After the catastrophe of the Galaxy Note 7, what can fans look forward to in the next Samsung flagship?
2016 started as a promising year for Samsung, with the Galaxy S7 series earning critical acclaim and commercial success. But the contrast with where we are now couldn't be starker. Battery fires and a bungled recall process led to the cancellation of the Galaxy Note 7, making it the most calamitous smartphone launch ever, by a wide margin.
Samsung will already be looking ahead to its next flagship, the Galaxy S8, to pull it out of this quagmire and rebuild consumer trust. So what can we expect from such a crucial product? Let's take a look.
Galaxy S8 build and form factor
Samsung has been slowly refining its metal and glass design language over the past couple of years, so it's reasonably likely it'll stick with this into 2017. A glass back allows Samsung to easily build in wireless charging, and it's shown over the past year how the use of curved glass can create a phone that feels luxurious and unique.
Metal and glass have worked well for Samsung.
Speaking of which, there's also the question of whether we'll see an "edge" model Galaxy S8, as we have the past two years. The latest reports from Korea suggest that, like the Note 7's subtly curved display, the GS8 might come in two models, both with Edge screens.
Sources said the company has already started securing display panels in two sizes — 5.1-inch and 5.5-inch -- from its own display-making unit Samsung Display, the world's sole producer of double-edged screens.
That might make the "edge" monicker redundant, so it's possible we might instead be looking at a Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus at those two screen sizes.
(Other reports out of Korea have pointed to the possibility of a 6-inch Galaxy S8 Plus, alongside a 5-inch regular GS7.)
Another point of debate: Recent rumors have pointed to the possibility of an optical fingerprint sensor in the next Galaxy S flagship, allowing the GS8 to embed its biometric security features in the display itself. If that happens, we could be looking at the first Samsung flagship without a traditional clicky home button.
And that's exactly what's been rumored recently, with at least one report pointing to a buttonless GS8, with on-screen keys and a fingerprint sensor built right into the display.
Galaxy S8 display — standard RGB
The next generation of flagship Samsung phones won't see a bump in the pixel density, but Samsung could move away from Diamond PenTile to a standard RGB layout.
With PenTile (RGBG), there are two sub-pixels per pixel — with twice as many green sub-pixels as red and blue. With RGB, there are individual red, green, and blue sub-pixels that combine to form one pixel. When it comes to the Galaxy S7 edge, RGBG translates to 7,372,800 pixels overall, whereas RGB would result in 11,059,200 pixels.
The change is said to have been borne out of need to showcase more immersive virtual reality environments.
Galaxy S8 — audio, 3.5mm jack and #donglelife
Recent rumors suggest Samsung may get rid of the 3.5mm jack in the Galaxy S8, with the manufacturer opting for USB-C audio. Samsung won't certainly be the first manufacturer to do so — we've already seen LeEco and Lenovo go the USB-C route — but the move could polarize Samsung's user base.
It's also been reported that Samsung will include wireless earbuds in the box with the GS8 — a move which will surely eat into the company's margins, but may soften the impact of the 3.5mm jack removal.
Galaxy S8 specs
Aside from the rumored display size and resolution, there've been indications that Samsung could choose a powerful new GPU from chip designer ARM. The ARM Mali-G71 would be a significant upgrade from the earlier generation graphics processors used in the Galaxy S6 and S7.
According to ARM's own documentation, the chip offers "40% better performance density and 20% external memory bandwidth saving compared to Mali-T880." The Galaxy S7 and Note 7 use a variant of that GPU, the Mali-T800 MP12.
The docs for Mali-G71 provide reference specs based on a 16nm FinFET process, but Samsung is likely to use a more efficient 10nm process in its 2017 Exynos chip — which potentially means it'll be even faster than ARM's reference numbers.
The Mali-G71 is rumored to outperform the GPU used in Qualcomm's upcoming Snapdragon 835, raising questions over whether Samsung will once again use a mix of Snapdragon SoCs and Exynos processors in various regions. That's backed up by one (uncorroborated) report from China suggesting that there'll be two variants of the new Exynos 8895 processor at different clock speeds — alongside an S8 running Qualcomm's latest.
Galaxy S8 cameras
Cameras are one area of smartphone hardware that has yet to plateau, and in the past year we've seen plenty of innovation in this area from Apple, Google, Huawei and of course Samsung.
Samsung focused on low light performance in its 2016 flagships, and we'd expect this trend to continue into the next generation Galaxy phones — expect brighter lenses and bigger pixels, and for Samsung to likely remain around the sweet spot of 12 megapixels for its main camera.
But there's been speculation over whether Samsung might take inspiration from the iPhone 7 Plus's unique telephoto camera. As a company that's always sought feature parity with Apple, we wouldn't be surprised if a next-gen Galaxy eventually incorporates a second lens for clearer zoomed-in shots.
Galaxy S8 AI Assistant
AI is becoming ever more important in consumer tech, as evidenced by products like Google Assistant, Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. Samsung is rumored to be getting in on the AI game with its next smartphone launch, with technology from its recent acquisition, Viv.
With Viv, Samsung will be able to unlock and offer new service experiences for its customers, including one that simplifies user interfaces, understands the context of the user and offers the user the most appropriate and convenient suggestions and recommendations.
Viv was built with both consumers and developers in mind. This dual focus is also what attracted us to Viv as an ideal candidate to integrate with Samsung home appliances, wearables and more, as the paradigm of how we interact with technology shifts to intelligent interfaces and voice control.
So the potential of Viv extends far beyond Samsung's relatively crude voice assistant, S Voice, which debuted more than four years ago on the Galaxy S3. There've even been reports that the GS8 may feature its own dedicated VR key.
Based on a recent trademark filing, SamMobile theorizes that "Bixby" could be the name for Samsung's upcoming AI assistant. It's a quirky monicker, but one that might just stick in the minds of consumers.
Galaxy S8 release date
The most reliable report points to an April launch for the GS8.
There's been some speculation that Samsung might seek to launch the Galaxy S8 earlier than previous years in order to counter the fallout from the Galaxy Note 7. While this is certainly possible, we're not sure appearing to rush a product to market after a previous model suffered serious quality assurance issues would be seen as a good thing.
Contrarywise, there've also been reports from The Wall Street Journal that Samsung may hold back as late as April to get everything just right. Such a move would have the firm leaning on the Galaxy S7 series for up to 14 months. That would be a much longer wait than usual, but it's understandable that Samsung might want to hold back and make doubly sure there are no quality issues before the phone ship
However Samsung handles the launch of the Galaxy S8, expect the specter of the Note 7 to remain, and for Samsung to underscore additional steps it's taking this time around to ensure the new phone is safe.
In light of recent events, the Galaxy S8 will be a vitally important launch for Samsung, as it looks to recover its reputation, and move past the biggest crisis in its corporate history.