Phones

Samsung's S8 handsets: Almost perfect home run

The S8 and S8+ are the best phones that Samsung has made, cementing its position as a leading smartphone maker this year.
The S8 and S8+ are the best phones that Samsung has made, cementing its position as a leading smartphone maker this year.ST PHOTO: LESTER HIO

Their great displays and features make them the Android flagships to beat this year

There is a lot to love about Samsung's latest flagships, the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

The displays are gorgeous, the software snappy and the cameras outstanding, making them the Android flagships to beat this year.

The S8 knocks the bezel-less look out the ballpark, and everyone I know who sees the phone in person remarks how nice the screen is.

Its quad-HD Super Amoled display is a thing of beauty, and sets the standard for screen quality in the market today.

Colours pop and pictures are tack-sharp. It is also extremely bright: setting it at 40 per cent brightness makes the screen clear and vibrant enough for most uses, and at maximum can render everything readable and legible even under direct sunlight.

  • TECH SPECS: Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+


  • PRICE:

    $1, 148/$1, 298

    PROCESSOR: Exynos 8895 (Quad-core 2.3GHz, Quad-core 1.7GHz )/same

    DISPLAY: 5.8-inch Quad HD+ Super Amoled, 2,960 x 1,440, 570 PPI pixel density/6.2-inch Quad HD+ Super Amoled, 2,960 x 1,440, 529 PPI pixel density

    OPERATING SYSTEM: Android 7.0/same

    CAMERA: 12MP dual pixel,f/1.7 (rear); 8MP, f/1.7 (front)/same

    MEMORY: 64GB (microSD expandable up to 256GB); 4GB RAM/ same

    BATTERY: Non-removable 3,000 mAh/3,500 mAh


    RATING: (both)

    FEATURES: 5/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 5/5

    BATTERY LIFE: 5/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

The entire phone is encased in glass, making it one of the best-feeling phones to date.

But it's a double-edged sword: the glossy glass back of the phone makes a naked S8 prone to accidental slippage.

It's the kind of phone that makes you want to slap a case or skin on it before it inevitably slips through your grasp and breaks both the screen and your heart.

The glass back also makes it a bit of a fingerprint magnet.

I found the S8's length just right but it is a bit too narrow width-wise, while the reverse is true for the S8+. That said, I much prefer the larger size of the S8+, as the screen just looks better with more of it there, plus the wider body makes it easier to grip.

The seamless-edge display that made its debut on the S6 Edge is now the de facto standard on the S8.

Samsung has perfected the edge display so that when using the phone upright, such as when texting, the part of the palm that touches the display won't register.

It may take some time to get used to the new 18.5:9 screen aspect ratio. Everything looks longer and apps which haven't been optimised for that length will have black bars on the top and bottom of the screen - which actually isn't that noticeable, given the all-black display on the front.

S8 FEATURES

The familiar Home button has been discarded in order to make room for the all-screen front, which forced Samsung to shift the fingerprint sensor to the back, next to the camera.

This feels like the biggest design flaw on an otherwise well-designed phone. The sensor is much too small and near the camera - I found myself missing it often and ended up jabbing at the camera lens instead.

The small size also means it requires more precision and finesse in ensuring that it reads the fingerprint correctly.

Thankfully, Samsung's other unlock options - iris scanning and the new face recognition - work fast and smoothly, and I've found myself using them more often than the fingerprint sensor because they just perform better.

Specs-wise, both the S8 and S8+ pack the same internals, with the only difference between them being screen and battery size. Wireless charging, USB-C, headphone jack - these features are all there, as befits a premium flagship.

An update that might easily get overlooked is support for Bluetooth 5.0, making the S8 the first phone in the market to have it.

This lets users pair the S8 with multiple devices simultaneously and with improved range and faster pairing time.

The S8's camera is simply exceptional, edging out anything in the competition right now. It's even better than the camera on the Note7, which was, in itself, very impressive. The specs for the rear camera remains unchanged at 12 megapixels, while the front camera has been boosted to 8 megapixels. Samsung has upgraded its image-processing software as well, resulting in sharper images in low light and better focus for moving objects.

The combination of the S8's camera and its piercing-sharp screen means that photos and videos you take end up looking crisper and better than they should.

Lastly, the battery life on a brand-new S8 phone is impressive as well. I found myself ending the day with around 30 per cent battery life, coming from a full charge in the morning and regular, moderate use involving checking social media, taking photos at events and texting people.

HELLO, IS IT BIXBY YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?

The newest feature on the S8 is Bixby, Samsung's foray into assistant software that's powered by artificial intelligence (AI). For S8 users, Bixby will battle with Google's own Assistant software - both of which come pre-loaded on the phone - to be their AI of choice.

Unfortunately, Bixby might be the weaker option currently.

Samsung is riding hard on Bixby, going as far as to dedicate an entire button for quick launching. Hitting it brings you to a helpful screen that shows your schedule, preview of photos you may have taken that day, weather updates and a scrolling news feed of important articles for the day.

This is akin to Google Now, which has the added benefit of showing even more contextual information such as e-mails and flight-status details. Bixby has some way to go before it becomes truly useful on this front.

At its launch in Singapore, only the visual aspect of Bixby is functional, with voice commands coming at an unspecified date. This means you can't tell Bixby to order you something online yet, but you can fire up the Bixby button in the camera app so that it can identify things you point the lens at and provide helpful search tools.

The idea is that Bixby is smart enough to identify the object and give useful suggestions. For instance, pointing it at a plate of chicken rice should ideally give a recipe for the dish.

But, most of the time, the image search brings you to image board Pinterest, where it shows you other similar-looking things, which is not as helpful and contextually smart as it should be.

• Verdict: The Galaxy S8 line cements Samsung's position as the leading smartphone maker so far this year. It might very well be the smartphone to beat this year, with a potent mix of a brilliant display, killer camera and high-end features.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Samsung's S8 handsets: Almost perfect home run'. Print Edition | Subscribe