An integrated voice assistant named Bixby may be the most intriguing new feature of Samsung's new Galaxy S8 smartphone, which was revealed Wednesday in New York City.
The Galaxy S8 and the slightly larger Galaxy S8+ are the first smartphones Samsung has announced since the company dealt with an unprecedented two recalls — traced back to battery issues — with its Galaxy Note 7, ultimately ceasing production of the smartphone.
Samsung executives have stressed that the company has learned from the Note 7 issue and is now putting all batteries through a rigorous eight-point test.
Werner Goertz, a research director at Gartner, told NBC News he expects some online teardown expert will take apart the new phones "to show that mechanical design changes were made to better accommodate the naturally occurring swelling process of lithium ion cells during charge."
Burned by the Battery Fiasco
Samsung detailed during a January press conference what went wrong with the Note 7. In the case of the first battery, Samsung pointed to a design flaw in the upper right corner that, in some instances, caused the positive and negative tabs to break down, resulting in a short circuit.
The second battery, which came from another manufacturer, was apparently faulty because of a welding defect that could cause the battery to catch fire, it said.
Mobile is Samsung’s largest division, and the Note7 fiasco hurt. Samsung reported a 30 percent decrease in operating profit for the July-September quarter, compared to the same period in 2015.
Now, they're ready to turn the page.
The new phones, coming in 5.8-inch and 6.2-inch models, pack some of the same features that made the Note 7 a critical hit — that is, before all hell broke loose — including a gorgeous display and iris scanner, letting you open your phone with just a quick glance.
And there's a reason why the devices were nicknamed the "infinity phones" internally. The screen real estate is huge, but with a smaller form factor thanks to a unified front and with black bezel.
The home button is also gone and is instead replaced by pressure sensitivity at the bottom of the phone. The entire device is also 1.5mm slimmer than its predecessor but also packs half a million more pixels.
The Galaxy S8 includes all the usual Samsung phone features, like fast charging and IP68 water and dust resistance. But the most intriguing feature may be Bixby, an integrated voice assistant designed to rival Siri, Cortana, and Google Assistant. Bixby was quietly announced last week.
At the time, Goertz told NBC News that the "tighter integration" of cloud-based virtual personal assistants into all aspects of our lives is a key trend for 2017.
Anything you can do on your phone with touch, you can do with voice, Samsung executives explained during a demo in San Francisco.
Bixby has contextual awareness, so you can seamlessly jump between talking, typing and tapping to navigate your phone.
It can also handle complicated requests, such as: " Send the last photo I took in Melbourne to my sister." It will then pull up the relevant gallery and ask you how you want to send the photo.
In addition to voice, Bixby can also help "bridge the gap" with the physical world, by translating 52 different languages. There's a Bixby button on the side of the S8. Press it, point at a foreign sign, restaurant, product or landmark, and you'll quickly be in the know.
However, it's still a work in progress, according to Goertz.
"In its current incarnation, Bixby is a promise for the future against which Samsung has yet to deliver," Goertz said. "At launch, only a small number of apps and services are managed by Bixby. To compete with personal assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Bixby will have to scale its support of apps, add AI components and enable third party integration via the software development kit, which is on the future roadmap."
When Can We Get the New Phone?
The new phones are available for pre-order beginning Thursday and will be in consumers' hands by April 21.
Samsung is sweetening the deal for customers who order before launch, offering premium ear buds and a free Gear VR headset with a new controller that can track hand motion — including tilting and twisting — making it ideal for gamers.