After the catastrophe of the Galaxy Note 7, what can fans look forward to in the next Samsung flagship?
2016 started as a promising year for Samsung, with the Galaxy S7 series earning critical acclaim and commercial success. But the contrast with where we are now couldn't be starker. Battery fires and a bungled recall process led to the cancellation of the Galaxy Note 7, making it the most calamitous smartphone launch ever, by a wide margin.
Samsung will already be looking ahead to its next flagship, the Galaxy S8, to pull it out of this quagmire and rebuild consumer trust. So what can we expect from such a crucial product? Let's take a look at what we know so far.
Update, March 3: We have Samsung trademarking Infinity Display for their nice, tall screen. We have all the latest on the Samsung Galaxy S8!
Galaxy S8 build and form factor
Samsung has been slowly refining its metal and glass design language over the past couple of years, so it's reasonably likely it'll stick with this into 2017. A glass back allows Samsung to easily build in wireless charging, and it's shown over the past year how the use of curved glass can create a phone that feels luxurious and unique.
Metal and glass have worked well for Samsung thus far.
And that's exactly what we've seen in the first live photo of the Galaxy S8, from Evan Blass at VentureBeat, who has a very good track record on these things. The GS8's overall design appears to be an evolution of what we've seen from the GS7 and Note 7, with the biggest change being the relocation of the fingerprint scanner from the front to the back panel, allowing for a larger display with minimal bezels.
Following right behind this live photo was a pair of vertical videos showing off what is happening on the front of the phone. Samsung has set up the retina scanner as its own separate sensor near the front-facing camera, and it looks like users will be able to personalize the software buttons on the bottom of the phone as part of Samsung's built-in theme engine.
The screens' size is also significant — the regular Galaxy S8 will, according to Blass, pack a 5.8-inch display in an "18.5:9" aspect ratio, so imagine 16:9 except taller. Meanwhile the larger Galaxy S8 Plus is said to crank things all the way up to 6.2 inches diagonally with the same taller aspect ratio. These might sound huge compared to their predecessors, but the new aspect ratio means the width of the GS8 and GS8 Plus shouldn't be far off that of the GS7 and GS7 edge.
Galaxy S8 display — Quad HD RGB SuperAMOLED
The next generation of flagship Samsung phones won't see a bump in the pixel density, but Samsung could move away from Diamond PenTile to a standard RGB layout.
With PenTile (RGBG), there are two sub-pixels per pixel — with twice as many green sub-pixels as red and blue. With RGB, there are individual red, green, and blue sub-pixels that combine to form one pixel. When it comes to the Galaxy S7 edge, RGBG translates to 7,372,800 pixels overall, whereas RGB would result in 11,059,200 pixels.
The change is said to have been borne out of need to showcase more immersive virtual reality environments. Samsung has trademarked 'Infinity Display' for these large, curved screens, with the primary use of the tech to be applied to "mobile telephones".
Galaxy S8 — audio, 3.5mm jack and #donglelife
There was initially some disagreement among rumormongers over whether the Galaxy S8 would feature a 3.5mm headphone jack, after Apple and some other phone makers abandoned it in 2016. However the first leaked photos of the phone clearly shows a 3.5mm jack down below. So breathe easy, and have no fear of the #donglelife.
Galaxy S8 specs
|Operating System||Android 7.1.1 or later|
|Display||RGB SuperAMOLED at 2960x1440 resolution (18.5:9 aspect)
GS8: 5.8-inch / GS8 Plus: 6.2-inch
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 or Samsung Exynos 8895|
|Storage||64GB + microSD|
|Battery||GS8: 3,000mAh / GS8 Plus: 3,500mAh|
|Camera||12MP, f/1.7 lens|
|Price||GS8: €799 / GS8 Plus: €899|
|Charging||USB-C / wireless charging|
Aside from the rumored display size and resolution, there have been indications that Samsung could choose a powerful new GPU from chip designer ARM — at least in the Exynos versions of the GS8. The ARM Mali-G71 would be a significant upgrade from the earlier generation graphics processors used in the Galaxy S6 and S7.
According to ARM's own documentation, the chip offers "40% better performance density and 20% external memory bandwidth saving compared to Mali-T880." The Galaxy S7 and Note 7 use a variant of that GPU, the Mali-T800 MP12.
The docs for Mali-G71 provide reference specs based on a 16nm FinFET process, but Samsung is likely to use a more efficient 10nm process in its 2017 Exynos chip — which potentially means it'll be even faster than ARM's reference numbers.
The Mali-G71 is rumored to outperform the GPU used in Qualcomm's upcoming Snapdragon 835, raising questions over whether Samsung will once again use a mix of Snapdragon SoCs and Exynos processors in various regions. That's backed up by one (uncorroborated) report from China suggesting that there'll be two variants of the new Exynos 8895 processor at different clock speeds — alongside an S8 running Qualcomm's latest.
Galaxy S8 cameras
Cameras are one area of smartphone hardware that has yet to plateau, and in the past year we've seen plenty of innovation in this area from Apple, Google, Huawei and of course Samsung.
Samsung focused on low light performance in its 2016 flagships, and we'd expect this trend to continue into the next generation Galaxy phones — expect brighter lenses and bigger pixels, and for Samsung to likely remain around the sweet spot of 12 megapixels for its main camera. That's corroborated by Evan Blass's report, which states that Samsung will stick at 12 megapixels behind an f/1.7 lens — though that doesn't rule out the possibility of larger pixels on the sensor (as in Google's Pixel phones), or some kind of improved image processing thanks to a faster CPU and ISP (image signal processor.)
Galaxy S8 'Bixby' AI and Desktop Dock
AI is becoming ever more important in consumer tech, as evidenced by products like Google Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. Samsung is rumored to be getting in on the AI game with its next smartphone launch, with technology from its recent acquisition, Viv.
With Viv, Samsung will be able to unlock and offer new service experiences for its customers, including one that simplifies user interfaces, understands the context of the user and offers the user the most appropriate and convenient suggestions and recommendations.
Viv was built with both consumers and developers in mind. This dual focus is also what attracted us to Viv as an ideal candidate to integrate with Samsung home appliances, wearables and more, as the paradigm of how we interact with technology shifts to intelligent interfaces and voice control.
So the potential of Viv extends far beyond Samsung's relatively crude voice assistant, S Voice, which debuted more than four years ago on the Galaxy S3. There've even been reports that the GS8 may feature its own dedicated VR key.
The name "Bixby," trademarked by Samsung recently, is rumored to be the public-facing name for viv's efforts, and could be the name for Samsung's upcoming AI assistant. It's a quirky moniker, but one that might just stick in the minds of consumers, and would work well as an activation phrase, because it's doesn't particularly sound like anything else.
Recent reports from SamMobile have claimed Bixby will be able to follow complex, multi-step instructions, something current AI implementations have struggled with, and use the camera for visual search. The feature, likely one of the GS8's standout capabilities, is reported to have its own physical button on the device.
Bixby isn't the only trick Samsung will have up its sleeve. The firm is reportedly working on a desktop dock to transform the GS8 into a fully-fledged Android computer.
An interesting addition is a new desktop dock called DeX, which is said to offer a Continuum-like experience. By placing the Galaxy S8 on the dock, you'll be able to transform the handset into an "Android desktop computer," allowing it to be connected to a monitor, keyboard, and other hardware. Android isn't great as a full-fledged desktop replacement, and it'll be interesting to see how the South Korean company tackles the issue.
Many phone makers have tried and failed in this approach in the past, with the most capable implementation being Microsoft's Continuum. We'll be watching with interest to see how "DeX" shapes up on the GS8.
Galaxy S8 release date
The most reliable report points to an April launch for the GS8.
Samsung ended its Mobile World Congress presentation with envelopes telling everyone to come to NYC on March 29th for the unveiling of the Galaxy S8. Samsung's invitation comes with an impressive visual and a fun message — "Unbox your phone" — making it clear the bezels are going away.
However Samsung handles the launch of the Galaxy S8, expect the specter of the Note 7 to remain, and for Samsung to underscore additional steps it's taking this time around to ensure the new phone is safe. This will be a vitally important launch for Samsung, as it looks to recover its reputation, and move past the biggest crisis in its corporate history.