Every time a major new phone comes out, we at PCMag do this thing called a “spec comparison.” These are search-driven articles designed for people who are desperate to find out, for instance, if the Samsung Galaxy S7 is “better” than the iPhone 6s before anyone has spent any decent amount of time with them. Similar examples are all over the internet, with tech fans using specs as a proxy for how well something works.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8, with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, aims to break that model. Only Samsung and Apple, with their massive marketing budgets and powerful brands, could do this and get away with it. It’s a risky play, and Samsung has to deliver on its promises. But if the Galaxy S8 performs as well as it promises, it could upend many of the ways tech-savvy shoppers currently look at phones.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor hasn’t been a benchmarking superstar. In initial benchmarks by Anandtech, the 835 shows slight advantages over the Snapdragon 821 on integer performance, but seems to have seriously backslid on floating-point. Apple fans will chortle.
But as Qualcomm never tires of saying, the Snapdragon 835 platform is much more than the processor. It also includes the GPU, digital signal processors, a dedicated image-processing chip, an audio chip, and an LTE modem, none of which show up on most benchmarks.
If the 835 is a stellar performer, that could throw the value of CPU-focused benchmarks like Geekbench and Antutu into question, driving reviewers and smart buyers to results from more application-focused benchmarks like PCMark.
Killing Screen Measurements
The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are 5.8 and 6.2 inches. Sounds huge, right? That’s one area where Samsung’s spec sheet looks artifically good rather than unrealistically bad.
The Galaxy S7’s screen was 5.2 inches diagonal at a 16:9 ratio, making it about 11.6 square inches. Because the S8’s screen is extremely tall and narrow, its 5.8-inch screen is probably around 13.4 square inches. But wait! The same 5.8-inch screen at the Galaxy S7’s aspect ratio would be 14.4 square inches. So you’re losing a square inch of space through the aspect ratio change.
In my mind, that goes to good use: the S8 stays narrow and hand-friendly. But it messes with the spec sheet. Do we need to start measuring screens in square inches rather than diagonals?
Killing Battery Size
The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+’s batteries are 3,000 and 3,500mAh, respectively. The first one is the same size as the S7’s, while the S8+ has a slightly smaller one than the S7 Edge did. Yet Samsung says they’ll have better battery life because of new chemistry and software that extend the life of the battery: a new S8+ may have slightly shorter battery life than an S7 Edge when it’s right out of the box, but it’ll have longer battery life a year later. If that’s actually true, it makes it really hard to shop by battery size.
The Galaxy S8’s fingerprint scanner is on the back of the phone, in a horrible location right next to the camera. So Samsung is trying to sell us on iris scanning and face recognition as secure ways to authenticate and unlock our phones.
There aren’t a lot of other phones out there with iris scanners. If the iris scanner works well, it could create a whole new category of identity verification platform that people will look for, much as Windows Hello has started to do on laptops and Windows tablets.
The Galaxy S8 uses the same main camera sensor as the Galaxy S7 did, a 12-megapixel unit. But Samsung says the S8 has better low-light performance, in part because of those parts of the Snapdragon 835 that don’t get measured by Geekbench.
Megapixels have been dead for a while, but some people insist on shopping by them. The Google Pixel and Galaxy S7 had the best smartphone cameras last year, and they weren’t the highest megapixel. The real question here is whether Samsung can show improvements in its camera performance purely through software. The industry may be moving towards DxOMark as a way of measuring overall camera performance, but that benchmark is really opaque. So we’re going to have to find a new way to describe camera performance, now that megapixel numbers verge on meaninglessness.