The Galaxy S8+ is big - bigger than anything from Samsung’s 2016 smartphone selection.
Or at least, it does on paper: stripping away the screen bezels to almost nothing and switching to a skinny 18.5:9 aspect ratio makes this the most manageable big-screen phone… well, possibly ever.
Take a look at the spec sheet and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the S8+ and its smaller brother, but for a smartphone that’s mostly screen, it could translate to a world of difference in real-world use.
It’s time to answer the age-old question of whether bigger really does mean better.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ DESIGN & BUILD: TRENDSETTER
Last year’s Galaxy S7 Edge was easily one of the best-looking phones in the world - and yet it might as well be wearing bellbottoms and winklepickers next to the S8+. This glorious mixture of metal and glass feels every bit the premium phone.
Samsung has done more than refine the design: it has stripped away the bezels and buttons to make room for an eye-catching screen that almost completely fills the front of the phone.
With the display switched off, it’s an inky, slender slab of mystery. Whichever colour you choose, the front of the phone will always be uniformly black - so you can’t tell where the top and bottom bezels end and the display begins.
That screen curves subtly around the sides, too. Nothing else comes close in terms of looks.
A 6.2in phone might sound impossibly tall, but the S8+ is actually around the same height as the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, and slim enough to make Apple’s slimmest phone ever look like a fat kid that loves cake.
Samsung’s compact combination of metal and glass might be taller and skinnier than other phones, on account of the odd 18.5:9 aspect ratio, but that just makes the S8+ easier to hold. Even if you’ll still struggle to reach the top of the screen without some serious finger yoga.
You’ll notice there’s no physical home button - once a hallmark of every Galaxy phone. In its place is a virtual home key, which responds with haptic feedback to let you know you’ve hit the right spot. It might feel a bit odd at first, but like the solid state Home key on the iPhone 7, it won’t take long to adjust.
The fingerprint sensor has been forced to the back to make room for those tiny bezels. It sits a little too close to the camera lens, so you’ve got to watch out for smudges and smears showing up in your selfies, but fast, accurate iris scanning means you won’t be using it all that often.
The whole thing is IP68 water-resistant, to survive any accidental dunkings, and there’s room at the bottom for a speaker, reversible USB-C charging port, and a headphone jack. Sorry Apple, Samsung isn’t interested in your cable-free future just yet.
UPDATE: 09 June 2017
In the UK, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus was available in two colours at launch, Orchid Grey and Midnight Black. However, there are now two other colours available. Coral Blue is a Carphone Warehouse exclusive, while Arctic Silver will only be found at EE; it'll be available to pre-order from 23 June. All four models look lovely.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ DISPLAY: TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
At 6.2in, the S8+ sounds huge - but those ultra-slim top and bottom bezels, subtle curves that spill over the sides of the phone, and 18.5:9 aspect ratio mean you’re getting that extra screen real estate without it becoming a true pocket burster.
There’s a massive resolution to match the massive screen, of course: 2960x1440. You’d have to pick up Sony’s 4K Xperia ZX Premium to get a phone with more pixels.
This is identical to the Galaxy S8, only here, those pixels are stretched over a bigger panel. That means you get a slightly lower 529ppi pixel density, versus 570 on the smaller phone. Honestly though, you won’t spot the difference unless you have microscopic vision.
The phone actually renders at Full HD out of the box, anyway, to save on battery power. You can force the full resolution on through the Settings screen if you want all your pixels, all of the time.
The AMOLED panel has near-perfect contrast and deep, inky blacks that make videos and photos look fantastic. Colours are vibrant, but don’t look unnatural - a big improvement from the early days of OLED.
Viewing angles are exceptional, and the whole thing is easily bright enough to use outdoors on bright, sunny days - even if it’ll drain your battery that little bit quicker in the process.
This is an HDR-ready phone, too, meaning you’ll be able to stream Netflix and Amazon Prime video shows with even better colours and contrast. Once they launch, anyway.
Technically, the regular S8 has the superior screen, but the differences are so small they’re inconsequential.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE: G.O.A.T.
If the Galaxy S8+ was a car, it would have a fire-breathing, thousand-horsepower W16 engine under the hood - it’s that fast.
Samsung’s home-grown, octa-core Exynos CPU provides that grunt, with four low-power cores running at 1.7GHz and four high-power ones clocked at 2.2GHz. It is, hands-down, quicker than any other Android phone out there right now - a Geekbench 4 multi-core score of 6683 proves as much. That’s quicker than Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, too.
In the real world, it means you never wait for apps to open, never experience any lag or stutter when swiping through Android’s menus, and never spot any frame-rate dips in games. This thing absolutely flies.
That should be true when it comes to 4G and Wi-Fi speeds, too. The Galaxy S8+ is ready for Gigabit LTE, and has 802.11ac Wi-Fi the fastest possible speeds on compatible routers.
4GB of RAM might not sound like much any more, now that other phones are arriving with 6GB or even 8GB, but it’s easily enough for some major multi-tasking - either on the phone itself, or hooked into Samsung’s DeX docking station to use the S8+ as a computer. In other words, it’s seriously quick.
The 3500mAh battery looks like the weak link, at least on paper: it’s smaller than the S7 Edge’s 3600mAh juice pack, and feels a bit like Samsung is playing it safe so soon after the Galaxy Note 7.
With a more power-frugal 10nm CPU, though, the S8+ can still deliver when it comes to battery life. It managed over 12 hours of streaming video playback, and easily lasted a full day of heavy use - including wireless music streaming to a pair of Bluetooth headphones, snapping photos and far too much time spent scrolling through Facebook.
When you do eventually run out of juice, fast charging should have you up and running again in less than three hours. There’s wireless charging, too - something that few 2017 phones have. It's not the best, then, but will last as long as any other flagship phone out there right now.
There’s no choice when it comes to storage any more: it’s one size fits all, and that size is 64GB. It should be enough for most, but if you do run out of space you can always add more with a microSD card.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ CAMERA: CUTTING EDGE CAM
If you were hoping that the S8+ would join the crop of current smartphones rocking a dual camera set-up, then sorry: you’re out of luck. Samsung seems to be sticking with the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy, meaning a single shooter on the back.
Not much has changed from last year, either - at least on paper. The 12MP sensor has the same pixel count, same f/1.7 aperture, same optical image stabilisation and same dual-pixel autofocus as the Galaxy S7.
This time around, though, Samsung’s software engineers have added multi-frame image processing. This stitches three snaps together for every press of the shutter button, stripping out blur, tidying up any noise, and sharpening your shot. It’s a similar system to Google’s Pixel, which is still one of the best smartphone cameras around.
Good in theory, but does it work in practice? You’d better believe it does.
The S8+ consistently delivers photos that are packed with detail and with colours that stay true-to-life, without the overly aggressive sharpening seen in rival phones. Image processing is quicker here than on the Pixel, with no noticeable shutter lag or delay, even with auto-HDR enabled.
Contrast and exposure are almost always on-point, and while complex scenes can sometimes defeat the auto-HDR mode, leading to blown out highlights, it’s still up there with the best smartphone cameras we’ve tried.
Up front, the selfie cam has been upgraded to an 8MP sensor, complete with f/1.7 aperture and rapid autofocus that automatically hunts for faces and pulls them into focus. Who could say no to narcissism in greater detail? Quality is noticeably lower than the rear cam, but it still takes decent snaps that are perfect for social sharing.
Firing up the camera app was super speedy, and all that screen estate means a bigger viewfinder for your photography and better appreciation of your photos. It has been given an overhaul to help fuel your selfie addiction, so you can (digitally) zoom quickly with a swipe, take your pick of filters, and add stickers to your shots once you’ve pressed the shutter button. Think a hybrid of Snapchat and Instagram, only built into the default app.
However you use it, the S8+ has one of the best smartphone cameras around. It’s really a three-way tie with the Google Pixel and Apple iPhone 7 Plus - each one has its strengths, and you’ll be pleased with your shots no matter which one sits in your pocket.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ SOFTWARE: A TOUCH OF CLASS
It used to be about as flexible as a brick wall, but this year’s version of Touchwiz is all about choice. Don’t like the Samsung way of doing things? Then there’s probably an alternative hiding somewhere in the Settings screen.
You can choose between a regular app drawer, or iPhone-esque multiple home screens filled with apps. You can turn off the app drawer icon in favour of an upwards swipe anywhere on-screen, and you can finally swap the Back and Recents buttons to match the rest of the Android world. It’s a Christmas miracle. In April.
The Settings screen is sensibly laid out, the notification drawer has room for loads of shortcuts, and you get Android Nougat’s Google Assistant with a long-press of that on-screen Home button.
It’s much less intrusive than previous years, but still has useful additions to Android Nougat - like an improved version of split screen mode that lets you pin part of an app, instead of the whole thing. Handy for ‘working’ on one app, while actually watching the video playing above.
The biggest new addition has to be Bixby, an AI assistant that Samsung says was designed from the ground up to work with mobiles - meaning it ‘sees’ what’s onscreen and what the camera is pointed at. It even has its own dedicated hardware button.
Out of the box, it can recognise text, QR codes and barcodes to simplify your shopping, and detect places and landmarks using the camera to ping you transport and dining tips, but voice control is still in the pipeline.
When it does arrive, voice control will work with most of Samsung’s own apps, as well as a few third party ones, so you’ll be able to order an Uber by voice, send SMS messages or find specific photos in the Gallery app.
Right now, we don’t know whether Bixby will be a killer feature, or if it’ll stand out from Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. Being able to remap the Bixby button to another feature would have been nice, too.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ FEATURES: DEX APPEAL
Spend more than a few minutes with an S8+ and it starts to feel like a TARDIS. Everywhere you look, there’s another feature to try.
Take the fingerprint sensor: sure, it unlocks your phone in less than a second, without having to wake the screen first, but it can also show and hide the notification drawer with a swipe. Handy on a tall phone like this.
You don’t need to use your digits to get past the lock screen at all, if you don’t want to: there’s an iris scanner sat above the screen, so you can unlock the phone with a glance.
It uses an IR camera, so works just as well at night as it does in the daylight, and while it’ll sometimes throw a wobbly if the phone is too close to, or far from, your face, it works well 90% of the time.
Samsung has stepped up its biometrics game even further with facial recognition. This isn’t as secure as iris scanning, but it is definitely quicker - so unless you’ve got an identical twin, you should be safe to use it.
You have to wake the phone before facial recognition kicks in, but once it does, it’s really fast and a lot more intuitive than entering your PIN - because you’re basically already looking at your phone.
The S8+’s other party trick needs some companion hardware - the DeX docking station. Slide the phone inside and it’ll transform from a phone to mini PC, complete with two USB ports, Ethernet and an HDMI out for plugging in a mouse, keyboard and monitor.
Instead of an Android homescreen, you get a Windows-like desktop filled with shortcuts, a taskbar and an app launcher. It all felt responsive, even with a Full HD video playing from YouTube in one window, and an optimised version of Microsoft Word that looked eerily like the full Windows version in another.
There’s no stutter, no lag, and no waiting - everything just worked, and worked quickly. You can still take calls, check for phone notifications, and use your regular apps while you’re docked, too.
Samsung couldn’t get a DeX station across to us in time for this review, so we’ll be looking at it separately in the coming weeks, but having tried a pre-production version, this is one optional extra that should be a useful addition for frequent travellers.
Finally, you get a pair of AKG-tuned earphones in the box. They’ve got a braided cable, so should be able to withstand some punishment, and sound pretty decent for bundled buds. Sure, they’re bass-heavy, but that’s what all the kids like nowadays, right?
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ COMPETITION
If you’re sold on a big-screen phone, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Google’s Pixel XL and the Apple iPhone 7 Plus takes equally amazing photos as the S8+, and take up just as much space in your pocket - even if neither of them come close in terms of screen size. You’ll also have to make the switch to iOS if you go down the Apple route.
LG’s G6 has a similar, bezel-busting screen, but it doesn’t make quite the same impact with its flat, rather than curved panel. It’s got dual-camera cleverness, but quality just can’t match the S8.
Sony’s upcoming Xperia XZ Premium might be the phone for film fans, on account of its 4K HDR display, but until Netflix and Amazon work out how they’ll actually stream 4K video, there’s no benefit to all those extra pixels.
If you want the best of all worlds, though, the Galaxy S8+ seems to have all of its major rivals licked.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ VERDICT
There’s no question the S8+ is a phenomenal phone - it’s got a truly top-notch camera, Retina-busting resolution, and a design to die for. The iPhone looks positively prehistoric in comparison.
Is it better than its smaller brother, though? That’s tricky. This plus-sized beauty feels thoughtfully big, with Samsung putting in the right features and getting the design right so you can use all that space without it feeling unwieldy.
But the screen isn’t dramatically bigger, and battery life is only slightly better. Whether those marginal gains are worth paying £100 extra for are entirely down to how much you value having slightly more screen space.
To answer the question asked at the start of this review: bigger might be better - even if there’s not that much differentiation in the S8+’s case.