One of the hardest questions to answer, once you’ve decided to buy one of Samsung’s awesome new Galaxy S8 phones, is whether to go for the regular 5.8-inch variety or the Plus-sized 6.2-inch model. If I had to make that decision before seeing and using both phones, I’d have said the regular S8 is as much smartphone as anyone needs, offering great one-handed use and a price that’s at least $100 less dear. But I’ve just wrapped up a busy week with the Galaxy S8 Plus, and I’m no longer sure about that. This handset, in spite of its vast screen, is one of the nicest and most comfortable phones I’ve reviewed in recent times.
Other than its larger size and battery, the S8 Plus has the same design as the regular Galaxy S8. With the additional branding, that might lead you to think that Samsung designed the smaller phone first and then scaled it up — a la Apple and its iPhone Plus variants — but I get the feeling that the S8 Plus was the original vision that Samsung was aiming for. This company is famous for pushing phones to ever bigger sizes, and I just find the ergonomics of the S8 Plus to be too good to have been a happy accident.
The 6.2-inch diagonal measurement of the S8 Plus is a little beguiling, as the phone’s elongated shape breaks our usual method for comparing screen sizes across brands and models. But, suffice it to say, the display is large by anyone’s standards. And large displays have always required two hands for safety, except now, apparently, they don’t. I’ve used the Galaxy S8 Plus just as I would a Google Pixel, a OnePlus 3T, or a Galaxy S7 Edge: one-handed. Yes, reaching the top of the S8 Plus to pull down the notification shade requires a readjustment of my grip, but the phone’s sides are so nicely contoured that I do that switch unconsciously and with little effort.
Samsung has placed the S8 Plus’ power button at the perfect height for my thumb to naturally rest on top of it. The company’s Bixby button, sitting opposite but a little lower, is less convenient for me to reach in spite of the difference being only small. I don’t mind this, since I doubt Bixby will ever prove useful to me within this phone’s lifespan, but that small distinction is notable for how well it illustrates the small margin for error when designing a phone’s ergonomics. On the left, my thumb sits idle between the volume rocker and Bixby, whereas on the right it’s positioned ideally to unlock the phone or launch the camera. Given the distinct averageness of my hands, I’d describe this as a winning design for the majority of potential users. And that’s still very rare for any phone with a large screen.
Good design and advanced screen technology lead to a beautiful defiance of usual expectations
Those of us who survived using the Galaxy Note 7 before its recall fiasco last year might have seen this coming. The Note 7 introduced the symmetry between front and back — all the edges of the glass on the front curve backward to meet a mirrored curve from the rear glass — that the Galaxy S8 devices now carry as their signature look. It made for an absolutely delightful design with the Note 7, which was a pleasure (and a little bit of a luxury) to just hold and play around with, and it’s at the heart of the S8’s appeal. Provided Samsung has put the Note 7’s battery woes behind it, the S8 and S8 Plus design is undoubtedly the pinnacle of this company’s hardware engineering to date. It completely rectifies the ergonomic headache of 2016’s Galaxy S7 Edge, which also looked gorgeous, but had edges that invited accidental touches from a user’s gripping hand. Both S8s have the proper palm rejection, and though they look slick and shiny, neither is slippery or easy to drop.
The one major shortcoming of the Galaxy S8 Plus happens to be shared with its smaller sibling: both have the appallingly misplaced fingerprint sensor on the back, sitting just to the side of the camera. Trying to use that thing as your everyday unlocking mechanism is a nightmarish proposition on both phones, which I’m willing to forgive only because of the excellent iris scanner that Samsung provides as an alternative.
I can’t tell you that the Galaxy S8 Plus is ergonomically better than the smaller Galaxy S8. Putting the two side by side, you’ll probably conclude that the smaller phone is easier to handle. But that’s to be expected. My point here is that, for its size, the S8 Plus is more impressive and defies more expectations than its regular counterpart. Google’s Pixel XL, Apple’s iPhone 7 Plus, Huawei’s Mate 9, and even Xiaomi’s Mi Mix — which also has a bezel-starved display — all feel like oversized bricks compared to the S8 Plus. Hell, even the smaller Google Pixel is made to look like an unrefined slab of whatever compared to Samsung’s distilled, palm-friendly design (though I still favor the Pixel for its superior camera).
The choice between S8 models should come down to how much you value having a larger screen and a longer-lasting battery. If it’s more than the price premium Samsung or your local carrier charges, go ahead and supersize your next phone. The traditional downgrade of ergonomics as you move up in size class just isn’t apparent with the Galaxy S8 Plus.