Samsung Galaxy S8 Review: Android Excellence In Performance And Design

Galaxy S8 And Galaxy S8+ Software, Bixby, Gear VR

Samsung seems to have been taking note with respect to the software setup of the Galaxy S8 series. This time, out of the gate, things are looking lighter-weight and streamlined with Android 7.0 Nougat driving the UI more-so than a Touchwiz skin.  

Samsung Galaxy S8 Home Screen Samsung Galaxy S8 Settings Drop Menu
Smart Select Samsung Galaxy S8 Dialer
galaxy s8 screen res slider

Samsung keeps things clean and flat in this iteration of their setup, exposing a few more settings in the drop menus and other small useful hooks versus bone-stock Android. You do still get the Edge panel menu with the Galaxy S8, though honestly it's a feature we've never used much, if at all. Now, however, in addition to Apps and People edge, which feel more like an extension of the home screen and messages/social apps, we do now have Smart Select, which lets you quickly capture regions of the screen and annotate them or even create animated GIFs. You can then share them out or pin them to the top of your display. Finally, though you might be tempted to think the "Performance Mode" setting relates to some sort of processor level tweaks (deep breath overclockers), that setting is actually tied to screen resolution and brightness. When the setting is on, the phone will automatically switch to its highest native display resolution of 2960x1440 and also increase brightness 10% from your existing setting. 

Galaxy S8 Lock Screen Security Galaxy S8 Face Recognition
Performance mode might seem a bit gimmicky, but security systems on the Galaxy S8 series are significantly more advanced than any smartphone on the market currently. Here you've got several options to choose from, from standard pattern lock and fingerprint scans, to new more sophisticated iris scanning and facial recognition. Once the facial recognition and iris scan systems are trained to your mug or peepers, it's actually quite impressive how easily the Galaxy S8 series recognizes you and lets you in. Scanning is fast and false negatives are a rarity. We tried registering false positives with other people, but frankly haven't had time to try and trick the device, with say an image of a registered, approved face. We may come back to this section if we find anything interesting, but for now, these new security systems work quite well and are extremely convenient. 

The Birth of Bixby, well sort of... 

We recently told you that Samsung wouldn't have Bixby ready for the debut of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and Samsung reps have recently reached out with further commentary noting: "With its intelligent interface and contextual awareness, Bixby will make your phone more helpful by assisting in completing tasks, telling you what you’re looking at, learning your routine and remembering what you need to do. Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the U.S. on the Galaxy S8 later this spring."

So, though Bixby's voice interface is definitely a big part of the play here, when you consider this AI basically competes with Google Assistant that's already baked into Android Nougat, the underlying recommendation engine is there with some useful features nonetheless.
Samsung Hello Bixby Samsung Bixby Vision Shopping
Hello Bixby And Bixby Vision Shopping

Hello Bixby is the center hub of what the Galaxy S8 and S8+ might pull together for you in terms of contextual aware assistance. Here you'll find reminders you may have stored, calendar items and notifications, social feeds, web content favorites and recommendations, local and national news, sports, weather and the like. This feed gradually gets customized to your personal interactions with the phone and generally becomes even more relevant as time goes on. Bixby Vision is a hook within the AI that is tied to the camera. This feature is admittedly not completely innovative, as it seems reminiscent of technology we've seen before, though perhaps not quite as refined. For now, the shopping results Bixby Vision returns are tied to Amazon, which is probably a critical mass safe bet for Samsung. Of note, you also have to have a Samsung account and be logged in to use the service

The other main feature of Bixby Vision is powered by Pinterest, which when you feed Bixby an image from the camera, performs an image recognition search with results that are similar to identify the topic or item in the picture and provide similar, or matching results. You could definitely see this come in handy for things like wildlife identification, cars, and all sorts of things. Results can sometimes vary wildly, as you might expect, and you'll need the Pinterest app installed with an account to dive deeper into results information, but it's start. 

In short, that's pretty much the status of Bixby right now -- it has promise and there are some interesting hooks built in that Google Assistant does have, but it's just a start. It's fair to call Samsung out for sort of reinventing the wheel, when the King of Search, Google, has already done it with Google Assistant. However, we're all for innovation and competition here and we're just fine with seeing how far Samsung can go with Bixby. 

Getting Our GearVR On

When Samsung launched the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, the company made a full-court press, touching upon current major tech hot-buttons in the market today from AI to VR. To that end, not long ago, Facebook announced a partnership with Samsung for Gear VR, in an effort to take Social VR technologies mobile, which is obviously a natural vehicle for critical mass adoption. With the increasing horsepower of smartphones powered by chips like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, along with their high resolution displays, mobile VR is quickly becoming the real deal. Sure, you're not going to have the kind of fire power a gaming PC will have, but for core mobile applications and usage models, from social to light duty gaming and VR-AR (augmented reality), the market is fertile. 

Gear VR With Controller
Gear VR Goggles Insight
Galaxy S8 Plus In Gear VR

Slapping a Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+ into the new Gear VR is a snap and when you drop one of them in, a voice-assisted setup guide steps you though the software installation process and configuring/calibrating the hand-held controller. It's all really quite painless, though again, you're going to need a Samsung account, and if you want, you can link your Facebook account to interact and join apps with friends that might be on the platform as well. The best field of view is definitely going to be on the larger Samsung Galaxy S8+, as the smaller Galaxy S8 tends to have a slightly more rounded, portal-like view, though it's still very good quality mobile VR. 

Gear VR Friends Gear VR Oculus Store
Gear VR Prologue
Prologue VR
cirque du soleil VR
Cirque du Soleil In VR

A fair frame of competitive reference, obviously, is Google's Daydream View. Here, Samsung's latest Gear VR technology, is now also fueled by Oculus content and the ecosystem is notably more fleshed-out than Google's/YouTube. There's lots of content to explore from interactive demos and VR showcases (like the Prologue above), to games, VR Netflix, and the like. Oculus also has a really nice voice search feature that's available, that lets you search for apps and content as well. We couldn't put our finger on the VR Netflix app in fact, because Oculus preferred to show Oculus Video first. However, it was out there and we found it with voice search, installed it, and ran it with ease.

In short, and in terms of mobile VR experiences, Gear VR with Oculus is currently the technology to beat. It may be a little bit more of a contraption with its larger, heavier headset, but now that Samsung has added the handheld controller and coupled with Oculus, it's really shaping up nicely. Further, with a 2960x1440 display at our disposal, the "screen door effect" was much less pronounced and image quality, once you dial in with the focus wheel, is impressive and downright fun. 

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