Samsung normally unveils its Galaxy smartphone flagships at the Mobile World Congress, but this year, the Korean technology giant has opted for an Apple-style standalone reveal event instead. Here's what we (think we) know so far about the Unpacked event on March 29 that will show off two new flagships, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus.
Since Samsung is doing damage control from the ill-fated Note 7, and Apple is expected to go big with this year's 10th anniversary iPhone, it looks like the S8 series will have some ambitious specs and features. We also think we'll get more information about the latest iteration of the Samsung Gear VR mobile virtual reality headset.
Keep in mind that these expectations are based on leaks and rumors. While they come from sources with solid track records (and have combined to paint a consistent picture), very little of the following information has been confirmed by Samsung.
A big, nearly bezel-free display
The Galaxy S8's crowning feature will be a large Super AMOLED display that covers most of the front side of the device. Like the S7 edge, which had curved edges, the S8 should have rounded edges that curve around the front edges of the phone. Signs point to two sizes – one with a 5.8-inch display (the Galaxy S8), and one with a 6.2-inch display (the Galaxy S8 Plus). Both should have 18:9 aspect ratios (more oblong than the standard 16:9), like the LG G6.
Last year's Galaxy S7 has a flat front, while the larger S7 edge has rounded edges and a curved display
With the display stretching nearly from edge to edge, it makes sense that there will be fewer physical buttons. The home, back and app buttons will be onscreen at the bottom of the display; one rumor pointed to the navigation bar (but not necessarily the entire screen) having pressure sensitivity similar to Apple's 3D Touch technology, which differentiates your navigation based on how long and hard you tap the screen.
Earlier indications suggested that the fingerprint sensor would be built into the onscreen home button, but it appears things did not pan out that way. The latest leaks show a back-mounted fingerprint sensor.
On the inside: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, 4 GB of RAM
It should be no surprise that the US version of the S8 series will contain Qualcomm's newest mobile processor, the Snapdragon 835. After all, Samsung helped develop the new chips' 10-nanometer standard, which is smaller and lighter than previous processors and it also follows the trend established in nearly every American-variant Galaxy flagship.
However, Samsung should still continue to use its own Exynos series of processors as well. In previous years, big markets like the US and Japan received Qualcomm-branded chips, while other markets received Exynos processors.
There seems to be an international variance on the amount of RAM included as well. Most of the devices will include 4 GB of RAM, but it looks China will see a 6 GB option.
A virtual assistant named Bixby
Samsung has confirmed that the S8 will receive a new and improved virtual assistant distinguished from the unimpressive S Voice protocol it has used in the past.
The assistant's name is "Bixby" – a single word eponym to match the likes of Siri, Alexa or Cortana. Some rumors indicate that Bixby could have some extra features compared to other virtual assistants, based on European trademarks for features like "Bixby Reminder," "Bixby Pay" and "Bixby Vision."
Injong Rhee, Samsung's head of R&D, confirmed that the Galaxy S8 will have a Bixby-activating side button for easy access. Bixby's creators also claim that it is better at conversing with you (in natural, unrehearsed language) than competing assistants. They imagine a future where Bixby is integrated into all Samsung products, citing that voice control is an impending reality for not only phones, but all smart home accessories.
Considering that Google is rolling out Google Assistant to eligible Marshmallow and Nougat-running Androids, we're also unsure exactly how the competing voice control ecosystem will be presented in the new Samsung phones. Will S8 users have access to both Google Assistant and Bixby? We'll have to wait to March 29 to learn more, and get our hands on the phones to test Samsung's claims for ourselves.
Improvement in video recording, selfies
Cameras are a major differentiator between smartphones, and premium flagships are particularly competitive.
The S8 camera is shaping up to have a 12 MP rear camera, which is less than some other flagships, but resolution alone does not a quality camera make.
It is also expected to have improved video features, such as the capability of taking video at a rate of 1000 frames per second. The front camera will be upped to 8 MP, and will have autofocus for quicker, sharper selfies.
Advanced biometric sensing
In addition to the back-mounted fingerprint sensor, the S8 series is expected to have the Note 7's iris scanning capabilities as well as face detection, though it remains to be seen exactly which features will incorporate biometric-driven shortcuts. They could be used to unlock the phone, for example, but some sources indicate that facial recognition could be used to approve mobile payments as well.
In our time with the Galaxy Note 7, before it was recalled, we found the iris scanning to be little more than a tech demo or niche use case, as it was much less convenient to aim the camera at your face (and hope you aren't outdoors, where it didn't work well) than to simply rest your finger on a sensor.
Price and release date for the new Gear VR
Samsung has incrementally improved its Gear VR headset each year, alongside its mobile flagships. At the Mobile World Congress, the company announced it would add a wand-like controller similar to that of the Google Daydream. We hope that Samsung will confirm a price and release date for the mobile VR headset alongside the S8 series unveiling.
We'll be on the ground in NYC next week to see if Samsung has any surprises left after a bevy of leaks. To stoke your excitement, the event teaser is below.