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.
Galaxy S8 display — the first 4K Galaxy?
The next generation of flagship Samsung phones could significantly bump up the pixel density. In recent months rumors have swirled from the Korean press that Samsung will use a 4K display in its upcoming flagships.
Samsung Display showcased a 5.5 ultra-high definition 4K display with a pixel density of 806 ppi for virtual reality devices at the Society for Information Display, a display trade show, in California in March," said an official of UBI Research.
"Considering various factors including the production yield rate for the next-generation display expected to improve in the coming months, the 5.5-inch AMOLED will be deployed in the next Galaxy smartphone, presumably, named the S8."
The use of a curved display and a 4K panel would give Samsung two key differentiators for its new phones. While 4K is largely overkill for most things you'll be doing on a phone, it's a huge step forward for VR — a panel with 800+ pixels per inch would allow for much more detailed virtual reality experiences.
Of course, a 4K screen would also present some unique battery life challenges. Like Sony's Xperia Z5 Premium, Samsung might choose to run in Quad HD mode in most apps in order to save power. The phone might only crank up to 4K when viewing photos or Ultra HD movies, or when using the Gear VR.
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 to power a possible 4K display. 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 830, raising questions over whether Samsung will once again use a mix of Snapdragon SoCs and Exynos processors in various regions.
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 release date
An unveiling at or around Mobile World Congress is a good bet.
For the past three years, Samsung's flagship phones have broken cover right before Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. This year's MWC show begins February 27, so an announcement date shortly before this is a good bet.
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.
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.