Samsung introduced its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S8+ and the Galaxy S8, on March 29 with large displays with almost no bezels, powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 64-bit octa-core processors and still-developing integration with Samsung’s new Bixby virtual assistant.
Both phones use what Samsung is calling its new “infinity” displays, with the new S8+ handset featuring a 6.2-inch Super AMOLED quad HD display (2960×1440 resolution, 529ppi) and the S8 getting a 5.8-inch Super AMOLED quad HD display (2960×1440, 570ppi).
The infinity displays feature scaled-down bezels, leaving most of the screen area on the handsets dedicated to the screens. According to Samsung, 83 percent of the S8+ and S8 handset fronts are now dedicated to the actual display by using shrunken bezels.
“People love a big screen but not a big phone,” Drew Blackard, a Samsung senior product marketing spokesman told eWEEK at a briefing about the new phones prior to their unveiling. To accomplish this, the bezels were scaled down while opening up more screen space and the entire phones were redesigned from inside out, he said.
Other big changes for both new models include the deletion of the front-mounted home button found on earlier Galaxy models, which provided more room to enlarge the screens. There are also facial and iris recognition security capabilities to supplement the fingerprint scanners that are a holdover from the earlier Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge handsets.
The home button for the phones is now located under the glass at the bottom of the displays and offers haptic feedback when pressed by users.
The new 4G LTE phones include the same high-resolution 12-megapixel rear camera and 8-megapixel autofocus front camera used in the previous Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge phones and both run the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system. The new phones also include the fast charging and wireless charging capabilities from the earlier models.
The S8+ includes a 3,500mAh rechargeable battery, while the S8 uses a 3,000mAh battery. Both models include 4GB of LPDDR4 memory and 64GB of built-in storage, which can be expanded to 256GB of storage through a microSD card. Both models also include Bluetooth V5.0 connectivity as well as WiFi capabilities and are covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on both the front and back of the devices.
The handsets are also IP68 water and dust resistant and include Samsung Knox security capabilities for enterprise users. The phones will be available in Midnight Black, Orchid Gray or Arctic Silver colors in the U.S.
Preorders for both Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ will begin at 12:01 EDT on March 30, 2017, according to Samsung. The handsets will be sold through a wide range of carriers, including AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Sprint, Straight Talk Wireless, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless starting on April 21. Prices are in the $750 to $850 range depending on model and carrier.
The handsets will also be sold in Best Buy stores as well as BestBuy.com, Target and Walmart.
The handsets are the first new top-of-the-line smartphones from Samsung since the release and eventual global recall last fall of the company’s Galaxy Note 7 phablet.
Samsung is depending on the success of the new S8 models to regain confidence with consumers and prepare for what will likely be a release later this year of the Galaxy Note 8 to replace the troubled Note 7.
The lessons learned from the Note 7 battery fires and explosions were examined closely to prevent such issues in the design and construction of the latest S8 Galaxy models, said Blackard. “These were setbacks that frankly we took very seriously,” he said.
Introducing Samsung’s Bixby Virtual Assistant
One of the most promising features of the latest devices is their integration with Samsung’s new virtual assistant, called Bixby, which is being developed to give users a wide range of capabilities through voice, touch and text commands, Mok Oh, a Samsung vice president of service strategy, told eWEEK.
Bixby is designed to help reinvent Samsung devices so they learn and adapt to the behaviors of their users, rather than requiring users to adapt to the devices.
Bixby will allow Samsung device users to get information, reminders, recommendations and other assistance as the system continues to be developed and added into Bixby-enabled applications, said Oh.
Bixby is about “enabling all the tasks you can do with touch” on devices today by adding intuitiveness through voice commands, he added. “That’s the approach we are taking. Whatever app you are using, if it is Bixby-enabled, you will be able to do all of that.”
Bixby will also be able to augment what users can do with the cameras built into the new handsets, he said. Users will be able to take an image of a sign and it will be translated into about 52 languages. Users will be able to take photos of landmarks or products in stores and get detailed descriptions of what’s on the screen via Bixby, said Oh.
Linking with Samsung’s DeX Desktop Experience and Samsung Connect
Both new Galaxy S8 smartphones are also capable of communicating directly with other Samsung products, including home appliances, televisions and other internet of things devices, using Samsung Connect.
Enterprise users can connect with Samsung’s DeX desktop experience docking station, keyboard and mouse to bring the computing power of the S8+ and S8 phones to secure desktop computers that will allow them to do their work with Android applications. This will enable smartphone users to effectively extend their workplaces as needed.
Several IT analysts had varying opinions about the new Galaxy S8+ and S8 handsets.
“At the end of the day, there is very little that’s spectacular, and very little revolutionary about them,” Werner Goertz an analyst with Gartner, told eWEEK. Goertz said that while he likes the new infinity displays of the phones, large screens are today simply “table stakes” and are normal for flagship handsets.
What could set Samsung apart with the new models is the future Bixby integration, though it has to fulfill a lot of promise, he added. “The handful of apps it works with today are not ready for prime time,” he said. “It’s a vision, a concept on which Samsung still has to elaborate about and still has to deliver.”
Jan Dawson, principal analyst with Jackdaw Research, said Samsung’s new handsets have now entered the smaller bezel wars in the marketplace and are likely to be followed later this year by a similar move by Apple.
“The Samsung approach is particularly clever, with its curved screen now less sharp on the edges, offering a more symmetrical and therefore more comfortable device,” he wrote. “Its display looks fantastic too, though the longer, thinner aspect ratio may be problematic for some apps and [for] consuming video.”
The Bixby assistant seems “interesting in principle but will have to live up to their promise to be compelling in practice,” he wrote. “The Bixby assistant looks limited, but potentially powerful if it works as advertised. The same can be said for the new iris and facial recognition features and Samsung’s connected home hub and apps.”
Dawson said he is concerned about to relocation of the fingerprint sensor on the handsets to the back of the phones, which could be “a source of potential frustration for users.”
A bigger problem, he said is that the latest S8+ and S8 models are priced up to $100 higher than their predecessors and competitors. This price gap “feels like a big risk,” he wrote.
“In this as with the bezels, it feels like Samsung is competing with what it expects Apple to launch later in the year rather than what’s in the market today, and that’s dangerous, because for at least the next few months Samsung will be competing with cheaper iPhones, LG smartphones, and many others.”