. Once you've started using the S8, any notion that it's a marketing ploy will vanish, especially when you set it to task watching movies and indulging in your favourite entertainment. It's here that the S8+ blends its inky black AMOLED skills with the black of the minimal bezel, so if you're not watching content that happens to be in a wider format (like a movie), then it doesn't look like you're staring at black bars left and right, given how they blend in so perfectly.
When you do hit that wider content - like Stranger Things on Netflix - then, wow, the display eats you up in masterclass fashion.
This is also an HDR (high dynamic range) capable display, able to show content more dynamically then other devices - in terms of peak brightness but also, and importantly, colour gamut (presenting more colours for a richer look). Fire up the Netflix app and you'll see the HDR label on some content. It's not quite as big a deal as it is on TV, but it certainly looks great.
There's a shift in resolution to 2960 x 1440 pixels. That means incredible detail from this Samsung, although the default mode is 1080p to save on the battery consumption. That drop in detail won't make a big difference to things like emails and social media - and when you need the higher-resolution you can select it.
Ok, so Samsung isn't alone in offering a high-resolution display at this new quirky aspect, but as we said in our opening gambit, Samsung offers you a choice of two sizes, plus there's the killer blow from the curved edges.
The other thing is brightness. Step into bright sunshine and the S8+ reacts, punching through reflections with the brightness to cope with the great outdoors. There's a lot of flagship phones that won't do this - or be far too slow to react - and this is one area where this year-old phone will still impress.
Detail, brightness, deep blacks, a richness to colours, Mobile HDR Premium certification: there's little you can do to hide from the magnificence of the Galaxy S8+ display - and little more you could ask for.
Fingerprint scanner misses the mark, iris scanner arises
- Iris scanner
- Face recognition
- Rear fingerprint scanner
- Pressure-sensitive home button
The perfect phone, huh? Not quite.
The elephant in the room is the whole fingerprint scanner and home button thing. The fingerprint scanner is now on the back, but it's not executed as well as, say, the Google Pixel 2 XL. That device is a masterclass in rear positioning, while the Galaxy S8+ sadly is not.
But let's rewind a little. Back in 2010 the original Samsung Galaxy S had a physical home button. Every Galaxy S model has followed suit, as Samsung avoided the temptation to go for on-screen controls. That physical button has more recently contained the fingerprint scanner, resulting in a rather iPhone-like result, but one that worked. You press the button, the phone unlocks.
Moving the display into the bezel space means no room for that button and no room for that fingerprint scanner. Its position on the rear, flanking the camera, is just awkward. Devices like the Google Pixel avoid this because it's only the fingerprint scanner in the centre back, while the camera is to the corner. With the Samsung you need to land your finger on the scanner and not hit all the other stuff it sits alongside.
Muscle memory will help. After about a week of use we found it easy to hit the S8+'s scanner every time. The bigger problem, however, is that it didn't unlock every time. Which, from our use, sees the S8's fingerprint scanner go from the 100 per cent record of the S7 edge, to more like 85 per cent.
It's fortunate, then, that Samsung offers a range of biometric unlocking options. There's the normal password and pattern stuff, but more pertinent is the iris scanner. Register your eyes, look at your phone and it unlocks. Of course you need to trigger that and you can do so with a long press on the virtual home button. In essence, using the new virtual home button and the iris scanner is as easy as the old fingerprint scanner arrangement.
For those who don't want to stare into the red lights that the iris scanners use, then you have the option for face recognition too. This is a locking system that's been subject to more scrutiny because people might be able to unlock your phone with a photo of you. Just remember that you phone is only as secure as your PIN or password, as all biometric measures can be bypassed to return to this default.
Now, long-term Samsung users might be taken aback by the on-screen buttons. Samsung has belligerently stuck to off-screen controls for a long time, while most of Android has moved on-screen. The change means you can't just press the button to go to the homescreen; instead the pressure sensitivity and haptic feedback give you the sense you've pressed a button that's just a virtual one on the screen. It's a change for Samsung users but it's not a bad thing. It actually feels like Samsung has taken a step forward, throwing off one of the vestiges that was holding it back.
It also means that the navigation bar can be dynamic. If you've been cursing Samsung for having its back and recent apps buttons arranged in reverse order compared to every other Android device, you can now change that. You can also have Samsung's Game Centre gaming controls on this navigation bar too, out of the way, but easy to reach.
Samsung Galaxy S8+ camera review
- Rear 12-megapixel f/1.7
- Front 8-megapixel f/1.7
- Multi-frame image processing
- Bixby integration
The Samsung Galaxy S7 was one of our favourite camera experiences of 2016, so it's perhaps no surprise that not a lot has changed in 2017 on the S8+. Much has remained the same both in terms of the hardware and the camera experience, from fast shooting to HDR capture and good all-round performance.
There's a nip and a tuck to the camera experience here and there, but on the whole it's very familiar. As it's 2017, there's the addition of some AI elements, like Snapchat-style masks you can put on yourself or other people. Being firmly positioned in Generation X it's something we're loathe to use: fun as it is for millennials, we can't help feeling that Snapchat's dog face is Shapchat's and Samsung can't usurp that with its own additions.
With quick launch now taking a double-press of the standby button, the time to shooting is brief. The camera is fast to focus, offers a full range of manual control options including raw shooting and is a great performer in all conditions. One of the obvious enhancements is that there's now video stabilisation at higher resolutions, probably thanks to more processing power under the hood.
There's also been a bump in hardware around the front with a higher-resolution 8-megapixel camera. Looking to capture your best angle, the front camera now uses autofocus too, meaning selfies are generally sharper. It also means you can have more control over the focus in selfies, with the ubiquitous blurring options that come with that.
While performance is good in all areas, in low-light you will see a drop in detail as the camera processes away image noise. Sometimes low-light scenarios will result in slightly blurry images because of using a slower shutter speed, but with an f/1.7 aperture lens on board chances are you'll get an image more usable than the smaller-aperture competition.
We're also fans of the on-screen exposure compensation slider that's offered. If a low-light scene is boosted to be too bright (like a sunset, for example), you can easily slide the brightness down to ensure you get those rich colours you want. It's all easy to use.
The only real complaint is the addition of AI stickers and Bixby Vision, which adds some unnecessary clutter to the app - plus there's no way to remove these.
How does all this compare to the Samsung Galaxy S9+? Samsung's newest phone has gives the camera a lot more power, offering 960fps super slow-motion, but the real difference is the dual aperture camera. This gives the S9+ more enhanced low light skills. Then there's the additional 2x optical zoom camera. That makes the Galaxy S9+ more capable in a range of areas - but it's also a lot more expensive.
Supreme software, but Bixby's a bore
- Android Nougat with TouchWiz
- Bixby isn't complete, adds duplication
- Google Assistant
The thing that Samsung is shouting about the most in the Galaxy S8 is Bixby. That's the name of Samsung's AI service that incorporates a whole range of functions, as well as scoring itself a physical button on the left-hand side of the phone. Bixby aims to span the entire Samsungverse of all devices, but started its campaign on the Galaxy S8.
After a somewhat slow start, Bixby managed to widen it's appeal, bringing Bixby voice to a wider range of users. You can ask questions, but by far the most useful part is the ability to change device settings using Bixby. There's no avoiding that the Galaxy S8+ is a complex device and Bixby can help you get around that.
But does it warrant its own hardware button? Probably not. Over the past year of using Bixby-equipped devices, we've never really found the need to use Samsung's service. Especially not when Google Assistant - included in this device - offers a lot more integration with Google services, hardware elements like Google Home and wide smart home control too.
So let's ignore Bixby, because it's about the only weakness in the Samsung Galaxy S8+'s software experience - except for the slow update to Oreo as the phone gets older.
Otherwise the software experience is about as good as they come. And there was once a time when we'd have said Samsung TouchWiz (or Samsung Experience UX as it's now called) was too much, that it was overwrought and full of bloat. Now it trounces HTC Sense, stomps on Huawei's EMUI and outclasses LG's UX too. Samsung also has the option to not install Samsung's apps when you start up the phone. Amazing, huh? We love that choice, that Samsung is finally confident enough to let you choose the apps you want.
But for all this refinement, finding all the stuff that the S8+ can do will take you an age. There are choices, options, and personalisation decisions to be made all over the place. We've mentioned customising the navigation bar, but you can turn off Samsung's app reshaping, you can have no apps tray icon, you can have no apps tray, you can fiddle around with just about anything you want. This might be a phone that will sell to the mass market, but it's a geek phone once you dive under the surface.
From headphone tuning, to always-on display customisation, edge screen functions and the ability to push apps to run in full screen, the software experience of the Galaxy S8+ is in-depth. It feels like a phone that's always looking to sort you out and get you connected - whether to TV, speakers or Chromecast - without so much as a need to open something like the Bluetooth settings.
Bixby, we're sure, will one day have its place in all this, but there's Samsung Connect too (now being called SamrtThings as Samsung looks to tidy up all its brands), which looks to smooth out those connections and make things simpler. And with Samsung looking to take over the connected home we suspect there'll be a lot more connectivity updates to come and, hopefully, make everything even better than it already is.
Samsung waited a little later in 2017 to unleash its flagship phone - but it was well worth the wait. A year on, with falling prices, the Galaxy S8+ still stands up against the new Galaxy S9+.
Exquisite design, a high-quality waterproof build, great camera, plus 3.5mm headphone socket for those decent AKG headphones just to kick off to list of positives. But it's the refined software experience - which offers you choices and functions - and top-class performance where the S8+ outstrips other flagships.
And then there's that display. At first glance it looks big, but in the hand it feels just fine. Some might think the near-2:1 aspect ratio to be odd, but once it's been put to use binge watching Netflix or Amazon Video you'll fall in love with the quality and the expansiveness that it offers. A marketing ploy? A risky move? Perhaps. Something that you'll love using? Definitely.
Sure, the Galaxy S8+ will simply be too big for some. Yes, you can't reach the top of the screen easily without shuffling your grip either. And then there's the poorly placed fingerprint scanner, which is squished against the side of the camera on the rear. Oh, and let's not forget the £779 launch price, although this has fallen to £699 making it more accessible.
But when there's Stranger Things is glorious widescreen, battery life that doesn't really care how long your day is, and a user experience that casts a long shadow over the flagship competition, the S8+ is unrivalled. It's bettered by the newer model, but it's still very much a glorious phone.
In short: the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a masterpiece. It's expensive, but it's a masterpiece nonetheless.
Originally published in April 2017.
Alternatives to consider...
First out of the gate with this new taller aspect display was the LG G6. It might have pipped Samsung to the post in announcing its phone, but both devices hit the shelves around the same time. The Samsung is more fully featured and more powerful, but it's also more expensive. LG brings its innovative dual camera to the party and also promises Dolby Vision content from its HDR display.
Read the full review: LG G6 review
Google Pixel XL
If you want a big-screen phone without the weird 18.5:9 ratio, the Pixel XL is the mac-daddy of phones. It's pure, enhanced Android with all of Google's latest tricks packed in to a fast, powerful device with a brilliant camera and exemplary battery life. It is, however, less powerful than the Samsung despite being quite close in price.
Read the full review: Google Pixel XL review
iPhone 7 Plus
If you want it all but without the Android part, the 7 Plus is your best bet. iPhones have long offered a consistently good experience. It's excellently built, has a great dual camera system, last more than a day on one charge and looks stunning in Jet Black. Add that to the best apps available anywhere and software update support for years, and you get a compelling all-round package.
Read the full review: Apple iPhone 7 Plus review