- Impossible dream
- Slim is in
- Fingerprint fumble
- Pure pixels
- Consolidation of power
- All-day pass
- Big bad Bixby
- Seeing isn’t believing
- Flying solo
- Super selfies
If there’s one thing Samsung has consistently brought to the table with its Galaxy S phones, it’s a killer camera. Until the Pixel came around last year its only true competitor was the iPhone, and even there it was kind of a toss-up as to which was better. Like Apple, most of Samsung’s magic goes on behind the scenes, which might explain why the main camera is visually unchanged from the S7, save for a new sensor (with the same resolution and dual-pixel focus technology) and the elimination of the 0.46mm camera bump, making it fully flush against the case.
Most surprising is the lack of a second rear camera. Rapidly becoming a standard smartphone feature, the dual-camera system is responsible for the LG G6’s wide-angle prowess and the iPhone 7 Plus’s portrait mode, and it was widely assumed that the S8+ would simply follow suit to keep pace. However, while Samsung experimented with a second camera, it ultimately decided that it didn’t need it. It’s a bold decision for a premium phone in 2017, but the S8+ isn’t about following trends, it’s about setting them. And Samsung has done more with the a single camera than most other manufacturers have done with two.
Samsung is so confident in its processing prowess, it hasn’t even done much to upgrade the camera hardware it does have in the S8+. You’ll find the same 12MP Dual Pixel, f/1.7 lens, and optical image stabilization, but the sensor’s been upgraded. Depending on region, you’ll either get a Sony IMX333 or a Samsung-made Isocell S5K3H1, as compared to the IMX260 or S5K2L1 in the Galaxy S7. Samsung has made most of its improvements behind the scenes, with updated image processing algorithms.
It might not seem like much, it makes a noticeable difference in your final shot. In tests between the Galaxy S7 and S8+, photos were consistently truer to life with the newer sensor, with the S7’s pics seeming washed out in bright sunlight and oversaturated in lower light.
The differences were only accentuated with HDR turned on, with the S8+ picking up greater detail and better contrast when dealing with strong shadows and midtones (almost to a fault), and the S7’s overcompensation distorting colors and blowing out the contrast.
The camera app is mostly the same, with a nice set of pro controls and a series of shooting modes, including the sublime selective focus. The only new additions to speak of come in the form of Snapchat-style stickers and filters that add a bit of whimsy to your shots. They work with both the front and rear cameras, but they obviously seem more designed for selfies, an area where Samsung has paid pretty close attention.
The front camera has gotten a pretty serious upgrade over the 5MP one in the S7, with an 8MP, f/1.7 aperture lens with auto focus, and the upgrade definitely shows. The S7’s front camera was somewhat pedestrian, but on the S8 it’s a social media addict’s dream, producing clean, crisp shots in all kinds of light. The auto focus helps lock on to you and your friend’s faces quickly, and a series of beauty sliders will keep your complexion looking its best.
But most people will just want to play with the new animated filters. There are 30 to choose from, and each one is more fun than the last. Instant detection applies and animates each time a new face comes into the scene, and it’s just the kind of thing that could bring the fun of Snapchat to parents and grandparents. It’s so fun, I’m kind of surprised Snapchat didn’t think of it first and release it as its own standalone camera app. The S8+’s rear camera might be the go-to shooter for capturing scenic shots, but people who have never taken a selfie before are going to find themselves using the front camera more and more.
With a gorgeous 6.2-inch display and a design that needs to be seen, the Galaxy S8+ truly changes the smartphone conversation.
- Amazing, brilliant, eye-popping display.
- An incredible design that makes a 6.2-inch screen feel like a 5.7-inch one.
- Camera offers nice refinements over the S7, especially for selfies.
- Fingerprint sensor is in a horrible location.
- Bixby isn't very useful or compelling.