Samsung's newest smartphones are here - so how do they stack up to the old ones? I brought a Galaxy S7 and S7 edge to my hands-on with the S8 and S8+, and I have some thoughts, pictures, and figures to share with you. Let's start with the visuals: you can see in the hero image of this post that the S8 and S8+ are both very substantially taller than their predecessors. Samsung is betting that consumers will be willing to deal with a taller phone (albeit narrower) to get that extra screen space they crave, and I think they may be right here.
Left: Galaxy S8 (5.8"), right: Galaxy S7 (5.1")
The 18.5:9 aspect ratio of the new phones adds screen space exclusively in the vertical, so the phones have a very long appearance when placed side by side with their predecessors. It also kind of belies the actual difference in screen size: you may think that going from a 5.1" Galaxy S7 to a 5.8" Galaxy S8 is a massive difference, but it's really not. The S8 isn't even really any heavier than the S7, and it's narrower, so it's actually easier to hold in some respects. It's taller, sure, but it's not really apples to apples just looking at the change in screen diagonal, so I think you'll be surprised how small a frame Samsung's managed to fit that "big" screen in.
For the S8+, this isn't quite as true - it's definitely heavier than the outgoing S7 edge (still, only a difference of 16 grams) and does feel like a big phone. It dwarfs even the now-gone Galaxy Note7 for height, weighs more than that phone did, and is even a bit thicker.
Left: Galaxy S8+ (6.2"), right: Galaxy S7 edge (5.5")
If you were comfortable with the S7 edge last year, I might honestly suggest starting with the standard S8 and seeing if that's more your size. It has a similar amount of display surface area to the old S7 edge (more, in fact) but is shorter, narrower, and a touch lighter than that phone. You could really think of the regular Galaxy S8 as a sort of "S7 edge compact" in a way.
The S8+, on the other hand, really is a big phone, and I think Samsung fans who have been craving a large-format device since the Note7 was recalled last year will find Samsung has delivered a viable - even better, perhaps - alternative. As long as you don't mind it doesn't have a stylus.
Left to right: Galaxy S8+, Galaxy S7 edge - bottom view.
Let's start with dimensions - which I discussed above.
Now, let's move on to the more traditional specifications. Please note these specifications apply to the United States, and may not be applicable in your part of the world. (Many regions will get the Exynos processor, but Samsung was not specific during our briefing, which only included the US versions of the phones.)
That should give you the basic rundown on the specification front.
Galaxy S7 vs Galaxy S8 - hardware and software
A lot of the differences between the Galaxy S7 generation and S8 generation come down to hardware more than software or general experience. Allow me to explain.
If you've used Samsung's "Grace UX" on the Galaxy S7 with Nougat, you'll find the software on the S8 is very similar. There are obvious changes - different aesthetics here and there - but the biggest one is probably the virtual navigation keys. You can order them in standard Samsung fashion (recent apps, home, back) or in the proper Android layout (back, home, recent apps). This is easily the best change Samsung has made to TouchWiz in years.
There's also the always-on home key which is pretty neat - you can read about it here.
But otherwise? This is very much the same old Samsung software, though you do get an all-new launcher to spice things up. The app drawer on this launcher is swipe-up to open, similar to how it is on Google's Pixels, and the animations are pretty slick. I can't say there's really any fresh and exciting reason to use the stock launcher, though - you'll still probably want to replace it. But it's nice that Samsung is trying.
The new app drawer. On the left, below the volume rocker, you can see the new Bixby launch key.
Then there's Bixby, but I don't think Bixby will really interest most smartphone enthusiasts. At least not as it exists now. It might be neat to play with for a few days and just test its capabilities, but the vision I get from Samsung is that Bixby is primarily a voice control platform for your phone and apps on it, and I just don't see the use cases yet. Maybe something like this could see real uptake in the car, but with Android Auto existing and all, Samsung's chances of working with automakers to get Bixby in vehicles seem slim. As is, you can use Bixby to tell your phone to do stuff - lower the brightness, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot, pick a photo filter (really), but this seems like something meant for very inexperienced smartphone owners, not power users.
Bixby also has a Google Goggles-style object recognition engine, but I have a strong feeling this won't be nearly anywhere as good in practice as Samsung would like you to think (there's a reason Google stopped working on Goggles). I've spent very little time with Bixby (really, no time), though, so I'd need to use it more to really tell you anything meaningful about it. And no, Bixby doesn't "replace" Google Assistant - Assistant is still mapped to a long-press of the home button, while Bixby lives in the dedicated Bixby key under the volume rocker.
Once you move on from Bixby, the launcher, and the nav keys, though, the software differences between old and new dry up pretty fast. You really have to dive into the components and physical changes at that point.
Physically, these phones are noticeably different - even if they look very, very similar. (Funny story: I brought an S7 and S7 edge to compare to the new phones, and on five separate occasions had someone try to grab my S7 devices thinking I had Galaxy S8s. Even the Samsung representatives got confused.)
Gone is the color-match front glass (a change I love), replaced with black glass on all models. I think this looks much better, personally, especially on the lighter colors. It lets that big screen really take center stage in a way you don't quite get on the S7 and S7 edge. The S8 and S8+ also have the Note7's iris scanner technology, something the S7 and S7 don't, giving you a new way to unlock your smartphone. Samsung's implemented another way to unlock, too, with a face recognition system.
Obviously, the fingerprint scanner had to move with the loss of the physical home button and capacitive keys, and Samsung's sent it out back next to the camera. On the regular S8, I think it's easily reachable. On the S8+ it's definitely more of a stretch. I'd have to use the phones more to really get a feel for it, though - it's possible I'd just adapt and never really notice it again.
For those who want a phone with a flat screen, you probably know by now that neither the S8 or S8+ will feature one. Samsung is going all-in on curved displays, so 2017 could well be the first year Samsung goes without manufacturing a flagship-level phone with a flat display panel. We live in strange times.
The aluminum mid-frames on the S8 and S8+ have been updated from last year's design, using a polished finish instead of a matte anodized look. This is true of every color, including black, which has a black polished finish. I really have to wonder how badly these are going to get scratched up, though - shiny electronics don't tend to fare well out in the harsh, sharp, rough world.
As far as ports go, the S8 and S8+ are making the move to USB-C v3.1, versus the microUSB 2.0 found on the S7 and S7 edge. That doesn't come with any improved charging speed, though - Samsung is sticking with its Quick Charge 2.0-based Adaptive Fast Charging technology again this year to ensure maximum compatibility with legacy accessories. I guess that's fine, it's still 18W charging and still pretty fast.
Left to right: S8 vs S7, bottom view.
In terms of technology, the Galaxy S8 is packing all new guts this year, in the US with Qualcomm's Snapdragon 835. Compared to the outgoing 820, the 835 is a significant step forward in terms of efficiency, performance, and overall capability. You can read about the 835's performance here in our benchmarking post, which includes lots of data points. Suffice it to say, the S8 and S8+ should be able to do more with less power this year, hopefully offsetting batteries that are no bigger than the ones in last year's phones despite being mated to much larger display panels. We've got a good summary of the changes in the Snapdragon 835 in this post.
The other big internal upgrade is storage: 64GB is now standard on the S8 and S8+, and that's great news. It doesn't sound like any variants with more space will be offered here in the US, though.
Anyway, that's all we've got for now. Samsung's newest phones should be hitting US retailers some time next month.