The S8+ follows in the Galaxy S8’s brilliant footsteps, but its oversize design will be too big for most tastes.
You might think the Samsung Galaxy S8+ doesn’t really deserve its own review. It’s much the same as the Samsung Galaxy S8, with the same internals, camera, storage options and screen resolution.
What makes it different is the sheer size of the thing. The screen measures 6.2in across the diagonal, which would make a regular phone practically unusable – but then the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is no regular phone.
That’s mainly because the 18.5:9 aspect ratio allows Samsung to add extra screen space without expanding the width of the phone too much. Surprisingly, it’s comfortable to hold and use in one hand.
A look at the numbers reveals why. The Samsung Galaxy S8+ is a mere 73.4mm wide, which works out at only 0.8mm broader than last year’s S7 Edge. It’s noticeably taller at 159.5mm (compared with 150.9mm for the S7 Edge), but thanks to incredibly narrow top and bottom screen bezels, it isn’t unwieldy.
Despite this, the S8+ isn’t the most pocketable of phones. It’s almost half a centimetre taller than the Google Pixel XL, and hefty at 173g. You’ll need to keep it in a jacket pocket or get handy with a needle and thread and add extensions to your jeans pockets.
In terms of practicality and looks, these are the only differences between the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and the regular S8. They’re both available in the same two colours –Orchid Gray and Midnight Black – and both look and feel glorious. There’s Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and rear, although the lack of bezels means it probably will smash if you drop it anyway. It’s IP68 dust- and water-resistant, so should continue to work when you accidentally drop it down the toilet.
Just like its little brother, the S8+ has a microSD slot and a fingerprint reader that’s been repositioned at the rear. Once again, it’s too close to the camera lens for comfort. At least there are other ways to unlock the phone, with both iris recognition and the new facial recognition possible if you lift the phone up to your face.
Most importantly, this is one handsome smartphone, largely due to the lack of bezels and the gorgeous curved edges that run up its flanks. It’s the smartest plus-size phone around, that’s for sure.
It’s also supremely quick. You get the same octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 found in the S8, and this is paired with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of UFS 2 storage. Whichever test you choose, it matches the S8.
The Galaxy S8+’s AMOLED panel also meets our high expectations. Colours are perfectly poised – not oversaturated yet still vibrant. Our usual tests for brightness showed it can reach a maximum of 554cd/m2, which means it will be bright enough to read in most conditions.
That’s not the full story, however. Since the screen is HDR Premium-certified, it can reach an even higher peak brightness under certain conditions. With only a small patch of white pixels displayed on the screen, the S8+ pushes peak brightness up to a searing 912cd/m2.
It’s one heck of a display, then, but there are practical issues to contend with. That long-tall screen aspect ratio means that not all apps and content adapt perfectly. I came across a number of games during testing that left thick black borders at the top and bottom of the screen and, when you turn the phone on its side, it’s a similar situation with movie and TV content.
While YouTube and Samsung’s own video player let you stretch content to fit the wide screen, other apps don’t yet offer the option to do this. Fire up a movie on Netflix, for instance, and you’ll have to put up with black bars to the left and right. No doubt this will change.
One area of performance where the Samsung Galaxy S8+ has the potential to be different from the regular S8 is battery life. With a larger 3,500mAh capacity, you’d expect increased stamina, despite that larger screen.
Anecdotally, this is a long-lasting phone, surviving a full day’s use and still having energy to spare. Our video-playback battery test backs up this experience. With the phone set to its default screen resolution (1,080 x 2,220), the screen calibrated to 170cd/m2 and Flight mode engaged, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ lasted 20hrs 33mins before running dry. That places it a long way ahead of the Google Pixel XL, iPhone 7 and the regular S8.
On paper, the rear camera isn’t much to shout about. It has the same resolution as last year’s Samsung flagships, remaining at 12 megapixels, and the secondary specifications are a match as well, with optical image stabilisation, dual-pixel autofocus and a bright aperture of f/1.7.
The only technical difference is that the camera, via the S8+’s ISP (image signal processor), captures not one but three frames in rapid succession every time you shoot, combining them together in a bid to create sharper images.
It’s like HDR for every shot you take and is Samsung’s attempt to match the Google Pixel phone’s HDR+ technique, which captures up to ten images and blends them in a similar way. As with the S8, it improves things significantly over the S7 and, in good light, the S8+’s images compare well with the Pixel’s. The main difference is not in detail capture, but exposure, where the Pixel captures much more naturalistic images than the Samsung Galaxy S8+, which has a tendency to slightly overexpose and oversaturate images. I also noticed in a couple of examples that the S8+ applies significantly more sharpening than the Pixel.
I would call that a victory on points for the Google phones. In low light, however, the win goes more clearly to the Pixel. Its pictures look a little grainier than the Samsung’s, but that means it’s better at retaining details. Once again, there’s slightly more naturalist colour capture as well. The Google Pixel is still the king of smartphone photography.
If you value your front-facing camera as much as your rear, you’ll be very satisfied with the S8+. The f/1.7 aperture lets in much more light than the Pixel’s f/2.4, but the Pixel tends to exposure images more accurately and ends up capturing more natural-looking snaps.
The Samsung Galaxy S8+ runs Android 7 Nougat overlaid with the usual Samsung launcher software. You might find this intrusive, with its tweaked icons and laundry list of extra features, but I don’t. It’s different, but not unpleasantly so, and although there’s quite a long list of preinstalled apps, the 64GB standard storage allocation and microSD slot mean this isn’t the problem it might have been.
The big selling point of this particular iteration of Samsung’s software is supposed to be Bixby – the firm’s answer to Alexa and Siri – but the voice-driven part of it isn’t ready yet and what we do have is not all that exciting.
There’s an automatically curated feed of personalised news and info to the left of the homescreen that looks uncannily like Google Now, and Bixby Vision – a plugin for the camera that analyses what you’re pointing the lens at and attempts to provide useful information, be that shopping links for products or information on people and landmarks.
The newsfeed works well, but I can see no practical reason for reinventing what Google Now does. Bixby Vision is of little to no use at all. I could never get the shopping aspect to work; nothing I pointed it at brought up any kind of recognised product. The image recognition was patchy at best. A photo of our office building matched a bunch of similar buildings across the world, but a snap of my face brought up a wildly inaccurate match list, topped by a story about Robbie Williams. I’m not sure if I should be offended by that or flattered.
The Place option seems the most useful, but how many times are you going to find yourself in a place wanting to know something about a building that looks famous?
Samsung DeX, on the other hand, is considerably more impressive. This is Samsung’s answer to Microsoft Continuum: slot the phone into the DeX dock (a rather costly $199 extra), connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor, and you’ll be able to use your phone to run a complete windowed desktop environment.
It’s surprisingly snappy and capable, too. I was able to work perfectly happily on just the phone for almost a whole day – until I needed to use Photoshop for RAW file editing. It’s a big improvement on Microsoft’s sluggish effort and small enough to stow away in the bag for emergencies.
Too big to recommend
In essence, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is the same phone as the S8, with all the things that make that phone great, but with a bigger screen, a bigger battery, a more unwieldy profile and a higher price.
Is it any better, though? In my view, no, and that’s mainly due to the 6.2in Samsung Galaxy S8+’s size: it’s just one step too far. It’s simply too tall to slip into my pocket day to day. We’ve been here before with big phones, of course. I remember reviewing my first 4.5in smartphone and thinking that ludicrously big at the time, so my opinion might change. But given the choice, and considering the price differential – the Samsung Galaxy S8+ costs a hefty $1,349 to the S8’s $1,199 – the Samsung Galaxy S8 is the phone to choose from this pair.