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Galaxy S8 Vs Galaxy S8 Plus: What’s The Difference?

Samsung has launched the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus, surprise! In all seriousness, after months of (truly unparalleled) leaks Samsung’s 2017 flagship smartphones are here and a lot has changed. Mostly for the better, but there is also some stagnation and a few areas of possible regression.

So what has Samsung got right with the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus and which model should you buy, if any? Let’s take a look…

Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus shown proportionally

Design & Display – Bigger Without Being Bigger?

Without doubt the headline change to Samsung’s new flagships are their displays. Both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus get huge new 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch displays respectively, but the best thing about this is impact these massive panels have had on their size:

  • Galaxy S8 – 148.9 x 68.1 x 8.0 mm ( 5.86 x 2.68 x 0.31-inch), 155g (5.36oz)
  • Galaxy S8 Plus – 159.5 x 73.4 x 8.1 mm (6.00 x 3.09 x 0.31-inch), 173g (oz)

Versus

  • Galaxy S7: 142.4 x 69.6 x 7.9 mm (5.61 x 2.74 x 0.31-inch) and 152g (5.36oz)
  • Galaxy S7 Edge – 150.9 x 72.6 x 7.7 mm (5.94 x 2.86 x 0.30-inch) and 157g (5.54 oz)

Yes, the headline is the Galaxy S8 has added 0.7-inches of screen space while remaining almost the same size as the Galaxy S7. The same cannot be said for the Galaxy S8 Plus, which is both bigger and heavier than the Galaxy S7 Edge (which it replaces), but it is still by far the most compact 6.2-inch smartphone ever made.

Samsung has achieved this by dramatically trimming down the top and bottom bezels to create fascias which are now nearly all display. And what displays! Both new Galaxies have curved ‘Edge’ panels which Samsung has re-christened ‘Infinity Displays’ and for once the hype is not overblown.

Galaxy S8 (pictured) and Galaxy S8 Plus bezels are incredibly slim

The two ‘Always On’ OLED panels have dramatic 18.5:9 aspect ratios with 2960 x 1440 native resolutions and gently sloping curves more akin to the Galaxy Note 7 than their predecessors. Predictably they are a visual treat and the brightest, sharpest, most jaw dropping displays I have ever seen in a smartphone and the first phones to be granted Mobile HDR Premium certification (handy given Amazon and Netflix’s HDR ambitions).

Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus displays are stunning for watching video

For many users these new screens with be deal makers, regardless of anything I say from this point onwards. The downside is Samsung will ship these phones both running 1080p resolutions by default. This can be increased, but only at the expense of battery life (more later).

Look elsewhere and there are other subtle changes: rounded corners to the displays and a glossy aluminium chassis which, for my money, are steps backwards (the former needlessly cuts off corner pixels, the latter is more prone to scratching) but the displays win you over regardless.

Besides when you have a 5.8-inch phone which weighs only 14g more than Apple’s 4.7-inch iPhone 7 (and 33g less than the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus) you’re going to turn heads. LG’s G6 wowed us just last month, but Samsung has already overtaken it from a design perspective.

From the back the Galaxy S8 looks like the last two generations of Galaxy smartphone

Flip the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus around and things are are more familiar. Samsung has retained the love em/hate em glass backs, though the loss of the home button from the front (it simply wouldn’t fit anymore) means there’s a virtual home button while the fingerprint reader has moved to the back. Illogically it has been pushed alongside the camera which you’ll smudge over and over again when you unlock it and it’s hard to reach if you have small hands, particularly on Galaxy S8 Plus.

To counter this Samsung has fitted an iris scanner to both new models, as seen on the Galaxy Note 7, it is fast and accurate but you do have to deliberately look into your phone’s camera for alignment which isn’t easy on the move. A combination of both iris and fingerprint recognition should get the job done, but it’s not perfect.

More practically, Samsung has retained microSD expandable storage (supporting cards up to 256GB) and IP68 water and dust resistance which allows for full submersion in up to 1.5 metres of water for up to 30 minutes. This is unchanged from the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge.

Both Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus squeeze a microSD slot into the sim card tray

Launch colours will be Midnight black, Orchid Grey and Arctic Silver but expect more options to fill out this underwhelming selection in the coming months.

Cameras – Incremental Upgrades Raise Concerns

2016 was the year software won the camera race. Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL took a technologically inferior camera module and swept away the competition with unparalleled image processing. Now Samsung is playing the same trick by retaining the same main rear module as the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge but talking up new image processing software.

Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus cameras use the same hardware as their 2016 predecessors

As such you’ll find a 12 megapixel, f/1.7 aperture shooter on the back with the same mix of Sony and Samsung variants shipping globally and a new focus on processing burst photography. This means Samsung take multiple shots of a subject as standard then stitches them together, the exact same trick Google did so well with the Pixel.

Initial impressions are Samsung hasn’t quiet pulled this off as well as Google and a test shot I took comparing the Galaxy S8 to the Pixel XL saw the latter come out on top. One photo isn’t enough to draw a solid conclusion though, so more testing is needed.

Galaxy S8 (left) vs Google Pixel XL (right) shows the latter coming out on top, but more testing is needed

Where hardware changes have been made is to the front camera with both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus featuring upgraded 8 megapixel sensors compared to the underwhelming 5MP modules in last year’s phones.

I expect the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus to be among the best smartphone cameras of 2017, but it seems the door has been left ajar for both Apple and Google to surpass them with their flagships later in the year.

Performance – Evolution Not Revolution

As expected the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus have moved to the latest cutting edge chipsets, but what you get will again depend on where you live:

  • Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus (US) – Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core chipset (4x 2.35GHz and 4x 1.9GHz Kryo CPUs), Adreno 540 GPU; 4GB of RAM
  • Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8 Plus (Europe and Asia) – Exynos 8895 (4x 2.3 GHz & 4x 1.7 GHz CPUs), ARM Mali-G71 MP20 GPU; 4GB of RAM

Historically Samsung has claimed Qualcomm and Exynos chipsets have negligible differences, but real world testing has consistently found the Exynos chips to be slightly faster and easier on battery life. We won’t know if that’s the case again until review samples are issued.

When it comes to benchmarks, Samsung claims fairly modest gains compared to last year: a 10% faster CPU and 21% faster GPU (vs 30% and 64% jumps between the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S6), making performance evolutionary rather than revolutionary. A variant with 6GB of RAM may come to the Asian market, but Samsung has no plans to release it in the US or Europe at this time.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 chipset will feature on US sold Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus smartphones

My time with the two phones did still find both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus suffering from Samsung’s historical flaws of occasional lag and dropped frames of animation, but these were pre-release devices running unfinished software. Still, it’s something to watch out for.

Aside from this you’ll find a jump to Bluetooth 5.0 (the first commercial phone to feature the new standard) which provides 2x speed and 4x range of Bluetooth 4.2, and Qualcomm’s X16 LTE modem which is capable of gigabit speeds. That’s pretty stunning, but you are unlikely to find many carriers who can take advantage of it.

Software – Classier But As Bloated As Ever

I’ll admit off the bat that I’m not fan of Samsung’s extensive Android customisation, nor its obsession with needlessly duplicating core Android apps, but with the upgraded ‘Grace UX’ TouchWiz has never looked better.

Then again it has also never been more cluttered as Samsung has loaded both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus with more software than ever before. There’s Samsung Pass – a secure login tool for financial services, Samsung Connect – an IoT hub similar to Google Home and Apple Home, plus Bixby – the previously announced hybrid of Google Now and Google Goggles. Handy? Yes. Essential? No. Non-removable? Of course.

Samsung continues to ape core Android functionality like Google Now

There are also still two app stores, two calculators, two web browsers, two mobile payment services, two clocks… you get the idea. For me it’s overkill and I’m not impressed that both phones will launch based on Android 7.0, when Android 7.1 (itself a major upgrade) is nearly six months old.

As ever Samsung hardware continues to be class leading, but the company seems determined to trip itself up with software. With one interesting exception…

Smartphones As PCs

The most talked about aspect of Samsung’s new Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus software is actually not designed for smartphones at all. If you pony up £150 (US asking price TBC), you can buy the DeX dock which turns these new flagship phones into ChromeOS-style desktop computers.

Samsung’s DeX accessory turns a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8 Plus into a basic desktop computer

How this works is the smartphone sits in the DeX dock, the dock is powered over USB Type-C, its two USB-A ports support a keyboard and mouse and it has an HDMI port to connect a monitor. The result is a reworked version of Android to create a basic desktop interface which can run Android apps and is business friendly due to support for Citrix Receiver and Amazon Workspaces.

DeX creates a multi-window desktop environment which can also run Android apps

It’s a clever trick (borrowed from Microsoft’s promising but stagnating Continuum concept), but £150 will also get you a basic Chrome OS laptop or Chromebox which can do the job better and doesn’t incapacitate your smartphone while it is in use.

Battery Life – Stagnation Brings Concern

Which brings me to perhaps the biggest area of concern in Samsung’s new smartphones. Having been traumatised by the explosive native of its Galaxy Note 7, this year Samsung has played it safe and fitted the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus with familiar battery capacities:

  • Galaxy S8 – 3000 mAh (same as Galaxy S7)
  • Galaxy S8 Plus – 3500 mAh (same as Galaxy S7 Edge)

The concern here is that while the new chipsets are more efficient, the displays are now dramatically larger. When I asked Samsung representatives how long they expected the phones to last compared to last year’s models they were non-committal and the figures were not published at launch. This is something I’ll be looking into once review models are available.

The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus remains incredibly thin and I’d have preferred to see them slightly thicker with larger batteries

The good news is that, while small-ish, Samsung says the new Galaxies’ batteries are super safe thanks to a new ‘8 Point Quality Check’ and they have better cycle longevity losing only 5% of their capacity in a year compared to up to 20% on previous models. Fast wired and wireless charging is also standard on the pair and they have finally shifted from micro USB to USB Type-C after the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge were the only holdout flagships last year.

Price And Storage – Increases All Round

Samsung hasn’t been shy to increase the price of the Galaxy range in recent years and this is happening again in 2017, which takes both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus above iPhone pricing:

  • Galaxy S8 – 64GB – $750 / €799 / £689
  • Galaxy S8 Plus – 64GB – $850 / €899 / £779

Some variation exists (Best Buy lists the phones for $725 and $825 respectively), but the hard fact is these 64GB phones unlocked are now approximately the same price as a 128GB iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. MicroSD works in Samsung’s favour here, but a threshold has been crossed.

The displays on the Galaxy S8 (pictured) and Galaxy S8 Plus are going to win over a lot of customers, despite the high price

What helps ease some of that pain is that 64GB is double the (bizarrely low) 32GB Samsung offered in 2016, and it is based on the faster UFS 2.1 standard. You’ll also get decent AKG earphones bundled to ease the pain and which Samsung will also retail separately for $99, which gives a sense of what you’re getting.

Still I can’t help but feel these phones are $50 overpriced and given how many users already own decent headphones these days, I’d have ditched the AKG earphones to keep the price down.

Pre-orders are now open with retail availability on April 21st (US, Asia) and 28th (most parts of Europe). Meanwhile if you want those cheaper Best Buy prices, you’ll have to wait until some time in May.

The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus are visually stunning, but it is not such a revolution on the inside

Early Verdict

For me Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus are two of the most visually stunning smartphones ever made. Their vision of an ‘all display’ fascia represents the future of smartphone design and this will be enough to sell millions of units around the world.

But there are also questions when you look beneath their beautiful exteriors. Both the camera and overall performance on the two phones are only incrementally upgraded, the fingerprint reader is bizarrely re-positioned and there is genuine concern that battery life may have taken a step back. The fact both phones are running at 1080p resolutions out the box for the first time since the Galaxy S5 in 2014 cannot go unnoticed.

As such the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus pose as many questions as they answer with the recurring theme: Is their beauty only skin deep, and will anyone care?

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