Samsung Galaxy S8+ Second Impressions: Impressive, Overwhelming

Samsung Galaxy S8+ Second Impressions: Impressive, Overwhelming

Even for a seasoned device reviewer such as myself, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ presents such a wide range of unique capabilities that trying to understand it all up front quickly becomes overwhelming.

But after just two full days of usage, it’s clear that my initial assessment of this device is correct: this is a thing of beauty, and the new Infinity Screen, as Samsung calls it, neatly demarks a new generation of smartphone design. And things will never be the same. All previous smartphones, including the suddenly tired and traditional-looking iPhone 7, now look old-fashioned by comparison.

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I don’t want to focus too much on the sheer beauty of the Galaxy S8+, in fact, I prefer to think of myself as being above what I would normally describe as surface nonsense. But the elegance of this curvy wonder is as inescapable as the inky Midnight Black color of the device I purchased. You get lost in it. You find yourself looking at it, feeling to make sure it’s still safe in your pocket if you’re out and about. It’s made me … Gollum.

The design is practical as well, thankfully. As owners of previous-generation Samsung devices with curved screens well know, icons turn the corner, so to speak, and slide around the edge area as you swipe between screens. There is an elegant edge panel UI where you can access frequently-needed apps, people, and other items, which I’ve only barely begun to explore. (Looking at its settings display now, it’s astonishing how much you can configure this to your liking.)

Samsung’s Edge panel

And of course, apps stretch to fill that gorgeous screen. Now that I’ve actually stocked the Samsung with all the apps I really use day-to-day, I can say that apps that do not fill the screen are very rare; those that do not, like the Amtrak app, leave only the smallest of black bars at the top and bottom of the display. And thanks tot the black color of my device, that tiny area is particularly well-hidden anyway.

The Amtrak app doesn’t fill the screen, so there’s a tiny bit of letterboxing at the top and bottom

Perhaps more important, this display, and the device that houses it, are not as big as I was expecting either. When I heard that the Samsung Galaxy S8+ provided a 6.2-inch display, my mind went to the 6-inch behemoths I had used before, like the unwieldy Lumia 1520 or Nexus 6. But it’s not like those devices. At all.

Thanks to its unique aspect ratio, the Galaxy S8+ is, instead, just a slightly taller and thinner rendition of what I think of as the current smartphone sweet spot. It’s right-sized, if that makes sense, and doesn’t feel or look awkward in any way. In my large hands, it is in fact nearly perfect, and easy to use one-handed.

In a curious related (ahem) note, my wife is ready to upgrade past her out-of-date and creaky Galaxy Note 4. She was in line to pick up the Note 7 when, well, you know. So she’s been waiting for a presumed Note 8, but with Samsung apparently going bigger with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, she’s naturally curious. And besides, she never uses the Note’s pen capabilities anyway.

Like everyone else who sees this device, my wife agrees the Galaxy S8+ is gorgeous. But she finds the form factor to be a bit thin compared to the more traditional proportions of her Note 4, and it appears she’s going to wait on the next version of that instead. This somewhat surprises me, frankly—Gollum—but phablets have that effect on people, I guess.

Like everyone else who uses this device, I’ve been fighting with the fingerprint reader. More specifically, I’ve been trying to figure out a way not to use it.

There are a few alternatives.

I’ve configured a PIN, of course, and I do find myself simply using that from time to time, though of course that feels like a big step back after years of fingerprint reader usage. The device supports both facial recognition and an iris scanner, which is somewhat comical, but my understanding is that the former isn’t very secure. And I’ve not yet configured either.

I did configure Smart Lock, which is a neat Android feature that will allegedly keep your phone unlocked if is near a Bluetooth-connected device you choose. (Unlike with Windows 10’s terrible Dynamic Lock feature, you can actually choose the device. What a concept.) Since my Fitbit is on me all the time, I’ve chosen that. But I find that I still need to use a PIN or the fingerprint reader from time-to-time, and I’m not sure why. Plus, it times out after four hours.

But as it turns out, Smart Lock doesn’t just work with connected devices. You can configure it to keep your phone unlocked in certain places (say, your home), when it’s on your body (which it detects using sensors and some black magic, I assume), or by configuring it to trust your voice. None of these seem particularly safe, or correct, or whatever, to me. But then that’s the rub: The fingerprint reader, positioned as it is right next to the rear camera, isthat bad.

It may be the only major issue with the Galaxy S8+, frankly. Well, that and the price, because I’m a broken record, though in this case it’s possible that Samsung has finally created a device so unique, so innovative, and so desirable that it may, in fact, justify its lofty price. Imagine that.

More soon.


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Conversation 23 comments

  • RobertJasiek

    22 April, 2017 - 8:11 am

    <p>I have yet to see photos allowing judgement of the edges and whether a falling phone necessarily breaks the glass.</p>

    • Darmok N Jalad

      22 April, 2017 - 9:30 am

      <blockquote><a href="#99519"><em>In reply to RobertJasiek:</em></a></blockquote><p>Can't say for the S8, but my friend dropped his S7 Edge and the back glass broke and the entire front display eventually stopped working correctly. Colors were off, and the display flickered. Score one for phone insurance!</p>

  • arknu

    Premium Member
    22 April, 2017 - 9:01 am

    <p>It's gorgeous, no doubt about that. But I have two major issues with the design: Glass front and back (and partially on the sides) – twice as much glass to break. And break it will, sooner or later. And then that fingerprint reader. The fingerprint reader is one of the best things to happen to smartphones (and one Microsoft completely missed out on). That placement is simply inexcusable. They might as well not have included it at all. Rumors that this was a last-minute change and the fingerprint reader was really meant to be embedded in the screen seem very believable.</p><p>And then of course there is Samsung's horrible Android skin and lack of timely updates. At least you can now have the back button on the left, where it belongs. That alone would have kept me from buying any previous Samsung phone.</p>

    • Nickel

      22 April, 2017 - 8:40 pm

      <blockquote>I find the talk of the fingerprint reader interesting… yes being next to the camera is odd, however without even thinking about it I find my index finger naturally rests there when I hold the phone, so in a way it is in the perfect spot for me on the S8. I can't stand the pin on the phone or my android tablet.. was spoiled too much by windows phone I tap in my pin and expect it to unlock, or let me do whatever needed the pin for, and the go oh… I have to hit okay..</blockquote><blockquote>the s8 feels so great in my hand, and I'm sure a case will ruin it a bit, but this may be the first phone I need a case for as in two days it already has a scratch and ding on the top, eventually I have this thing set up the way I want, well as best as I can on an Android device…</blockquote>

  • Darmok N Jalad

    22 April, 2017 - 9:03 am

    <p>For the price, it can't have the poor design decisions regarding authentication. The finger print reader location is terrible, and the facial recognition doesn't even work for some reviewers, while others have spoofed it with a photograph. It's almost as though they figured adding multiple ways to unlock it meant that they didn't have to impliment any of them well. If this phone wasn't priced to the max, maybe those things could be overlooked. Sure seems like a form over function design. </p>

  • Joey neal

    22 April, 2017 - 10:04 am

    <p>Paul, I noticed this interesting trick on apps that don't go full screen.</p><p><br></p><p>if you have one, hit the nav button to show all apps open, on the app that is not full screen, you will notice a little circle icon to expand right below the close button. tap that and then it will make the app go full screen.</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • jbinaz

    22 April, 2017 - 10:26 am

    <p>There's always the LG G6. Has a nicely placed fingerprint reader, same narrow bezels at the top and bottom, same aspect ratio and an outstanding camera. Oh, and depending on where you get it, it's probably $100 or so cheaper. Only thing it doesn't have is the edge display.</p><p>But I suppose for many, it's not a Samsung, and that's enough of a reason to not get it. (And no, I don't have one. Contemplating it, though.)</p>

    • Waethorn

      22 April, 2017 - 4:57 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#99533">In reply to jbinaz:</a></em></blockquote><p>I always wondered where the V-series fits in compared the to the G-series. I don't know how anyone can call the V20 a low-end phone, given the specs, other than the fact that it launched last year so it "only" has a Snapdragon 820 in it.</p>

  • rc

    Premium Member
    22 April, 2017 - 11:25 am

    <p>I agree that the fingerprint sensor is awkward, but it's been getting better for me as I get used to it. Plus, at this point, for me it's been far more accurate and consistent than the one on the S7. I think in some ways using my index finger on the back of the phone is more natural than extending my thumb all the way to the bottom to use the sensor in the traditional spot (at least with one handed use). The only issue, of course, is not smudging the camera constantly. I also like that it unlocks immediately as soon as you put your finger on the scanner.</p>

    • lilmoe

      22 April, 2017 - 5:13 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#99537"><em>In reply to Peter Vassiliou:</em></a></blockquote><p>"Samsung cannot forget its bad DNA"</p><p><br></p><p>Not sure about Samsung, but ARS sure can't. When you're writing a "review" and you know jack sh!t about technology (and how it works), you need to keep your *opinion* and hate-relationship-with-Samsung to yourself.</p><p><br></p><p>Ars readers aren't any better. They can't distinguish between tech journalism and the entertainment (and/or back scratching) business. All they're reading is news aggregation with a touch of old-school humor that might have been funny 20 years ago.</p>

      • Narg

        24 April, 2017 - 9:18 am

        <blockquote><a href="#99566"><em>In reply to lilmoe:</em></a></blockquote><p>Um, lilmoe, seems you might be the one going too deep with the "entertainment" news/reviews. Samsung stinks nowdays. You need to come to grips with that.</p>

  • ibmthink

    22 April, 2017 - 3:32 pm

    <p>Personally, I think its rather ugly. Too shiny, too rounded as well. I can't imagine that phone not slipping out of your hands when you try to take photos. Like a slippery piece of soap.</p><p>Looking forward to see all the people using this with cracked screens…</p>

  • lilmoe

    22 April, 2017 - 5:37 pm

    <p>Touchwiz might be overwhelming for some (though I don't believe so myself), but the sheer number of options and different ways of doing the same thing is what makes it so attractive and practical to most Samsung fans, Paul. You can tailor the experience to the exact way you want, making you do the things you want as fast as possible. You know, just like how Windows does things :)</p>

  • Bats

    22 April, 2017 - 7:02 pm

    <p>"<span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">All previous smartphones, including the suddenly tired and traditional-looking iPhone 7, now look old-fashioned by comparison." – Paul Thurrott</span></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">Dude, this old news. It's been like this for the past couple of years. (lol) </span></p><p><br></p><p><span style="color: rgb(0, 0, 0);">"…</span>it’s possible that Samsung has finally created a device so unique, so innovative, and so desirable that it may, in fact, justify its lofty price"- Paul Thurrott</p><p>AGAIN…..Samsung has been doing this with the Galaxy for YEARS!!! Where the h**l has Paul Thurrott been?</p><p><br></p><p>It's as if Paul, peeked out of his Microsoft "window " and saw the sun and the clouds for the very first time. </p><p>The Galaxy line has always been a great phone While Paul, has been gushing about how "beautiful" the iPhone was, I kept saying that it's at best "meh…" </p><p>The only problem with the Samsung Galaxy phones, is that it takes a long while for the phone to get the latest Android update. If you are a Verizon customer, it's even longer. In addition, the use of the Google Assistant isn't as easy or is accessible than it is with the Pixel. Even when the Google Assistant was Google Now, you had to fickle with the settings in order to get it right.</p><p>Paul is like amazingly weird. I found his comments about HP hilarious, when he glowingly gushed over their aesthetic designs,…though HP has been doing that for years and now Samsung Galaxy lines. </p><p>You heard it, first here folks. Paul is so in bed with Android now, you're gonna get Android usage stats very very soon (LOL).</p><p><br></p><p><br></p>

  • MadGator

    23 April, 2017 - 10:22 pm

    <p>Paul,</p><p>The S8+ is the Battlefield 1 of phones.</p><p>The iPhone 7 is the Call of Duty of phones.</p><p>Time to realize the lameness of COD and Apple and join the winning team!</p>

    • Narg

      24 April, 2017 - 9:17 am

      <blockquote><a href="#99667"><em>In reply to MadGator:</em></a></blockquote><p>Weird comparison, but we'll go there… Just like CoD, Apple does it right. And continues to do it right. Without overwhelming. Samsung sells more phones than Apple, but if you account that few of those are the Galaxy line. So who's really winning? Strong, tried, true. Apple has it. Others are crawling up to get there and will be soon, Samsung is behind in this game. CoD will continue to sell, and sell well. Because it just works.</p><p><br></p><p>P.S. just checked. Samsung has 18.1% of sales, Apple has 18.3% Again, who's winning?</p>

  • wright_is

    Premium Member
    24 April, 2017 - 1:00 am

    <p>For me, security is front and centre, when I look at a new phone. I don't really care about the phone's features, as long as it is "fast enough" to run Audible. But I do care that it gets the latest updates in a timely manner. </p><p>Has the S8 received the Kernel and Android critical patches for March and April? </p><p>It would be good to have a section of the reviews for smartphones that says whether any critical flaws patched by Google during the review period were released in a timely manner on the review units and a general note about the manufacturer's attitude to keeping their customers safe over the long haul.</p><p>Samsung used to be very bad, although I have heard that they have improved over the last couple of years.</p>

    • DaveHelps

      Premium Member
      24 April, 2017 - 4:49 am

      <blockquote><a href="#99677"><em>In reply to wright_is:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>I like that idea. Although, April patches were quite recent, I'd be pleasantly surprised if Samsung had been able to test and certify them so quickly.</p>

  • dstrauss

    24 April, 2017 - 9:03 am

    <p>Like your wife, I'm waiting on the GN8 as well – mostly hoping they will resolve the fingerprint reader issue (well, um, there is my addiction to the S-Pen as well). In fact, the screen alone is such an improvement over my iPhone 7 Plus that I nearly jumped at the GN8+, but I fear I'll miss the dual cameras on the iP7+, which for me have been fantastic. </p><p>Now, if phone manufacturers are going back to glass back phone, here's hoping they will include an e-ink, always on, rear display with the essentials (time, weather, notifications) for quick review without any battery drain.</p>

  • Narg

    24 April, 2017 - 9:12 am

    <p>Too much, yet still with compromises? OK, how much does a smart phone REALLY need in terms of features? Yet still there are shortcomings of this phone. I wouldn't recommend it for anything still. To me a smartphone must be useable. And, if the features overwhelm enough to gimp it's usability, along with stupid things like an out of place finger print reader then why even suggest it as an alternative? Paul, I think you realize that in your steadfast support of iPhones. As boring as they are they still remain one of the most usable smartphones on the market. They just work. Google is getting there with it's line of phones, as are some OEM Android devices. But Samsung has to be the worst choice IMHO of any smartphone due to it's feature set simply being too much. Since when did crapware become cool???</p>

  • jimchamplin

    Premium Member
    24 April, 2017 - 9:56 am

    <p>Here's the question: so many pundits are talking about how zero-bezel, huge screens are some obvious thing. The problem is that I've yet to see one that isn't hideous. Something about the whole idea just looks amateurish to me. "Who needs to hold this thing? We're only one step away from a screen with no frame. Good luck holding that, saps!"</p><p>What exactly is the <em>need</em> for this? </p><p>How does it help me, the user?</p><p>Why do I get the feeling that in a couple of years any phone I might want to upgrade to will look like this damn thing? Just a slavishly big screen slapped onto an overly-melty body with no regard for aesthetics or good taste.</p><p>If I'm lucky the iPhone SE will continue as a product line and I can show my disdain for fugly with my "old design" phone.</p>

  • mortarm

    08 June, 2017 - 12:38 pm

    <p>&gt;…justify its lofty price…</p><p>Which is…?</p>

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