Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and S8+ release today in the US market . These are gorgeous smartphones with one of a kind design and flagship specs.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is simply gorgeous. Gone is the S7’s flat screen, and in its place is a tall, narrow drink of water with two curved sides. This is a phone that felt at home in my hands when I went hands-on with it for several hours at a journalist briefing in San Francisco. Better even than the LG G6, which has similar proportions but no curved screen, and sleeker than the iPhone 7 Plus, which puts a smaller screen on taller, wider body. For the first time, every major Samsung phone is an “Edge” model, with the Edge and Note’s curve-screen software and all.
But elegant as it is in metal and glass, the S8 (and larger S8 Plus) is also the first marquee Samsung phone in a long time that leaves me with uneasy doubts. And those doubts have nothing to do with the disastrous Galaxy Note 7 and everything to do with a couple out-of-place choices and a work-in-progress digital assistant called Bixby, which we also spent some hands-on time with.
Good stuff first. Samsung’s redesign makes the S8’s 5.8-inch screen absolutely pop. There’s no more physical home button, and barely a bezel. That means the screen takes up roughly 83 percent of the phone’s face for tapping and viewing. If the S7’s display felt generous before, this is positively expansive.
For Samsung fans who’ve never owned an Edge or Note phone, this’ll be the first time you’ll experience those curves. Until you try it for yourself, it’s hard to explain exactly why the S8 feels more polished and luxurious than any other perfectly nice flat-faced phone. It just does.
Ready for the “but”? But. There are also some head-scratchers with the design of the S8 and 6.2-inch S8 Plus. This time, the fingerprint reader sits so close to the rear camera that I fear you’ll smudge the lens when you’re just trying to unlock the phone — that happened in a few tests with a prefinal unit. Samsung also acknowledges that its face unlock feature is more convenient than secure. And while Apple, LG and Huawei have embraced twin rear camera lenses, Samsung is sticking with its single 12-megapixel shooter. On paper, that isn’t very impressive.
Then there’s Bixby, Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The three-in-one feature is a mishmash of voice assistant, Google Now cards and Google Goggles optical recognition. It’s confusing, limited and, at this admittedly embryonic stage, very incomplete. (More below.) Samsung is asking for patience. This is up in the air right now, but there’s a chance that Bixby may not come preloaded on the S8. It might be that you see a prompt to update the software as you set up the phone, but Samsung will give us more details closer to launch. New Bixby capabilities will roll out over time.
I really enjoyed my hands-on time with the S8 and S8 Plus so far. But even at this early stage — with full testing to come — it feels like Samsung’s holding back. That makes sense. For now, I’m cautiously optimistic about the S8 as an all-rounder that helps Samsung recover from its charred reputation. But it’ll be our real-world tests on the final review unit in April that will show how close Samsung has truly come.