Review: The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is a workhorse

Hands down, the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is the best phone I laid my hands on the past year. That period includes dalliances with flagships LG G6 and Sony Xperia XZ; near-flagships, Huawei Mate 9, and Sony Xperia XZs; and mid-rangers Sony Xperia XA1 and Asus ZenFone 3. 

The S8 Plus is a flagship device, the Korean giant's first shot at redemption after the Note 7 exploding battery debacle. And all I can say is, what a save from Samsung. The S8 Plus is just supremely beautiful; physically, like a rare slab of obsidian that I couldn't get tired of looking at during the one month I had the device. Even during the latter part of my time with the phone, I'd sometimes stop and marvel at the design of this thing. 

I love its design for two reasons. Number 1: I haven't seen quite anything like it. Number 2: The design has practical benefits. The slimming effect of the 18.5:9 aspect ratio makes it easy to hold. The curved back and sides have a more natural fit on the palm. After using the S8 Plus, I used the Xperia XZs, which was more angular. Combined with smooth surfaces, the XZs seems just a little more slide-happy. (I'll have a more thorough user experience report on the XZs soon.) 

One con of the borderless design: you kind of try to pick up the phone slowly on the sides while the display is on, out of fear you might tap some function accidentally on the side. (LOOK: IN PHOTOS: Stars at Samsung Galaxy S8 launch)

The S8 Plus' screen is 6.2 inches. That's phablet territory. But because the S8 Plus is slimmer, it still felt like a smartphone and not a phablet. Its screen is a 2K display, which I didn't find anything to complain about. One other flagship, the similarly-priced Xperia XZ Premium, has a 4K screen. I haven't seen enough of the XZ Premium to see the difference a 4K screen makes. 

The beauty of the S8 Plus extends to the user interface too. It's polished, elegant, and cool, and not boring, stiff, or snooty. 

Performance

Some phones that look really good have underwhelming performance. Some phones that are more plain can sometimes surprise you with incredible performance. The S8 Plus' performance matches its looks. The phone was something I relied on for work, and over the course of a number of news and event coverages, I'd say it really earned my trust. It can keep up in professional environments.

Recently, it was my main shooter at videogame convention E3, where it shot photos and videos fast; processed them fast; didn't overheat; and the camera app itself opened quickly. The battery (rated 3,500mAh) lasted admirably; and longer than what I'd expected given its screen size. Under heavy, heavy use, you'd still feel more secure with a powerbank around, but overall, the phone's battery life was satisfying. That's why I consider the S8 Plus a workhorse. 

Photos and videos

The photos and videos it takes are pretty amazing too. Check out the samples below.

Daytime shots:

Food shots:

Beach shots:

Street shots: 

Lowlight shots:

Its auto mode is the best I've experienced this year too. At the end of our run, I felt in the back of my head that it was going to hit the right saturation, colors, exposure, and produce a nice shot without me having to fiddle around with settings – and to me, that's when I can say that an auto mode is great.

An exposure slider can be called up with one tap if you want to make quick brightness adjustments before taking a photo. It also has a manual mode and a bunch of Snapchat-like stickers.

It can shoot 4K videos up to 10 minutes at one go. Shooting 4K is one of its limits. It can get hot after shooting a few. 

Cons

The S8 Plus' fingerprint sensor was my least favorite part. It's placed at the back, to the right side of the camera, which sits on the center.

It's just spotty. Sometimes, it takes multiple times before it recognizes your finger. And when it does recognize, it didn't feel like it's the fastest. The LG G6 and the Huawei Mate 9 both felt like they had faster fingerprint sensors.

It's spotty but if you're worried that it's going to ruin the whole thing for you, well, it probably won't. But it can get annoying in the long run.

I don't think it's an issue of bad fingerprint registration either. I registered my finger the same way I registered it on other phones, and my experience on the S8 Plus was just the least likeable.

Fingerprint sensor placement preferences vary; personally, I like them on the back, right smack in the center, or on the center button on the phone's front. 

I didn't have a fine time with the iris sensor either. It takes too much work to position your eyes correctly. You need to get the right angle, right lighting, and right distance to get it to work. It's beautiful when it works though. It's fast, and the process may very well be easier than fingerprint identification.

But at this point, it has a way to go before it becomes my go-to unlock function – and that's going to happen when it is finally able to see my iris in darker situations, from a variety of distances, and angles other than straight-on. That said, I'd like to see this piece of tech improve in future phones. (WATCH: LG G6 or Samsung Galaxy S8?)

On Bixby

Bixby, Samsung's virtual assistant, was a much-hyped feature for the S8 before launch. In its current form in the S8, it has a location identifier, text extractor, language translator, content curator, and for some strange reason... a wine identifier.

Yes, there is one option on Bixby that's dedicated to identifying wines – its vintage, what type of wine it is, etc. Good if you love wines. Otherwise, an ultra-niche thing. 

I'm guessing the same could be said for Bixby's location identifier, which might be great if you travel a lot. It works with you taking a photo of, say, Rizal's statue at Luneta Park. Bixby then analyzes the photo through data available on Google, and then gives you a list of results as to where or what the photo is. 

The text extractor is okay if you are able to take a really good photo of, say, a page of a novel. By good photo, the page has to be flat and evenly and well-lit. Otherwise, the app will miss some parts of the page, resulting in incoherent results. The translator uses Google Translate technology, and uses the camera to extract the text to translate. It takes in a lot of languages. In use, it takes some effort to produce results, and time to master. Not a pick-up-and-play feature yet. 

Bixby also curates content for you based on your behaviors on the phone and other online services. It's easy to access with a dedicated Bixby button on the lower left side of the phone. But I rarely accessed it as it kind of felt like just another Facebook feed I could find myself dillydallying on for hours on end. Perhaps a more in-depth look at Bixby's curated content would uncover some benefits. On the surface, it's just there, and fulfilled no immediate need.

The Samsung Edge feature – a sliding drawer on the side that lets you put some app shortcuts – is kind of nifty too but needs to be set up. Some users will probably leave it untouched; I'm one of them because I was fine accessing my apps the traditional way. 

Overall

SIM SLOT. The sim and SD card slot pops up at the top.

SIM SLOT. The sim and SD card slot pops up at the top.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is worth the P46,000 price tag if you're in the market for expensive flagships. It's a well-dressed pro with the hustle to match. A few niggling annoyances hold it back from phone perfection, but still, nothing that truly breaks the experience. And it's one of the few phones where you can experience top-of-the-class chips Exynos 8895 or the Snapdragon 835. 

Bixby's just a bonus at this point, and it's cool that Samsung's developing its own virtual assistant to add to an arena that already includes Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Assistant. As a feature that's novel to the S8 at the moment, Bixby adds extra justification to the price. – Rappler.com 

Reviewer's note: The phone was reviewed for a month. Samsung provided a review unit, which was returned after the review period. 

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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