Samsung today announced the Galaxy S8, its latest flagship smartphone. The comment below may be attributed to Jan Dawson, Chief Analyst, Jackdaw Research. Jan is also at the event in New York City, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408 744 6244 for further comment.
Samsung’s new phone taps into one of the biggest trends in smartphones this year: smaller bezels. This move follows LG and Xiaomi’s recent small-bezel phones and pre-empts what’s expected to be a similar move from Apple and new iPhones later this year. The Samsung approach is particularly clever, with its curved screen now less sharp on the edges, offering a more symmetrical and therefore more comfortable device. Its display looks fantastic too, though the longer, thinner aspect ratio may be problematic for some apps and consuming video.
The other headline features in the S8 seem interesting in principle but will have to live up to their promise to be compelling in practice. The Bixby assistant looks limited but potentially powerful if it works as advertised. The same can be said for the new iris and facial recognition features and Samsung’s connected home hub and apps. The move of the fingerprint sensor to the back of the device is a source of potential frustration for users, but those iris and facial recognition options should make unlocking the phone in other ways possible, at least in decent lighting. Samsung hasn’t fared well with its first party software or services in the past, so these new features are a big test of whether it’s made progress here.
The price of the new phones is up to $100 higher than their predecessors and almost all of the premium smartphones they’ll be competing with, which feels like a big risk. In this as with the bezels, it feels like Samsung is competing with what it expects Apple to launch later in the year rather than what’s in the market today, and that’s dangerous, because for at least the next few months Samsung will competing with cheaper iPhones, LG smartphones, and many others. That’s a big bet that its phones will justify a higher price, whereas it could have used these new phones as a way to drive higher sales after a couple of years of stagnation.
Samsung also released several accessories and other devices which are being positioned as part of a broader ecosystem, including a new version of its Gear VR headset, an updated 360-degree camera, and a home WiFi hub and smart home control system. The new Gear VR should be much more usable than the previous version with its terrible trackpad controller, while the new Gear 360 will be much better suited to use as an action camera compared to the predecessor, which was designed mostly for stationary use. The home hub taps into a popular trend of mesh WiFi networking, and along with Samsung’s ConnectHome app finally starts to build some more meaningful connections between Samsung’s phones and its broader ecosystem, including SmartThings.