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.
That's why 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 Galaxy S8 is going to be a pivotal phone for Samsung, and it’s edging ever nearer to launch. Here’s what we know about it so far.
What we know
>>> It'll be revealed in late March
Samsung chose not to launch the S8 at MWC this year, presumably because it wanted to do more product testing and avoid another Exploding Galaxy Phone scenario. Instead, it'll reveal the S8 at its own Unpacked event on 29 March. There are going to be at least two events: one in New York and another in London - we'll be at the latter, reporting live from the announcement. Expect the phone itself to be available in mid-late April.
There’s also speculation that we’ll see the foldable Galaxy X smartphone announced at the event, which might of itself justify a launch seperate to MWC, if it turns out to be the important, groundbreaking device it's expected to be.
>>> It'll have a curved screen
The future, it seems, is curved – at least where Samsung’s smartphone screens are concerned. There have been countless stories 'confirming' that the Edge version of the phone will actually become the standard version, with the flat version being killed off. 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. A recent photo (courtesy of @evleaks via Venture Beat, see above) appears to back this up.
>>> There will still be two versions though
While there won't be one curved and one flat version, reports do suggest there'll still be two models of the S8. One will have a big 5.8in screen and one will have an even bigger 6.2in display.
>>> It won't have a bezel
Or not a very big one at least: reports suggest that the 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 lovely Xiaomi Mi Mix featuring one for instance, but if the rumours are true the Galaxy S8 would be the first mass-produced smartphone to do away with a frame.
The best look at the phone ahead of launch came from the @EVleaks twitter account, showing the front face complete with incredibly slim bezels. Unlike the LG G6, though, it looks like Samsung's phone will curve at the sides - making the bezels even thinner than ever.
>>> And it won't have physical buttons either
Several reports and the photo above indicate that the physical home button will be removed. Based on the latest photo, it appears that the device's fingerprint sensor has been relocated to its rear, next to the camera sensor.
That doesn't mean there won't be any home button on the front, though. According to the latest rumours, Samsung will be adding a software button instead - one that's even visible when your phone is in standby mode, using the always-on tech last seen on the Galaxy S7. You'll be able to tap it to wake the phone, and double-tap it to jump straight into the camera app, just like you could with the physical buttone on older phones.
>>> It might well have a 4K display
Previous Galaxy flagships have maxed out at 2K, but it looks likely that the S8 will have 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.
>>> It'll be a VR monster
If Samsung does make this resolution leap, it'll be doing so 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. Given that Samsung also makes the Gear VR headset, that would make a certain amount of sense.
There's probably going to be a new Gear VR launching alongside the S8, too. The headset might not change very much from the current generation version, but it'll come bundled with a controller for more immersive games and experiences - so basically everything Samsung needs to take on Google's Daydream View. All we know for sure is that it'll communicate with phone or headset over Bluetooth; there's no clue yet as to whether it'll be a one-handed controller, or ship as something to hold in both hands like Oculus Touch.
>>> It should control your TV, too
THe latest leaked pictures seem to show a Galaxy S8 fitted with an IR blaster, which should mean it will double as a universal remote once you've programmed in all your devices. IR blasters haven't exactly been high on the features list for flagship phones recently, so this is a bit of a surprise. It could be a region-specific feature, or we could all be changing channels with our phones once the S8 arrives in April.
>>> It'll have its own AI assistant
Samsung isn't going to bundle Google Assistant on the S8 and call it a day - it will also be adding Bixby, an AI helper of its own. Confirmed in a blog post ahead of the Galaxy S8 launch, Bixby will have its own dedicated button to trigger it, apparently avoiding the confusion that comes with voice activation. Shots fired, Siri.
It's still unclear what Bixby will actually do different to Google, Microsoft and Apple's existing AI, but it will apparently only work with a selection of Samsung apps at launch. Eventually smart home controls and third party app support will follow, but at first, you'll just be adding calendar appointments, sending SMS messages and making calls without having to tap the screen first. We think.
>>> It'll have a new Snapdragon processor 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. It also seems likely that in some regions the S8 will come with a Samsung Exynos chip rather than a Qualcomm effort, but that performance would be roughly equivalent between them.