Samsung unveil Galaxy S8 with new virtual assistant

Samsung Galaxy S8

Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone comes with a new virtual assistant, Bixby, while also removing the physical home button.

The removal of the home button gives the Galaxy S8 and bigger S8+ larger screens, despite the device being around the same size as the S7 and S7 Edge.

Unlike previous launches, both of these devices will feature curved displays.

The smartphones are set for a 21 April release date.

The S8 will cost £690 and the S8+ £780, which represents a sharp rise from the launch prices of £569 for the S7 and £639 for the S7 Edge.

According to market research firm IDC, Samsung was the bestselling handset producer for 2016, however they were outsold by Apple in the final quarter of the year.

As a result of the removal of the home button, and the extension of the screen, Samsung’s logo no longer features on the front, however a vibration module and a pressure sensor have been built into the phone behind the new virtual button.

The 18.5:9 ratio, which is created by the phones’ larger screens, means they are more suited to running apps simultaneously, on the same screen. The screens feature the same resolution as previous models, but they are now able to support HDR playback, as well as being brighter in general.

The other key feature unveiled at the launch was Bixby, a virtual assistant that is ‘context-aware’ and can answer follow-up questions from users.

Bixby is launched by a dedicated side-button and allows 10 built-in apps to be controlled by voice.

The software is also able to recognise objects seen through the phone’s camera. It can be used for shopping purposes, or even to recognise landmarks and suggest places of interest nearby.

Bixby is currently compatible with Google Play Music, and Samsung has plans to extend this to work alongside third-party apps, but has not announced when this is likely to happen.

At launch, it is only designed to recognise US and Korean voices.

“If what Samsung demoed works well in practice, Bixby will be interesting because it offers features absent from Siri and Google Assistant,” commented Francisco Jeronimo from IDC.

“The race is on to have the best digital assistant, since that will drive hardware sales.

“But in the past, some of Samsung’s features have looked great in presentations, but when you use them on a daily basis they have not been as good.”

The smartphone also features a more detailed eight-megapixel front-camera, while the rear camera remains 12MP, but photos will have an added level of sharpness and contrast due to the system’s ability to capture additional frames and extract data from these.

From a performance standpoint, the S8 represents another improvement, with the CPU being 10 per cent more powerful, while the GPU is 21 per cent more powerful. A shift to 10 nanometre-chip technology should also make them more energy efficient.

Samsung also revealed a number of accessories for the device, including revamped virtual reality headset that is now accompanied by its own motion-sensing controller, and a second-generation 360-degree camera capable of more detailed images than before.

It also offers a new dock that connects the phones to a monitor, keyboard and wireless mouse, allowing them to act as an Android powered desktop.

“Although Microsoft has done this in the past, the performance of the S8 makes it a very compelling experience,” commented Ben Wood, from the CCS tech consultancy.

“But while I’m impressed with the dock from a technology perspective, the practicality of it for consumers is questionable.”

The launch of the flagship smartphone has garnered a lot of interest online, with many people and tech sites sharing their views on the device.

Technology website commented: “these phones are incredibly well-designed. There are no seams, only the barest of camera bumps, and everything seems milled down to sub-millimetre tolerances.” pointed out what could be a glaring design flaw regarding the finger print sensor, with them saying: “[they’re] annoyed at precisely where Samsung decided to put it: off-centre, next to the 12-megapixel camera… The biggest problem is, of course, how smudged up the rear camera lens will get from your finger if you miss and touch it instead.”

Image courtesy of Samsung