With the Galaxy S7, Samsung finally create the class-leading smartphone they’d been threatening – but failing – to deliver for several years. And then the Galaxy Note 7 came along, only to promptly toddle off permanently whilst piddling all over their parade. One step forward, two steps back.
So it’s vital for Samsung’s very survival as a trusted tech brand that it produces the goods with its next flagship smartphone – and we don’t just mean by making something that doesn’t explode in people’s pockets.
The Samsung Galaxy S8 is going to be a pivotal phone for Samsung, and it’s edging ever nearer to launch. And here’s what we know about it so far.
What we know
>>> A farewell to flat screens
The future, it seems, is curved – at least where Samsung’s smartphone screens are concerned. A story in the Korea Herald suggests Samsung may not release a flat-screened version of the Galaxy S8 at all, instead producing a single model with a curved screen. Given the warm receptions to the curved displays of the Galaxy S7 Edge and Galaxy Note 7, we can certainly envisage this being the case.
>>> No bezel, no problem
Bloomberg reports that the Galaxy S8 will be Samsung's first phone to come with a bezel-free design, meaning the screen covers the entire front face of the device. Such designs aren't unheard of, with the Xiaomi Mi Mix concept featuring one, but if the rumours are true, the Galaxy S8 would likely be the first production smartphone to do away with a frame.
SamMobile believes the physical home button will be removed (which fits in with the above), and that the device's fingerprint sensor will be integrated into the front screen.
>>> A 4K display?
Another report by the Korea Herald claims the screen is likely to be 5.5in in size, with a 4K Ultra HD resolution of 3840 x 2160 – a claim based on the fact that Samsung recently exhibited a prototype AMOLED screen with precisely these specs at a trade show in California.
That’s over 800 pixels-per-inch (ppi), an insane level of detail which might come across as overkill on a portable device. After all, it’s not as if the 2K screens of the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are lacking in sharpness.
A December report from SamMobile claims otherwise, saying a 2K resolution will be retained from the Galaxy S7 models, but that the image quality will be improved thanks to a new material in the AMOLED screen.
>>> More pixels = better VR
But Samsung could be making this resolution leap with one eye (or more appropriately, two eyes) on virtual reality. When you use a smartphone as a display for a VR headset, the headset’s lenses magnify the screen so much so that, even with a 2K display, it’s possible to pick out individual pixels (the fact that the screen is only a couple of inches from your eyeballs is a major factor, too). With a higher resolution, that pixellation would be lessened, increasing the detail in the VR image and, in theory, boosting the realism of the VR experience.
>>> A new Snapdragon on board?
Very little speculation about the Samsung Galaxy S8's internal specs has appeared thus far on the internet, with one notable exception: it's rumoured to be getting a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset.
This system-on-chip (which has been confirmed by Qualcomm, without any specifics being revealed) is apparently built on a 10-nanometre process, which should significantly boost efficiency and power. The current Qualcomm flagship, the Snapdragon 820, is built on a 14nm process, so if the new chip is physically the same size, it could fit far more transistors on to its surface – hence the performance upgrade.
Bloomberg believes there'll be a version of the phone with the Snapdragon 835, and a version with Samsung's own Exynos CPU aboard.
>>> Double the photographic fun
One rumour out of China claims the Galaxy S8 will be the first Samsung device to arrive with a dual-sensor camera module on board. This isn’t a particularly groundbreaking feature these days, what with the LG G5, Huawei P9 and iPhone 7 Plus all sporting some kind of two-lens, two-sensor setup for the rear camera, but given that it has the potential to drastically improve low light or colour performance (like the P9) or offer a wider angle option (like the G5), it would be a welcome addition.
A December 2016 report by Bloomberg, however, suggests that Samsung is considering scrapping the dual camera design in order to cut costs.
>>> Hit the road, jack
Is Samsung going down the same route as Apple (an unkind person might say not for the first time) by ditching the 3.5mm headphone jack? SamMobile claims so, saying that wired headphone duties will instead by handed off to the Galaxy S8's USB-C port.
You might well ask why Samsung would take such a step, given the pasting Apple has (perhaps rightfully) gotten over its decision to strip the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus of headphone ports. It could be to increase battery size, or decrease the depth of the handset, or make space for better on-board speakers. All we know right now is that Samsung better have a pretty good excuse in place - because if even Apple can't spin this one, we don't hold out much hope for them being able to pull it off.
>>> It’s probably coming in February 2017 (or March, or April)
Given the past few Galaxy launches, we feel the most likely date for the official Samsung Galaxy S8 reveal is late February 2017. Samsung traditionally holds a glitzy event just before MWC’s official start (which, next time, is 27 February 2017), in which the company announces that year’s flagship – or in the case of the S7 and S7 Edge, flagships.
There’s some speculation that we’ll also see the foldable Galaxy X smartphone announced at the 2017 event, which is the only factor that gives us pause in our prediction. The Galaxy X could be such an important, groundbreaking device that Samsung sees it as deserving of its own launch event, in which case either it or the Galaxy S8 could be pushed back a few weeks.
All the latest news
>> 8 December 2016
A Bloomberg story claims the Galaxy S8 will have a bezel-free "all-screen" design, with the display covering the entire front of the device.
>> 6 December 2016
Is the Galaxy S8 going to ditch the home button? SamMobile believes so, and also claims the phone will retain the 2K resolution of the previous generation while boosting the screen's image quality by use of a new material. The report also claims the fingerprint sensor will be incorporated into the front screen.
>> 19 June 2016
One Chinese site reports the rumour that Samsung has a dual-camera setup planned for the Galaxy S8, bringing it into line with the likes of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus and Huawei P9.
>> 9 June 2016
The Korea Herald claims that Samsung wants to feature a 4K resolution in order to boost the phone's capabilities as a VR machine. More pixels means greater sharpness when the phone's mounted in a Gear VR headset, basically.
>> 8 June 2016
According to the Korea Herald, Samsung may well ditch the flat screen version of its flagship this time around, going only with a curved screen S7 Edge-style model.