Samsung launches the Galaxy S8 with a stunning design and Bixby AI assistant

Samsung is back. After the Note7 recall stripped us of our end-of-year Galaxy fix, Samsung has officially unveiled its flagship S8 and S8+ phones, and they should be enough to make you forget all about the phablet fiasco.

Packed with a slew of high-end features and wrapped in a stunning, near-bezel-less enclosure, the Galaxy S8 and S8+ are sure to turn heads, dispensing of the home button and the somewhat stale S7 form factor, and putting Apple and its rumored iPhone 8 on notice. With the S8, Samsung has returned to the flagship market in a big way, and assuming they don’t have any recall-level issues, it should rocket the company back to the head of the class.

Pricing varies by carrier: Verizon is selling the S8/S8+ for $30/$35 a month for two years. That’s $720 or $840 dollars. At T-Mobile they’re $750/$850, respectively. The same pricing applies at AT&T. Sprint customers will be able to lease the Galaxy S8 for $31.25 a month for 18 months ($562.50) or the S8+ for $35.42 a month for 18 months ($637.56). Not that Sprint has only released lease pricing, not purchase pricing. All preorders get a new GearVR with motion controller, but some carriers are offering other trade-in incentives and bonuses (like a free microSD card).

Out of this world: Samsung may have made us wait a few weeks longer than usual for the S8, but it’s been worth it. Samsung has clearly used the Note7 debacle as motivation for the S8, and the result is a sexy, powerful handset that just might be the coolest phone ever made. As you can see in our hands-on, the S8 pretty much does everything you could possibly want a phone to do (and then some), but its design will steal the show.

Size matters

With the Galaxy S8, Samsung set out to address “market barriers” and “consumer pain points,” most notably when it comes to form factor. Unlike the past couple Galaxy S releases, Samsung is going all-in on the Edge design, which it is now branded as an Infinity Display. To that end, it has created a new benchmark in the bezel wars, with an 83 percent screen-to-body ratio.

galaxy s8 s7 g6 2Michael Simon
Left to right, the Galaxy S7, S8, LG G6, and S8+.

 The two sizes are 5.8 inches and 6.2 inches, both sporting a 2960×1440 resolution and a 570 and 529 PPI, respectively. Like the S7, the S8 is 8mm thick (with the S8+ being ever-so-slightly thicker at 8.1mm), but it’s just 6.5mm taller than the S7, despite having a screen that’s more than a half-inch bigger. And the larger model is only 8mm taller.

All three colors (black, orchid gray, and silver) come with unified black front bezels, so fans of white might be disappointed. Under the hood there’s the long-expected Snapdragon 835 chip, 4GB of GAM, and 64GB of storage. SD card storage is supported, too. There’s also the same 12MP camera on the back (though Samsung says there will be improvements with image processing), and a new 8MP auto-focus front camera. The phones are once again IP68 water and dust resistant.

As rumored, the fingerprint sensor is tucked away next to the rear camera, but Samsung doesn’t think you’ll be using it as often as you do on other phones. It has built in iris scanning and face detection for unlocking, as well as a haptic-enabled bottom bezel that serves as a virtual home button.

AI on board

Samsung is also bringing its own digital assistant to the S8. Named Bixby, the service is designed to replicate the things you can do with touch for voice, letting you speak commands while also using augmented reality to scan devices with the camera, and supports more than 50 languages.

galaxy s8 bixbyMichael Simon
Samsung’s new AI, Bixby, will control things that you usually use your fingers to do.

 Like its contemporaries, Bixby utilizes a female voice. It will work with “a handful of apps” at launch, and it’s intuitive enough to understand what you’re doing between voice commands. So if you ask to see your movies, it will take you there. Then you can tap to navigate to one, and say, “Play this,” and it will know what you’re referring to. A dedicated button above the volume rocker on the left side of the device will summon Bixby wherever you are, and you can also say, “Bixby” to wake it up.

While Bixby won’t be able to answer general knowledge questions when it launches, an update will bring the functionality in the future. However, it will utilize a feature called Bixby Vision that lets you use the camera to scan items such as books and wine bottles to get AR-style shopping links and other details about them. You can also utilize the Bixby home screen to view a stream of your personal information, such as fitness stats, weather, and reminders.

Safe and sound

Then, there’s the elephant in the room: battery safety. The Galaxy S8 has gone through Samsung’s new 8-point battery safety check, and it notes that the the process represents “a commitment to innovate process and quality.” So, it’s confident that these batteries won’t explode.

To that end, the battery in the Galaxy S8+ is the same 3,500 mAh size found in the Note7, while the smaller model comes with a 3,000 mAh one. Both models support wireless charging, IP68 water resistance, and for audio fans, Samsung has resisted the wireless-only trend, so there is a 3.5mm headphone jack. Additionally, there will be a pair of AKG earbuds in the box, which Samsung says are worth $99.

Expanding universe

The S8 is the center of a new strategy for Samsung that includes two new products, Samsung Connect and DeX Station. It’s all part of a new ecosystem that Samsung is building around the S8 that includes a refined productivity push.

galaxy s8 dex dockJorge Arzac
Samsung’s Dex is a USB-C dock that connects to your monitor.

 Samsung Connect Home is a 4×4 Mu-Mimo mesh Wi-Fi router system. Designed to connect to all of your Samsung and compatible devices, the system has a SmartThings Hub built into it with a new intelligent app to control those devices. For example, you can set an away mode that will dim the lights and start up your Powerbot vacuum when you leave the house.

DeX Station is designed to be a “pocketable solution” that lets you use your phone as mini computer, projecting your apps onto a monitor and using a Bluetooth or USB keyboard and monitor to operate them. The dock includes two old-school USB ports, as well as ethernet and HDMI ports. Once plugged in to the circular dock, you can hook it up to an HDMI monitor and access your apps just as if you were sitting down at a PC.

Point and shoot

There are also updates to the Gear VR and Gear 360 cameras. In addition to a tweaked color and design to accommodate the S8, the new headset includes a bundled controller like Google’s Daydream with four buttons and a touch screen. Designed for gaming, the Bluetooth remote will also be sold separately for S7, S6, and Note 5 users. Samsung says there are some 70 remote-ready apps already in development.

galaxy s8 pairMichael Simon
The Galaxy S8 has a 5.8-inch screen while the larger S8+ has a 6.2-inch one.

 The Gear 360 camera has a new design. Instead of a sphere, it’s now a small stick that’s pocketable and more travel-friendly. The battery is no longer removable, but the SD card still is, and you can now shoot in 4K resolution and live-stream in 2K.

You can preorder the S8 beginning Thursday, March 30 for delivery on April 21. All preorders will include a Gear VR and an Oculus game pack. The DeX dock and Gear VR will also be available for sale alongside the S8, with the Gear 360 camera launching a little later in the spring.

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