Samsung introduced the Galaxy S8, the new flagship device the company hopes will help it regain its standing as the world’s largest smartphone vendor. But this morning’s dog and pony show was about more than just a phone.
The South Korean company hosted a media event in New York to trot out the 5.8-inch S8 and the larger S8 Plus, which sports a 6.2-inch screen. The phone features a “near bezel-less design,” Samsung boasted, maximizing the display, and packs dual cameras, a 10-nanometer processor and the company’s Knox security platform.
Notably, the phone also eschews the traditional home button, instead leveraging a combination of hardware and software to enable a virtual home button that doesn’t obscure the phone’s screen. And it features Bixby, the response to AI-powered personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant that Samsung recently introduced.
Additionally, T-Mobile announced the S8 will be the first “gigabit-class” smartphone on its network.
The phone will be available from all four major U.S. wireless carriers as well as AT&T’s Cricket Wireless, Straight Talk Wireless and U.S. Cellular. Pricing varies by carriers, but the S8 generally starts at $720 and the S8 Plus starts at $840. Operators are likely to promote the device heavily with free or discounted accessories and other goodies.
Samsung desperately needs another hit device to help recapture the high end of the smartphone market following the disastrous Galaxy Note 7. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission officially announced a recall of the Note 7 last year after Samsung received 92 reports of batteries overheating in the U.S., including 26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage including fires. Samsung produced a second wave of devices, but issued a second recall after a replacement phone caught fire aboard a Southwest Airlines flight.
The botched phone resulted in Apple surpassing Samsung to become the world’s top smartphone vendor in the fourth quarter of 2016. Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh acknowledged last year’s debacle during this morning’s event.
“As you all know, it has been a challenging year for Samsung,” Koh said. “And today we are here to celebrate a new milestone. Not just the launch of a great device, but the beginning of a new way to experience the phone. A world where boxes no longer divide, and barriers that once stood in the way have been removed.”
Indeed, integration of a variety of digital device platforms was a key theme this morning. Samsung continued to push its Gear VR and a new controller powered by Oculus. It touted an Android-based app dubbed Samsung DeX that integrates with desktops and laptops. And it introduced Samsung Connect, aimed at enabling users to control multiple IoT devices.
Still, the S8 signaled a coming “super cycle” in a smartphone market that hasn’t seen much significant innovation in recent years, according to Wayne Lam, a director at IHS Markit.
“The S8 is the start of a ‘super cycle’ for smartphone innovation in 2017,” Lam said in a prepared statement. “This year, there will be very significant advances in the design and performance of smartphone models after several years of incremental improvement."
“Gigabit LTE is very much the marquee specifications for 2017 flagship smartphones,” Lam continued. “While other OEMs have already committed to launching gigabit LTE smartphones this year, Samsung will use its chipset and its market share to ensure it is first to ship in volume.”