Samsung Galaxy S8 Preview: Samsung’s Best Flagship to Date

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Samsung needs a win. The mobile giant may be the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, but the Galaxy Note 7 debacle created a serious credibility issue for the company. The good news is that Samsung is more than aware of that and seems to be tackling the issue head on. In a meeting with the company earlier this week, the first thing they mentioned was their commitment to making sure nothing like this happens again, with more strenuous testing and standard practices. It won’t be easy but Samsung seems to be on the path to turn public perception around.

One thing that could really help the mobile giant do that is their new 2017 flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S8, and S8 Plus. Samsung’s newest pair of smartphones seem to embody that commitment. This isn’t a simple refresh with improved specs, but a whole new redesign with a gorgeous infinity edge display that provides more screen real estate without compromising form factor. Add in the all new Bixby AI  and improved productivity with Samsung DeX and you have an incredibly alluring package.

Not only does the Samsung Galaxy S8 look like a fantastic phone, but it may just be the answer that Samsung needed in their effort to bounce back in the public’s eye.

More Screen Same Space

When looking at the Samsung Galaxy S8 the first thing that comes to mind is that this phone is all screen. Both the S8 and the S8 plus have done away with the physical home buttons and moldings to favor a full infinity edge display. This is great news for users that want a larger screen without the bulky form factor. Impressively the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus boast 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch Quad HD (2960 x 1440) resolution displays respectively while maintaining paper thin 8.0 mm (156 grams) and 8.1 mm (173 grams) respective form factors. To put that in perspective, the Galaxy S8 essentially adds  0.3-inches of screen space compared to the Galaxy S7 while remaining the same size of its predecessor.  

NBR was expecting the removal of the home button to feel more jarring than it actually did. In place of the psychical button, Samsung has added capacitive touch display that feels pretty satisfying to hit. In our brief time with the phone, it was very clear when we were touching and compressing the digital home button. The only issue that we could possibly foresee is that the Galaxy S8 may be a bit trickier to navigate when not looking at the phone. Taking your eyes away it can be a bit more troublesome to find that button, but the feedback still lets you know when you have found it. It’s likely the time and muscle memory.

The potentially more serious issue is that the removal of the physical button also means that the fingerprint scanner has also been displaced to the back of the machine. In a sort of strange move by Samsung, the scanner is located to the right of the rear camera. To be fair NBR didn’t have enough time to fully test out the scanner, but this placement seems like an odd choice as it may cause the camera’s lens to become smudged by fingerprints. While users may not be pleased with the new fingerprint scanner placement, they will be happy to hear that Samsung is offering full gesture functionality. Users will be able to create their own gestures and even program them to open specific applications. Luckily the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus will also offer an iris scanner and full facial recognition, giving users other options for biometrics.  

Beyond just being larger it’s worth mentioning that the Infinity AMOLED display is absolutely gorgeous. The first time NBR laid eyes on the handset there was a video feed of the Aurora Borealis playing on the screen, and the panel did a masterful job of capturing the vibrant azure blue and rich emerald greens in the arctic sky.  The Galaxy S8 panel features mobile High Dynamic Range (HDR) which helps to expand both the range of color and contrast of the display greatly. Unfortunately, HDR will only be available from content creators that take available of the feature, so your mileage may vary. However, the screen looks gorgeous either way, but the inclusion of HDR is a welcomed added bonus and something that helps the handset stand out among other flagships.

Really the Galaxy S8 is a beautiful machine all around. The curved infinity display meets the metallic chassis to create a silky smooth aesthetic the feels as good as it looks. The thin curved design makes the device easy to hold and handle. Even the larger Galaxy S8 Plus feels great to hold and navigate with a single hand. The design change also hasn’t seemed to impact the handset’s durability as the Galaxy S8 continues to feature IP68 water and dust resistance.

Improved Specs and Productivity

If there’s one thing that we expect from new flagships it’s improved innards. But the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus do more than just offering an augmented array of specs. The handset is bolstering improved productivity via Samsung’s new DeX phone adapter.  The adapter provides an array of full-sized ports and helps the handset to quickly transform into a pseudo desktop with complete mouse and keyboard controls. The idea is similar to what HP tried a few years back with the Elite X3, only instead of running on Windows Phone, the device will be powered by Android 7.0. The Galaxy S8 also has the benefit of a more powerful chipset.

This kind of device fluidity (especially among Android products) seems to be a trend for Samsung as of late, as we saw much of the same when we previewed the Samsung Galaxy Book. It’s important to note that Samsung isn’t saying that the Galaxy S8 could outright replace your desktop. The company is very aware of its limitations in that capacity. Keystone android productivity apps like Windows Office suite have been remapped for desktop mode, but most have yet to be, they will still work but are limited to the phone cut out window that you’ve seen from another phone to desktop mirroring devices. Still, features like web browsing and image editing allow for effortless multitasking with resizable windows. There’s some real utility here that can be useful for users don’t always want to juggle their content across multiple platforms. A perfect example of this is someone like an insurance adjuster who wants to take photos at a site, edit them, and ultimately write up a full report. All of that would possible and easy with DeX. It’s a great little-added feature that helps the Galaxy S8 fill in those productivity gaps you may have. While this is a great added feature, ultimately how useful (and how well received it is) will depend on pricing, which Samsung has yet to announce.

Further expounding upon the idea of device fluidity and connectivity the Galaxy 8 features Samsung Connect, an app that simplifies and connects you to all of your other Samsung smart devices. This isn’t really anything to write home about as most of us likely haven’t fully bought into the Samsung ecosystem. However, for those of you that have this app allows you control pretty much anything at a touch of a button. Everything from lighting, to seeing what’s in your fridge is possible with this little app. If you can take advantage of it, it’s a nice little addition.  

While all of this connectivity is great, it doesn’t mean jack if Samsung doesn’t have the Specs to back them up.  As we already noted the Samsung Galaxy S8 will run on Android 7.0, armed with powerful 10 nm chipset. The type of chipset will vary depending on the region, the US variant will house a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, while the global models will feature Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 SoC. The handset offers 4GB of RAM, with 64GB of onboard storage, with up to 2TB of expandable memory,  and houses a 3,000 mAh battery. The Galaxy S8 Plus mirrors those specs with the exception of a larger 3,500 mAh battery.

Thankfully our fears have also been assuaged as Samsung did not opt for a combo port, keeping its 3.5mm audio jack and upgraded to a USB Type-C for power and connectivity.

Is the Battery Safer? Better?

This is a big question for consumers understandably and unfortunately, it’s one we don’t have a definitive answer for. What we do know is that Samsung is reportedly taking far more protective precautions, with a much more comprehensive eight-point inspection test.

Some consumers may also be disappointed to see that the Galaxy S8 and S8 plus don’t offer larger battery reserves. The Galaxy S8 matches the Galaxy S7’s 3,000 mAh battery, while the Galaxy 8 Plus’ 3,500 mAh battery is actually smaller than that of the 3,600 mAh battery found in  Galaxy S7 Edge. However, Samsung’s focus with the new line isn’t in size, or initial impressive benchmarks, but instead on long lasting performance. According to the company, these new batteries have been designed to retain their charge longer and should be capable of holding up to 95 percent of their capacity after two years of use. If that’s true the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus should retain far more stable battery lives than most competing handsets currently on the market.

Bixby Could be Big

Bixby is Samsung’s newest AI interface and it’s making its debut in the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 plus. Out of everything we saw from the Galaxy S8 this feature could be the biggest game changer, but it also the least fleshed out at the moment. Bixby is certainly in its infancy, but the potential is quite astounding. The feature essentially mashes up Voice Assistance, with Google Now Cards, and Google’s Google optical recognition. Similar to other voice assist features Bixby can be activated by pressing the small bumper button along the left side of the device or by uttering a specific wake-up command while the phone is active.

Bixby Home function is certainly the most familiar in its current form. Just like now Bixby collects Google Home cards in a scrolling list that contain pertinent information like the weather and news updates, along with tailored recommend information that it learns off of behaviors, like it may remind you to keep up with meeting call that you make every week, or give you a detailed traffic report just as you’re about to leave work. Google Home also has a new home the left of the Galaxy S8’s home screen. It’s a small change but it offers flow and ease of access.

Bixby Voice is also reminiscent of Google Voice Search though some functionality appears to be missing in the current iteration. Currently, the feature is capable of handling rudimentary tasks like setting an alarm or toggling your wifi settings. However, you currently can’t  start internet searches, so neither looking for movie times nor the address of a new restaurant isn’t possible at the moment. Samsung did make it pretty clear though that the feature will eventually have that functionality. With Bixby’s new cognitive and contextual technology Samsung said that Bixby will eventually offer millions of features capable of mirroring most of what you can do with touch. It’s unlikely that most of the features are going to be ready at launch but it’s something to look forward too.

While Voice does seem to be somewhat stunted at launch what has me so excited about the feature is the ability to type and touch while using it. While voice functionality has been a huge quality of life change for mobile users, the features have also completely taken users out of what you were previously doing. Bixby looks to alleviate that allowing users to continuously swipe and type while using voice features. The feature appeared to work fairly well in a demo, where a Samsung rep asked Bixby to send a photo that he was currently cropping and repositioning.

The biggest question mark of the three pillars has to be Bixby Vision, but it may also be the most complicated and ambitious.  Right now functionally seems to be hit or miss. More recognizable products like red bull or a popular apparel line have far higher success rate or reading the object than an obscure novel or a vintage bottle of wine. Currently, Bixby Vision is tied into social platforms and Pinterest and several retailers, but Samsung is looking to expand its list of partners, which should, in theory, make this feature more responsive and flexible. Other noticeable snafus occur with Bixby Vision’s translate feature which can instantly translate bodies of text. It’s a great feature but the inconsistency at which it currently selects a full body of text, mars it’s usefulness at the moment.

While all of these pillars are interesting on their own, what really had us excited about Bixby was the ability for the AI to use multiple pillars to set up unique features. One example that Samsung gave us was the ability to use Bixby Voice and Home for more tailored reminders. For example, instead of getting a timed reminder to buy milk, you could have Bixby remind you once you got close to your home.

The ability to setup more detailed and specific functions could make Bixby far more powerful than any other voice assistant feature we’ve seen before. For example, it may become possible for you to take a picture of a wine you’re enjoying at a friends house and then have Bixby notify you of all the retailers that sell that specific vintage along your route from work.  That’s not currently possible, but it certainly seems within the realm of possibility going forward.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Final Impressions

It’s still a bit premature and we don’t want to be too hyperbolic, but it’s hard not to the love the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus. Pretty much everything from the phone’s design to it’s gorgeous display, to the insane list of features blew me away. There are a few issues like strange fingerprint scanner location, but they do little to mar the overall picture. The potentially more problematic is the long list of what ifs that plague the Galaxy S8. Both DeX and Bixby seem like great additions to the Galaxy Ecosystem, but their true value is going to be dependent on developer participation. The vision aspect of Bixby is going to need more input to make the service reliable, and DeX needs a healthy array of apps to make the dock a viable computing substitute. However, it sort of feels like Samsung is playing with house money here. Even in the worst case scenario, these features are nice little additions that don’t take away from the phone’s clear strong suits. But if Samsung manages to make these features work, it could be a real game changer. The best thing that I can say about the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus is that they feel like a real substantial step forward in an industry that has inched along with incremental improvements over the last few years.

Samsung has yet to announce pricing for both the Samsung Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus. Both devices will be made available for preorder starting on March 30th and will be made available for purchase starting on April 21st.


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