Samsung’s do-over starts now.
After a miserable seven months cleaning up the mess left by the Galaxy Note 7 debacle, it’s time for a reset. On Wednesday, Samsung unveiled its newest flagship phones, the Galaxy S8 and the Galaxy S8+, pinning hopes on the flashy new launch and upcoming big-budget marketing campaign to rescue the company’s reputation.
Display and design
Like its explosive predecessor, the Galaxy S8 is one of the most attractive phones you can buy. The curved display covers almost the entire front of the phone, with only slim bezels at the top and the bottom. Samsung calls this its new Infinity Display, and it really is striking when you see it in person. Samsung was able to fit more screen on a phone body that’s smaller and better looking than the iPhone. (The S8 has a 5.8-inch screen and the S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen, and Samsung says the display covers almost 83% of the entire front.)
The body of the phone is also symmetrical on the front and back, so it feels much more natural in your hand. Even with such a large screen, it’s easier to hold and pocket than the relatively chunky iPhone or Google Pixel.
A new digital assistant
The other key feature in the Galaxy S8 is Bixby, Samsung’s new homegrown digital assistant that promises to let you control everything on your phone with your voice. But for now, Bixby, which launches with a dedicated button on the side of the phone, is limited to just Samsung’s apps and system functions like brightness control. It also has a feature that can use the camera to identify objects and pull up search results and other information related to the item you’re looking at.
Outside of voice control, Bixby also has a new Home panel that lives to the left of your main screen. It’s full of information relevant to you and is strikingly similar to Google Now, which has been on Android phones and the iPhone for years.
Eventually, Samsung will let third-party developers enable Bixby in their Android apps and start incorporating features from Viv, the artificial intelligence company founded by the creators of Siri that Samsung bought last year. It’s a little too early to judge Bixby, but the controlled demo of an early version Samsung showed Business Insider didn’t look very promising.
Security and death of the home button
Another big change in the Galaxy S8 is the lack of home button. Instead, digital keys appear at the bottom of the display with standard Android system controls for returning back to the home screen and going back a page. The bottom of the display is also pressure sensitive, so you feel some feedback when you press down.
The fingerprint sensor, which used to be embedded in the home button on previous Galaxy phones, is now on the rear of the device, right next to the camera.
The Galaxy S8 also adopts the iris scanner that was first introduced in the Galaxy Note 7. It can be used to unlock the device or access secure folders, and Samsung claims it’s even more secure than the fingerprint sensor.
Finally, the front-facing camera has built-in face detection that can also be programmed to unlock your phone when you look at it. It’s much faster than the fingerprint or iris scanners, but it’s not as secure. That’s great for quickly unlocking your device, but there is a greater chance it can be fooled.
A portable desktop computer
There’s one other major trick inside the Galaxy S8: The phone can dock with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse and act as a lightweight desktop computer running a modified version of Android.
The dock, called DeX, will be sold separately (Samsung hasn’t announced a price yet) and includes ports for HDMI, USB, and Ethernet. Once connected, you can run Android apps in a desktop environment. Some apps like Microsoft Office and Adobe Lightroom have been optimised for the desktop mode, and other apps will be free to do the same. Otherwise, your Android apps will appear in separate, smartphone-sized windows.
The phone-as-a-desktop isn’t a new concept though. Motorola tried it years ago with the Atrix, and Windows continues to experiment with its Continuum feature for Windows 10 phones. So far, no one has proven a real demand for it, but that hasn’t stopped Samsung from trying.
Does it explode?
That’s a reasonable question when looking at a new Samsung phone in the post-Note 7 era. Samsung announced in January that it has a series of new safety checks for all of its future devices, which now includes the Galaxy S8. Of course, there’s no guarantee, and we won’t know for sure until more people buy the phone and use it in the wild. But it seems unlikely Samsung would risk making the same blunder twice.
Those are the most important features in the Galaxy S8, but here are some others to whet your appetite:
- 12-megapixel rear camera, 8-megapixel front-facing camera.
- 64 GB internal memory. Expandable storage available via MicroSD slot.
- Water resistant.
- Samsung Connect app for controlling your smart home appliances.
- Fast charging via plug and wireless fast charging.
- Standard headphone jack and USB-C connector for charging and accessories.
- Comes with Harman Kardon earbuds, a $US99 value.
As for price, that will be up to individual carriers and retailers, but expect to pay at least $US750 for the base model. Pre-orders start now, and the phone will be available in stores on April 21. You’ll also get the new version of the Gear VR headset that comes with a wireless motion controller if you pre-order.
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