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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus review: Towards redemption, with infinite poise

Those gorgeous concepts that we used to see on the internet, about how smartphones will evolve in the future, are now very real. At first glance, it may look that the Galaxy S8+ is inspired from some of the other ‘Edge’ series predecessors, but the bold design can’t be ignored. Whether it stands the test of time (and rough use) remains to be seen, it certainly is a device well dressed to put Samsung on the road to redemption. With a price tag of Rs64,900, this admittedly gorgeous phone doesn’t come cheap, and it is hard to ignore the new LG G6 (Rs49,999; too. However, it certainly isn’t an experiment that’ll go unnoticed.

Design: Longer, but not much wider

The newest trend with smartphones is to use even wider aspect ratio display (when you look at the phone in landscape mode), which makes the phone taller when you hold it in portrait mode (which is most of the time, unless you’re watching a video). This means that the Galaxy S8+ is narrower than usual, but taller as well, with a rather large 6.2-inch display.

The LG G6 is already doing that, with the taller-than-usual 5.7-inch screen (2,880x1,440 resolution) FullVision display with an 18:9 aspect ratio, unlike the 16:9 aspect ratio that most 5.5-inch displays have. Samsung has gone a step further with an 18.5:9 aspect ratio, which is wider. But to add to that novelty aspect ratio, Samsung has done a lot more to refine the design.

Drawing from the previous experience of curved screens on Galaxy flagship phones, they deploy this Edge display while eliminating the bezels to the right and left of the screen. This means the phone snuggles well into the palm. Despite the extra vertical length, anyone with long enough fingers will have no problems reaching the further corners of the display with the same hand that is holding the phone—it is almost the same length as the Apple iPhone 7 Plus.

There is a symmetry to the S8+ design that cannot be ignored. At just 8.1mm thickness and tipping the scales at 173 grams, this is at par on the spec sheet with most rivals. However, the slick design and even weight distribution make this feels both thinner and lighter when you hold it up. Even though you have 6.2 inches of display, the S8+ doesn’t feel much bigger than a 5.5-inch phone, and that itself is unique.

The only problem with the design of the S8+ is the fact that the fingerprint sensor has been positioned at the back, next to the camera. And you will, at multiple times, end up smudging the camera instead. Even LG deploys the fingerprint sensor below the camera module, and that is a better position comparatively.

Display: Doesn’t stretch into infinity, but amazing nonetheless

If it wasn’t for the wider aspect ratio, it would have been nigh impossible to convince anyone that a 6.2-inch display smartphone would be comfortable to use. But this doesn’t suffer from that problem. Samsung calls it an Infinity Display, and it is, to be honest, brilliant. This has the largest real estate among all the current Android flagship phones. Typically, on the lines of what we must expect from a nicely saturated Super AMOLED display, you will get deep and inky black levels, excellent contrast, pin sharp text, this is one of the brightest screens and it just shines—irrespective of what lighting condition you are using this in.

Samsung gives you the flexibility to even change the display resolution. To save battery, you can switch to fairly low 1,480x720 pixels, or a more up-to-date 2,220x1,080 resolution. At the maximum, you will get to use all 2,960x1,440 pixels, though the latter will take up a bit more battery in the larger scheme of things. Also, the resolution gets reduced when the power saving mode switches on, depending on how aggressive you want the battery saving to be.

The length of the screen really improves the multi-window feature, that lets you place two windows on the same screen at the same time—the extra space just helps a lot.

The Infinity Display is HDR compatible, which means you will technically be able to stream HDR content from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. However, things are a bit more complicated. High dynamic range (HDR) is being rapidly adopted by the newer smartphones, and what you’ll get to view are the more vibrant colours and contrast for certain content.

The Galaxy S8+ supports the HDR10 standard, but not Dolby Vision, which the LG G6 has. While Samsung’s Infinity Display panel is UHD Alliance’s “Mobile HDR Premium” certified (it is the first phone display to get that certification), the phone might still have issues getting access to Netflix HDR content. The streaming service has very strict rules to be able to view the 4K content package in terms of the hardware, and the Infinity Display with the 2,960x1,440 resolution QHD+ screen is still less than a 4K screen. However, these are the sort of hurdles that first-generation trendsetters tend to face, we are sure Netflix and Amazon will also work to make the content available on the newer HDR compatible phones.

Software: Modernism finally shows up

Over the years, Samsung’s TouchWiz custom interface wrapped over Android has been given a complete overhaul—and a much needed one at that. What we now get is a more streamlined software, everything is better organized, slight visual tweaks make icons look better, fonts are more comfortable to read and the app drawer icon has been removed as default from the home screen in favour of a swipe-up gesture to get to the apps (very similar to what we have seen in the Google Pixel smartphones).

Preloaded app clutter is significantly less too, but Samsung is still restricting how many preloaded software you may be able to remove or disable, compared to the likes of the OnePlus 3T or even the LG G6. We were a bit perplexed to notice occasional stutter on Touchwiz, particularly when returning to the home screen from the camera app or while opening the gallery app—but this could be something that can be ironed out with a software update.

Performance: The burning desire

The Galaxy S8+ is powered by an Exynos 8895 Octa processor, with 4 cores running at 1.7GHz while 4 higher power cores running at 2.3GHz. Paired with this is 4GB RAM. This processor is also built on the 10-nanometer process, the same as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip that powers the same phone in certain other countries such as the US.

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