The announcement of a new Samsung Galaxy S phone is always one of the year’s biggest tech moments, especially since the brilliant Galaxy S6.
And the newly-released Galaxy S8 continues that trend, taking the template laid down by the glorious Galaxy S7 Edge before it, refining it and building it into what is an even better handset. In fact, our pick for the best smartphone in the world right now.
But it's not the only appealing Android on the market right now. How does Samsung’s new top dog compare to its flagship Android cousins? Let's start with Google's own effort, the stock OS star, the Pixel.
Design: Dapper vs disappointing
There’s no kind way to say this: the Pixel is a bit of a dog’s dinner on the design front. Things aren’t a total disaster, of course – at 143g it’s nice and lightweight for a flagship phone – but the handset’s blend of large bezels, glass cutouts and plastic antenna channels isn’t the stuff of which premium phone dreams are made. Put simply, it’s just not as desirable as a S$1000 smartphone should be.
Samsung knows that pain. Samsung’s been there before, with early generations of the Galaxy S series being derided far and wide for their creaky build quality and muddled design language. Those days are long gone, however, and the Galaxy S8 is a truly beautiful smartphone, with the glass of the edge-to-edge screen (no big bezel issues here) shifting seamlessly into the metal of the frame and the glass curved back. This, Google, is what a premium phone looks like.
The fact that the S8 is IP68 certified, warding off water and dust, is another plus point it has over the Pixel, which is billed merely as splash and dust resistant. Knock Google’s flagship into the bath and it could spell a trip to the repair store or worse, but the S8 can endure a 30-minute dunking with no ill effects.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8
Screen: Major differences
As mentioned above, Samsung has fitted the S8 with a beautiful curved glass screen. There’s no “Edge” appellation this time around: all S8s are blessed with the wraparound display, which spans the front from side to side, with only two narrow bezels at the top and bottom. It’s quite striking.
Like previous Galaxy flagships, the screen uses Super AMOLED tech, which means intensely rich colours and deep, dark blacks. This time around, though, the 5.8in screen uses an unusual 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which means a wider screen when viewed in landscape mode. The resolution has been bumped accordingly, now standing at an impressive 2960 x 1400 pixels – aka “a truckload of detail” (no, it’s not 4K – but nobody really needs a 4K phone, whatever Sony might claim).
The Pixel can’t match the S8 on size, curviness or resolution. Its display is a pretty run-of-the-mill flat 5in 1920 x 1080 OLED screen. There’s no shame in a flagship phone having a 1080p screen, really – it’s still a ton of pixels for a 5in panel, and the OLED tech gives a similarly rich and vibrant colour performance to the Samsung phone. But there’s no doubt that the S8’s screen showing is far more noteworthy.
Winner: Samsung Galaxy S8
CAMERA: The power of 12
Samsung and Google have checked out of the tedious megapixel arms race, with each settling on a more than respectable 12MP sensor for their flagships’ rear cameras. Other phone manufacturers might boast of more megapixels, but as any photography enthusiast knows, of the many factors that go into making a killer camera, megapixel count is a fairly minor one.
The Pixel’s 12.3MP sensor (with large 1.55-micron pixels) is paired with an f/2.0 aperture, can record 4K video and comes with some really effective electronic image stabilisation that helps smooth out handheld videos. It’s a fantastic camera with an effective HDR+ mode, and as good a performer as any of its 2016 peers.
The S8 maintains a lot of camera bits from the S7, like Dual Pixel autofocus. There’s an f/1.7 aperture and optical image stabilisation, which gives it an edge on the Pixel for low light shooting. That said, the sensor's pixels are a slightly smaller 1.4 microns each; while that's still larger than most phones' sensor pixels, it's not as large as the Google Pixel's.
Google's biggest selling point for the Pixel is the camera, and it remains a strong one. Samsung hasn't bested it with the Galaxy S8, but we'd call the results here about even. In either case, you'll get speedy focusing, stellar shots across the board, and great video results as well. You can't go wrong with either of these flagships right now.