China S8+ Specs
- 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm, 173g
- 64-bit octa-core processor: 2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad
- 6.2-inch quad-HD+ curved ‘Infinity Display’, 2960 x 1440, 529ppi
- Dual-pixel 12MP main camera, F1.7, OIS
- 8MP selfie camera, F1.7, autofocus
- 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
- 64GB internal storage
- MicroSD up to 256GB
- 3,500mAh battery
- Android 7.0
- USB Type-C, wireless charging, fast charging (wired and wireless)
- IP68 dust and water resistance
- 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm,
- Midnight Black, Orchid Grey
The design of the S8 has ruined other smartphones for us. Even the S7 Edge, which was a gorgeous phone at the time of release, now looks bezel-tastic and cheap beside its next-gen sibling.
Considering that the vast majority of current smartphones can’t be told apart at a glance, the S8 stands out a mile. It still looks like a Samsung, but some sort of futuristic Samsung that leaves competitors – and it has to be said, the iPhone – in the shade.
So, what is there to love about the S8’s looks? The main thing, unsurprisingly, is the Infinity Display. The expansive, wraparound curved screen blends beautifully into the body of the phone, looking more like a high-end TV than another smartphone. The slim, curved top and bottom strips are sensibly coloured black, so the sensors across the top don’t stand out as they do on white-faced phones – which is good, because there are extras on the S8. The whole phone looks like it formed itself all at once, rather than being pieced together.
The back, which (currently) comes in a choice of Orchid Grey or Midnight Black, is coated with Gorilla Glass 5 and therefore gets covered very quickly with finger grease. Ick. However, unlike some glossy back panels, it has a good grip to it and doesn’t slide out of hands or off tables. However, if you’re holding it for a while it’ll get sweaty (again, ick) and that can make it slippery.
The supersized S8 Plus feels smaller than you’d expect, given the screen size: partly because the display covers more of the body than we’re used to, and partly because of the gentle curve of the whole handset. I have small hands, and while I can’t use it one-handed, it feels comfortable and natural to hold.
If you’re coming from another Samsung or an iPhone, you’re going to notice the lack of a physical home key a lot at first. There is still a key there, it’s just under the screen, and there’s no fingerprint sensor built into it. Allegedly, there was going to be, but Samsung ran out of time – whether that’s true or not, it’s something we expect to see on the S8’s successor.
On either side of the home key are the software nav keys (Back and Apps), which by default are the wrong way round because Samsung. However, you can fix this in the software. Halle-freakin’-lujah, it’s about time!
Since you can’t unlock the phone with the home key, you have to pick another option, but honestly none of them are very good. The fingerprint sensor is on the back – again, apparently a last-minute decision, which isn’t surprising because it’s just straight-up bad design. Most rear-mounted fingerprint pads are circular, indented, and far below the camera so they’re easy to feel for. This one is tiny, rectangular, and right next to the camera lens. To make matters worse, neither the lens nor the pad have well-defined edges, so it’s very hard to find the fingerprint sensor by touch. Guess what this means? Yep, you’re going to get smudgy fingerprints all over your camera lens, all the damn time. It’s infuriating.
With the screen off, you can unlock to the home screen by pressing harder on the pad, which isn’t immediately obvious (I’ve seen people turn the screen on, then tap the fingerprint sensor. It works, but you don’t need to turn the screen on). However, again, this means you’ll end up pushing the camera lens inwards sometimes, and that can’t be good.
Other than the standard PIN and pattern options, you’ve also got two extra ways to unlock the phone: iris and face recognition. Face recognition doesn’t work especially well, in my view: it fails a lot more than I’d expect considering I don’t have glasses and I wear the same face every day. It’s also not especially secure.
Iris recognition is better, and the option I’ve chosen while using the S8 Plus as my daily driver. But it’s not particularly fast: wake the screen, then line your eyes up in the designated slot, looking at a very out-of-focus image of your tired face while waiting for it to recognise your eyes. Realistically it’s a fraction of a second but it feels like ages when you’ve just got up and your eyebrows are in different postcodes.
- 6.2-inch quad-HD+ curved ‘Infinity Display’,
- 2960 x 1440, 529ppi
- Gorilla Glass 5
The glorious 6.2-inch screen is the S8 Plus’s most noticeable feature, without a doubt. It’s luminous, saturated and eye-catching. Watching videos and looking at your photos is a treat. But it’s worth noting two things: 1) the curved edges give a bit of a vignette effect, so if you’re a cinematic purist, that might bug you. And 2), photos look much better on the S8’s screen than on others, which sounds like a good thing, but can mean you edit them differently than you would if you saw them as most people will. It also means you might be disappointed when you see that amazing shot you took on your PC, or someone else’s phone: it’ll likely be less dramatic and vivid.
It’s upset some people that there’s no non-curved version of the S8, but it’s not like those people are starved of choice with pretty much every other phone on the market. And unlike on previous Samsungs, the curved screen actually serves a purpose here: it has the slide-in Edge menu, yes, but its main function is to make a huge screen easy to hold. And it does that admirably: I never found myself accidentally touching the side or activating bits of screen that I didn’t mean to. Then again, my hands are small, so big-pawed humans might have a different experience. As always, try to get your hands on the S8 and the Plus in a shop before you pull the trigger: 18 months is a long time to be stuck with a phone that doesn’t work with your mitts.
The S8 display is impressive to anyone with functional eyes, but it’s also technically accomplished. It’s the first phone to receive Mobile HDR Premium certification from the UHD Alliance, and has been named the best smartphone display ever by DisplayMate.
The phone uses the not-terribly-catchy 18:5:9 aspect ratio, which Samsung reckons is going to become standard because it provides a happy medium between film and TV. LG is using the similar 18:9 on the G6, but it feels very different because of the curves. Which you prefer will come down to taste, but the S8 Plus’s generous proportions feel like the ideal compromise between screen space and portability to us.
Out of the box, our S8 Plus wasn’t using the full resolution it’s capable of: there’s a slider under Settings > Display > Screen Resolution that lets you pick between HD, FHD and WQHD. Play around and see what you prefer, but honestly you’d have to have pretty superhuman eyeballs to be able to tell the difference in most circumstances (Gear VR notwithstanding).
Yes, I was listening to a song from Moana
You also get the always-on display from previous phones, which means you can see the time/calendar/a photo of your choice without lighting up the whole screen. I prefer the Edge Clock design, which puts understated time, date and battery info across the right edge of the screen, and even has colour options. Again, though, have a play and see what suits you. That’s what Android’s all about.
- Android 7 (Nougat)
- Bixby voice assistant
I’ve spent far too much of my life defending Samsung software against people who have had an iPhone since the S3. If you’re considering this phone and you haven’t had a recent Samsung, disregard everything you’ve heard: Samsung’s version of Android (these days) is lightweight, well-designed and for the most part genuinely helpful.
If you’re used to Android already, you’ll find it easy to navigate. Everything’s very similar, just with some additions like double-tapping the power key to launch the camera, and swiping your palm across the screen to take a screenshot. The quick settings menu is much the same, and the main menu is just a bit more colourful, with some different section names and extra bits.
You’ve also got the option of the Edge menu, which pulls in from the curved part of the screen and provides handy shortcuts to your favourite apps, but you don’t have to use it. There are lots of Samsung apps included, too – nothing major, just Notes and Health and suchlike. They can be uninstalled.
The S8 Plus uses the Pixel launcher, so rather than having a large apps key at the centre bottom, you swipe up on the home screen to get to your apps menu. It’s a little annoying, but you get used to it very quickly. The app menu also still scrolls the wrong way: horizontally instead of vertically like all the other Androids. Again, though, it’s not going to be a dealbreaker for anyone.
Lastly, there’s Bixby. Samsung spent a good chunk of change on an AI startup called Viv, whose product has now been turned into Samsung’s Siri-plus. However, most of the capabilities we were promised at the launch event still haven’t materialised, because the voice aspect isn’t ready yet. Right now Bixby acts as a kind of Google Now-alike, with some Google Goggles functionality baked in. That’s a little frustrating given that it has its own hardware key and Samsung disabled at least one of the third-party apps for remapping it to something more useful. Will Bixby be worth the wait? We’ll let you know.
- 64-bit octa-core processor: 2.3GHz quad + 1.7GHz quad
- 4GB LPDDR4 RAM
- 64GB internal storage
Samsung claims that the world-first 10nm processor in the S8 Plus is “more efficient than any other,” and it certainly seems to be. We’ll get onto energy use in the battery section, but the overall performance is impressive.
At the launch, we were a bit disappointed to see 4GB of RAM on the S8 Plus, and if we’re honest, on the smaller S8 too. The $289 OnePlus 3T and newly-unveiled Huawei P10 Plus offer 6GB, and this phone’s at the top end of the pricing scale, so it should offer at least the same. Plus the larger version of a flagship often has an extra gig thrown in, but not this time.
However, both in daily performance and in hardware benchmarks, the S8 Plus performs pretty much flawlessly.
We’ve had no problems running anything at all: the phone is buttery-smooth and hasn’t lagged or crashed on us once yet. Quick switches between intensive processes were handled smoothly, and split-screen multitasking is easy.
Here’s how the S8 Plus did in the benchmark tests:
PCMark Work 2.0:
That multicore score is considerably higher than the average one for the S8+ on the Geekbench rankings, which comes out at 5513. That’s based on scores of tests on different people’s phones, so it’s a more reliable average than ours, which would put the S8+ right at the top of the table (the current top score is 6062 for the Huawei Honor V9, aka the Honor 8 Pro in the China).
Storage-wise, there’s not much to say: you’ll get 64GB, and you’ll like it. Our review handset had around 11GB accounted for, leaving 53GB free and clear for your stuff. If you run out of space, though, you can insert a microSD card to add up to 256GB more.
The S8 Plus is water- and dust-proofed to IP68, meaning it’s dust-tight and can be immersed in water up to 1.5m deep for up to half an hour with no harm done. This is of course nothing new if you’ve had Samsungs before, but it’s still really fun to confuse people with. Plus it means you can read in the bath without stressing. No one should stress in the bath.
The S8 and Plus also have some very exciting accessories. The most game-changing, in our opinion, is the DeX desktop dock. Dump your S8 in the dock, hook up a monitor and a Bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo and you can instantly use your phone as a PC. This is brilliant for people who work from an office and at home: you can just carry the ‘brains’ of the computer with you in the form of the phone, which you’d have anyway, and leave everything else behind.
No, it’s not the first time it’s been done, but it’s the first time it’s been done credibly. Motorola tried it back when phones didn’t yet have desktop specs, and Windows gave it a go with Continuum, but… Windows Phone.
This could potentially replace the laptop for a lot of people, and that’s exciting.
You also get a pair of high-end AKG (by Harman) earphones in the box, which are excellent, plus of course you can use the S8s with the new controller-enhanced Gear VR if you have one.
- Dual-pixel 12MP main camera, F1.7, OIS
- 8MP selfie camera, F1.7, autofocus
As you might expect if you’ve had a recent Samsung, the camera on the S8 is phenomenal. If I need to take an important shot and there’s an S8 nearby, I’ll choose it over any other phone. It leaves the iPhone 7 in the dust.
If you’re coming from the S7, though, you might be disappointed not to see a bigger jump forward in camera ability. But let’s be real: that phone was already at the top of its game (it has a DxOMark score of 88, second only to the Google Pixel at 89) and it only needed minor refinements. Which is what it’s had.
The DxOmark score isn’t in for the S8 yet, but we’re expecting great things. Because this is a truly great camera. It’s incredibly quick to snap, and still has the quick start built in – although now it’s activated by double-tapping the power button rather than the home key, because there isn’t one. There’s a floating shutter button you can use to make it easier to handle that big, beautiful screen, and all the extra software bits you can handle: pro mode, panorama, burst, food mode, filters, 4K filming, you name it.
Honestly, though, even if you stick to auto mode forever, you’ll still be very happy with the results. This is an excellent phone cam.
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus camera samples
The only thing it struggled with a little was strong whites, which were sometimes a little blown out or lacking definition:
Overall, though, it’s our phone camera of choice right now.
The front-facing camera
The selfie cam’s been boosted from 5MP on the S7 to 8MP on the S8 Plus, and it now has a whole load of Snapchat-style extras. You can put wigs and hats on yourself, turn yourself into various animals, and add random words to your pics, if you want.
Alternatively, you can just take really nice selfies: the camera is flattering, especially if you use the adjustments (skin smoothing, eye enlargement, face thinning… you only really need the first one, honestly).
Half-asleep selfie (L) vs half-asleep selfie with all the adjustments turned on (R):
Low light performance is good, if a little smudgy (that’s a rainy window behind us so don’t blame the S8 for the streaks!):
However, it’s worth knowing that if you use features like Wide Selfie (which includes the scenery to the left and right of you), the low light performance drops considerably. So stick to Auto selfies if it’s dark.
- 3,500 mAh
- Wireless charging, fast charging
The battery capacity on the S8 Plus could be higher: we were ever-so-slightly disappointed to see 3,500mAh on a phone this size and price. But in fairness, it performs far better than we expected, particularly compared to previous Galaxy phones where the battery was always the weakest point.
The phone includes a fast charger, and Samsung has also sped up the wireless charging. It still can’t match wired, obviously, but it’s quicker. Plus there’s a really nice convertible wireless charger that can be either flat or standing, which makes a handy desktop dock.
The S8 Plus has consistently lasted me through the day, and I’m a heavy user. Honestly, that’s surprising: it’s been a good while since I had a phone that didn’t need a top-up around mid afternoon. It’s in power-saving mode by midnight, sure, but it’s not dead. Colour me impressed.
Recharging is quick, too. Using the provided wall charger, a completely flat S8 Plus took 9 minutes to charge to 10%, just over half an hour to reach 40%, and almost exactly an hour to get to 80%. A full 0-100% charge took 1 hour and 23 minutes.
For those inevitably asking ‘what about battery safety,’ it seems pretty obvious that Samsung has worked extra-long and extra-hard to make sure there is absolutely no risk of this phone burning your house down. Because if it does, no one will buy their phones ever again.
After the Note 7, Samsung conducted a thorough investigation into what happened, released the findings publicly, and implemented a new 8-point battery check which is a fair bit beyond what they have to do to comply with the law. So there’s a good chance the new phone is technically safer than some of its competitors.
And no, it hasn’t emitted so much of a wisp of smoke since we’ve had it.
Price and availability
The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is available to buy now, either directly from China for $289, or on contract from all the big networks. Samsung also has a contract-like scheme called the Samsung Upgrade Programme which lets you pay for the phone monthly and upgrade when the next one comes out, if you fancy that.
It’s looking a lot like the S8 Plus is the Android phone of the year, and we’re not even halfway through yet. There’ll be some exciting flagships later in 2017 – we’ll be interested to see if Apple’s next iPhone can top it – but Samsung’s high-end phones are usually the ones to beat, and this one is a quantum leap ahead of its predecessors. It would take some serious innovation from Apple to outdo this, and judging by previous years’ phones, they won’t.
So why the S8 Plus over the smaller S8? That’s also an excellent phone, but for us, the Plus’s larger screen in a surprisingly compact body is worth the extra outlay. The display is so beautiful that you basically want as much of it as possible, and of course you get extra battery power too. Yes, both phones cost a fair bit, but they have next to no downsides (the main one being the location of the fingerprint sensor) and the price is comparable with a top-end iPhone.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is a beautifully-crafted, all-round high-performance flagship that we’ve loved using. If you’re getting a phone anytime soon, make it this one. It’s a beaut.