Review: Samsung Blows Past Apple With The Galaxy S8+
After spending the past few days with the futuristic Galaxy S8+, we're in no hurry to give it back to Samsung.
While using the device to take video at a concert Friday night, for example, it was impossible not to think that this was the coolest phone at the show. The 6.2-inch device is terrific for productivity, too.
Count the CRN Test Center among the early fans of the Galaxy S8+, which comes out Friday along with its sibling, the Galaxy S8.
The major leap forward with the device is the display, which is enormous by iPhone standards. But the inventive design for the display is not just about size. The other key change is that the bezel is almost totally gone, leaving a device that's mostly screen (83 percent, to be exact).
Is it really as cool as Samsung wants you to believe? Pretty much. This phone is the real deal.
We found ourselves wanting to pick up the device and use it even if we didn't have anything in mind to do. Having so much screen space was part of it, but it's also because the display quality is fantastic.
The Super AMOLED display can get so bright and sharp that most of the time we didn't have the settings nearly as high as they could go. We mostly kept the resolution at FHD+, 2,220 x 1,080, rather than WQHD+, 2,960 x 1,440, and it still looked amazing. The curve of the display down the left and right sides of the phone is an appealing look, too.
And even though the screen is so large the phone is easy to hold in one hand thanks to the nearly bezel-free design. It's also remarkably thin (0.31 of an inch) for such a big device.
This design is almost certainly where phones are headed.
But is there an advantage to having the model with a 6.2-inch display? Yes indeed.
The reason we opted to try out the Galaxy S8+, instead of the S8, is that we wanted to see if it helped our productivity to have the larger-screened model.
One area where it did help was in using split-screen mode. There's a bit of a learning curve in using the phone in split screen, but we ultimately think it's a useful feature. Keeping your calendar or YouTube open in one window while using email in another can come in handy. The Galaxy S8+ may just be the ultimate smartphone for multitaskers.
The huge screen also supports a pretty good experience of typing into a doc in the Word app or Google Docs app, or of looking through an Excel spreadsheet or PowerPoint. Scanning social media is also better on such a large display.
For off-duty hours, Netflix watching and gaming make more sense on the S8+ than on just about any other phone out there. (There's actually more screen horizontally than Netflix can even use, though.)
Performance, Battery Life And Bixby
Along with the display, performance is the other biggest high point with the Galaxy S8+. It's the fastest and smoothest-performing Android phone we've tried out to date, thanks no doubt to the new Snapdragon 835 processor from Qualcomm and 4 GB of RAM. Load times in apps and web browsing were rapid even while we had multiple apps open at once, and the device performed great while playing Super Mario Run, too.
We found the battery life on the Galaxy S8+ to be good, but not astounding. During seven hours of using it — alternating between heavy usage, including some video, and idle time — the battery drained a little more than one-third of the way.
However, getting the Galaxy S8+ charged back up is a quick process. In our testing we found we could get 20 percent of the battery life back in 25 minutes.
The biggest disappointment with the S8+ is that it doesn't include the voice features of Bixby, its new virtual assistant, as originally expected. Samsung says those features will be added later on. For now, the dedicated Bixby button on the left side of the phone launches a customizable feed — such as meetings, email and news — which is called Bixby Home.
Another feature that's available from the start, Bixby Vision, lets you find out information or shop for stuff you point the phone's camera at. It's neat, but not life-changing.
One of the novel features that impressed us more is DeX, which allows the S8/S8+ to turn into a desktop. A DeX dock, sold separately, can connect to a monitor, keyboard and mouse and provide a desktop interface for some key Android apps.
We were glad to see that the performance of apps in DeX — such as web browsing, Word and Google Docs — was still speedy. The HP Elite x3, a Windows phone that has a similar dock/desktop option, didn't perform nearly as well when we tried it out last year. Most likely, at least part of the performance difference is due to the use of the Snapdragon 835 in the S8+ versus the previous Snapdragon 821 in the Elite x3.
DeX isn't perfect. A number of major apps aren't supported yet (Facebook, Netflix and Spotify are among them). And even though the performance is good, you can still do better on a laptop or desktop computer.
But we think there's a lot more potential with DeX than with the Elite x3 — not just because the performance is better, but also because the S8 and S8+ are phones that a lot more people will want to use. That makes the main value proposition of the idea — that you can just use one device whether you're mobile or in the office — a whole lot easier to fulfill.
Both the S8 and S8+ include a number of options for biometrics authentication — iris scanning, facial recognition and a fingerprint scanner (the latter of which is moved to the back of the phone).
We had trouble getting facial recognition to work properly, most likely because of wearing glasses (which is advised against). Iris scanning didn't always work right away, either. However, we think taking glasses off every time you unlock a phone is less convenient than just entering a PIN or scanning a fingerprint.
The fingerprint scanner, as many have noted, is awkwardly placed right next to the rear camera. But for us it was still the preferred option for unlocking the phone during our tryout, once we got used to the placement.
The Galaxy S8+ gets a bump up in price compared with previous Galaxy phones, with carriers pricing the phone at $840 to $850 (Samsung isn't selling the device itself to start).
We don't think that pricing is absurd, considering everything you'll get with this phone, but the high price may encourage some to wait and see what the new iPhones look like this fall before committing.
Still, we think Samsung has managed to take a leap ahead of Apple -- for the moment at least -- with the killer display and design of the Galaxy S8+.
It's tough to tell whether the new phones might be dogged by lingering fears about battery explosions from the Galaxy Note 7 disasters. Samsung's move to delay the S8/S8+ a bit does signal that the company hasn't wanted to rush things this time around, however.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be shipping on Friday, April 21. DeX is priced at $150, and will also be available Friday.