Samsung has renewed its rivalry with Apple by launching two new larger premium smartphones at a ritzy event in New York overnight: the S8 and the bigger S8+. Both have bigger displays than in 2016.
It’s where the fightback begins for Samsung. The South Korean tech giant has been on the ropes following last year’s release of faulty Note7 handsets and numerous cases of batteries exploding and bursting into flames.
There was concern that many of its customers might desert it. At its launch event it appeared confident that the Note7 issue was in the past. Time will tell but Samsung’s reputation will be shredded if there is a repeat of faulty batteries.
To encourage loyal users to stay with the brand, Samsung is offering incentives if you pre-order a handset: a free Gear VR virtual reality viewer and a $50 Oculus voucher.
And to allay worries about exploding batteries, it is promoting its 8-point battery check with suppliers announced in January that hopefully ends dangerous batteries.
Both premium models have bigger screens than last year: a Galaxy S8 model with a 5.8-inch screen, and a larger S8+ model with a 6.2-inch display. Both displays are curved at the edges and in Australia they will be available in black, grey and gold. They will cost $1,199 and $1,349 respectively to buy outright locally and will be available on telco plans.
Samsung also announced a DeX dock ($199) that lets you turns the S8 into a computer, along with a new Galaxy VR headset ($199) and a 360-degree Gear 360 camera ($399).
The new phones are rated IP68 water and dust resistant as they were last year. There’s a microSD card support for up to 256GB of storage, and phones have both fast charging and wireless charging. There’s also three forms of biometric authentication for unlocking the phone and using it for secure transactions on supported sites: fingerprint recognition, iris scanning and facial recognition.
As predicted, there are no physical buttons on the front of the device. Fingerprint recognition occurs at the rear.
The new phones will be the first to feature Samsung’s Bixby personal assistant, and a Bixby button is there to activate it.
Initially Bixby will work with only a handful of applications: the camera, contacts, gallery, messages and settings. But Samsung says it plans to quickly expand its capabilities with the platform being made available to third party developers.
Samsung says users can shop, search for images and get details about nearby places with Bixby’s image recognition technology.
In the end, users can navigate through services and apps with voice, touch, vision, and text commands.
There’s a new Samsung Gear VR virtual reality viewer for the S8 which slots into the back. This time the Gear VR comes with a controller, an idea it adapted from Google which introduced a controller with its Daydream View VR headset last year. A new Gear 360 camera supports 4K 360° videos and 15 megapixel photos.
Samsung is not the first company to provide a dock that helps you turn a phone into a laptop. Motorola tried it several years ago with its Atrix phone, and Microsoft handsets can be used as Windows 10 computers when attached to monitors and keyboards.
Samsung says its DeX solution offers a redesigned Android user interface optimised for use with a keyboard and mouse and includes multiple resizeable windows, contextual menus and a desktop version web browser.
The S8 and S8+ have a fast 8-core processor and for power users, there is gigabit LTE (cat 16) and gigabit Wi-Fi for fast file downloads, if your telco or broadband source supports it. The phone has 12 and 8 megapixel back and front facing cameras. The selfie camera has been boosted from 5 to 8 MP.
The handsets have a USB Type-C connector for connecting and charging. Samsung has resisted Apple’s move to ditch the 3.5mm audio jack so you can use your old headphones with this device.
Pre-orders for the S8 and S8+ start on March 31 with the phone retailing from April 28.
Key features — Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+
* Fast 8-core processor, first with 10 nanometre architecture
* Tiny bezel: display takes up almost the entire phone
* QHD + displays with 2960×1440 pixels, more than 520 ppi
* New virtual personal assistant Bixby
* Connecting DeX dock that offers a virtual PC environment
* Home/fingerprint reader button on the back
* Iris and face identification for unlocking phone
* USB-C connector, traditional 3.5mm headphone jack
* 12MP F1.7 rear camera, 8MP F1.7 smart autofocus front camera
* IP68 rated water and dust resistance
* Samsung Connect lets users link to connected home devices
* 3000 and 3500 mAh batteries for S8 and S8+ respectively
* Near Field Communication (NFC) for Samsung payments
* Heart rate sensor, HDR video support.
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