We usually are very eager to be first in line to get the latest and greatest gadgets when they hit retail shelves. However, when Samsung finally released its latest smartphone model, the Galaxy S8, we were a little hesitant to purchase. We had no qualms with the glowing previews we had read about the S8, but we knew that acquiring the S8 meant we had to give up our Galaxy S7 Edge smartphones. (We both have one, along with several other phones. Actually, Bill bought the S8+.) Over the past year, the S7 Edge has been the best smartphone on the market in our view, edging out (no pun intended) the iPhone 7 and Google Pixel for smartphone supremacy. So why give up a good thing – no, a great thing – to try something new and unproven? We were told the S8 was every bit as good as the S7 and then some. We’re an easy sell, so it only took a couple minutes of deliberation and we were headed home with the new Galaxy S8 in our bag. Would we love it? Would it catch fire, like the Note 7?
We didn’t want to say that the S8 has made us forget the S7; but that is exactly what has happened. First of all, the S8 is slender and sleek, taller than the S7 and thinner. We tend to like “taller” and “thinner”, even in phones. Phone makers are continuing to pack more screen space into more compact form factors. The S8 feels smaller in your hand (and more accessible, especially for one-handed use); but you don’t feel like you are sacrificing screen real estate in the more compact form factor. Samsung uses what it calls an Infinity screen to create a bezel-less, slightly curved 5.8-inch display. Even the physical Home button at the bottom of the phone has been removed and replaced with a soft Home button on the display. Aesthetically, the S8 hits all the right buttons. If you are clumsy, however, you may want to buy a case for the S8. It is so thin, you may lose your grip on the phone. And, since it is all glass, it is vulnerable when it is dropped from your hands.
One feature that we loved on our Google Pixel phone we purchased last year was the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone. We found this placement made it much easier to unlock the phone with a fingerprint scan. Fortunately, Samsung copied this feature on the S8 and moved the fingerprint scanner to the back of the phone. Unfortunately, they placed the scanner slightly off-centered and right next to the camera lens. So, it is very easy to smudge your camera lens when trying to swipe your finger over the scanner. This is probably the only design feature on the S8 that we found to be deficient and irritating.
As far as functionality is concerned, the S8 is a home run. It runs on a powerful new processor that is noticeably quicker than almost any smartphone we have tried. We are told that the S8 is the first U.S. phone that is gigabit LTE compatible. This basically means that the phone is capable of connecting to the internet at much higher speeds should the underlying provider network support those speeds in the future. The camera (which was already good on the S7) is exceptional. Taking great photos is a breeze even for amateur photographers like us. We really like the selective focus feature that allows you to focus on a particular object in the picture while blurring everything else in the background. There is a professional mode you can enable if you are an expert photographer. Selecting the various options in the camera app is much easier on the S8.
Included on the S8 is a new feature called Bixby, Samsung’s entry to the growing digital assistant market. There is a dedicated button to bring up Bixby on the side of the phone, but the plan is for Bixby to ultimately to respond to voice commands. Bixby is meant to learn the user’s habits, preferences, schedule, etc. and provide helpful information relevant to the user at a particular time. This feature is obviously not fully developed as the voice recognition is not available on our S8 currently, but we understand that further updates will enhance the Bixby service.
Bixby is also integrated into the camera app so that you can point the camera lens at an object and then click a Shopping button to shop for similar objects online. Samsung also touts a translation feature in Bixby that allows you to focus the camera on a document or sign and have the text instantly translated via the camera app. We had limited success in testing these features on our S8; and we assume that the Bixby feature will get more robust as further updates are installed on the phone.
In another first, the S8 is the first phone to support the new Bluetooth 5 standard. What this means is that you can connect to devices via Bluetooth over a longer distance (up to 120 feet) and you can also connect to two sets of headphones at once. Alas, no more sharing a single pair of headphones while watching a movie on your phone.
Thankfully the S8 still has the old-fashioned 3.5mm headphone jack for those of us who still use the corded headphones. But Samsung did obsolete our old Galaxy power cords with the new USB-C charging port (although Samsung cordially provides a traditional USB adapter in the box).
Yes, we have forgotten that old Galaxy S7 model that is now sitting on top of the recycling heap. The S8 has captured our attention and, so far, we really like what we are seeing. It remains to be seen how the S8 will stack up against the upcoming new iPhone release; but it is clear that once again Samsung has moved the bar even higher. The ball is now in Apple’s court.