Samsung’s Galaxy S8 sure feels like one big compromise

Samsung this week launched a long-awaited, much leaked, hugely important phone: The Galaxy S8 and its larger sibling, the Galaxy S8+. 

And though there’s a lot to like about the phone, its spec sheet is a list of could-have-beens and odd design decisions. Even worse, the recently launched LG G6 suddenly looks like a far more sensible device; it’s as if Samsung is chasing LG’s tail, and not the other way around. 

First, there’s that oddly-placed fingerprint scanner. I haven’t had hands-on time with the S8 yet, but it’s quite obvious that this is far from a perfect solution as it divorces the scanner from the home button. Perhaps Samsung is preparing us for the next-gen Galaxy phone, which might have the fingerprint scanner under the front glass (Huawei appears to be doing something similar with its P10). That’ll be great when (and if) that future arrives, but right now, I sincerely doubt that many users will be happy with Samsung’s positioning of the fingerprint sensor.  

My finger hurts just from looking at this photo.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

For comparison, LG’s G6 has a centrally positioned rear fingerprint scanner which doubles as the power button, and it works great.

Then there’s the S8’s rear camera, which, spec-for-spec, appears to be exactly the same as the Galaxy S7’s camera. True, that was one of the best smartphone cameras when it launched, and I’m sure Samsung tweaked and improved it a little, but the S8’s top competitors mostly have dual cameras with nifty tricks like very wide shots, zoom or bokeh

Samsung did improve the selfie camera to an 8-megapixel one with autofocus, so there’s at least been some improvement in the photo department. But all in all, the S8’s 12-megapixel rear shooter won’t be a big selling point. 

What definitely will be a big draw for customers is the Galaxy S8 and the S8+’s huge screen, that covers 83 percent of the phone’s front side. Even there, though, there’s been a somewhat odd design decision: The screen has a non-standard aspect ratio of 18.5:9. 

Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal spoke to Samsung and the company explained that the 18.5:9 ratio makes more sense than the 18:9 ratio. The future, Samsung believes, is somewhere right in the middle of the 16:9 and 21:9 aspect ratio, and 18.5:9 might make more sense, math-wise, than the LG G6’s 18:9. I guess.

But besides being much more elegant — LG G6 uses the two-by-one aspect ratio to split a lot of its apps down the middle — the 18:9 aspect ratio is actually a proposed film format called Univisium. This format, while not widely adopted, has seen some use — for example, Jurassic World was filmed in this format. 

The home button on the S8 has haptic feedback, but it still feels like a last-minute replacement of the rumored under-the-glass fingerprint sensor.

The home button on the S8 has haptic feedback, but it still feels like a last-minute replacement of the rumored under-the-glass fingerprint sensor.

Image: Lili Sams/Mashable

Samsung’s decision to go with the 18.5:9 aspect ratio probably has to do with the fact that the S8 and the S8+ have a curved screen, so the visible portion of the screen will likely be very close to what Univisium proposes. And that’s all fine and dandy — most users won’t care about the odd aspect ratio. But LG’s solution, again, appears to be more elegant than Samsung’s. 

There are other details in the S8 and S8+’s spec sheet that don’t exactly impress. The phone only has a mono speaker (the iPhone 7, for example, has a stereo speaker). The spec sheet says the S8’s battery is just 3,000mAh, which is the same capacity as the S7’s battery (though Samsung exec says the new phone’s is actually slightly less, but with a longer overall life).

The S8+ has a 3,500mAh battery, which is in fact a slight downgrade from the S7 edge’s 3,600mAh battery. And while it’s understandable that Samsung didn’t want to take any chances with the battery — given its Note7 battery woes — other manufacturers have been offering batteries with bigger capacities in similarly sized phones without issues. 

Sure, none of these little qualms are dealbreakers, but add them up, and you get a phone that has the same rear camera, the same battery, the same mono speaker as the last generation — and one clunky design decision. 

It feels like a stepping stone towards the next-gen Samsung flagship instead of a revolutionary new device we all expected. 

On the flip side, the S8 does have a huge, beautiful display, the new Bixby assistant, and it’s the first phone to feature the latest Snapdragon 835 processor. But put it all together, and it feels like a stepping stone towards the next-gen Samsung flagship instead of a revolutionary new device we all expected. 

In a different moment, this might have been perfectly fine. But after the Note7 debacle, expectations from Samsung were high, and I’m not quite sure that the S8 delivered. 

To be fair, a phone is much more than its spec sheet. It’s things like battery life, bugs (or absence thereof) and how cool it looks when you place it on a coffee table, that make or break a flagship phone such as the S8. We’ll have a much better idea of how Samsung compared to other top phones after we spend some more time with it. For now, though, it doesn’t seem Apple has to worry about Samsung stealing its iPhone 8 thunder. 

WATCH: Samsung’s battery factory fire.

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