Last evening, Samsung executives took the stage in New York City and other cities around the world to showcase their latest innovation, the Galaxy S8 smartphone. In Kenya, Samsung held a screening of the main launch event at the Two Rivers Mall in Nairobi where it had just opened its newest Experience Store earlier in the day and showcased the device.
Like its predecessors, the Galaxy S8 arrives with a flashier and larger sibling, the Galaxy S8+. Other than an obvious trade-off in the battery capacity and the screen size, the larger device is similar to the smaller one in every other aspect.
This year, Samsung sought to focus on other areas instead of the usual features like the camera, for instance. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge last year had the best camera on any smartphone until late in the year when Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, LG’s V20 and Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones sought to disturb the peace.
A lot has been said about the Galaxy S8 and S8+ and a lot more will be said going forward but so far, these are the ones that make me look forward to holding that beauty in my hands soon:
1. That Infinity Display is to die for
I mean, what’s not to like about this?
The Galaxy S8 has a crispy 5.8-inch display. Its larger sibling, the Galaxy S8+ makes the usually “large” Galaxy Note look like a joke with its 6.2-inch compact display. But that’s not the story. The story is the almost bezel-less display on both devices. While building upon the Edge display found on its previous high-end smartphones, Samsung went ahead and outdid themselves on this one. The result is the inviting looks that make you temporarily forget that the device has a strange 18.5:9 aspect ratio (hence a little “taller” than usual) that is now stealing the thunder from the LG G6’s bizarre 18:9.
Throw in the Mobile HDR Premium rating that guarantees blacker blacks, brighter whites and a wider range of brightness and you have a winner. I am drooling!
2. Streaming Bluetooth Audio to two devices at the same time is everything we’ve ever wanted
I don’t know about you but I my life these days revolves around me, my laptop, my phone and my coveted Bluetooth player. I have not been forced to switch to the Bluetooth headset life partly because I cannot afford the Bluetooth headsets I really want [insert GoFundMe donation link here] and because my current smartphone, just like the Galaxy S8/S8+ which have the endangered 3.5mm jack, has not forced me to do so as a result of leading the unenviable #donglelife of iPhone users.
However, that day will come and when it finally does, I hope I will be having either the Galaxy S8 or S8+ for the simple reason that they will let me share the music I would be listening to on my headsets with anyone around me through my Bluetooth player.
The Galaxy S8 has a Dual Audio feature that makes this possible thanks to the extra bandwidth provided by the Bluetooth 5 standard it uses. Oh, the Galaxy S5 is the first smartphone in the world to arrive with Bluetooth 5 certification. Bluetooth 5 has double the bandwidth speed (2 Mb/s), four times the range of its predecessor (Bluetooth 4.2) and supports long-range low-energy Bluetooth connections (hence why it’s important for the Internet of Things – IoT). More details on Bluetooth 5 can be found here.
By virtue of running Android 7, Nougat, the Galaxy S8/S8+ has Google Assistant. So is there need for another smart assistant on the device? Samsung thinks so and that’s why it has included its much-hyped digital assistant that goes by the name Bixby.
The only reason I want to take Bixby, whose cards reside on the left side of the home screen, for a spin is just to make sure that it is not S Voice, a failed near-similar feature on past Samsung Android devices.
Business Insider‘s Steve Kovach calls Bixby “the most curious and the most limited”. Curious because it is meant to always be able to anticipate a user’s needs and address them using information cards and responding to voice requests and limited because when the Galaxy S8 becomes available next month, only a few apps (Phone, Messages, Internet, Gallery, Camera, Contacts, Settings, Reminder, Google Play Music and Weather) will be ready to support Bixby. Developers have to integrate it into their apps for it to play nice with them.
With all that said, I was really blown away when I saw Bixby’s camera integration (it’s called Bixby Vision) where it identifies real-world objects (Augmented Reality) that reminds me of Google Goggles. I can’t wait to give that a try.
Fancy name aside, DeX is simply a dock. A connector for the Galaxy S8/S8+ that allows them to project content on a secondary display and, hopefully, get some work done. It has an HDMI port to allow it to be connected to a monitor and two USB ports to allow users to connect at least a keyboard and a mouse (it can do Bluetooth as well) to extend the Galaxy S8’s functionality beyond its 5.8-inch touchscreen. Like the S8, it is charged via USB-C.
But that is not all about DeX.
Short for Desktop Experience, DeX, is the latest attempt (in a string of many including notable ones by Google and Chinese company Jade Technologies – the makers of Remix OS – and many failed ones as well) to try and pitch Android as a productivity platform. One that we should all be comfortable using in the office, sometime.
That’s a long call and I really hope to try out DeX to see if it comes close to fulfilling those ambitions. Microsoft’s Continuum has tried but then again Microsoft is the king of desktop productivity. Coincidentally, Samsung is partnering with Microsoft to make DeX a success. Microsoft Office Android apps will, as a result, play nice when opened on an extended display with the S8 docked. VMware and Adobe, key players in the enterprise software world, are onboard too.
Once connected, a Chrome OS-like user interface kicks in on the monitor complete with a lockscreen, a desktop, “windowing” of apps (maximise, minimise, standard size) and access to Android notifications. The only problem? Just a handful of apps will be supported when the Galaxy S8 and S8+ hit the market starting late April. Any other “unsupported” apps will end up being blown up on the larger external display, a less desirable experience by any measure.
Like most other docks worth their name, DeX will also charge up the Galaxy S8 when, well, docked.
5. Pressure-sensitive on-screen home button
The physical buttons are all gone on the Galaxy S8. Gone. For good. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing but for the first time since the Galaxy S II (a variant), there’s a premium Samsung smartphone out there without the company’s signature physical home button and the accompanying capacitive back and recent apps buttons. Not long ago, Samsung replaced the capacitive menu button with the recent apps one. Now they are all gone.
What we have in their stead is something exciting: a pressure sensitive home button accompanied by on-screen back and recent apps buttons that can be customised to switch positions as a user desires, something not possible with the previous capacitive buttons.
Say you’re watching a video. The home button and the back and recent apps buttons simply disappear to give way to the video but, get this, you can just get back to the home screen by long-pressing where the home button is usually located. The amount of pressure exerted on that part of the display sends a message to the system of an intended action. Cool!
What about you? What excites you the most about the Galaxy S8? Is it everything you hoped for from Samsung? Sure, I have my disappointments like the placement of that fingerprint sensor but there’s quite a lot to like about the S8 and S8+.