Samsung Galaxy S8: nice bezels, shame about the Bixby

galaxy S8
Source: Samsung Newsroom

While Samsung’s Galaxy S8 is bursting out of the box in pushing the limits of screen real estate, its voyage into the increasingly crucial user experience shows that it remains boxed in by smarter and better alternatives.

Samsung finally launched the Samsung Galaxy s8 / s8+ whose main features include:

  • A big improvement in screen real estate with the home button now being under the glass as well as improvements in color, contrast and brightness.
  • A digital assistant called Bixby that aims to be much more than an easy way to find stuff out (see below).
  • Samsung Dex, which allows the Galaxy s8 to work with an external monitor, mouse and keyboard to give a desktop like experience.

Samsung demonstrated very basic PowerPoint editing features, confirming to me that the Galaxy S8 will be capable of running the stripped-down Office apps rather than the full fat versions. I still think that without full fat Office, Photoshop etc, there is not much point in this functionality, as content consumption has largely already moved off form factors that use a mouse and keyboard and onto touch.

The net result is that Samsung is continuing to almost entirely differentiate in hardware, as this device is still first and foremost a Google ecosystem device.

This is just one area where Bixby will run into problems, as it will be the best-in-class Google Assistant that sits on the home button meaning that Bixby has a fearsome competitor even on its own flagship device.

To counteract this, Bixby is trying to do things a little differently, but careful assessment of what Samsung demonstrated shows a service that has very little intelligence at all. Bixby is a very far cry from what Viv demonstrated would be possible with its assistant prior to the Samsung acquisition, making me suspect that Viv has not proved to be nearly as clever as promised.

Bixby is activated with a side key (to get around the problem of Google sitting on the home button) and aims to get stuff done rather than just finding stuff out. Consequently, Samsung has taught Bixby a range of skills such as screen capture and image recognition and plugged that functionality into a select number of apps.

By keeping the number of apps that use it limited, Samsung limits the number of possibilities that has to program further highlighting that Bixby is probably incapable doing very much outside of the box. This appears to be contrary to how Viv marketed its capabilities before it was owned by Samsung, again making me wonder about the true capability of Viv/Bixby.

Bixby offers a series of cards (left swipe from home screen) that adjust based on usage and the time of day as the system learns what apps and services the user uses most and when. This is merely clever statistics, but if this proves to be a useful tool, then Samsung will achieved some much needed differentiation outside of hardware. Although I have suspicions about the lack of intelligence in Bixby, I cannot be 100% certain of this opinion until I have tested it to destruction.

The net result is a very nice looking device that Samsung has made huge efforts to show is both high quality and extremely safe.

Most importantly this device is also the first real test that Samsung has had since the Note 7 disaster, which is why the S8 needs to sell very well, confounding the big fall in trust that Samsung has suffered over the last 6 months.

I think that Samsung has produced the device that it needs to cement its recovery, but now it comes down to consumers, a number of whom have already switched to iOS.

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