Samsung Galaxy S8 – Out of the Ashes

Samsung needs a great product. The humbling recall of its Galaxy Note 7 not only tarnished the company’s hard won reputation for quality and reliability, it also knocked a huge hole in its finances. The lost revenue and profit from the Note 7, and the cost of recalling the devices and compensating both consumers and channels, only heightened the impact. Meanwhile, competitors, including Apple, Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and even Google themselves, were able to benefit to a greater or lesser extent from Samsung’s misfortune. Add to this potent mix the fact that Samsung’s Vice Chairman and de facto leader, Jay Y Lee, is standing trial accused of bribery and embezzlement in relation to South Korea’s disgraced former president and Samsung can be forgiven for keeping a low profile. And when it has ventured into the spotlight, there’s a detectable note of humbleness.

Against this background then, the launch of the Galaxy S8 is especially important for Samsung. The GS8 needs to rapidly win the hearts and minds of consumers and channels alike and give the media something positive to say about the company.

While hardware is key – more of which below —  so are the softer factors such as industrial design including materials, fit and finish – including colours. Distribution and channel support – something powerfully underlined by the way in which Vivo and Oppo have managed to rapidly gain strength in China and other South East Asian markets by driving more value from offline distribution. And finally brand and specific product promotion.

On the latter, Samsung is highly accomplished and used to investing significantly on above-the-line advertising to drive awareness and desire. In our view Samsung has been rather less successful in truly engaging consumers at the emotional level though; a Samsung purchase tends to be more of a rational, pragmatic decision, rather than one that is made out of love for the brand.

Design & Engineering

In terms of industrial design, the GS8 is unmistakably a Samsung product. The curved display is a design trope that, so far, few other vendors have managed to replicate. This gives Samsung a differentiator that has been surprisingly resilient in hardware terms, with only a few players such as Vivo with its XPlay product, attempting to go toe to toe with Samsung in the curved display stakes. However with the GS8, Samsung is demonstrating that it can drive the scale in production much harder than before. And by pushing the screen size almost to the full physical size of the device, Samsung has again reset the bar to a higher level. While not unique in the infinity-style display – Xiaomi was there first with Mi Mix – Samsung’s industrial design is more elegant and usable. And it retains the IP68 water and dust resistance too.

In a similar move to LG with its G6, Samsung has opted to go for a large screen, 5.8 inches in the GS8 and 6.1 inches in the GS8 Plus, yet by optimising the design, the device widths are only 68.1mm and 73.4mm respectively. Sizes that don’t feel cumbersome in the hand. The displays on both models are QHD resolution Super AMOLED. There were some rumours that Samsung would join Sony in offering a 4K screen, but this is not the case. This will continue to make use in VR headsets sub-optimal because even with the relatively high resolution, the pixel nets will still be visible.

Processing power has been pushed higher thanks to a combination of Samsung’s own Exynos 8895 application processor and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 – it will use the two versions in different markets, with the US likely to get the Snapdragon while EMEA and Asia will get the Exynos powered devices. These come with the expected bump in processing and graphics power, while claiming to be more energy efficient.

Samsung placed relatively little emphasis on the camera performance in the presentation. We expect it will be decent. The GS7 camera was among the best and the enhancements in the GS8 will mean the camera performance will remain excellent. For example the use of a 12 megapixel dual pixel sensor with a fast f1.7 lens should mean brilliant low light performance. However Samsung has eschewed the trend toward dual cameras, preferring to stick with the single sensor and lens stack, but optimised each element to deliver a great imaging experience.

Samsung has moved the fingerprint sensor to the back of the device – high up next to the camera. This could well lead to accidental fingerprints smudging the camera lens. While the placing of the FPS is a little awkward, the device can also be unlocked using various other inputs including face and iris recognition. These technologies are not new, but not yet widely deployed on smartphones.

Bixby – a voice interface, not an assistant

Samsung spent much more time talking about the implementation of its conversational voice interface, Bixby. Samsung is careful not to call it an ‘assistant’. In fact Google Assistant will also be present on the GS8. Bixby is set to provide a context aware interaction style with the device and multiple native applications. Bixby helps the user get more out of the device, whereas systems like Google Assistant are orientated more toward external search and discovery. Samsung will eventually open an SDK for other app developers to write apps for Bixby, but for now, it works only with Samsung’s own apps. Bixby will ultimately work across a wide range of Samsung devices – enabling many types of interaction through voice. We also expect Samsung’s AI acquisition, Viv Labs, to be progressively incorporated into Bixby. Though, for now, we understand Viv Labs is not included in any significant way.


GS8 will be available from April 21st, about a month later in the year than the GS7 was in 2016. Pricing is starting at $720 for the GS8 and $840 for the GS8 Plus on Verizon. At AT&T and T-Mobile the prices are a little higher at $750 and $850. Nevertheless, we expect the GS8 to have a slightly higher run rate in terms of monthly sales than the GS7 series. We therefore expect sales in the first year to top those of the GS7. We assume that Samsung will launch a new Note device in the 3rd quarter and we also expect that Apple will launch an OLED display version of the iPhone that will run alongside more conventional iPhone devices. Both are expected to slightly knock GS8 sales performance in the back half of the year. In addition, LG’s G6 is a more credible competitor for the GS8 than the slightly over-engineered LG G5 was for the Galaxy S7 series. The G6 is also a bit cheaper than the GS8 and is launching with some attractive bundled deals. Nevertheless, we don’t expect the LG G6 to make a huge difference to Samsung’s prospects, but it does give the carriers more options than they had in 2016.

Overall we think Samsung has done enough to get its ship back on to an even keel. It hasn’t over stretched, but it has introduced meaningful innovation in key areas. Whether Bixby will be a revelation, an annoyance (think Microsoft’s ill fated paperclip man), or an irrelevance will be for consumers to decide. However it is a trend we predicted and will undoubtedly see more of across more devices from more vendors in the coming months. We expect Samsung to sell more GS8s in the first year than any other Galaxy S device previously. This forecast has one huge caveat of course; that the device proves reliable.

If you have any questions regarding the Galaxy S8 Series please contact us at: analyst[at]