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Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: Hardware


Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: Hardware

Our review unit is the international SM-G955F Galaxy S8+ model, which is the edition powered by Samsung's 64-bit Exynos 9 8895 octa-core processor. This CPU features four 2.3GHz  Exynos M2 "Mongoose" cores and four 1.7GHz ARM Cortex-A53 cores, under ARMv8 microarchitecture on 10nm FinFET semiconductor fabrication. It also packs  a Mali-G71 MP20 GPU clocked at 546MHz and 4GB of LPDDR4X RAM.

All of those fancy words and numbers boil down to the fact that it's equipped with one of the top three mobile processor designs in the world at time of launch. Some reports from the states suggest that the US model, running a 10nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, is getting slightly higher performance results.

But after a certain point of high-end hardware and the extensive software optimisation we've seen in recent years, it seems to stop making much of a difference; at least as far as the end user experience is concerned.

Indeed, this is the reason that Apple has stopped revealing much of what it does to its processors between new iPhone models - as long as it maintains the same high standards of software performance, consumers don't seem to care. Other OEMs appear to be catching on too.

There were similar apparent disparities in performance between the Galaxy S7's various processor variants, again both Exynos and Snapdragon editions. However, extensive testing by various online experts and pundits ended up with a general consensus that there wasn't much in it.

I suspect the same may turn out to be true here, though naturally I should temper this by recognizing it as an assumption, and pointing out the fact that I haven't had a go with a Snapdragon 835-based model; and probably won't have the opportunity to do so with it being a US-exclusive.

All that said, the long and the short of it, which I must boil things down to, is this; does this phone's performance behave in a way I'd expect of a brand new Samsung flagship, in 2017, based on the latest processing hardware? Does it feel as fast and responsive as it should, as per what we've come to expect from the brand?

And to these questions, the answer is yes. 

Android 7.0 Nougat is overlaid with Samsung's newest UI and it's clear that an immense amount of effort has been made here to ensure the smoothest and most fluid experience possible. You won't find any snagging or stuttering at all, and app load speeds are incredibly quick, near-instantaneous; quicker for those which don't immediately ping for data from the internet.

It is one of the fastest and most responsive handsets I've used for some time, in particular the touch input feels significantly more refined than most rivals. It doesn't balk at multitasking either, happily racking up app after app in the background, and the memory seems intelligent enough to keep switching smooth when restoring a hibernating app.

One of the more intensive things you can ask of a phone is gaming.

Let's face it, these days the flashiest games with the best graphics are generally shameless brand cash-ins and/or massive pay-to-win micro-transaction farms with very little substance. The fun and innovative titles tend to lean more to the simple, retro, artistic or even pixel-based graphics and aren't really that demanding anyway.

But I digress. I tried out a handful of titles of varying levels of graphical intensity; CATS: Crash Arena Turbo Stars, Nonstop Chuck Norris, Ninja Arashi, and Dawn of Titans. Most of these ran like a charm with no hiccuping, and unlike older phones on less efficient CPUs there was very little heat on the back panel.

However, I should point out that Dawn of Titans was the most graphically demanding title and the only one the phone struggled with, both in loading times and in some snagging during play. It wasn't clear whether this was an issue with the phone or possibly poor optimization on the part of the game developer, an all too common problem.

So I got hold of a few more demanding games to test the theory; CoverFire and Gangstar Vegas ran much smoother but were not quite as heavy on the high-end textures, particles and post-processing effects. Warhammer 40,000: Space Wolf, Star Wars: Force Arena and N.O.V.A Legacy, on the other hand, were a bit more flashy and ran perfectly fine.

N.O.V.A Legacy in particular was buttery smooth and just as impressive graphically as Dawn of Titans, which put my concerns about performance started by the latter to rest once and for all.

As a final note, you can see from running Geekbench benchmarking tests the Galaxy S8+ outpaces a lot of the competition...


Moving away from the CPU, the phone's audio via the speakers is quite impressive in quality and maintaining this at high volumes. I also found the off-centre positioning of the rear fingerprint scanner has finally brought me round to the back panel position which I'd previously hated. It is definitely a natural place for the forefinger to rest, though I should mention this is as a right-handed user; I doubt the same could be said for lefties as your finger must cross the camera lens and it's a bit of a stretch.

The Type-C USB port is a welcome sight to make charging a bit less fussy, but the charging speed is also noteworthy as it's pretty damn quick. It also seemed to me that the dual-band Wi-Fi onboard was particularly robust in terms of connection quality. The handset also has full GPS connectivity, 4G LTE, NFC, and Bluetooth 5.0.

For onboard storage 64GB is decent, but I can understand some power users wondering where the 128GB edition is considering the size of some apps and content these days - it's in China, matter of fact, along with 6GB of RAM. Expansion is welcome via microSD with support for up to 256GB, which is great for content that is supported this way on Android, but it's not a one-size-fits-all fix for people who'll find 64GB lacking.

Update:

We're now seeing news that Samsung will soon launch a new edition of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ in India - this is the 6GB RAM, 128GB storage variant already released as an exclusive in China and South Korea. Aside from the RAM and storage this is identical to the existing international model and still uses the Exynos processor.

Until now, Samsung has consistently launched these larger storage and higher RAM capacity models only in South Korea and China, both for the Galaxy S7 series and the Galaxy Note 7, so this is the first time it's also been extended to India.

While we'd like to think the 128GB Galaxy S8+ will make its way to Europe too. This is by no means a done deal, however, it is nice to see that Samsung is open to expanding the distribution, so it is a possibility, however remote.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: Software & UI

As I outlined above, the performance here is great, this is an incredibly well optimised software package and runs about as well as stock Android Nougat does on the Pixel series.

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Update: Samsung has begun issuing an urgent update over-the-air to Galaxy S8 series handsets. The update aims to fix a DQA issue (Device Quality Agent) which is affecting handsets in the US and Canada following the day-one software update. The issue means that users are constantly fending off pop-up warnings between a minute and 30 seconds apart which state "DQA keeps stopping". You can manually update via the Galaxy App Store too.

Another update is now being rolled out as of May 25, this one to address the Bluetooth connectivity issues some users have been experiencing. The rollout has started in the UAE but it will expand to other regions in short order.

"The update fixes a bug that caused the devices to reboot while controlling music playing through a wireless speaker," reports GSMArena. "In addition, the update also includes some SD card-related fixes, as well as the Android security patch for May."

The above Bluetooth fix update is now rolling out in the UK; the 620MB file is available over-the-air to Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ handsets.

In addition, the update kills a big which caused the Galaxy S8 to reboot when controlling music through a wireless speaker. Some changes have been made to microSD support and the May Security Patch is bundled-in too.

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But it's not just the performance that impresses, I'll cover the other good stuff before getting on to my gripes and grumbles.

A lot of the positive points are returning features; things like the Always-On display showing notifications, and the date and time even when the phone sleeps; and it really doesn't sap your battery life in a noticable way at all.

Likewise, the multitasking is what we've come to expect from the most recent iterations of Android with very clear and smooth functionality, but Samsung's addition of split-screen applications also makes a welcome return and works brilliantly.

As an aside, I rather like the fact that the screenshot capture has automatic sharing and editing features built-in to a pop-up.

By default the Samsung UI has the traditional app drawer shortcut in the low bar switched off, which is kind of annoying, but it's easy enough to go into Settings and toggle it back on. It does, however, appear to be fixed in the lower right corner.

The notifications drop down has all the best Android bells and whistles, whether in the homescreen or lock screen; that means full expandable notifications functionality, something still sorely missing from many other Android handsets and UI overlays.

In the main homescreen mode it also has a full set of quick settings shortcuts with multiple swipable screens that are customisable.

Because Samsung has added more and more functionality with every successive phone, the Galaxy S8's Settings menu is pretty vast, but this is undoubtedly one of the cleanest and tidiest Settings screens I've seen for some time with a white background, a sharp, thin font, and simple colour-coded icons with neat and succinct little summaries for each sub-menu. While many busy Settings screens, even some of Samsung's in the past, have made it very easy to get lost and confused, it's not really an issue here.

On top of that, Samsung has added a bunch of prompts at the bottom of the menu screens where you can get help and guidance if you are struggling to find what you need.

The Samsung UI is highly customisable via the use of themes, and Samsung has its own Theme store embedded inside Bixby, including static wallpapers alongside the animtated ones which move with your phone, like the default "Galaxy" one.

However, at this stage some of the themes aren't optimised for the "Infinity Mode" of Samsung's new display, so they won't necessarily look their best.

Right, now, let's talk about Bixby.

Ahead of our review we had this notification from a Samsung spokesperson:

"All Bixby functionality, bar Voice, will be available at launch. This includes Home, Reminder and Vision. Bixby Voice will be available in Korean and U.S English later this spring, and will expand to more languages globally over time."

So in other words, here in the UK we don't have the Voice component of the Bixby assistant and we don't know when it will be added. 

Bixby is continuously present and can be accessed either via the dedicated Bixby button or by swiping from the left of the homescreen. In its current state it's rather a lot like the old Samsung news feed but with an array of widgets and a few added extra bits for the reminders and calendar stuff.

If you want voice control, however, you're going to have to resort to Google Assistant, which is already onboard and can be accessed via a long press of the Home key. Once set up it also works via the "OK Google," voice command.

Bixby Vision is also usable, although it seems somewhat hit and miss. I tried getting the handset to recognise a couple of other phones I had lying around and it didn't really catch on. A copy of a Hellboy graphic novel did manage to get the phone to point me to several online shopping vendors where I could buy it, however.

Update: On June 22, Bixby Voice has begun rolling out to Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ units in the US - however, it is hitting the handsets of users who signed up to Samsung's recently launched Bixby Early Access Program. Unfortunately, if you're now thinking of making a mad dash to sign up to the program, don't bother; Samsung isn't taking on any more testers at this time.

If you are part of the early access beta, you can go into the Galaxy App store and ensure all your Samsung apps are up to date. Once you've done this, Bixby will also update and will prompt you to set up voice features. 

We've no clue as to when the Bixby Voice component will be released to the broader public, but considering Samsung originally promised "Spring" and we're now in Summer it's already well behind scheduled (and that's assuming you don't count the idea that it should have been ready on launch!). At a guess we'd say by the end of Summer, but that'd be for the US. The rest of the world? Maybe by the end of the year, if we're lucky, and by then we'll be looking at the Galaxy Note 8 and forthcoming Galaxy S9 anyway.

So far my only grumbles are as follows:

  • The "EDGE" functionality is welcome, but does still feel a bit gimmicky. I like having the extra shortcuts overlay, but you don't really leverage the curvature of the screen to do this, it could just as easily come from another gesture swipe from the edge of a flat display. What's more, it only uses one side of the screen, the other one is dedicated to Bixby. Lastly on this subject, nothing is really displayed along the curved EDGE like the time or date or any of the app shortcuts. There doesn't appear to be that "bedside" functionality.
  • Bixby, without voice, is kind of redundant.
  • While this is undoubtedly the cleanest, most Android-y, and best optimised Samsung UI to date, there is still an element of Samsung stamping its stamp on things somewhat arbitrarily. I mean in the sense that so much of the UI is based around swishy fancy-pants gestures rather than straightforward control familiar to the average user. Even things like the default setup hiding the app drawer smacks of a Huawei-style move of reminding you you're on a brand device at the expense of making the UI as streamlined and accessible as possible, and this is something that plays out in a broader sense too. It's easily possible to whittle away these layers down to a much purer Android experience, so on the whole I like the Samsung UI, but to get there you have to know what you're doing, and not every buyer necessarily will, and may end up frustrated or not having the most optimised user experience for themselves.

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Review: Verdict

Having said the immediately above, those few bullet-pointed gripes at the end of the UI section are just about my only dislikes with the Galaxy S8+, and they are minor, somewhat nitpicky I'll readily admit, and oh so easily looked past in practice when using this phone on the daily.

By now you may have gathered I'm rather fond of this phone. My overall impression is very positive. I liked using it, I found it easy and seamless, rather refreshing really. It feels thoughtful and clever, though one or two bits are still glaringly missing, we are promised they'll be patched in later.

From a hardware perspective it's an absolute diamond. The camera is incredible and you really must try this, even if you've no intention of buying this phone I heartily encourage you to get down to a showroom and try the camera out if only to show you what's possible and what we should be expecting of future flagships as some kind of baseline. Meanwhile, on the display and processor front, Samsung continues to push boundaries and deliver excellent quality.

And on the subject of design and build, well, it's a matter of taste but I think Samsung has gone from strength to strength and here has delivered something very refined indeed.

The real icing on the cake, however, is that battery life. It's just phenomenal. This is easily the best phone on the market when it comes to battery life, so if you're looking for a handset that will go the distance - look no further.

Best Samsung Galaxy S8 Deals UK and US

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ International variants - that is, the version with the Samsung Exynos processor - have both been given price cuts on Amazon. The Galaxy S8 has been slashed to  $666, while the larger Galaxy S8+ is now $747, a 25% price decrease for both models. As international models they will work globally on most carriers, and in the US will work with AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

At time of writing, the Galaxy S8 has very low stock on the listing, but Amazon should get more stock in over time. The Galaxy S8+ is in stock. Shipments for orders will begin from July 3 and there is no information on when this reduced price offer may end.

Best Samsung Galaxy S8 Deals UK

EE – Click Here For More Deals

  • Cheapest – 5GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £45.99 Per Month (£79.99 Upfront Cost)
  • Best Value – 15GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts – £50.99 Per Month (£59.99 Upfront Cost)
  • Exclusive Deal – 10GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts – £45.99 Per Month (£59.99 Upfront Cost)

O2 – Click Here For More Deals

  • Cheapest – 1GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £44 Per Month (£69.99 Upfront Cost)
  • Best Value – 10GB DATA Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £45.99 Per Month (£59.99 Upfront Cost

Vodafone – Click Here For More Deals

  • Cheapest – 4GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £46 Per Month (£50 Upfront Cost)
  • Best Value – 10GB DATA Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £45.99 Per Month (£59.99 Upfront Cost

iD – Click Here For More Deals

  • Cheapest – 4GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £45.99 Per Month (£29.99 Upfront Cost)
  • Best Value – 10GB DATA, Unlimited Minutes, Unlimited Texts; £45.99 Per Month (£59.99 Upfront Cost)

Best Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Deals US

AT&T – Click Here For Details

Galaxy S8: $750 full retail
AT&T Next: $25 / mo for 30 months
AT&T Next Every Year: $31.25 / mo for 24 months

Galaxy S8 Plus: $850 full retail
AT&T Next: $28.34 / mo for 30 months
AT&T Next Every Year: $35.42 / mo for 24 months

T-MOBILE – Click Here For Details

Galaxy S8: $750 full retail ($729 at MetroPCS)
Monthly installments: $30 down payment + $30 / mo for 24 months
Jump! On Demand: $0 down +$33 / mo for 24 months

Galaxy S8 Plus: $850 full retail
Monthly installments: $130 down payment + $30 / mo for 24 months
Jump! On Demand: Same as monthly installments

VERIZON – Click Here For Details

Galaxy S8: $720 full retail
Monthly installments: $30 / mo for 24 months

Galaxy S8 Plus: $840 full retail
Monthly installments: $35 / mo for 24 months

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