Samsung Galaxy S8 review: The most beautiful phone ever has one wildly annoying issue

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The Good The best-looking phone around crushes it in performance, battery life, water-resistance and wireless charging. An external storage slot lets you keep more photos, videos and music.

The Bad Its awkwardly placed fingerprint reader leads to camera smears and longer unlock times, which is aggravating when you use it to unlock your phone dozens of times a day.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Galaxy S8's fast speeds and fantastic curved screen make it a top phone for 2017, but the annoying fingerprint reader could sour your experience.

8.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9
  • Camera 8
  • Battery 9

The Samsung Galaxy S8 is without a doubt the most beautiful, polished phone I've ever held. These words were true when I first reviewed it in April, and are still true a month on. I do have some additional insights since then -- scroll down a bit for those.

OK, so the S8 is pretty. But it's also the most important Samsung phone right now, at least until the Galaxy Note 8 comes along. It's been helping restore buyers' confidence after the double Note 7 battery disaster (the S8's apparently selling like hotcakes), and it's a chance to cement the Samsung name as the top Android brand against upcoming rivals: the pure Android Google "Pixel 2," squeezable HTC U11 and cut-price OnePlus 5. It helps that soon, you'll be able to use the Galaxy S8 in Google's Daydream headset.

What makes the Galaxy S8 so special is this: A tall, narrow shape that fits snugly in my palm and curved sides that scream "classy." And the screen? 5.8 inches of colorful gorgeousness with a display that stretches from edge to edge with just a whisper of a bezel. For its looks alone, Samsung's flashiest phone lands at the top of the class. Trust me, when you see the S8 and larger, pricier S8 Plus, you're gonna want to put your hands all over them.

I did everything with these two phones at home, in the office, around town and at the beach. I took scores of photos and videos, watched tons of YouTube and Netflix movies, chatted my fingers off. I sat on them in my back pocket (no Bendgate yet). I've unlocked these things 100 times in four different ways (fingerprint, eyes, face, PIN). So I'm confident pointing out the S8's problems -- because, let's be real, there's always something.

In this case, I can boil it down to the awkwardly placed fingerprint reader -- you will curse this -- and the still-up-in-the-air Bixby AI software, which combines Siri, Google Now and a camera add-on. (Samsung's Siri-like Bixby Voice tool is live in South Korea, but nowhere else and I use the rest of the Bixby features... never.) Also, while photo quality is great, it's weird to me that Samsung, usually so on top of trends, opted for one camera lens on the back instead of two.

So far, the battery has made the S8 warm, like most phones get, but not dangerously hot. Hopefully Samsung's new eight-point battery test has done its job keeping all future handsets combustion-free, unlike the poor Note 7. The battery reserves have lasted a good, long time (but I'm keeping an eye on idle drain as the months march on). Overall, it's zippier than the Galaxy S7, but not so much better at its core that S7 owners should dash to upgrade.

Decorate yourself and your buddies.


What you really need to know is that the S8 is an extremely fast, highly competent, visually stunning device that you'll probably want to use with a case. Yes, this will hide most of its beautiful lines. Tough luck: It's just too costly and pretty to risk dropping.

And the Galaxy S8 is expensive. At $750, £689 or AU$1,199, you want to know that your phone is going to go the distance, and that you won't regret getting something cheaper -- like the midrange but awesome-for-what-it-is OnePlus 3T (which is being phased out in preparation of the OnePlus 5, so hurry if you want one) -- or holding out for the next iPhone, Google Pixel or Note 8, each of which should debut in the next four to six months.

So long as you aren't hanging all your hopes on work-in-progress Bixby (Google Assistant is an easy alternative to invoke) and have the patience of a saint when unlocking the phone, the Galaxy S8 is a sound buy that will make your friends jealous of its tall, curved, crazy-elegant screen. If you're serious about buying, I'd make a special trip to test out the fingerprint reader before taking the plunge. And if your current phone isn't yet on its last legs, it doesn't hurt to wait and see how the S8's battery continues to fare in the wild. So far, though, it appears to be incident-free.

Editors' note: This review originally published April 18, 2017, and was updated May 26 at 11 a.m. PT.

What I've noticed since my initial review

  • A case helps make the fingerprint reader easier to hit, but there are a lot of false scans compared to the Google Pixel and Huawei phones like the P10, Honor 8, etc.
  • Top-level controls in the native camera app's manual mode are easy to access, so that's good
  • The sides of some games and apps cut off when you go full-screen (Clash of Clans is one example)
  • I'm not loving the jerky scrolling on the Recents tab
  • If you use a third-party app to remap the Bixby button (like Bixby Remapper), you might notice lag using it

If you already have a Galaxy S8, here are our best tips and tricks.

All-new design is thumbs-up

Not to be dramatic, but the Galaxy S8 really is a feast for the eyes. It adopts a new dimension -- 18.5:9 (that's almost 2:1 like the LG G6 ($88 at Amazon)) -- which means that it's tall and narrow. That makes it easier to use one-handed. Extremely slim bezels mean there's much more screen stuffed into the shape: 83 percent of the phone's face is all yours for tapping and viewing. The S8 is almost the exact same height as the G6, but those curved sides make the S8 feel narrower, slimmer and, in truth, much more vulnerable.

Don't want this to happen? Get a case.

Luke Lancaster/CNET

I was extremely nervous I'd drop it. It almost seems more like a museum piece than a tool I'm going to use every day. I've had a couple close calls so far, but it hasn't smashed to the ground yet. When it inevitably does, because butterfingers, I have a feeling those rounded edges will be easier to crack than a device with straight sides. I can't say for sure, but the bigger problem may be the glass back.

Last year's GS7 shattered when I dropped it (oops), and my colleague Luke Lancaster in Sydney said his S8 slipped and slid out from under him, resulting in a bash. With the Galaxy S8's newer Gorilla Glass 5 topper, time will tell just how often this happens for others, too.

See what happened when we purposely tried to smash it up.

There's no more physical home button, and honestly? I didn't miss it at all. The onscreen control you see on pretty much every other Android phone felt completely natural. In fact, going Home on the S8 was faster than going Home on a lightly used S7. By the way, you can swap the placement of the Back and Recents buttons if you want to.

The S8 is the first standard Galaxy S phone (as in, not an Edge or Edge Plus) to have curved sides and the Edge display. You can use it as a kind of speed dial for your frequent apps and contacts, news headlines and so on, which you can call up from any screen (and tweak the tab location so it's easy for you to grab). You can add a lot of panes in the settings, but I like it best when kept to two -- otherwise you waste time trying to find what you're looking for.

Oh, one more thing about the screen. It's a very high-resolution, 2,960x1,440-pixel display, and that makes text, images and video absolutely pop, even in direct sunlight. You should know, though, that the off-standard dimension means you'll have to either be cool with black bars on the sides of videos you play (called pillarboxing), or you'll need to tap a screen control to crop-to-fit. In some videos, doing so reduced image quality. At other times, it looked just as good.

The S8 falters when you give it the finger(print)

That fingerprint reader is mighty close to the camera.


My biggest problem with the phone design is the fingerprint reader, which moved from the home button on the S7's front face to a narrow strip on its backing that looks a lot like a Tic Tac, just left of the camera mount. I have no idea what Samsung was thinking putting it here. Other rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, such as the LG G6 and Google Pixel, are closer to the middle center of the phone's body, well clear of the camera and flash. They're round and easier to completely cover with your fingertip.

Muscle memory has somewhat taken over and I've grown more used to the placement. I got a lot of setup errors, and the accuracy is still less "hit" and more "miss," especially when I haven't unlocked the phone for a stretch. And yes, I did often smear the camera with finger grease (yum) on the way to the scanner.

(Interlude: My colleague Patrick Holland tested the effect of fingerprint smudges on a bunch of phones, and noticed that the S8 still takes great pics regardless. We'll see if this holds up over time, or if the protective exterior coating wears out and image quality begins to suffer.)

Back to the fingerprint reader. Wait, you say! You can always use face unlock (which Samsung calls more convenient than it is secure, so no thanks) or the iris scanner, which is deemed secure enough for Samsung Pay. I tried both. The iris scanner takes longer than an accurate fingerprint reader on a rival phone, plus you have to hold it level to your face, and lift your sunglasses if you're outside. It doesn't always work in every lighting situation. But it worked fine with my glasses, even though I registered my peepers with contacts.

Best combination: Fingerprint reader with the iris scanner as backup, plus a PIN or pattern for times when the other two take too long.

One other thing about the fingerprint reader and Samsung Pay. Using both the fingerprint and iris methods to authenticate a payment took longer than on the Galaxy S7 and Note 7 (where the reader's on the home button), which made me feel like a jerk for holding up the line. Having a credit card ready is frankly faster, even though it's way less cool.

Bixby AI assistant still half-baked

Oh, boy. So much. Bixby is the blanket name for a feature that's actually broken into three parts: Voice, Home and Vision. It does not replace Google voice search or Google Assistant, which comes preloaded on the S8 and which you can invoke by long-pressing the home button.