My friends at Verizon sent me the Samsung Galaxy S8+ I’ve been enjoying for the last few weeks. It’s Samsung’s first flagship phone since 2011’s Galaxy Nexus that hasn’t had buttons on the front and it’s a breath of fresh air from a company that’s been stubborn about that poor design choice it’s made for the last several years. The S8+ is extraordinarily powerful while also achieving unmatched elegance in design.
The Galaxy S8+ feels great in the hand. It’s a premium phone that’s big and extremely fast. With what I understand to be the fastest processor on the market and 4 GB of RAM, there should be no task it can’t handle with ease. I didn’t notice a difference in performance between the S8+ and the LG G6. It comes with 64 GB of storage and an SD card slot, which made it easy for me to pop in my storage card with my podcasts.
The USB Type-C port is next to the headphone jack on the bottom. The right side has a power button and the left side has the volume rocker and Bixby button. Unfortunately, the fingerprint sensor is placed adjacent to the camera on the back. While it’s fast and accurate, it’s also difficult to use without touching the camera, especially without a case.
The best part about the Galaxy S8+ compared to Samsung phones made in the last five years is the lack of physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. Samsung made what at the time was the perfect Android phone when it made the Galaxy Nexus, but every phone it’s made since has had the cumbersome, clunky physical buttons on the bottom of the screen. The S8 and S8+ shed these unnecessary complications in favor of the virtual buttons that have been the staple of modern Android phones since 2011.
Instead of physical buttons or relying on double-tap-to-wake like other phones, Samsung has introduced a force sensor where the home button would normally be. The phone can be turned on by pressing hard in the general area of the home button. The phone then turns on as it responds with a vibration. It’s an interesting feature, though sometimes I had trouble knowing immediately which end was the bottom of the phone.
Perhaps my favorite feature of the Galaxy S8+ is Bluetooth 5. I spend most of every day with podcasts playing through my LG Tone headsets and I’m always excited about advancements in Bluetooth technologies. Bluetooth 5 brings increased range and additional functionality including the ability to pair with and stream audio to two devices simultaneously. In my tests, there can be a slight delay between the two devices, so it doesn’t work to have a separate device for each ear. However, a great use case would be two people watching the same video or listening to the same song. For me, I like to be able to stream to my LG Tone and the receiver connected to the sound board at my desk so I can easily switch between my headset and my studio monitor speakers without having to mess with Bluetooth settings.
The S8+ is a monster phone, with a 6.2″ screen. While that number dwarfs even the Nexus 6, which had a 5.96″ screen, the S8+ is significantly narrower than the Nexus 6 due to the change in screen dimensions. Like the LG G6, the S8+ is much taller compared to its width than phones have traditionally been, so it’s fairly easy to use even though it’s so big.
The screen is, unfortunately, curved on the sides similar to recent Samsung phones like the S6 edge+. This gimmick is a deal breaker for me, as the complete lack of border on the sides makes the phone unusable without a case. Don’t get me wrong, the phone looks great — I just can’t hold on to it. I grabbed a $10 belt clip case and it made the phone easier to hold, but the curved screen still makes me frustrated when I’m doing anything other than showing it off. It also makes using a tempered glass screen protector — something I consider a must for any device with a screen — much more difficult.
It’s an AMOLED screen, so it doesn’t use much power and the contrast is extremely good. It also has the best looking always-on clock display when the power’s off that I’ve seen since the always-on screens became a common feature.
I was pleasantly surprised with the battery life on the Galaxy S8+. It would last me easily through business hours. Using the moderate power saving mode, I didn’t notice any reduction in function but was able to get the phone to last more than 12 hours. The battery isn’t upgradable, but the fast charging is extremely effective.
I do like having the built-in options for power management. It’s something that users shouldn’t have to think about, but if manufacturers aren’t going to allow battery upgrades it’s nice to be able to have some control in the rate the battery is used. The S8+ has settings for both performance mode and battery saving mode. Performance mode can be set to optimized, game, entertainment or high performance. Power saving mode can be set to off, mid and max. Each of these settings has presets for features like screen resolution and brightness, always-on display and a CPU speed limiter.
Samsung makes great cameras and camera software, and the S8+ is no exception. Here’s a comparison of low light photos taken with the S8+ against shots with the LG G6 and LG V20.
Here’s another comparison of pictures from the three phones taken outside. All photos are unedited. The resolution is set to high. HDR and flash are set to auto to simulate common real-world point-and-shoot phone photography.
The camera software is intuitive. The shutter button doubles as a zoom slider, swiping left reveals filters and effects and swiping right exposes the different shooting modes. Here’s a panorama of a canola field.
I wasn’t impressed with the video stabilization on the S8+. It didn’t seem nearly as polished as the effect found on Google’s Pixel XL, and I wish I’d turned it off for all the video I shot with the S8+ which otherwise takes fantastic UHD video. Here’s a video of an airplane applying insecticide to my canola field. Make sure to select high quality in YouTube’s settings.
The camera software on the S8+ also includes Bixby Vision, which is reminiscent of Google Goggles. It’s essentially an image search that’s accessible from the camera, making it easy to shop and search for things by taking pictures of them.
Samsung keeps getting better at reducing the impact of the software layer. There’s the standard pre-installed apps and games from Samsung and Verizon that are best uninstalled or disabled, but overall the software experience isn’t nearly as bad as the Samsung software experience of a few years ago.
By far and away the most notable software addition to Android Samsung has made with the S8 and S8+ is Bixby. Bixby is a virtual assistant in the same vein as Google Assistant, Alexa or Siri. It’s activated by using the dedicated button on the left side of the phone or swiping to the left home screen in the TouchWiz launcher. Bixby is a screen very similar to Google Now, displaying what it thinks are relevant cards from the apps on your phone based on your location or the date and time. It seems really limited compared to Google Now, though, and I’m glad that replacing the launcher lets me put Google Now back on the left home screen.
Galaxy S8+ summary
All told, I’m sure Samsung will sell a ridiculous number of the S8 and S8+ phones. It really is a work of art, with all the speed and a great camera we’ve come to expect from Samsung. With the elimination of the physical buttons and larger screen, as well as the software refinements and enhancements, it’s a big improvement on previous Samsung phones.
If I were to own an S8+, I’d have to invest in a great case to make the curved screen easier to hold and use as well as ease the challenge of finding the fingerprint reader with my finger. I’d replace the keyboard and launcher with Gboard and Action Launcher 3. Mostly, I’d enjoy the big screen, fast camera and amazing performance of Samsung’s greatest phone to date.
As always, here’s a collection of unedited photos taken with Verizon’s Samsung Galaxy S8+.