[Review] Samsung Galaxy S8 - Exquisite Elegance Exemplified 1
Samsung Galaxy S8
  • Design
  • Value
  • Performance
  • Display
  • Battery Life
  • Camera

Samsung Galaxy S8

Offering innovative design, impressive performance and one of the most powerful cameras yet mounted on a smartphone, the S8 shows that Samsung is still at the top of their game. If cash is no object, this is one of the best phones that you can currently buy.

Believe the hype: this is easily the most beautiful phone that money can currently buy and all the videos online you’ve seen simply do not do it justice until you grasp it in your hand and feel it for yourself. But for those of you living vicariously through reviews, here’s why the Galaxy S8 is hands down the most beautifully designed phone that we’ve ever laid eyes on.

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After the ill-fated recall of the Galaxy Note 7 last year, Samsung needed to up its game and do so in a sufficiently robust fashion so as to soundly thump any and all-comers vying for the smartphone throne. This, then is the sum of their efforts: the Galaxy S8 and its larger sibling the Galaxy S8+.

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Both the Galaxy S8 and its slightly larger sibling the Galaxy S8+ are functionally identical bar differences in screen size and battery size. The Galaxy S8 comes with a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED display with 1,440 x 2960 pixels, an impressive 570ppi and an unusual 18.5:9 aspect ratio that makes it more suited for watching movies and, incidentally, scrolling through long websites. What makes the S8 so impressive is that they’ve managed to shoehorn in a screen this big into a form factor that’s so mind-bogglingly small and svelte;  the Galaxy Note 7 had a 5.7-inch display and the Galaxy S7 edge had a 5.5-inch touchscreen, both possess smaller screens yet both examples are larger and heavier than the S8. When placed side by side with an S7 edge, the S8 is waifishly slimmer and longer next to it while the S7 edge which was one of the slimmest phones for its generation looks almost ogrishly huge in comparison.

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The sorcery they’ve done to achieve this is concentrated on the S8’s touchscreen which melds seamlessly into the casing to present smooth curves on every edge and an aesthetic feel and texture not far removed from a river-smoothed pebble. With curved edges on every corner and a slim edge that’s just 7.9mm thin, it’s almost unlike a phone as we know it and is miles ahead of anything else in the market as far as design goes.

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There’s almost no bezel left for the S8’s display with the sides of the screen reaching to the edges and the top and bottom lengthened almost to the entirety of the height of the phone. To achieve this kind of screen ratio, they’ve nixed one of the most long-standing aspects prevalent in a phone: the home button. The lozenge-shaped fingerprint reader cum home button that was once a classic aspect of their design has now been functionally split into two parts. The fingerprint reader has been relocated to the back next to the camera while the home button itself has been replaced by a haptic feedback sensor along with the virtual menu and back buttons at the base of the display that gives a subtle vibration when you double press it or hold it down hard. There’s no learning curve involved, but retraining your muscle memory to reach the bottom of the screen still takes awhile.
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The top of the S8’s breathtakingly beautiful display comes with an 8-MP front-facing selfie camera, this time beefed up with autofocus along with an iris sensor. The right side of the phone only sports a power button while the left comes with a volume rocker and a dedicated button to summon Bixby, Samsung’s own home-brewed virtual assistant that sits shotgun with Google Assistant on the phone. The top of the S8 comes with a hybrid SIM card slot while the base has a speaker grille for the phone’s mono speaker, a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB Type C port.

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The rear of the S7 is a smooth, mirrored expanse only broken up by the addition of the rear 12-MP camera that has an F/1.7 aperture along with a side-mounted fingerprint reader. While the placement is understandable, the length of the phone makes reaching for the fingerprint reader an unwieldy experience. That ergonomic quibble aside, this is the most beautiful phone that we’ve ever laid eyes on and the fact that it has IP68 water resistance built in from the get-go means it’s actually able to survive a sousing in the rain or an inadvertent splash of water.
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While Galaxy S8’s in certain other parts of the world come with Snapdragon 835 processors, Malaysia units come with Samsung’s own potent spanking new Exynos 8895 octacore processors which come with four Exynos M2 2.5GHz cores and four 1.7GHz Cortex A53 cores. Paired with this is 4GB RAM and 64GB of expandable storage via the hybrid SIM card slot that supports up to 256GB cards for a theoretical maximum 320GB.

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Samsung’s usual approach of redundancy and overlap on their apps has been drastically reduced this time around on the S8 with the phone using Chrome as the primary browser and Microsoft office for paperwork. On the music front, Malaysia units of the S8 will come with Google Music Play and Samsung Milk, their music streaming service. While the S8 in other regions will come with the ability to upload up to 100,000 of your tunes for free via Google Music Play – double the usual limit imposed by Google – the S8 for Malaysia is, as yet, unconfirmed if it will possess this ability as our test unit didn’t have it installed. This slimness in the app count makes the phone quite a bit easier to navigate, aided more so by the tweaks to the user interface on account of the length of the phone which take advantage of the vertical length of the screen.

Swiping left fires up Bixby while swiping up gets you into your app drawer. Much like the S7 edge, the S8 has the ability to run two apps simultaneously via two adjustable windows which they’ve dubbed as Multi Window mode. This mode allows you the conceivable luxury of say, opening a browser in one window and watching Youtube in another or in Google docs. Not all apps work in both open windows but most of the mainstream ones do including the default apps on the S8, Facebook, Chrome, Google Docs, Youtube and some games. The added vertical length means that you can still have a virtual keyboard open on the screen and continue browsing content without having to scroll up and down repeatedly due to the reduced screen real estate is taken up by the keyboard.

The newest addition to the S8 is Bixby, their virtual assistant though our test unit did not have all of its functionality implemented yet. In theory, it has some overlap with Google Assistant in what it does though our test unit primarily had Bixby’s image recognition functionality working. Once pointed at a suitable image it acted to open up a bunch of similar images on Pinterest. Bixby also has limited interactivity with a selected number of apps at the moment but they’re slated to have improvements pushed down the line later on but it’s a bit of a white elephant for now and remains a fun thing to play with if aught else. Summoning Bixby is via swiping the display from the left or using the dedicated Bixby shortcut button on the side. Hopefully, it will have expanded functionality at launch.

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Logging into the S8 is via the fingerprint reader on the rear, the iris reader on the front or via the usual pattern unlock screen depending on your preferences though the fingerprint reader is somewhat of a challenge to find by touch alone and its placement means shifting your grip to access it.

When subjected to benchmarks, the S8 served up a single core score of 1,942 and a multi core score of 6,038  on Geekbench 4 which easily outpaces its predecessor the S7’s slightly older processor by a good margin. In 3D Mark’s Sling Shot Extreme it yielded a score of 3,209 while PCMark’s Work 2.0 test got it a score of 5,379. In Antutu, it scores a very impressive score of 174,972 in terms of overall graphics performance. In Epic Citadel, the S8 rendered the benchmark at Ultra High Quality at 2,560 x 1,440-pixel resolution with a smooth 59.6 FPS. This puts easily puts the S8 and it’s Exynos 8895 processor as one of the most powerful phones in pixel-crunching power alone.

This is borne out in practical usage scenarios. For the duration of our test, the Galaxy S8 was immensely swift and responsive, tackling everything thrown at it with the touchscreen and its haptic home button responding in a nippy fashion every time.

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Colours and detail were exceptionally crisp and vibrant on the S8’s Super AMOLED display which is some of the best that we’ve seen on a phone though oddly enough, it defaults to 1080P resolution out of the box, presumably to save on battery life. If you want the full QHD+ monty, you’ll have to manually enable it in the settings. The extra landscape length makes watching movies a real treat though the single mono speaker is serviceable at best and doesn’t break any new ground with reasonable loudness when cranked to maximum volume. A pair of front facing speakers would have been icing on a very attractive proverbial cake.

The Galaxy S8’s rear camera comes with a 12-MP sensor with Dual Pixel imaging tech, optical imaging stabilisation and an F/1.7 aperture. On paper this is similar to the Galaxy S7’s setup though closer examination reveals that the S8 3,2has a host of firmware and imaging improvements as well as a new sensor to serve up better images that were borne out by testing.

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While shots on the S7 were excellent, the S8 was a notch better at handling multiple light sources and low light scenarios too. On the S8, detail was excellent along with superb colour reproduction and blazing fast subject acquisition.

The major area of improvement on the S8 in terms of imaging hardware is the front camera with the S8 swapping out the smaller 5-MP selfie camera on the S7 for a larger 8-MP one with an F/1.7 aperture and autofocus.

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Both the front and rear cameras have a host of filters and now have the addition of a host of whimsical overlays that add things like fake tophats, faux moustaches, cat ears and the like to photos. It’s an amusing distraction but isn’t going to factor into usage much if you’re a fairly conservative user or aren’t disposed to looking like a cat in photos half the time. Overlays aside, snaps from the front camera had good rendition of skin tones with sufficient detail. The ability to tweak shots in the form of slimming your face, enlarging your eyes and whitening your skintone means you can likely come up with some shareworthy shots.


Battery Life, Price and Conclusion

The one aspect where the Galaxy S8 falters short of the finish line is its battery life. The built-in 3,000mAh battery is smaller than that on the S7 edge and eking out a full day’s worth of battery life from the phone requires judicious use of the array of power management modes on the phone and some amount of frugality though this is tempered by the fact that it supports wireless and fast charging too. Assuming you’re within reach of the mains, you can get a good 50% charge in half an hour and a full juicing in about an hour and a half.

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In situations where you can run the phone at full throttle, the Galaxy S8 is an immensely capable, powerful and swift racehorse capable of handling everything thrown at it and then some. The already impressive rear camera on the S7 has surprisingly been improved just a bit more in the S8 along with the front camera. All this is crammed into an exquisitely designed casing that’s simply one of the best looking phones ever hewn from Samsung’s, or for the matter, any other vendor’s foundries.

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Unfortunately, there are still a few quibbles that make it fall inches short of perfection: Bixby’s ad hoc implementation and the swift if oddly placed fingerprint sensor are irksome pickles to be sure but hardly dealbreakers. The biggest point of contention is that the S8 is not cheap at RM3,299 with its larger sibling the S8+ retailing at an eyebrow-raising RM3,699. Still, if money’s no object and you’re looking at acquiring one of the most powerful, good looking phones that you can buy, this is it.

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WHAT WE LIKED Exquisite design, amazing curved display, blazing fast performance, one of the best rear cameras ever made
WHAT WE DIDN’T Bixby not fully implemented as yet, not cheap, Bixby button not reconfigurable
WE SAY Offering innovative design, impressive performance and one of the most powerful cameras yet mounted on a smartphone, the S8 shows that Samsung is still at the top of their game. If cash is no object, this is one of the best phones that you can currently buy.

Price RM3,299
Display 5.8-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, 1,440 x 2,960 pixels, 570ppi
Processor Exynos 8895 octacore
OS Android Nougat 7.0
Memory 4GB RAM/64GB+microSD card (256GB max)
Camera 12-MP W/ Dual Pixel, OIS and F/1.7 aperture (rear) / 8-MP W/ autofocus
Battery 3,000mAh
Size/Weight 148.9 x 68.1 x 8 mm / 155g
*Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia