If there was a museum dedicated to great smartphone design then the Samsung Galaxy S8 would be on a pedestal in the entrance hall with a giant spotlight on it. It’s that beautiful.
You may not think that’s particularly important, but the days when smartphones spent most of their time buried in a pocket are long gone. A phone is on near-constant display: held aloft at gigs, furiously tapped on the tube, Instagramming your Friday night burger, or just sitting on the desk charging. So it really ought to look good.
And boy, does the Samsung Galaxy S8 look good. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all there is to it, because the S8 also introduces live-in phone butler Bixby, gives us Samsung’s best take on Android to date, and packs in more power than you could possibly need. Oh, and there's a bigger S8+, in case 5.8in just wasn't big enough for you.
In short, it’s as close as we’ll probably ever see to the full smartphone package.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 DESIGN & BUILD
Curved edges were what made the Galaxy S7 Edge distinctive - so much so that there’s no flat screen option here: there’s only one Galaxy S8, and it’s curvy. The corners have been rounded off, which help the phone sit snugly in your grip - it’s perfect for one-handed use.
The bezels at the top and bottom of the display are astonishingly slim, which has only been made possible by losing the physical home button from the front of the phone.
Instead, there’s now a digital home button, built into the glass and complete with haptic feedback whenever you prod it. It has a lot in common with the Touch ID home button on Apple’s iPhone 7, with vibrations letting you know when you’ve pressed hard enough to trigger a press.
The always-on display makes a return, and now shows you the home button whenever the phone is locked - so you know where to press to wake it up again.
Moving the fingerprint reader to the back of the phone isn’t the disaster many people thought it would be, either. Yes, it’s a little closer to the camera lens than I’d like, but if iris scanning is as improved as Samsung says it is, you won’t be using it all that often. I didn’t get to try it out properly, but the demos I saw were very quick indeed.
The whole thing is IP68 water-resistant, so will be able to survive an accidental dunking, and there’s room on the bottom edge 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.
Singapore is getting three colours at launch: Orchid Grey, Midnight Black, and Maple Gold. All three look gorgeous in the flesh, with Gorilla Glass protecting the metal hues underneath. Each one glistens in the light, with the black model creating the least amount of shine, but the others helping to hide fingerprints and smudges that little bit better.
Whichever model you pick, the front of the phone stays black - hiding the sensors and adding to the illusion that the 18.5:9 aspect ratio screen really is filling the whole of the front face.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 FACE-SCANNING
Not only is the fingerprint sensor awkwardly positioned high up on the back of the phone, but it also sits far too close to the camera lens. It’s inevitable that your fingers will come into contact with the camera lens while trying to feel for the fingerprint sensor, especially if you’re right-handed. All of which makes it even more annoying when the phone prompts you not to poke it when trying to register your prints.
So thank heavens, then, for two workarounds in the form of iris scanning and face recognition. These two features can’t be used in tandem, so you’ve got to pick your poison, but either should be an improvement on just using your fingers.
I went with face recognition because it’s the newer of the two. Registering your face is much like registering your irises or even your prints - all you have to do is position your face within the circle and wait for the bar to fill up. I’ve registered my makeup-less face without glasses and it can recognise me even when I have my glasses or a full face of makeup on, which can make a world of difference. It’s also a good thing this phone doesn’t take dark eye circles into account.
Samsung doesn’t advise you to use face recognition as your only layer of security, as it can be fooled by someone with similar facial features, but I like its ease of use. It’s more intuitive to simply look at your smartphone to unlock it, rather than having to make sure you’re peering right into the circles of the iris scanner.
It’s not quite perfect: I find that I have to hold it up right in front of my face for it to click into action, and there have also been a few surprising moments when it’s unlocked when I’ve just been glancing down at it. What’s more, you still have to wake your phone for it to work, while with the fingerprint sensor, you don’t. But it should greatly reduce the number of times that you need to fiddle around on the back for the fingerprint scanner.
Samsung Pay now works with the iris scanner, but I still find that paying by print is more seamless than having to raise the phone to your face after tapping it to a terminal. Unless that terminal is at face level, of course.
Yes, it’s narrower than a more traditional phone, but you’re certainly not left wanting for screen space.
SAMSUNG GALAXY S8 DISPLAY & SOUND
Turn it on and the S8’s 2960x1440 Infinity Display is an absolute dazzler.
OK, so it’s set to full HD by default - presumably to keep the battery going for longer - but that’s still more than enough pixels for Facebook and web browsing, and if you want the full resolution experience you can easily flick it on in the settings.
The AMOLED panel is a visual feast of vibrant colours that seem to pop right off the screen. There are no visibility problems outdoors, even with Singapore’s oversupply of sunshine, thanks to a brightness boost that goes beyond the usual indoor levels.
Oh, and it’s also got an HDR Mobile Premium certification. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’ll display high-dynamic range video if and when it ever arrives on Netflix or Amazon’s mobile apps. I’ve still got no idea when that’ll be, but I sure hope it’ll be soon, because it’ll improve my commute no end.
As I’ve already said, the unique 18.5:9 aspect ratio makes for an unusually tall phone, and it can confuse some apps, too.
This won’t be a problem for YouTube, as an icon appears onscreen to stretch videos and fill the extra space, but certain games haven’t received the screen change memo yet and instead give you black bars either side. This wastes a lot of your display space and is quite annoying - hopefully devs will get on the case and gradually fix them.
The single speaker at the bottom of the phone isn’t quite as impressive as the screen, and can actually be rather quiet unless you crank the volume up to maximum, but it gets the job done. Well, as long as you don’t block it with a tight grip.
Thankfully you can always plug in a pair of headphones - yes, the headphone socket still exists. Samsung has partnered with audio experts AKG for the bundled earbuds, which come with a braided cable for extra sturdiness.
Kendrick Lamar’s latest on Spotify revealed that they tend towards the bass-heavy side, but still provided enough aural detail that they don’t have to be relegated to dubstep and EDM. The sound isolation and fit are a step up from your average in-ear headphones, too.