Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review: Towards redemption, with infinite poise
Samsung needs to find the perfect touch this year, and while a lot of genuine uniqueness comes with the Galaxy S8 Plus, it isn’t without some shortcomings
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Those gorgeous concepts that we used to see on the internet, about how smartphones will evolve in the future, are now very real. At first glance, it may look that the Galaxy S8+ is inspired from some of the other ‘Edge’ series predecessors, but the bold design can’t be ignored. Whether it stands the test of time (and rough use) remains to be seen, it certainly is a device well dressed to put Samsung on the road to redemption. With a price tag of Rs64,900, this admittedly gorgeous phone doesn’t come cheap, and it is hard to ignore the new LG G6 (Rs49,999; amazon.in) too. However, it certainly isn’t an experiment that’ll go unnoticed.
Design: Longer, but not much wider
The newest trend with smartphones is to use even wider aspect ratio display (when you look at the phone in landscape mode), which makes the phone taller when you hold it in portrait mode (which is most of the time, unless you’re watching a video). This means that the Galaxy S8+ is narrower than usual, but taller as well, with a rather large 6.2-inch display.
The LG G6 is already doing that, with the taller-than-usual 5.7-inch screen (2,880x1,440 resolution) FullVision display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, unlike the 16:9 aspect ratio that most 5.5-inch displays have. Samsung has gone a step further with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which is wider. But to add to that novelty aspect ratio, Samsung has done a lot more to refine the design.
Drawing from the previous experience of curved screens on Galaxy flagship phones, they deploy this Edge display while eliminating the bezels to the right and left of the screen. This means the phone snuggles well into the palm. Despite the extra vertical length, anyone with long enough fingers will have no problems reaching the further corners of the display with the same hand that is holding the phone—it is almost the same length as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.
There is a symmetry to the S8+ design that cannot be ignored. At just 8.1mm thickness and tipping the scales at 173 grams, this is at par on the spec sheet with most rivals. However, the slick design and even weight distribution make this feels both thinner and lighter when you hold it up. Even though you have 6.2 inches of display, the S8+ doesn’t feel much bigger than a 5.5-inch phone, and that itself is unique.
The only problem with the design of the S8+ is the fact that the fingerprint sensor has been positioned at the back, next to the camera. And you will, at multiple times, end up smudging the camera instead. Even LG deploys the fingerprint sensor below the camera module, and that is a better position comparatively.
Display: Doesn’t stretch into infinity, but amazing nonetheless
If it wasn’t for the wider aspect ratio, it would have been nigh impossible to convince anyone that a 6.2-inch display smartphone would be comfortable to use. But this doesn’t suffer from that problem. Samsung calls it an Infinity Display, and it is, to be honest, brilliant. This has the largest real estate among all the current Android flagship phones. Typically, on the lines of what we must expect from a nicely saturated Super AMOLED display, you will get deep and inky black levels, excellent contrast, pin sharp text, this is one of the brightest screens and it just shines—irrespective of what lighting condition you are using this in.
Samsung gives you the flexibility to even change the display resolution. To save battery, you can switch to fairly low 1,480x720 pixels, or a more up-to-date 2,220x1,080 resolution. At the maximum, you will get to use all 2,960x1,440 pixels, though the latter will take up a bit more battery in the larger scheme of things. Also, the resolution gets reduced when the power saving mode switches on, depending on how aggressive you want the battery saving to be.
The length of the screen really improves the multi-window feature, that lets you place two windows on the same screen at the same time—the extra space just helps a lot.
The Infinity Display is HDR compatible, which means you will technically be able to stream HDR content from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, things are a bit more complicated. High dynamic range (HDR) is being rapidly adopted by the newer smartphones, and what you’ll get to view are the more vibrant colours and contrast for certain content.
The Galaxy S8+ supports the HDR10 standard, but not Dolby Vision, which the LG G6 has. While Samsung’s Infinity Display panel is UHD Alliance’s “Mobile HDR Premium” certified (it is the first phone display to get that certification), the phone might still have issues getting access to Netflix HDR content. The streaming service has very strict rules to be able to view the 4K content package in terms of the hardware, and the Infinity Display with the 2,960x1,440 resolution QHD+ screen is still less than a 4K screen. However, these are the sort of hurdles that first-generation trendsetters tend to face, we are sure Netflix and Amazon will also work to make the content available on the newer HDR compatible phones.
Software: Modernism finally shows up
Over the years, Samsung’s TouchWiz custom interface wrapped over Android has been given a complete overhaul—and a much needed one at that. What we now get is a more streamlined software, everything is better organized, slight visual tweaks make icons look better, fonts are more comfortable to read and the app drawer icon has been removed as default from the home screen in favour of a swipe-up gesture to get to the apps (very similar to what we have seen in the Google Pixel smartphones).
Preloaded app clutter is significantly less too, but Samsung is still restricting how many preloaded software you may be able to remove or disable, compared to the likes of the OnePlus 3T or even the LG G6. We were a bit perplexed to notice occasional stutter on Touchwiz, particularly when returning to the home screen from the camera app or while opening the gallery app—but this could be something that can be ironed out with a software update.
Performance: The burning desire
The Galaxy S8+ is powered by an Exynos 8895 Octa processor, with 4 cores running at 1.7GHz while 4 higher power cores running at 2.3GHz. Paired with this is 4GB RAM. This processor is also built on the 10-nanometer process, the same as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip that powers the same phone in certain other countries such as the US.
Samsung claims that the performance of the two chips is the same, and the Exynos variants that we get in India are not inferior in any way—and we’ll have to take their word for it, since we haven’t used the Snapdragon-powered version yet. Whatever minor differences aside, what we get with the Exynos chip is performance that makes this perhaps the most powerful flagship smartphone out there.
The likes of the LG G6 and the HTC U Ultra run the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor, and that just gives the S8+ a distinct outright performance advantage. While most of us will never be able to stress our phone’s performance to the very extreme, it is a just that much better during gaming and multi-tasking. The Mali-G71 MP20 graphics is a proper gaming and media playback powerhouse. No matter what games you throw at it, with the smoothest frame rates. We also did not notice any heating on the back panel during gaming.
Battery life from the 3,500mAh is good enough to run you through a day and a half of fairly heavy usage with generous amounts of camera usage included. For most users, this should last two days, before you’ll need to plug in the charger again.
Camera: A crushing disappointment
A lot was touted about the Galaxy S8+’s 12-megapixel camera with the f/1.7 lens that allows more light compared to any other flagship smartphone, and has the 1.4um pixel size. On paper, this should work brilliantly for low-light shots. However, the expectations soon turned into disappointment, because the S8+’s camera falters on many fronts.
First, some good light shots are overexposed, which impacts the colours and the overall detailing. Second, many photos are a tad too soft around the frames, irrespective of manual or auto focus—sadly, this reminds us of the times HTC tried to experiment with the HTC One series of smartphones a few years ago. The HDR shots are also disappointing, because the detailing doesn’t match up to the likes of the LG G6 and even the HTC U Ultra.
Overall, the LG G6, the Google Pixel and the Sony Xperia XZs (Rs49,800; Amazon.in), followed by the HTC U Ultra (Rs51,800; Amazon.in) lead the Android flagship camera race. It is a terrible disappointment that the S8+ camera isn’t up to the mark, because till last year, Samsung seemed to have been getting it spot on with the flagship smartphone cameras.
Bixby: The artificial intelligence
Artificial intelligence is now a big thing with smartphones, and Samsung isn’t going to be left behind. Bixby, the AI assistant makes its first appearance with the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+, and it immediately is an upgrade over what HTC has been able to do with Sense Companion (this does not have a separate screen and can sometimes be iffy with suggestions).
With Bixby, we get to access its intelligence as a separate home screen. Here, you will be able to find your calendar appointments, the latest weather, newest photos, reminders and the latest news. At present, not many third-party apps support Bixby, such as Google Calendar, but that should change with time. The AI tool learns your phone usage based on time of the day and the location of the phone, and over time, it’ll understand the patterns and throw up more accurate suggestions.
Is this the phone to buy?
There is no doubt that the S8+ will have competition from the Google Pixel XL and also the LG G6. If you genuinely want a large screen, the other two phones aren’t even in the race. However, if the display size isn’t the primary criteria, the LG G6 is worth considering for the excellent camera and great battery life too in a rather compact design, while the advantages of a clean Android interface in the Google Pixel XL (Rs67,000 onwards’ on Flipkart.com) paired with a great camera cannot be ignored.
As it turns out, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ isn’t without faults, such as the disappointing camera and an artificial intelligence app that still needs work, though the latter isn’t a deal-breaker. At the same time, the S8+ also brings to the table a very unique display that doesn’t have any rivals that can match up. At the moment, S8+’s top-notch performance for apps and games, excellent battery life, and design is bound to capture a lot of attention.