If someone asks me to name my favourite phone in terms of design, I’d have to say the iPhone 4. The iPhone 4 was so far ahead in terms of design that it made every other phone look a decade old. And now, almost seven years later, there is a new device that manages to do just that, but it's not from Apple. Say hello to the Samsung Galaxy S8 - I was at the launch event for it and after playing with it, I almost immediately pre-ordered it. The review you’ll read is based on my retail device and not a sample from Samsung.
Samsung is releasing the Galaxy S8 in three colours in the UAE- Midnight Black, Orchid Gray and Maple Gold. The Midnight Black looks stunning but I went with Orchid Gray because it’s less prone to fingerprint marks. That being said, all three colours are black on the front, so if you’re planning on putting a case on the phone, it really doesn't matter which colour you go for. And a case is something I recommend- a scratch appeared on the back of my unit and I have no idea what could have caused it. Samsung is also bundling a premium set of 3.5mm headset made by AKG with the Galaxy S8 in the region.
Like most Samsung phones of late, you can find the power button on the right along with volume buttons on the left. Below the volume buttons, Samsung has added a new button that launches Bixby- Samsung’s new assistant which I’ll address a little later. At the top sits the hybrid SIM tray that is capable of accepting two nano SIM cards or one SIM card along with a MicroSD card. And finally, at the bottom, you can find a USB Type-C connector, a speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
With the presence of the 3.5mm jack on the Galaxy S8, Samsung is clearly sending a message that it will not accept any design direction that Apple adopts- especially ones for the wrong reasons. Apple stated that removing the 3.5mm jack allowed them to make the iPhone waterproof, include a haptic engine, and increase battery capacity. The Galaxy S8 does all of that and more, such as wireless charging - yet retains the audio jack.
Measuring 148.9 x 68.1mm and weighing 155g, the Galaxy S8 is shorter, narrower and lighter than its predecessor and yet manages to pack a larger 5.8-inch “Infinity Display.” Samsung has shaved the top and the bottom bezels of the phone, giving it a screen to body ratio of almost 90%. To put it bluntly, It makes the iPhone 7 look like a phone from the last decade and in my opinion, Samsung has almost perfected the design language of a mobile phone.
It carries the signature dual curved design that was first seen with the S6 but improves by making it more subtle and less prone to accidental taps. I was a bit concerned with how the S8 would react to accidental taps but even after using it for a week, I barely registered any. Where you might notice this issue is when you pass the device to someone when it’s not locked.
The large display required Samsung to relocate the buttons present on previous Samsung devices from the bottom of the screen to elsewhere. The Galaxy S8 thus becomes the first Samsung phone that does not have a physical home button on the front which, along with the back and recent capacitive buttons is now a soft onscreen button. On the S8, the home button is an on-screen pressure sensitive button allowing you to quickly get back to the home screen from any app, even if the onscreen buttons are not visible - such as when we're watching a video. That works really well.
What doesn’t work is the repositioning of the fingerprint sensor that Samsung has placed next to the camera. It’s harder to locate, small in size and rectangular in shape which is unintuitive- it almost feels like an afterthought and I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case considering the unconfirmed reports that Synaptics couldn’t quite get the fingerprint sensor working below the screen as Samsung had planned. To ease things, Samsung adds face recognition technology to unlock the phone, as well as an Iris scanner which isn’t as fast as the Face Scanner but is more secure.
Even with all these options, I found myself unlocking the phone more using the pattern. The fingerprint sensor can take multiple tries to work while Face recognition depends very much on lighting conditions and positioning of the phone. And finally, the Iris scanner takes very long to position and authenticate. I found it much faster to just use the pattern lock, which is a shame and my biggest complaint with the Galaxy S8.