Samsung has finally released the Galaxy S8 smartphone. After months of rumors and leaks about what might be in it, Samsung appears to have delivered a real winner. If it doesn’t blow up. To say that much of the company’s near-term future rests on the success of this phone is not much of an overstatement. The disastrous Note 7 and its exploding batteries did major damage to the brand, coupled with other product issues and political corruption charges back home in South Korea, Samsung really needs a big win this time around. And as near as we can tell, they’ve got it.
The S8 comes in two versions, the 5.8″ S8 and the 6.2″ S8 Plus. Samsung has been able to increase screen size on the S8 in comparison to the S7 without any additional size or weight by making the screen edge to edge and top to bottom, by virtually eliminating the bezels. They call the screen the “Infinity Screen” and it is spectacular. The S8 Plus is admittedly a bit weightier and larger but still not unwieldy and may be a good fit for those of us who feel that the more screen size, the better, so long as it’s still comfortable to handle. The S8 Plus fills the bill.
Samsung has added a couple of security features that I really like. If you’re tired of passwords and PINS, the S8 offers up not only fingerprint ID but also iris scanning and facial recognition. The latter makes getting into your phone almost instantaneous.
Siri, Google, and Alexa Say Hello to Bixby
While many of those at this week’s Unpacked event at New York’s Lincoln Center were going “ooh and aah” over the display, what really caught our attention was the improved functionality. Samsung has created its own personal assistant called Bixby. At first glance, Bixby seems smarter and more intuitive than its competitors. For one thing, it understands context. For a second, it gets smarter as you use it. It effectively integrates your voice commands with what’s on the screen as well as what you’re doing and where you are. As an example, if you’re in downtown New York and take a picture of the famous Flatiron building, Bixby will recognize the structure and point out places to eat in the neighborhood as well as other activities. Similar to Google it will generate cards for things like weather, calendar, and news items. It can figure out what times of day you’re more likely to want to look at the weather (first thing in the morning) or when you want to check your email. While it’s tough to do a thorough evaluation based on the Samsung demo, I am looking forward to getting it in my hands.
Bixby is very easy to access, with its own dedicated button on the side of the phone, as well as with a swipe from the main home screen. Bixby has its own home screen. Bixby can also control the camera. But it doesn’t do everything. For example, unlike Google Voice Assistant, you cannot ask Bixby random trivia questions, but you can use Bixby to help recognize objects. For example, if you’re in a store, you can take a picture and Bixby may be able to tell you what it is you’re looking at.
Samsung has created a separate device called DEX that will allow you to make the S8 into a virtual PC. Pop the S8 into the Dex stand and you can hook it up to a display, keyboard, and mouse. And now that Android 7 has been optimized for bigger screens, the S8 on the DEX becomes attractive as a some time desktop alternative. The S8 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip which gives it the power to make it all happen.
This is a beautifully designed device. Its curved edge-to-edge screen is lovely to behold. Samsung is bringing it to market with several new colors, including a Coral Blue, but it appears that not all colors will initially be available from all the carriers.
Some nuts and bolts that Samsung kept from the S7 include battery size, water resistance, and the micro-SD storage slot that will hold cards up to 256GB.
There certainly is a premium price to go along with this premium phone. Verizon is charging $720 for the S8 and $840 for the S8+. Other carriers’ prices vary slightly. The S8 and S8+ go on sale April 21st, but you can pre-order them now. If you are looking for an Android phone with just about every imaginable bell and whistle, for the moment, the Galaxy S8 is the new king of the hill.