The best screen, period
I can't count the number of times I rolled my eyes at Samsung's early TV commercials for the Galaxy S8, which promise "the world's first Infinity Screen" (well yes, that's your own marketing term, so naturally it's the first), while showing whales floating inside and outside the screen (does the phone show virtual AR stuff in the real world?) and boasting that the phone will "make your world infinitely bigger" (marketing gibberish that means absolutely nothing).
But after getting my hands on this puppy, I groan a little less when those ads run (just a little) – because this display is outstanding. Samsung's ad agency may be fond of meaningless hyperbole, but if that's what it takes to communicate how terrific this screen is, I can (sort of) live with it.
Not only is the display nearly as big as that of the late-2014 Nexus 6 (the S8+ has a longer diagonal measurement, but the old Nexus had a little more area), the S8+ has outstanding pixel density, color balance, brightness and anything else you could ask for in a display. It's almost easy to ignore Samsung's trademark curves sloping off on either edge, just because this screen is so good in all those other ways.
DisplayMate's Dr. Raymond Soneira agrees, giving the S8's screen the highest possible grade (A+). That sounds right to us.
While the S8+'s screen is 17-percent bigger than that of last year's Galaxy S7 edge, the phones have identical widths. This more oblong aspect ratio on the new models does wonders for fitting the phone comfortably into a pocket.
Even when it's inside a case, I don't feel the S8+ pressing against my left thigh or hugging my pocket, something that was an issue not just with the Nexus 6 but also Apple's Plus-model iPhones.
Iris scanning is legit
Before it started catching on fire, one of our gripes about the Galaxy Note 7 was that its headlining feature, the iris scanner, was slow and cumbersome to use. Not in the S8 series.
Samsung has significantly sped up the process of scanning your peepers. You don't have to hold the phone at such a precise angle or distance and you don't need to wait for a live feed of your eyes to pop up on the screen to help line them up.
Just hold your phone at a normal arm's length, aim it in the general direction of your face and look at the camera or screen. For the first time, iris scanning is fast and easy. (And if you still need live visual guidance to line them up, it will pop up to lend a hand.)
It also works fine in bright sunlight. (The Note's didn't.) It even unlocked the phone while I was wearing sunglasses, something that surprised me so much I had to try it a few times to believe.
I haven't had a chance to test it while wearing regular glasses yet, but we'll have more on that in the full review.
It's a good thing the iris scanning works so well, because the S8+'s fingerprint sensor is awkward to get to. Located on the phone's backside, to the right of the camera, its location isn't a no-brainer to find. Considering how many times most of us will unlock our phones on a typical day, that's far from ideal.
This would be a major negative in the S8's column, if that iris scanner wasn't so good. We recommend setting up eye scanning first thing and, when possible, forget about the clunky finger scanner.
Camera impresses early
We'll need to do more long-term side-by-side shots with other flagships before having strong impressions of the camera, but the early results remind me a lot of the Google Pixel's (our previous pick for best smartphone camera). Samsung said it's using some multi-shot algorithms, which sounds exactly like what the Pixel does, so perhaps that shouldn't be too surprising.
We'll have much more on the S8+ in our full review, but if you're balking at the prospect of buying the new flagship, our early impressions don't give you anything to worry about. On the contrary, I like this phone much more than I was prepared to: It's a great blend of ultra-premium design, attractive software and Android-appropriate levels of customization and features that you won't find on iOS.
The Galaxy S8+ launches tomorrow, starting at roughly US$850 full retail.
Product page: Samsung