The S8 and S8+ run on Android 7.0 Nougat with Samsung's new Dream UX on top of it. Dream is a progression from Grace UX, which we saw on the Note7 and A7 (2017). If you haven't seen a Samsung phone in a while, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise as the software is both restrained and tasteful, with a simple home screen, and a small tray of app shortcuts. There's no icon for the app drawer by default (although you can add it back in the Settings menu) but if you swipe on the screen, it will load the app drawer. Swipe up again and you're back to the home screen.
Like Grace UX, there's a search bar in the app drawer and settings menu, so it's easy to find anything you need. Dig deeper into the settings and there are customization options for nearly everything, from the order and functionality of the on-screen buttons to themes, and settings for the always-on display.
The big new software feature for the S8 is Bixby, Samsung’s new virtual assistant. Samsung thinks Bixby is such a big deal that it's put a dedicated button on the S8 that does nothing but launch Bixby - you can't even re-program it to do anything else.
Bixby is made up of three features: Bixby Home, Bixby Vision, and Bixby Voice.
Unfortunately, Bixby Voice, which will let you talk to Bixby and issue it commands won't be available at launch. When it is up and running, you'll be able to ask Bixby to do things like search the internet, play a song, dim the screen, and turn on Wi-Fi, all with your voice. It's basically everything you can already do with Google Assistant (which is also available on the phone).
Pressing the Bixby button launches Bixby Home, which is basically Samsung's version of Google Now, and displays various cards and information based on your routine and interests. It will display the weather, any upcoming calendar appointments or reminders you've set and any news updates you've subscribed to. It can also sync with third-party services like Twitter and Facebook. Samsung says that Bixby also has machine learning that will learn your habits and adapt over time, offering suggestions based on your routine but I haven't noticed anything like this popping up yet during my usage period.
Bixby's most interesting feature is Bixby Vision, which resides in the camera and gallery app. This is basically Samsung's version of the Google Goggles app. Point the camera at something, hit the Bixby button (it looks like a stylized eye) and it will identify the object, place or text you're looking at.
It can translate the text you're looking at, or show you similar images on Pinterest, or if you're looking at a landmark, it can use Foursquare to show you more information about that landmark, as well as any nearby points of interest. One thing I did notice is that Bixby cheats a bit with local areas of interest. It doesn't actually show you areas near to the landmark you've taken a picture of, instead it just uses GPS to locate you and show you nearby things, so when I loaded up a picture of Marina Bay Sands on my computer at work and then took a picture of that, it tried to suggest me restaurants near my office.
There's also a dedicated wine button if Bixby detects you're pointing the camera at a bottle of wine. Powered by Vivino, Bixby will show you user ratings for that particular bottle of wine as well as current prices for it. It seems strangely specific to have a feature dedicated just to wine, but it does serve as a preview of how Bixby's shopping functions will work when they're up and running. In the US, Samsung has partnered with Amazon so, for example, if you take a picture of a pair of shoes, it will send you to Amazon with an option to buy that exact same pair of shoes. Unfortunately Samsung is still finalizing the details of it shopping partners in Singapore, so that feature won't be available until after launch.
Iris scanning first debuted on the Note7, and I'm glad to see it back on the S8. Like the Note7, the S8 has a dedicated iris sensor on the front of the phone with an infrared LED that works in conjunction with the front camera. The LED directs a beam of near-infrared light at your eyes and scans the pattern of your irises. Infrared light is used because it exposes the pattern of the iris much more clearly, making it easier for the sensor to capture it and, as an added bonus, means the iris scanner can work in the dark. It also means that glasses and contact lenses won't affect the beam. Once the image has been recorded, software translates the iris' pattern into code. This code is then compared against a record in search of a match.
Setting up the iris scanner is incredibly easy and is actually faster than setting up your fingerprints, but you'll have to remove your glasses to do so. Once everything is setup however, you can unlock your phone without taking your glasses off. When you unlock your phone, two circles will show up on screen. You're supposed to line up your eyes with these circles but I've found that just vaguely looking in the general direction of your phone will do the trick, and all it needs to do is catch one eye to unlock. The iris scanner is lightning fast, and is just as secure as the fingerprint scanner - you won't be able to fool it with a picture of your eyes.
Once you've setup the iris scanner on the Galaxy S8 series, there's also this really weird option to add an overlay to the scanning screen, just in case you want to pretend to be a cat or something while you're unlocking your phone. Maybe it's a Korean thing?
A less secure, but even more convenient way of unlocking your phone is the S8's new face recognition feature (well, it's new on a Samsung device, but not so for some other Android devices). It's a lot more low-tech, and simply compares the image from the front-facing camera with the one it has on file from when you setup facial recognition. Face recognition and Iris scanning can't be used at the same time and, unsurprisingly, face recognition can be fooled fairly easily with a picture placed at the right angle in front of the phone and, as such, Samsung won't let you use it for Samsung Pay or even your Secure Folder. Despite this, I really enjoyed facial recognition because of how fast it unlocks your phone. I had to check multiple times to make sure I still had security set up because as soon as you wake your phone it will immediately unlock as long as nothing is obstructing the front camera - you don't even need to be looking at your phone, it just needs to see your face.