The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is unquestionably the best smartphone I’ve ever owned, a gorgeous and modern device with great performance and a superior camera. And I have to return it.
It’s not you, Samsung. It’s me.
And I want to be very clear about this. Yes, there are some weird and obvious issues with the Galaxy S8+, like the inexcusably-positioned fingerprint reader. But this handset is a milestone, and it will change smartphone design permanently going forward. This device is arguably as a big a deal as the original iPhone, and I write that knowing that it sounds like hyperbole. It’s not.
For me, however, the future is still, well, in the future. I’m drowning in electronics as it is, and with smartphones in particular, my situation is such that the Galaxy S8+ just doesn’t make sense. Especially when you factor in the nearly $1000 it costs to buy one outright with a protective case.
In fact, that’s what this is really about. The money.
I maintain two wireless accounts, one at AT&T Wireless—I switched from Verizon when the first iPhone arrived in 2007—and one at Google Project Fi. My footprint at AT&T had once swelled to three accounts, the theory being that a SIM for three phone types—Windows phone, Android, and iPhone—made sense at one time. These days, only two of those platforms matter, so I only need two lines. So earlier this year, I killed off two of my AT&T accounts, saving about $60 per month in the process.
Project Fi, of course, is special. And while that’s mostly good, there’s also some bad: You can only use the service with a select list of Google phones for the most part. But the big reason I want to keep Fi around is international travel: It’s the best solution for traveling internationally by far, and I have three more trips this year already scheduled. I need to keep Project Fi.
But that Project Fi requirement means that I also need to keep my Google Pixel XL around, at least until a (hopefully improved) successor arrives later this year. Using the Pixel with Project Fi in Europe (or elsewhere) is a win-win in that the service is amazing and the Pixel takes incredible photos, especially in low-light. But as you may know, I have serious issues with the Pixel’s performance, and of course, I screwed myself over by cheaping out and getting a 32 GB version. It’s just not enough storage.
So if we forget for a moment about the three phones I just purchased—at a combined cost of about $1650—I basically maintain two phones. The Pixel, which is on the (secondary) Project Fi account, and the iPhone 7 Plus, which is on my AT&T account. The iPhone, like the Pixel, is a bit disappointing compared to its predecessors, but in this case, it’s the camera quality that has let me down. Photos taken with this phone can be quite nice, but they’re usually very muted and dull, and I feel that the two previous iPhone Plus models took better pictures.
I should note, too, that I paid off the Pixel XL, but that the iPhone is in Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. This means that I can upgrade each year. But it also means that I have a two-year contract (on the phone, not the service), that I have monthly payments, and that I’d have to pay a lot to own this thing outright. That I’m on an iPhone I’m not particularly fond of right now doesn’t help matters, for sure.
Ideally, if the Samsung Galaxy S8+ worked out, it would replace the Pixel. The Samsung is nearly perfect, and I’d love to get rid of the Pixel and use this device instead. There’s just one major issue: The Galaxy S8+ doesn’t work on Project Fi. And when push comes to shove, Project Fi is more important to me than some wonderful new phone.
The Galaxy S8+ has achieved the impossible in that it is, in my opinion, every bit as good as the iPhone, a platform I have routinely held up as superior to Android in every important way. I could use the Samsung on AT&T, in fact, I have been doing so, but it’s important for me to maintain my ties to Apple’s ecosystem, given its popularity. And let’s be serious, no matter how excellent the Galaxy is, iOS in general and the iPhone, in particular, are still excellent as well. The iPhone needs to stay on AT&T.
So if the iPhone is on AT&T and the Pixel is on Project Fi, there’s no room for the $1000-ish Samsung Galaxy S8+ in my life, as painful as that is to conclude. So I’ve contacted Samsung—I bought the phone directly—and have started the process of returning the device, and getting a refund.
A moment of silence, please.
In lieu of a formal review, allow me to quickly list a few negative things about this device. Hopefully, this will help you determine whether you will buy one for yourself.
I have three primary criticisms of the Samsung Galaxy S8+. They are:
Fingerprint reader. The position of this sensor right next to the rear camera is inexcusable. There is plenty of room below the camera, and that space would make more sense given that your finger would rest there naturally anyway. That the Galaxy S8+ ships with about 1000 other ways to authenticate doesn’t excuse this glaring design mistake, though I’m distressed to note that many reviewers have done so anyway. Do not trust people like that.
Price. The base price of the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is $850, but that’s before shipping, taxes, and the protective case you are very much going to want to buy. All told, this purchase set me back almost $1000, and I’m just not made of money, sorry. That said, this handset may be the first phone I’ve ever used that justifies such a heady price tag. Assuming, again, you can afford it. Or are comfortable with unnecessary debt.
Thin format factor. I specifically purchased the Galaxy S8+ because of its “6.2-inch screen,” thrilled at getting a big-screen device that could do everything. But it’s not a true phablet, and it is surprisingly small overall. Many will love it for this reason, and I am actually OK with it. (Plus the screen is freaking gorgeous.) But I really was hoping for a bigger device. Maybe the Note 8 or a coming Pixel XL revision (or XXL) will solve this need.
With regards to the other phones I recently purchased, yes, I’m trying to return those as well. This was never my plan, in fact, I sort of expected to test each over a longer period of time and then perhaps sell them to readers at a steep discount later this year. But a few things have changed, the most obvious being my also unexpected u-turn with the Galaxy S8+. Unrelated, we suddenly appear to be moving from Massachusetts as well, and while that process could drag out for many months, now is the time for less stuff, not more. So I’m also returning the other phones.
Which maybe is a story in its own right. It’s fascinating to me how these three companies—Samsung, Motorola, and OnePlus—have handled their respective return requests.
To return the Galaxy S8+, I had to call Samsung. I waited on hold “due to unexpected high call volumes” for almost an hour, which was distressing. But once I finally did reach a human, he was courteous and quick, and he told me to expect an email that would detail what I’d have to do to get the device (and the free Gear VR, which I had never even opened) back to Samsung.
Motorola provided the best return experience: You can set up the return right from its website, and the firm provided printable FedEx labels right away. No fuss, no muss. (And I’ll remember this: The ability to walk away from a mistake is important, and Motorola, which is owned by Lenovo, gets high marks for this process.)
OnePlus, as I had feared, has been almost comically terrible. You can Google “OnePlus returns” if you want, but the advice on the website, to fill out a support ticket, was met by three subsequent emails in a row from a person at the company seeking clarification to a situation that I thought was clear-cut to begin with. Finally, I was provided with a link to fill out a different form-based request, which I am still waiting on them to OK. Today, as I write this, it’s day 15 of my 15-day return window. And if you think I’m nervous that they’re going to dick me around just long enough to claim that it’s too late, you’re not alone. I do sort of expect that, yes. (Update: They just approved it.)
(To be fair to OnePlus, it’s a small company. I knew what I was doing going in. And I will absolutely consider an anticipated OnePlus 4, or whatever, if the camera reviews well. This is a sweet device.)
With these and my other smartphone experiences in mind, I’ll wind this down with a few general thoughts about purchasing a phone here in early 2017.
Most important buy as much phone as you can. We all have different financial situations and different levels of spending comfort. But one of the biggest mistakes I make, and I do this with painful regularity, is going with lower-end devices to save money.
For example, I probably saved $100 by getting a 32 GB Pixel XL and I regret that every day because 32 GB is not enough, and this device doesn’t offer expandable storage. I tried to do better with the phones I purchased recently: The Moto G5 Plus was an upgraded model with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of (expandable) storage, for example, and was more future proof than lower-end versions. With the OnePlus, I made sure to get 128 GB of internal storage because that device does not offer expandable storage.
And I recommend thinking about a smartphone as a two-year commitment if you can stomach it. Hardware makers and carriers are making this harder, and it’s clear that a yearly upgrade cycle is becoming the new norm. But the more you can stretch out this purchase, the better off you’ll be. You know, unless you are rich.
It’s weird to me that I’ve emerged on the other side of this with the same two phones I started with. That wasn’t my plan, per se, or my expectation. But there are more phones coming throughout the year, and hope springs eternal: Maybe the next Pixel and iPhone will erase their respective predecessors’ mistakes.
And maybe I’ll hit the lottery. I guess you just never know.