Samsung S8 Active Review
I recently upgraded my Samsung S6 Active to
an S8 Active. My carrier is AT&T. I would like
to review this phone.
Because this phone was not offered in store,
I received it by mail. I already had faith in Samsung's
Active line of phones, so I had no trouble having faith in this
It is a bit heavier than the S6 Active I am used to, and my wife's S8. One look at the battery life (4000 mAh) explains this.
The tactile back and home buttons are no longer featured. This is the second most disappointing thing with this phone. The days of being able to go into "power user" mode and rapidly switch between apps and rapidly get to home are gone. I do a lot of reading for college, so this can be a bit less efficient without tactile home and back buttons.
I purchased a "glass" screen cover after talking to the S8 Active user group on Facebook (at time of writing, there are only three of us LOL). I also bought a cheap wallet-style case, thinking GTasks would be a pain in the rear, showing up on my lock screen for pocket-task-completion woes. I was wrong, in that GTasks has settings now that you can disable this feature. So I no longer need a wallet-style case. And given how fat this phone is, the case is almost a detriment. The only advantage it gives me, now, is kickstand and a pocket for my military ID for when I go to the gym.
The buttons on this phone are less "tactical" or "military" than the S6. I loved this feature about the S6. The S8 buttons are more sleek and slimmer, so there's less of a "rugged" feel.
As for the phone, it's far more slippery than the S6 Active. This is both good and bad. The S6 Active was never too ruggedized that I couldn't slip it into the pocket of my skinny jeans. The S8 Active is more sleek, to the point where I am concerned that I might drop it. Hypothetically, if I had to use my phone as a weapon, the S6 Active would be easier to throw and catch, due to better grip.
Out of the box, having the USB-mini to USB-C adapter, and the USB-C to USB-A (?) OTG adapters was awesome. Is Samsung giving me the iPhone treatment? :-)
The most disappointing feature is Bixby.
Mainly, that I cannot re-map the Bixby button to the app of my
choice. The S6 Active "active" button was an excellent
feature: short and long press were assignable to apps, meaning
going to my GTasks and SMusic was very convenient.
With the S8, I have learned to use Bixby for this, but this is far less efficient. First, Bixby takes forever, compared to the "Active" button. Bixby is not a fast application, especially slow in being launched. At first, I did everything short of rooting the phone to bypass it, to reassign it to GTasks. I was strongly against giving Bixby access to my contacts. But I noticed that doing this caused Samsung Galaxy apps to also not run, meaning Samsung apps didn't get updated. So I begrudgingly went back to Bixby when I noticed it has a "recently used" apps tile.
Still, Bixby launches slowly, so pressing the Bixby button still lags. And once in a while, GTasks isn't listed in recently used apps, so I must then press home and go find it. In short, using Bixby is very inefficient.
I am upset that I can no longer encrypt my entire phone. I feel this is a grave compromise in the level of security I like to have. This is almost as bad as Bixby. What ever happened to the 4th amendment? This type of stuff is why I get upset and go into SJW mode, ranting about lack of privacy, not being able to root the device or switch to a generic version of Android, etc. This is why I miss having a Google-branded phone: more functions and options, usually. Better OS upgrades.
The next problem I ran into is that Samsung is updating their user agreements (around 2020) so that they are not actively harvesting user data from applications. For example, TouchWiz, the "desktop" launcher you see when you use the phone, tried after an update to get me to agree to give it access to my contacts. Why it would need this makes absolutely no sense, so I forcefully removed it and installed Nova Launcher. I then set about using Linux ADB (see this article about forcefully removing scrapeware on the internet) to remove every Samsung app I could from the phone. I am now using Google's own messaging app and contacts app. I removed Samsung Pay and all the other bad things like it, as well. Basically, if there was an available Google app on Google Play that substituted for any Samsung app, I forcefully removed it and installed the Google version. Now my phone is behaving a bit better, but still, Samsung's power grab at my contacts was not appreciated. And now that all my contacts are on Google, I don't have anything to fear from Samsung.
You might reply to this by saying that Google also harvests user data. This is true, but one cannot get rid of Google from an Android phone. So instead of having two companies, Google and Samsung, harvesting my data, I have only one: Google. Trust me, if I could pay $100-$200 per phone to have my phones "paroled" so that no company is harvesting my data, sort of like a "buy the right to opt out", I would do that without a second thought. I have other things I'd like to say along the lines of 1984 about how technology in general is moving in a very bad direction, and why I can't even use the blood pressure checker at the pharmacy at Walmart without signing up for an account and giving them my birthday. Suffice to say, if we cannot opt out, if we cannot say no, then our freedom is being curtailed and our rights violated, but I digress. Maybe the solution is that companies must pay us for our data (i.e. the price of phones is higher unless you opt in and get their mail-in rebate, or whatever). But ultimately, I do not like having a harvested phone. And all I can do is minimize the amount of harvesting. But this is why I will never buy a Samsung phone again. From now on, Google.
I'd also comment on how I don't like that
non-Google apps call themselves by the same name (i.e. Samsung
and Google's messaging apps are both called "Messages"), as that
might be unfair to consumers, but I digress.
The phone's speed, otherwise, is incredible,
and its battery life are ridiculously high. This phone's
good features far outweigh its bad Bixby features, so I still
would want this phone over the S8, and over the S6 Active I just
Also, the S8 Active has a MicroSD card slot, which the S6 Active did not. I am very excited and pleased with this feature.
I do not like having to swipe up for applications, preferring a picture to click (like the S6 Active). However, I've gotten used to it.
Samsung has done a lot in the themes department, however. I like it. Now you can download free or pay-for themes for your phone. In addition, they even isolated backgrounds, themes, and icons from each other, so you can just install an icon theme. This is useful for when you want (for example) the look and feel of High Contrast (read: black backgrounds in all applications, which helps with battery life) but a better icon set that you can understand, and a different wallpaper. I think this is where Samsung has done the most improvement from back in the S4 days until present. I am very thankful for the themes. Good job, Samsung! I regularly change themes because I like variety.
I can uninstall more of the Samsung bloatware with this phone, which is a plus. But some of the Samsung apps are actually worth having. For instance, Samsung music is far more easy and minimal than Google Play Music, and I don't have to "argue" with it as much over where my music is stored and whether I want it to be backed up or restored. I am a weird person: I detest the cloud. It's just someone else's Linux cluster. I bought a 64GB MicroSD and put my 32GB worth of legally-purchased MP3s on it. Yes, you heard me right. I would even be interested in going completely to FLAC, but I can't justify that level of quality on a phone. I'd also be interested in putting a bunch of my DVDs on the phone, but the problem with that is FAT32's stupid file size limit.
And I say stupid because, quite frankly, it is. Android is Linux-based (no, I'm not going to go into a detailed description). I want ext2/3/4 file format, XFS, ReiserFS, etc, as well as LUKS functions. If I encrypt my MicroSD, odds are, I probably couldn't use it in Linux or Windows, etc. And encrypting the MicroSD is pointless because I don't put anything sensitive on it. I'd prefer to set up my MicroSD with LUKS and EXT4. The EXT4 file system is faster and has fewer of the archaic limits and problems that FAT32 has, like file size and file name. I can rip all my Enya and Clannad albums to MP3 using the real Gaelic letters and symbols of their song names and not fear that I'm going to corrupt the phone or Windows. Or maybe even something exotic like Linux F2FS (flash-friendly) or even HFS+ support (in case I get froggy and plug an Apple-formatted disk or device into the phone). Linux already supports almost every file system, encryption, and partition type in existence: surely then android makers could include FAT32 support (which they are probably paying far too much to Microsoft in order to continue to offer) along with any other FS I want, even picking the FS that Android/Linux would be best in. To continue to rely on FAT32 is just plain reprehensible, at least to me.
But I can understand probably why they don't include it: the goal was to make Linux small for small devices (phones). Additionally, they probably want the device to simply be user-friendly. Offering a bunch of filesystems would probably make supporting said filesystems more costly.
Now for another rant. I am mainly a Linux guy. I am currently using OpenSUSE LEAP, though I began and used Slackware the longest, even using Slackware-Current and trying to contribute to the project. LibMTP on Linux seems broken. Indeed, it was completely broken at first, even in Windows, until I took my phone to the Samsung representative at BestBuy. By the way, if you're a Samsung employee, and you're reading this, I beg you: please keep providing Samsung representatives. Being able to get my phone fixed was such a big help. I will continue to be a loyal Samsung phone owner so long as I can always find local help. The Samsung representative re-flashed the firmware (not the same as doing a factory reset of the software) and the phone began to work over USB.
With my Asus laptop, if I am using the phone with a USB-C to USB-C cable, the phone fast charges even in Linux (though I can't enable or disable that feature, to my knowledge), and file transfers seem to work properly. The same works great in Windows 10. However, Linux libMTP has had issues for a while now, even with other MTP devices, so I cautiously say that it seems to work right, for now, with the USB-C to USB-C cable. But using this phone with libMTP in Thunar (I am an XFCE devotee) still doesn't (seem to) result in lightning-fast file transfers. Additionally, on this laptop, all USB transfers seem slow in Linux and faster in Windows. Gotta love vendor lock-out.
One feature I'd like to see added (Linux and Android/Samsung) is rsync compatibility, over USB. If the phone allowed you to (either via libMTP or hardware emulation) mount it as a device in Linux, rsync would make file transfers and synchronizations (like rsyncing my giant music library, or the changes in my college documents) much faster. Or maybe build the feature into Windows Samsung software.
One might say, "why not use the Cloud?" My concerns are security first (which is why I only use DropBox and Google Drive for [until recently] music and the very few immediate-use files I need that don't compromise my identity). Second, I've had issues with one or both of these (probably Samsung SCloud, but I'm not sure) where I ended up with multiple copies of files strewn all over the place. As such, I'm much more hesitant to use cloud services, preferring to directly sync to disks manually. So for me, cloud functionality is only a cool add-on, not a necessity. I'm the family member people call to help fix computers, but I don't like cloud backup, and I've had far too many arguments and discussions with everyone over it (usually while trying to help them fix what cloud software caused). That being said, if I had a standing rsync server connection with my laptop in Linux that set my device as the master and was intelligent enough to avoid such problems that require me to get out the fdupes program and delete file duplicates, like possibly direct rsync to Google Drive with Linux-based controls, this would be a non-issue.
If you're reading this, Google, let me put it this way: if you offered a completely robust rsync solution to/from cloud that worked in Linux and on my Android phone, I would become a paid subscriber.
Now there's one thing that still refuses to work: WiFi Calling. I have tried at least 20 times (before and after firmware refresh) to get it to work. There's no explanation, simply "can't enable it right now". All my settings are correct. I want this feature, but I can't get it to work. I am afraid to ask AT&T or Samsung to fix it, due to the solution probably being either send in the phone or getting a new phone, both of which are unacceptable right now due to how busy I am.
So, this phone has a lot of the nice features that I want, but it's still just a phone. A very excellent phone, mind you, but just a good phone. I'd gladly buy it again, and I recommend it to all my friends. In summary:
- Battery life
- Rugged construction
- No encrypting the entire phone
- Lack of an interface mode other than MTP/STP
- Cannot re-assign bixby button
- Bixby button remapping software slower than Bixby
- Samsung's very obvious attempt to violate your privacy.