By Micheal Matt
While the Galaxy S9 holds the lion’s share of our current attention, the Galaxy S8 is still chugging along. It’s been a year since the S8’s release, but it’s still worth your money today.
In fact, it may be worth your money more than the S9 is right now. The S9 has the benefit of newer hardware, better cameras, and… not much else, really. The S9 launched with Android 8.0 Oreo, but most S8 models have been updated to that as well. Most of the software features available on the S9 are now on the S8 excluding some hardware-specific additions like super slo-mo and AR Emojis.
I began using the Galaxy S8 a few weeks ago, after using the Pixel 2 XL and before that, a OnePlus 3T. While we may talk up the differences between vanilla Android and Samsung’s flavor, I haven’t had any trouble adjusting. My apps launch, my calls come in, my music plays, and the world turns.
The all-glass design with minimal bezels still looks sufficiently modern, even in a world of notches. The all-glass design makes the phone a bit hard to grip, but the smooth transition between the back glass, metal sides, and glass front makes the phone superbly comfortable to hold. I do throw on a case when I leave the house, just because I don’t trust the phone to survive a drop onto concrete.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 inside the Galaxy S8 is, on paper, slower and less efficient than the Snapdragon 845 that ships in the Galaxy S9 and will be seen inside other 2018 flagships, but the S8 hasn’t left me wanting for more speed. Apps load expediently, the camera is quick to launch, and navigating the interface is nice and smooth.
Battery life is another story, though. The 3,000 mAh cell in the GS8 is enough to get me through the average day, but only just. This includes some time driving and using Android Auto, which allows me to give the phone a small top-up. My daily usage is fairly perfunctory: a few phones calls, streaming music to Bluetooth headphones, and a healthy amount of messaging through Google Voice, Allo, and Slack. This was with the display resolution set to 1080p for even more battery savings.
Be careful when buying a used Galaxy S8, especially if it was “well-loved.” The battery could already be signficantly worn.
Longevity would be my biggest concern for someone who is in the market for a used Galaxy S8. Daniel noted in his review that the battery life at launch left him with about 20% near the end of the day. But batteries degrade over time, and if you’re buying a used Galaxy S8, there’s a good chance it won’t make it completely through the day without some charging. If you’re in the market for a used S8+, its larger cell should mean you’ll likely still make it through the day.
This is the best time to buy a used Galaxy S8
The battery woes highlight Samsung’s biggest strength: the number of options it gives you. You can charge the phone with a USB-C cable, or with a Qi charging pad. You can use the same 3.5mm headphones you’ve had for years without worrying about dongles. You can also use Bluetooth headphones, or a USB DAC. The phone has 64GB of internal storage, but still offers a microSD slot for further expansion.
Despite having the 3.5mm jack, the S8 still has its IP68 water and dust resistance. The plethora of options continue in the phone’s software, for better or worse. I don’t mind having and turning off the features I won’t use, but I can see how it’d get tiring. I love being able to skin the phone with my own theme, or choose the order of my navigation buttons, or augment my home screen with the edge panel. These all seem trivial, but they add up to the phone feeling more specific to me.
There are some annoyances and gaps, though. You can’t hide the status bar icons like you can on vanilla Android, meaning that I’ll always know that NFC and Bluetooth are on. And while Samsung’s theme engine does a lot, the “Notification settings” button can’t be themed or hidden, making this element stick out like an eyesore. This is especially noticeable with Oreo’s new themed media notifications.
The location of the fingerprint sensor is also an annoyance, even with a case on to help my finger find it. I’ve resorted to either having one of my nearby Bluetooth devices unlock the phone with Smart Lock, or using my lock screen PIN unless an app specifically requires my fingerprint. Unlocking is only a minor issue on the smaller S8, but it makes the fingerprint sensor nearly useless on the larger Galaxy S8+ or the Note 8. The S8 also offers facial recognition, but it’s so hit-or-miss that I turned it off completely.
Bixby is another contentious topic. I understand why Samsung wants to offer its own personal assistant — it has the money and the fanbase to keep itself from being reliant on Google — and personal assistants aren’t just born overnight. But Bixby doesn’t offer me anything that I can’t get from Google Assistant, so now there’s a button on the phone that doesn’t do anything.
While the camera may not be as good as the one on the Pixel 2 or S9, it still holds its own. The camera focuses effortlessly and takes photos quickly enough to keep up with my niece and nephews running around. Overall, photos look great. With the phone’s wide f/1.7 aperture, nighttime shots retain plenty of detail, while daytime photos utilize Samsung’s excellent HDR algorithm to capture fine detail and superb dynamic range.
The biggest draw of the Galaxy S8 right now is its price: at the time of writing, Swappa has used models going for as low as $360. Other phones in that price range include the HTC U11 Life, Moto X4, and the Honor 9 Lite. The Galaxy S8 is going to be much faster than those devices, take much better photos, and have a larger market of cases and other accessories. It’s also going to be updated to Android P — eventually.
The real value comes in comparing the S8 to the S9. They have mostly the same design, the same software, and identical amounts of internal storage. The camera on the S9 is much better, but for most situations, the S8 will still take fantastic photos. If you’re eyeing the Galaxy S9, you can get 90% of the same experience for half of the price by buying last year’s device.
You can pick up a brand new Galaxy S8 from Amazon for just under $600, and get it used from places like Swappa for even less.