Samsung Electronics’ profits were on the rise in wake of its unveiling of the new Galaxy S8 smartphone, which went on sale over the counter.
The world’s biggest smartphone maker added more than $1 billion to its market capitalization Friday as investors cheered positive reaction to its new device.
The device, unveiled in New York last month and a challenge to Apple’s iPhone, is the firm’s first major launch since last year’s humiliating withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 over exploding batteries, which hammered its once-stellar reputation.
The new phones have received good reviews, with more than one million pre-orders for the S8 and the larger S8+ in South Korea alone. Shares in Samsung Electronics rose 1.2 percent to close at 2.04 million won ($1,797) Friday, adding around 1.3 trillion won to its total market capitalization.
When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus in New York last month, it said the new handsets would mark a “new era of smartphone design”. The two handsets include Samsung’s upgraded digital assistant Bixby, competing in a crowded field that includes Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
The most striking feature of the new phones is what Samsung dubs an “infinity display” — an expanded glass screen that covers the entire front of the device and appears to curve seamlessly around its edges.
But some consumers have complained that the screens on their devices have a reddish hue. Samsung said in a statement that users could manually adjust the color range according to their preferences.
The home button has been replaced with a pressure-sensitive section embedded under the screen, and the water-resistant phone allows for biometric authentication with fingerprint and iris scanners.
The S8 is for those who want elegance — and are willing to pay for it.
SCREENS TO THE EDGES
After spontaneous fires that forced the recall of the Galaxy Note 7, Samsung is playing it safe on the battery and subjecting the S8 to tighter inspections. Instead, it’s pushing the boundaries — so to speak — on the phone’s display. Samsung minimized the phone frame and got rid of a physical home button to free up space for the “infinity display.”
The 5.8-inch S8 and the 6.2-inch S8 Plus both have nearly 15 percent more display space than last year’s comparable models. But the phones themselves aren’t wider. In fact, the phones feel more comfortable thanks to sides that curve around to the back; last year’s curved S7 Edge model feels boxy by comparison.
The bigger screen fits more lines of text, but doesn’t necessarily make video more immersive. While video on YouTube and Facebook gets automatically adjusted to fill the space, Netflix and Hulu movies just leave wasted black space on all four sides. This can be adjusted manually, but for a heftier price, one shouldn’t have to.
ALL ABOUT THE BATTERY
The S8 and S8 Plus have more physical space inside, but Samsung used it to give the battery more breathing room while keeping its capacity roughly the same as last year. Though a larger display drains the battery faster, tests of streaming video found that the new phones consumed power more slowly than last year’s models. And even with constant use — taking photos, watching video and playing music and podcasts — the new phones still made it to bedtime with power to spare. Samsung credits software and chip improvements.
UNLOCKING THE PHONES
Like the doomed Note 7, the S8 has an iris scanner to let users unlock the phone by looking at it — at least in theory. But the screen must be swiped first and the position from the user’s face must be at just the right distance. The fingerprint scanner was faster and more convenient for unlocking the phone.
FIRE THE ASSISTANT
Samsung is introducing a digital assistant called Bixby, but voice features intended to rival Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri aren’t ready yet. (Voice dictation does work with a reminder feature, though.) Bixby will also highlight appointments, trending stories and app suggestions, much as existing features on iPhones and other Android phones already offer.
One promising feature aims to provide translations and product information using the phone’s camera. It’s like the Firefly feature on Amazon’s derided Fire phone, and it makes the same types of dumb mistakes — it identified a can of Diet Coke as four other sodas instead. And the translation tools were incomplete at grabbing passages and failed to automatically detect the language being translated from.
CALCULATING THE VALUE
Samsung throws in a pair of AKG premium headphones, valued at about $100. It’s nice to get headphones when many phone makers have stopped including them. The phone also comes with 64 gigabytes of storage, which frequently jacks up the price of other phones by $100. Those curved edges? Those also previously cost an extra $100.
The S8 seems like a bargain for only $100 over the S7 at launch. But do you really need these goodies? The main camera on the S8 is about the same as last year’s, so you can still get amazing photos with the S7.
There’s speculation that Apple will come out with a pricier, feature-rich iPhone for its 10th anniversary this year — but it’s expected to update the existing iPhone 7 line as well. Those who can’t live with yesterday’s technology won’t be disappointed with the S8. But for everyone else, Samsung could have also offered a lower-priced alternative with fewer goodies.