Because I pre-ordered my Galaxy S8 I was able to pick it up before the official release date on the 28th and since then I’ve had a number of people ask me if I was going to do a review. I still don’t know. I’m not sure that I’m qualified to review a phone, but I have no problem outlining my thoughts about it, especially as it relates to my area of interest, VR. I will also be receiving the 2017 Gear VR because I pre-ordered, which is nice because I own the S6 Innovator Edition which takes only the S6 and therefore, won’t fit my S8. In the meantime I’m borrowing the 2016 Gear VR from Nathan (Kimono Dragon) so that I can try out the S8’s VR capabilities. I do not yet have the controller either, but when that comes I will do a full review.
Let’s begin with the phone itself. These are my very early impressions as I’ve only had the phone since yesterday. I won’t be talking much about processor or the camera or anything like that because I don’t know about or really care about that stuff. I presume that the processor is better than the two year old processor in my S6 but since my S6 was able to do everything I threw at it I’m not sure there is much to discuss about it at this point. Certainly the S8 is speedier, but it also hasn’t gone through two years of heavy usage including a lot of downloading and deleting of apps. What I’m most curious to see is whether or not there will be VR games coming out that take advantage of any added power the S8 might have, but that’s not something I can look at now for obvious reasons.
Probably the biggest feature, or at least the most famous one on the S8 is the screen. Samsung did a pretty good job of maximizing screen space by removing the physical home button and curving the glass so that the bezel isn’t as noticeable. My understanding was that when viewed straight on you wouldn’t be able to see the bezel at all on the sides but that isn’t the case. It is still very much noticeable. What is more impressive are the foot and head of the phone, or top and bottom bezels. They are less than half the size of previous phones, giving almost a vertical inch of extra screen space over my S6. I barely every used the multi window feature on the S6 because there just wasn’t enough space for it to be useful, but with this much added real estate it may finally be a useful feature. One downfall to smartphones is their fragility, necessitating a case of some sort to protect your device from the occasional drop. Unfortunately, even if you choose a small case, they are going to add the appearance of bezel, almost negating the work that Samsung did making them disappear in the first place.
So the S8 has a big screen. But a big screen is only a plus if it’s not an ugly screen. Thankfully it’s the prettiest screen I’ve ever seen on a phone. I have to admit that my perception might be a bit skewed since my S6 screen suffered from burn in. I can always see the squares of my keyboard buttons and the notification bar no matter what is on screen. Something else that happened on my S6 that I hadn’t noticed until I got the S8 is yellowing of my whites. If I have the same white screen loaded on my S8 and S6 my S6 looks yellowed, like it came from a smoker’s house. So that might be tainting my opinion of how great the S8 screen looks.
Anyway, the S8 screen is amazing. The colours are bright and the whites are almost blinding. In fact, the screen can be made so bright that the brightness bar has a red zone on it which brings up a warning before you can use it, similar to volume when you have headphones plugged in. That’s crazy brightness. And all of this brightness makes the VR experience look slightly better, at least when it comes to colour saturation. I’ll be talking more VR shortly.
One feature about the phone that worries me is the always on lock screen. I’ve disabled it on my phone because of the burn in problem I had with my S6. It took roughly a year for me to notice the burn in problem. It started with the notification bar, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was burn in or a feature of the phone. Then not long after I noticed my keyboard buttons persisting after I closed it and then it started getting worse and worse. Until I have some sort of assurance that this will not be happening with my S8, I’ll be leaving that feature off. On top of that, there is a mental block for me. When I see the clock lit up on the screen I feel like it’s wasting my battery. I feel like my screen is actually on. I realize that is silly, but that’s how it is. I’m weird like that.
I’m only going to discuss one more feature of the phone before moving on to the VR aspect because, let’s face it, it’s a phone. We all know what phones are and we’ve reached a point where improvements are marginal and only the most dedicated tech heads will care about or understand what all of the upgrades do. But one feature I was keen to explore was the new Google Assistant. This is, of course, not a Samsung feature, it’s an Android feature but it is massively improved over what was available on the S6. iPhone users are probably well past asking their digital assistant silly questions to see how it will respond, but being able to do that on Android is new. I messed around with that for a while and came up with the following gem:
She can sing too. I asked her what she could do and among the suggestions were “sing happy birthday” which I got her to do right away. Not only did she sing very well, but she cleared her throat first, which was a nice touch.
But the Google Assistant is there to do a lot more than entertain us. She can do so much more, such as set reminders. I asked her to remind me to poop in ten seconds and she didn’t even bat an eye. (I have an eight year old. Poop jokes are funny again.) I can ask her how far it is to the moon, how many Canadian Dollars are in an American Dollar or an Australian Dollary-doo, I can set alarms, ask for directions. Really, everything I can do with previous phones and the internet I can now do with perfectly natural voice commands. And it’s accurate. I’m not the clearest speaker in the world and I’ve had trouble with digital assistants in the past, including Siri, because of it. Google Assistant will still occasionally hear me incorrectly, but it quickly realizes that I couldn’t have meant that because it’s nonsense and fixes the messed up word. So far it has been 100% accurate, but we’ll see if that lasts.
I’ve also tried out Bixby a little bit, which is basically Samsung’s version of the Assistant. I tried the feature where you point your camera at something and it locates other images or stores that are selling it. We’ll just say that it could use some work. I tried taking a picture of the Gear VR… a Samsung product, and it didn’t know what it was looking at. Very disappointing after using the Google Assistant. I doubt that I will bother much with Bixby since my other option is better. If I ever have a smart home full of Bixby connected devices then I might be more inclined to use it, but I don’t see that happening unless you all send me money right now. Which I am more than happy to accept. In case you were wondering but weren’t sure it would be appropriate or if I would accept it. It is and I will.
So then, now we move on to the VR. This really should be the lengthier part of this post, but it won’t be because there isn’t much, if anything, to say that I haven’t already said. I can’t fully judge the VR until I get my hands on the new version and the controller but I can speak about my experience with the 2016 Gear VR.
One thing that bothers me about the S8 is having to go from a far superior headset in the S6 Innovator Edition to the Consumer Version. I paid a lot more for my S6 IE and all you have to do is hold both versions in one hand to see why. The S6 feels solid and better made. That extra solidness may come down to the much better head strap that came with it that adds extra weight but manages to increase the comfort several-fold. The lenses in the CV are bigger, but I find it much harder to focus through them. I can never get the image as clear in the CV as I can in the IE and until I held them side by side just now I didn’t even know that it was the case, so the increased FOV that they provide is negligible. None of this is the phone’s fault though. The S8’s only crime here is not fitting in my S6 IE Gear VR.
The S8 does run a bit smoother than the S6, but as I said earlier, my S6 could handle everything I tried to do with it. My S6 is also two years old, has been my personal phone and the phone I use for reviews, and has never had a factory reset done on it. All of this could contribute to the few hiccups I now experiences when using VR with my S6. The S8 is brighter than the S6 with higher colour contrast, but again, that might be because my S6 is old. Really, the only good reason I can think of to buy the S8 over any other phone is so far it appears the overheating issue has been solved. Every time I take it out it remains cool to the touch. That’s a big deal for some, but not so much for me. I had some freak S6 phone that would very rarely overheat no matter what I put it through.
So that’s it. Those are my day 1 thoughts on the S8. I will revisit them when I get the new Gear VR and controller. So far it’s the best phone I’ve ever owned and the second best mobile VR experience I’ve had (out of 2.)
Daryle Henry | Dads And Dragons