Samsung Galaxy S8: Australian Review

The Galaxy S8 and plus-sized S8+ are absolutely brilliant smartphones. They're not without their flaws, but in everything from industrial design to internal hardware to software refinement, Samsung has knocked this one out of the park.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is Samsung's first big phone launch after last year's Note7 disaster. It's a huge moment for the world's most popular smartphone manufacturer. For a lot of everyday smartphone buyers -- the talkback radio listeners and tabloid newspaper readers of the world -- Samsung is a tarnished name. The Galaxy S8 is the first, and potentially only, chance for the company to change that opinion.

What Is It?

The $1199 Samsung Galaxy S8 and $1349 Galaxy S8+ (or Plus, if you prefer) are the new kids in town, and they mean business. The smaller of the two, the 149x68x8mm S8 packs a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED display into its skinny body -- itself barely taller than last year's S7, which only had a 5.1-inch screen. The 159x73x8.1mm S8+ has a huge 6.2-inch screen. Both achieve this with what Samsung calls its 'Infinity Display', with a significantly longer 18.5:9 ratio that's noticeably taller than the 16:9 widescreen displays we're already used to.

When you first hold the Galaxy S8 or the slightly elongated Galaxy S8+ in your hand, it's familiar — especially to anyone that's used a Galaxy S6 edge or S6 edge plus from 2015 or last year's S7 edge — but at the same time you quickly realise that something is different. So much of the front of the Galaxy S8 is screen.

Charging comes from USB Type-C down the bottom, there's still a headphone jack, and up top you'll see a unified SIM tray that holds a nanoSIM plus a slot for microSD expandable storage of up to 2TB — although, at the moment, only 256GB cards are available. The phone itself has 64GB of onboard storage, which should be plenty for most users, but having the option for removable storage is definitely preferable to not.

The first phones to use Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835 10-nanometre processor internationally and Samsung's own Exynos 8895 10nm octa-core in Australia, the S8 is fast. Supremely fast. More CPU and GPU power than ever before makes for a phone that doesn't slow down during the complex tasks I tried out on it. Moreover, it'll support 1Gbps download speeds on Telstra's 4G network in Australia — in select CBD areas, at least.

What's It Good At?

The Galaxy S8 is an absolutely gorgeous piece of hardware. I genuinely think it's the most beautiful phone -- the symphony of screen, cameras, and other user-facing gadgets and the metal and glass and paint that shroud and surround them -- that has ever been built. In the week that I've been using it full time, I've had more than a few wow moments, from friends and family and even from a person that walked past when I was in a cafe. It's all screen on the front, apart from the tiniest top and bottom bezels that hide away the front-facing camera and iris scanner and other tech. There are side buttons for power and volume and Bixby. The rear of the phone is no more ostentatious than necessary, with a small camera bump and Samsung logo and little else.

That design is practical, too. A more refined curve of edge glass means that your fingers and palm won't register errant presses any more -- it was a small issue on the Galaxy S7 edge. The rear glass means fast wireless charging is possible. There's no non-curved version of the Galaxy S8 this time around, but I don't particularly miss the flat display of the smaller 5.1-inch Galaxy S7 when it means having the ultra-tall, nearly bezel-less Infinity Display of the S8. In a phone that's less wide than the previous iteration and barely a centimetre taller (for both the S7 versus S8 and the S7 edge versus S8+), it packs a screen .7 inches larger in diagonal size. That's a huge difference, and frankly it makes any phone without its tall edge-to-edge display look a bit old and outdated.

The screen takes up a full 83 per cent of the front of the Galaxy S8, which is far and away the largest screen-to-body ratio of any phone that you can buy today. Put it next to an iPhone 7 Plus -- a phone with the same height dimensions, as well as being wider and thicker -- and the difference is night and day. We're talking a 6.2-inch screen versus a 5.5-inch one, and bezels versus... no bezels. It's stunning. It does present some minor usability issues, but they're ones that you quickly learn to live with. Everything that's not screen is hidden off to the side -- or around the back, like the fingerprint sensor. This is a phone built for viewing and for touching. It's gratifying; it feels the closest of any phone to any of those thin-slice-of-glass sci-fi datapads we've seen in movies for years now.

The Infinity Display is better for watching widescreen video. It just is. You get the same screen size as a 5.5-inch 16:9 phone on the 6.2-inch 18.5:9 S8+ when you're watching the same 16:9 content, and if you want it to take up the entire screen you can just zoom. On cinematic content shot in 2.35:1 or 2.39:1 -- we're talking your blockbuster movies like Star Wars: Rogue One -- you can crop out any black bars that appear on a widescreen phone and have the entire display filled with video. And wow. It looks good. It is, by all accounts, an absolutely amazing display, either for a smartphone or for any display hands down.

While the rear camera stays the same as last year, which is a disappointment -- more on that later -- the autofocusing 8-megapixel front-facing camera is a significant upgrade from previous models. Having autofocus makes a big difference for the consistent sharpness of your selfies; where a fixed-focus camera had to be designed for a best guess -- usually at the distance of an outstretched arm, I guess? -- the front-facing camera now accurately snaps clear and detailed photos. As a general rule, I've hated front-facing cameras before this one, but I'm actually using it on the S8. As someone that doesn't really normally take selfies, this is a quantum leap for me. It's not a bad camera, and that's the biggest compliment I could give any forward-facing sensor.

Samsung continues to refine the software on every new flagship Galaxy phone, and that's true more than ever on the Galaxy S8. Taking heavy cues from the Grace UX of the ill-fated Note7, the S8's interface built on top of Android 7.0 is clean and -- mostly -- free of unnecessary fripperies. The launcher in particular, with its straightforward approach to app icons and folders and widgets, is finally a legitimate competitor to Google's own Pixel launcher. The move to on-screen buttons could have been jarring, but Samsung's use of a pressure-sensitive panel for the home button means that navigating the S8's interface feels normal and natural. It's not quite as awesome as 3D Touch on the iPhone 7, but it's getting there. As for other software tweaks, the active notification bubble that pops up while you're using the phone, and the extremely customisable always-on display -- both are things I'll miss on iOS or other Android devices.

And yes, you have a wired headphone jack on the Galaxy S8 -- and some surprisingly good AKG in-ear headphones thrown in the box as a nice extra. Charging is done over the same USB Type-C connector that the Galaxy Note7 introduced to the world, and it's fast -- an 18-Watt fast charger and USB to Type-C cable are included in the box, as are adapters to bring content from your old phone and to use an existing microUSB cable with the S8's Type-C connector. You get 64GB of onboard storage -- great! -- and a microSD slot that can take another card up to 2TB -- even better! and a surprisingly loud mono speaker in the base of the phone. It's as complete a hardware package as any 2017 flagship smartphone competitor out ther.

What's It Not Good At?

Samsung's choice to move the S8's fingerprint reader to the rear of the phone has an entirely rational reason behind it: there just isn't space for it on the front any more. But in moving it to the rear and to the left side of the camera and flash module, Samsung has made it more difficult to use than central readers like those on the LG G6 and Google Pixel. It's harder to reach with the forefinger of your right hand, which is the finger most people -- I've asked around -- use to unlock their rear-sensing phones. As a result, I use it a lot less than I did when it was on the front -- it's not a huge deal since there are other biometrics in use like the iris scanner, but it's a frustrating stumble on an otherwise excellent design.

When it works, iris scanning is very effective. But to make it work, your face and eyes must be in a very specific orientation, around 25 to 35 centimetres from the S8's display. Occasionally I've caught myself staring at the top of my locked phone like a crazy person. As for the face scanning, I don't think it's unreasonable to say that I have a pretty generic face -- I shave my head and I have a modest beard -- but I couldn't make the S8's face recognition work reliably for me. Apparently you can fool it with a printed photo, but I couldn't do that either. All in all, the S8 has a swathe of biometrics at its disposal but none of them is as straightforward an implementation as the old-school clicky front button.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 takes some great photos. It has an excellent sensor and very competent image processing that draws out excellent colour with smooth gradients and generally good exposures -- maybe a little overexposed by default, but that's really no surprise for a smartphone. But my complaint, again minor as it is, is that it's not a huge upgrade from last year's (yes, excellent) Galaxy S7. I was a little bit mystified to see the same sensor used in the Galaxy Note7, but to see it used again in the S8 is mystifying further.

As with the LG G6, you're buying into a bit of hardware in the Galaxy S8 that software hasn't quite caught up with. That 18.5:9 aspect ratio display is -- in most of the apps that you'll use on it -- a little bit wasted, with many video services and games stuck at that 16:9 widescreen ratio we've been using on phones for years. You can scale or crop some apps like YouTube, but it's an imperfect solution to the problem. When apps are built for the display itself or able to dynamically adjust, like Samsung's camera app or Google Photos or It's a bit like the difficult birth of USB-C -- it'll get there in time, but things won't be absolutely perfect along the way.

At launch, Bixby is a little bit half-cooked. There's no 'Hello Bixby' voice control in Australia at launch, while the service gets localised for Aussie accents and software partners. If you short-press the S8's Bixby button you'll get a Google Now-style home screen with cards for your calendar, Facebook trending topics, S Health data and so on. It's good, but it's also redundant because Google Now already exists -- why re-invent the wheel, Samsung? Bixby Vision, the augmented reality component, can pick out landmarks like the Opera House, but struggles with everyday items; powered by Pinterest, it makes some interesting guesses at cups of coffee and department store purchases. It's a boon that Google Assistant works out of the box on the S8 -- and that's a very good thing. Just like on the Pixel and the G6, it works very well, and it's still the best voice assistant you can use on Android.

Battery life? Well, it's mediocre. It's OK. It's more than enough for a full day of work, with a reasonably bright screen and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on and all the usual trimmings. It meets the standards that I expect any half-decent Android phone to meet in 2017. But, courtesy of that massive screen in a small body, the 3000mAh and 3500mAh cells in the S8 and S8+ respectively won't give you the two-day battery life of a phone with a larger battery and less bright screen like the Huawei Mate 9. It charges quickly over USB Type-C and also has wireless charging, so filling it back up is easy -- you'll just have to do it on a regular basis.

And one small, final caveat: in the same way that massive phones aren't for some people, tall phones aren't going to be for some people either. Even with my reasonably large hands it can be hard to reach up to swipe down the notification menu when holding the S8+ one-handed. If you've got smaller hands, you might struggle even with the smaller S8. These phones have massive screens stuffed into slim, svelte bodies, but they're long screens and that requires you hold the phone a certain way to make everything accessible; you can't rest the bottom of the S8 against your pinkie finger and still reach the top.

Should You Buy It?

Yes.


Comments

    "Should you buy it?" No!

    Too many of the phones are suffering from a red screen problem. Samsung states that the issue can be fixed in settings, but owners are saying that it is not working. This might be a minor situation but it might also be another emerging major situation. I'd wait and see a bit longer.

      I didn't mention that for one big reason: no-one I've talked to who has the phone in Australia has experienced this problem.

      And y'know, there's never anything wrong with waiting for the second minor hardware revision of a piece of technology!

        A significant number of S8s and S8+s have the issue in Australia. My first + had major red edges, the ELF replacement has a mix of much less red edges but added blue/green ones. Wife's S8 has red edges like my first one - but it's more noticeable to me due to the smaller size of the screen. Fortunately (for her) she doesn't care one bit about it like I do.

        The software fix does little to ameliorate the issues. If you have a look at Whirlpool, chances of getting a "clean white" model are abysmally low - unless you're willing to replace it 10 times.

        I'm putting up with mine for now but will have a chat with Samsung 6 months down the track if they fix this massive quality issue. If you're not looking at a white screen, the display is utterly gorgeous, and the rest of the phone - well, it is completely awesome.

        Last edited 10/05/17 8:37 am

      If it does turn into a major problem (the kind that warrants returning phones) I'm confident that it won't be a problem getting a refund or exchange. And hey, last time something bad happened with a new Samsung phone I got a free 256GB SD card and a $50 voucher out of it. This time it might be a free VR headset :)

        Did you preorder your S8? If you did it should come with a VR headset as a free gift already, most of the carriers and direct from Samsung all should have the offer. I think there's still a few days if you're interested.

          That's what I meant. The might was meant as "might have to return the phone".

            Ah my bad, I misread. I thought you were saying that if you had to return the phone they'd send you a VR headset as compensation. Didn't realise you were talking about the preorder bonuses.

              Sorry it probably wasn't clear in the original post.

    I personally don't believe I will ever buy a Samsung phone again. It's nothing against them or the device, I just can't give up raw Android and the support for the newer versions.
    But I'm so glad and super excited that they're making the first real push here to make bezels a thing of the past. It looks gorgeous and legitimately "science fiction"

      Yeah, I completely agree. As much as its a beauty of a phone - their support is pretty crap when it comes to software updates. I rather stick to raw (pure) android. In my opinion, no one beats Samsung when it comes to hardware, but when it comes to software (touchwiz, updates, bixby, samsung apps), Samsung is pretty shit. They should stick to what they do best. If the S8 had pure android on it, it would be a killer phone. I've always owned Samsung phones ever since the D820 and currently on S6, which is to be my very last samsung phone.

        To be fair, they're not using TouchWiz. They've gone more for the Grace UX (like the Note 7 had) and I was really impressed with it during the time I had a Note 7. I've been put off by TouchWiz in the past but not anymore.

        I do think it's a bit frustrating that there are variations between companies on what is supposedly the same version of android because of the custom UXs. But it's a bit like Windows/Mac. I'd rather have the possibility of custom UXs from different vendors than be locked into a single design decision made by one company.

      Give it a month or two and you'll be able to load a close-to-stock ROM onto it, then you'll get the best of both worlds. Just don't expect edge functionality, I don't know many ROMs that support it at the moment.

        To be honest though, ROM's are pretty buggy.

          I've never had an issue personally, though there are some dodgy ones out there. If you stick to the big names and make sure you install the ROM for the right model of phone you should be fine.

      I thought the same thing... So I bought a Nexus 6P. Now I'm getting an s8 because this phone is literally useless. I can't use it for more than 15 minutes at a time before it shuts off, and Huawei is doing jack shit to help.

        Same thing is happening with my 6P so I got the S8. I will never buy another Huawei product again, what a joke. Seems to be a common issue and they're doing nothing about it!

    I reallllllyyyy don't know if I want to pre-order one to get the bonus VR or wait to see if the Pixel finally fixes their seriously ugly bezel design floor.

    I prefer the Google Software and also Hardware but hate their design.... sighhhhh someone decide for me?

      I'd wait and have a look at the Pixel 2. I switched to a Pixel from an S7 edge as I prefer on screen buttons and stock android and I got sick of waiting for updates. Under no circumstances should you go and look at an S8 instore as it absolutely beautiful and you will want one.

        Let's hope the Pixel makes some major Design leaps then! I've decided to hold off, even with my colleague showing me his very beautiful s8+

    Is that battery life tested at maximum resolution? did you have to turn the resolution up manually?

    Got my shipping info from telstra yesterday. Hopefully gets picked up today and here in a day or 2, cant wait to play with it and just stare at its beauty haha.

      Yeah, switching it up to the full resolution was the first thing I did. I ain't usin' no Full HD+ downscaled junk (even if it looks basically the same, haha)

        haha i thought that as i wrote it.. i would be extremely worried if you didn't turn that shit up stat!

    I just don't get how the trade offs with the new form factor are "minor".

    How do you hold the phone so that you can reach the top of the screen for the UI elements and shortcuts that are positioned up there and the bottom for the nav buttons with the same comfortable grip?

    Personally if I can't do the above with a phone, I won't buy it.

      So, imagine me holding the phone in my right hand. My thumb comes around from the right of the phone, just underneath the power button. From there, I can reach - and it's a reach - from top to bottom.

        Thanks for the feedback on the subject. Problem is that I find even with my current phone (S5) that it's not just about being able to reach, but to reach without compromising handling or contorting your hand to the point that you no longer have a safe or comfortable grip on the phone.

        The distance from the top of screen to bottom of home button is 123mm on my s5. Maybe the lack of bottom bezel below this makes balance even worse (the phone feels top heavy when I hold in in a way that I can reach the bottom buttons). Still, considering the S8's screen height (including buttons) is around 10mm taller, I can't see how I won't have more problems than I already do. I understand width has reduced since the S5, which should help, but I don't think it will be enough.

        That's fine and all, they don't have to make all their phones just for me, but this is their smaller flagship. I'm 6' tall and have hands in proportion at least, and I'm struggling with their small flagship for one handed use. If the S8+ is meant for as large of a screen for two handed use while still being pocketable, then surely the S8 should be the same but for primarily one handed use, otherwise what is the point of having the different models?

      Lol the tallest model (the galaxy s8 plus) is no different to a iPhone 6/7 plus. Never read anywhere or heard ( I own a 6+) of this height being a problem.

      Get a grip ppl.

        It's about the distance between the points you interact with. On the s8 it's the top and bottom of the screen as the nav buttons are on the screen. On an iPhone (and older samsung phones) its from the top of the screen to the bottom of the button(s).

        So no, it's not just about the height of the phone. Top and bottoms bezels do not make reach harder, they only make pocketability and storage (in a car nook etc) worse. Extending the distance between the two furthest commonly interactable points of the device however, is potentially bad for every day usability. That's my concern, reaching all points of the screen (and buttons) with one comfortable grip.

    Disappointing news about the reduced battery life, though as an S7 Edge owner I was never going to upgrade to this and it's good to know my phone is better than the latest model in some ways!

    So how good is it as an actual phone?
    Do you find that it gets hot next to your face?
    Is the voice quality decent?
    Do you find that due to the layout that the microphone and speakers are in an awkward place?
    Accidental pocket dials?
    What's talk-time like?
    Is it easy to hold next to your face for long periods of time? Because if I have to hold it like you do in the photos, then I can imagine getting thumb strain pretty quickly.

      Who calls people these days?

        90% of my communication is SMS & phone calls. I've spent 20min on calls in the last 10 days.

          This phone isn't for you.

            A smartphone or this phone in particular? I like the features a smartphone provides, I just like to keep things simple for real time, person to person, type stuff. Voice calls and SMS work fine for everything I want to do there. Sure I use GroupMe, Slack, Hangouts and others as well but more for long running, asynchronous type chats.

          Yeah, I talk to everyone on FB Messenger and Twitter and Signal and Whatsapp and Hipchat and stuff. I'm an instant message guy, not voice or SMS.

      I can't speak for the S8 but the S7 Edge is a great 'phone ' - the sound quality on calls is probably better than any other phone I've used! Put an S-View case on the S8 and it won't feel hot on your face or be hard to hold.

    "The screen takes up a full 83 per cent of the front of the Galaxy S8, which is far and away the largest screen-to-body ratio of any phone that you can buy today."

    That just ain't true. The Xiaomi Mi Mix has the highest screen-to-body ratio of 91.3%.

      You can't buy the Mi Mix in Australia, though. You can grey import it, and I know I'm splitting hairs, but Xiaomi in particular has shut down three separate stores that tried to open in Australia so I genuinely wouldn't feel comfortable recommending it as a brand people buy in AU.

    Good to see they used virtually the same battery as in the Note7, as ifixit so kindly found out...

    https://www.slashgear.com/galaxy-s8-ifixit-teardown-could-reignite-battery-fears-19482651/

      "Virtually" is a weasel word (which the quoted article used so not blaming you). The extent of the comparison is that the S8+ has a 3500mAh 3.85V battery made by Samsung SDI, which are the same specs as the Note 7. It's also a pretty common battery spec used in other models by other manufacturers too, it's really not enough to go on trying to draw a trust comparison with the Note 7.

        Not keen to tempt fate editing, but there are some significant differences. The new battery has quite different dimensions, different model number and different assembly path - the Note 7 SDI battery was made in China while the S8+ SDI battery is made in Korea/assembled in Vietnam.

    Has anyone heard anything about their pre-orders through optus? I havnt recieved any tracking number or confirmation of delivery date. Suppose to start tomorrow, I pre-order at exactly 12am..

    I don't know how the iris scanner on this compares to the one on the Lumia 950 but that one was more novelty than useful. Having come from a Lumia 950 to a Moto G4 the front fingerprint scanner on the G4 is a LOT more useful. With the 950 I just went back to entering my PIN by default, and every now and then the iris scanner would beat me.

    It wasn't just the quality of the scanner either, but also that I had to pick up the phone and put it in front of my face just to start the unlock process.

    It sure is a beautiful phone, though I still secretly wish the screen was flat :(. Not too concerned about accidental touches, it is those glare lines that you see along the curve from lights or the sun, that I can't stand :/. #curvedscreenproblems

    So what does it do better than its predecessor or its competitors?

    With a few exceptions the entire review focusses on the (admittedly nice) industrial design. But in my opinion, phones are tools, not fashion accessories, and reviews these days seem to gloss over how effective they are as functional devices.

    Time to start holding manufacturers accountable for good, innovative software, not just graphic design, especially given that their are so few decent third party alternatives for things like emails clients.

      And before anyone points out that "there's an app for that" , emails clients are a great example. Most of the stock email clients are a bastardisation of the AOSP client, there's the Gmail client which is okay, and most of the others are either tied to a particular service or require you to pass your email through their intermediary services.

      There's only four or five decent third-party clients that don't do - not exactly overwhelming choice.

    I love the galaxy phones(skip the s6) but the fingerprint scanner on the back is a real turn off. Works great on the S7 and I use it all the time when the phone is on the desk next to me. Now you will have to pick the phone up or lean over to try and use the iris scan. That's just crap. Samsung said they couldn't get it done in time. Should be on the front and that would have been truly innovative. Don't think I will upgrade till they bring it back to the front so I can use a number of fingers with ease like the S7.

      This also has turned me off. It's ridiculous to have it on the back. I'm hoping the note8 has it on the front. It's just crucial to be in a easy to access spot. And next to the camera? No thanks.

    No doubt, it is a nice phone but I would always prefer to go with iPhone :)

      Saw them side by side yesterday, the phone company rep's iPhone and the sample S8... looked like two different generations entirely, and the rep said she will change for the first time ever if the next Apple slab isn't way better...

    Goddamn that screen design is ugly. Who on Earth was asking for rounded corners on a screen? And that curvature on the edges, why? Screens should be flat, and straight-edged. Doing anything else introduces distortion into the picture. Anyone old enough to remember CRT's will know how much better things got when we got rid of the bubble effect. Crazy that it's being brought back.

      I was a holdout for my flat S6, but after sampling the S8 I was sold, it's chalk and cheese now...

    I feel like I'm the only person in the world who isn't bothered by a bezel on any device? Is it like some kind of ocd thing where people can't deal with a device having a bezel? I'm actually finding these devices with edge screens kinda ...a turn off.

    Don't know whether you touched on this in the review or not, but what is the standby time for this phone? I know people always talk about the screen-on time but to me, I don't think that's the same thing.

    I have now had an S8 for a week and would have to say this is the best Android phone I have owned period. The fingerprint scanner on the back for me is actually a feature, it is very natural not to have to use a second hand to unlock the phone and you soon get used to the position of it.

    Other features that have really impressed me are:
    - Calendar meeting requests that contain phone bridge details are picked up by the calendar reminder. It can even automatically dials the access code for you.
    - When you send a txt message for a busy call saying you will call them back, it can automatically create a reminder for you.
    - Camera can be activated with double click of the power button.
    - Fingerprint scanner can be used to pull down the notification bar and push it back up. Again making it a one hand operation.

    While I have not been a great fan of Samsung in the past, the S8 has really changed my opinion of them. Lets hope that other manufactures can step up to the mark and bring out equally as good smart phones.

    My Samsung Galaxy 8 purchased on ebay, requires a screen replacement. Samsung Australia have informed me that considering the phone was made in Italy, they will not replace the screen. Please note I was paying for this screen, it wasn't an insurance claim. I wanted Samsung to replace it to ensure the phone remains waterproofed.

    Has anyone else been in this situation and if so what was your outcome?

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now