Galaxy Note 7 was a fluke, and the GS8 is no redemption story

 

The story you were told is a lie. The Galaxy S8 doesn’t mean redemption for Samsung — it simply means more of the same.

There’s definitely something about being reminded that the Emperor has no clothes. Maybe it was because I was midway through my own little take on the Galaxy S8. … It’s a beautiful piece of glass and software, the phone Samsung needed to make — the phone it had to make — bringing it back from the fiery depths like a Phoenix rising from the ashes to return the company to glory and …

No.

That’s not what the Galaxy S8 is, at all. It’s a really good smartphone, made by a really good company. Just like the phones it made last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

To fulfill the “redemption” narrative, the Galaxy S8 needs to do only one thing — not explode in very small numbers.

That’s not a particularly high bar, especially given that Samsung eventually figured out what went wrong in the Galaxy Note 7. Blame the battery manufacturer, or blame Samsung’s testing, or blame both — none of that has anything to do with anything but the battery. Not curved glass. Not cameras. Not software. Reputations are at stake, sure. But Samsung fought (and bought) its way to the top of the heap — it’s tough (and rich) enough to make sure it stays there.

Pretend the Galaxy Note 7 never happened. (And in some respects, it never did.) … What’s so big about the Galaxy S8, then?

It’s got a great display. It’s gorgeous. With curved edges. That’s not new for Samsung. It’s been making great displays for years, going all the way back to the first SAMOLED screens it showed off at Mobile World Congress in February 2010. (I was there in Barcelona for that one.) It’s been making curved displays for a couple generations now.

The simple act of unlocking the Galaxy S8 is hobbled by choices and conflicting design.

The Galaxy S8 has a great camera. We know this because (a) we’ve all used it by now, and (b) it’s basically unchanged from the Galaxy S7. Improved a bit? Sure. But I wouldn’t say revolutionary or anything.

Looks great. Feels great. Runs great.

But there’s the other side of Samsung, too. The side that just can’t help but stuff every conceivable option into a phone. Never mind that most of them are off by default, and likely never will be seen by most normal smartphone folk. (Hint: If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re not one of those people.)

That (among other things) has led to the abomination of a “hidden” home button. Combine that with the awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone, and unlocking this thing has been more of a chore than it should be. Iris scanning is OK, but also a nonstarter for me a lot of the time in Florida. (Because sunglasses.) Face recognition barely works.

I didn’t hate Samsung’s new launcher at first. It’s probably the best the company has produced. But it’s lacking app shortcuts — little popups you get if you long-press and app that’ll take you to features within that app.

Oh, sure, Samsung has shortcuts. But they’re the same for every app on the home screen. And while they’re useful when you’re first setting up the phone, they’re worthless after that.

You can take or leave the notification badges — the little numbers that only tell you how many of something awaits when you open that app. It doesn’t tell you what, or give any context or clues to importance. Badges ain’t nothing but a number. Me? I’ll leave ’em.

And the folders. Oh, sweet baby Jesus, the folders. They look nice. Great animations. But the amount of space wasted within them — taking up an entire screen instead of expanding only as much as needed.

And don’t even think about tapping in that vast expanse to close the folder.

The Galaxy S8 is a beautiful phone, and the best Samsung has made. But it’s a story of continuation, not redemption — and not one of revolution.

It’s a quintessential Samsung thing. A lot of style, but also a lot of substance. Too much substance, maybe. We’ve seen it before in the Galaxy S7. And the Note 7. And the GS6. And in the Note 5. And in the Galaxy S5 series. And in the 4 series. And in the 3 series.

So what’s changed?

Samsung’s doing everything that it’s ever done. In fact, it’s doing it even more. It continues to innovate in design and hardware. (Yes, LG, I hear your screams.) It continues to bludgeon us over the head with software — in some ways better, in some ways worse.

That’s not redemption. That’s continuation. That’s improvement. That’s building on what Samsung’s been doing for most of the past decade.

The Galaxy Note 7 was (so far, at least) an aberration. Samsung won’t let that freak occurrence happen again. But for as bad as that meltdown was — literally and figuratively — it also made for a great storyline in setting up the Galaxy S8. (For you tinfoil hatters out there, I’m not saying it was an intentional meltdown.)

Samsung didn’t even have to work to sell the redemption line. We all just couldn’t wait to use it.

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