Samsung Galaxy S8: I Liked the S6 Better

It has been a little over a month since I “upgraded” from my Samsung Galaxy S6 to last year’s flag ship Galaxy S8. I can sum up my feelings and experiences in the following the sentence…

The battery life is better.

Honestly, the S8 is “different for the sake of being different” and it manages to do this in ways that are annoying steps backwards in terms of usability. Truly, I wish I didn’t get it, but I am stuck with it for two years (I had to give my S6 to my daughter, because her phone got broken). Yay…

Things that were fine on the S6, but suck on the S8:

  • Earbuds: They’re intrusive ear plugs that jam into one’s head such that one can hear themselves chew or touch things. What’s worse is that the wire is braided and when combined with the body-sound travel problem, the wire makes a horrible “nails on a chalk board” type sound when it rubs on anything.
  • The placement of the fingerprint sensor is fucking stupid! Constantly touching the camera lens, because some idiot put the fingerprint sensor beside it is annoying, but so is trying to press the sensor back there in general. On the S6, I could use my thumb or finger on the device easily, even when it was sitting on the desk, but with the S8 I MUST pick it up to unlock it.
  • The fingerprint sensor doesn’t work worth a damn and it nags much more frequently to use the password instead for security reasons. Really? Seriously? If the fingerprint sensor isn’t secure enough, why the hell is it an option???
  • The on screen buttons are annoying compared to the capacitive/real buttons on the S6. It’s amazing how obnoxious it is to have to DO SOMETHING to just to make a button available to be pressed – the damned thing should just be there already!
  • The camera is 12MP, not 16MP, and it defaults to portrait 4×3 photos, zooms too much when choosing the taller option, and is all around an annoying amount of “change for the sake of change”…
  • The rounded screen is a boring gimmick that adds absolutely nothing at all to the enjoyment of using the device, but it does make it such that one can’t purchase a case that properly protects the screen from frontal drops. As much as I didn’t like the Otterbox on my S6, at least it actually protected the whole device. S8 Otterboxes and other cases can’t, because they must accommodate the “edge” feature, which itself is a useless gimmick (software launcher).

Speaking of buttons, what’s up with the Bixby button? At least there is third party software that allows it to be bound (in a hacky way) to some other function. I bound it to Messenger, making it similar to the “Convenience Key” on my first smart phone, the Blackberry Curve 8520.

And… other than that, the Galaxy S8 is basically a taller, slightly thinner Galaxy S6 with rounded screen corners. Oh, I suppose it also has as USB-C port rather than the older style USB port. Woo… The internet is full of reviews for both phones, so if you’re interested have at’r with your favourite search engine.

To be clear, I don’t hate the Galaxy S8, there’s just a lot about it that annoys every time I use it where my Galaxy S6 never actively annoyed me at all in the two+ years I used it every day. My ONLY complaint about the S6 was that its battery life sucked. Everything on the S6 was awesome – Screen, camera, UI, build quality, sound, all that is very good on the S6. Apart from the camera software differences, the camera on the S8 is just as good as the S6’s, as is the screen, build quality, and UI.

Do I recommend buying the Samsung Galaxy S8 (or getting it for $0 on contract)? 

No, if you can buy something else that doesn’t have the above annoyances.

Yes, if those things won’t bother you or all your other options are worse.

There are plenty of worse devices out there. Plenty.

Ps. It should be noted that I use the Square Home launcher and have thus used very little of Samsung’s TouchWiz UI outside of the settings menu, phone app, and text message app. I’ve read mixed reviews about TouchWiz, but it generally doesn’t bother me. I just happen to find that the Windows Phone 7 style UI offered by Square Home is vastly superior in terms of ease of use (especially with one hand), simplicity, and customisation.

HP Chromebook 14 G4 Review

Aug 2018 Update: DO NOT BUY THIS DEVICE! Google pulled support for Android apps and it won’t be getting the ability to run native Linux programs either. Buy a Windows laptop and dual boot Linux (or just use Windows), because it’s worth the slightly higher price tag for a fully functional computer. Don’t buy a Chromebook, unless it’s for kids and it’s cheap as dirt.

Prior to purchasing a Chromebook this year, I didn’t have any hands on experience with them. I had read a fair amount about them and I had played with them in local stores, but I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect.

I’ve been using my HP Chromebook 14 G4 for the past few months as a replacement for my Dell Inpiron 1501 laptop. I am posting this review in the hopes that will be helpful to anyone who may be considering getting their first Chromebook. As such, I will keep it simple and related to how it actually is to use.

ChromeOS
Google’s simplified Linux distribution is essentially normal GNU/Linux with very little installed other than the Google Chrome web browser and a custom file manager. As a result, the built in driver support for USB devices is pretty good, apart from printers and scanners, and the system very stable – there just isn’t a whole lot to go wrong. It also boots extremely quickly despite being installed on modest hardware. That said, there is a lot one can do with ChromeOS that can’t be done with the just the Google Chrome browser itself.

“Chrome Apps” are stand alone programs that use the browser as an “engine”, providing access to the hardware and various programmer type things. They are no longer supported on other platforms (and I question how long Google will keep them around), but on Chromebooks they provide a massive amount of functionality that would not otherwise be available. The webstore has many free and inexpensive apps for all manner of tasks, such as writing, programming, drawing, photo editing, document manipulation, and so on. Some are better than others, but for the most part there are enough apps to accomplish all the mundane computer activities.

As for the browser itself, it’s not too shabby. Essentially the same experience as you’d have on the desktop, with only a few extra options in the settings menu. It’s responsive and well supported by every website I have ever visited, so over all, using it is a fine web experience.

The user interface of ChromeOS is about as basic as it gets. The log in screen is an idiot proof “type your name and password the first time, then just click your picture and type your password every time after that” ordeal that will be second nature to anyone after doing a couple of times. There is a taskbar at the bottom of the screen, which Google calls the Shelf. Anyone who has used a Windows 95 or greater computer (or even a Mac really) will know how to use it – Left click the circle on the far left to open apps, right click anywhere to change its settings, click stuff in the tray on the right for their options. Other than that, there are some hardware keys, trackpad gestures, and a boat load of keyboard shortcuts (complete with an onscreen map in Settings > Keyboard > View keyboard shortcuts) that are very useful.

Overall, ChromeOS is capable of being the average person’s main operating system, provided they set their expectations accordingly. It’s not going to let you play 3D games and it isn’t going to run Windows based programs, such as Word and Excel, but works well with the Google suit of software and there is enough third party software to fill in many gaps. You can even create your own HTML5/JavaScript based apps for the Chromebook, on the Chromebook if you really wanted to (personally, I made a simple writing program and a game prototype and it wasn’t a terrible experience).

Android Apps
I can’t say, as they still aren’t supported on this Chromebook even when running the latest beta version of ChromeOS. This device is on the list that will supposedly get them this year, but it’s already November and Google is known for abandoning projects…

HP Bloatware
There isn’t any! There is, however, an app on the webstore from HP that aids in using their networked printers.

Moving onto the hardware itself…

Specifications

Hardware GOOD

  • The metal keyboard area is smooth and very comfortable to rest one’s hands upon.
  • The keyboard has a standard layout and is nice to type upon. I have not experienced any fatigue or pain while using it on my lap or at the table.
  • The webcam and speaker are good enough for basic communication. In fact, the speaker isn’t too bad considering what it is.
  • It’s light, but well built, making it a pleasure to move around the house with. Combined with how quickly it resumes from sleep and how long its battery lasts, closing the lid and tucking it under my arm has become standard operating procedure.
  • The Micro SD card slot allows for increasing the storage considerably and it’s very close to being flush-mounted when inserted. USB hard drives and sticks are also plug and play, allowing for unlimited local storage of pictures, videos, etc.

Hardware BAD

  • The screen quality is terrible. Inexcusable, really. 1366×768 resolution at 14″ isn’t bad. The problem is the pixel array itself is decidedly low-end, with a very narrow viewing angle, poor colour reproduction, and a dimness that simply gets washed out at both lower and higher back-light settings.
    It’s not good at all and its only saving grace is that it works.
  • The battery in this Chromebook is smaller than other models of the same price range, which knocks down usage time to 6-8 hours, down from 10-14 hours.
  • It gets hot when charging. A while back I remarked that it doesn’t get hot, but it turns out that’s not the case when it is charging.
  • The speakers are poor quality. They are capable of belting out loud, distorted sounds, if that’s your thing. Loud mid range frequencies (especially male voices) will cause vibrations even at 40% volume. They work and they’re stereo speakers, so they are better than nothing.
  • The RAM (2GB DDR3) and hard drive (16GB eMMC) are not able to be upgraded.
  • There aren’t any mouse buttons, rather one is expected to click the trackpad down to click. Unfortunately, the physical click is so stiff and hard to press that it’s not worth using.

And onto some points of general interest about the user experience…

Annoyances

  • “Tap To Click” on touchpads sucks! It would be fine if the damned thing wasn’t so sensitive. Little is more annoying than accidentally selecting all the text in a window and deleting it, because your thumb strayed over the giant mousepad. And various other issues related to the technology itself…
  • The back-light defaults to 100% when turning the device on and it’s blindingly bright (painfully so when fired up in a dark room).
  • The firmware is crippled, such that if you want to run ChromeOS, you basically don’t own your device.
    The hardware CAN run other operating systems, but Google goes out of its way to make it an underwhelming and annoying experience.
  • The SD card is mounted each time the lid is opened and closed, which adds a notification to the tray that does not automatically go away.

Some Good Stuff

  • One can install a real, full GNU/Linux desktop along side ChromeOS using Crouton, granting access to useful programs that round out the functionality of the device. GIMP, Blender, Audacity, and VLC all work well (though don’t expect to be rendering massive projects with Blender).
  • All of the Google suit of software works great. The ChromeOS file browser even has built in Google Drive functionality for upload/download/auto-mirroring. There is even an extension that allows for opening zip files and iso images.
  • Websites, especially browser based games, run far more fluidly than they did on my old laptop. Even full Linux software does as well!

Bottom Line
I like my HP Chromebook 14 G4, because it is capable of doing everything that I want to do with it. For me, the Chromebook was not intended to be a replacement for my desktop PC, because there are some tasks that I do on the desktop that would strain even the most expensive Windows/Mac/Linux laptops. Would it be ideal to have a single device that I could use for all of my computing needs?

NO!

Somewhere in my mind, there dwells the nagging desire to pair down to a single device, but the reality is that there exists, as my father insisted, “the right tool for the job”. When it comes to computing, form factor is the largest factor in determining what one should use for a given job. Just as holding a MacBook up to one’s head to make a phone call would be ridiculous, trying to complete detailed graphics design on a Chromebook would be silly. When I temper my expectations and I look at my Chromebook as I would a kitchen utensil, I have to admit that it is a pretty darn good tool for general and casual computing, especially given how inexpensive it was!

If you’re looking to get an inexpensive computer for yourself or your kids and you’d like it to be portable, you can’t go wrong with this or any other $350 or cheaper Chromebook. The laptop form factor is perfect for casual use and the ability to plug it into a desktop keyboard, monitor, and speakers, means it can be used like a traditional desktop as well.