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neilm

Review: Samsung Galaxy S8- first impressions

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neilm    852
neilm

Over the past few years I have used all the major smartphone operating systems, over a number of different phone models, from the XDA range running Windows Mobile, through the early versions of Windows Phone, to Apple iOS, Windows 10 Mobile and latterly Android. 

The failings of content in Windows 10 Mobile, to the poor information presentation in iOS has led me to settle on Android over the last 18 months. It has not been a journey without some toil and anguish! My first recent Android phone was a OnePlus 2, which although being a good phone, left me adrift when OnePlus took three weeks to fix a motherboard fault when the phone was only three months old. I moved onto a Sony Xperia Z5 but was disappointed with its performance and general usability, so made an impulse purchase of a Samsung Galaxy S7 from eBay which was sold as a little used unwanted upgrade. This was much more what I would consider a flagship phone and I quickly became attached to it, so when the Samsung Galaxy S8 was announced at the end of March I decided to bite the bullet and pre-order one. The S7 still fetched a decent sum on eBay so I was not dissatisfied. 

As a pre-order customer, my S8 was shipped last Thursday and arrived on Friday. I had settled for the standard S8 rather than the S8 Plus as I prefer a more pocketable device, and the differences between models in this new range were much more minimal than the previous S7 and S7 Edge versions. Essentially the S8 Plus is simply a larger version of the S8, but they both share exactly the same features. As has been commented on before, £680 is a lot of money for a smartphone, and is significantly more than the Galaxy S7 at launch, but the S8 has some additional features, 64GB memory and a £100 set of earbuds, so not an outlandish price. 

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It arrived in a large box containing a custom Samsung bubble wrap jacket enclosing the box for the phone itself plus an odd fabric wallet containing the delivery note, and an even odder 'gift' of a black fabric shopping bag.

Considering that some US owners are reporting getting a customised speaker dock with their pre-orders, I was a little underwhelmed, but of course the phone itself is what matters!
 

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Opening the box showed the phone nestled in a top tray, and first impressions did not disappoint.

As expected the whole front of the phone is a glass panel curving around each side and with minimal top and bottom bezels. 

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Apart from the phone, the box contained the usual 'Quick Start Guide' with SIM eject tool attached, a USB-C connecting cord, Samsung Adaptive Fast Charger, USB-C to USB 3 adapter for plugging standard USB devices into the phone, and a microUSB to USB-C adapter and a set of specially commissioned AKG earbuds. These are reputed to be worth about £99 and have been well reviewed in the press, but I've not had a chance to try mine yet. They come with three sets of ear pads, but I think I have odd shaped ear canals, because I can never get ear buds to stay in place, and at first try these are no different!

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The physical buttons are a power button on the right edge, and a volume rocker on the left edge, above the dedicated Bixby button. That's it for buttons. Turning it over showed my choice of Orchid Gray was a good one. It is a subtle metallic grey colour with a very discreet pinkish tinge to it. There was a removable sticker on the back with the IMEI and serial numbers on it- peeled off and placed in a safe place! The rear panel contains the camera, flash, heart rate monitor and the newly postioned fingerprint sensor. The latter has caused something of a storm among reviewers and other opinion seekers but more of that later. The bottom edge contains the speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C port. 

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So, now to the big moment of first turn on! Happily the phone came with 50% charge so the initial setup was possible without delay. It went through the usual account setting up, and then requested a software update of 3GB. I had expected that this new model might sport Android 7.1 or 7.11 but it came with 7.0, and alas even after the update was still running Android 7.0. 

As with previous Samsung models, it does not come with optimal setup out of the box, so some tweaks to the display, power saving, and other minor settings were the first task. Amid all this, the main impression was a big 'wow' :)  The screen is fantastic with deep rich colour saturation and of course filling the whole of the front of the device. The usual Andoid buttons are still present, but are 'soft buttons'. Some optimised apps and of course the home screen see these as a tranparent layer over the content. Others see then on a black panel below the content. The clever part comes with some fully optimised apps such as YouTube when using the phone in landscape mode sees the content take up the whole screen- in this configuration the home button is activated by a press where it would have been, and acknowledged by a haptic buzz before the buttons reappear in a transparent layer over the content. Apps that do this are currently limited but the effect is very impressive. 

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To achieve the screen configuration desired, Samsung have changed the aspect ratio to 18.5:9 which may cause some compatibiity issues, though the software adapts well to content in a range of aspect ratios. The overall result is a device that is longer and narrower but offering a huge amount of screen 'real estate' . The overall device size is pretty much the same as the outgoing S7, and it is the same height, but 5mm narrower than my Lumia 950, though in use it feels even smaller than that. To put it into perspective, the screen area of the Galaxy S8 is 13.05 square inches; this compares to the iPhone 7 at 9.4, the iPhone 7 Plus at 12.96 and the Google Pixel at 9, so it really can display a lot of information. 

I used the desktop version Samsung Smartswitch initially to restore the apps and configuration from my old S7; although it worked well, for some reason it did not restore my home screen layout. Logging into my Samsung account directly from the S8 and using the restore option saw all content and layouts restored correctly. As ever, some widget configurations require resetting, but that is no big deal. Apps with large data files such as TomTom and RSPB Birds also need to have their data downloaded again. 
 

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Having come from a Galaxy S7, I was not familiar with the 'Edge' feature, and really came upon it by chance when I saw 'Edge' as an option in the display settings. Once enabled and configured this is an excellent addition to the availability of apps and information, with much content being accessible from the lock screen. I'm still playing with the various Edge screens available. 

We have heard a lot about the biometrics in the S8 range, which comprise apart from standard PIN security, of face, fingerprint or iris recognition. From a security perspective, forget face recognition as it can be triggered by a photo of the user. In these models, due to the lack of a front button, the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the rear panel next to the camera. As an aside, it was planned that fingerprint recognition would be built into the front screen using new technology being developed by Synaptics, but alas the development was delayed and thus not available to Samsung for this round of updates. 

Much has been said about the use of a rear fingerprint sensor and many reviewers have been critical, but for me there has been no problem. That said, I am left handed, and my index finger does fall naturally onto the sensor. I had been worried that the accessibility would be a problem when the phone is mounted in my car, but again, the sensor is placed well for me just to reach around with my left hand. 

Iris recognition is less of a success for me- I wear high prescription varifocals and also have a slight droop to my eyelids. The iris sensor on the Lumia 950 has never worked for me, so I feared the worst for the S8. Happily it is a lot better than the Lumia version, but I'd say still not reliable enough for use as a primary unlocking mechanism. Some apps show the iris target circles when unlocking, and these are more successful, but the lock screen itself does not show these and I can rarely get my eyes in the correct position to unlock without a lot of gurning, which I prefer not to do on the train or in public places!

Battery life has been good so far- on a par with the Galaxy S7. One advantage of the S8 is that is has Samsung's adaptive fast charge facility, so a high power charger will give a healthy boost in a few minutes. A full charge takes about one hour. My 2A Transmart car charger also charges it at about 1% per minute, so again useful for a quick charge.

That's all I have time for at the moment. I will report more as I use the phone, but will be happy to answer any questions or queries as they arise. 

 

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Sounds like a winner all round Neil, I'll be interested to see if you carry on using the Edge system, I found it too much of a pain and turned it off. 

Are there any issues with the rounded edges accidentally triggering apps when caught with a finger?

Look forward to a few example camera photos!

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neilm    852
neilm
2 hours ago, The Guru said:

Sounds like a winner all round Neil, I'll be interested to see if you carry on using the Edge system, I found it too much of a pain and turned it off. 

Are there any issues with the rounded edges accidentally triggering apps when caught with a finger?

Look forward to a few example camera photos!

To date I'm finding the screen curve and rounded edges less prone to accidental launches than on the flat screened S7. The screen curve fits more neatly into the hand and is particularly helpful when using the onscreen keyboard. 

I wonder if the Edge implementation has changed on this model line? To invoke the Edge apps, you need to swipe a specific part of the Edge screen- this is configurable for size, position and transparency in the settings. As a result, I have to say I've had no unwarranted Edge app activations. 

[Edit: I've now seen that the S7 Edge did have the Edge Handle settings configuration. The S8 range has dropped the Edge Feed facility- not sure how much difference that will make to users upgrading from the S7 Edge. Edge Notifications are still available]

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I've not used the camera as yet, but will post examples in due course. 

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Okay good news that the edge sensitivity seems to have been addressed properly this time around.

I've turned on the Edge system again to see if it has improved any since I last used it. Edge feeds I have turned off anyway as I found them nigh on useless.

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Boz    4,940
Boz

Nice write up Neil, I'm surprised that the S8 didn't ship with at least Android 7.1! The Edge feed is useless as Daron says, there's nothing worth choosing. Have you tried out Bixby yet?

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neilm    852
neilm

At present Bixby works just like the original Upday home screen, and is accessed by swiping the home screen to to right, or pressing the dedicated button.

I don't like any of the 'digital assistant's' I've tried so far- I'm too much of a traditional tap and type user, but it will be interesting to see if Samsung can bring anything more useful to the game.

I've still not used the camera so can't comment on the Bixby enhancements there. 

As regards day to day use, it's all looking good. The fingerprint reader is pretty reliable, but I've turned off iris recognition. 

Battery life has been excellent- a full day's use yesterday still saw 58% remaining at the end of the day.

For some reason, the Edge Notifications are not working- they are turned on 'Always' for SMS messages, but I don't get the edge lights. Not important, but I need to look into it!

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Now if only that Bixby button could be remapped to launching the camera..... :)

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neilm    852
neilm

There are some apps to achieve this, but Samsung is very protective of the Bixby feature and successive firmware updates are reported to kill the remapping process.  I'm sure someone will get around it in due time!

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Boz    4,940
Boz

Cheers for the insight Neil. :)

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru
2 hours ago, neilm said:

There are some apps to achieve this, but Samsung is very protective of the Bixby feature and successive firmware updates are reported to kill the remapping process.  I'm sure someone will get around it in due time!

Yeah Iv'e been keeping tabs on the situation. Somebody is likely to solve the issue as you say.

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neilm    852
neilm

Well, it's now eight weeks since I started using the Galaxy S8 as my everyday phone, and it continues to impress me and all who handle it!

I've had no major issues at all with the slightly elongated form factor. It really continues to feel comfortable in the hand, and easy to use one handed if needed. The back panel has developed a few minor scratches- probably not unexpected for an unprotected device, but a little annoying considering its never been dropped or mishandled at all. 

It is still running Android 7.0 but Samsung have released a few of their own updates in the last few weeks. 

The first major one was to enable Samsung Pay. This works a treat though the number of providers covered as yet is lamentably low. Thankfully I have a Nationwide account which is one of the included providers. The pay screen can be slid up from the base of the screen regardless of whether the phone is asleep or not. A fingerprint then readies it for the transaction. Most of the time this will be limited to the UK bank's limit of £30 for contactless payments but I understand some major retailers may accept higher payments. 

For use in London on public transport, the phone doesn't even need to be woken up to process a journey- Samsung Pay includes a special 'Transport' mode to allow payment to be made by tapping the phone on the reader regardless of it's power state. Very useful on crowded stations!

The next major update came last week and has enabled a cross platform 'full screen' mode in which the navigation bar can be hidden in all apps. Up until then, apps needed to be specially coded to work in full screen mode. Apart from the Samsung built in apps, I found very few that actually offered this. In fact the only app that did was the excellent F-Stop photo gallery and editing app. 

Following this latest update though, Samsung added a new 'Tap to view full screen' legend at the bottom of the screen. This places a small dot at the far left of the navigation bar to toggle full screen mode on an off. When enabled, you just need to swipe up from the bottom to view the menu. You can also use Samsung's 'Home' hot spot to immediately open the home menu by a long press where the home button would be if it were visible (if you get my drift!), which is also accompanied by a haptic buzz. 

The Edge screen also continues to work well. I've continued with a series of about four screens in the Edge system and so far have not encountered any unwanted opening of these in normal use. 

I've given up on the iris sensor- my eye shape and spectacles just make it too unreliable for everyday use. Fingerprints continue to work well though careful training of the fingers both during configuration plus placement on the sensor are required. 

I've used the camera a fair bit now and it is very good. Probably no better than the Galaxy S7, but that is to be expected as it uses the same sensors. 

Bixby continues to be an elusive feature. Samsung did offer a pre-release testing facility but it seems it was only for US users as the registration continually rejected my Samsung account credentials. No great loss I fear- I don't like any of the previous digital assistants I've tried!

If anyone has any specific queries, please let me know.

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The Guru    1,458
The Guru

Sounds fantastic Neil, very good to hear that the issue of touching edges of the screen no longer triggers apps. That's one thing that drives me nuts with SH2 as I'm regularly loading apps I don't mean to!

Void news that the full screen system has been improved as to usability for all apps.

How are you finding the rear finger print scanner compared to the one on the S7? As you know I'm aiming for a Note 8 and am a bit concerned about the sensor reportedly still being next to the camera et al. As a right hander I tend to hold the phone in my left hand and operate via right hand fingers, so I'm concerned about the ease of access via LH index finger.

Now if the Bixby button could be hacked to use for triggering the camera that'd be awesome!

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