The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ will come to the UK on 28 April, costing £689 and £779 respectively.
They’re two of the most advanced smartphones ever created, and sit right at the top of the tree in terms of design and features.
However, they’re not perfect. Despite being incredibly impressive, the phones have a handful of shortcomings that potential buyers need to consider before spending big.
We highlighted potential issues with the S8’s fingerprint scanner ahead of the handset’s official unveiling, and we’re afraid to report that it’s actually worse than we initially feared.
In my first four days with the phone, I either failed to find the scanner with my fingertip or – on the few occasions that I did successfully feel it out – failed to unlock the handset because I didn’t cover the entire sensor, so many times that I gave up trying altogether.
The scanner suffers from a multitude of issues. Not only is it small and shallow, but it’s also positioned awkwardly high up on the phone’s rear panel, just a couple of millimetres away from the camera sensor.
What this means is that when you try to find it with your finger, your punishment when you miss is twofold. Not only do you suffer the frustration of failing to unlock your phone, you also smudge your camera lens.
It’s undoubtedly the S8’s most irritating issue, not least because it seems so basic, careless and avoidable.
If the S8’s fingerprint scanner wasn’t so dreadful, there wouldn’t be anywhere near as much riding on the phone’s other biometric technologies. Unfortunately, the fingerprint scanner is so dreadful, and the alternative options aren’t quite up to scratch either.
The iris scanner is fast and convenient when it works, but it fails on a bewilderingly regular basis. Despite Samsung’s warnings, glasses and contact lenses haven’t caused the system any problems, which has been pleasantly surprising.
However, the scanner really struggles to recognise my irises in bright sunlight and when I’m walking – not a winning combination if you plan to leave the house when it’s sunny. My mischievous little sister also tried to unlock my S8 by holding it in front of my face as I slept and nudging me awake. It only failed because she was holding the phone slightly too close to my face at the time.
The phone’s facial recognition system, meanwhile, has already been tricked by a photograph.
The result of all of this? More often than not, I’m using a PIN code to unlock the phone. It’s a method that’s felt outdated for quite some time.
For many people, the most striking things about Samsung’s new flagship are its ‘bezel-less’ design, ‘Infinity’ display and unusually large screen-to-body ratio. Samsung found a way to push itself way ahead of the competition in terms of aesthetics, but I think it made the wrong call by making the S8 and S8+’s screens as big as possible, rather than fitting a compact body around a manageable display.
The S8+ demonstrates this best. Its 6.2-inch screen is unnecessarily large. While it’s terrific for watching TV shows and movies on, with one-handed use I can’t get anywhere near the top-left corner of the screen with my thumb (I’m right-handed). It’s a struggle even when I adjust my grip.
The S8 is a far better proposition. It’s smaller than the 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus despite having a significantly larger 5.8-inch screen. It should have been the larger of the two phones.
Samsung had a choice, and I feel it made the wrong decision. Making both the S8+ and S8 smaller would have resulted in a pair of handsets that were just as visually appealing, but significantly more compact and practical. I’d rather have a big screen on a medium-sized phone than a huge screen on a big phone.
The S8 uses a single, downwards-firing speaker, and it’s weak. The exact same criticism was levelled at the S7 and S7 Edge last year, and it’s a real shame that Samsung hasn’t addressed it.
We’d recommend hooking the S8 up to a speaker or a set of headphones, whether you want to listen to music or watch a film or TV show. The phone can’t quite cut it alone.
The last thing Samsung needed after making such a long line of grand claims about its smart assistant was for it to not work properly at launch. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happened with Bixby.
Bixby Voice, which works in a similar manner to Apple’s Siri, allowing users to control their handset with spoken commands, has been delayed.
On paper, Bixby Vision is really useful, but while the search function has worked quite well for me, the shopping function has, all too often, resulted in ‘No matching products found’. Bixby Home and Reminder are yet to add anything meaningful to my user experience.
Samsung needs to seriously improve Bixby if it isn’t to go the same way as S Voice. Anyone would be mad to choose the unfinished product over Google Assistant, which the S8 also offers.