Samsung's S8

Samsung has a lot to prove with the new Galaxy S8

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ look like they could help consumers overlook past issues.

samsung galaxy s8 s8plus hand
Adam Patrick Murray

Samsung's S8

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“The only thing I hate about this phone is how hot it gets…”

That’s one of my kids complaining about the Samsung Galaxy S7, a remarkable device that runs on the Android operating system as though Samsung and Google were best buddies. Over the course of the day, the phone will heat up slightly, and if you leave it in the car on a sunny day, watch out.

The phone has an amazing screen and takes beautiful images. Unlike the Galaxy Note7 that can actually heat up and explode (and which you cannot take on a plane), the S7 was the main competitor to the iPhone and has managed to stay relevant and hold consumer interest.

But now there’s a new model coming out April 21. The Samsung Galaxy S8 (and S8+) use a screen that nearly extends all the way to the top edges and curves slightly on the sides. They are packed with features like a built-in A.I. assistant called Bixby that can use the camera to identify objects and their location or let you adjust settings by voice. A new docking station called the Samsung Dex holds promise -- we might use it for desktop productivity instead of a laptop.

Yet, there’s a dark cloud hanging over this phone. As reported by several outlets, Samsung has spent quite a bit of time demonstrating how they use an 8-point battery check for the new models. One report said that 100,000 phones were tested to make sure they didn’t overheat.

Yet, perception is often reality. News about the exploding phone is like a weight around the neck of the S8. We know it’s been thoroughly tested; chances are slim there would be another PR nightmare. And yet -- when you board a plane these days, someone usually mentions that you cannot bring a Samsung Note7 on board. That’s a bit like someone telling you not to drink Coke or Pepsi at a basketball game. The battery problems went ultra-mainstream to the point where people on the street who are not techies at all probably know about the battery problems.

And how do you overcome that? Here’s how: Make a brilliant phone that everyone wants, looks cool, and provides many features that are not available on the iPhone.

That appears to be exactly what Samsung has decided to do, especially with the Bixby assistant, the dock and the facial recognition features. None of those things are available on the iPhone, and we all know Siri is starting to lose some power. There’s too much competition from Cortana, Alexa, and the Google Assistant. Bixby doesn’t compete directly with those bots, but does offer new features.

The only way to overcome the nightmare of the Note7 is to offer something so compelling that everyone has to have it, regardless of what happened before. Consumers can be amazingly forgiving if they think something provides tangible benefits. If the S8 is a marginal device -- a sleeker version with a few software tricks -- no one will budge.

Now, we have to wait until April 21 when the smoke clears.

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