Straight Out of the Future (Almost)

Samsung has once again produced an excellent flagship phone, and I’m sure it’s a handset that nearly every phone buyer will be considering throughout 2017. It features a fantastic range of hardware and some decent updates to the software, plus the most beautiful phone design I’ve ever seen and used.

The design is something straight out of the future. The Galaxy S8+ uses premium materials with a seamless construction across the board, and that massive near bezel-free display is truly something to behold. Samsung knew they were onto something big with their new screen setup, and what they’ve produced here will shame every phone manufacturer in 2017 that doesn’t follow a similar path.

The downside to this sort of design is its extreme fragility. With the phone now having been on the market for a little over a month, it’s clear that dropping this phone spells disaster. Putting a case on such a beautiful phone is a travesty, but it might a necessity. I’d like to see Samsung work on the phone’s durability in a future model, perhaps forgoing the largely-unnecessary curved display edges.

The S8+ is filled with great little features and additions all over the place. USB-C is included in Samsung’s flagship for the first time, while we’re still seeing a microSD card slot and IP68 water resistance. The headphone jack remains, there’s a notification LED, and you even get an iris scanner. However, the fingerprint sensor – moved from front to back – is in such an idiotic position it’s hard to know exactly what Samsung’s engineers were thinking when they placed it so close to the camera lens.

The enormous 6.2-inch 18.5:9 AMOLED display is one of the best you’ll find on a smartphone. It’s taller and therefore larger than the Galaxy S7 Edge display, but it doesn’t feel any more cumbersome to use. Contrast ratio and viewing angles are superb, while Samsung continues to deliver class-leading brightness for this display technology. It’s still a pretty oversaturated display, though this does make images look fantastic and those that require accuracy can switch to the ‘basic’ display mode with ease.

I received an Exynos 8895-powered Galaxy S8+ to review, and its performance wasn’t a huge surprise. It’s significantly faster than the Exynos 8890 in last year’s Galaxy S7, particularly in terms of the GPU, and also comfortably beats the Snapdragon 821. CPU performance does fall behind the Kirin 960, however its GPU is unparalleled thus far (I haven’t tested the Snapdragon 835 just yet).

The main downside to Exynos SoCs, though, is throttling under heavy load, which has remained an issue for several generations now. Performance is cut by more than 40% after 20 minutes of gaming, which does impact the experience.

Side note from the Editor: I've been using a Galaxy S8+ as my daily driver for about a month, and after accidentally breaking two Galaxy S7 Edges, I decided the S8 would wear a case. I've had positive experiences with two well-reviewed cases which I'm recommending for those on the lookout for a quality case. If you want to protect your handset without taking it to an extreme on a case that feels good in the hand, the Speck Presidio is a fine case available in a number of colors and designs. However if you're more like me, and prefer to risk it in favor of a near case-free feeling, the Spigen Thin Fit is great and possibly as minimal as a somewhat protective case can be.

The Exynos 8895 does use a more efficient process node, though, which allows it to deliver battery life similar to the Galaxy S7 Edge despite a slightly smaller battery and a larger display. Battery life in general is excellent, consistently falling towards the top of our performance charts. Plus you also get fast charging, both wired and wireless.

The Galaxy S8+ also brings a decent range of other hardware features, including Gigabit LTE Category 16, Bluetooth 5 (a first for smartphones), NFC, and a reasonably quick 64GB of internal storage.

The camera is one area that didn’t receive a significant upgrade over the Galaxy S7 Edge, although the S7 Edge was such a strong performer that significant changes weren’t required. Through a few tweaks to processing and an improved front-facing camera, the S8+ delivers better images than its predecessor, primarily thanks to better dynamic range. It performs very well across the board, though can’t quite match the all-round brilliance of the Google Pixel.

I appreciate the time and effort Samsung has put into improving their Android software experience, particularly the visual tweaks that modernize the operating system. There’s still a bit of bloatware included, though you can choose not to install a lot of it during setup, and Bixby isn’t particularly useful or anything special up against Google Assistant. However, small steps forward are always welcome, and Samsung has come a long way in terms of their software in the last few years.

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At the end of the day, the Galaxy S8+ is a phone I’d recommend to most buyers, but only if you’re willing to put up with its fragility. At over $800 outright, it’s an expensive handset, so it’d be devastating to see it shatter within a few weeks. Keep good care of it, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic range of hardware that could just be worth its high asking price.

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Pros: The most beautiful, futuristic phone I’ve ever seen. Enormous, vibrant display without being cumbersome. Great performance and battery life. Camera still stacks up favorably despite lack of hardware upgrade.

Cons: The most fragile phone ever made. Dumb fingerprint sensor position. Exynos version loves to throttle. Bixby isn’t anything special. Expensive.