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Samsung's gorgeous new phone repeats some of the same mistakes


samsung galaxy s8 bixby home

Aside from its exploding Note 7 last year, Samsung has been on a roll with unique phone designs and innovative hardware features.

The new Galaxy S8 continues that tradition.

Like its last few predecessors, the S8 beats the iPhone when it comes to design and must-have extras like wireless charging. It's a drop-dead gorgeous device.

But based on my short time spent with the phone last week, the Galaxy S8 also appears to have the same drawbacks as previous Galaxy phones. The software is loaded with Samsung-made extras that were built on top of Android, resulting in a needlessly bogged-down user interface when the stock version of Android is amazing on its own. And now Samsung is adding its digital assistant, Bixby, to the excellent Google Assistant that ships with all the latest Android phones.

It's the same story from Samsung we've seen since 2015: beautiful, powerful hardware running on iffy software. It's not horrible, but it shows the benefits of Apple's control over the iPhone's software and of Google's decision to make its Pixel Android phones.


One way around the confusion is supposed to be Bixby, the digital assistant built by Samsung that'll debut on the Galaxy S8. Samsung promises that Bixby will let you use your voice to control everything you normally do on the phone.

But in a controlled demo of an early version of Bixby that Samsung showed me last week, I didn't see much promise. Bixby was slow to respond to commands to adjust brightness and flubbed a few times when asked to beam a video from the phone to a nearby connected Samsung TV, for example. I'm also not convinced that talking to your phone is always better than using the controls on the screen, and I'm definitely not convinced this is the solution to Samsung's confusing user-interface problems.

Samsung says it's working on Bixby behind the scenes so that its servers are ready to go by the time the Galaxy S8 launches on April 21. It's possible the bugs I saw will be ironed out in time for launch.

Still, Bixby will be extremely limited at first and work only with Samsung apps at launch, with more functionality added over time thanks to Samsung's recent acquisition of the artificial-intelligence company Viv. I'm also doubtful that Samsung can rally a significant number of third-party developers to adopt Bixby controls for their apps.

Samsung's hardware and design are ahead, but Apple is about to catch up

Samsung has enjoyed a nice couple of years staying ahead of Apple's iPhone hardware thanks to its bigger screens and svelte designs that improve with each generation. And the Galaxy S8 is the best-looking phone the company has ever made without compromising on key features like water resistance, expandable memory, and wireless charging.

But Samsung's position on top may also be short-lived. Just about every leak or rumor about the next iPhone points to major changes in design and features as Apple gears up to celebrate the device's 10th anniversary, and a lot of the ideas, such as an OLED screen and no home button, sound like what we've seen in Galaxy phones recently.

Apple sounds like it's about to catch up with hardware, and the strength of its iOS ecosystem will give it an opportunity to leapfrog Samsung.

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