What do you do when you’re one of the world’s biggest companies and you’ve been making headlines for all the wrong reasons? You release a new device (or two) with enough bells and whistles to silence your detractors. That’s exactly what Samsung’s done with the brand new, oh-so shiny, improbably thin and potent Galaxy S8 and S8+. Android fans, if you’ve been holding out on your upgrade, you needn’t wait any longer.
Edge? What edge?
Buyers need no longer choose between a regular Galaxy S device or an Edge variant with the curvy display, because both the S8 and larger S8+ offer one. That also means you can’t save a few bucks getting the non-Edge model, but given how glorious the new curved displays are – and how good the accompanying curved rear surface feels in hand – we’re willing to forgive Samsung for this change. It’s also put some effort into making sure the curved edges offer more functionality, so they’re not just pretty, but useful too.
The new territory up for grabs in the smartphone wars is squeezing bigger screens into smaller bodies by making the surrounding bezels super skinny, and Samsung’s making a pretty strong case for why it should be crowned head of the skinny-bezel herd. Who’s it competing with? LG and its G6 (but that lacks the S8’s gorgeous curves) and Xiaomi’s Mi Mix (which isn’t in SA yet, and lags behind Samsung on the specifications front).
With the new skinny bezels, the home button is now an on-screen one, and the fingerprint sensor has moved to the back of the handset, next to the 12MP camera. Some people like a fingerprint sensor on the front, others prefer it around the back. If you’re in the former camp you might be annoyed at Samsung’s decision, but to appease you, it’s also included an iris scanner and facial recognition, so now you can unlock your phone with a look.
The regular S8 gets a 5.8in display while the larger S8+ offers 6.2in one, but thanks to the diminutive bezels, neither device feels ungainly in the hand. They’re bigger displays in handsets around the same size as their predecessors, only thinner this time around. Both offer resolution of 2960x1440 pixels, so you’ll need a magnifying glass to see the individual pixels, and both support HDR (high-dynamic range) content.
If it ain’t broke
The primary camera on the new handsets is a 12MP offering that keeps the “dual-pixel” snappy focusing of its predecessors. While rivals Huawei, LG and Apple have all gone for dual-camera setups on the back of their devices, the cameras on the S7 and S7 Edge were some of the best on the market, so expect similarly stellar pics and video from these ones.
Where Samsung has made a change is up front. The front-facing camera has been boosted from 5MP to 8MP, which should make for crisper selfies even in sub-optimal lighting conditions.
Your command is its wish
On the left-hand side of the S8 and S8+ you’ll find a new button under the volume rocker. Pressing it launches Bixby, Samsung’s answer to Google’s Voice Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Samsung says Bixby is contextually sensitive, so it’ll respond to where you are, which apps you’ve recently used or be able to field multiple questions in a row about something with you only needing to specify what that something is the first time.
So, for example, ask the S8 where the Great Wall is, and thereafter if you ask how long “it” is, and Bixby will know you’re still talking about one of China’s greatest tourist attractions. Samsung also envisions Bixby being used to control smart devices in the home, and it's rolling out a range of new smartphone kits that’ll all work with it.
Sounds great, anywhere
IP68 waterproofing and dust proofing comes standard on the S8 and S8+, as does octa-core processing, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of on-board storage (expandable by up to 256GB via microSD). And both new handsets now get AKG by Harman earphones as a standard accessory in the box, complete with a selection of tips for the best fit.