Samsung Galaxy S8+ Second Impressions: Impressive, Overwhelming

Posted on April 22, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Android with 23 Comments

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.

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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