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.

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.

Sickness and progress on Apple software

I’ve been having a shocker of a winter this year where I have gotten sick twice – not just ‘sniffle, sniffle, cough, cough’ but both times really crippling sickness where I have been not only having a runny nose, sore throat, coughing up phlegm but the inability to focus with a clear mind, maintain my balance when on my scooter. Normally I would soldier on and get on with life but this past winter has really taken the stuffing out of me – maybe I’m just getting older but then again the weather has been colder than past winters where tonight the temperature has gotten down to 8°C overnight where as at this stage I was hoping that things would have started to warm up already.

Beta 8 of 10.13, iOS 11, tvOS 11, watchOS 4.0 has been released although it appears that there is still a lot of work that is still on going in hammering out the last major bugs but that being said however the release date could be anywhere from 20 September through to mid to late October depending on the progress. APFS seems to be a bit of a challenge to get right when it comes to the conversion process but that being said I tend to be a bit paranoid/old school where I tend to favour wiping the slate clean and starting with a freshly formatted storage device. There are two known issues that have stood out for quite some time:

  • HDD-only Macs cannot be converted to APFS.
  • Some iMacs with 3TB Fusion drives and BootCamp may be unsupported for use with APFS.

Such limitations have been noted over several beta releases which make me wonder whether known issues that’ll be resolved in a future release or a known issue that won’t be resolved because of technological limitations or if it is enabled that there is significant performance or reliability issues.

macOS, iOS and tvOS updates

It’s a bit of old news but Apple released updates to all their operating systems but what I thought was interesting, and not mentioned in the Apple media ecosystem, was the firmware update that was also included with the macOS update which updated both my iMac and MacBook Boot ROM which, from what I understand, is preparation for the move to APFS that will be arriving in macOS 10.13. Another interesting improvement came with iOS 10.3.3 which adds runtime normalisation to the system which should address some of the issues of compatibility that some have outlined when transitioning from iOS with HFS+ to iOS with APFS (on iOS 11 the file system will be updated to provide normalisation as well (aka when you search for forté and forte the normalisation process will treat the e and é so that if you searched the system for forte it would also bring back forté as well).

On a good side I’m back to doing a 40 hour week so even through I do lose some assistance from WINZ in the process the upside is that I still come our better off at the other end even if the improvement is rather marginal. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this years election because at this rate I’m probably going to vote National given their tax plan to push the brackets up at the bottom end will help me considerably where as Labour has offered me nothing more than a kick in the face (thanks Andrew Little!) due to the fact that I’m single and not pumping out kids left, right and centre (sorry about sounding bitter but it does piss me off).  

So back to the original point..ah yes, working longer hours will mean more money and hopefully they’ll be able to find my jobs to do elsewhere in the company over the Christmas break since my contract is only seasonal (following the university schedule) but that being said I’m still looking for more permanent full time work. The big problem in New Zealand is the casualisation of the labour force which has resulted in employers parading part time jobs as if they were full having experienced it first hand. What I mean by that is the opportunity is given to me, I go to pick up the contract, read it, and then I find out that the contract only guarantees 8 hours per week but the employer promises that he can give me a lot more in reality – instability and a gentleman handshake (for whatever that is worth these days). So there is unstable employment then to make the situation more ‘fun’ there is a lack of a safety net if you take it upon yourself to get a job but find that for a period of time that you’re getting insufficient hours (and in turn money) to pay for bills but because you’re not in crisis mode then WINZ is unable to help you – your credit record and tenancy reputation basically have to be flushed down the toilet before any sort of assistance is provided.

We’re critical of Windows because we care, not because we’re haters

I’ll start off with good news (for those who want to see old crap removed from Windows), Microsoft has released a list of deprecated/removed features from Windows 10 Autumn Update ( link ) which has some interesting removals such a the TCP Offloading Engine which is surprising given that it was only just recently that it was ‘all the rage’ for operating system vendors to embrace such as Solaris with its ‘Project Fire Engine’ (it was merged around 7 years ago into the Solaris tree). There are also moves to harmonise the backend technologies which they provide to consumers and enterprise customer such as in regards to Synchronisation of Settings, just as they standardised on the Exchange Protocol as they moved all their consumer facing services over to a Exchange backend. It appears that Windows 10 is taking a gradual step forward with the move to rolling release cycle so lets hope that as time progresses and more legacy gunk is removed from the system that maintenance and improvements are easier for Microsoft to do. 

It may sound counter intuitive to say “we’re critical of Windows because we care, not because we’re haters” but we truly do care be it for the most of selfish reasons, a Windows that has its flaws addressed is a better operating system that forces Apple to improve their own operating system – healthy competition spurs on innovation and making a better product. There is a great article by Christian Cantrell (Senior Experience Development Manager at Adobe) ( link ) that points out the issues that Windows 10 has from a Mac users perspective and it wasn’t surprising that on the Windows 10 subreddit you had legions of ‘butt hurt’ fanboys throwing a temper tantrum because someone dared to write a coherent and constructive critique of Windows 10 instead of doing the usual duck, dodge and dive regarding Windows 10’s short comings by focusing on some obscure feature that ver few people actually care about.

The problems that are outlined in the article are legitimate the problem is that in reality they’re symptoms of a larger problem and that is the lack of any direction by Microsoft to clearly move the platform forward by laying out a firm time line of technologies being deprecated, support for being compiled against it removed, and then eventually the removal of support entirely. The lack of any sort of time line means that Microsoft is forever bending itself into a pretzel as it tries to move forward whilst maintaining backwards compatibility – something that isn’t always doable without risking that something will be broken in the process. Lets assume you make changes to GDI to improve scalability on high DPI screens then it is almost a certainty that some applications somewhere is going to break because the developer has made assumptions on how GDI is supposed to behave resulting in their application breaking when a change is made.

The other problem with a lack of a definitive timeline means there isn’t the ability to go, “ok, we can now break compatibility at X point because we’ll know that it has been removed so lets get things sorted”, it also means that third parties are never forced to update their code. When you’re a programmer and you’re told something id deprecated but given no actual time line then what do you do? Do you spend money on migrating to a new framework only to find that the old framework remains indefinitely thus you’ve wasted resources on something that wasn’t needed or do you focus on other things only to be given a rude surprise because out of the blue Microsoft decides that now is the time to remove that piece of functionality.

On a good side Apple has seeded the forth beta to developers of macOS 10.13, iOS 11, tvOS 11, and watchOS 4.0 – with Apple finally replacing HFS+ with something modern (APFS) it appears that one of the major long standing complaints has been addressed. It’ll be interesting to see the impact of APFS has on the operating system over all but I guess that’ll have to wait till it is released towards the end of this year.

The long decline of Windows and death of Windows on the smartphone

There is a narrative that the downfall of Window started with the missteps that lead to Windows Vista being delivered late but the origins of the problem existed well before Windows Vista – it actually goes back to Windows NT 4 and the decision in Windows NT 4 to dump large amounts of code from user space into the kernel for the sake of speed (context switching on the x86 platform is expensive) resulting in a downward slide from Window NT 4 onwards of quick and dirty solutions rather than well thought out long term permanent solutions. As noted by Jim Allchin, during the heady days of 90s, features were thrown at Windows with no consideration as to their impact on the wider system as so far as security, long term manageability, good coding practices to ensure that a ‘spaghetti code’ mess wouldn’t result from the changes being made etc.

Then rolled along Windows 2000 which was originally geared as the grand unifier of the 9x and NT lines into a single line that would span both the consumer and enterprise space but as the delivery was being pushed back sacrifices had to be made – the priority of the enterprise feature over adding the shims required for backwards compatibility meant that it was pushed off to Windows XP which was released in October 2001 so the original Windows 2000 was behind schedule which then necessitated Windows XP which meant the successor to Windows XP (which should have been the successor to Windows 2000) is then delivered late and half baked resulting in the successor spending it’s time to clean up the loose ends of the previous release thus dropping the development of Windows further behind.

What was the net result of this continuous cycle of dropping balls? The net result was that with each release Windows fell behind, what should been released in the form of Windows 2000 should have been the great unifier, when Windows Vista was released it took another 3 years to deliver Windows 7 to clean up the mess – what was released as Windows Vista should have occurred 3 years after Windows 2000 was released so then, what was Windows Vista, was ultimately released would be Windows 10 meaning that by the time 2007 rolled around with the iPhone that Microsoft would have had Windows 10 Mobile as a competitor to iPhone straight off the bat and the UWP framework that would have acted as the grand unifier across its platforms. In total around 8 1/2 years was lost fixing up monumental cockups resulting in more damage done to the Windows platform than any DOJ anti-monopoly settlement could do in a prosecutors wildest dreams.

We’ve seen recently in the latest Windows 10 build that the phone related components have been removed resulting in a branch being maintained based on an old code base providing updates to existing Windows 10 Mobile customers but no new build based on the current line that 16241 is based off of. One has to ask whether Microsoft has more or less thrown in the towel and decided that they’re better off on playing to their strengths and provide middleware for Android and iOS along with pitching their services to businesses including their MDM cloud based capabilities rather than trying to spend hundreds of millions on a failed attempt to win what would be minuscule marketshare with minimal benefit but at a great cost in terms of time, resources and money. One aspect I like about Nadella is the fact that he isn’t sentimental – it’s all about the hard facts of life and whether it makes sense fighting battles that were lost long ago or whether the money and resources are better spent on seeking out new opportunities and ensuring that Microsoft is at the forefront, being the ones setting the agenda and shaping that future instead of following merrily along as a ‘me too’ player in the industry.

A damn good whinge and moan about life

I’ve been watching a few documentary ( link ) and it makes me wonder about my current situation with the balance between wanting material gains vs. living the ‘good life’ by being satisfied with a few essential items and being satisfied with where I am. Unfortunately as a civilisation we’re now stuck in a cycle that predicated on the idea of ever expanding demand to keep the economy growing to keep people employed so even if people on mass wanted to walk away from the system the disruption would be so great that it would end up collapsing – what then would it be replaced with?

I’ve been having a look Skinny’s fixed wireless broadband which is $52 per month for 100GB which will save me $28 per month but as we speak they don’t have the 700MHz LTE sorted out in my area but I’ve been advised that it’ll hopefully be done by the end of this month. Although the amount saved isn’t a lot it is $28 that I’d sooner spend on something more productive.

Watched yet another video of someone whining that an Apple Mac laptop is actually a laptop rather than a mobile workstation – shock fucking horror, a laptop that is designed for portability doesn’t have the level of expansion that a desktop or workstation has! In other news, water is wet and grass is green. I sometimes wonder whether these videos are actually by actual people because the level of bitching and whining sound more akin to a salty competitor grasping at straws or a jealous PC user who is hell bent on trying to justify their own purchase by appealing to an audience to further bolster their position.

In typical Reddit fashion, someone posts a meme ( link ):

Dvq3REu

Then followed by the resident idiot who posts in response to the person who posted the meme that “so you’re saying that only rich people can have children? You’re conducting eugenics against poor people!”. When people jump to such idiotic conclusions you know that the education system is failing to teach people how to think rationally and logically, when the emotions are in the drivers seat rather than their rational faculties.