Friday 19 January 2018

Samsung's Galaxy S8 is the best Android phone on market and shape of things to come for all mobiles

Samsung's Galaxy S8
Samsung's Galaxy S8

Has Samsung shaken off its woes with overheating batteries in new phones? On the evidence of the new S8, which we have had in our clutches for the last two weeks, it seems so. The S8 is not only a return to form for Samsung. It is probably the shape of things to come for the entire mobile industry.

This is mainly because of its physical design. Samsung has done away with the side 'bezels' (the bits of non-screen on each side of the phone) and most of the bezels on top and bottom. The result is a device which is almost all screen. This has some huge advantages. First, it allows Samsung to increase the size of the screen (which most people like, whether they know it or not) without making it into a brick, so you can still easily put it into a pocket.

Side by side against the iPhone 7 Plus, the 7 Plus is larger yet has a smaller screen (5.5 inches compared to 5.8 inches on the S8).

It's a deft design move that will certainly pay off for Samsung. Indeed, all signs point to the much-anticipated iPhone 8 adopting a similar design principle, with a bezel-less handset expected this September from Apple.

Does this mean that the S8 is a better phone than the iPhone 7? Not necessarily. But it certainly puts Samsung back to the top of the Android smartphone pile.

One trade-off that the S8 has made in making its handset an all-screen affair is that there's no physical home button. This can take some getting used to, even though you can still 'click' the screen symbol that replaced it.

There's also a curious irony with its all-screen design in that you need a case more than any other handset I've tried. Of course, the second you put that case on, you lose some of the gorgeous design aesthetic that attracts you to it in the first place.

But the advantages of a bigger screen on a same-size device are increasingly obvious. The recent launch of services such as Sky's online-only Now TV and Meteor's Eir Sport for mobile shows that people are starting to use their phones for video consumption in a big way. The S8 is an excellent device for this. (The S8 plus promises to be even better with its 6.2-inch screen.)

In terms of its other features, the S8 comes with 64GB of internal storage, expandable by a microSD memory card. Decent storage, although you'll end up filling it in a few months if you take a lot of photos or videos.

The S8's 12-megapixel camera is very good, though largely the same as the S7. It's one of the best phone cameras I've used for low light photos and for bringing out colour. Shots that I took with it (some are posted on my @adrianweckler Twitter account) were incredibly detailed with great colour and contrast. Samsung did boost its front-facing 'selfie' camera up to 8 megapixels. It is also excellent in low light and is relatively good at focusing.

I was a little surprised to see that Samsung has left in a 3.5mm headphone port, but it seems that there's life in wired earphones yet. However, the handset now has a USB-C charging port, which probably means the end of the older microUSB Android charging system, which was so ubiquitous. USB-C generally can charge faster than its predecessor systems, as well as transferring data quicker.

It's not often I'll mention an accessory as being a key asset to a smartphone, but in the case of the S8, there is one killer add-on. Samsung's Dex dock is built to connect the S8 to a monitor or TV. When this occurs, the display and interface changes to a PC-friendly version, albeit in Android form. It is fully functional with a keyboard and can run multiple applications at the same time, including YouTube, Netflix (at 'full HD' output) or various PC programs. This could be the start of a really significant shift in how we regard computers. If the phone in your pocket can simply become a powerful PC or video player on a bigger screen, where does that leave traditional PCs and TV set-top boxes?

The S8's battery is decent, but it's not any leap over the S7. This may be because Samsung got burned (literally) on its battery manufacturing with the ill-fated Note 7 device. It will last a full day for most people, but I had to recharge by about 5pm each day. No, it didn't ever feel like it was going to explode. but it did get pretty warm in the hand at times.

The S8 has one unintended challenge: its screen resolution is almost too good. When I'm scrolling on it, my gaze sticks to points I'm looking at with greater intensity, because the resolution is higher. After extended periods I start to feel a little wobbly in my stomach. Some virtual reality headsets and TVs have the same problem. I'm not suggesting everyone will react like this but I'm pretty sure I can't be the only one with this issue.

Be that as it may, this is an outstanding, innovative phone. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

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