By Rohan Naravane
If you were to look at the global shipments of smartphones by vendors in these past few years, it clearly shows that Samsung has been the market leader consistently. In 2016, every fifth smartphone shipped was a Samsung phone. Although the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco last year put a huge dent in Samsung’s sales figures and brand value, there’s no denying it's still the most popular phone brand worldwide.
Now that the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ are officially out, a quick glance might give you the impression that they’re an incremental evolution to the Galaxy S series. But there are some not-so-obvious changes in this year’s models that may have a bigger impact on how people use them.
Humans are creatures of habit -- we get used to doing the things we do repeatedly in a certain way, and it can be uncomforting to relearn them. Here are five things that long-time Samsung users who can’t wait to upgrade to the Galaxy S8 or S8+, will have to get used to.
1 No physical home button and capacitive back and multitasking buttons
In an attempt to add more screen without increasing the overall size of the phone, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have broken the seven year old pattern that started with the Galaxy S i9000, by replacing the physical home button and the capacitive back and multitasking keys, with on-screen buttons. Samsung has been late to board the on-screen button train, as Google had switched to software buttons back in 2011 with the Galaxy Nexus (which coincidentally was manufactured by Samsung). Other phone makers like LG, Sony, Motorola have already switched to virtual home, back and multitasking buttons, while some manufacturers like OnePlus give users the option to choose between the two varieties.
Personally, I welcome the decision, as I’ve always found myself accidentally hitting the capacitive keys when cupping the phone in one hand. Also, as we’ve seen from the initial demos, you can switch the positions of the back and menu keys, to make them consistent with almost every other Android phone out there. Sure, you lose a little bit of the screen real estate, but not entirely as the software buttons hide during video playback or playing games. And I think the 5.7-inch display on the Galaxy S8 is big enough to let go of some rows of pixels below. Although there’s one thing Samsung loyalists will miss because of the physical home button removal and that would be the next gripe on our list.
2 No double-tap-home-button camera shortcut
One of the most intuitive shortcut functions of all time, like the double-twist gesture in Motorola phones, was Samsung’s double-tap of the home button to launch the camera -- from any screen and even standby. First seen in the Galaxy S6 in 2015, many future phones in Samsung’s portfolio adopted this technique too. It’s fair to say that this shortcut was inspiration for Google themselves to bake a similar double-press of the power button for camera into the Nexus 5X, 6P later that year (by the way, this is how you open the camera on the Galaxy S8 and the S8+ too).
You might be thinking, “what’s the big deal, there have always been software shortcuts on lock screen to launch the camera too”. Here’s the thing -- the double click of the home button was a very intuitive gesture that is accessible from anywhere, could be triggered without really having to look at the phone too, and was easier than double-clicking the power button in my humble opinion. There have been several instances where I was able to capture a shot because of this nifty gesture, and I’m guessing Samsung users will need to retrain themselves to continue enjoying this convenience.
3 No home-and-power-button combo to take screenshots
The way to you take screenshots on an Android phone vary from phone maker to phone maker. On many phones, it’s a combination of pressing the power and volume down buttons. Some phone makers also have special gestures to capture one, like the three finger swipe-up gesture in OnePlus phones, or swipe-palm-over-screen in Samsung phones.
But for years, Samsung has opted for the home and power button combo, just like the iPhone, as the default method of taking screenshots. Now with the physical home button gone, users will have to retrain themselves to press the power + volume down button to take a screenshot.
4 No smaller, non-edge version to choose from
Samsung’s obsession with displays that curve at the edges started three years ago with the Galaxy Note Edge. Since then, every flagship device has had a curved screen variant alongside the standard, flat-screened one. In 2015, we had the 5-inch screened Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, as well as the bigger 5.7-inch Galaxy S6 Edge+. Last year, the company trimmed their SKUs by offering the edge screen in the bigger 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 Edge, while the smaller Galaxy S7 had a regular, non-curved screen. This year, both the Galaxy S8 and S8+ come with “infinity displays” that other than covering the face of the phones in almost entirety, are curved at the edges.
If you go through reviews of all edge-screened Samsung phones until now, the general consensus has been that although the curves make the phones look good, the additional functionality of edge gestures is gimmicky and not very useful. Personally, I found the curves on the Galaxy S7 Edge to be counterintuitive when swiping open app menus from the left, as I almost always accidentally ended up performing another gesture within the app.
Next, if you look at photos of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ compared to their predecessors side by side, it’s evident that the smaller Galaxy S8 of this year is almost as big as the bigger Galaxy S7 Edge of last year. It is impressive on Samsung’s part to fit an even bigger 5.7-inch display on the S8, despite being a little smaller than the S7 Edge. But for people wanting a 5-inch screened Samsung flagship with no curved edges, there’s no hope left.
Sidenote: The smaller Galaxy S8 packs a 3000mAh battery, so if you want a bigger 3500mAh battery, you’ll have to deal with the Galaxy S8+, which is even bigger than last year’s S7 Edge.
5 The awkwardly-placed fingerprint scanner at the back
From the time we saw the leaked pictures of the Galaxy S8’s back side, many of us knew it was not going to end well from an ergonomics perspective. Why? Because now that the physical home button, which housed the fingerprint scanner since the last three generation of Galaxy phones is gone, Samsung had to reposition the scanner elsewhere, and it did so in the worst place possible -- to the right of the rear camera lens.
While most Android phones today have a fingerprint scanner at the back, it’s placed below the camera sensor at a position where the index finger can intuitively reach, every time you hold the phone. Putting the fingerprint scanner so high up next to the camera is bound to take the extra effort of raising your index finger each time you want to unlock the phone. It is also going to leave smudge marks on the camera lens as you’ll accidentally end up touching it as well.
Yes, the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+ have an iris scanner just like the Note 7, but this just seems to be sacrificing a perfectly working feature, just because it’s no longer the only easy way to perform the task (alongside Iris scanning, there’s face scanning as well).
To sum it up -- in the immediate future, these changes may only affect buyers of the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy S8+. But there’s a good chance that slowly and steadily, other Samsung phones too will start adopting many of the above-mentioned changes. It probably just goes to show that nothing is permanent indeed. Heck, it’s almost certain the next iPhone’s home button -- something that’s been the same for ten years -- will also be an on-screen one.
Which of these changes makes you cringe the most? Which of them do you welcome? Let us know in the comments below.
The author has been writing about technology since 2007. He's often conflicted between what Apple and Google have to offer. You can find him rambling about tech on @r0han.
Published Date: Mar 30, 2017 09:43 am | Updated Date: Mar 30, 2017 09:43 am