Monday 21 August 2017

Samsung sees the bigger picture as it goes large with S8

With a 6.2-inch screen, the first with HDR certification, the Galaxy S8 aims to turn your phone into a television capable of handling the latest Netflix hit and a work PC rolled into one, writes Tech Editor Adrian Weckler
Samsung's new Galaxy S8. Photo: Adrian Weckler
Samsung's new Galaxy S8. Photo: Adrian Weckler

Samsung's new Galaxy S8 brings the modern smartphone closer to being a do-it-all media and work device. With its bigger screen and extra power boost, it's a phone designed to pull you away even more from your PC or television.

The biggest feature is the expanded screen. Samsung has almost eliminated the bezel on the phone, meaning you get more screen in roughly the same sized handset. For example, the S8 Plus is around the same size as the iPhone 7 Plus but its screen is considerably bigger (6.2 inches compared to 5.5 inches). This really does bring it close to Netflix and video-streaming territory.

Samsung knows this, which is why it has also beefed up the specification on the screen itself, making it the first phone to get a mobile HDR certification.

What this basically means is that blacks are blacker, colours are more vibrant and there's a bit more detail in video streams. The actual resolution of the screen is also improved, with the S8 scoring a massive 570 pixels per inch.

The phone keeps the tapered glass effect of the S7 at the side of the device without going as far as the S7 Edge. This is good, as I always found the Edge models fostered mistakes, as my finger would inadvertently launch applications from the side simply by holding the phone in my hand.

The S8's 12-megapixel, f1.7 camera is the same as that on the existing Galaxy S7 phone. Where Samsung has put its improvement is on the front-facing selfie camera, which is increased to eight megapixels (from five on the S7). While this puzzled me at first, it's more than likely a reflection of what people are actually shooting on phone cameras - themselves. In any event, that rear 12-megapixel camera to be found on the S7 is still superb. Only the iPhone 7 Plus's camera beats it, and only because that has a second 50mm lens to add to its 28mm lens.

Nevertheless, it's the first time I can remember that Samsung has skipped an opportunity to advance its rear camera and it may cede a slight advantage to Apple, Sony (whose new Xperia camera is amazing) and Huawei.

With no physical home button, the fingerprint reader has been moved to the back of the phone. Ergonomically, this is not without its problems: such a placement invariably means inadvertent fingerprint smudges on the rear camera lens through missed fingerprint reader attempts.

Some other features are inherited from the S7, including water resistance and wireless charging.

Oh, and the S8 retains its 3.5mm audio headphone port, indicating that the iPhone's abandonment of the traditional headphone connection in favour of wireless is not being as universally adopted as was initially predicted.

It's powered by USB-C chargers, meaning the days of the traditional Android microUSB connections now look limited.

The batteries tasked with keeping all this going are a 3,000mAh model (S8) and a 3,500mAh) model (S8 Plus). Samsung is going to pray that there are no reported incidents with these batteries, as befell the ill-fated Note 7 phone last October. Oddly, the phone only comes in a single 64GB storage version, with additional storage available through MicroSD card expansion.

Its new 10-nanometre chip provides the considerable engine-muscle to make the heavy lifting happen. It also has 4GB of Ram.

One of the most interesting accessories for the Galaxy S8 is its PC dock. In a nutshell, you slot the phone onto the dock and it turns a connected monitor into a PC display, showing your phone's applications in proportionate PC-centric horizontal manner.

It works flawlessly with a mouse and keyboard. Because of the phone's beefed-up 10-nanometre chip, it can do all this and run multiple applications on your PC monitor.

This is what Microsoft has been trying to market for its own phones for quite a while. But Samsung's version is the first time I've seen a mass-market proposition in action.

For anyone who works mainly off cloud apps, this really opens up your phone as a viable alternative to your static Windows PC.

There's a bit more future-gazing going on with other features, too. Samsung says that the handset can now download at up to 1,000Mbs over 4G, a mobile speed that we're not likely to see deployed by any operator over the next three or four years.

The company has also bundled the phone with Bixby, its voice-activated artificial intelligence assistant.

But for most people, the S8 will be all about the bigger screen. This really is a device that challenges what a phone is supposed to be.

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