Teardown: Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone
Image credit: Samsung
Samsung aims to regain handset leadership with its new flagship phone.
Samsung implemented an additional eight-point safety check before releasing this year’s Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus flagship smartphones. After the battery debacle that dogged the Note 7, it appears to have restored some confidence in the Korean giant’s products: pre-orders for the two handsets were up 30 per cent year-on-year, the company said.
Moreover, while any top-of-the-range product must contain plenty of innovation, Samsung really has gone for it this time out.
The most visible changes are around the display. On the larger S8 Plus (the phone shown here), this comprises an AMOLED 6.2in screen with 2,960x1,440 resolution at 529ppi. The display is HDR-ready for streaming the latest generation of high-definition content on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
The display surface occupies almost all of the front-facing real estate. It spills over the side of the phone, providing a single smooth interface surface.
As a result, Samsung’s physical home button has been eliminated and the bezel space at the top for the speaker, selfie-cam and other sensors has been substantially narrowed.
The result is that the S8 Plus fits its large screen into an area (73.4mm x 159.5mm) that, as iFixit notes, could previously incorporate only a 5.5in display on the comparably sized S7 Edge.
Under the hood, both S8s are powered by one of two eight-core big.Little ARM-based processors. In the US, the processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 (4 x 2.35GHz and 4 x 1.9GHz cores); in most of the rest of the world, it is a Samsung Exynos 8895 (4 x 2.35GHz and 4 x 1.7GHz cores). These have benchmarked strongly.
However, the next big innovation, the Bixby AI personal assistant, is harder to assess as yet. There are Bixby features on the two S8 phones from day one, but the technology is still evolving.
Of specific note to potential UK customers, Samsung has still to roll out the British English edition for voice control. So there is little to differentiate Bixby today from Google Assistant (which is also bundled on the S8 range).
This is all very cool stuff, and the S8 range has been getting almost universally excellent reviews – notwithstanding a few industrial and physical design concerns. However, what might help S8s ship in greater than expected volume for expensive devices – £779 for the S8 Plus in the UK, unlocked – is the DeX peripheral being introduced alongside them.
This is a £130 puck-sized docking station that allows the phones to be connected to displays and then switch into a desktop PC mode. DeX’s outputs are Ethernet, 2 x USB and HDMI.
Hooking up to a DeX allows users to run both Android apps and Microsoft Office in the Virtual Windows environment (though this also requires a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure subscription). Smartphone processing and software availability have finally caught up with the desktop emulation business model.
Samsung could not have anticipated the prospect of a potentially widening ban on carrying laptops in aircraft cabins, but DeX’s timing does appear serendipitous.
The S8 is not a perfect phone, however. Samsung has opted not to go for the dual main camera array popularised by Huawei, although the 12MP camera does have a strong array of image-editing features and settings.
A camera-related bugbear for a number of early users is the fact that the lens resides side-by-side on the rear with the fingerprint sensor. Those reviewers say the sensor is in an odd place and therefore not easy to find. This leads to smudges on the camera lens and makes it fiddly to unlock the phone or use Samsung Pay.
The S8’s Gorilla Glass 5 body – held in place by a metal frame – is also raising a few quibbles. The phone looks fantastic but there are already reports of the rear panel cracking when the phone is dropped from relatively small heights. One reviewer admitted to feeling “breakage anxiety”.
The S8s, then, are rather awkward types when it comes to repairability, earning a low 4-out-of-10 from iFixit’s teardown team.
Its report does acknowledge some good points. Many of the components are modular, including high-traffic ones such as the headphone jack. Samsung has also designed the fingerprint-to-motherboard cable so that it pops out easily rather than, as has happened on rival devices, snapping when the rear panel is taken off.
However, lashings of glue hamper battery replacement – a curious decision given the Note 7’s issues – and again make it tricky to separate the glass casing without a notable risk of cracking.
IFixit also cautions that there are two nearly identical ports for the SIM eject button and one of the microphones. Be careful where you poke that pin.
The initial consensus is that Samsung has got back in the game quickly with a highly-specified and beautiful phone, though that may entail some owner trade-offs regarding its robustness. However, there remains a caveat: while Samsung does seem to have scored with its fans and early adopters, the next wave of users may want to wait.
Most obviously, some customers will want the S8s – and their batteries – to spend some time ‘in the field’ before forking out: the Note 7 also scored highly in its first reviews. Then there is also the question of potential revs and upgrades: what will the British Bixby ultimately look like; how big an ergonomic drawback is the positioning of the fingerprint sensor?
Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone
1 Rear panel
2 Midframe (section)
3 Midframe (section)
4 Cameras (iris scanner, selfie, rear)
6 Vibration motor
7 IR emitter, IR camera, LED
8 SIM tray
9 Midframe (section)
10 I/O daughterboard
11 Headphone jack
13 Main chassis
15 Power management interface, Silicon Mitus
16 NAND memory, Toshiba
17 RAM on Apps Processor, Samsung on Samsung/Qualcomm
18 Audio codec, Qualcomm
19 Unidentified, Skyworks (78160-11)
20 Front-end module, Avago