How do you know if a smartphone can be right for you? Many people get their first hands-on experience with a new phone while standing in a retail store or browsing online. It’s not a very elegant way to decide whether or not you’re going to make a commitment to something that will be in your hands and part of your most intimate moments likely for the next 2 to 3 years. Ideally, instead, you’d get to hold it and get a real feel for it, try out the camera, interact with the device and its apps, and use it as if it were your own before you decide. I had a rare chance to do exactly that with the Samsung Galaxy S8 before its public launch. But this was no ordinary review opportunity.
Heading to the western edge of Canada
Boarding a nine-seater Piper Chieftain at Vancouver’s South Terminal Airport, I was up and away heading towards Long Beach Airport in Tofino British Columbia, Canada. Despite the small size of the plane and the blustery weather the ride was smooth. That is, until landing.
As we closed in on the airport, strong coastal winds were knocking the plane into a series of shimmies and wiggles and the familiar feel of fishtailing. Suddenly the pilot made a sharp right hand turn angling us almost fully sideways. As some type of alarm sounded on the control panel, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
After the sharp bank, the pilot dived lower and rather quickly brought us down, then kissed the tarmac all the while fighting with the stick. When he came back through the plane to open the door to let us out, I asked him if it was appropriate to applaud. He replied, “that actually wasn’t so bad. I’ve seen worse”. Gulp.
Fortunately, arrival at the coastal Wickaninnish Inn was less eventful. This large hotel clings to the rocky Pacific Ocean shores on the very western edge of British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. It’s a spectacular place for things like surfing and beachcombing in the summer, or watching epic storms smother and pummel the coast in the winter.
So back to technology. Why were we in such a beautiful place; a known natural wonder, where the focus is on Mother Nature, when the order of the day was to talk gadgets, processors and pixels? As far as I was concerned that this was going to be an amazing place to test out one of the new Samsung Galaxy S8’s features; its powerful camera.
Giant screen on Samsung Galaxy S8
After being issued a loaner Galaxy S8 smartphone, I was able to get hands on with it. The phone is a sexy piece of work. It’s ultrathin and very light. In a significant upgrade from its predecessor, the phone has a larger front screen — a 5.5” ‘Infinity Display’ which fills almost the entire space. Gone is the S7’s lower control panel on the bottom end and the logo panel along the top edge. Now the screen covers most of that real estate. (For you iPhone 6 users, all that white space on the front is basically eliminated.)
What’s the difference between Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ ?
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is available in two sizes. The 5.8” S8 model is the slightly smaller version, while the 6.2” S8+ is the larger version.
As Samsung explains it, the “the Infinity Display and virtually bezel-less design form a smooth, continuous surface with no buttons or harsh angles. The result is a truly immersive viewing experience that makes multi-tasking more convenient. The Galaxy S8 compact design enables comfortable one-handed operation and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back for durability and a high-quality finish.”
Samsung Galaxy S8 camera is a game changer
Smartphone cameras have replaced point and shoot and DSLR cameras for many of us. It’s just too convenient to use your smart phone for photography when it’s always in your hands or pocket. Plus, with smartphones, we can upload pictures to social media, and share with family and friends instantly.
The biggest problem with some smartphone cameras has been quality. Samsung has been paying attention and appears to have poured everything they’ve got into the camera on this device.
The Galaxy S8 will take outstanding selfies, thanks to the 8MP F1.7 Smart autofocus front camera. Or do as I did, and enjoy snapping photos, panoramas, and even easy 360° views using the 12MP F1.7 Dual Pixel rear camera, which also features outstanding low-light, zoom and anti-blur technology with enhanced image processing. Samsung also makes it easy to snap away since you can access the camera quickly by double tapping the power button.
One of my favorite 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.
There’s also some fun filters and cartoons/Instagram style animations and stickers you can add right from the camera.
To test out the video capabilities we boarded a whale watching boat. Bouncing around the sea, and even being sprayed with the occasional wave, we were still able to get some amazing shots.
It was here I decided to try a comparison. I use both my Apple iPhone, And the new Galaxy S8 to take photos and videos out on the water. Immediately, I noticed looking at them on the Samsung screen provided a much sharper and more detailed picture.
Skin tones seemed somehow more natural, colors of the trees and sky seemed more vivid, and small details just seems to pop. Plus, with the edge to edge and top to bottom screen it just felt like I was able to capture more.
Iris Scanning and Fingerprint technology on Galaxy S8
One of the features I enjoyed playing with was the iris scanning technology. In this case, you can simply look at your phone to unlock it in a split second.
The phone takes a scan of your retina using the front camera. When you raise the phone the front camera locates and scans your eyes, (irises are the coloured ring in your eye) then uses that technology to unlock your phone. It all takes perhaps a quarter of a second. You can of course use a fingerprint scan or a pass code to get into your device if you prefer. But I have to say, the natural and fluid motions of being able to simply grab your phone and look at the screen and have it unlock only for you is pretty damn futuristically cool.
Water & dust resistant
I got some face time with some of the Samsung team during my stay. I particularly enjoyed the demonstration of the water proof features of the Galaxy S8. Lead trainer Dwayne dropped his personal Galaxy S8 into a large water glass and left it there for about 20 minutes. The phone screen continued to glow and display the time and even ping with alerts all while being immersed. Now that’s some excellent waterproof technology. While that may not exactly be a realistic test of how your phone could end up wet, I have full confidence that if it landed in a toilet, a puddle, or the salty brine of the Pacific Ocean, it would still continue to function.
As the 24 hours on the coast wound down, I was sad to have to return the Galaxy S8 to his keepers. I really enjoyed my experience with the phone. Though I wasn’t able to test out every single feature in great detail (and hope to get more face time for a full review soon), what I did get to try I really liked.
Regular readers will know I’ve been an Apple user for quite some time. But the new technology in this phone, has me seriously thinking about making a switch.
You can get more info on the Samsung Galaxy S8 from Samsung’s website. The phone is available for preorder now, and launches April 21.