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Musing #28: Impressions of Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung took the wraps off the Samsung Galaxy S8 yesterday and considering prior leaks there wasn’t much of a surprise element to it. However, it is quite gratifying to see Samsung make the current design language its own, distinct from other manufacturers. In fact as an iPhone7 user, I would say that Samsung has surpassed Apple in the design department for the last few years. I suppose Jony Ive isn’t sitting idle, so it would be great to see what Apple brings to the table later this year on the eve of the iPhone’s 10th anniversary.

The impressive aspect of the S8 that strikes you first is the size of the screen compared to the phone itself. While impressive, it is not astonishing as it is more of an evolution of the design that Samsung introduced with the S6. Also, it shoudn’t come as a surprise that the “Edge” variant is the default now since I assume most people were only purchasing the non-curved variant only on account of its lower price. Having to fit the phone within the palm of the hand while also being able to fit a large battery has led to manufacturers going for tall designs. This has led to some weird aspect ratios in recent times and the S8’s 19.5:9 is no different. I already struggle to reach the status bar on an iPhone 7 with a single hand, so I am not sure the S8 is going to make that task any easier. At least, the 2960×1440 Super AMOLED display makes more sense considering that Gear VR is a very interesting proposition for mobile VR.

Ditching of the physical home button was long overdue but Samsung’s solution of integrating an always-on “Force Touch” as the Home button along the bottom of the screen is particularly elegant. The absence of the physical button also means that the fingerprint sensor has been moved to the back and I will admit that I have never been a fan of having it at the back. It is natural to have the screen facing the skin for protection and this leads the fingerprint sensor open to inadvertent activation when the hand is inserted in the pocket. Samsung’s placement is particularly egregious since it is bound to lead to smudging of the camera lens time and again, besides being a stretch for most hands. I assume that in the S8’s case, it must have been done to keep the lower back area of the phone from hardware in order to fit the battery. The back placement also makes it impossible to glance at unlocked notifications when the phone is on the table. Samsung seems to have mitigated this to an extent through the presence of the iris and face scanners but then again it requires the phone to be at the face level.

My last experience of Samsung’s Touchwiz was a long time ago when the S3 happened to be my primary device. During that time it was particularly strenuous on the hardware limited by processing and RAM capacity which inevitably led to a deteriorating experience, even though I liked the various tweaks added by Samsung. Both hardware and software development has come a long way since then and Samsung seems to have come to grips as far as organising the plethora of options is concerned. I am still not a fan of the colour schemes and I am afraid that Samsung’s design language will always be at odds with Google’s latest designs and significantly at odds with app designs that may or may not cohesively follow either. My hope is that all things aside, Samsung’s stated optimisation of the camera software is better considering that the sensor for the back camera has remained the same since the S7, which was too aggressive in sharpening the images.

A big focus on the software side, over the long run, will undoubtedly be on Bixby since it hasn’t been long since the acquisition of Viv. Samsung is trying to project is as a “do anything on the phone” assistant rather than an online search one and that presents an interesting use case. Even at the best of times, even when completely isolated, I feel awkward speaking to Siri, so I am unsure whether voice will see an increased usage over the hand in time to come.

On the processor…errr…mobile platform front, it will be interesting to see how the Snapdragon 835 stacks up against the Exynos 8895 in the international variants. On the CPU side, Qualcomm seems to have gone with only slightly modified A73 cores allowing for competitors to close in or even surpass on the CPU side of things, though one expects the Adreno 540 to be ahead on the GPU side. Also, gigabit LTE doesn’t seem to be the sole domain of Qualcomm, so things are going to be really interesting as far as the internal hardware is concerned.

2017 is once again shaping to be an exciting year for flagships after a somewhat disappointing 2016 which featured an uninspiring iPhone design (fancy I should call it that as an iPhone 7 owner) and exploding batteries. So, hold on to your seats and enjoy the ride!

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