Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – Is bigger really better?

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Is the S8+ destined to be the biggest star in Samsung’s Galaxy universe?

The Galaxy S8+ is big – bigger than any of Samsung’s smartphone offerings last year.

Let’s put things into perspective: the S7 Edge was 5.5in and the Note 7 was 5.7in, but the S8+ towers over them both at 6.2in. On paper, at least.

Glance at the spec sheet and there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the S8 and S8+ beyond that size, but for a smartphone that’s mostly screen, that could translate to a world of difference in real world use.

So to answer the age-old question of whether bigger means better, here’s what we thought of it from our short time with it.

DESIGN

A 6.2in phone might sound impossibly tall, but the S8+ is actually around the same height as the 5.5in iPhone 7 Plus, and slim enough to make Apple’s slimmest phone ever look like a fat kid that loves cake.

We had no problems holding it in one hand, simply because it’s so slim, but it was a little harder to reach the upper icons with our thumb due to how tall it is. However, its slimness allowed us to reach across to icons that we would usually have problems accessing with one hand on the fatter iPhone 7 Plus. You win some, you lose some.

When the display is switched off, it’s a beautiful inky slender slab of mystery. Despite the various colour options available, Samsung has made all of the fronts of the phones uniformly black so you can’t tell where the top and bottom bezels end and the display begins.

It’s going to make your S7 Edge look absolutely prehistoric, thanks to its seamless display.

You’ll notice there’s no physical home button. In its place is a virtual home key that responds with haptic feedback to let you know you’ve hit the right spot. You can of course, adjust that level of haptic feedback if it appears a little unfamiliar to you at first.

SCREEN

Samsung’s AMOLED displays have always been a beautiful sight to behold, and it’s no different here. The S8+ has the same huge 2960×1440 resolution as the S8, but thanks to its bigger size, has a lower pixel density of 529ppi, compared to the S8’s 570.

Honestly though, that difference isn’t discernible unless you have microscopic vision. It’s perfectly sharp, and perfect for reading long paragraphs of text. There’s even enough detail to actually make those annoying hidden object games enjoyable.

The Quad HD+ display spills over the sides of the phone, just like the S7 Edge – hence the name Infinity Display.

Accidentally triggering a bezel-less screen of this size is a legitimate concern, but in our time with it, that never happened. We’ll have to put it through the paces of daily life before we come to a conclusion on that, though.

CAMERA

If you were hoping that the S8+ would join the crop of current smartphones rocking the dual camera set-up, then sorry: you’re out of luck. Samsung seems to be sticking with the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it philosophy on the rear camera.

The S8+ stays with the same at 12MP, f1.7 snapper as the S7, complete with dual pixel autofocus. Firing up the camera was super speedy, though, and all that screen estate means a bigger viewfinder for your photography and better appreciation of your photos. Definitely no complaints there.

As for picture quality? We’ll have to wait until we get a full review unit to be the judge. The S7 had one of the best phone cameras out there last year, but the dual-cam competition has been heating up rapidly in 2017. It will have to work hard to stay on top.

Selfie-lovers are going to love the fact that the front camera has been bumped up to 8MP from the previous 5MP. It comes with smart autofocus, which means it looks for faces to automatically pull them into focus. Who could say no to narcissism in greater detail? Plus, there are stickers and animated filters sitting within the camera app now, ready to slap onto your selfie a la Snapchat.

FEATURES

The fingerprint sensor has been moved from the front of the screen to the back, right next to the camera – partly to make room for the battery, and partly to make space for that show-stopping digital home button.

It has the same slightly raised rim around it as the camera module, so it’s going to take a bit of mental reconfiguration to get your finger to hit that sweet spot every time. You might not need to use it at all, though, thanks to Samsung stepping up its biometrics game.

After adding the ability to unlock your phone with your eyes using an iris scanner on the Galaxy Note 7, now Samsung is one-upping itself with facial recognition.

Registration works the same way as with the iris scanner: you place your face within the circle, and it reads it using the front-facing camera. Then you’re all set for a sci-fi phone experience.

We had our eyes half-closed while registering our face and still the phone recognised us. You will have to wake the phone before facial recognition kicks in, but once it does, it’s really fast and a lot more intuitive than entering your PIN – because you’re basically already looking at your phone.

According to a Samsung rep, this method is less secure than scanning irises, but that doesn’t mean someone else will be able to unlock your phone using a photograph of you. We weren’t able to test out the full extent of how it worked in our short time with the phone, but you can bet that once we get our review unit, we’ll be testing the limits of its recognition powers. (That may or may not involve trickery using identical twins, doppelgangers, and disguises.)

Technically, you can also enable more than one way to unlock your phone – meaning you could have the iris scanner, PIN unlock and facial recognition all on at the same time.However, the spokesperson couldn’t tell us if we could layer those features to make breaking into your phone tougher than the Ultimate Beastmaster obstacle course.

PERFORMANCE

Under the hood, the S8+ is packing a 3500mAh battery, which is a smidge smaller than the S7 Edge’s 3600mAh juice pack. However, the new 10nm Exynos CPU should mean more power efficiency as well as more power. In theory, you’ll get the best of both worlds, but we’ll reserve judgement until we get our review unit and see how that holds up in the real world.

Operation was silky smooth thanks to 4GB RAM, even when the all new Bixby AI assistant came into play. Samsung’s disembodied voice can be summoned through the dedicated Bixby button on the left side of the phone: press and hold it to start bossing Bixby around.

Bixby is contextually smart enough that you don’t have to give it explicit instructions. An example is how Bixby quickly turned the front camera on when told that the person wants to take a selfie.

What stood out was how seamless it all seems to be. Bixby takes you app to app, and you can always continue with taps and typing whenever you like. That might be its winning edge over the other voice assistants in the market if third party app developers come in full strength to support it. Heck, where Samsung is going with Bixby, you might not even need those navigation keys anymore.

Like the S8, the S8+ only comes in one flavour of storage: 64GB. That’s softened by the fact that it supports microSD cards of up to 256GB, though.

It’s also IP68 certified water and dust resistant, but not drop-proof, so don’t – unless you want that beautiful Infinity Display to be scarred by cracks. It’s all glass, and even though we’re talking about Corning Gorilla Glass 5 here, it’s not indestructible.

SAMSUNG GALAXY S8+ INITIAL VERDICT

To answer the own question asked at the start of this preview: yes, bigger is better – even if there’s not that much differentiation in the S8+’s case.

It’s all thanks to that gorgeous display. This plus-sized beauty’s got all the right curves for the right visual appeal. It feels thoughtfully big, with Samsung putting in the right features and getting the design right so you can use all that space without it feeling unwieldy.

We dare say the S8 might even find itself standing in the shadow of its bigger brother.

Stay tuned to our review to find out if this is our final verdict, but if first impressions are anything to go by, we can’t wait to get to know it better.

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