Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Review

Introduction:

As promised here is the review but first here is a bit of a background as to why I upgraded from my iPhone 6s Plus 128GB to the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and what options that I investigated before coming to the conclusion that the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus was the most suitable one for me give my circumstances. Keep in mind that this was progressively written over a week so rather than one of “I’ve had the phone for a few hours, ran a synthetic benchmark and I took a few photos” I decided a week’s worth of ‘real world’ usage would be a whole lot more useful for a review.

The iPhone 6s Plus has been a great phone however with the upgrade to iOS 11 I found that the performance had really fallen off the edge – when I mean fallen, I’m talking about noticeable lag that was annoying at first but then became downright anger inducing especially when you needed to do something quickly. All that wouldn’t be so bad if one could downgrade to the previous version then hold out till iOS was further optimised but with Apple ceasing signing iOS 10.3.3 (which means I cannot downgrade from iOS 11 to 10.3.3) the only option is upgrading. The choices: Android or an iOS device from Apple.

Although I have been in the Apple ecosystem for quite some time I have gradually found myself gradually disappointed in the direction of their cloud offerings and Safari in particular. Lets start with the positives: it has great integration with iCloud and fairly light weight in terms of resource usage which is of particular importance on a mobile device that utilises a low power CPU such as my MacBook. For years I avoided Chrome because it was always heavier than Safari but gradually Chrome has been improving but Safari has been stagnating with the the last and only reason I stuck with Safari was because I had an iPhone and, well, I want to sync my bookmarks and passwords (yes, I could use Chrome for iOS but it really is a half baked solution) with my phone. Once I started to consider Android as a viable update option to my iPhone then Chrome became a viable option for me again.

Now for the downside of Safari, I make use of ad blockers for the very reason that I do not want obnoxious CPU hogging ads either being a distraction, dominating the page or bogging down the experience (which is of particular importance when using a web browser on a low powered device such as my MacBook which has the low power Intel CPU). The problem I’ve found is the ones that are available for Safari are either heavy on the CPU or memory (Ad Blocker Plus) or they’re pale imitations of what is available on Chrome (Ghostery) or worse they do a really half assed half baked job resulting in pop-up left, right and centre which leaves you wonder why you installed the extension in the first place. I also make use of an extension called ‘BlockSite’ which, although doesn’t stop pop-ups it does stop any page loading which re-directs to nasty websites which has done a great job for those websites I visit for content but a riddled with pop-ups and other nonsense. The problem with Safari is that the options in terms of extension is really limited and I think it has to do in part with the fact that the API set available to developers is rather limited hence the reason why the Chrome extensions seem to keep progressing forward with new features whilst the Mac version seems to flounder.

Deciding which phone:

Over the last few months I have been looking at various phones but many of them came up short of what I wanted out of a phone. Huawei although great on paper has an appallingly bad record when it comes to providing updates and upgrades in a timely manner (which can be applied to LG given their latest decision to throw a large section of their user base under the bus by cutting off support for the next version of Android). Then had a look at the Xiaomi Mi 6 Ceramic ( Product: link / Review: link ) but it had two problems – the lack of expansion (I want to be able to dump my whole music collection on my phone and not have to think about whether I have the songs I like when I leave the house) along with a lack of support for LTE band 28 (700MHz APT) which is becoming more common in the built up areas of New Zealand (Spark has recently started to build out support which has greatly improved 4G coverage where I have gone from one ‘line’/’dot’ to almost full strength equal to that of 3G coverage). I also had a look at Sony but given how their division is under performing one is unsure how long they’re going to remain or whether they’ll start cutting back on support (updates and upgrades) to save money. Then there is HTC which has been recently acquired by Google but unfortunately both the Pixel and Pixel 2 (announced after I purchased my phone) aren’t coming to New Zealand any time soon with the parallel imported by a limited number of stores thus the price has remained high because there is little to no competition. There was Nokia but that came after I bought the phone.

I’m left deciding to go with Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus or giving the iPhone 8 Plus ago (buying it directly from Apple through their store given the carriers are only selling it to people on contract) so I went along to the Spark store to see what they have on offer and compare. I went to have a look at the iPhone 8 and to be honest my reaction was ‘meh’. I was expecting ‘wow’ but what I got was an evolutionary change and even the responsiveness when compared to my old iPhone 6s Plus was marginally better. I then went and had a look at the Samsung device – I was blown away at how responsive it was when compared to previous models which were plagued with Touchwiz lag up the wazoo. So in the end I decided that when comparing them side by side for the types of things I use my phone for along with the fact that the Samsung is microsd upgradeable I decided to go with the Samsung:

And I got that along with a flip case that includes the ability to also hold debit and credit cards in since (I’ve been using flip phone cases for years since it combines my wallet with the phone into something that is easy to carry when walking out the door whilst I grab my Up and Go and keys for my scooter.

Migrating to Google’s services:

Part of the embracing of Chrome also means making use of Google’s cloud services and I tend to be someone who either ‘goes all in’ or doesn’t go in at all. With the migration away from iCloud to the Google ecosystem through the use of their G Suite of applications along with setting up a domain name that is separate from my main one (which is used for this blog). The G Suite is relatively low cost of around US$5 per month and I get 30GB of storage and although I am tempted to move to the business tier of $10 per month I have to ask myself whether I would actually use 1TB because I don’t see myself uploading all 700GB of my hard disk to the cloud.

Moving my contacts across from iCloud to Google is relatively easy – setup both in the ‘Internet Accounts’ section of ‘System Preferences’, select all the contacts then drag and drop them from iCloud to Google then voila a few seconds later Google contacts is populated with the contacts from iCloud. My emails I was able to do the same thing within iCloud and move them to my Gmail account through dragging and dropping within the Mail application that is included with macOS.

Use of the phone:

The first thing that is noticeable (with the case on) is although it has a fairly large screen the removal of the bezels has allowed one to get all the benefits of having a large screen but without the bulk commonly associated with it. It is very much like how Dell has been able to deliver a larger screen within a traditional 13.3″ form factor thus giving you all the portability benefits of a smaller form factor but without sacrificing screen real estate. In terms of the resolution, I’m neither here nor there but I do find it slightly better than my iPhone 6s Plus but keeping in mind my old phone was 2 years old plus I wear glasses so it would be unfair to compare 2 year old technology against the latest and greatest Super AMOLED display (which Samsung refer to the screen as) but it is a wonderful display to look at whether it is reading text, watching videos etc. Now, I personally I don’t ramp it all the way to maximum resolution because I value battery life over improvements to resolution that I’ll never notice so I keep it at the standard resolution which is a good balance between resolution vs battery life.

Touchwiz and Android tend to get a lot of flack when it comes to responsiveness but in my experience at least with my phone (SM-G955F which is the Exynos version where as in the US it comes with the Qualcomm CPU and modem) the experience is great, applications load quickly, they’re responsive, no instability or locking up of my phone which makes me wonder whether some of the posts on Reddit relate to the Qualcomm build of the software not as ruggedly tested as the Exynos version which is shipped globally, tested by thousands of end users and given that Samsung engineers are more familiar with their own hardware resulting in a more reliable experience over all. For me my primarily concern as so far as updates are, as long as I’m receiving monthly security and bugfix updates thus any upgrades, such as the Oreo upgrade, are icing on the cake rather than something necessarily I must have.

Mobile phone signal is slightly better than my iPhone 6s Plus – maybe an evolution in the modem itself or possible a better antenna array which allows for better reception but I found that it is more consistent in signal strength. Data speeds are more reliable which probably due in part to carrier aggregation. Another aspect of Android I enjoy is being able to update applications over wifi without the limitations that iOS imposes is also something that I appreciate.

That in mind, it isn’t all sunshine and lollipops, Samsung still insists on duplicating standard Android components for the sake of ‘branding’. The only way to avoid the duplication and branding would be to purchase a Pixel 2 device but unfortunately they’re unavailable in New Zealand (although I am open to upgrading in the future) so the next best thing is to uninstall what you don’t need and ignore the rest. For me I’m all with Google anyway – a custom domain, G Suite for my needs and thus whether it is Keep, Gmail or my backup, Google is at the centre of my life.

There also seems to be an issue with either macOS 10.13.0 and Samsung’s Bluetooth stack – I haven’t isolated as to whether it is the Bluetooth stack on macOS or Samsung’s implementation but the strange thing is that it never occurred back when I had a Nexus 6P which had a vanilla installation of Android which makes me wonder it is something to do with Samsung more than something to do with macOS. Maybe once the Pixel 2 comes to New Zealand it’ll be possible to test the theory and see whether it holds some weight.

Conclusion:

I was sceptical at first as to whether Samsung had turned over a new leaf given past experiences but the embracing of the Samsung S8 Plus over the last week has opened my eyes. Sure, there is the duplication but at the same time there is actually a lot less crapware than my experience back in the days of the S8 – no pre-installed software from third parties other than the usual Google and Samsung stuff. In an ideal world Google would have pulled finger and delivered the Pixel 2 to the New Zealand market rather than the half assed piece meal deployment (yes, I have asked Google’s twitter handle and all I was given was the usual boiler plate reply) but unfortunately we don’t live in that ideal world so we have to deal with the hand that we’re given in life (on a plus side I do have access to free/affordable public healthcare!).

That being said, even though I am gushing praise on the phone I am however selling it because with all the positives that come with it I find the Samsung TouchWiz not to my liking. Although Samsung’s major strength is its laundry list of features – from the super high resolution screen through to its wireless charging, the bezel-less design but at the same time that comes at a price – for someone like me who wants simplicity and a ‘as close to vanilla Android experience possible’ the overwhelming nature of these features and the changes that TouchWiz makes (which I’m sure there are many out there who appreciate) experience more complex than I really want.

Bottom line to all this: If you want a feature rich jam packed phone with every bell and whistle on the market then the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is for you but if you’re like me who want fast updates from Nokia as well as pretty much every application being upgradeable through the Play Store then something like a Nokia 8 would be better suited for what you want to accomplish. I have since sold the phone via Geekzone as I have  replaced it with a Nokia 8. One thing to remember, reviews are entirely subjective – what doesn’t work for me might work for you, what I might find an annoyance you might find as a must have feature.

An observation is not the same as a moral judgement

Once again I wade into the sewer that is Reddit politics where someone posts a meme where, in a nutshell, talks about how no one bats an eyelid when it comes to increased spending on the military and yet everyone loses their mind when there is the mere suggestion of a single payer system or the government should spend more on healthcare. Part of the usual song and dance is the nonsensical argument that ‘the United States subsidies its allies which allows them spend less on their defence and more on their social programmes’ to which I of course replied with:

‘Lets not try to masquerade American defence spending as being altruistic when in reality it is to prop up the foreign policy of the US which furthers America’s economic and geopolitical interests.’

Keep in mind that the above quotation isn’t a moral judgement but simply pointing out a fact. End of the day, if you read that and come to the conclusion that it is a moral judgement then the responsibility falls on your shoulders, not mine. Foreign policy has always been about countries pursuing their countries interests and when I do look foreign policy I divorce morality and simply apply a utilitarian realpolitik logic as to whether it is actually in the countries self interest (such as my criticisms of the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia being counter productive given that Saudi Arabia undermines the sovereignty and security of the United States through the supporting of non-state actors around the world through the use of charities spreading Wahhabism/Salafism) and what a country’s self interest is behind the nationalistic jingoisms and rhetoric which mask what the true intentions actually are.

America pursues a given foreign policy because it has interests that it wishes to protect and I wish that Americans would inform themselves instead of using the ‘we subsidise our allies’ meme in lieu of critically analysing and accepting that what the reality actually is.

Feeling good two days in…

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus has really grown on me even with the launch of the Pixel 2 and arrival of Nokia Android phones to New Zealand (exclusively through Spark). The Pixel 2 is a rebranded HTC U11 (HTC is now owned by Google) with the 3.5mm headjack removed which has caused some controversy on the Android subreddit. The return of Nokia to New Zealand will be interesting given that Nokia still has a lot of good will associated with the brand not to mention the fact that the Nokia Android experience is as close to vanilla as possible not to mention security updates delivered on time and Android upgrades delivered within a reasonable space of time.

Regarding Pixel 2, it is great that Google has bought out HTC and shown a seriousness regarding hardware that their Motorola purchase that they never did. Although I kind of wished I held off for the Pixel 2 to arrive in New Zealand, I have a feeling that with Nokia being delivered via Spark I doubt 2 Degrees or Vodafone are willing to team up with Google and deliver the Pixel 2 to New Zealand.

The other part of moving to Android also included moving my email to the G-Suite of applications but this time I created a new domain (which avoids having a long domain name) and also keeps it separate from websites domain name. I’ve since set it up and the email experience has been great. As noted in my previous post, I generally speaking prefer to use email clients such as the Mail application that comes with macOS but I’ve been finding myself drawn to using the web based interface instead as it isn’t plagued with the incompatibilities between Google’s mail system and the IMAP implementation that Apple tries to use (god knows why they just don’t embrace the documented REST based API that Google provides to developers which the GMail application itself makes use of).

Regarding the phone itself – I’ll be writing up a review probably this Monday or Tuesday  along with maybe the Google Wifi setup. All I can say is that Samsung has really lifted their game since the last time I used them which was way back in the old S3 days. The biggest thing I love is the fact that they killed off that god awful Kies and although it does require manual drag and drop of music it doesn’t suffer from the lag driven bugginess that Kies had – play music with iTunes but sync music using Samsung Switch which is very much like how the Windows Phone Connector for Mac used to work. I’ll leave those interesting details for the review in 4-5 days time.

Regarding the diet, with the help that my doctor has given me I have been able to curb my appetite where although I look at something and think it would be tasty, I don’t have the ravenous hunger which normally comes by the end of the day after otherwise having a great day of sticking to my diet – the ravenous hunger takes over and all I want to do is eat something because I’m so damn hungry but if I ignore the hunger then I can’t get to sleep etc. but on a good side once the initial weight loss kicks in then hopefully in three months there will be sufficient results that’ll allow me to continue down the path now that some momentum has started. I’m keeping a diary with a starting weight and I’ll get weighed each month to keep tracking of progress and with the weather improving I’m hoping to do some walking after work as a good wind down to the day.

Clearing out the old, starting afresh

I’m clearing out the old at home and starting with a fresh slate; going to sort out all the cupboards, getting a plastic storage containers to put the extra clothes I have which don’t fit in my tall boy. Everything is going great with my Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus and the Chromecast is working wonderfully, being able to cast what ever video I like from my desktop computer to my television screen. The icing on the cake being that the wifi network is super reliable with the mesh arrangement where I’m averaging 800Mbps connection in each of the rooms.

Starting a seasonal job over the christmas break which will be great and then I’ll be back doing my normal job at the end of February next year which will hopefully translate into earning more than $25,000 so I’ll be able to claim back on the independent earner tax credit (around $500 or so).

I got some help with the dieting from my local doctor – after trying to do it myself I realised that it was a process of 2 steps forward and 5 steps back so with some help I’ll get back on track again. They’ve prescribed me with an appetite suppressant and so far it is working well – my appetite has flat lined and no longer have the ravenous cravings at the end of a ‘good day’ of sticking to a diet. My doctor noted that it isn’t a permanent long term solution can take forever which I understand – it is one of those situations that once you get some momentum behind oneself that it becomes a virtuous cycle of positive outcomes re-enforce further positive outcomes with also feed into a positive state of mind (rinse and repeat).

Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus + Google Wifi

Re-organising things at home and upgrading my phone after having the iPhone 6s for 2 years and it was getting a little long in the tooth especially when it came to the latest version of iOS 11 being less than its snappier self. I’ll write up a review on how everything went along with using Google’s services – I’ve seperated my domain name for my WordPress based blog from the email address I’ll be using everyday email although I’ll just use a standard GMail account when it comes to having a email address when registering for forums etc.

Busy week, few posts

Work and life has been pretty hectic but what I am working on is a mini-review of iOS 11, macOS 10.13 and tvOS 11. I’m also at the 2 year mark for my phone so I am looking around at replacements especially in light of my case going caput last night and how iOS 11 seems to be ‘weighing down’ my phone even with the recent 10.0.1 update that came through yesterday.

I’m having a look at a replacement and right now I’m open to the idea of Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus – for me I don’t really care too much about having the latest and greatest version of Android but I do care about getting the monthly updates which Samsung seem to be doing a pretty good job at delivering (New Zealand receives them close to around the same time that most of the European countries receive it which is closed to the beginning of the month. It is tempting because there is no 128GB version of the iPhone 8 – 64GB isn’t enough, 256GBn is too much and unfortunately the lack of a sdcard slot makes the 64GB not viable for me where as the 64GB built in with the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus isn’t so bad when you consider that you can always throw in an sdcard at a later date.

If there is a move to Android then part of that will include evaluating who I get my online services through such as email, calendaring, notes and contacts sync. I’ll probably setup a new domain that is a lot shorter as to avoid having a really not email address – a domain name that is unique and yet not too weird.

Providing a platform for unpopular views adds credibility or brings about greater scrutiny

One of the criticisms that is levelled against Dave Rubin from the Rubin Report (along with other shows such as ‘Real Time with Bill Maher”) is how such programmes provides a platform for ‘unpalatable views’ along with the implied validation that the given point of view is within the realm of ‘acceptable discourse’ (aka the ‘Overton window’ ( link ) ). I’m one of two minds regarding this because I tend to lean heavily towards wanting the least amount of regulation on speech as possible – apart from the usual exemptions such as ‘you can’t yell fire in a theatre’ and ‘you cannot incite violence’, I believe that dialogue should be open and free but that being said there are two points of view that keep in my mind:

1) Sunlight is the best disinfectant for bad ideas or to paraphrase what Fran Lebowitz said “allow idiots to speak because that is how we find out whether they’re idiots”. So when Bill Maher or Dave Rubin invite on eccentric characters such as Alex Jones or Milo Yiannopoulos are they really saying, “these people are within the acceptable realms of discourse” (assuming there is some sort of objective arbiter of what constitutes ‘acceptable realm of discourse’ it a concept that is made up on the fly based on the political expediency of the host or some random opinionator at the Fox News, New York Times etc) or are they actually saying, “here is someone who is high profile, lets bring them on and put their views under scrutiny”.

Part of providing that platform to critique also undermines the well crafted technique that many on the extreme ends of the spectrum try to use to validate their ideas by claiming that the “powers that be do not want to give us a platform because we have the truth so they try to repress it to stop people from finding out! If we were wrong then why wouldn’t they allow us to speak and thus be proven wrong in the marketplace of ideas”. Once you allow them to come on television, make a fool of themselves and then they scurry off then all but the most hardcore crazies remain with the group in much the same way that David Starkey noted that the best way to skewer anti-Semites such as David Irving is to show them up for the charlatans that they are.

2) The platform is implied validation of the view or at least implying that their views are within the ‘acceptable realm’ of discourse thus claiming that there is some sort of legitimacy of what is being said by being given a platform. The best parallel that one can come up with his the ‘teach the controversy’ of ‘evolution vs. intelligent design/creationism’ where people have noted that it is akin to having ‘chemistry vs. alchemy’ if one were to be as ridiculous as coming with a false equivalency when one provides a platform to what is seemingly an irrational position or to paraphrase PJ O’Rouke would say, “outside the acceptable boundaries of being wrong’

Just something that has been rattling in my head over the last few weeks.