We Put Samsung's New Galaxy S8+ To The Test — At Coachella

If there's a time when you need your phone to be performing at its absolute best, it's a music festival. For one, you want to capture photos and video that will induce instant social media FOMO. But you also need a phone that has a battery with real lasting power, since you can't afford to lose friends in the crowd and usually can't plug in at a moment's notice.

That's why I decided to test out Samsung's new Galaxy S8+, the newest major iPhone competitor, at the music festival to beat all music festivals: Coachella.

Over the course of a weekend, I put the Galaxy S8+ through the ropes, taking hundreds of photos and videos and pushing the battery to its limits with excessive Google Maps searches. Click through to see whether the phone lived up to the hype.

Photo: Madeline Buxton.
The Basics

The best part of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ is the the infinity display and bezel-less designs. Compared to the 5.5-inch-display on the iPhone 7 Plus, the S8+ has a 6.2-inch display. The almost completely edge-to-edge glass screen makes viewing anything on the phone a far more beautiful, immersive experience. This is the closest you're going to get to a wide-screen TV that fits in your pocket.

The S8+ is also slightly lighter than the iPhone7 Plus, though when holding one in each hand I couldn't really tell the difference.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Side Note

To access the phone's full app menu you swipe upwards. But you can swipe towards the left of the screen to open a side panel, where you can add the apps you use the most. For my trip's purposes, these included Instagram, Snapchat, and the Coachella app. You can also add your favorite contacts to that side panel for easy messaging and calling access.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Eye See You

While the Galaxy S8+ has a fingerprint scanner for unlocking the phone, the iris scanner with built-in face recognition is getting the most hype. When setting up your phone, hold the camera up and in front of your face while it registers your eyes. As excited as I was about the iris scanner, in the end it was really a pain. The scanner doesn't work well when the light is poor or when you're wearing sunglasses. I always had mine on to block the California sun, meaning that I needed to take them off to squint at the iris scanner or use another means to unlock my phone.

The fingerprint scanner is also annoying to use, since it's small and located right next to the camera. I ended up accidentally pressing and smudging my camera almost every time I went to access it.

This left me using the pin pad to unlock the phone, which works fine, but defeats the point of having the other two components available in the first place.
Talk To Me

The Galaxy S8+ doesn't have much to distinguish its messaging from that of iOS 10, but I was a fan of the built-in message dictation. While I rarely use the microphone on my iPhone, I found myself using it almost constantly on the Galaxy S8+, since the phone accurately recorded my message every time. Given that I was holding a bottle of water and constantly applying sunscreen, it was nice to talk to my phone rather than type to text.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
What Are You Looking At?

Samsung's new Bixby voice assistant (the phone's version of Siri and Google Assistant), won't arrive on the Galaxy S8 and S8+ until an update later this spring, but the phones do come equipped with Bixby vision. After activating vision, you'll see a small green dot appear on all your photos. Tap that, and you can choose one of four modes, depending on what the photo shows: Shopping, Place, Image, QR Code, Text, and Wine. Each mode offers additional insights into what you're seeing. So, for example, with text you can translate words on screen or save info from a business card to your contacts.

On my photos, I tried out the "image" mode, to see if Bixby could detect what was in my photo. I was pleasantly surprised to see that even for something as nonspecific as the Coachella ferris wheel, Bixby was able to pull up related images that matched.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Charge On

A full day of using the Galaxy S8+ on festival grounds left me with 35% battery life. This is on par with what we found when we tested the iPhone 7, but isn't bad when you consider that my phone was constantly searching for a signal (everyone had their phones out), and I was using my camera and Google Maps far more than I usually do.

The most impressive factor was the charging speed. There are charging stations on festival grounds, but the spaces are limited and I wanted to power up as quickly as possible so I could get back to the music. It took less than an hour for the completely dead phone to come back to 100%. The phone can also charge wirelessly with a wireless charging pad.

The Galaxy S8+ gives you far more battery saving options than the iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. Under Settings > Device Maintenance > Battery, you'll see two power modes: Mid, which provides over 10 hours of extra battery life, and Max, which provides over 100 extra hours of battery life. You can also choose to save power on individual apps, which means that when you aren't using the selected app, it won't affect your battery. I tend to forget to close apps, so this is a major bonus.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Show Me The Light

Samsung wasn't lying when it said its new cameras produce brighter and clearer photos. This is all thanks to the phone's 12 MP dual pixel rear camera and 8 MP smart autofocus front camera. The photo on the left was taken with my iPhone 7 Plus. The photo on the right, which is far brighter and shows more contrast, was taken with the Galaxy S8+.

It's also much easier to switch from your rear to front facing cameras with one hand. All you need to do is swipe up or down. The phone has advanced editing tools, including a special filter for taking food photos. Should you want to put on cat ears without opening Snapchat, there's a filter for that, too.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Night Vision

I also preferred the Galaxy S8+'s nighttime shots (right) to those of my iPhone 7 Plus. The sky is darker and the lights of the ferris wheel look sharper. I found that my iPhone 7 Plus tended to take fuzzier photos at night than the Galaxy S8+.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
Selfie Time

Selfies are once instance where I do prefer the iPhone 7 Plus's camera to that of the Galaxy S8+. The latter seemed to put an overly bright filter on my face, which smoothes out any blemishes, but also makes me look even paler than I already am. The iPhone 7 Plus shows my red spots, but looks more like me.
Photo: Madeline Buxton.
So, Should You Make The Switch?

The decision of whether to take the plunge and invest in the Galaxy S8+ comes down to preference since there are some trade-offs. I still prefer messaging on the iPhone to that of the Galaxy S8+, which counts for something since I mostly use my phone to text. However, I like the battery saving options of the Galaxy S8+ and, overall, the photos I took with the Samsung phone were better than those taken with my iPhone. Plus, viewing photos on the Galaxy S8+ is a nicer experience because of the larger screen. As for Bixby versus Siri, it's too soon to say since Bixby's voice component isn't active yet.

For loyal Android users, the Galaxy S8 (prices start at $720) is definitely worth the investment. As for iOS devotees, it comes down to what you care about more: your photos or your messages.

Either way, the good news is that you can't really go wrong.
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