Samsung’s new flagship Galaxy handsets, the S8 and S8+ should arrive in South Africa on 5 May, but has already hit initial markets like the US and South Korea last Friday (21 April). Interestingly, and despite the Note 7 debacle, the S8 is the first handset to reach over 1-million pre-orders in its home country, according to data from mobile networks. Pre-orders aren’t massively big in SA as far as I am aware but I’d be curious to know what these numbers are. Operators and retailers here manage to mess it up completely where people who pre-order end up getting contacted weeks after launch day while people who walk in-store get it first.

If you’re not familiar with how Samsung are doing things now, the S8 and S8+ are the only two variants this year, the “Edge” will not be available on its own because the handsets feature the same curved screen by default. I’ve been playing with the S8+ for a week, and here are some of my favourite features so far. Please note that the new AI Bixby isn’t live so I couldn’t test it. Samsung said it’s been delayed.

Samsung is now calling the curved display on the S8 and S8+ an “infinity screen”. Previously we’ve seen this design on the ‘Edge’ variants, but with the S8, there’s no physical button + fingerprint sensor in the front (it’s gone to the back like the G6) and it has narrow bezels. So basically the front of the handset is what I’m calling about 95% screen. It looks futuristic, and amazing. I love looking at pics or browsing Instagram on it. This means the aspect ratio would be different, and a weird 18.5:9. To give you an idea, the G6 with its narrow bezel is 18:9. I hope apps rollout support for this ratio sooner rather than later.

 Image Credit: Shutterstock

Now that the home button is located at the back, Edge panels come in handy. If you plan on getting one, start customising and tweaking it immediately as it is the best way to switch between apps without exiting your current screen. Just do an inward swipe from the right and you will see your Edge panels pop up with mini home screens. These can include apps, tools, contacts, clipboard, reminder, weather, calendar, etc. I wouldn’t suggest adding more than three, then you might as well just go back to the home-screen. But hey, it if woks for you. I put my most used apps and device maintenance on it. At a quick glance you can check battery status, performance mode, storage, memory, security and my favourite being “optimise now” which is like clearing the cache. Example, it will show you 60/100 and when you optimise, it becomes 90/100. 

You can unlock your handset with your iris, face, pin, pattern, password, or fingerprint. You have a lot of options and yes telling or showing people how you unlock with your face or eyes is fun, initially. In case you’re wondering, the quickest way to do it is via fingerprint. You rest your finger on the sensor, provided you don’t mistakenly rest it on the camera lens (you’d be forgiven if you do), and instantaneously it will unlock. The other methods require another swipe on the screen before you can look into the phone. If you wear glasses like me, you have to remove them for face/iris unlocking. While it’s all very James Bond, I personally prefer fewer steps as possible. So swiping the screen, removing my glasses and looking to the phone is effort vs. a super-fast fingerprint unlock.

If you are able to get your hands on a wireless charger either with a pre-order or bundled in a contract, go for it (check Telkom and Vodacom). Wireless isn’t the future, it is now. Just plug your USB-C charging cable once into the wireless charger, and you never have to handle/break the cable. I’m not as clumsy with my cables so I don’t go through a lot but if this is you, you will LOVE wireless charging. It just needs to sit at your bedside table and you just place it for charging. The new wireless charger for the S8 lets you keep it flat or stand, so you can still use it/watch videos while it’s on the plate.

The rear camera is really, really good. It has a 12MP sensor with F1.7 lens and shoots in 4K. In case you’re wondering, there are no dual-lenses on the camera, something we’ve seen on other major manufacturers. Burst mode should capture your action shots beautifully, and night shots come out great. It has auto and manual modes, as expected, including options to change skin tone (not a fan), lighting, and built-in filters that adjust colour. I think cameras today on phones are mostly excellent, and should remain filter-free (selfies aside). You can also add a bunch of text over your images like cheers, Friday, cool, delicious, etc. Samsung really wants you to do everything from its camera, and not use 3rd-party apps for edits.

Most people I know, myself included, are over Snapchat or have deleted their accounts. One of the main reasons I used to love logging on was playing with their silly filters. Samsung went and added their own Snapchat-like filters into the front-facing camera. Let’s be honest, cameras are one of the most important features on a smartphone, so this little addition makes it a little bit more fun. In fact, it’s one of the most fun things I’ve done with my nieces and nephews – play with filters on their faces. Everyone’s happy. Here’s a bunch that’s on the S8:

The S8 by default does not have virtual home-screens littered with apps accessed by continuous scrolling. The app drawer can now be accessed by an upward swipe from the bottom of the screen. Here you will see all preloaded apps. I like it a lot. I understand this is what Google’s Pixel phones have now, but I haven’t seen one so this is my first encounter with it. It’s great because it keeps the phone ‘clean’. Put your favourites on the homescreen or Edge panel and keep the bulk of it in the app drawer. If you prefer accessing your apps with a dedicated apps button on the soft keys, long press the home-screen, tap ‘home screen settings’, and select ‘apps button’.

Similar to the iPhone’s night shift, Samsung has added a Blue Light Filter. It dims the screen so that you can see it better in low light conditions, like at night or darkly lit room. Go to Settings> Display> Blue Light Filter to turn on. You can choose to do it automatically during sunset to sunrise, or manually. What I like even more is that you can choose opacity of the dimness. Additionally, it’s a shortcut on your notifications panel if you want quick access to it.