Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Review – Close to Outdoing Themselves

The concept of smartphone has been rather the same over the recent years. Ever since the original iPhone, the recipe for a smartphone has been rather the same – having a large screen occupying the front display, putting a desktop-class processor in and jamming in as many cores as possible, with use of premium materials on the outside but rather similar overall design. When it comes to flagships, manufacturers usually put a lot of effort into it as it showcases the latest and greatest that a manufacturer can put in. The name “Samsung” has been rather hot in the smartphone industry, as they always have something for every segment, especially when it comes to their flagship line-up, as they have not only 1, but 2 offerings – the usual Galaxy S-series and Galaxy Note series. The sales figures says it all, with both devices being the best selling in their segment. For the 8th generation of the Galaxy S series, Samsung decided to take it to a whole new level. So is it worth the hype? Lets check out.

Design

Recent Galaxy S devices usually stands out among the rest in the segment, and the Galaxy S8 Plus picks up where the previous S7 left off. Instead of having 2 different designs, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus now features identical design, with the S8+ being the larger variant. Overall design absolutely stands out among the rest. The curved sides on the front resembles its predecessor, the Galaxy S7 edge. While a 6.4-inch display may be considered huge for a smartphone, the overall dimension is perfect and fits nicely in your hands. With just a thickness of 8.1mm and weighs around 170-grams, it does not feel bulky as well. It is also worth mentioning that both the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are IP68 rated for dust and water resistant.

Being a flagship device, the choice of materials is rather premium, with premium feeling front and rear glass and shiny metals running across the device. The materials used is what really makes the device looks good and feels premium in your hands. With that said, all of that beauty comes at a price. It’s easy to see that phone is rather fragile with the front and rear glass construction, and according to recent reports from owners, the front and rear glass do shatter easily. So this calls for a full protection for the device, and luckily Samsung did sell some, from rear cases to flip cases, in which we’ll take a look at one. Depending on your preference, we do recommend a rear case that fully protects the body of the device and leave some space between the front glass and the floor when the phone is dropped face down. You’ll need those as the metal body and glass panel picks up lots of fingerprints.

The front of the device is largely dominated by a 6.2-inch display, and with the signature Edge display on both sides, it does make the display look extremely beautiful, as if it runs all the way to the sides of the device. Samsung also included Edge screen which allows you to swipe in and it’ll show up various shortcut controls, quick access to apps and contacts, etc. Even with your device faced down, there is an option to light up the edges with running colours when receiving a call. While it may sound cool, it slightly lacks behind when it comes to practicality. Combining very thin metal area to grip and slippery curved glass, the phone is hard to pick up from a flat surface, especially without a case (which is another reason to get a protective case). It is also possible for accidental inputs on the sides with the curved glass and bezel-less display on its sides. Since the display takes up a huge amount of space on the front, there’s very little space on top and bottom, but Samsung still managed to squeeze in a LED notification light, an Iris scanner for unlocking, a couple of sensors and a front-facing 8-megapixel camera on the top. Naturally, the usual Samsung hardware buttons at the bottom has been ditched for a on-screen Android navigation buttons. There is a sensor behind the on-screen Home button where it will provide haptic feedback when pressure is applied to the home “button”. While it tries to simulate the same experience for previous Galaxy smartphone users, its easier to get used to using the on-screen Android controls and use it like other devices.

Apart from the split volume buttons, the left of the device also houses the new Bixby shortcut button, which is a personal assistant by Samsung. Currently, Samsung does not allow any customization to the button at all. The power button stays on the right.

The SIM tray lives on the top, and it can be removed from the device using either a small pin or the included tray ejector tool. Like most setups, it includes 2 slots – a standard nano-SIM slot and a microSD card slot, and the latter also takes a nano-SIM card which allows for dual-SIM functionality. Should you think that the built-in 64GB internal storage is not enough, you had to ditch the dual-SIM functionality, and it will take microSD cards up to 256GB. Sadly, an IR blaster, which has been ditched on the Galaxy S7, is still nowhere to be found.

The 3.5-mm earphone jack, a USB-C port for charging and data transfer and a single mono speaker are left at the bottom of the device.

The back somewhat retains the similar design of the Galaxy S7. The 12-megapixel camera still lives in the middle, and on the left is where the single LED flash and heartbeat sensor lives as usual. Since there is no room for fingerprint reader on the front, it is now located towards the right of the sensor, which can be awkward to use if you are right-handed. The rest of the back cover is nothing special, apart from the Galaxy S8 branding and some regulatory icons at the bottom.

Samsung offers both the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus in 5 different colours. Apart from the Maple Gold colour that our tester came in, there’s also choice for Midnight Black, Orchid Grey, Coral Blue and Arctic Silver.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Exterior Photos

Specs and Performance

Being Samsung’s flagship device, you can expect Samsung to pack the Galaxy S8 Plus with all the best bells and whistles. The model that we get here in Malaysia comes with Samsung’s in-house developed Exynos 8895 Octa processor, which is right in par with top Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 835, which is also offered on the Galaxy S8 in other countries. There’s not much to give up if you go either of the processor as the specs are pretty similar. The Exynos 8895 is a 64-bit processor with 8-cores, and like the 835, the primary 4 cores are higher powered ones that are clocked at 2.3GHz, while the rest are clocked at 1.7GHz. It is a slight upgrade from the previous Exynos 8890 in the Galaxy S7. Also included is 4GB of RAM.

Samsung may have a seedy history where it gets some of the highest numbers in benchmark scores, but real world usage it’s the opposite. They started rectifying the problem since the Galaxy S7 and they’ve definitely improved it with the S8. The phone now behaves like what a flagship device actually does. While it still may not be the best performing device, it is easily one of the best. It can handle most of the tasks smoothly, and with the light interface, it can pretty much hold on to it. It also performs well with heavy load, but with all 8 cores fired up to the max, you do feel the back of the device gets hot quickly, thus leading to thermal-throttling. But on normal use, while there is still some little hiccups here and there, the overall experience is pretty positive.

Rather unsurprisingly, the Galaxy S8 Plus ended up at the top of the Geekbench scores again, with the Exynos processor scoring 2026 for single-core score and 6700 octa-core score. That is impressive considering the fact that the scores are slightly higher than the Snapdragon 835 processor. The multi-core score just blows everything away, but it came second in single-core score, with only the Apple iPhone 7 Plus to beat.

A wide variety of connectivity options are included on the Galaxy S8 Plus as well, including a dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi and NFC functionality for Samsung Pay, which is Samsung’s own mobile payment service. The Galaxy S8 is also the first device to adopt the latest Bluetooth 5.0, which promises faster speed, more data and wider range. It also has the ability to connect to two device at the same time and output audio to both simultaneously. There are issues where both speakers are not perfectly synced together, but it’s just a small niggle to deal with. The Galaxy S8 and the S8 Plus are also the first to adopt the latest Cat16 1GB LTE network for blazing fast network speeds, even though it’s still up to your carrier. First started off with the new Galaxy A series, the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus jumps on the USB-C bandwagon for charging and data transfer.

As with Samsung, there are a number of ways to unlock the device. The more advanced options are the fingerprint sensor and the Iris sensor. The fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back, located to the right of the camera lens. Not only it is a weird location to put it in, it is also a pain to use for most of the time. The fingerprint reader requires the entire finger to cover sensor in order to unlock, and it’s location is more in favour of left-handers. But when it was able to read the fingerprint, its quick and accurate. The Iris scanner has almost the same story – where it constantly asks you to move it up or down, or open your eyes wider. It will show you a preview using the front-facing camera when you swipe up on the lock screen, and it’s easier to adjust using the preview.

Speaker

Rather surprisingly, the Galaxy S8 Plus still adopts the same old mono speaker setup located at the bottom of the device, instead of going for the stereo speaker route. While we’ll give credit for the loud volume and rather punchy speakers for a mono setup, it could really use a stereo speaker setup. At higher volumes, it doesn’t sound as punchy, and bass level across the volume could be better.

Display

The display is probably the best part of every Samsung flagships, and the Galaxy S8 Plus takes it to a completely new level. The regular Galaxy S8 features a 5.8-inch display, while the Galaxy S8 Plus bumps it up to 6.2-inches. That is a huge display to put on a handheld device, and Samsung has a clever workaround to this problem. It features a unique 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which explains the rather tall screen with normal width. The resolution is rather unique as well, topping at 1440 X 2960 pixels (Samsung calls it Quad HD+). With 529 pixels-per-inch, it is as sharp as you’d need. There are software adjustments where you can scale it down to 1080 X 2220 pixels or 720 X 1480 in favour of battery life. The new aspect ratio does allow room for more content, whether for normal apps, landscape games or widescreen videos. There are software enhancements to blow contents up to fit the entire screen, and apps that are not optimized for the display will be stretched out and look slightly weird. It also supports most media player apps. For instance, in the YouTube app, it allows videos to be viewed in its original aspect ratio or stretch it to fill the entire screen.

And this is the best part. Samsung has been pioneer of AMOLED screens for few years now, and the result on the Galaxy S8 Plus lives up to the expectation. Combining the curved sides, 18.5:9 ratio and the Super AMOLED panel and you’ve got the best display experience in a smartphone. The blacks are extremely deep as the pixels are not active when it is part of a black image, which makes the other colours pop even more. It has even higher saturated colours and wide native colour gamut, and that can be credited for the more vivid display. There’s no issue with viewing angles, and the display can go pretty right, which makes it usable under bright sunlight.

The Galaxy S8 Plus also comes with software enhancements for the display, which comes with 4 different modes: Basic Screen mode, AMOLED Cinema mode, AMOLED Photo mode and Adaptive display. While you can go technical with the first 3 modes, for most of the time, we decided to leave it in Adaptive mode as it adjusts to the content that is displayed on the screen.

Camera Performance

On paper the camera on the Galaxy S8 Plus doesn’t sound that exciting. The camera setup consists of a single-lens 12-megapixel sensor with an aperture of f/1.7, combined with Dual Pixel technology. In fact, it may look like nothing has changed on the hardware department. Obviously, Samsung still thinks it’s better to hold on to their already good setup instead of going on the fancier dual-lens setup.

But has their decision backfired? Not at all, to be honest. While hardware remains the same, it’s the image processing software that has been beefed up. Images shot under sufficient lighting are fantastic, with lots of details, wide dynamic range and vivid colours. The camera is able to capture lots of fine details as well. The Dual Pixel technology really aids in quick and accurate autofocus. The included HDR mode can be slightly dim, as even when turned on, there is not much difference between both on and off, and even in auto mode, it rarely turns on by its own. There’s really not much difference between the Galaxy S8 Plus and its predecessor or even its latest competitors. The Optical Image Stabilization also aids in fighting blurry images caused by shaky hands.

The camera really comes to its own during low-light conditions. The Galaxy S8 Plus is probably one of best smartphones out there when it comes to low-light shooting. It still has a wide dynamic range, accurate and vivid colours, and surprisingly plenty of details and sharpness. At times there are still visible noises, but the software tries hard to reduce it to the minimum. The improved software really improves the low-light photography location.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Sample Photos

The Galaxy S8 Plus is still capable of recording 4K videos (3840 X 2160) and Quad HD videos (2560 X 1440), both at a mild 30 frames-per-second. Other options including 1080p videos at 30 frames-per-second or 60 frames-per-second, 720p videos at 30 frames-per-second and also 1440 X 1440 square videos for Instagram or other applications. The latter is a nice addition to have and the pixels are more than enough for those video applications. 4K, QHD and 1080p videos are full of details, and stills from the 4K videos can be extracted as 8-megapixel stills. Colours are vivid and laid back too, and frame rate is smooth and steady across all resolutions. The Galaxy S8 Plus also gains Video Digital Image Stabilization, and it works across all resolutions even up to 4K. Along with the Optical Image Stabilization, they really did a great job. You could expect the same performance for low-light conditions, even though there seems to be some noise going on without sacrificing details. The audio recorded is in stereo, which is loud and clear and we have no complaints.

Unlike the rear-facing camera, the front-facing shooter is an all-new setup, with a new 8-megapixel sensor and aperture of f/1.7. This time round, we start to see features like autofocus, auto HDR and wide-angle selfie. It is also capable of recording Quad HD videos too. The results are impressive, with lots of detail, natural colours and wide dynamic range. The autofocus was a nice addition, and this means that whatever the distance is between the phone and your face, you can still get your face in focus. The selective focus mode is where it adds bokeh effects to the background of an image, but since It’s working only with 1 sensor, it’s a hit and miss. There is just lots of imperfections compared to what a Vivo V5 Plus with dual front-facing camera would give you. The wide-angle mode allows 80-degrees field of view, and thus allowing your friends to be in the shot. There are few software enhancements, including some software beautification effects and dynamic overlay effects.

The camera app features a change in design compared to its predecessor. It is now cleaner, less litter around and overall easier to use. There are a few shortcut toggles located on the left, and the shutter and video recording buttons are to the right, along with beautification mode and dynamic overlay effect toggle. Even swiping to the right reveals a few simplified modes, and a Pro mode is included for full control over ISO, shutter speed, exposure, focus and effects. A toggle in the settings will also allow the Galaxy S8 Plus to capture in RAW format. Also included is Bixby vision, which utilizes the camera and retrieves relevant information or links when you point it at an object. It’s rather obvious that it’s still in development stage for now, but we can’t wait to see what it can really do.

Software

Samsung wasn’t well known for light and efficient software, as they usually filled it up with complicated and unnecessary functions and lots of bloatwares. Ever since the Galaxy S6, Samsung has been hard at work at making it lighter. With the latest software, Samsung takes it even further skinning it down. The Galaxy S8 Plus comes with Android 7.0 Nougat right out of the box, with Samsung UX interface on top. The new user interface is easy, no-nonsense and light, with lots of new design cues that we have not seen previously. The interface is so new that even current Galaxy smartphone owners will take some time to get used to the new interface. Samsung also started pushing out the new interface to older Galaxy devices, with minor differences. Overall, the performance is rather good.

Samsung Galaxy S8 User Interface

Battery life

While the regular Galaxy S8 only had to deal with 3000mAh battery, the Galaxy S8 Plus gains another 500mAh to deal with the larger screen size, with both improved battery and more “breathing space” so whatever misfortune happened to the Galaxy Note 7 will not repeat itself. Overall, results from the battery are rather positive. Even under heavy usage, with display pixels bumped to the max, 4G LTE running all day and adaptive display setting, the Galaxy S8 Plus still manages between 35%-45% at the end of the day. This is with Always-on display off for most of the time as we are using it with the flip case that Samsung has kindly included without test unit, and with the case closed, it will only display the clock for a few seconds before turning it off. The Always-on display will definitely costs you some battery, at 1% every hour. You can easily push this thing to 2 days of usage with lighter usage. The more efficient processor and the Super AMOLED panel can be credit to the result as well.

The Galaxy S8 Plus continues to support its own Adaptive Fast Charging system and Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology. The Adaptive Fast Charging will charge an empty battery to full in around an hour and a half, and it slows down when the battery is near full to prolong its life. The Galaxy S8 Plus is also compatible with wireless chargers that are compliant with Qi and PMA standards, and the charging speed is as fast.

Flip case

Samsung also sells a variety of accessories to go with your Galaxy S8 Plus, from flip cases and covers to portable battery charges and wireless charges. Also available are AKG tuned earphones and Samsung DeX station, which turns your Galaxy S8 Plus to a desktop computer.

Our Galaxy S8 Plus tester unit also comes with a Clear View Standing Cover as Samsung calls it. It’s a flip cover that features a translucent front cover which allows you to not only able to see the clock with the clover down, you can also look at notification icons and have basic controls over calls and music. With the cover down, Always-on display will not activate. It also allows the case will also act as a stand for the phone in landscape mode, and is ideal for watching movies. With some adjustments, you can adjust it to your perfect viewing angle. The case does add some bulk to the device and covers up the beautiful body, and there are times we just wished to have a normal cover instead.

Conclusion

Samsung was definitely in a difficult position after the fall of their other flagship series, and has lots to deal with in this increasingly competitive industry. Moving forward means getting rid of some old tradition (the Android navigation layout, for instance) and then implementing something newer. Some may say the Galaxy S8 Plus is a huge upgrade from its predecessors, some might say otherwise. We think that Samsung has nailed it with the display and it’s overall performance, and while it does not fully live up to the hype, it is still right up there in the entire industry.

Recap:
6.2-inch Super AMOLED display, 1440 x 2960 pixels, 529 ppi
Samsung Exynos 8895, 4x 2.3GHz, 4x 1.7GHz Octa-core processor
4GB RAM, 64GB internal storage, microSD card support up to 256GB
12-megapixel Dual Pixel sensor, up to 4K video recording
8-megapixel front-facing camera
3500mAh battery

Pros Cons
Premium & solid build quality Fragile body panels, easy to break
Premium and outstanding looks Front curved edges makes it hard to pick up
Overall performance Memory and apps handling still needs improvement
New simple and light user interface Fingerprint sensor is a pain to use
Features both quick charging and wireless charging Mono speakers could use some clarity