6 things I learned traveling with the Galaxy S8 Plus

Travel revelations from Samsung's super-tall, super-specced flagship.

It takes time to get to know a new phone and understand all of its various quirks, strengths and foibles. Traveling with a device can rapidly accelerate that process, though. Nothing pushes a phone to its limits like juggling airport navigation, boarding passes and in-flight antics — and that's before you start on however much work or play awaits you at the other end.

That's exactly what I've been doing for the past couple of weeks, first taking my Samsung Galaxy S8+ to San Francisco, then on to Google I/O in Mountain View and back, before hopping on another plane a couple days later to Computex show in Taipei, Taiwan — from where I write this article.

After spending entirely too much time taking the S8+ on and off planes and across borders, I decided to share a few of the things I've learned...

1. The camera beats the GS7 where it really matters

If we needed further proof that DxOMark scores alone are a flimsy metric for measuring camera performance, this is it. The Galaxy S8 was recently awarded the same DxO score as the S7 — 88/100 — and while at first glance there isn't much separating Galaxy S8 photos from pics taken on its predecessor, there's a lot going on around multi-frame processing that makes the S8's camera the clear winner. Like the Google Pixel and HTC 10, the S8 takes multiple exposures by default, runs computation on them and conjures up the best-looking image it can, and this gives S8 has the edge in low-light situations, or shots where your hands might be moving slightly.

Where the Galaxy S7 would wash out colors and give its photos a yellowish tint, the S8 can conjure up more accurate hues. Where motion blur could scupper the best low-light Pixel photo, the S8's OIS provides a necessary buffer. A great example of this is a type of shot I've tried again and again to master on a phone camera — shooting out of an airplane window over a nighttime cityscape. At landing, when there's actual motion in the shot. Even the Pixel struggles with this type of photo, and the S7 wasn't any better. On the S8 — with a few attempts, granted — I was actually able to get a decent, clear, sharp photo of the approach to Dubai airport.

That's an extreme fringe case, but the benefits apply to every low-light pic you'll take with the Galaxy S8 — I've seen clear improvements with photos in dark bars and restaurants, as well as night-time landscape shots like the shot of the Bay Bridge above. Plus it's running the same algorithms even on daylight shots too, even if the improvements are harder to spot in well-lit scenes.

The Google Pixel remains the king of high-contrast photos, where Google's HDR+ magic is able to pull spectacular color detail out of night shots. At the same time, there's an argument to be made for the S8's sharper, more true-to-life images.

2. ... But you probably don't need to use Pro mode

It's great that the S8 offers a full manual mode, where you can tweak just about every setting imaginable and maintain full control over your photo. But as the full auto mode continues to improve — particularly this year with the addition of multi-frame photography — Pro mode seems increasingly redundant. Unless you're carrying a tripod around and want to experiment with multi-second exposure or light painting, you're better off living in "auto" and adjusting your EV level accordingly.

In some cases, 'Pro' mode can actually result in photos looking worse.

In fact, because Pro mode seems to not use the more advanced computational photography tricks of Auto mode, an image taken in Pro mode might actually look worse, with noticably reduced fine detail. That's something I found again and again as I tried to eke a little more detail out of night shots on the S8. In the Bay Bridge photo above, even though the ISO and shutter speed were very close, Auto mode produced a better-looking landscape.

That's something you'll want to note if you're upgrading to an S8 from a Galaxy S6-era phone, where manual mode (and a steady hand) was a relatively easy way to improve low-light picture quality.

3. It's easily the best 'direct sunlight' phone screen

For the past couple of years, Samsung's phones have featured a daylight mode, which pushes the display into overdrive to maintain visibility in very bright direct sunlight at the cost of color accuracy. In the early days, there was a jarring transition when this mode was suddenly activated, but the Galaxy S8's daylight mode is far easier on the eyes,

I took three phones with me to last year's I/O, which was the first to be hosted under the California sun at Shoreline Amphitheater in Moutain View.

  • The Nexus 6P's display? Practically invisible.
  • The LG G5? Lol nope.
  • Galaxy S7 edge? Better, but not by much.

Under similar conditions at this year's I/O, the improvement on my S8+ was shocking. I could actually see and use the display even directly under the sun at midday.

That's thanks to the new, brighter daylight mode supported by Samsung's new panels. In testing, DisplayMate found that the Galaxy S8's screen could crank itself all the way up to 1,000 nits if necessary, compared to 610 if you're adjusting the slider manually. Now, running the screen this bright for long periods probably isn't great for the longevity of the panel, but it works wonders on the few occasions where you really need that extra brightness.

4. One-handing this thing is not impossible

Easy one-handed use is important when you're traveling, because there's an above average chance your other hand will be occupied with bags, rolling luggage or a camera. And to begin with, the Galaxy S8+ was among the most awkward to wrangle without involving a second hand — for me, it was right up there with the Nexus 6.

But as I've been forced to use the S8+ more and more with just one paw, I've figured out a grip and workflow that works for me. An important part of that is having a backup option if you do need to reach something at the very top of the screen — for me, that's Samsung's one-handed mode.

One-handed mode looks ridiculous, but is actually really useful.

More: How to use one-handed mode on the Samsung Galaxy S8

Bizarrely, it's disabled by default, but once enabled, a simple swipe-in gesture from the bottom-right corner of the screen shrinks the contents of the 6.2-inch display into a 4.2-inch window. It sounds (and looks) slightly ridiculous, but once you're used to the gesture, it's easy to activate it, swipe down for notifications (or inwards for a "hamburger" menu), then tap the outer area to go fullscreen again.

It's certainly easier than fumbling with the phone to get your thumb in line with something at the very top of the display. And I've found it indispensable when carrying a laptop bag, camera and lenses around Google I/O.

5. The S8+ stand case is a great tray table companion

In general day-to-day use, I'll normally use my phones without a case — most of the time, I don't need the added bulk that a case brings — and of course, a beautiful phone like the Galaxy S8+ deserves to not be hidden behind hard plastic or flimsy rubber. But that changes when I travel. I've picked up too many mystery scratches and abrasions at airports and during flights, so to save my S8+ from suffering the same fate, I picked up Samsung's official clear view stand case.

As further travel restrictions on tablets look likely, a stand case for a large smartphone is a decent in-flight alternative.

Like "clear view" cases for older Samsung phones, you can see the Always-On Display through it, the plastic protects all the vulnerable areas of the phone, and flipping it open will power on the screen fully. There's a soft-touch coating on the inside, which should hopefully prevent the front cover from wearing on the screen in places, as some earlier models did.

The big difference, though, is that this one also doubles as a stand, letting me prop up the GS8+ on my tray table and burn through a few episodes of Better Call Saul on Netflix while I was in the air. With the prospect of larger devices being banned on flights into the U.S., a case like this is a good backup to have.

Between protecting my phone in hand baggage bins and serving as a stand, the case itself has picked up a few scrapes — which, after all, is its job.

6. I've learned to live with the S8's wonky biometrics

Smart Lock with Bluetooth isn't an option on an airplane.

I've never liked the Galaxy S8's fingerprint scanner, found face unlock frustrating to use when checking notifications, and was loathed to rely on iris unlock when it didn't work outside. But between fingerprint, iris and Google's Smart Lock feature, I'm now at the point where the phone's decidedly wonky biometric security doesn't bother me too much.

I tend to leave my smartwatch of choice, the original Huawei Watch, switched off in-flight, which means Smart Lock isn't an option. That might not seem like a big deal, but consider how many times you might unlock your phone through multiple long-haul flights — it all adds up. Most of the time, in the relatively dim conditions of an airplane cabin, iris unlock worked surprisingly reliably. After all, your seating position doesn't change too much throughout a flight, nor does the ambient brightness get anywhere near that of a bright, sunny day.

The rest of the time, with the clear view stand case fitted, I found it easier to guide my index finger onto the rear-mounted scanner — something I wasn't able to do reliably with the case off.

I'd still prefer a reliable front-facing fingerprint scanner, or something under the display — which is surely on the cards for the Note 8 and beyond. But I've been surprised that when I'm forced to, I actually can work with the S8's trio of imperfect biometric options.


Got any Galaxy S8 travel tips of your own? Share them down in the comments!

It’s time for a holiday weekend comments thread!

Sit back, relax and chat about stuff because it's the weekend!

Another week is in the can, and we have a three day weekend to quietly reflect and rest so we're ready for Tuesday to come. Just kidding. Weekends are for fun!

What started as a quiet week (everyone was recuperating from Google I/O) quickly morphed into something with good news for Canada about Android Pay, more teasers from Andy Rubin, and a beautiful shiny HTC U11 that nobody is going to buy because Samsung didn't make it. You know it's true, don't hate.

So, yeah, Even a slow week in the Android world has a bunch of cool stuff. But that's all done and in this thread, we only care about Memorial Day weekend stuff!

What are y'all doing this weekend? I'm stuck at home after some minor back surgery (I'm fine, just want to lay down again and take a bath. And glorious pain meds!) so I'm gonna do something really stupid cool. I'm gonna hack the ever-loving you-know-what out of the Jelly phone. I snagged it from Mr. Mobile at Google I/O and it's just begging to become the tiny king of all Androids. Or something. It's so tiny and different it must be done, or get broken in the process.

Creative Commons 3.0

Happy Memorial Day, and never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died while serving.

Best Watch Bands for Samsung Gear S2 Classic

Class up your Samsung Gear S2 Classic with some great watch bands.

Updated May 2017: Added Moretek's great silicone band — perfect for fitness fanatics.

If you've bought or are looking into buying the Samsung Gear S2 Classic, then you're probably someone who enjoys the traditional watch look with some sweet tech under the hood.

We've rounded up the best watch bands for your Gear S2 Classic so that you can match your smartwatch to your personal taste and lifestyle.

SLG D7 Buttero Italian leather band

SLG (Small Leather Goods) make some beautiful leather straps and the Buttero Italian leather band is our favorite. It blends the classic, sophisticated look of leather with a modern and fresh design.

SLG, based in South Korea, makes its bands from high-quality Italian leather from the Walpier tannery. While most leather bands can feel somewhat oppressive, becoming soggy from sweat, SLG's Buttero bands are designed with patterned holes to make sure your wrist can breathe.

That and they just look great. SLG Buttero Italian Leather bands come in beige, black, and blue. We particularly dig the blue, but they'll all look great with any color Gear S2 Classic.

See at SLG

Infantry

Infantry makes another awesome leather band that eschews sophistication for the more rugged, distressed leather look. The inside of the band is soft and comfortable, while the outside is a deep and warm brown.

There is one downside to Infantry's band in that it does cover your Gear S2 Classic's heart rate monitor. Oh well. Fashion first!

Infantry leather bands come in different shades of brown and black, with different color combinations for buckles and straps. You might as well get a few, since they start around $12 each.

See at Amazon

Geckota

Geckota shark mesh bands are a unique blend of cool and functional. They resemble Milanese loop watch bands, but feature a more spread-out design that looks like a series of woven chains, which looks really neat and offers excellent durability and strength. Your Gear S2 Classic is never coming off your wrist accidentally and you should have a pretty hard time breaking the band.

The clasp is an easy to use stainless steel fold-over with a brushed finish. Even if you rest your wrist on hard surfaces, scratches shouldn't mare the clasp or scuff it up too badly like they would with a glossier finish.

It's worth mentioning that the black features ion-plated coating which could chip off over time, though these Geckota bands are of high quality.

See at Amazon

Casetify

Casetify has partnered with Samsung to make bands specifically for the Gear S2 Classic. Each band is made of comfortable and flexible TPU, which is often used to make phone cases. That means that Casetify bands are durable and strong, so you shouldn't have to worry about everyday wear and tear.

These bands come in five quirky designs, which will certainly add a definitive accent your Gear S2 Classic. You can get Casetify bands in Gold and Coral, White Marble, Dark Marble, Diamond (which features a multi-colored geometric pattern), and Woodland Camouflage.

If you're looking for a band that makes a statement while also fitting comfortably, then check out Casetify's line. If the band you want isn't available now, you can ask Casetify to notify you by email when it does become available.

See at Casetify


Barton Ballistic Nylon

Barton makes great watch bands, and its Ballistic Nylon line is there for you to mix and match. At around $12 apiece, you might as well grab all 21 colors and color combinations (well, maybe not all of them).

Ballistic nylon was originally developed by DuPont as a material for flak jackets for airmen during WWII. That's why these types of bands are sometimes referred to as "NATO-style." It's a tough and durable material that'll secure your Gear S2 Classic, but it'll also breathe and move with you.

Like the Infantry bands above, Barton bands unfortunately block your Gear S2 Classic's heart rate monitor. However, if that's not a huge deal and you put comfort and fashion above that function, then you really can't go wrong with a Barton band.

Make sure you select the right size – 20mm – before checking out.

See at Amazon

Barton Quick-release

Barton makes silicone bands that definitely deserve a mention in our best list. They're thin and lightweight, while also breathable and very comfortable.

These quick-release bands come in vibrant colors and are the epitome of convenience. A little slider on each side of the band allows you to quickly change bands on the fly. And for around $13 each, you might as well grab a few and change them daily!

The best part of silicone is that it's waterproof and washable. If you're wearing a Barton band because you'll be pretty active, easily remove it and wash it with some gentle dish soap. No stinky wrists (like leather bands can cause).

If you like the comfort, durability, and versatility of silicone, then check out Barton's line up.

Make sure you have 20mm selected before you check out.

See at Amazon

Cbin Milanese

If you love the light, stylish Milanese loop style, then Cbin's band is the one for you. It comes in black, silver, and rose red (who you foolin'?), and has a fully magnetic closure, making it easy to put on and take off.

This band is great for everyday use (though the black is plated, so you won't want to order that one if you're doing anything repetitive that might rub it and cause the finish to come off.

If you like a light metal band and want something that's great all the time, you really can't go wrong with the Milanese loop.

See at Amazon


Moretek

Moretek's sport band is perfect for the days when you know you might be a bit rough with your Gear S2 Classic. These silicone bands feature many holes so that your wrist can breathe and sweat can dry quickly. Moretek's bands are also waterproof and washable, so easily remove it from your Gear S2 Classic with the quick-release, and give it a thorough cleaning now and then.

You have your choice of six vibrant color combinations, and Moretek provides a one-year warranty should anything go wrong with your band.

See at Amazon


What's your favorite?

What's your favorite watch band for your Samsung Gear S2 Classic? Sound off in the comments below!

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Mophie Juicepack for Pixel XL: A beast of battery burden

What do you get someone who has a nearly perfect phone? More battery life, of course.

Google's Pixel XL is a lot of things. It's the phone to have if you're into tinkering. It gets updates before any other phone. It's got a camera that's considered one of the best available today.

But battery life? That's not always been its strongest asset, even considering its 3,450mAh capacity.

For years, the Mophie Juicepack has been the go-to battery case. Mostly for the iPhone, but more recently for Samsung's Galaxy S line. And now, it's available for the Pixel XL.

What you need to know: This case will make the phone thicker. Longer. Heavier. It'll make the fingerprint sensor harder to get to.

And it'll increase battery capacity by more than 75%.

Notice I don't say "battery life." Actual usage time is one of those things that very much will vary from person to person, even with the extra 2,950mAh. But with that sort of increase, you know that you'll be running much longer than you would have otherwise. (And reminder that you gain wireless charging with this thing.)

The soft-touch coating on the case is exactly what we've come to expect over the years — just about perfect, if still prone to the oil from your fingers. The seam where the top half of the case meets the bottom is well out of the way and nicely matched in any event. And the case itself should do its usual protection job.

Oh, this doesn't feel like a Pixel XL anymore. There's nothing svelte about this phone when it's wearing a Juicepack. I'm now showing 9.75 ounces on the scale (up from the naked phone's 5.83 ounces). The flat back is demolished by what I want to describe as something more whale-like.

We've all seen these cases before. They're beasts.

See at Amazon