- Speed and stamina
- Kitchen sink included
- A new high water mark for displays
- Better software, but quirks remain
- Bixby isn’t ready yet
- A conservative but top-quality camera
- It’s the best phone, warts and all
A new high water mark for displays
Samsung’s flagship phones have had the best displays of any smartphone for the last three years or so. This one is no different: peak brightness, contrast, color accuracy, color gamut, sharpness—it leads the pack in just about every metric. But it is different. After years of phones with displays that adhere to the 16:9 aspect ratio common to HDTVs, Samsung has gone taller.
LG beat Samsung to the punch with the LG G6’s 18:9 display, so the ever-so-slightly-taller 18.5:9 ratio of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is not as novel as it otherwise would be. But Samsung does a better job building a phone around it, with gently sloping sides, perfectly symmetrical (and very thin) forehead and chin above and below, and a “virtual home button” at the bottom of the screen that is more intuitive than the button on the back of LG’s latest phone.
After using a phone with an aspect ratio around 2:1 and a screen-to-body ratio over 80%, I have a feeling that this is going to be the design trend for future phones. Just as tablets experimented with 16:9 displays before deciding that 4:3 is the right ratio for that form factor, I think an aspect ratio taller and narrower than 16:9 is better suited to phones. It lets you get more overall screen area without making the phone wider, thus making it easier to grip and use with one hand, and easier to pocket, too.
I’ve been using this phone for only about one week, and I already look at standard 16:9 phones as if they seem old-fashioned. Woe to the company that plans to ship a high-end flagship phone late this year with a 16:9 display.
Better software, but quirks remain
The software design that once carried the awful name TouchWiz is now called Samsung Experience. It’s still what you expect it to be—a wholly “Samsung” interface built on top of the latest major version of Android. In this case, that’s Android 7.0, though we hope for a speedy update to 7.1.
Once the poster child for the “please just use stock Android” crowd, Samsung’s interface is less offensive than it has ever been. After some tweaking, I even think it’s quite good, though I still think Samsung would be better off sticking with the font, color, icon, and layout standards of the latest version of Android while just integrating its own unique features, as Motorola or Nvidia do.
Samsung Experience certainly provides a lot of useful features, if nothing else. Smart Stay keeps the screen on while you’re looking at it, you can quick launch the camera with a double-tap of the power button, and the screenshot function can capture long scrolling screens, to name just a few. There’s even a clever “SOS” feature that lets you quickly press the power button three times to send your location to emergency contacts, along with optional front-and-rear camera images and a 5 second audio clip.
One could spend all day detailing the many ways Samsung’s interface differs from stock Android, and not all the changes are appreciated. That’s what makes this new Samsung Experience so much better than TouchWiz ever was. Many features are optional, and if you spot an annoyance, odds are you can get rid of it. Don’t like the way Samsung puts a frame around app icons to make them look like bulging squares? You can turn that off so it doesn’t look like your gorgeous new phone has icon design from 2010. Show the app drawer button or don’t. Or get rid of the app drawer entirely and put everything on the home screen. Tweak and schedule the blue light filter, turn off the notification LED, change the look of the always-on display (or turn it off), whatever you want to do. Most phone makers, and indeed past Samsung phones, made these decisions for you. On the Galaxy S8, you’re given choices.
Somehow, Samsung still finds plenty of ways to annoy us, though. Carrier bloatware is as rampant as ever. And who do I have to bribe to get the persistent, un-killable T-Mobile Wi-Fi calling notification to go away? There’s a Samsung app to mirror just about every Google app, and in most cases it’s not nearly as good as Google’s offering. Samsung has its own app store, web browser, SMS app, health app, calendar, clock, email, contacts, and phone apps. That’s in addition to actual worthwhile Samsung apps like Secure Folder, the file browser, and Samsung+ (the support service).
After downloading a few Google apps and making a few trips to the settings you can safely ignore most of this crap and give yourself a better overall experience. But it’s clear that Samsung’s mission is now as it always has been: to build the best Samsung phone, not the best Android phone.
Samsung Galaxy S8Greenbot Rating
No phone is perfect, and the Galaxy S8 is no exception. But it's better than the best Samsung has ever made in almost every way.
- Stunning display in a useful new aspect ratio
- Industry leading performance with excellent battery life
- Bluetooth 5, fast wireless charging, waterproofing, and micro SD support
- Bixby is a flop
- The fingerprint sensor is located in the worst possible place
- It's still full of bloatware and duplicative Samsung apps
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