Samsung S8 Plus Review: Is Bigger Necessarily Better?

You’ve read our Samsung Galaxy S8 review, haven’t you? Then you know Samsung’s hit pretty much a home run with the smaller Galaxy S8.

Does the bigger plus-sized S8+ – with its bigger dimensions, screen and battery engender some compromises, or is it the phablet to beat this year? We take a dip into that gargantuan Infinity (Display) pool to find out!

Pros:

  • Sexiest phone around, period
  • Incredibly compact for its size
  • Brilliant display
  • Top-notch hardware and performance
  • Feature-rich yet restrained software
  • Best-in-class cameras
  • Dual-SIM and expandable storage in a flagship
  • IP68 rating

Cons:

  • Odd placement for fingerprint scanner
  • Battery life could have been better
  • Slippery and could be fragile
    Bixby smart assistant not ready for prime time

What’s Good?

Unlike last year where you had both a flat and a curved ‘Edge’ Galaxy S flagship, this year there isn’t a huge difference between Samsung’s two flagship devices, with both devices offering the edge screen and one simply a ‘Plus’-sized variant of the other.

That said, and this is where Samsung’s design chops shine brightest, the Plus model isn’t vastly bigger than the smaller S8 – at around 10mm taller, 5mm wider and 18g heavier, that’s not much for a jump from a 5.8- to a 6.2-inch screen.

The 6.2-inch form size of the Galaxy S8 Plus might not be likeable for everyone. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

If the smaller S8 didn't wow you enough, the S8+ practically astonishes with how normal it feels in the hand given the size of that massive display!

Much of that is attributable to the near-zero bezel design language Samsung has adopted, and the big beneficiary of that is the large 6.2-inch Infinity Display, which quite frankly is nothing short of epic.

It isn’t just the biggest screen available on a flagship device – with its inky blacks, punchy colours and wide range of brightness levels – it works (and wows) on every occasion.

Ditching the physical home button in favour of a haptic-touch enabled soft button hasn't been a bad move, either… and you can finally swap the virtual ‘back’ and ‘recent apps’ buttons. (And no, I didn't notice any red tint on the S8+’s screen, although Samsung issued a software update for any folks who may be impacted.)

The display packs a Super AMOLED panel with 2560x1440 pixels resolution. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Samsung’s levels of polish in the software department haven’t escaped our notice, and the new "Samsung Experience" UI on top of Android 7.0 Nougat is feature rich yet restrained… and surprisingly bereft of bloatware.

The S8+’s taller screen makes Samsung’s (and Nougat’s) multi-window tricks more useful, and the one-handed mode and swipe-up-for-the-app-drawer do their bit to make the tall screen a bit more usable, but the tall 18.5:9 aspect ratio still means it’s best used in two hands for any serious work.

On paper, the S8+’s camera seems to be similar to the one from last year’s S7 Edge, but it does benefit from some under-the-hood improvements. You get the now-characteristic slightly oversaturated-but-pleasing daylight shots and arguably the best low-light performance available, while selfies are markedly better from last year’s models and the Snapchat-like face masks are good fun.

The 12-megapixel camera at the back is as reliable as the one on Galaxy S8. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

We’ll have a full rundown of how the S8+ compares to the cameras on the iPhone 7 Plus and the S7 Edge soon, so check back later this week!

What’s Bad?

The S8+’s design wizardry does have its downsides. For one, the tall design means it doesn't fit too easily in smaller pockets. Without the physical home button up in front, the fingerprint scanner has moved to the rear, but instead of placing it below the camera where your index finger would naturally rest, Samsung has placed the scanner far up the back next to the camera.

Reaching for the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S8 Plus is a challenge. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

In the smaller S8, you could maybe even get used to the awkward position but with the S8+, you must considerably adjust your grip each time to use the fingerprint scanner, and even then, risk smudging the camera lens ever so often. It’s an ergonomic nightmare and borderline unusable on the larger phone.

Sure, Samsung offers you iris scanning and facial recognition and while the former works fairly well, none of these are good alternatives to a well-placed fingerprint scanner. I often ended up typing my passcode, since it was faster than trying to blind-feel my way across to the fingerprint scanner or turn the device around to hit it on the first try.

Bixby is nowhere close to its competition. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Battery life is a mixed bag – I was expecting better results from the new, power-efficient 10nm Exynos 8895 chipsets, but the bigger screens without a commensurate increase in battery size means that even the S8+’s bigger 3500mAh battery lasted just about a whole day of moderate-to-heavy use running the highest QHD+ resolution with the always-on display active. A full charge took a shade less than two hours, thanks to fast charging support.

The one aspect of the S8’s software that didn't impress quite as much was the new smart assistant called Bixby.

It’s meant to rival Google Assistant but just ends up duplicating a lot of Assistant’s functionality…a pity for something that Samsung chose to dedicate a hardware button for on both the S8 and the S8+. It may be far more useful when the voice features are added, but it isn’t ready for the prime time yet.

Size can intimidate the best of us. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

The tall aspect ratio looks sexy, but it’s non-standard for third-party Android apps, so you’re often left dealing with apps running with black bars on the top and bottom, or on the side if you’re watching 16:9 widescreen content.

Not an issue for Youtube, which lets you stretch the videos to fill the extra space, but many games still run with bars on either side. The single speaker at the bottom of the phone isn’t particularly impressive, either…fortunately, the headphone jack still exists.

Why Buy It?

The S8+ (Rs 64,900) is a big leap forward, in every sense, although the bigger screen makes it somewhat awkward to use and carry around and therefore a bit more divisive than the smaller S8.

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is running on Android 7.1 Nougat. (Photo: The Quint/@2shar)

Some might be put off by the size – although to be fair, it’s barely larger than an iPhone 7 Plus but with a whole extra 0.7-inch screen real estate – while others will appreciate the large canvas and extra space for multi-tasking, doodling or just watching a movie on that slick screen.

Think back to what a big, 6-in+ screen phone meant a couple of years ago and compare it to the S8+, and you’ll realise how far Samsung has come to the holy grail of a phone that’s all screen.

(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached on Twitter @2shar.)