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.

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