OUR EARLY VERDICT
This is a strong phone from Samsung indeed, although a lack of upgrades to the camera and battery do slightly irk. However, the rebooted screen is very attractive, and really makes a big difference to this phone – Samsung has ticked most of the boxes we were hoping it would here.
Slick new UI
No camera upgrade
Battery same size
Update: Screen experts DisplayMate have crowned the display on the Samsung Galaxy S8 as the best around.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is one of those phones that just has to do well – it’s up against some massively impressive competition in 2017 – and the good news is that this is, indeed, a very strong phone.
The amount of S8 leaks we’ve seen are staggering, both in their volume and accuracy, but they don’t tell the whole story about a phone that’s certain to be at the top (or very near the summit) of most ‘best phone’ lists this year.
The Infinity Display is the headline feature of this handset – while it’s not all screen, it’s as close as can be.
Samsung has also been very clever in the way it’s got around the loss of the front-facing home screen button, managing to make the handset usable without requiring the mechanical key on the front of the Galaxy S8.
That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect phone though. The lack of significant camera upgrades and the user interface will irk some, although they shouldn’t detract from what is a hugely impressive effort from Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy S8 release date and price
We should probably get the fact that this is the most expensive Samsung has ever made out of the way right now. The Samsung Galaxy S8 price is $724 (£689, AU$1,199).
The actual Samsung Galaxy S8 release date is April 21 in the US and April 28 in the UK, with pre-orders now available – if you’re in the UK, you can pre-order now and get the phone up to eight days earlier… plus you can see the best Samsung Galaxy S8 deals here.
Watch our hands on video review of the Samsung Galaxy S8
The look of the Samsung Galaxy S8 is what will sell it to the legions of fans clamoring for a new phone from the brand – and to a wider audience as well.
While there aren’t that many internal upgrades, the front of the phone is mostly just display, and it’s by far the lowest bezel-to-screen ratio we’ve seen on a globally-available flagship phone so far.
The effect will definitely impress the first time you pick it up – while the Infinity Display (as Samsung is calling this edge-to-edge effort) isn’t completely bezel-less at the sides, it still seems to spill over to the back of the phone.
Every corner and edge has been rounded on the Samsung Galaxy S8, giving it a very pleasing feel in the hand. It’s the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with a bit more courage in the design – Samsung has spent two years convincing the world that a curved screen is best, and the fact it’s on both this handset and the larger Galaxy S8 Plus is testament to that effort.
That said, it’s not a small phone. The 5.8-inch screen is packed tightly into the frame but it’s still large at 148.90 x 68 x 8mm, and you’ll struggle to reach all corners of the screen with a single thumb.
The fingerprint scanner is on the back, by the camera, and it’s rather hard to use from the natural holding position for a phone in your palm. It is something you could get used to, but we’re not sure why Samsung put it so close to the camera when it could have been closer to the middle of the phone.
However, we don’t want to take away from how impressive the Galaxy S8 is in the hand, with the 5.8-inch screen squashed into an impossibly-small chassis – and one that packs in wireless charging and a IP68 rating, so you’ll be able to immerse this phone in water and dust with little worry… and not even need to plug in a cable to charge it.
Here’s how the Galaxy S8 compares to the iPhone 7 and Sony Xperia XZ Premium
The Galaxy S8 comes in three colors at launch for the US and UK: Midnight, Orchid Gray, and Arctic Silver. Maple Gold and Coral Blue are being saved for other regions.
Let’s spend a little more time on one of the headline features of this phone: the screen.
Before we dive into details though, it’s worth noting that the Samsung Galaxy S8 display has taken the title of “best smartphone screen” in DisplayMate’s in-depth testing – putting it above all overs on the market. In short then, the screen on the Galaxy S8 is very, very good.
The 5.8-inch Super AMOLED display is clear, bright and colorful, with a QHD resolution (and a little bit more, thanks to the screen being extended further down the chassis and now offering an 18.5:9 aspect ratio).
However, it’s worth noting that the QHD element has been reduced by default: you’ll be looking at a Full HD offering to start with, and you’ll need to choose to enable the full resolution capability in settings.
That stretch is significant, as it allows more content to be spilled down the front of the phone, with all the internal apps optimized to make use of this larger space.
LG is the other brand to do such a thing, with the LG G6, but it tried to use it in a ‘two square’ interface, essentially putting two apps in one on the screen, whereas Samsung is just making everything look a bit larger.
There’s no way to easily make everything widescreen when it comes to third-party apps, which may mean some people don’t make full use of the longer display unless they trek through the settings menu on the Galaxy S8.
Samsung is also talking up the fact that it’s got the first truly mobile HDR screen on the market, which seems a bit harsh on LG and Sony, given they’ve already announced such things.
More importantly, those brands have partnered with Netflix and / or Amazon to bring true HDR content to their phones.
Samsung is partnering with Netflix and Amazon to offer HDR streaming to its phone, although it’s less partnering and more, well, letting you view HDR-enabled programming on a phone.
The Mobile HDR standard doesn’t really mean much at this stage – Sony is claiming high quality and LG is touting Dolby Vision support, but given how nascent HDR is, this isn’t the most cutting-edge and important feature.
However, for the future of this handset and others, HDR technology will make a difference in terms of the brightness and clarity of video.
Samsung has shocked us in a small way by announcing Bixby, its own take on an intelligent assistant, before the lanuch of the phone. The Samsung Galaxy S8 is clearly the launch vehicle for the AI service, and there’s even a dedicated Bixby key on the side of the Galaxy S8 so you’ve always got instant access to the portal.
The first phones to use Bixby will be those in South Korea and the US, with places like the UK getting it later as Samsung works to integrate the accents with its service.
We should probably talk about what Bixby actually is: it’s meant to be a frictionless assistant that can follow you through voice, the camera or touch, learning what you want it to do, and not requiring you to know a specific set of phrases to make it work.
However, that’s not what we saw at launch – what we saw was a slow and clunky imitation of every other voice assistant on a phone. At this point you can basically use Bixby to make a call, look up wine or work out places around you through image recognition.
Update: Samsung has since been in contact to talk about Bixby, telling us that the demo we saw wasn’t really indicative of the power of the service – we’re hopefully going to be getting a more in-depth look at it soon.
Given that Samsung is making such a big deal about how Bixby will be contextual and understand what you want, when you want, it seems odd that it’s being launched now at all. Google Assistant is still available on the Galaxy S8, and is arguably far more useful. For instance, you can still say ‘Okay Google’ and do all the things Bixby can and more… without needing to press a dedicated button.
That said, Bixby isn’t a service for now. Samsung intends to build on it, make it available to all the apps on the phone and offer a software developer kit to the app makers in the future.
That’s fine, but Amazon, Google and Microsoft are all roaring ahead with their voice assistants, so it’s hard to see how Samsung will catch up and convince the world to add Bixby voice recognition to its gadgets. Then again, that head-start the others have could be the very reason Samsung is scrambling to launch so soon, in order not to lose any more ground.
Bixby is fine at this early stage, but nowhere near the power of its rivals. Being able to ask your phone to call someone for you, or give you the weather forecast, isn’t that impressive at all, but Bixby Vision, built into the camera, is already much more compelling, as it allows you to identify items and give you info on wine (which so many phones seem to like to do) already.
It’s reminiscent of the Amazon Fire Phone, to the point where we wonder if there wasn’t some sort of tie-in between the two companies.
In terms of the Samsung Galaxy S8 spec, there are no surprises here for anyone who’s been keeping tabs on the leaks. 4GB of RAM sits alongside either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset, or Samsung’s own Exynos 8895; we’ve not had these chips confirmed to us yet, nor which region is getting which variant, but our sources have told us that this is the configuration we can expect.
You can see the rest of the specs listed at the top of this piece, but whichever chipset has been used it’s using a 10nm fabrication process, which means everything can be made more efficient at the heart of the phone.
As such, the Samsung Galaxy S8 has a 10% more powerful CPU than last year, and a 21% more grunty GPU for better manipulation of all the little blocks on the screen.
Samsung has, once again, refined its user interface to provide its own Samsung Experience (formerly TouchWiz) skin on top of Android 7.0 Nougat. This UI is unfairly maligned by some, and the new upgrades fuse Android and Samsung’s own design ethos together well.
One of the most noticeable changes here is to the app tray – there isn’t one on the home screen. However, swipe your finger up or down from the main display and you’re taken to your hordes of apps – it’s a nice way of doing things, and feels very natural.
Talking of which, we’ve been very impressed with the way Samsung has managed to offset the loss of the fingerprint scanner from the front of the phone. Where before it was a simple press-in of the mechanical button and you were inside the phone, now it’s moved all the way to the back by the camera, and no longer clicks in when pressed.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 appears to be the phone to beat in 2017 – and it looks like the competition will have a hard time doing that.