Date:17 May 2017
You may have read or heard this before, but the Galaxy S8 is the best phone you can buy right now. It has the newest components, the prettiest screen, the most futuristic design and one of the best cameras. It may not, however, be the best daily driver for me. Let me explain.
There’s a classic Chinese idiom that translates tall trees catch much wind is very applicable here. Because Samsung’s Exynos 8895 octa-core processor is supposed to be a like-for-like replacement for the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, I found myself throwing the sink at it. It didn’t go well. Samsung has its own bloatware problem to deal with that adds a few minor stutters, so when you ride the handset hard you can definitely grind it to a halt.
I’m certain that standard use will deliver much better performance from this beastly chipset, but I do think 4 GB of RAM is a little sparse for a phone positioned at the very top of the Android pile. By contrast the local variant of Huawei’s P10 Plus comes in a 6 GB RAM flavour and the Hisilicon Kirin 960 runs the Snapdragon 835 quite close in performance, besting it in some areas.
Alongside the shiny new processor is Qualcomm’s X16 modem which enables Gigabit LTE speeds in theory. Simple put: the wireless data performance is incredible. Even the Wi-Fi reception is impressive, but I have recently cured our irregularly-arranged home of it’s notorious Wi-Fi spottiness and can’t chalk that performance up to the Galaxy S8’s proficiency.
Then there’s a little technology called Bluetooth 5.0 that has 4x the speed and double the range of even Bluetooth 4.2. And the new iteration of the standard comes with the neat party trick: the ability to stream to two Bluetooth audio receivers simultaneously. Connecting two wireless speakers to one phone at the same time is crazy.
On the camera front I expected more from the 8 MP selfie unit, but the autofocus is a massive step up and the integrated SnapChat-style filter overlays are great fun. The main shooter is a 12 MP unit that is an absolute low-light champion. The f/1.7 aperture is fast enough to freeze even the most fidgety child in time and the image processing errs on the side of eye-pleasing saturation that looks amazing on the Amoled screen. If anything I’m disappointed that Samsung haven’t taken a spin on the dual sensor trend because while the camera is amazing, there’s nothing unique about it. Huawei’s Leica system plays well with light and captures incredibly fine detail, LG has the wide angle and Apple has 2x optical zoom. Samsung has really pleasing pictures with superior natural shallow depth of field.
Battery life has improved as the Galaxy S8 has adjusted to my usage rhythm. I went over 16 hours of active use on a charge on Mother’s Day with tons of picture taking and Instagram uploading. I average about 4 hours of screen-on time and regularly get to 9pm before hitting 15 per cent.
I thoroughly enjoy this device and find myself coming back to it for the value that Samsung’s skin does add to the Android experience. Then there’s also the 18,5:9 display which I feel is the future as well as the alluring design. That said, I don’t enjoy the constant fear of dropping the device because of design flaws like the finger gymnastics needed to access the fingerprint reader. I do prefer the iris scanner to unlock the phone, but I wear glasses, so sometimes it catches too many reflections and then doesn’t work.
Bixby also better be incredible when it evolves to its final form because it’s a largely useless pile of Google Now aping, home screen hijacking garbage as it stands. That’s being harsh because it does a good job at scanning business cards and QR codes.
If you’re a Samsung fan upgrading from a Galaxy S6 or older, this is a great phone to buy. Galaxy S7 owners shouldn’t jump too quickly are probably best served waiting for next year’s device.
The small crop of iPhone users yearn for life on the Android side of life will be tempted, but I do warn you that this is at least R1 000 more expensive than the entry point on an iPhone 7. The Galaxy S8 is the best phone in terms of hardware capability and design you can buy right now, but you need to make sure that it’s the best phone for you. It very well could be.