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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Gear Friday: Samsung Galaxy S8, the make or break phone

Underscoring again just how much the world cares for smartphones, Samsung's two new Galaxy handsets were everywhere yesterday.

Samsung must be pleased with the wall-to-wall coverage, as even radio news talked about the Galaxy S8 and S8+.

There was perhaps an expectation of schadenfreude, with plenty of mentions of the too hot to handle Note 7; Samsung's living down that fiasco quite well, and if it's new, strict eight-point battery safety check for the GS8s works as intended, there won't be a repeat, explosive device performance either.

Nevertheless, the GS8 and GS8+ are not just new flagship devices. For Samsung, they're make or break smartphones, and I was a little surprised to see that they weren't fully production-ready at the launch this week.

Phone GS8 is still a work in progress. For instance, Bixby, Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri, Microsoft Cortana, or Google's Assistant, isn't quite ready yet.

Bixby Vision which can recognise barcodes, translate text and help with shopping when you aim the GS8 camera at things seems to work mostly, ditto the Google Now-like Bixby cards.

We'll have to wait a while longer to get the full picture, though, to see if you really can use voice instead of touch to drive the GS8, with a touch on the dedicated Bixby button.

Pre-production quirks notwithstanding, the new GS8 devices are very nice. They have an understated design that builds on the previous Galaxy models, and have a premium feel, because Samsung knows how to build quality hardware.

So it should, as you'll have to fork out $1299 for the 5.8-inch screen GS8, and $1499 for the 6.2-inch GS8+.

Samsung is proud of the Infinity screen with curved bezels and it's great. With QHD resolution, the screen is pretty amazing inside and outside, sharp and with great colours thanks to the high dynamic range feature.

There are no buttons on the front because of the Super AMOLED Infinity screen, and very thin top and bottom bezels.

As a result, the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the rear of the GS8, and this is the main design miss on the phone: the fingerprint sensor sits right next to the camera, and you will smudge the lens.

That said, the fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, and far easier to use than the iris scanner for authentication.

There's also facial recognition which is easy to set up with the front camera, but not secure as someone can use a picture of you to get into the phone so ... I can't quite see the point of that security feature.

Even though the GS8 has a slightly larger screen at 5.8-inches diagonally, it's smaller than Apple's iPhone 7 Plus with 5.5-inch display and weighs 152 grams.

I'll test the camera more thoroughly in the next few days, but it's a 12 megapixel unit, with dual-pixel autofocus, f/1.7 aperture lens, 4K video which, I think, uses image stabilisation even at that high resolution; the button for that was greyed out on my GS8, no doubt because of the pre-production software.

The "selfie cam" at the front on the other hand has 8MP resolution, and autofocus, a feature that's missing on most other smartphones.

One feature that Samsung is really early with is support for the latest Bluetooth version, with fast (two megabit per second) transfers and the ability to play back two audio streams.

This would require other Bluetooth devices to support the new protocol, too, to take advantage of the new features of course. Despite the new Bluetooth version, Samsung didn't do an Apple and kept the 3.5mm earphone jack.

The earphone jack doesn't stop the GS8 from being rated IP68 splash/water and dust proof, ditto the USB-C fast charging port.

So far it seems to be the comeback device that the company needed.

Samsung's also one of the first to use a system-on-a-chip with the ultra-tiny 10 nanometer fabrication process for GS8 devices. This has a 64-bit "quad plus quad" processor, in which four cores run at 2.3 Gigahertz, and another four at 1.7GHz. You get plenty of RAM, 4 gigabytes, and 64GB of storage that follows the new, quick Universal Flash Storage 2.1 specification.

A quick Geekbench 4 run scored the GS8 at 1979 for single-core, and 6383 for multi-core. Apple's A10 Fusion chip in the iPhone 7 Plus hit a 3417 single-core score, and 5726 in the multi-core test.

Remember, the GS8 I had was pre-production, and it should perform better updated with release software. That said, the GS8 never lagged, and was able to play back video and swap between apps quickly.

Samsung's polished the Apps Edge task switcher on the GS8 that runs Google's Android 7.0 "Nougat" operating system, with mostly sensible tweaks by the Korean vendor.

There's the start of a hardware ecosystem, too, with the Gear VR virtual reality goggles, the Gear 360 surround camera, and Dex docking station for mobile enterprise users.
There's no new Gear S4 watch-wearable though to go with the GS8, unlike Apple with its iPhone/Watch combo.

More to come on the Samsung GS8 soon, but so far it seems to be the comeback device that the company needed.

- NZ Herald

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Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen is a technology journalist and writer living in Auckland. Apart from contributing to the New Zealand Herald over the years, he has written for the Guardian, Wired, PC World, Computerworld and ITnews Australia, covering networking, hardware, software, enterprise IT as well as the business and social aspects of computing. A firm believer in the principle that trying stuff out makes you understand things better, he spends way too much time wondering why things just don’t work.

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