It’s always news when Samsung updates its flagship handsets. But today’s Galaxy S8 announcement is particularly momentous, even for the world’s biggest maker of smartphones.
It’s been a tough year for Samsung, which suffered an historic recall for the Galaxy Note 7 and then temporarily ceded its sales crown to Apple when that firm’s iPhone 7 lineup sold much better than expected. But the Galaxy S8 family looks good enough to power a comeback.
Let me dispense with two bits of nonsense that won’t matter in the slightest up-front: Bixby and DeX.
Bixby is Samsung’s digital personal assistant, and it would be interesting if something called Google Assistant wasn’t already built into Android. We do not need yet another one of these things, and I expect the world to simply ignore this.
DeX, meanwhile, works like Microsoft’s ignored Continuum technology: It lets you dock your handset and use an external display, keyboard, and mouse, creating a sort of Android-powered pseudo-PC. This is one of those ideas that is good on paper—I’m sure it’s a terrific demo—but makes almost zero sense in the real world. There are simpler ways to blast phone-based content to a big screen, and better devices—Chromebooks, PCs, and Macs, for starters—for those who need a computer.
OK, let’s get to the heart of the matter: The new phones—and, yes, there are two different models, the S8 and the S8 Plus—look pretty amazing.
Both are much bigger than Samsung’s previous flagships, sporting 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch displays, respectively. Those displays are both super-widescreen units that span almost the entire front surface of the devices. Those screens are also both wraparound unit, like previous Edge versions, so that’s no longer a model differentiator: You can’t get a Galaxy S8 with a flat screen. Instead, you get an S8, or you get an S8 Plus.
Both displays utilize the same resolution, which is 2960 x 1440. That works out to 570 ppi on the 5.8-inch model and 529 ppi on the 6.2-inch model. By comparison, the iPhone 7 Plus offers only 401 ppi on its smaller 5.5-inch display.
Internally, the Samsung Galaxy S8 packs exactly the punch you’d expect from a 2017 flagship: an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (in the US, anyway), 4 GB of RAM, and 64 GB of internal storage with microSD expansion. The rear camera is unchanged from last year—it’s the same 12 MP unit (with optical image stabilization) that Samsung used in the Galaxy S7—but that’s probably OK because that camera consistently rated at or near the top of all smartphone cameras. And Samsung claims that it’s improved things on the software side, for whatever that’s worth. (The front-facing camera is upgraded to 8 MP.)
The Galaxy S8 includes a 3000 mAh (non-removable) battery, while the bigger plus features a 3500 mAh version. Samsung says that it has fixed the problems that dogged last year’s Note 7, and has likewise improved matters so that the batteries should not degrade as quickly over time as previous versions. Both phones include Qualcomm Quick Charge technology and wireless charging.
The one thing I’m not particularly excited about, as usual, is Samsung’s software. From the goofy-like navigation bar buttons, which are inexplicably different from stock Android, to the system’s strange color scheme and icon style are just not my thing. Hopefully, you can replace all that nonsense with the stock Google launcher. One thing you won’t be able to replace is the Home button, which is now virtualized on the wide screen. Early reports suggest it’s not as natural as the haptic-powered Home screen that Apple uses on the iPhone 7. But you can sign-in with your face, using optical recognition.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but I may need to pick one of these up. In the US, these phones will come in black, gray, and silver bodies, with blue and gold available only internationally. Pricing will start north of $700 and go from there, with availability beginning April 21 in the US.