Say goodbye to flat smartphones -- at least, if you're a Samsung user. The most surprising part of today's Galaxy S8 and S8+ announcement is that Samsung included the Infinity Display on both its flagship devices. The slightly tapered edges aren't as extreme as those found on the original S6 Edge, but they create a unique viewing experience and incorporate unobtrusive, quick-access menus.
It was hard to miss the leaked images leading up to Samsung's announcement, but seeing the devices in person was more impressive.All the best flagship smartphones often look like a sea of rectangles with different combinations of glass and aluminum. The S8 and S8+, however, offer unique -- but practical -- designs. But when you look beyond the displays, these two devices have a lot to prove.
Samsung's announcement comes amid a cloud of consumer doubt. Its last big smartphone release caused mild panic after issues arose with the lithium batteries along with a string of bad PR. And, while lithium batteries are relatively safe, they come with risks -- what happened with the Note 7 certainly isn't unique to Samsung.
Rebounding from the Note 7
In 2006, Dell recalled over 4.1 million notebooks due to lithium-ion battery concerns. Earlier this year, HP recalled over 100,000 notebooks for overheating concerns and, in mid-March, a pair of headphones caught fire on a plane. A quick Google search of "lithium ion" and "safety" brings up numerous instances where batteries turn on consumers.
Mobile technology is relatively new and we're the lab rats, and that's important to remember. Of course, we should never set the bar so low that we're OK with companies releasing potentially dangerous devices. All I'm saying is that, we are the pioneers of technology -- the modern equivalent of cave men discovering fire, but with batteries instead of flint.
I got my first laptop 15 years ago -- a Gateway with 128MB of RAM and around 20GB of storage. Now I carry a tiny computer in my pocket with 4GB of RAM, 128GB of storage and a processor that could outperform that Gateway in seconds. And now, 14 years later, I get frustrated when the fingerprint scanner won't unlock my iPhone on the first try.
Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from the "Samsung Bonfire of 2016" is how Samsung handled the crisis. It swept in, took responsibility and has worked tirelessly to ensure potentially dangerous devices have been rendered unusable and pulled from the market. And now, they're making it up to us with two shiny new smartphones that will help soothe the burning disappointment of the Note 7 -- pun intended.
[ Related story: Timeline of Samsung's disastrous Galaxy Note7 debacle ]
Infinity Display mixes up tired designs
Samsung's Infinity Display is gorgeous, lending a unique flair to tired smartphone designs, and the Quad HD+ displays are stunning and the resolution is outstanding. Images, text and video are crisp and clear, and color representation is solid. The curved edges don't feel out of place, or awkward. Instead, they add a level of comfort to the device.
Personally, I felt the Galaxy S6 and S7 were too wide for my hand, especially with a case. The S8 and S8+ are both slightly narrower than their predecessors, and combined with the tapered edges, it allows for a more comfortable one-handed experience. Especially for those of us with smaller hands.
I didn't care for the original Galaxy S6 Edge display -- it was a cool novelty, but not something I wanted to live with every day. But the Infinity Display is different. It makes the Galaxy S6 Edge feel like an experiment that eventually led to the cutting-edge designs of the S8 and S8+.
Samsung focused more on packing in more screen real estate than delivering real-time updates or notifications. The result is a sleek, modern device with a high-end design that doesn't feel like just another smartphone.
Say goodbye to TouchWiz
I think it's safe to say I'm not alone in my dislike for TouchWiz -- the clunky and restrictive skin Samsung layered over Android on past devices. But the user interface on the S8 and S8+, which both run Android 7.0, looks nothing like TouchWiz. The software is clean and minimalist -- much like stock Android.
In an ideal world, Samsung and other manufacturers would make it easier to run stock Android. But I have filed that lofty dream away next to my other idealistic hope for an iMessage app on Android.
You'll find familiar stock Samsung apps on the device, but they're removable and you can sort them away into a folder. The home screen is clean, efficient and customizable -- all the things you want in an operating system.
On the edge of the Infinity Display, you'll see a slim tab that is almost unnoticeable -- swiping this tab opens different notifications and menus. These menus are customizable, so you can get sports updates, news alerts, weather reports or emails, text messages and phone call data right in a sidebar menu. It also allows for quick access to your favorite apps, which you can pin to a start menu of sorts.
I'm excited to get a chance to test this menu feature out more extensively, At first glance I thought it was not only unique, but useful. I need to spend more time with the feature to determine how useful it will be. When I got my iPhone 6, I used the notification center religiously for about a month. Now, I forget it's there until I accidentally swiped down on the screen.
There's a lot to be excited about with the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+, and my short time with the device has me excited to give it a longer test run. It's a high-end device that will work for consumers and business users -- something Samsung heavily emphasized in its presentation. My first impressions after some hands-on time with the smartphones are that they're exactly the type of devices that can win back the trust of consumers -- barring any more lithium battery flareups .