Hold the phone. Literally, hold it. The Samsung Galaxy S8 ($720) is visceral. When you pick it up, unlock its screen and the entire thing lights up, simply calling it “impressive” feels like a disservice. Throw in the curved edges and thin aspect ratio — similar to the LG G6, it’s a “big screen that actually fits in your hand” — and the Galaxy S8 really is a smartphone that makes you feel a tinge of sadness when you have to put it down. Don’t neglect it. Don’t ignore it. This is what the future of smartphone design looks like.
Samsung’s lineage of smartphones, including last year’s Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 7 (RIP), have all come with mostly-Samsung bloatware that most consumers never used, yet couldn’t delete. That’s not entirely the case with the S8. It does come with Samsung Health and Samsung Notes — which I never opened — but it also comes with the stock Google apps (Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, Google Photos) that I use all the time. For Samsung, this feels like a real step forward: the S8 didn’t pepper me with prompts to use its proprietary apps.
The Samsung S8 isn’t the perfect smartphone, but it’s so frustratingly close.
My only issue with the beautifully designed S8 is the fingerprint scanner. Like with most new Androids, the scanner is located on the back — which I quite like — but the S8’s fingerprint scanner is off-center and adjacent to its rear-facing 12MP camera. This makes it awkward to reach and, at times, difficult to find (doesn’t help that it’s tiny). After days with the S8, finding this scanner became more natural, but it also never felt comfortable with my left hand. Suffice it to say, it’s awkward.
But that’s the only design flaw, and there are other ways to unlock it, of course. There’s the standard PIN and pattern; the S8 can also scan your face or your irises — both of which worked surprisingly well for me; however, holding the S8 up to my face over and over again got old quick.
On the upside, the cameras, both rear- and front-facing, are just as good as the best-in-class Pixel’s and iPhone 7’s. The display is mesmerizing. And the tall-and-slender design makes the S8 by far the nicest high-end smartphone to hold. As for battery — it’s fine. We all know about the Note 7 catastrophe, so there’s no need for me to explain Samsung’s newly conservative battery approach.
Additionally, I have to mention Bixby, Samsung’s virtual assistant, which the S8 dedicates an entire button to. Comically enough, Bixby doesn’t really do anything as of now, and ultimately it didn’t affect the way I used the S8 — you can’t miss what you don’t know. Also, the S8 does come with Google Assistant, which is probably the most adept virtual assistant you’ll find in any smartphone.
The Samsung S8 isn’t the perfect smartphone, but it’s so frustratingly close. If the fingerprint scanner was central, larger and functioned as a touchpad with scrollable gestures (like the Pixel’s), I’d hold this phone to the sky. It’s not worth saying its an “iPhone killer,” as Android has now, with the Pixel and S8, carved out its own battle royale among phone makers. And despite that off-center button, the S8 still holds on just a hair ahead of the Pixel — and I can safely say that it’s easily the best Android smartphone you can buy.