At the launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ smartphones, “don’t mention the fires” seemed to be the theme. All focus was on the shiny new devices. The only mention of the Note 7 was in Samsung’s earnings report.
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This wasn’t a transition after a disastrous product. This was a total reboot. And if Samsung was wanting people to forget about the past, then the S8 is the device to do it.
Sleek is a good description of the S8, the smaller of the two new models.
The front of the phone is almost completely taken up with the 5.8” 2960x1440 “Infinity” screen. Even the front button, a staple of Galaxy S phones for years, has been replaced by a pressure-sensitive strip on the screen. To save more space, the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back alongside the camera (a great move in my opinion).
Despite the edge-to-edge screen, the sides don’t feel “sharp” and uncomfortable as I found with previous models. The S8’s subtle curve on the back makes it a lovely device to hold and is easy for me to use with one hand. Even the camera, which stuck out on previous models, is now flush with the back. The camera itself is good, but still behind Huawei and Apple’s most recent phones.
What may give the S8 a technological edge is Bixby, its new virtual assistant. Bixby is built into the phone’s ecosystem and is there to answer your questions. Much like Siri and Google’s voice service Bixby can do simple tasks, such as make phone calls or set alarms, but as an extra trick it knows which app you’re in and can offer more contextualised information. For example, if you have the camera open and take a photo of a building, Bixby can tell you the name of the building and what is nearby (using an online service called Foursquare). Or you can use Bixby for shopping by taking a photo of a product. At the launch I took a photo of my sneakers and Bixby returned dozens of similar pairs available online.
Samsung was also keen to push that the S8 isn’t alone, it’s part of a wider set of devices. The revamped Gear VR headset with its hand controller will work with the S8, as will the updated Samsung Gear 360 camera. The Gear 360, a camera that takes 360° videos and images, now offers 4K recording and live-streaming.
Then there’s Samsung DeX. Essentially DeX is a docking station that turns the S8 into a desktop computer; connecting it to a monitor, keyboard and mouse. The interface looks more like Windows than a phone operating system. The DeX has two USB 2.0 ports, Ethernet, USB type-C (for power and data), a cooling fan, and will charge your phone. It’s not a perfect computing experience, feeling underpowered, but if you were travelling it’d be a good fill-in for a full-size computer or even a laptop.
We haven’t had an extended look at the S8 yet (or the bigger S8+) so can’t give you a verdict, but all the signs point to this phone being Samsung’s phoenix from the ashes.
First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons. Hadyn travelled to the S8 launch courtesy of Samsung.
By Hadyn Green