Samsung’s Galaxy S8 flagship is coming — and with it, a shot at redemption.
A lot of drama has happened since the Galaxy Note 7 phones first combusted, including a lengthy mea culpa and a new eight-point battery test for future phones. Now, launching a safe, buyable Galaxy S8 is the South Korean company’s chance to get its phone business back on track.
Although Samsung’s profits are soaring on the strength of its chips and S7 and S7 Edge phone sales, it will still lose around $5 billion in the wake of recalling and then completely ceasing production on the Note 7. Meanwhile, Samsung faces lawsuits, as well as exploding appliances that go beyond flammable phones, too.
A next-generation follow-up to the Galaxy S7 that was released last March, the Galaxy S8 gives Samsung a chance to lure gunshy buyers back to the brand with exceptional technology or lower-than-usual prices. And, to be clear: unlike the Note 7, there have been no known claims of fires or explosions with the Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge, so at least this line’s reputation is completely intact.
(We already know that the Galaxy S8 will use that revised eight-point testing procedure and leave more space inside for the battery, even though that’s not what caused the Note 7 to flame out.)
And Samsung has the power to make a truly great phone. After all, reviewers like me had initially lauded the Note 7 as one of the most impressive phones Samsung had ever made. The question is, will the Galaxy S8 have enough of the goods to refocus shoppers who bolted after the Note 7 debacle? And can Samsung win back buyers’ trust?
The Galaxy S8 could launch as early as March 29 (it won’t appear as usual at the Mobile World Congress show), and the leaks and rumors have are getting hot and heavy. We bring you the most important of the bunch.
Galaxy S8 won’t launch in late February because of Note 7 drama
At one point, some suggested that the Galaxy S8 would attempt to kickstart Samsung’s rebound earlier than its usual late February/early March cycle that’s tied to the giant Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Spain. But Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy S8 won’t launch at the show.
“Samsung can confirm the company will not unveil its flagship product at Mobile World Congress this year,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
It isn’t surprising. Samsung has been tied up investigating the root cause of its Note 7 fires, and laying out an eight-point testing protocol that it has already started implementing in Galaxy S8 batteries. The push isn’t unprecedented either. Samsung also unveiled its Galaxy S4 phone a few weeks after 2013’s MWC show at a standalone event in New York. That’s a likely outcome in this case, too.
Samsung may release a teaser video February 26
Samsung isn’t showing up to Mobile World Congress empty-handed. The company is launching a product believed to be the Samsung Galaxy Tab S3, and rumors are that Samsung will run an official video reel teasing the Galaxy S8. That takes place in Barcelona on February 26.
Samsung could unveils the Galaxy S8 March 29 (and sell it in mid-April)
The latest scuttlebutt puts the Galaxy S8 launch date at an event in New York on March 29. Another rumor pegs the sale date as April 14… although another suggests that the phone will really start to sell on April 18. The last time Samsung hosted a standalone Galaxy S event (it calls it “Unpacked”), it held it in New York at the Radio City Music Hall (and that had its own drama).
The Galaxy S8 might have an all-new battery supplier
Samsung might step away from the two companies that made the Galaxy Note 7’s exploding batteries (including Samsung’s own SDI outfit) and use Japanese manufacturer Murata Manufacturing. The move would create some distance from the Note 7 fiasco.
All screen, all the time
The face of next year’s Galaxy S8 could be 85 percent or 90 percent screen, according to one report out of South Korea, up from an average ratio of 80 percent screen to bezels. That’s supported by another, more recent report that the phone will be all-screen, and a suggestion that the Galaxy S8 could toss out its whole home button — including the fingerprint reader — and use an optical sensor that lives beneath the display.
Samsung partner Synaptics just released its own optical fingerprint scanner that fits the bill. It’s quite possible that the two are one and the same.
One rumor says that Samsung will be able to fit a 5.8-inch display into the S8 and a 6.2-inch screen on the S8 Edge, both larger than the Note 7’s 5.7-inch screen real estate (the S8 is expected to have a smaller footprint than both the Note 7 and S8 Edge).
This wouldn’t be the first time we’d see a nearly bezel-less screen. Chinese phone maker Xiaomi just released the latest attempt at this tech unicorn, the ceramic-backed Mi Mix.
The Galaxy S8 could lose the headset jack, just like the iPhone
When the Galaxy Note 7 first launched, Samsung told me it was “proud” of its headset jack. That tune might change if the latest rumor is right. SamMobile is saying that the audio jack used to plug in wired headphones will go the way of the iPhone’s nonexistent port.
In its place, phone owners would have to use wireless Bluetooth-connected headsets ( like these) or headsets that plug into the phone’s expected USB-C port (either directly or through an adapter dongle).
Then again, it might keep the headset jack after all
A newer rumor comes from a leak of a case said to belong to the Galaxy S8. The case has familiar button recesses and camera cutouts, but also a small round passthrough just the perfect size for a standard 3.5 millimeter headset jack.
Super-high 4K resolution
It’s also expected that Samsung will go ultra-high-def for its next big phone, bumping up the S7’s current resolution (2,560×1,440 pixels) to a 4K resolution of 3,840×2,160 pixels.
Sony beat Samsung to the UHD punch last year with its Xperia X Performance. At that time, TV reviewer David Katzmaier and I argued the futility of such a move, but with VR headsets that integrate with phones slowly gaining fans (like Samsung’s own Gear VR), there is at least one case for having more pixels on your phone than you might have on your TV.
Or maybe not
A contradictory rumor says this isn’t going to happen, and that we’ll instead have the same 2K screen resolution as the Galaxy S7 (2,560×1,440 pixels), but one that’s made with a new version of the AMOLED display material. The upshot: Screen quality is still expected to improve.
Galaxy S8 and curved-screen Edge could be one and the same
The Galaxy S8 could have the same curved sides as the S7 Edge, according to another rumor. But that wouldn’t mean Samsung would only sell one phone. Keeping up with a recent tradition, the Galaxy S8 could still come in two sizes.
Two rear cameras and better selfies on the way
Samsung’s next front-facing camera could also bring auto-focus to the Galaxy S8 using technology that differs from autofocus in the phone’s main camera. Don’t worry about that camera module sticking out, either. The rumor out of Korea claims this module will remain flush with the phone face.
The Galaxy S8 might have a pressure-sensitive screen
Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard this rumor before when the Galaxy S7 was supposedly going to have a screen you could press and hold to make submenus pop up (like Apple‘s 3D Touch for iPhone). It never happened, but maybe this time, one Korean outlet reported, it will.
It could have an AI assistant named Bixby
Filing a patent for a digital assistant named Bixby is a pretty good indicator of Samsung’s intentions in this area, a rumor made richer since Samsung bought AI startup Viv late last year. (That company coincidentally spun up Apple’s Siri, too.)
The info dovetails nicely with rumors that the Galaxy S8 will include a new digital assistant, and perhaps a dedicated button to launch it. Riding on the back of Samsung apparently trademarking the name Bixby Vision is the latest rumor that points to AI use in the camera.
We’ll update as more rumors and stories surface in the long leadup to the launch.
This story was last updated February 2, 2017, at 12:41 p.m. PT.