Every day, the Tom’s Guide team offers tons of advice on which products to buy, which ones to avoid and which ones to shoot on sight. What we talk about less often, though, are the devices we fork over our own hard-earned cash for. Since I’m about to upgrade my phone after two years, it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is (and maybe help others decide on what to buy): So here’s why I’m planning on picking up the new Samsung Galaxy S8.
Back in April 2015, I finally upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge after using multiple iPhones and an HTC One. And over those two years, my S6 Edge has treated me well, surviving repeated abuse both from demanding workloads and a life spent outside of a protective case. However, there’s still no cure for old age, and with my S6 Edge’s deteriorating battery life, declining processor and outdated features (such as a micro USB port), I’m ready to move on.
Right now, there are a lot of worthy candidates if you’re in the market for a new phone. Like all Apple phones, the iPhone 7 Plus is exquisitely crafted, and its dual rear camera is a great tool for smartphone photographers. But after three years, the iPhone’s design is looking a bit stale, and I still don’t don’t like how closed-off Apple’s ecosystem is.
On the Android side of things, the Google Pixel is another enticing phone (I gave it a nearly perfect score after all). I love having immediate access to all the latest Android updates, and the photos you get from the camera’s HDR modes are a marvel of Google’s image-processing tech. But it’s too damn ugly. Compared with a lot of phones, the Pixel feels bulky — that goes double for the larger Pixel XL — and the big glass panel in back around the camera and fingerprint sensor reek of a rushed design job.
LG G6 (left) and Samsung Galaxy S8 (right)
The LG G6 is also a worthy contender, but aside from the new phone’s 18:9 display, the S8 does almost everything the G6 can, but better. The one important exception is a dual-lens camera. So that brings us back to Samsung.
The Features That Bring It Home for the S8
The first thing that instantly grabs me about the S8 is how it looks. Samsung’s new phone is absolutely gorgeous: whether it’s in your hand or on a table, the S8 doesn’t have a bad angle.
Galaxy S8 and S8+ Specs
|Galaxy S8||Galaxy S8+|
|Display (pixels)||5.8 inches (2960 x 1440) Super AMOLED||6.2 inches (2960 x 1440) Super AMOLED|
|Pixels per inch||570 ppi||529 ppi|
|Camera (Back)||12 MP/f 1.7 aperture||12 MP/f 1.7 aperture|
|Pixel Size||1.4 µm||1.4 µm|
|Zoom||8x digital||8x digital|
|Camera (Front)||8-MP/f 1.7 aperture||8-MP/1.7 aperture|
|Video recording||4K video at 30 fps||4K video at 30 fps|
|Slow motion video||720p at 240 fps||720p at 240 fps|
|Biometric Scanning||Facial recognition, iris scanner, fingerprint reader||Facial recognition, iris scanner, fingerprint reader|
||Snapdragon 835||Snapdragon 835|
|microSD||up to 256GB||up to 256GB|
|Battery||3,000 mAh||3,500 mAh|
|Rated Battery Life (Talk Time/Video Playback/4G)||20/16/12 hours||24/18/15 hours|
||5.9 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches||6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches|
||5.5 ounces||6.1 ounces|
|Water and Dust Resistantce||IP68||IP68|
||Midnight Black, Orchid Gray,
|Midnight Black, Orchid Gray,
|Wi-Fi||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac||802.11 a/b/g/n/ac|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 5.0||Bluetooth 5.0|
|Android Version||7.0 Nougat||7.0 Nougat|
|Charging||USB Type-C||USB Type-C|
|Wireless Charging||WPC and PMA||WPC and PMA|
Then there’s the S8’s 5.8-inch 2960 x 1440 display (or 6.2-inch on the S8 Plus), which is the best in the business. After two years of owning a phone with an AMOLED screen with pure inky blacks, I would have a pretty hard time going back to an LCD. In fact, DisplayMate called the S8’s screen is “the most innovative and high-performance smartphone display that we have ever lab tested.”
Samsung Galaxy S8
As for the S8’s 12-megapixel rear camera, it may physically be the same as the one in the Galaxy S7, but Samsung has made some software enhancements that grant the S8 even better low-light and HDR-shooting capabilities. The new higher-res 8-MP front camera doesn’t do much to excite me (mostly because I think selfies are the height of narcissism) but it’s still a welcome addition.
The S8’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor also means that it will have a speed advantage over every other Android phone, too, at least until other smartphone makers catch up. However, the jury’s still out on how it will measure up to the iPhone.
Samsung Connect Home
It’s also really hard to ignore Samsung’s ever-growing ecosystem, too. The new Gear VR controllerlets Samsung’s VR headset get much closer to that of fuller-featured VR devices. And, with the ability to work on even old-school mag stripe credit card readers, Samsung Pay remains the best and most widely usable mobile payment system. Add in the new and improved Gear 360 camera, the DeX desktop dock and the Samsung Connect Home system for controlling smart-home gear, and the S8’s total package becomes even sweeter.
Now we get to Bixby, which is sort of the the big unknown among the S8’s new features. It mimics a lot of the functions you get with digital assistants like Siri, Alexa and the Google Assistant. But because Samsung knows it’s not going to top Google when it comes to search, its new assistant takes things in a slightly different direction, with features like Bixby Vision and the ability to issue voice commands to control apps and even settings on your phone.
I think Bixby is going to be a boon for smartphone accessibility, a handy tool for lazy people like me, and it helps satisfy my desire to feel like we’re getting closer to the sci-fi dreams I had as a kid. So even though Bixby Voice won’t be available on the S8 right at launch — it’s coming later this spring in a software update — I’m willing to step into the unknown to learn more about it. After all, my job is to take risks on products so you don’t have to. And remember, this is all before Samsung has had a chance to incorporate the tools and tech it obtained when it acquired the Viv AI platform late last year. Samsung calls Bixby a “service that will evolve over time,” and that’s not just marketing spin.
Why I’m Not 100 Percent Happy
Even though I’ve made up my mind to get an S8, I still have a few concerns about the phone. The first is the S8’s fingerprint location. Not only do I prefer my fingerprint sensors on the front of phones, the placement of the S8’s reader means you could easily smudge its camera, which would result in soft, blurry photos. Some rumors claimed that Samsung was originally planning to build a sensor into the display itself, near where the S8’s virtual home button is now, but it seems Samsung couldn’t get that working for real. That’s definitely a shame.
Samsung’s single rear cam is another disappointment. Dual cameras have been trending for quite a while now, and almost all of the S8’s closest competitors have them, including the iPhone 7 Plus, the Huawei Mate 9 and P10 and the LG G6. It’s not hard to see why: dual cameras let phones offer portrait modes with big camera bokeh effects, dedicated black-and-white modes or secondary wide-angle cameras for all your landscape shooting needs.
I’m also concerned by the lag time for when it comes to getting updates for Android. My S6 Edge is still running Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow, instead of Nougat. And while part of the blame undoubtedly lies with my carrier, Samsung doesn’t get off scot-free, either. If I owned a Pixel, I’d be assured of the latest and greatest version of Android as soon as Google made it available.
I’m not convinced that, with their taller dimensions, the extra-wide 18:9 (or 18.5:9 in the case of the S8) aspect ratios displays are actually very one-hand friendly. But there’s no denying that’s where the industry is headed, so I’m going to dive in and live it.
Samsung Galaxy S8
The S8’s single speaker is also pretty depressing for a premium phone. HTC and Apple have figured out how to deliver stereo audio on their flagship phones by combining output from the main downward speaker with help from the earpiece. But, apparently, that wasn’t something Samsung wanted to do on its new Galaxy.
Finally, it’s impossible to forget that starting at around $750, the S8 ain’t cheap. Since I’ve waited two years to upgrade, though, the hit to my wallet won’t be as painful. And even though the S8’s starting price is about $100 higher than the S6 or S7, that’s still less than then the $915 I forked over for my 64GB S6 Edge two years ago.
No phone is perfect, but right now, the Galaxy S8 ticks more boxes for me than any other phone on the market. And even though it isn’t officially available yet, I’ve been lucky to have already gotten enough hands-on time with the S8 to make me feel confident about my decision.
There’s still room for improvement, and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever Google delivers as the Pixel 2, because a full year of development time could let Google improve upon the release of its first homegrown handset. But that phone’s probably not coming until the fall, and I need a new daily driver now. I’m looking forward to riding with the Galaxy S8.
Editors’ Note: This article was originally posted April 12. We’ve updated it with a specs chart and additional information about Bixby.