Samsung Galaxy S8 Arrives In The UK: Hands-On Review

Silicon goes hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ as it hits the shelves in the UK

DeX desktop dexterity

Samsung DeXSpeaking of work, the Galaxy S8 is being positioned as more than just the latest must-have consumer mobile. Samsung is also championing it as a workhorse thanks to the introduction of DeX, a docking station for the Galaxy S8 that turns it into a desktop machine.

Not dissimilar to a chunky standing charger, DeX is a little hub sporting a USB Type-C connection for the Galaxy S8, two USB ports, an HDMI out connection and an Ethernet port.

Connecting either Galaxy S8 to the DeX by sitting it on a clever cooling pad instantly fires up a desktop mode on a connected monitor which can be navigated by either a wired or Bluetooth connected mouse and keyboard in the same fashion as one would navigate a traditional desktop.

Resembling something akin to Chrome OS, the desktop interface is relatively spartan yet easy to navigate and opens up new ways to interact with mobile versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint among other apps; those that support resizing can be adjusted to fit the screen DeX is connected to.

Samsung DeX dockTraditional keyboard shortcuts and mouse interactions are all present and correct as well, making it difficult to tell that one is working off a svelte smartphone and not a Chromebook.

The real potential for enterprise users with DeX is the support for Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure software such as XenDesktop, which provides virtualised access to a Windows desktop, in affect allowing the Galaxy S8 and DeX to serve up a mix of pseudo Chrome OS and Windows working environment.

Pricing for DeX and the Samsung Galaxy S8 models has not been announced, so it is difficult to assess if this smartphone to desktop transformation is good value for money in the face of affordable Windows 10 laptops. But it certainly indicates Samsung is willing to push the boundaries of a smartphone and presents an interesting option to consider for companies wishing to pursue a mobile working and flexible office strategy.

DeX is not the first device to enable a smartphone to act as the power for a desktop experience, but it represents the first time a company known for slick mobile devices has entered the fray, and as such could make the idea of docking your smartphone and using it as a desktop more appealing than ever before.

The true power of DeX will be reliant on the processing capabilities of the Galaxy S8; which will likely mean power users will need to stick to desktops and workstations. But for people mostly using productivity apps and cloud suites, DeX is certainly worthy of attention when considering a new computer purchase.

A brace of AIs

Samsung Galaxy S8 BixbyThe Galaxy S8 has two artificial intelligence (AI) powered virtual assistants; Google Assistant and Bixby.

While the former is great at answering questions and serving up information, Samsung took a different tact with Bixby in that it is designed for action rather than information.

Demonstrating how Bixby can be fired up through a simple press of a dessicated side button, Samsung showed how its machine learning allows the virtual assistant to learn the context of voice commands by trying to understand as much of a sentence spoke at it as it can, rather than respond to specific parameters.

Samsung demonstrated how Bixby can control smart homes through its SmartThings system, but also showed how it can make carrying out actions on the Galaxy S8 a much easier task. For instance, accessing the photos app in the Galaxy S8 then asking Bixby to make a photo the phone’s wallpaper can be done in a matter of seconds, while doing the same thing manually would take a fair bit of navigating the settings and menus.

Understanding context also gives Bixby the ability to respond to queries based on what the phone’s camera is seeing; for instance it can identify a bottle of wine and then provide details on the brand, price, and where to buy it if prompted.

When the Galaxy S8 is released Bixby will be supported in 10 native apps, with Samsung looking to get third-party developers on board quickly.

Sadly, it will debut first in South Korea, then the US and later, but not too far in the future, Bixby will debut in the UK. When that happens we will be able to truly put it to the test, but for the time being the virtual assistant offers impressive responsiveness to voice commands, and we reckon any of its limitations will be compensated for by having the Google Assistant as an AI backup.

Sharp snappers

Samsung Galaxy S8 rear cameraThe Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ both feature 12MP dual pixel rear cameras with f1.7 aperture and an 8MP front facing camera.

This is pretty much the same camera setup as the Galaxy S7, but given that the phone has one of the best smartphone cameras in the market, that is no bad thing. Samsung is boasting multi-frame image processing with the Galaxy S8, which has the camera snap three pictures for every single photo the user takes, with the aim of ensuring the best possible picture is captured without the user noticing.

In a bright and rather stark room it was difficult to truly test the camera capabilities of the Galaxy S8, but a quick few pictures yielded detailed and bright photos. Plenty of features, such as a ‘pro’ shooting mode, face recognition, fast shutter speed, and slow motion capture are all on offer, so smartphone camera enthusiasts should be kept happy.

We did notice some over-saturation of brightness when snapping pictures in a few dark corners, which suggests Samsung may have a few software tweaks to carry out before the Galaxy S8 ships. But even if the Galaxy S8’s camera simply matches the abilities of its predecessor, we doubt too many people will be disappointed.

Samsung Galaxy S8

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Samsung DeX dock

First impressions

Samsung Galaxy S8 SilverWithout a doubt the Galaxy S8 is a top-notch smartphone as a basic level. But he addition of Bixby, the Google Assistant, and the DEX docking station transforms the Galaxy S8 into more of a halo smartphone that will shape the direction all succeeding handsets will likely take, as opposed to just another iterative upgrade on a flagship phone.

Both Galaxy S8 handsets look good yet feel functional, sport large and bright displays yet can be navigated in one hand, and Bixby looks to be truly useful, while DEX could prompt a minor revolution in the workplace, with laptops being shunned for smartphones and docking stations.

We really need more time with the Galaxy S8 to truly put it through its paces, but at the moment all signs point towards it being the best Android handset ever, and a smartphone that will really force Apple to bring out its big guns with the iPhone 8.

The only caveat is the cost. In the UK it is £689 for the Galaxy S8, while the Galaxy S8+ will retail at £779.

While its not as expensive as Google Pixel XL, the Galaxy S8 has a premium price tag that could be a bit difficult to swallow with the number of affordable and very capable Android smartphones on the market. Yet, those willing to part with a substantial wad of cash will undoubtedly have a top-of-the-line smartphone they can use for work, play and all areas in between.

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