The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 – Somebody Give Samsung A Medal
Somebody give Samsung a medal already. Why? Not for their products, but for how their marketing department works. Today in August 2017 the industry waits for whatever technological masterpiece the Galaxy Note 8 will be. You need to read this in a sarcastic British accent, as that’s how I wrote it. And you know, it’s not that I particularly dislike Samsung, but that as an industry, we fawn over their products way too much for how good they are… and Samsung’s marketing team spend millions on getting the branding everywhere, and getting the products into the hands of websites so that the device is “reviewed” as soon as the smartphone is released.
Samsung’s products review suspiciously well, too. Websites and reviewers love bright, colourful AMOLED displays, and raw speed – which flagship Samsung devices have lots of when new. The hardware is written up as exceptional, and having used a good number of devices I am inclined to agree that Samsung do (now) build great hardware, after the glossy, cheap plastic used for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and older flagships.
And yet! Some reviews of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 make this almost a footnote: reviewers noticed some hesitation and lag during a two week review period. If you extrapolate that over a few months, the device becomes more and more laggy and cumbersome, how are things after a year? They’re not pretty. After two years, wow, it’s time to replace the ‘phone as it can’t cope with modern software. Yes and next time buy from a vendor that can optimise Android properly. Having used a good number of devices, some with custom skins over Android and some without, I don’t know of another manufacturer that butchers Android as badly as Samsung.
Samsung’s Android software is a mess. It’s a reinvention of Android with a Samsung TouchWiz theme, and there are a lot of great features included, but it doesn’t hang together as well as it should. It lags, and after a few months for more than a small minority it shuffles rather than snaps between applications – with an industry leading chipset. The industry knows this. Every website that reviews a Samsung product knows this. Their devices are not as smooth as the competition, whatever the underlying reason.
Samsung also include dozens and dozens of less-great features and additional applications along with the core Google applications. Some are useful, and some have a good reputation such as the Samsung Browser. Some are because Samsung were told to include them, which includes the bundled Microsoft productivity apps and the Google apps, too. Many clutter up the device.
The company almost has enough content to recreate their own fork of Android, but has yet to take this conscious decision. The Galaxy Store requires customers to tick an option in the device’s Security settings menu to allow non-Google Play Store apps to install, which again is a mess. Samsung need to include the Google Play Store, and accompanying Google core applications, as otherwise the device wouldn’t be as popular…
I am all for giving customers a choice but the TouchWiz situation gives customers lots of choices and keeps the unwanted applications and services on the device anyway. This takes up space and resource on the smartphone or tablet; some cannot be removed but must be disabled. This is a useful operation to follow, as it helps the device run smoother, but as a customer I don’t want to spend an hour disabling applications that I can’t delete so I don’t notice it dropping frames so much when moving about the operating system. I get it: smoothness is relative, but it is not the same as overall performance and benchmarks.
Let’s write about software updates. Despite trimming their portfolio of devices, Samsung manufactures and sell dozens of Android devices, and still only offer software support for a few. Flagship devices get software updates, including Google’s monthly security patches, but between Samsung and the carrier, these take their time. Samsung has hundreds if not thousands of engineers but they seem to be too busy working on the next big thing rather than supporting their existing products.
Except… Samsung appeared to rush the design and construction of the Galaxy Note 7 with an inexcusable battery flaw, which caused devices to overheat, smoke and explode. It’s worse for Samsung: the original batch of Galaxy Note 7 smartphones was recalled and replaced, but the replacement models, with a different battery, did something very similar.
You couldn’t make it up: Samsung, the market leader, diced with customer safety just to push a device out ahead of the competition. Things were better with the 2017 release of the Samsung Galaxy S8 family, which arrived with a non-functional Bixby assistant. Bixby arrived with its own dedicated hardware button. Over the weeks since launch, Samsung has released software updates designed to prevent customers from remapping this button to do something (more) useful. Bixby will improve over time, but Samsung is forcing customers to only do things their way. Be together, not the same, Samsung.
Over the years, Samsung have introduced other near-useless features. There was a heart rate sensor… included on the back of a handset, not worn on the wrist. Um. Because I want to check my heart rate when I hold my ‘phone? They introduced a SpO2 (blood oxygen) sensor, because when I am working out at the gym I am going to trust myself to hold a $800 smartphone with sweaty hands, and I am going to trust the sensor and software to give me a meaningful result showing how saturated my blood is with oxygen. The Galaxy Note 7 and Galaxy S8 have an iris scanner, a biometric technology that can unlock your device by scanning your eye. It’s more secure than a facial scanner, but it’s also clunky and slow. No problem, use the fingerprint scanner, which on the Galaxy S8 is awkwardly placed off-centre on the back of the device. Good luck not smudging your camera lens! Are Samsung desperately trying to recreate the wheel, trying to get their products to have more features than anybody else, without considering how useful their innovations are?
I’m sure that Samsung will have spent extra time designing and manufacturing the Galaxy Note 8’s battery. I’m sure that the handset will have more of the same, and will carry a massive price tag, but I am not sure if this time it will be any different with the laggy software. Each successive generation is reckoned to have put paid to TouchWiz lag issues and after a few months, the devices aren’t performing as well as they should be. But what’s worse is the amount of media attention and coverage that the Samsung Galaxy brand generates.
We quickly forget how Samsung treats customers. Maybe they copied more than the shape of the iPhone at the start of the decade?