Review – Living with my new Samsung Galaxy S8+

I’ve been toying with making a switch from Apple to Android for a while now. I’ve long been curious if the grass really is greener on the other side.

With a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ in hand I finally made the leap about five weeks ago. I wanted to spend an extended period of time living in this new world before writing my review. So after much use, some travel with the new phone and plenty of new apps, photo-taking and more, here it is.

Look and feel of Samsung Galaxy S8+

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ (in shiny Midnight Black) is definitely slim and sleek. It fits easily in one hand, and has a dramatic edge to edge design that allows the screen to take up more real estate on the front of the phone.

The screen is colorful, vibrant, and easy to read. For that you can thank the 6.2” Quad HD+ Super AMOLED (2960×1440) display with 529 ppi.

Set up and initial use – Samsung Galaxy S8+

Getting the device set up is super easy. You can set it up from scratch as a brand new device, or easily transfer your existing data and information to the phone from either another Android device, or even from Apple. The procedures are very simple and easy and the smart phone will walk you through it. If you want to learn more about making the transition, as I did, from an Apple device to the Samsung, click here to read my blog ‘Switching from Apple to Samsung; what you need to know’.

Apple users will also want to know that while initial set up of your Apple or iCloud mail is pretty simple and straightforward (despite the fact you think it wouldn’t be) after about a month my Apple mail became disconnected from the Samsung device and I was unable to reconnect it as of the writing of this blog. But that might be a separate article; if any other users have experienced this please post about it in comments.Samsung Galaxy S8+ 2

With all my data transferred over it was straight to work on the new Galaxy S8+.

Excellent battery life on Galaxy S8+

I find the battery on this device lasts much longer than my previous phone. I am easily able to get through a day without needing recharging or having to grab an emergency power bank. I know battery effectiveness can wane over time but right out of the gate it’s impressive.

After a full eight hour workday and then activities and tasks well into the evening I was able to head off to bed with 30 or 40% battery remaining. I also brought it on a camping trip where it was left in airline mode most of the time. Here I could make it several days without a charge; just as well because I was out in the wilderness without easy access to electricity.

Email on Samsung Galaxy S8+

Samsung Galaxy emailDuring my testing for this review I used Samsung’s native email app. While we could have another discussion and definitely fill out another blog on the many and various Android email apps out there, I figured for this review it was only proper to focus on Samsung’s version.

I have to say I didn’t like it. It was definitely very easy to get different email accounts set up and to manage them, but I didn’t like the main inbox screen, and didn’t find it indicated clearly enough which emails were new and which were previously read.

In Apple’s mail app, there is a large blue dot to the left of each email to indicate it is unread and the sender’s name is bolded. It’s vibrant and easy to see at a glance. Samsung’s by comparison uses a much smaller and more subtly coloured dot, and once read the dot changes from a medium blue to a light blue. The e-mails are also bolded but I personally found this very hard to see clearly.  I was unable to find any settings in the phone that can customize or improve Samsung’s mail app beyond this.

When writing emails in particular, or using the Galaxy S8+ with documents, I found it a little difficult to get the cursor on to the edges of the screen. I could always get it one character away from the immediate left or right side of the message or document, but it was very hard to get it onto the extreme edge.

Love the always on displaySamsung Galaxy S8+ 6

One of the features about this phone I absolutely loved was the always on display. I really appreciated having access to that time, date, battery life, and some message icons without having to turn the phone screen all the way on. I also think this helps improve battery life two. I wish every phone could do this.

You’ll need extra taps

I also found often that with the Galaxy S8+ smartphone some tasks required an extra tap to complete. Case in point, when I was unlocking the phone using the lock screen keypad. On this phone you need to enter your passcode and then hit OK before it will unlock. With other phones I’ve tried (ok, yes, my old iPhone)  it’s a simple matter of entering the numbers and the phone unlocks automatically. No need for the ‘OK’.

On the Galaxy S8+, when I use the pull-down menu to search through apps on the phone, it’s necessary to tap into the search window specifically before a keyboard will appear on screen for you. With other phones, as soon as you enter that search function, the keyboard opens automatically and the cursor is already blinking in the search window.

When I did some traveling recently, I noticed the phone didn’t switch times zones automatically when I got onto different cellular networks. It was necessary for me to go into the settings and change the time myself.

When composing text messages, more clicks are required too. You need to type the recipient’s name into the search bar, but of course the keyboard does not automatically come up until you click into the search bar, then once you type the persons name, you need to select them (and sometimes which number you want to use) and then click ‘compose’. Other phones I’ve used take you to the message composition window immediately after you’ve clicked on a recipient.

Long text messages often don’t display fully in the text window. You’ll get a couple of centimeters of message, and then a prompt at the bottom of the speech bubble to “view all. Yet another click which is to me anyway, unnecessary.

I realize we’re talking about split seconds and single clicks, but it’s this kind of user interface experience that makes some phones feel easier to use than others. Is this a complaint? No. It doesn’t mar the experience of using the phone, it’s just… different.

Samsung voice dictation recognition
Odd capitalization, especially using voice dictation.

As an aside, I will say the text message interface is quite easy to read. You can customize things like the  background colour, and the orange and gray speech bubbles make conversations easy to delineate. A pet peeve I did have about texting, is that it often defaults to applying a subject, or “no subject” to text conversations. I wish that was not the default setting, because it automatically adds a “no subject” bubble above every message sent or received.

I did find the autocomplete and spellchecker a bit off.  It randomly capitalized weird things and didn’t seem to recognize punctuation commands (see photo above) particularly when I’d use voice dictation. It also rather hilariously redacts swear words.  On the other hand, I did love the way the Galaxy S8+ remembers complete email addresses so I don’t have to type them in every single time.

Camera and video quality Samsung Galaxy S8+

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs about the Samsung Galaxy S8 devices, I have raved about the camera. After a month of steady use my feelings have not changed. If anything I am much more in love with the camera on this device than ever before.

The pictures just seem more vibrant and intense, the filters, settings, and options with the camera are just more fun.

A really great feature I found is that when recording a video, the display will show you how much total video time you have left to record. This is super handy for someone like myself who is constantly using the phone for video, and particularly while traveling. My iPhone previously has just stopped being able to record video completely because it was totally full. That left me super frustrated because I could have cleaned some files out before I got to a dramatic moment that I needed video of, then realized I couldn’t record.  Samsung’s way I am able to keep a close eye on how much memory I have left and how much time I can record for so that I am always prepared by deleting old or unused video files or moving them to cloud storage. Genius.

One of my favourite features is the selective focus. It works on both the front or the rear camera, and allows you to highlight an area within approximately 50 cm of the lens. The camera will focus on that particular spot, and blur out the background for professional looking photos. Somewhat amazingly, you can also adjust this type of photo once you’ve taken it so that the foreground will be out of focus and the background sharp if you’ve changed your mind.  The camera is not just good, it’s smart too.Samsung galaxy S8+ selective focus

I love the overall photo quality on photos taken with the Galaxy S8+. I find them more vibrant, sharper and with the wide angle lens, I get more stuff into the pictures.

A couple of other neat features with respect to photos and video is that the Samsung phone and in particular it’s Bixby digital assistant would send me “stylized photos” collages, and alert me to other neat features. It was just a nice little surprise to have some of that content curated for me.

Read more about some of my earlier testing of the Galaxy S8 on my blog ’24 hours at the edge of the world with the GalaxyS8′.

Samsung Bixby needs work

On the subject of Bixby, I’m afraid to say we’ve not really become friends yet. I tried to use the digital assistant, but it’s functionality has been limited in Canada. It’s supposed to allow you to do things like snap photos for instant recognition of objects and items, but after numerous tests I found it to be largely useless; it was unable to identify any of the items I selected.

Samsung galaxy S8+ bixby

When I tried to use it to translate, it was similarly clunky. Bixby would capture the word as a photograph, then ask me to crop the image more precisely. After that it was able to recognize the word and write it as text, but didn’t give you any options for translation, only to save or share the word. Not particularly helpful if you ask me.

Otherwise Bixby can supply your ‘Day at a Glance’ look at what’s going on on your smart phone, calendar, things trending on Twitter, Weather, and even new themes and wallpapers or news headlines.

While I love the idea of this digital butler service, I think it has a way to go before it’s going to be as ubiquitous as Siri or OK Google. Fortunately you can enable ‘OK Google’ on the Galaxy S8 devices to fill the gaps.

Samsung Internet

The Galaxy S8+ contains a Samsung Internet browser, but of course you can install different interfaces like Google Chrome or Firefox for Android. I found the browser worked just fine and did everything I needed it to do. There is some advantage to installing Google Chrome if you want to keep some favourites and bookmarks handy across various devices. But for the most part these apps all generally carry out the same basic function.

Multiple ways to be secure – iris, fingerprint scanner + more

There are many different ways to access the Galaxy S8+. You can use a traditional passcode, a pattern sequence, or enable the iris scanner or facial recognition. Each of these works very well and is instantly responsive. Even in low light situations and with contacts in the phone was able to unlock using the iris scan for me with just a glance.galaxy s8 rear fingerprint scanner

Here I will join legions of others in complaining about the fingerprint scanner.  It’s located high on the top back of the phone, next to the camera. It’s in a seriously awkward spot and constantly reaching for it means eternally smudging the camera lens. There’s just no easy or natural way to access it.  Though that’s been my preferred unlocking method with other devices until now, I disabled it because I disliked the awkward reaching.

Overall review of Samsung Galaxy S8+

Overall, I really like the Samsung Galaxy S8+. The bulk of my nitpicky complaints are more about my needing to adapt to the way things are done in the Android world, than complaints about a malfunctioning device. Indeed, the Galaxy S8+works like a dream; it’s fast, responsive, does everything I need to do, and looks good doing it. The screen is a joy to look at photos or watch videos on and of course the camera is outstanding.

You’re going to love, love, love this phone if you’re an Android user. If you’re an Apple user looking to switch, you’ll definitely be able to adapt, though you will need to remember it’s going to take time to make the transition.

Take a poll of friends, family, and coworkers

One thing that never occurred to me when I made the switch was how much it would affect my interactions with family, friends, and coworkers. I would say of my 10 closest immediate family members, nine of them have iPhones. So we often use group chats as a way to organize and interact. Having made the switch that meant while I would get the initial message and could see from the wording that it had gone to more than just me, I was unable to see or take part in the group chat beyond that initial message.

Same story at work. There are six people on my immediate team and we all used iPhones. Not being on the same operating system meant that I wasn’t able to see the three little dots when someone was about to respond to an urgent message. Can I live without this feature? Of course. But it made me realize how much I rely on group chat, iMessage, and being able to see when someone has interacted with my text message.

If this is how you communicate with the groups in your life and you’re all sharing the same ecosystem, it’s worth serious consideration whether you should switch to a completely different system from whatever everyone else in your circles is running. If something will make me switch back to Apple, this issue might be it for me.

Another great feature that I especially loved while traveling near the ocean?  The Galaxy S8+ is waterproof.

Unlocking the Galaxy S8+ is also quick and easy using either the integrated iris scanner. You can also unlock it using facial recognition.

I’ve been enjoying my transition from Apple to Samsung, but I have to say it’s been a big learning curve and a huge leap for me personally to adapt.  If any folks out there have made this switch too, I’d love to hear what you think; share your tips and tricks.

The Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone is available from most cell providers Canada. Its price varies depending on carrier and plan selected; from about $350-1100CAD.

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