The Note 7 disaster would have destroyed most companies. A controversy that large, handled that poorly, should have crippled Samsung, but the Korean electronics giant is too big to fail or, at least, too big to fail yet.
Still, the company needed a win in the worst way in 2017. It needed to release a phone that was beautiful enough, powerful enough and safe enough to help distance the memories of exploding phablets and botched recalls. It did. There has never been as good a response to disaster in the tech world as the Galaxy S8.
Samsung’s latest flagship may be the most beautiful phone ever made, with a glorious edge-to-edge display that feels like the future, pushing the entire idea of the smartphone forward for the first time in years, but it doesn’t stop there. The experience of using the S8 is solid all around, proving there’s more to the device than it’s sleek exterior, and that Samsung is ready to be back on top.
If you’ve yet to see the stunning new hardware of the Galaxy S8, you must be roommates with Patrick Star. From leaks, to the eventual reveal, the edge-to-edge display has dominated the news cycle surrounding Samsung’s latest flagship. After years of underwhelming changes on the hardware front for smartphones, the S8, and other screen-focused products like the LG G6, feel like the future. Like the S7 and Note 7 before it, the S8 is expertly built, refined and polished into one of the best builds you’ll find on any device.
The display is of course the centerpiece, and it is something to behold. The 5.8-inch screen is unlike any other large display you’ve likely come across thanks to the lack of significant bezels and super tall, 18.5:9, aspect ratio. Coupled with the elegant curves on the front and rear of the device, and the S8 fits into even small hands nicely. As with any phone in 2017, it still takes a bit of hand gymnastics to reach the top corners, particularly because it’s so tall, but if you’ve longed for a large screen without the immense footprint of a phablet, the S8 is a perfect compromise. Having only used the standard edition, I can’t vouch for how well the taller, thinner, design works with the S8 Plus, which comes with a 6.2-inch screen, but I imagine it’s similar to its smaller brother.
The 5.8-inch panel is bright, vibrant and sharp. Because of the unusual aspect ratio, not all apps take advantage of the extra space, though you can customize which use the full display in the settings. When the real estate available is properly put to use, the results are spectacular. It’s the closest any product has come to feeling like pure display. Watching YouTube videos, which does crop the footage slightly, and playing games is stunning and immersive. There is no better multimedia experience on a smartphone, period.
Outside the display and construction, the hardware does show a few rough edges. The most noted is the awkward positioning of the fingerprint scanner. Placing it next to the camera was a stupid choice. It didn’t annoy me as much as anticipated, but I did resort to using either the face, retina or pattern unlock options because the fingerprint scanner was slow and inaccurate much of the time, and I imagine its placement affected the performance a great deal. The company would be wise to listen to the slew of complaints and relocate the reader for the S9.
Then there’s the issue of the speaker. A single, down-firing speaker is what’s offered on the S8 and it doesn’t get very loud, offers tinny sound that gets distorted at higher levels and is easily covered when in landscape, which most people will employ for games or videos. Samsung is not solely at fault for the dearth of high-quality speakers on flagship smartphones, but the blemish is more apparent on a device like this, that is so focused on offering a great multimedia experience. It’s embarrassing.
As has been the case for years, though the materials are premium, and feel phenomenal in the hand, they are also slippery and get grimy fast. Most users will throw a case on immediately, or at least a skin, but for anyone who may want to rock the S8 naked, make sure you have a microfiber cloth handy at all times. During longer gaming sessions, there is no denying the S8 gets disgusting, but the tradeoff is a handsome body that looks wonderful and draws the eye (when clean).
Finally, the button arrangement. Samsung took a big swing by giving its new virtual assistant, Bixby, a dedicated hardware button, which is fine if the company believes in the technology and wants to push it aggressively. But why, why, did they have to put in on the same side as the volume rocker? The intelligent move would have been to pair the power button and volume rocker together, leaving Bixby alone on the left side. There were countless times I tried to to change the volume only to have my finger slip and activate Bixby, which in turn made my heart drop.
Outside those issues, though, there aren’t many nits to be picked in terms of hardware and design for the S8. It’s the best phone Samsung has made in that regard, with only the fallen Note 7 coming close. It’s premium, beautifully made, stunning to look at and comes with the features you’d expect from a top-tier flagship, like an SD card slot and water resistance. Unless the Pixel 2, new iPhone or the company’s own Note 8 have anything to say about it later this year, the S8 will be the most beautiful phone released in 2017.