Living with a Samsung Galaxy S8+

For the past couple of months, I’ve been using two terrific Android phones—the LG G6 and the Samsung Galaxy S8+—as my primary smartphones. Both have been excellent performers, but each has its strengths and weaknesses. In this post, I’ll talk about using the S8+; last time, I looked at the LG G6.

The Samsung Galaxy S8+Samsung’s OLED display to be the brightest and most vibrant in the industry, and the S8+ is no exception. The phone actually defaults to a 2220-by-1080 resolution, but you have the option of running it at 2960-by-1440 pixels (530 ppi). In practice, it was hard to tell the difference in most applications, and the extra resolution uses more battery. The biggest advantage of the higher resolution seems to be when you’re using the device for VR; there it does seem to reduce—but not eliminate—the screen-door effect. Otherwise, I was happy with the slightly lower default resolution.

The most unusual thing about the Galaxy S8 line (and the earlier S7 edge) is how the display curves around the side of the phone with what Samsung has called an “Infinity Display.” You can use the “edge” as a quick launch for frequently used applications, and I found that this was pretty useful. In addition, you can swipe again to get a “people edge,” which is useful for sending quick messages to your most frequent contacts, or swipe a third time to get a smart selection tool that lets you capture an image from the screen. Optionally, you can also set the edge screen to light up when you have notifications, which I found neat but unnecessary. The screen also defaults to an “always-on” mode which displays notifications.

The U.S. versions of the Galaxy S8 line use a 2.35 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor with Adreno 520 graphics, which results in somewhat better performance compared to last year’s processor. The new 10nm processor should also be more energy efficient. (International versions use Samsung’s own Exynos 8895, another 10nm chip which should have similar performance, though with different networking.) In practice, the phone seemed quite fast, but I can’t say I really noticed any major speed improvement in typical applications. The speed is more apparent in gaming and VR. The device has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, with a microSD slot to add even more storage.

The S8+ has a single rear camera, which uses a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture lens and optical image stabilization, which is a little surprising given how many of the other flagship phones now feature a dual camera configuration. (The Apple iPhone 7 Plus uses its second camera for better portrait shots, and the G6 has a wide-angle lens that is better for capturing landscapes.)

The camera did work quite well, and in general, it seemed to do better in low-light than last year’s model. Indeed, it seemed a bit faster than other Android phones I’ve used, resulting in less blur in some motion shots. Most of the pictures looked quite good, though in some lighting conditions a few pictures seemed a bit blown out compared with the G6. Overall, though, I was impressed.

Seattle Galaxy S8+

The S8+ can also take video at up to 4K resolution, though it defaults to 1080p with video stabilization. It has numerous camera options, including saving both RAW and JPEG automatically; motion photos (which take a short video clip of what happens before each photo is taken), and voice control. The S8+ has an 8-megapixel front-facing camera that took good wide-angle shots, again with many options, and these photos looked good as well.

The phone runs Android 7.0 Nougat, along with Samsung’s additions (formerly called TouchWiz, though that name has been retired). In the T-Mobile version of the phone I used, there were a number of specific applications and offers, but most didn’t get in the way of running the standard applications. In general, Samsung now offers fewer apps that duplicate functions from standard Android, but there are a few exceptions, some of which work quite well, some of which still have a ways to go.

The most obvious addition to the S8+ is Bixby, Samsung’s own assistant. Bixby is still a work in progress, with voice control in the U.S. (Bixby Voice) only in a limited preview. Right now, if you press the special Bixby button on the left side of the screen, it will bring up a set of cards showing your schedule, mail, weather, news, etc. This is nice, but Google’s own tools can do that too. The S8+ does offer Bixby Vision, which lets you take a picture and have the assistant find similar things online—typically similar images or shopping data—and this is kind of cool, but I didn’t find I used it very much. I’ll be very curious to see how Bixby develops as more features roll out.

One feature that seems duplicative but is actually quite useful is Samsung Pay. Like Android Pay (or Apple Pay, or just about any other electronic wallet for that matter), you put the information from a credit card into the device, and you can then use the phone to make purchases. As in the other systems, you can do this via NFC by placing the device next to a supported card reader. But Samsung Pay goes further, working via magnetic secure transmission to emit a signal that works with the magnetic stripe readers found in older credit card readers. As a result, Samsung Pay works in more locations.

Samsung offers a variety of additional accessories, including the Gear 360 camera and Gear VR headsets, which work very well. I found the DeX docking station, which lets you drop your phone onto a dock connected to a monitor and full-size keyboard so you can use the phone like a desktop, to work surprisingly well. I hope to cover these in more detail later.

The S8+ has a 3500mAh battery, and in general, I saw somewhat better battery life with the S8+ than with the G6, though much of that is due to the larger battery. Note that battery life is notably shorter when using the higher resolution screen setting, where the phone got close to running out of power at the end of the day. On the normal setting, I had better results, but I still found I wanted to charge the device every night, which is pretty much what I’m seeing with every Android phone.

Like most current phones, the S8+ supports USB-C, with fast charging. It also offers a wireless charging option, where you place the phone on a charging pad, using the Qi or PMA standards.

It’s one of the first phones to support Gigabit LTE, and while that isn’t available where I’ve been testing, I usually had very strong, fast connections with the S8+.

To me, the biggest problem with the S8+ is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. It’s on the back of the phone next to the camera, but because both are flush to the back, it’s hard to tell them apart by feel, and I’ve often smudged the camera as a result. You do have multiple options for unlocking the S8+ aside from the fingerprint reader, including face recognition and iris detection, however. Face recognition isn’t considered as secure as the others, and in practice, I found it often took a while for it to work. Iris recognition is much more secure, but awkward to use. The fingerprint sensor was typically the easiest choice, but I didn’t find it as reliable or fast as the sensor on last year’s S7. Again, I like having these options, but it still seems like an area that could use some improvement. In practice, it seemed to take a bit longer to unlock the S8+ compared with competing phones.

Minor quibbles aside, the Galaxy S8+ is the most capable Android phone on the market, with the fastest processor, the best display, a terrific camera, and a great payments system. Other than the size, it’s pretty much identical to the regular S8. But unlike some other PCMag.com writers, I like phones with big displays, and it’s amazing to see a 6.2-inch display in a phone this easy to hold.

Here’s PCMag’s full review.


Michael J. Miller is chief information officer at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Miller, who was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine from 1991 to 2005, authors this blog for PCMag.com to share his thoughts on PC-related products. No investment advice is offered in this blog. All duties are disclaimed. Miller works separately for a private investment firm which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.

http://www.pcmag.com/article/354724/living-with-a-samsung-galaxy-s8

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