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UNBOXED: David Pogue gets a first look at the Samsung Galaxy 8

David Pogue
Tech Critic

Yes, kids, it’s that time of year again: Another Samsung Galaxy phone is here! And it’s mostly phenomenal.

Starting at $726 —that’s $77 more than the equivalent iPhone 7—you get a waterproof, fast, rugged, gorgeous, expandable smartphone that packs a huge screen into a relatively small body. How? By filling the entire front, nearly edge to edge, with screen. No margins.

That also means no physical Home button. The Home button is now a picture on the screen. Works fine, except that where will the fingerprint reader go?

Samsung has opted to put it on the back of the phone—unfortunately, right next to the camera lens. Every time you try to unlock the phone with your finger, you’ll get finger grease on the lens. Oopsie!

The other bad news is Samsung’s philosophy of “there’s no such thing as too much.” The phone is laden with bloatware, including Samsung’s own, pointless duplicates of Android’s browser, photo manager, and so on. And there are, believe it or not, 55 setup steps before you can start using the phone.

That’s out of control.

You should also know that one of the most delicious new features of the S8 isn’t yet activated: Bixby. That’s Samsung’s smarter version of Siri or Google Now. Once it’s turned on, Samsung says, when you press the dedicated Bixby button on the left edge of the phone, you’ll be able to say, “Email this photo to my mom,” for example, or “Put on my Party playlist and call me an Uber home.” (It will work with only 10 apps at the outset.)

But never mind all that: As long as you don’t mind its new tall, skinny shape (and the letterbox bars that therefore appear when you’re watching videos), you will adore this phone. The camera (basically the same one as on last year’s S7) is terrific. It now come with cool features like Bixby Vision, which recognizes products by their packaging and offers to let you buy them; recognizes famous buildings and gives you information about them; and recognizes text in other languages and tries to translate them.

The phone also charges super fast—basically, 1 minute per percent. 30 minutes, 30%. A “wireless” charging stand is also available.

And you can log in with either a fingerprint, face recognition (people say you can fool it with a photo, but I wasn’t able to), or iris recognition (fails in bright sunlight).

And no, the Galaxy S8 won’t explode on you, like last year’s Note 7 fireball. The battery in the S8 is, alas, smaller than last year’s just for that reason; it will just get you through a day.

In other words, the new Galaxy is hot only in the sense of “lots of people will want it.”

For more, here’s Dan Howley’s full review.

 

More from David Pogue:

Inside the World’s Greatest Scavenger Hunt: Part I

Inside the World’s Greatest Scavenger Hunt: Part 2

Inside the World’s Greatest Scavenger Hunt, Part 3

The David Pogue Review: Windows 10 Creators Update

Now I get it: Bitcoin

David Pogue tested 47 pill-reminder apps to find the best one

David Pogue’s search for the world’s best air-travel app

The little-known iPhone feature that lets blind people see with their fingers

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes nontoxic comments in the comments section below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email