Samsung's new S series flagships have captured the heart and attention of many smartphone enthusiasts. But, before you get too enthusiastic, it has some serious weaknesses. After trying the new Galaxy S8 and S8+ for myself, here are the reasons why I believe you should think twice before buying either device.
Glass backs are easily cracked fingerprint magnets
There's no denying that the Galaxy S8 is a beautiful looking device with superior build quality. The curved design of the S8 is striking and modern, and the choice to put glass on both sides certainly adds to the elegant effect. However, there are three problems with this, in my opinion. First and foremost, glass is fragile, even Gorilla Glass 5.
In the drop test below, you'll see how the S8+ holds up against the iPhone 7 Plus. Early in the drop test, at just two minutes into the video, the glass on the back of the S8+ cracks, while the iPhone 7 Plus' back looks almost completely unscathed. While the phone is still functional, you can say good bye to Samsung's perfect aesthetic.
If you think you can just repair the phone easily when it cracks and your problems will be solved, you're dead wrong. Repair website iFixit just published the results of their teardown, and the S8 and S8+ got a very poor repairability score. They found that both glass panels are held in place by strong adhesive, making it difficult to replace internal parts (like the non-removable battery) and the glass (especially on the front, which could destroy the display).
There are a couple of other reasons why a glass-backed S8 may not have been the best choice. The S8 gets covered in fingerprints the moment you take it out of the box. This draws attention away from the beautiful design, especially on the back of the black model. I don't know about you, but I don't want my phone looking constantly smudged and dirty.
And there's one last reason I don't think the glass back was a great idea: the phone case. The vast majority of people I know use phone cases. Whether they're silicone or leather, cover a little or a lot, at least 90 percent of the phones I see are covered by cases. Samsung has made a beautiful device, but it's fragile and expensive - and anyone who cares about their phone will opt to cover it with a case to protect it. So, why make a glass back that people will hardly ever see and appreciate the beauty of? The trade off of making it more fragile just isn't worth it to me, even if you get wireless charging capability, especially given that these phones are hard to repair. To make things worse, Samsung even made these horrendously, shamefully ugly official S8 cases.
Samsung's attempt at AI falls short
Samsung seems to enjoy duplicating Google's efforts when it comes to apps, and the results aren't superior. Creating things like Samsung Internet and S Voice, the manufacturer has been offering pointless and even less useful alternatives to stock Android apps for a long while. And now, in addition to all the other Samsung bloatware, the company is trying to force Bixby onto its users.
Bixby the latest in a crowded market of AI assistants already dominated by Google Assistant, Siri and Amazon Alexa. It does little to differentiate itself feature-wise, and even worse, voice activation won't be available in the US until sometime "later this Spring". That means you can get the Bixby equivalent of the classic Google Now cards, but you won't be able to use voice commands, a central feature, until a while after the device is made available on April 21.
Luckily, you can still summon Google Assistant by holding down the virtual home button, but it's not as convenient to launch as Bixby - and this was clearly intentional. To get to Bixby, you can use the dedicated hardware button just under the volume rocker - which Samsung has gone out of their way to prevent users from remapping to activate Google Assistant or any other functions. Heaven forbid that users want to use the hardware button to access the only fully functional AI assistant installed on their phone instead of Samsung's own as yet incomplete one.
Almost all smartphones on the market come with at least some bloatware, but Bixby was particularly poorly executed for a high-end device. Customers are left with a dedicated button meant to encourage them to use an AI assistant that doesn't even work fully yet. Since Bixby has been promoted as such a central selling point of the S8, it's sure to be a let down in its current state.
You can find better value elsewhere
Why get the new Samsung flagship when you could get a better value? With the new Xiaomi Mi 6, you get the same beauty (and fragility) as the S8+, but with better specs for half the price.
The just announced Xiaomi Mi 6 has the same Snapdragon 835 processor as the S8 and S8+, and it comes in a version with 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage - just like the South Korean-exclusive version of the S8+ with 6 GB of RAM. Still, the Mi 6 offers even more: 12 MP dual cameras, a larger 3,350 mAh battery and a significantly lower price tag - around half the price. It is only $420 compared to $1,017 (converted to US Dollars). The only drawback in my mind is that it offers less screen real estate: 5.15 inches, compared to the 6 GB S8+ display's 6.2 inches. In any case, the Mi 6 is a great looking device, with curved glass on the front and back like the S8, combining the style of its Mi 5 predecessor with that of the Galaxy S7.
Same old camera
The Galaxy S8 may be helping to solidify a new curved glass design trend, but the device isn't setting the bar when it comes to smartphone photography. The trend of late has been dual cameras. LG's latest flagship has a dual 13 MP rear camera, the iPhone 7 Plus has one, the aforementioned Xiaomi Mi 6 has one, and plenty of others do as well. But, not only do the S8 and S8+ not feature a dual camera, these devices use the camera of their predecessors! The S8 features the same 12 MP sensor and dual pixel technology that the Galaxy S7 has. The camera of the S7 was one of the best when it was released, but by standing still, the S8 is falling behind the crowd already.
To Samsung's credit, there have been some small improvements to the software and front camera. The front camera was upgraded from 5 to 8 MP, and the camera software now uses multi-frame processing - automatically taking multiple shots and combining them into one, hopefully improved, result.
Awkward fingerprint scanner placement
One of the most common knocks against the Galaxy S8 is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. If you're used to swiping your finger on the home button, you're in for a change - for the worse. Since the physical home button of the S7 has disappeared, the fingerprint scanner has migrated to the back of the device.
Instead of placing the button more toward the middle on the back (like on the LG G6), where it could be easily reached, Samsung has placed it just beside the camera. If you're using your phone with your right hand like most people do, you'll have to reach your index finger over the camera to use it - meaning you'll be smudging your camera lens constantly while feeling around for the fingerprint scanner. On the larger S8+, you practically can't reach the scanner without employing both hands.
The best placement option, which Samsung may not have been able to scramble together before the launch of the S8, would be to put the scanner under the glass on the front. There were rumors of sourcing from Synaptics for this, but hopefully, it may still happen on the Note 8.
In summary: the lovely glass back could crack, the placement of the fingerprint scanner is sure to get on your nerves, the Bixby experience falls short and Samsung has sadly decided to hang onto the camera of the previous generation. If you're considering getting the Galaxy S8 or S8+, make sure that you are aware of its weaknesses and adjust your expectations accordingly before you spend your hard earned cash, or consider a better value phone like the Xiaomi Mi 6.