Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ smartphones are incredible, and I got to test them at their launch event in New York.
In the time I got with the devices, there were three things I wanted to test:
- How easy is it to hold the phone?
- Can it be used one-handed?
- How easy it is to reach the transplanted fingerprint sensor?
Galaxy S8 Design
Pre-launch leaks had me worried – while they stated that Samsung was stripping the front hardware buttons, they also hinted at the elimination of “flat” models.
Removing the front hardware buttons has been a long time coming.
Android has supported software buttons for back, home, and recents on smartphones since version 4.0, which was released in 2012.
While there is something to be said for Samsung maintaining consistent design in the Galaxy S range all these years, it seemed silly to waste so much space on the phone’s face.
In place of the hardware buttons, Samsung offers extra screen space, a wider aspect ratio, and a higher-resolution display.
One of my concerns was that getting rid of the hardware buttons meant that the fingerprint reader had to be moved. Having the fingerprint reader high up on the rear of the device next to the camera didn’t seem particularly ergonomic.
Although I had no trouble reaching the sensor on the Galaxy S8 or S8+, its new location certainly isn’t as convenient as before.
To make up for the loss of convenience, Samsung now offers an iris scanner and facial recognition.
These systems have yet to be tested extensively, but if they work as advertised, it seems like a good alternative for unlocking your device without having to reach around the back to get to the fingerprint scanner.
Another concern was Samsung’s decision to scrap flat screens in its S range, favouring curved-edge displays instead.
While I love my Galaxy S7 Edge, many others do not like the curved display.
The biggest gripe I have is that the curved edge has a tendency to pick up unwanted touches when using the device one-handed, especially when reclining or lying down.
A quick test during the hands-on with the Galaxy S8 suggests that tweaks Samsung has made to the bezel under the edge has addressed this issue.
Typing a text message one-handed did not generate any unwanted touches.
Testing one-handed typing also let me get a feel for how easy it is to get a secure grip on the devices.
The Galaxy S8 feels like it offers more solid purchase than its predecessors, especially the curved edge variants of the Galaxy S6 and S7 – which could be quite slippery.
The Galaxy S8+ also wasn’t cumbersome or clumsy. Its proportions felt exactly right, even though the screen is an enormous 6.2 inches.
Software responsiveness and user experience
I also got to take a look at some of the software customisations on the Galaxy S8, as well as its general user experience.
While I didn’t get to put the device through its paces, the parts I used suggested that the software and display were responsive and crisp.
It also showed that Samsung has made some significant changes to the software, in addition to its overhaul of the exterior design.
For example, the app tray icon is gone – freeing up a space in the main menu bar for an additional app shortcut. To reach the “all apps” menu, you now swipe up on the home screen.
If it weren’t for the fact that I am just over halfway through a 24-month contract, the Samsung Galaxy S8 would be my next phone.
It’s the curse of smartphone enthusiasts around the world: a year after buying your top-of-the-range phone, the manufacturer will have a new model out and you’ll be stuck in a cellphone contract for at least another 12 months.
While it is a pity that the Samsung Galaxy S8’s recommended retail price at launch is more expensive than that of its predecessor, I would still rate it as my top pick for an upgrade.
Setting the volatility of the rand aside for a moment, consider the following:
- The “flat” Samsung Galaxy S7 with 32GB of storage launched in South Africa at a retail price of around R13,999.
- The Galaxy S8 no longer has a “flat” variant. Therefore it is more accurate to compare its price against that of Galaxy S7 Edge at launch – which was between R15,399 and R15,999 for a 32GB model.
- The Samsung Galaxy S8 has a larger screen (5.8″) than the S7 Edge (5.5″), with a higher resolution, and has double the internal storage space.
Based on the above, you are actually getting more device for about the same money as last year.
This argument probably won’t take the sting out of the Galaxy S8’s R15,499 price tag, but it is something to consider when you compare prices on launch day.