Living with the Galaxy S8: What I Love, What I Hate

In our reviews, sometimes we get so tied up covering all the new features and updates that we may overlook what it's like to actually like to live with the device in question. So after we gave the Samsung Galaxy S8 a 9/10, an Editors' Choice award and anointed it our best phone overall, I put my money where my mouth is and bought one for myself.

It's been three months since I upgraded to Samsung's Galaxy S8, and while the phone has largely performed as expected, I've uncovered a few treats, pet peeves and revelations after spending some extended time with Samsung's latest flagship phone. Here are some of the most notable things I discovered about the Galaxy S8.

Highlights and hidden gems

Virtual home button: Simple but super effective
I didn't think much of the S8's virtual home button at first, but it's quickly become one of my favorite things about the phone. The virtual button is a great example of a technological evolution that's better than the thing it replaced in every way.

What seems like a minor upgrade is actually a huge improvement.

What seems like a minor upgrade is actually a huge improvement.

By getting rid of the physical button, Samsung was able to install a bigger screen without dramatically increasing the size of the phone. And unlike the traditional software home button in Android, the virtual button always works, regardless of whether you can see it or not.

The blue light filter: Sweeter dreams

Blue light filters aren't especially new; Android Nougat offers something similar with its Night Light feature, for example. But since I upgraded from a phone that was running an outdated version of Android Marshmallow, the Galaxy S8's blue light filter has made one of the biggest differences in my life.

Like a lot of people, I enjoy partaking in a bit of mobile gaming before nodding off. Now that I have a phone with a blue lighter filter, regardless of whether I'm trying to finish up a Galactic War run in Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes or checking in to see which idiotic dweller got themselves killed today in Fallout Shelter, the filter makes it easier to wind down and fall asleep at night.

More sleep means less stress, and less stress makes everyone feel better. This is one feature that needs to be on every phone as soon as possible.

The Infinity Display: Living life extra wide

Even though not every app supports the S8's 18.5:9 extra-wide aspect ratio, it's something I really miss when I test out other phones that have traditional, 16:9 displays.

On a 16:9 display, there would be even bigger black bars across the top and bottom of the screen.

On a 16:9 display, there would be even bigger black bars across the top and bottom of the screen.

In portrait mode, the S8's narrower waistline makes it easier to reach across the phone, while still offering increased vertical height so I could see more content while scrolling down web pages or using apps like Reddit and Google Play Music.

Combine that aspect ratio with an OLED display that's better than anything else on the market — the LG G6 has an 18:9 aspect ratio but makes do with an LCD panel — and the S8's screen really is the feature that keeps on giving.

The Camera: Vibrant and delightfully sharp

I was really hoping that on the S8, Samsung would hop on the dual-camera trend, but it seems we'll have wait a little longer for that. (Though not much longer, if rumors about the Galaxy Note 8 and its dual rear camera pan out when that phone debuts on August 23.) That said, the S8's image quality is something that routinely impresses and has become a sort of reminder that on the road of life, it's nice to smell the flowers and take picture too.

But don't take my word for it. Here are a selection of unedited photos I've taken with the Galaxy S8. You be the judge.

Battery life: No more power-saving anxiety

Because I rely pretty heavily on my phone for both work and personal use, a premature power nap is always a bit of a worry. But in the 30 days I've had the S8, not once has the phone conked out before the end of the day. One time, when I forgot to charge my phone overnight, the S8 lasted all the way until 6:30 p.m. Throw in superfast wired charging and the convenience of wireless fill-ups, and my phone's battery isn't source of stress anymore.

Lowlights and letdowns

Mono speakers: I can't hear you now

Other companies, such as Apple and HTC, have figured out how to put stereo speakers on phones by making their earpieces pull double duty, but Samsung has not.

Those five little slots on the S8's speaker grille are all you get.

Those five little slots on the S8's speaker grille are all you get.

Over the past month, I've run into situations in which I need to adjust my hands or rotate the phone 180 degrees to avoid getting quiet, muffled audio. It's annoying, and it's an issue that shouldn't exist. The S8 is a flagship device from the biggest smartphone maker in the world; the phone's speakers should be better.

Bixby: Do you need some help?

Bixby, Samsung's new digital assistant, was touted not only as a rival similar to helpers from Google and Amazon, but also a whole new to control your phone. Bixby wasn't available when the S8 launched, but it’s available now. The problem is, Bixby remains very hit and miss, as I found when testing the assistant

Bixby routinely misses words and has trouble executing commands. It’s even more frustrating once you experience how powerful Bixby can be when it gets things right. You can use natural language to say things like "Post my last photo to Instagram," and Bixby will run through all the steps except hit the Share button all by itself, turning a minute long set of steps into a single command. 

You can also ask Bixby to "Show me emails from Mike," and it will search through your inbox and find everything you need, eliminating the need to open up the email app and typing a person's name in your self. Bixby has a ton of potential, but spotty voice recognition and unreliable execution mean that using it can sometimes be more trouble than it's worth.

Glass back: Zero friction

There are a couple ways to think about smartphone slipperiness. When the S8 is in my hand, I've never had a problem keeping a firm grip on the phone. But if I set this device down on my pant leg or a cushion, before you can even say, "Oops," it'll be on the floor.

The S8's glass back is beautiful, but it slides around like a penguin on ice skates.

The S8's glass back is beautiful, but it slides around like a penguin on ice skates.

The S8's glass design is so slick, you basically can't set the phone down on anything that isn't completely level or that doesn't have a rubberized surface. I've learned to work around this behavior, but it could be a shock for new S8 owners.

Much ado about nothing

Fingerprint sensor: The vitriol was completely overblown

When the location of the S8's rear fingerprint sensor was unveiled, many people (including me) cried foul about the placement and its proximity to the rear camera. But after owning an S8 for a month, that location has turned out to be a complete nonissue.

I'll admit when I'm wrong, the location of the S8's fingerprint sensor is just fine.

I'll admit when I'm wrong, the location of the S8's fingerprint sensor is just fine.

The sensor isn't any harder to reach or use than the fingerprint readers located on the backs of other phones. And, in less than a week, this became something I never needed to think about when using my S8.

Bottom line

So, after a month, do I regret spending $750 on a Galaxy S8? Heck, no. But there's always room for improvement, especially in the S8's lackluster speaker and overdue features like Bixby voice. And while the S8's camera still impresses with stunning photos every week, I still wish Samsung had included two cameras on the back instead of one.

Image credit: Sam Rutherford/Tom's Guide

Sam is a Senior Writer at Engadget and previously worked at Gizmodo as a Senior Reporter. Before that, he worked at Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag as a Staff Writer and Senior Product Review Analyst, overseeing benchmarks and testing for countless product reviews. He was also an archery instructor and a penguin trainer too (really).

  • Frank_129
    I really don't want any phone with a glass back. Or metal. The best material by far is still a light, durable unbreakable plastic removable cover.
  • Kevin7
    Glass back? Who cares, after you put a case on it no problem. Love the Samsung View Cover. I get complements on the case almost every day. Love the waterproof S8+ Now. Would of liked the duel lens but the camera is the best yet. The S8+ is the best smartphone So far out of the last 54 I have had from 2003. That said I can't wait for the Note 8. As much as I loved the Note 7, the S8+ is a nice upgrade. Glad to be rid of the S7edge I took when I was forced to give up the Note 7.
  • X31S3X
    Thank you for the objective and fair assessment of the fingerprint sensor on the S8. I have had the S8 Plus since April 19th and I've never had a problem accessing it. The placement is just fine. I guess it's something like mob mentality, one person makes an unsubstantiated comment and everyone jumps in. Once again, thanks for putting the record straight.
  • pbug56
    My wife and I finally gave in waiting for Moto to make a viable non-defective replacement for our Moto Droid Turbo's. Small hands that she has, she felt OK holding even the S8+; it really didn't feel wider at all then the MDT. BUT - I wouldn't let her have it without a screen protector and protective case. She got a clear case that shows off the blue back of her phone - protecting it and giving a much better grip. I got the Verizon shell and belt clip - different from other such because the phone comes out sideways, not vertically. One really nice surprise - the Verizon QI base that WON'T charge a Droid Turbo 2 in a shell does just fine on the S8. And compared to my worn out DT, the S8+ is very easy on battery. Commuting by train, about 90 minutes with music going, took my DT down at least 30%. The S8 anywhere from 3 - 10%. Huge relief - if I forget to charge at work, I'll still have enough juice to MP3 all the way home! And so far Samsung has given us 2 substantial firmware updates, including the July security fix.

    I do have issues and problems. My big fingers are having a lot of trouble using the Samsung keyboards. I cannot stay connected to my cable company wifi; that was no problem on the DT and DT2. And oddly, Samsung thinks that people playing music over BlueTooth want their alarm clock to sound on the speaker - despite numerous surprised customers telling them otherwise. I had to find an app to 'fix' the problem so that if BT is working, the alarm clock goes to it also. Now I use a tool, a cache cleaner, works great on the DT; on the DT2 it not only needs a special perm, it blows away the SETTINGS tool. You can fix it temporarily by booting to safe mode, then restarting normally, but if you run the cleaner again, it will soon blow away SETTINGS again. What a fun filled bug; I'm lucky I found the temp fix posted.

    I have not yet tried the camera. And I've set the fingerprint but not used it. I do have a problem with face unlock; it takes a fair amount of light to work. Not horrible, just annoying.

    Another presumably Samsung oddity; same exact version of GMAIL on old and new phones. On old, the app shortcut shows the current unread count. On the S8+, nothing. It could, of course, be the newer android version; I don't know, but I really doubt it. And to me it is very annoying.

    As to Bixby, I hate how easy it is to open it up by accident. If and when I feel like talking to IT, I will, but for now I want it to leave me alone.

    I'm super pleased to have a headphone jack - even though I normally use BT. My BT unit is the old Sony Erickson MW600, hard to get and quirky, with FM and OLED screen built in. Meets my needs. But I also can need plug in - and it works fine. Thanks Samsung for that!

    I will get used to USB C. I'm spending a pile on new cables and car chargers. And the other 2 out of 4 phones in the house use micro usb, so for now, this is a royal pain. As to quick charge, I seem to use so little battery that the qc2 charger I bought days before giving in and buying the s8+'s charges it quickly enough. And it does fine on QI wireless charging, even the older generation.

    Overall, a huge phone, but no wasted frontal area. It is very responsive and MOSTLY easy to use except what seems to me Samsung induced annoyances. So far, so mostly good!
  • downhilldude
    Absolutely love the S8+. Best phone ever! Thanks for the comment about the fingerprint sensor placement. I've been telling people that since before I even owned the phone: After a week, your muscle memory will have it figured out, and you'll wonder why idiots on the Internet even mentioned it.