Samsung flagship launch focuses on user experience improvements

Samsung’s long-awaited flagship has launched in London with a strong focus on expanding their customised user experience, with their AI assistant Bixby and DeX – their desktop functionality taking center stage.

The launch also marks the end of any non ‘edge’ flagships, instead of moving towards an edge and edge plus model, with even the smaller of the two new devices now featuring a larger display than even the Note7. The S8 has a 5.8” display and the S8+ has a 6.1” display, though Samsung states that decreased bezels and an expanded 18.5:9 aspect ratio means it can still be used with one hand.

As expected, the devices feature top-level spec including QHD HDR displays, 4GB RAM, water and dust resistance, 12MB rear cameras with multi-shot technology, Snapdragon 835/Exynos 8895 chipsets and QuickCharge 4.0.

New physical elements include a non-visible home button hidden under the display, a Bixby button on the side of the device, iris recognition via the front camera and touch sensitivity. However, the major advancements are in user experience, with device security through Samsung Knox, IOT connectivity through Smart Connect and their AI Bixby.

Samsung’s president of mobile DJ Koh described the launch stating, ‘The Samsung Galaxy S8 ushers in a new era of smartphone design and fantastic new services, opening up new ways to experience the world.’ He continued, ‘The Galaxy S8 is our testament to regaining your trust by redefining what’s possible in safety and marks a new milestone in Samsung’s smartphone legacy.’

The device will be open to pre-orders from today until 19 April through retailers and directly through Samsung with an RRP of £689 for the S8 and £779 for the S8+. Two colours will be available at launch on the 28th April with a third colour to be ‘announced in due course’ – potentially hinting at an exclusivity agreement with a UK retailer.


Matching rivals and making up for lost time

The new flagships from Samsung include many of the USPs from rival devices. Like Sony’s XZ Premium it boasts 1GBps download speeds and an HDR display, like the LG G6 it boasts a longer aspect ratio and a free gaming pack, and like the HP Elite X3 and other Windows devices, it boasts a desktop mode to enable flexible working. The only trend that seems to be missing is the dual rear camera set-up. While Samsung’s launch may be a little bit later than their MWC released rivals, the device will be looking to tempt early adopters from going with rival devices that are soon to be available in store. Unlike previous Samsung launches, the brand has made no secret of what’s coming, a move meant in part negate the impact of the delay. Tellingly, Huawei were the only manufacturer to break into all five high street retailers with their flagship device, signaling that perhaps Samsung has had some success on this front.

The voice and connected home battle

Bixby is a major part of the Samsung S8 edge story and a major part of Samsung’s plan for smart home dominance, but despite doing a good job of backing up its bold claims, crucially it will not be launching in the UK until later on in the year. Alexa is already well established and grabbing all the headlines, while Google Home launched in the UK this week and is backed by the brand’s data-crunching power.

While Samsung has potentially the longest history in the connected home space through their SmartThings offering, they’ve failed to get the traction they needed to establish themselves as leaders, despite being unopposed by all but utility propositions such as Hive. This time, there’s more competition and that competition even takes place on the phone itself. With all Android devices featuring Google Assistant by default on the home button, S8 users will be voting with their fingers whenever they chose the Bixby button or the home button to issue voice commands.

One area where Samsung really leads the AI field is the use of image recognition technology which like many existing apps for the visually impaired, serves to identify objects through the camera and provide a list of actions based on this.

The exploding elephant in the room

What is the impact of the Note7 on both consumers and the industry? Samsung spoke about acting ‘humble’ following the recall, and for the most part it seems both parties have forgiven them, with store staff, in particular, playing down the importance of the incident. Interestingly, even at the time of the recall, EE and Carphone Warehouse staff who spoke to Mobile indicated that customers coming in to chose a replacement for their Note7 were nearly unanimously choosing the S7 edge, even though the Google Pixel was released in the same week.

There’s conflicting evidence as to whether this trend of little effect has continued through to the S8 launch. A survey of 1,000 UK consumers by Insurance2go found that the S8 edge is the proffered upgrade handset 58% of Samsung users, though 33% of Samsung users who do not plan on upgrading to the S8 edge answered that they do not trust Samsung after the previous fire issues.

Convergence in consumer and B2B

Last year Samsung UK VP Conor Pierce said the S7 edge would ‘bridge the gap’ between business and consumer devices. This year, he told Mobile that ‘the divide between business mobile devices and consumer mobile devices is growing ever smaller. The challenge for any brand is to adapt to a rapidly evolving market.’ The Note7 was described to Mobile by their channel director Phil Lander as being for ‘prosumers’, ‘those who want to do more with a device.’ This strategy lives on in the S8 and S8+ with business-focused features such as Samsung Knox, multi-window mode and DeX all looking to appeal to the enterprise channel, in particular to trends in flexible working. The DeX feature in particular is a strong tool for the B2B channel, though in both appearance and purpose it seems very similar to Microsoft’s Windows Continuum feature which turns a mobile device into a desktop.