Samsung’s flagship smartphone returns with a huge edge-to-edge display, facial recognition security, a new personal assistant and more
In the ever-evolving and highly competitive smartphone arena, the major players are constantly pushing the envelope to answer that burning question “where do we go next?” Well, Samsung has answered that with the launch of their latest flagship devices, the Galaxy S8 and S8+. So where did they go next? To infinity, of course. And by that I mean that the Korean electronics giant has unleashed what is sure to be the new standard in smartphones going forward: a big, beautiful and nearly edge-to-edge screen they call the Infinity Display. There’s no other way to put it – it’s gorgeous. But Sammy hasn’t stopped there with the Galaxy S8 and S8+, adding some improved security features, camera upgrades and a helpful new personal assistant called Bixby. We went hands-on to bring you our impressions.
“Samsung has unleashed what is sure to be the new standard in smartphones: a big, beautiful and nearly edge-to-edge screen.”
As is now the norm for most flagship handsets, the Galaxy comes in two sizes – the 5.8-inch Galaxy S8 and the larger 6.2-inch S8+. As a comparison, the Galaxy S7 and S7 edge were 5.1- and 5.5-inches, respectively. But the most noticeable difference here is that both screens are almost entirely bezel-free, taking up roughly 83% of the phone’s face for all that tapping, swiping and viewing you do. What’s more is that both devices now have the Galaxy edge’s side-wrapped screen, which adds to the “infinity” aesthetic of the Infinity Display and is functional to boot.
With the display now largely defining the design of the Galaxy S8s, one of the most remarkable things about the device, specifically the S8+, is how its plus-sized screen is housed in a narrower 73.4-mm-wide body (Plus-sized iPhones are 77.9 mm). This means all you one-handed texters can now hold that coffee in the other hand, risk free, and still bang out your morning texts and emails. It’s magical.
Physically speaking, perhaps two of the biggest changes to the design of the Galaxy from the S7 are the absence of a physical home button (figuratively pushed off the end by the big new display) and the relocation of the fingerprint scanner to the back of the device right up next to the camera. The home button is still right where it used to be, except now it’s digital. It works beautifully and even has a haptic response when you tap it. The fingerprint scanner’s move to the back may take a bit of getting used to, but once you do it makes for an easy and natural unlocking motion as you pull it from your pocket.
See a new pair of shoes you like? Show Bixby and it’ll tell you how much they cost and where to get them.
Samsung’s new virtual assistant, Bixby, is here for you. And while it is not yet fully operational – At launch time on April 21, Bixby will integrate with a handful of Samsung’s native Android apps, including Contacts, Camera, Messages, Gallery and Settings – what we’ve seen of the new system has been pretty impressive. Made up of three components, Bixby is meant to be interacted with in several unique ways to help you use your phone.
Bixby Voice lets you use your voice to simply ask Bixby to carry out simple tasks you might otherwise have done on your device with swiping and tapping. With apps like the camera or gallery, you can ask the Galaxy S8 to do things like play a video or rotate an image for you. (Update: Samsung has announced that the Bixby Voice feature has not launched with the device, but will come later this spring.)
With a dedicated Bixby button on the side of the S8, just press and talk. Bixby Vision is the one we had fun with in New York. Using the S8’s camera, you point Bixby at something like a landmark (Empire State Building) or and object, and Bixby will use augmented reality to identify and deliver information on them. See a new pair of shoes you like? Show Bixby and it’ll tell you how much they cost and where to get them.
Bixby Home is the third element of this smart assistant. Swiping from the left edge to the right or pressing the Bixby button will take you to Bixby home, where you’ll find a bunch of personalized information you can program – like the weather, smart home controls, social feeds and more.
Facial recognition allows you to unlock your device with your face. Hold it up to a friend’s face and no dice. It only likes you.
Galaxy devices of the past have had high-tech security features like fingerprint and iris scanning to unlock your phone, but this time out the Galaxy S8 and S8+ bring a new trick to the fold. Facial recognition allows you to unlock your device with your face. Once mapped to the device at setup (or afterwards), all you have to do is raise the front-facing camera to your face and the device, effortlessly and quickly, unlocks. Hold it up to a friend’s face and no dice. It only likes you.
Cameras and sound
On the camera front Samsung has chosen to not tinker with something that isn’t broken. Both the S8 and S8+ come equipped with Samsung’s tried-and-tested Dual Pixel 12-MP rear camera. Their fast autofocus and good low-light capabilities are all here. What is different is the improvements to the selfie camera – the S8s have been upgraded to 8 MP from the S7’s 5 MP. That and they now have autofocus, a feature rare for front-facing cams.
On the sound front, all you audiophiles out there can rest easy: both the Galaxy S8 and S8+ come equipped with a 3.5-mm headphone jack. But the bigger news here is that every Galaxy S8 will come with a pair of wired AKG earbuds. The Harman-owned audio manufacturer is known for its quality headphones and mics, so this should be a step up for Galaxy owners.
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ will be available in Canada on April 21.