Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is a beautiful phone with some ugly software

Samsung’s flagship line of phones look great, but a bloated version of Android and a half-baked voice assistant, Bixby, aren’t doing it any favours

Samsung Galaxy S8


Samsung is hoping for a hit with the new Galaxy S8, the phone intended to make people forget about the fiasco that was the Note 7. With its exploding battery forcing a recall and ultimately a cancellation, the device is a black mark on the South Korean company’s otherwise good name in phones.

The Galaxy S8 looks like it will pick up where the Note 7 left off, in a good way. It’s another great device that delivers where it counts and tries for some new things, even if they don’t really succeed.

With that in mind, here are four things to love about Samsung’s new flagship smartphone – and four things to dislike.

Four Things to Love:

The screen. The 5.8-inch S8 and 6.2-inch S8+, identical other than for their size difference, have the best screens of any smartphones yet. It’s a Super AMOLED display with 529 pixels per inch of resolution and 16 million colours. Translation: it’s bloody beautiful to look at. The screen is so good, it actually makes your photos and videos look even better than they probably already are. Speaking of…

The camera: At 12 megapixels, the S8 technically has the same camera as last year’s S7, but Samsung says it has tweaked the software to better process images. I believe it. I’ve taken dozens of photos and I can’t tell the difference from those I’ve shot on the Google Pixel, which has been my favourite smartphone camera for the past few months. The S8’s front camera is also now eight megapixels, up from five, and can take cool wide-angle selfies.

The redesign: The S8 looks very different from its predecessors – it’s taller and thinner across. It takes some getting used to, but it’s actually easier to hold and use with one hand. Moreover, the devices is almost all screen now, with just about no bezel around its display. It’s a very smart way of Samsung putting its best foot forward.

The performance: It’s almost a given that a high-end smartphone should rev like a good sports car, and that’s definitely true for the S8. It’s amazingly fast at rendering and switching between apps, and the 3,500-milliamp battery on the S8+ easily gets you through the day. These are the sorts of basics that you take for granted, but which Samsung usually does so well.


Four Things to Dislike:

The fingerprint sensor. When you redesign your phone to essentially be all-screen, you’ve got to make some compromises. In this case, Samsung has moved the fingerprint sensor to the rear of the phone. But, unlike other devices that have done the same, the S8’s sensor is right next to the camera rather than in the middle of the backing. Not only is it awkward to reach, it’s also easy to accidentally smudge the camera lens with your finger. This is what the kids call a fail.

Unlock options: Speaking of unlocking the device, the Note 7’s iris sensor is back. The S8 also adds facial recognition to the mix too, so you can get into the phone just by looking at it. Both work mostly, but I found they failed to do the job about 10 per cent of the time, which was frequent enough to be annoying. After a few days, I’d turned off the fingerprint and iris sensors, as well as facial recognition, and went back to a plain old PIN code for security. What is this, 2008?

Bixby. Not one to get left behind, Samsung is investing in its own artificially intelligent personal assistant. The S8 was supposed to be the coming-out party for that effort, called Bixby, but Samsung announced a delay on the voice-activated feature just before launch. It’s odd the the device’s marquee new feature doesn’t work yet, which indicates that it’s probably not ready for prime time. Fortunately, Google Assistant does work on the S8, so you can always use that instead.

Samsung’s Android skin. Let’s face it – Android is getting really complicated to use. Samsung isn’t making it any better with its own proprietary tweaks. Case in point: the damn back arrow. Most Android phones feature it on the bottom left of the screen, with the “recent” button on the bottom right. The Galaxy S8, however, does it backwards. You can change it, but not without searching through reams of menu settings. It took me about half an hour to find it. I’d document the process here but I’m honestly not sure I could replicate it.

Flaws notwithstanding, the Galaxy S8 – available through most major Canadian wireless carriers – is a great smartphone that gets all the basics right. Assuming its battery doesn’t explode, or some other unforeseen catastrophe, it should do much to get Samsung past the Note 7 disaster.

Samsung supplied a trial unit for the purposes of this review.