The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are still top-of-mind for those looking to buy a flagship phone today, so it's hard to believe they've actually been available for a full three months already. Our initial review was published on April 18, and I've been using the phone since that week. Naturally I've hopped around to other phones in that time, but continued coming back to the Galaxy S8 as it's maintained a "primary device" designation for me.
With a few months of use under my belt, I have a better feeling for the Galaxy S8 than we ever could just using a phone for a week or two before a review. Here's how the Galaxy S8 is holding up for me, and where I think it stands in the smartphone world as we move through July.
Still a beauty
More time with the hardware
I've held a lot of excellent smartphone hardware this year, in particular the LG G6, Sony Xperia XZ Premium and HTC U11. Each of those phones has its own personality and hardware strengths, and I wouldn't hesitate to say each of them is worth the money. But the Galaxy S8 is completely unique and removed from them all — it feels like something different entirely.
The hardware sets unreasonable expectations for when you switch to any 'normal' phone.
It's so slick, smooth and narrow that it actually feels like a small device despite its relatively large display size. The optical illusion of the curved display making those side bezels feel even smaller than they are definitely works, and it sets unreasonable expectations for when you switch to any "normal" phone. The subtle curves rarely bother me when trying to swipe and tap, which is something I couldn't say about the Galaxy S7 edge no matter how much I tried to adapt. Yes all of those aspects mean it's a tad on the slippery side, but I think that's a fine compromise for a phone that's this good looking and comfortable to hold.
I still love how the hardware just melts away and lets you focus on the big, brilliant display. Samsung's displays are ridiculously good and somehow continue to get better year after year despite already being tops in the industry for the past few release cycles. Colors pop, fine lines are crisp and the brightness is amazing even in harsh sun (which we've recently actually had a lot of in Seattle). Other phones have good displays, but I still hold Samsung on a higher level.
Even though the Galaxy S8's hardware is undoubtedly beautiful, it doesn't feel like it's set up to age gracefully. The outside of the Galaxy S8 is more glass than any other material, and the back of my phone hasn't fared well. It's littered with scratches across the entire surface, but particularly concentrated along the top and bottom edges where it usually makes its first contact with a table every time I set it down. This is over just three months where I went stretches of several days at a time not using it at all ... and even a couple weeks using a thin case. That's not great, and really is the one downside to this hardware.
That's not to say I feel the Galaxy S8 is fragile or weak — I actually think it's quite solid and very well built, and I certainly don't treat it more gently than any other phone. But the slow deterioration of the outside of the Galaxy S8 simply because it's covered in glass doesn't make me excited for how this thing's going to look after another nine months of use. My Galaxy S7 is quite scratched up, but not like this.
You can't talk about the Galaxy S8 without facing the biometric situation. I just can't stand the fingerprint sensor placement on this thing, and I won't ever get used to it. Putting a thin case on the phone helps a ton, but it is still the most difficult-to-use fingerprint sensor I've encountered in years, and yes that includes the swipe-style sensors from the Galaxy S5 era.
I'm tired of staring at my phone like an idiot trying to get iris scanning to work.
I use the iris scanning, and turning on the setting to immediately start scanning when the screen comes on (seriously, why isn't this on by default?) helps so much, but it just isn't good enough. The number of times I've stood there staring at my phone like an idiot trying to get the iris scanner to work is uncountable. And even if it was great, I still can't use it for unlocking apps that of course still require a fingerprint. It's just a bad experience, and it's what I would consider the only out-and-out flaw of the Galaxy S8.
Not a strength
Software, performance and battery life
My history of using Samsung's software is a mixed bag. The artist formerly known as TouchWiz continues to add a ton of value on top of Android and provide visual consistency across Samsung's products, but of course introduces many things I continue to find frustrating. Samsung's software has improved to a point where I actually like using it, and nothing is flat out broken or completely fighting how Android works at its core — but it's definitely not my favorite manufacturer take on the operating system.
I like so much of Samsung's software that I deal with the few parts that are still annoying.
I actually quite like Samsung's notification shade, the simplicity it applies to its settings page, and many of its bundled apps are well-designed and simple to use. The entire interface is consistent and actually kind of follows Google's Material Design guidelines. Heck, Samsung has even moved to on-screen navigation buttons! It all comes together to offer a solid experience using the Galaxy S8 every day.
But then there's all of the other stuff that I simply "deal with" in order to use the phone. The default apps that I can't disable or change, the amazing amount of bloatware from carriers, the funky way its lock screen works differently from any other phone, the sub-par launcher and keyboard, the app updates through Galaxy Apps, and all of the tiny features and things that are just ... there ... with little purpose. There's a whole lot of streamlining that could be done here, and I still feel like Samsung's software could benefit from a more opinionated voice calling the shots on the development.
I also still have questions about Samsung's ability to get out timely software updates. My T-Mobile Galaxy S8 is sitting on the April security patch, even though the update to the July patch apparently started rolling out to the T-Mobile version a week or two ago. Even if I had July, I would still have spent the past two months out of date. Other versions are doing better, but the issue for me is consistency — the immense number of models (and carriers) Samsung has to deal with make it hard to paint with a broad brush, positively or negatively.
Performance and battery life
I was actually souring on the Galaxy S8's software experience on account of some really bad performance I was seeing a few weeks in. I chose the nuclear option and factory reset it, starting from scratch. And I'm glad I did, because since then the Galaxy S8 has been smooth, solid and consistent as I'd expect from a top-end phone with a Snapdragon 835 processor running the show. I'm not sure what the heck was happening before, but I haven't seen so much as a little hiccup out of this phone after starting fresh — let's hope it stays that way.
Battery life is good enough for me, and for most people, but not for everyone.
Battery life has been good for me, but I know that isn't quite enough for everyone. I keep all of my apps updating and syncing in the background, use auto brightness, take advantage of Always On Display, play music over Bluetooth throughout the day and generally use the phone however I want without worry about battery. Most days, that lets me through just fine — making it to bed with 15-20% battery left — but that isn't always the case. Yesterday I had to turn on Power saving mode at 8:30 p.m. (roughly 13 hours off the charger) because I was at 10% ... and I wasn't going to be home for at least another hour.
I can deal with that because it's an every-once-in-a-while thing rather than a constant worry. But some people can't — if you need more wiggle room from your phone's battery, I think the Galaxy S8+ will provide it.
The Bixby situation
One of the key selling points of the Galaxy S8, Bixby, on one hand hasn't aged well and on the other hasn't aged at all. As I write this article, Bixby Voice just launched to the public this week, and only in the U.S. The promise of Bixby Voice is unique from Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, aimed at being intelligence for your phone itself rather than from the internet. But even though it works pretty well, it seems like a feature in search of a use case. I wonder why development time is being put into controlling your phone — which is sitting in your hand already — with your voice, rather than improving the interface to be more discoverable and usable with touch.
Bixby so often feels like a feature in search of a use case.
The other parts of the Bixby experience, Bixby Vision and Bixby Home, can be best described as something between "basic" and "not useful." After using Bixby Vision a few times to see how it works, the novelty immediately wore off. The image recognition itself is just downright poor, and even if it were good I'm not sure how much use there is to simply giving me a list of similar images of the thing I just took a photo of. Bixby Home is still just a tad slow to launch and update when pressing the Bixby button, but that's hardly its biggest issue. The idea is sound, and the layout of the information is useful, the issue is it just can't ever be as useful as Google Now — even if you for some reason used 100% of available Samsung apps, which of course we don't.
In typical Samsung fashion I'm sure all of Bixby's functions will be refined and improved over the next couple of years, because Samsung's success doesn't at all hinge on the quality of Bixby and it can play a longer game. As it changes and adapts it will become more useful in a future form, but that comes at the cost of feeling unfinished on the Galaxy S8 today.
One of many greats
Three months of Galaxy S8 photos
I've taken some really wonderful photos with the Galaxy S8, and in the past few months my impressions haven't changed from what they were in the first week: it's a really good camera. It's pretty sharp, its colors are vivid and it regularly offers a color balance that's a tad warmer than I'd like. In lighting of all kinds, it's able to take great shots.
For me, the biggest thing about the Galaxy S8's camera is its consistency. You know what you're going to get just about every time you press that shutter button, and while that's something I can appreciate it's also a standout feature for the average phone owner that isn't a photography buff. Having confidence in your camera is super important, because as soon as you lose it you dramatically reduce the number of photos you take in general. I still feel confident in the Galaxy S8 — an overwhelming majority of the time I take a single photo and know it turned out well right away, saving me from taking three or four "insurance" shots.
For as good as these photos are, I still feel we were all justified in being worried (okay, maybe just a little concerned) about Samsung sticking with what amounted to the same camera from 2016. The competition has caught up, and in some cases surpassed, the Galaxy S8's camera. The Google Pixel, LG G6 and HTC U11 all take photos that match or exceed it — this makes Samsung's phone simply one of the crowd of great cameras in 2017, rather than a standout performer.
If the rumors are true that Samsung is moving to a dual camera setup in the Galaxy Note 8, we could be seeing some foreshadowing for real camera improvements the Galaxy S9 next year.
Still damn good.
Galaxy S8 Three months on
Three months in, I'm still happily using my Galaxy S8. Like every other phone, the Galaxy S8 has its issues — chief among them being its awkward biometric security setup and sometimes-frustrating software. But for me, those are so dramatically outweighed by its gorgeous hardware, great screen, strong performance and core features. And even though its camera isn't a world-beater in the same way the Galaxy S7 was last year, I still feel confident carrying it in my pocket every day knowing I'll be happy with the photos it produces.
There's a reason why the Galaxy S8 sits at the top of our list of best Android phones — and it goes beyond just how the phone works for me. It also comes from the sheer number of features — both in hardware and software — that can appeal to a wider market than just about any phone. Yes perhaps a little restraint in one area or another could serve a specific market better, but seeing Samsung's success thus far it's tough to argue with the approach of giving as many people as possible more of what they want, all in a single device.
That's showing in sales numbers, and it's still a strong strategy three months into the Galaxy S8's life.
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