Software & UI8.2
There’s a lot going on in terms of software with the Samsung Galaxy S8+, such as a custom look, Samsung’s home-grown AI Bixby and the on-screen navigation buttons, so let’s dive right into it.
Bixby & Google Assistant
There was a lot of buzz around Samsung’s own AI, with what it could do would distinguish it from Google Assistant. Unfortunately, Samsung wasn’t able to get the voice features working for English language, so we are limited to using the Assistant in its card form. Pressing the dedicated Bixby button brings up Bixby, which is a collection of various information such as most frequently contacted contacts, health data, important bits of news, appointments etc. It is essentially a much better looking Google Now, with colourful cards and neat organization. News feeds are populated through Flipboard and health data is populated by the user of the various sensors, including the heart rate sensor on the phone itself. During the India launch of the phone, we were told that Bixby will be deeply integrated with the phone, its hardware and software.
One area where we get to see this integration in action is with a notification I received a few nights ago thrown up by Bixby saying “I noticed that you normally go to bed at 3:30 a.m. Would you like me to set a reminder for this time everyday?” I’m paraphrasing that, because it was obviously very late at night and I didn’t take a screenshot. Unfortunately, its been a few days since that first notification and it has been the last since. For now, Bixby remains a largely unused feature on the phone, at least till it gets voice support. Interestingly, Google Assistant is also baked into the OS and works exactly like any other Android device. You can invoke it by either saying “Okay Google” or just long pressing the home button on the phone. For some reason, the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is just not good enough to recognize the voice command with the phone lying just two feet away. Normally during my drives from home to work, I would invoke the Google Assistant to make calls. Saying Okay Google activated the Assistant on a Google Pixel that was in my bag, and also on the LG G6 that was lying right next to the Galaxy S8+, but the Samsung phone remained unresponsive. Only when I would lift the phone and bring it closer to my mouth would the Assistant come up, defeating the purpose of a voice guided tool.
Moving onto the actual operating system, you get Android Nougat (version 7.0) right out of the box, with a custom TouchWiz UI designed to leverage the 18.5:9 aspect ratio display. The Nougat based ROM for the Samsung Galaxy S8+ is visually far more appealing that its predecessor. The system menu has been neatly organized into sections based on the nature of the setting, which looks very neat. The use of subtle soft colours is also very pleasing to the eye. If you’re a no non-sense person with little patience for exploring the settings menu, then the search bar on top will come in handy. If the appearance doesn’t gel well with you, there’s a multitude of themes you can download from the built-in theme store. Samsung super-charges multi-tasking with the Galaxy S8+ thanks to the multi-window and with a way to overlay an app on top of another. The large 6.2-inch display lends great usability to both these features.
In terms of stability, the new TouchWiz UI offers butter smooth operation. I could easily switch between various apps and games without any stutters or lag. In using this phone for almost a week, there has not been a single instance of an app crashing, regardless of how many apps were running in the background. It is nice to see speedy, reliable software on the Samsung phone and the Samsung Galaxy S8+ and for that, it scores high points. Given that Samsung had to implement a home button under the display, Samsung has taken the liberty to add a pressure sensitive zone under the display that acts as a home button. Take a cue from Apple’s Force Touch, the ROM on the Samsung Galaxy S8+ throws up a very useful contextual menu when you long press on any app’s icon. The options enable you to do more with the app (or apps). The biggest convenience is in the form of being able to select multiple apps that are installed on the phone and move them around, or put them into a folder without having to drag them one at a time. Very helpful if you’re restoring from a backup and end up with a large number of apps installed on your phone.