Thursday 25 May 2017

'That screen is pretty amazing' - First impressions of the new Samsung Galaxy S8

Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Samsung has unveiled a new flagship smartphone with a screen designed to pull you away even more from your television and PC.

The new Galaxy S8 has an extra-large 5.8-inch screen housed in the same size body as its previous S7 model. Its new S8 Plus version has an even bigger 6.2-inch display. Samsung has done this by removing the physical home button on the front of the phones.

The effect of the size increase is clear -- use this phone for more of what you would normally use a tablet, laptop or television for.

At a hands-on preview session with the phone, Independent.ie got a chance to get some first impressions of the device.

The new Galaxy S8
The new Galaxy S8

The phone keeps the tapered (curved) 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.

That screen, by the way, is pretty amazing. The S8 has a whopping 570 pixels per inch and is 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.

Its 12-megapixel, f1.7 camera is the same as that on the existing Galaxy S7 phone, but Samsung has improved the front-facing selfie camera 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.

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.]

Interestingly, the S8 retains its 3.5mm audio headphone port, giving some life to your existing wired earphones and headphones. This shows that the iPhone’s abandonment of traditional headphone connections in favour of wireless is not being universally followed.

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

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 horizonatal 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.

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. It also has 4GB of Ram.

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 thing of note about the S8 will be the bigger screens.

To put its 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch screens in perspective, the screens on Apple’s iPhone 7 models are currently 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches (for the ‘Plus’ models).

This incessant nudging upwards of screen sizes is already having a transformative effect on how we use our phones.

One of Netflix’s most senior executives, Neil Hunt, recently said that mobile screens are now the majority consumption devices for Netflix in some countries, including India and parts of Asia. In response, the movie streaming giant, which is estimated to have over 200,000 Irish subscribers, is to start looking at special mobile-friendly versions of its most popular shows.

The reason that screens are getting bigger is because that’s what people want. In many European countries and the US, adults between the age of 18 to 24 now spend more time looking at their smartphone than they do in front of a TV set. Even for older generations, the phone is catching TV, with recent Nielsen figures showing that those between 35 and 50 spend 18 hours weekly looking at smartphones compared to 28 hours on television sets. Only the over-65s continue to watch physical TV sets by the same dominant margin as they have traditionally done, according to Nielsen.

The switch to smaller personal screens may become even more pronounced if Communications Minister Denis Naughten proceeds with a Departmental plan to tax screens over 11 inches for TV licences but keep smaller screens exempt.

For Samsung, the elephant in the room for Samsung remains the unpleasant hangover it has had with regard to the exploding Note 7 device before Christmas. Weirdly, Samsung announced this week that it will consult with regulators about selling refurbished versions of returned and unsold Note 7 handsets, partly to abide by environmental recycling commitments.

“Regarding the Galaxy Note 7 devices as refurbished phones or rental phones, applicability is dependent upon consultations with regulatory authorities and carriers as well as due consideration of local demand,” Samsung said in a statement.

The company says that it won’t sell refurbished versions of the controversial phone in the US, but will in other countries.

As for availability of the S8, Samsung says that pre-orders are open today from Irish operators, with the phone going on general sale on April 28th. A price hasn’t yet been announced, but expect it to start at around €800.

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