Design and Build
If you’ve heard any rumblings out of Samsung’s camp at all these past few months, it’s likely been something to do with the Galaxy S8’s bold, aggressive design that chops bezels and adds more screen.
The S8 is a stunning smartphone, and for their money consumers can expect a gorgeous, premium device that sits comfortably in the hand. The S8’s odd aspect ratio (18:9.5) gives rise to the Infinity Display; a hulk of screen that draws users into any mobile experience.
On the rear, the S8 is more familiar; the single camera away we’ve come to expect from Samsung has been lowered to sit nearly flush with the phone’s glass rear; a new, oblong fingerprint scanner debuts next to it that you’ll either accept or hate.
Round the sides are Samsung’s typically clicky buttons, and the S8 gets one more button than previous Samsung devices have had – a convenience key to summon Bixby, the company’s new intelligent assistant that – at the time of writing – doesn’t yet support voice input.
On the other side of the road is the Huawei P10; a svelte slab of unibody aluminium that looks somewhat similar to Apple’s iPhone – and, for once, that’s actually a great thing. The P10 iterates on last year’s P9 by refining and rounding its corners, and introducing a new, subtle grip on the power key.
There are also some changes on the front, given that for the first time Huawei has adopted a front-facing fingerprint scanner on the P10; rather than serve as a button, this is simply a surface, while Android’s soft touch buttons sit on the screen just above it.
The P10 doesn’t benefit from an Infinity Display, but it does have a gorgeous 1080p panel that lets colours pop. Atop and beneath that sit a wider forehead and chin, designed to make room for a front-facing fingerprint sensor.
Placing these two side-by-side, the differences are apparent; Samsung’s S8 connotes with bold vision, while Huawei’s P10 represents the finer points of smartphone design that we’ve become accustomed to over the past two years.
For burgeoning futurologists, the Galaxy S8 is a must-have device; a gorgeous, wide screen amount to a seriously slinky handset, while a glass-covered rear sits gently in one’s hands. The S8 is a masterful exercise in reachability, and gives consumers many options for biometric security.
Pitfalls? There are a few – the S8 doesn’t entirely deliver on its vision of a future where we can use our eyes or faces to unlock our devices. Iris scanning can be tricky to set up – as we noted in our review – and facial recognition remains easily tricked.
That in itself wouldn’t be so bad, were it not for the fact that Samsung has been unable to embed a fingerprint scanner beneath the primary display of a smartphone; resulting in the awkwardly-placed rear unit that has left critics throwing up their arms.
The Huawei P10 is perhaps a less edgy endeavour, but is one that feels remarkably solid in the hand; where the S8 can feel frail – and proven by those who’ve taken the plunge and accidentally dropped their – the P10 is bolstered by a similar aluminium rigidity to what iPhones 6 through 7 have enjoyed. An unfortunate omission on Huawei’s part is the absence of waterproofing, which the Galaxy S8 enjoys.
There’s also the matter of ergonomics, which the P10 has demonstrated superbly for right-handers; one’s thumb tends to gravitate to the grip atop the P10’s power button, assuring one that the handset is secure. The front-facing fingerprint scanner shares similar, astute placement in that one can easily unlock the device with a flash of their thumb over the embossed surface.
The argument between the Galaxy S8 and P10 is one of features and practicality; a debate perhaps best expressed by the S8’s novelty and the P10’s conservative design. There’s little middle-ground present here; where the Galaxy S8 makes strides in bold and beautiful design, the P10 underpins that movement by offering rigidity and surety. What consumers will have to consider when choosing between these two phones is whether they’re content to sit on the bleeding edge, or safely on the precipice.
Samsung has, for the first time in its history, skated closer to stock Android than ever before with the death of TouchWiz and the emergence of Samsung Experience; its new software skin that employs sleek lines, simple colours and rich typography to give a unique visual appeal.
Huawei, similarly, has refined EMUI into something that is beginning to represent the ideal of stock Android; the P10 is the first of Huawei’s devices to benefit from the presence of an (optional) app drawer.
Where Samsung’s design language makes use of simple line iconography and colour sets to distinguish apps, Huawei continues to offer its theme engine to users – enabling consumers to pick and choose the visual direction that they wish their device to head in.
EMUI’s icon sets – as always – arrive in vibrant colours and are plentiful in detail, though they perhaps land in a juncture of Android’s history where other manufacturers are stepping away from theme engines and are opting to give users more personal control over how their device looks.
Where both these skins have made strides in parallel directions, their form factor has had equal influence on where they are divergent. The Galaxy S8, relying on its 18:9.5 aspect ratio, requires that Android apps equip support for awkward resolutions; Samsung Experience gives users the option to run un-optimized apps in either full-screen (stretched) or in their native (largest, closest) aspect ratio.
This can at times give apps a fiddly feel, especially where stretched content might spill close to the device’s Edge display; the S8 further tends to hide its soft-touch buttons (the middle of which has a capacitive sensor) resulting in more swipes to control one’s navigation throughout the phone.
The Huawei P10 offers a more conventional 1080×1920 resolution, meaning that virtually all Android apps arrive with native support; the presence of minimal side bezels and a bottom chin ensure fewer wasted gestures than the S8 accommodates. A downside of this is that Android’s soft-touch buttons remain punishingly small atop the P10’s fingerprint sensor, at times making navigation difficult.
A benefit EMUI has over Samsung Experience is the presence of deep-learning; to prevent the gradual app slow-down that comes with old age, the P10 can prioritise frequently used apps and appropriate more RAM and processing power to keep the proverbial lights on where they’re needed most – which leads us to our next subject…
The Galaxy S8 hits the market with one major selling point for power-hungry performance fiends; the presence of Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 835 chipset, or (if you’re outside of the US) Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 processor.
The latter processor is a point of interest for this debate, as in this case it squares off neatly against Huawei’s own HiSilicon 960 chipset; meaning that this is a battle between China and South Korea playing out on South Africa’s doorstep.
What makes for consideration is the case that this is a fight between priority and plenty. The Galaxy S8 arrives with multiple software features in tow that the P10 doesn’t bear; namely, the inclusion of an Edge display, Bixby, and support for Iris Scanning and Facial Recognition.
The Huawei P10, instead, keeps its operations clean and to the point – the major draw of the handset, beyond its front-facing fingerprint sensor, is the presence of a Leica-made dual-lens camera setup (the details of which we’ll dive into shortly).
As we noted in our full review, the Galaxy S8 performs with aplomb; there’s seldom an instance of lag to complain about, and the handset runs as cool as they come. The presence of a dedicated high-performance mode will delight those seeking to eke out as much power as possible, and the availability of the company’s DeX docks will allow consumers to transition their mobile device into an on-the-go PC.
Does the Galaxy S8 deliver on all these points? There are a few caveats – Iris Scanning can be intermittent, and Facial Recognition can be easily fooled; further, there’s a subtle delay in awakening Bixby, which hasn’t yet matured enough to readily access all of its features. While this is undoubtedly a powerhouse phone, it is one that doesn’t exactly deliver on every single promise made at launch.
The Huawei P10 similarly runs smoothly, without threat of delay or stammer – and the handset’s use of machine learning to continuously optimise its operations and prioritise frequently used apps will keep consumers entertained with what they need to do, when they need to do it.
The P10 doesn’t arrive with the same biometric security options that the Galaxy S8 provides; the commonality between the two handsets is the presence of a fingerprint scanner – a debate the P10 easily clinches for the convenient placement of its sensor and the fact that it is easily one of – if not the fastest – fingerprint sensor we’ve had the pleasure of using on a mobile device. As they say, the classics work best.
Where the P10 thrives is its simplicity; this isn’t a device that thrusts a multitude of features on its user, and thanks to EMUI’s most mature update yet, this is the closest Huawei has ever come to Android purity on a P-series device; meaning that there is less clutter and more efficiency present.
The debate here is one that will likely end up in the hands of those with cash to splurge on either a P10 or Galaxy S8; those seeking a pure and convenient means to get things done will likely gravitate to the former, while tech enthusiasts seeking features that will likely be present on flagship smartphones in the next year will want to get in bed early with the latter.
Undoubtedly, the major bone of contention between fans of either the Galaxy S8 or the Huawei P10 will amount to a shootout in the camera department – given that both devices arrive with some of the finest photographic pedigrees in the mobile realm.
Interestingly, neither of these handsets offer anything substantially new over their forebears, and that’s what makes this conversation interesting; the strength of each phone’s photographic prowess is more or less measured by very subtle enhancements on technology that both Samsung and Huawei debuted last year.
We’ll say it up front – for a single-lens smartphone, the Galaxy S8 is one of the best vehicles for mobile photography we’ve yet come across; the same brilliance that underpinned the Galaxy S7 is here, and Samsung continue to exert substantial control over low-light scenarios that leave images captured with the Galaxy S8 vibrant and without noise.
That doesn’t mean to say that the Galaxy S8 isn’t without a major fight on its hands, however – Huawei’s P10 crams in an additional monochrome lens, and the setup is once again produced in partnership with Leica; a leading German imaging brand.
Where many 2017 flagships have introduced a second lens as either a wide-angle (think LG G6) camera or a telephoto lens (think iPhone 7 Plus), Huawei continues to rely on a setup constituted by a 12-megapixel colour lens, and a 20-megapixel monochrome unit; this allows the P10 to capture two images and stitch them together in record time, allowing for rich, perfectly exposed images that never truly break into murky shadows or blinding highlights.
We took both the Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10 for a shootout at Cape Town’s Alexander Bar & Café, where we tasked each smartphone with the challenge of capturing images in the colourful, vibrant, and contrasting surrounds that are littered with rich set pieces to see just how each smartphone fared.
The Galaxy S8 captures rich highlights and shadows, and detail remains plentiful even in shots where light isn’t in abundance. Samsung’s charismatic over-saturation remains – though far lessened from the heady days of the Galaxy S5 and S6 – and provides punchy stills.
Huawei’s path to vibrancy is instead mixed on the depth of contrast and shade, which both its lenses go a long way to capturing – we found the P10 to reproduce colour with far greater accuracy than the Galaxy S8, given that the handset amicably captured the toughest of deep reds and gold tones in low-lit settings.
While the Galaxy S8 is adept in controlling its depth of focus, it often pales in comparison to the P10’s dedicated wide-aperture mode, which allows users to blur out the background of images and selectively control which subjects are in focus – and further tweak the depth of field after the image is taken.
This can sometimes require some tweaking after the fact – the P10 can at times distort its depth of field to blur out portions of the subject at hand, and this can be especially evident should one try to ensure that two subjects are in focus at once. However, the ability to edit these images and refocus afterwards will keep burgeoning Instagram stars happy.
Where the Huawei P9 gave one lens video duty, the P10 doubles up by allowing users to capture with both the colour and monochrome lens active; enabling rich, punchy video comparable with what the Galaxy S8 can provide – however, a sad limitation for content creators is that while the S8 can capture video in 4K, the P10 can only capture video in 2160p.
In terms of hardware, the P10 takes an immediate lead over the Galaxy S8, cramming in an additional 200mAh cell (making for a 3,200mAh battery) compared to the latter’s 3,000mAh unit. However, as we all too often know, it’s not size that matters – it’s how you use it.
Both the Galaxy S8 and Huawei P10 remained in lockstep during our review period, giving at least 16-18 hours of go-time on a single charge. The presence of USB Type-C equates to fast charging, and Galaxy S8 users are given the additional benefit of wireless charging should they choose to splurge on a wireless charging pad.
The P10 often took a lead on the Galaxy S8 when tasked with capturing images or video; where the Galaxy S8 could readily lose around 15% of its battery in taking images, the P10 managed to exert a tighter control over its battery – often only losing around 10% of its total battery life during an equivalent photographic bender.
The fact that both the Galaxy S8 and the P10 support fast-charging means that both handsets can rapidly regain their full capacity in the period of just over an hour, though the P10 often took an additional ten minutes to charge fully thanks to its larger battery.
Where some consumers might find umbrage with the Galaxy S8 is the handset’s frustrating Device Management mode, which often pesters users to tweak certain apps that tend to run in the background; this can be a frustrating endeavour when the handset continuously reminds one that Outlook rapidly depletes the device’s battery should email form an important part of one’s day.
Samsung’s Galaxy S8 and Huawei’s P10 are both best-in-class smartphones, but both arrive on the market with very different ideas.
The Galaxy S8 is Samsung’s premiere effort – a vision of what smartphones might look like throughout the next ten years and behind. Where it is exciting, it is also foreign – a unique form factor, user experience, and powerful specs amount to a very convincing phone that doesn’t do much wrong beyond its inability to offer features at launch that might take a further two years to fully round out.
The Huawei P10 is a vision of familiarity; a reliable contender in line with last year’s excellent P9; where the P9 had faults, Huawei has made strides to ensure that the P10 betters its predecessor in all areas – amounting to a sturdy phone with an excellent camera and capable slew of specs.
The major difference consumers will have to weigh up in their hearts and minds is that of price – the P10 retails for R12,999 ZAR while the Galaxy S8 retails for R15,599 ZAR.
For those seeking a slice of the future and are willing to trade durability and toughness for stamina and style, the Galaxy S8 is a great choice that won’t disappoint. The Galaxy S8 offers a sexy build with some of the best software Samsung has ever offered, and marks one of the brand’s finest moments in mobile history.
For consumers seeking a familiar, welcoming handset without the Galaxy S8’s hefty price tag, the Huawei P10 arrives with one of – if not the best – dual-lens camera setup on the market, and is cemented by a brilliant build and ergonomic design that sits naturally in one’s hand. Where the Galaxy S8 emphasises novelty, the P10 espouses refinement; and this is perhaps Huawei’s most polished design and execution yet.
Have your say!
What are your thoughts? Would you buy the Huawei P10 or the Samsung Galaxy S8? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!