Samsung’s beautiful new Galaxy S8 is less than a week away, does it signal the S7’s death knell or is there life in the old phone yet?
Say what you like about Samsung, but they know how to make their phones desirable. Our full review of the S8 reveals whether or not it’s onto another winner, and if it’s time to sweep its predecessor under the carpet.
When the Galaxy S7 launched in Barcelona last year, the subtly curved combination of glass and metal had an immediate impact; the audience applause was rapturous (having Mark Zuckerberg on stage helped).
The phone was stunning and laden with features. The micro-SD card slot and water resistance absent from the Galaxy S6 returned, and the new camera with its wide aperture and large pixels was like a vacuum cleaner for light, making photos sharp and vibrant, even in dingy conditions.
But now there’s a new must-have handset in town and it’s taller and more handsome. Albeit it’s got virtually the same camera and battery, and its headline new feature, Bixby, sounds like a six year old’s imaginary butler. Samsung wants you to buy this phone, but has it done enough to stop people going for the now cheaper S7?
Samsung isn’t the only company making Android handsets. HTC, Sony, LG and Motorola are just some of the big manufacturers making desirable smartphones. Find out which ones we think are worth your money and see how they compare with Apple and Windows handsets on our list of the Best smartphones.
What’s new on the S8, and what has stayed the same?
It’s easy to see what hasn’t changed so let’s look at what has.
- The screen – the screen on the S8 is significantly bigger than the S7’s, and even bigger than Samsung’s ill-fated Note 7. But lovers of small phones shouldn’t recoil in horror at Samsung’s giant handset, it’s actually only slightly larger in physical size than the S7 – the S8 is 148.9mm tall and the S7 is 142.4mm. How did Samsung get more than half an inch of extra screen into less than one centimetre of space? It’s not witchcraft, they made the bezels smaller, and cleverly made extra room by hiding the home button under the glass, so you’re getting more screen and the phone isn’t any more unwieldy. The resolution on the S8 is also higher because of the extra height of the screen.
- The processor – the beating heart of the phone, the processor keeps everything ticking along. Short of actually predicting what icon you’re going to press, processors can’t get much quicker. Opening apps is now instantaneous and it’s rare that advanced processors can’t cope unless you’ve got several processes going on in the background, something the Android operating system tries to avoid. Rather than getting quicker, processors are getting more efficient. The battery on the S8 is no bigger than the S7, but we’d expect it to have better battery life because Qualcomm claims its latest processor is less taxing on batteries.
- The camera – the rear-facing lens remains the same, although Samsung did add multi-frame processing, which captures multiple images and combines them to make the best possible photo. The front-facing camera gets the same multi-frame treatment and ups the megapixel count 8Mp – your face has never looked better.
What about Bixby?
Samsung knew it was onto a good thing with the hardware. The world isn’t clamoring for sharper screens and faster processors because what we have now is already excellent. Software is an area where tech companies can showcase real innovation.
Bixby is a personal assistant, like Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, it uses voice commands, text and contextual awareness to make your life simpler. A button on the side of the phone rouses Bixby and then you can tell it to do all sorts of things, such as setting reminders, adding dates to your calendar and activating smart devices around your home, if you have any.
So far so similar, but Samsung thinks that context sets Bixby apart. Bixby remembers your routines and filters out the information that is important to you. It knows what you’re doing, too, so if you’re in a cooking app and you ask it how much flour you need, it will understand you mean for the recipe.
It is part of Samsung’s push into smart homes, so don’t be surprised if you see it cropping up in Samsung’s appliances and TVs before too long. One place you won’t find it is in the Galaxy S7.
The catch is that anyone buying an S8 in the UK will have to survive without Bixby; it will come to our shores later. Samsung’s penchant for doing their own version of services doesn’t mean the S8 won’t get Google Assistant, for example the S7 still has Android Pay despite Samsung making a branded alternative. The worry is that Bixby may be a flash in the pan if it isn’t as competent as Google’s Assistant.
How much more will an S8 cost?
New phones, especially ones as popular as Samsung’s Galaxy range, command a high price, and a quick look at EE’s website shows that that trend isn’t changing with the S8.
Buying the S8 outright is £689 – an S7 is available for around £449.
At EE you can get an S8 with 5GB of data with unlimited calls and texts for a total of £1,353.75 over 24 months. The same deal on an S7 will cost you £993.75. Pricing at O2 for the S8 is the same as EE, a comparable deal for the S7 costs £1017.99.
At Vodafone a 4GB S8 deal is £212 more expensive than the same deal on the S7, while at Three a 4GB S8 deal costs £1,059, £214 more than the 4GB S7 deal.
Is it worth upgrading?
On paper at least, the upgrades on the S8 aren’t significant. The S8 has all but perfected Samsung’s curved philosophy, blending the glass screen and metal body almost seamlessly, and for some the stunning new look will be enough. Bixby is an interesting prospect, but it is likely that the S7 will be updated with Google Assistant eventually -a service which offers a very similar suite of features.
You’ll save money by going for an S7, more than £300 in some cases, and you won’t be missing out on any revolutionary new features. Just make sure you can suppress your envy when you see someone pull an S8 out of their pocket on the train.