7 things we love about the Samsung Galaxy S8 – and 3 we don’t

Are those gorgeous looks hiding a whole host of hidden frustrations? Here’s what we think

30 April 2017
by Stuff Staff

Oh hello there, beautiful. The Galaxy S8 has arrived, and has been getting glowing reviews across the board.

It’s easily one of the best phones Samsung has ever made – and not just because it hasn’t blown up. So far. But while there are loads of things to love about it and its bigger brother, it isn’t quite perfect.

Now that it’s been living in our pocket for a few weeks, here are our favourite aspects of Samsung’s superphone – and a few niggles that we wish Samsung had managed to iron out before launch.

THE BEST THINGS ABOUT THE GALAXY S8 ARE…

1) THOSE DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS LOOKS

There’s no question about it: the Galaxy S8 is the best looking phone you can buy right now. Possibly the best ever.

It’s not just the curved screen edges, or the ultra-skinny top and bottom bezels. Or the odd 18.5:9 aspect ratio that stretches 5.8in (or 6.2in for the Galaxy S8+) into something you can comfortably use in one hand, or the aluminium frame that sandwiches the front and back slabs of glass together, or the glossy finish that looks a million miles away from the plastics and bare metal of previous years.

Nope, it’s the combination of all that, with everything coming together to blow away every other phone that’s fighting for a place in your pocket. If you want the best looking smartphone in your hand, you’ve got to get one of these.

2) THE FANTASTIC PHOTO QUALITY

Samsung already had one of the best smartphone cameras around with the Galaxy S7, so it didn’t need to make many changes for the S8 in order to keep that record.

And indeed it didn’t: the hardware is practically the same as on last year’s model, pairing a 12MP sensor with an f/1.7 aperture lens, optical image stabilisation and dual-pixel autofocus. The big difference this year is multi-frame image processing, which stitches multiple shots together every time you press the shutter button. It then uses some of these shots to sharpen and reduce noise in the one frame that ultimately becomes your photo.

The end result? Fantastic photos that keep pace (and in some cases, overtake) the likes of Google’s Pixel and the iPhone 7 Plus. However dim the light levels are.

It might not have the dual-camera cleverness you’ll find in a Huawei P10 or LG G6, but that honestly doesn’t matter when your photos look so good to begin with.

3) THE FACT THAT TOUCHWIZ IS LOADS BETTER NOW

Look, we admit it: Touchwiz used to be flippin’ awful. Samsung’s custom Android skin crept into every nook and cranny of the operating system, replacing icons, filling your storage with unwanted apps, and seemingly making changes just for the sake of it. I mean why flip the Back and Recents keys? They’re backwards compared to every other Android phone!

Rant over. Thankfully, this year’s version of Touchwiz is an absolute joy to use, with minimal changes to Google’s base OS and options to modify just about everything so you can get your phone working exactly how you want it. Don’t want an app drawer? No problem, just turn it off. Hate all those fiddly gestures and motion controls? Ditch ’em. And finally (finally!) you can reverse the Back and Recents keys back to the ‘correct’ way round.

Samsung’s even added a few tweaks that we think are actually better than the default Android skin – for instance you can swipe up or down anywhere on the home screen to open your app drawer. It may sound trivial, but it makes opening the app or game you want just that little bit simpler.

4) THE DEX STATION AND ITS ADDED PRODUCTIVITY

I’m guessing that only a small minority of people who actually pick up a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus will be interested in the DeX Station, but honestly, everyone else is missing out. Because this unassuming little gizmo turns your phone into a fully functioning desktop computer.

It’s essentially a dock into which you slot your phone; you just supply the screen, keyboard and mouse, and the phone takes care of the rest. All of your apps work as normal, and some are even tweaked for full-screen so they work just like their desktop alternatives. Sure, some are still a little buggy right now, but we reckon Samsung will be working hard to iron out the kinks and encourage more people to give up on their laptop and just carry their phone around instead.

The docking station even charges your phone while you’re working, and has a little fan inside for keeping it cool under pressure. Neat.

5) ALL THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT A GALAXY

When you’re paying big bucks for a flagship phone, you’d expect it to have all the bells and whistles – and the S8 has them all over the place.

Old favourites such as microSD card expansion and IP68 water resistance make a return here, so you won’t run out of space for your music, photos and apps, or have to buy a new phone just because you dropped it in the sink.

Wireless charging is onboard, too – something that few other top-end phones have right now, because they’re all still using unibody aluminium designs. The S8’s glass back is perfect for cable-free charging, and we love it.

6) THE HUGE AMOUNTS OF POWER IT HAS

Whether you pick up a US-spec Galaxy S8, with Qualcomm’s all-powerful Snapdragon 835 CPU inside, or get a Middle East variant with Samsung’s own Exynos 8995 running the show, you’re getting a ridiculously powerful phone.

There’s nothing in the Google Play Store that this phone won’t be able to run smoothly, and that includes the most demanding 3D games such as Asphalt 8. You’ll never see any stuttering or lag when jumping between apps, swiping through home screens, or scrolling through Facebook.

And that’s with just 4GB of RAM, too. Plenty of other phones have made the switch to 6GB or even 8GB, but Samsung has instead just worked on optimising the memory to get more from less. It really works, and won’t drain your battery excessively either.

7) THE BEST SMARTPHONE SCREEN YET

Yeah, yeah – pixel counts aren’t everything. We get it. The Galaxy S8 might have a 2960×1440 resolution, but that’s not the reason we love its gorgeous display. After all, it’s normally running at full HD resolution to save on battery power anyway.

No, it’s the AMOLED panel that really blows you away the minute you get one in your hand. It has near-perfect contrast and deep, inky blacks that make movies and games look fantastic. Colours are vibrant, without being unrealistic, and the brightness cranks high enough that you can see the screen perfectly outdoors. This used to be the major failing of AMOLED screens, but Samsung has cracked it.

Oh, and let’s not forget HDR support. Netflix and Amazon Prime might not have any content just yet, but when mobile HDR does arrive, you’ll be able to watch your favourite shows with even better clarity.

Nothing else comes close – this is the best screen you’ll find on any smartphone.

BUT THE WORST THINGS ABOUT THE GAXALY S8 ARE…

1) THE FINGERPRINT SENSOR IS IN A DODGY POSITION

Sure, Samsung wants you to use the S8’s whizz-bang iris scanning or facial recognition to unlock your phone, but we’re betting most people will stick to good old fashioned fingerprints.

It’s a shame, then, that the fingerprint sensor is so tricky to find. It got shunted to the back of the phone to clear space up front for those super-skinny screen bezels, and now sits slap bang next to the camera module. Apparently, it couldn’t go anywhere else on account of the battery, but the result is that it’s now next-to-impossible to find by touch alone. Expect to get plenty of smudgy fingerprints over your precious camera lens while you get used to it.

Got the S8 Plus model? That’s even worse, as it sits really high up the phone and is a stretch to even reach for those of us with normal-sized hands.

2) THE IRIS AND FACIAL SCANNING AREN’T PERFECT

The fingerprint sensor placement wouldn’t be a big deal if iris scanning and facial recognition worked perfectly every time, but you’ve got to hold your phone at a specific distance from your face for them to kick into action, and even then the S8 can struggle to pick you up properly.

God help you if you wear glasses, too. Sometimes it’ll work perfectly, other times it’ll refuse completely until you pull off your specs. Too many unsuccessful tries and you’d have been better off tapping in your PIN, password or pattern by hand – it’s just quicker.

Until the tech works 100% of the time, it’s just not reliable enough to completely replace the onscreen password or fingerprint unlock.

Or do what we do: pair your phone to a Bluetooth fitness tracker or smartwatch, and use Smart Unlocking to bypass the lock screen altogether when the phone is in range.

3) BIXBY IS A LITTLE POINTLESS (RIGHT NOW)

Samsung made a huge deal out of Bixby, the Galaxy S8’s AI personal assistant. It was supposed to use your camera to identify objects, work with all of Samsung’s own Android apps, and recognise your voice so you didn’t have to tap the screen for multi-stage actions such as changing your wallpaper or sending a message to a particular contact.

Only, at launch, barely any of that functionality is actually here.

Sure, the camera works, recognising a carton of Ribena and pointing out where you can buy a case of the stuff through Amazon, but the voice control is nowhere to be seen. Bixby Home, meanwhile, is a long list of reminders, shortcuts and plugins, and it isn’t all that handy if you’re already used to using Google Assistant.

It kind of makes the dedicated Bixby button below the volume rocker just a little bit pointless. Maybe that’ll change once Bixby arrives properly, but right now, it’s the one feature we don’t think the Galaxy S8 really needs.

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