Design, display, performance, battery life
Mono speaker, mediocre face detection, fingerprint scanner placement
Android 7.0, Google's latest widely available smartphone OS sits inside the S8 series complete with Samsung's own user experience. This experience is a fresh departure from anything we've seen from Samsung in the past, with a new core interface and a proprietary digital assistant - Bixby.
Still showcasing key Android staples such as homescreens, an apps tray and a pull-down notification bar, the Galaxy S8+ will be familiar to Android users of old. The fingerprint scanner is also gesture sensitive, so a wipe down on it reveals your notifications. There are some other changes in the S8+ that streamline the experience. For example, there's no apps tray button here. Instead, to cycle between the apps tray and home screens, you simply need to swipe up or down.
To the left-hand side of the S8+'s homescreens is Bixby Home, serving up handy tidbits, such as appointments, nearby points of interest and more. Bixby is a holistic assistant, supporting camera integration with Bixby vision. This feature scans barcodes and products, taking you straight to the Amazon purchase page or pulling up information about the landmark you papped. Bixby will also support extensive voice integration down the line, but for now, here in the UK we'll have to settle tapping and typing until voice support drops later this year. Until it does, the whole experience will likely feel half-baked.
Now, while bloatware usually refers to useless bumph clogging up your internal storage, and in the S8+, while Bixby might fall into this category, I'm hard-pressed to call most of the other preinstalled apps bloatware as such. Samsung Health is a comprehensive wellness tracker, making the most of the heart rate sensor on the back of the phone which proved relatively accurate. Samsung Connect tracks all your connected devices, saving you delving deep into the Bluetooth settings and game Launcher consolidates your games and offers a bunch of in-game utilities. In short, while technically, Samsung's new UI isn't light per se, neither does it feel totally bloated.
Edge UX, the secondary interface to the right of the display has also made a return on the S8+. Enriching or overloading? This feature sits somewhere in between. When activated with a swipe in from the right-hand edge, it showcases very useful information - calendar appointments, your clipboard items, key apps, but it's easy to forget it's there.
One feature that isn't forgettable on the S8+ is the one handed mode. In fact, given the long display, it's invaluable and can be easily activated with a triple tap of the home button.
On the subject of the home button, it isn't really a button, it's an on-screen pressure-sensitive point where the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy S7's home buttons would normally sit. Pressing it results in a reassuring vibration, mimicking the feel of a physical key and it's excellent to interact with, as too is the user interface on the whole, except for Bixby, for now.
On paper, the Galaxy S8+ has the same rear camera specs as the Galaxy S7, a 12-megapixel sensor with an f/1.7 aperture. The front camera, however, has been bumped up from 5-megapixels to 8-megapixels, sharing the same wide f/1.7 aperture as the rear camera.
Pictures taken on the rear camera look excellent on the S8+'s display. Samsung has beautifully tuned the snaps to pop to perfection when paired with the AMOLED tech onboard. Clarity is on-point owing to reliable optical image stabilisation and some very smart imaging algorithms. Specifically, the S8+ takes three stills for every picture you take and pulls information from all three to finetune the final image.
Pull the image off the S8 however, viewing it on a MacBook screen for example and things look a little bit less rich, and a fair bit more over-exposed. By no stretch does this make the S8+ a bad camera, it just doesn't necessarily make it an accurate one, artificially brightening up scenarios and snuffing out atmospheric contrast when it was once rich.
For any advanced photographers, there's an excellent Pro Mode, enabling manual photography as well as the standards such as Panorama, Slow motion, Selective focus, Hyperlapse etc. More novel is the extensive array of Snapchat-esque filters baked into the Samsung camera app, ensuring even if you're a 6'4 bearded man like me, you too embrace the Korean teenage girl within.
Fortunately, this isn't the front camera highlight of the S8+. Compared to the weak S7 selfie cam, the new set up does a great job across lighting conditions and packs auto-focus, even supporting silky smooth sweeping panorama selfies for group shots.
Video recorded on the Galaxy S8+ is also really special. With resolution as high as 4K and image stabilisation working across all resolutions, the handheld picture is stable and detail is fair. Low light performance is also significantly better than that of the iPhone 7 Plus, making the S8+ one of the best smartphone video cameras around today.
Powered along by a Samsung Exynos 8895 processor and paired with 4GB RAM, performance won't be an issue the Galaxy S8+. The user interface is buttery smooth, save for a few Bixby related stutters.
Benchmark results are unsurprisingly top-tier, with the phone scoring 165460 on Antutu. This equates to excellent graphical performance, and with all games tested from Asphalt 8 through to Final Fantasy IX, performance was spot-on and visuals were stunning on the huge AMOLED panel.
As for Geekbench, with a multi-core score of 6076, the Exynos 8895 has knocked the Mate 9's Kirin 960 processor off its top spot. With less of a focus on graphics and more on general performance, Geekbench bodes well for day to day use of the Galaxy S8+.
Benchmarks aren't everything and we should talk about gaming on practical level now. For starters, the screen's long aspect ratio does mean that most games are letterboxed unless optimised for the S8 display. Fighting games like Garou Mark of the Wolf which sport on-screen controls benefit from a little of empty space to the left and right, but generally, the real wow factor is reserved for the 18.5:9 optimised games like Asphalt 8. Being such a landmark Android device, we'd anticipate this kind of optimisation will roll out to most major titles, but it isn't here yet.
The phone would have also really benefited from stereo speakers. Landscape gaming without headphones will probably leave you with muffled sound and as a result, an incomplete sense of immersion.
64GB of storage is ample for most gamers, especially when combined with microSD expansion and there are also a range of power optimisation modes to eek just the right amount of oomph from your S8+.
Next: Connections, battery life and verdict