Monday, 3 April 2017

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ are announced - I want one

So, the almost-totally-leaked-in-advance Samsung Galaxy S8 has now been announced. It will start hitting the mobile phone shops in late April. I intend to pop into one and get an S8, or its even larger sibling, the S8+, into my hands. Literally. I want to find out how they feel.

Both these phones may be too big for my hands. If so, they fall at the first fence, and I'll be looking elsewhere. But I'm hopeful that they are both easily manageable - even the S8+. In fact I really do hope the S8+ suits me. The S8+ will give me the largest Samsung phone screen that I can get, so that when I peck at the on-screen keyboard my fingertip will score a direct hit many times more often than not; so that the figures on my spreadsheets will be easy to see; and so that my installed photos will display themselves really well - for they are a resource that I look at very often, for all kinds of reasons. Ditto, my mapping. Both phones will have high-density super-OLED displays: the colours and crispness will be wonderful.

Of course there are technical reasons for wanting one or other of these new phones. Assuming that they fit my hand, the key selling points for me will be the display, the internal storage, the ability to take a high-capacity micro-SD card to boost memory, and a socket into which I can plug some earphones.

First, the display. For years, high-end Samsungs have sported super-OLED displays which are wonderfully crisp and colourful, and a joy to behold. Either of these new phones have enough screen pixels to give me HD+ rendition - about 2K in TV terms. More than enough for a screen-size of 6 inches or thereabouts.

Second, the internal memory. My S5, bought in 2014, has only 16GB built-in, of which only 6K was ever usable after the initial 2014 setup. So I was always quite short on internal memory. This began to matter once I started to download and install large quantities of high-definition 1:25,000-scale Ordnance Survey digital mapping in 2015, which could only go into the internal memory - quickly gobbling it up. I soon had to stop. It was frustrating. I saw that I'd need much more internal memory on my next phone, just for mapping. These new phones have 64K of internal storage in them. I want to have that before the end of the year.

Third, the micro-SD storage capacity. Samsung abandoned the micro-SD slot on the S6, arguing that in these days of 'ubiquitous' cloud storage, nobody needed to add 'physical' memory storage to their phone. The level of protest must have surprised them. After all, not everyone lives in a city, with a strong phone signal all around, and always available. They had a rethink, and last year's S7 restored a slot for micro-SD cards up to 128GB. These new phones now let you install up to 200GB extra storage, for photos and music mainly, and I will be wanting that. I presently have a 64GB card in my S5, and it's going to get full up by spring 2018. The need isn't urgent yet, but soon will be.

Fourth, that earphone socket. It's still needed! I listen to music (or the BBC iPlayer Radio) from the S5's loudspeaker when washing myself in the morning, but on occasion - such as when ironing - want to sling a bum bag around my waist to pop the phone into, plug in my earphones, and play music that way while doing something around the house. If I ever tackle some DIY painting, I'll want to do the same. And by earphones I mean those tiny ear buds. Not big clumsy-looking headphones, which seem as ludicrous to wear as VR headsets. Not for this lady! So I'm so glad that Samsung stayed with the socket. I think this will make some people hesitate over buying the new iPhone, which has done away with the socket simply on styling grounds, ignoring what people like me actually want. Apple's cynical game is presumably to sell vast quantities of bluetooth headphones, which is what you'll need to buy. It's so unappealing. And a strange shunning of a cool past Apple iPod marketing campaign - that iconic image from ten or twelve years back of the silhouetted man grooving to music, with his iPod and earphones picked out in brilliant white, and the cord connecting them - also brilliant white - dancing around wildly, the very visualisation of mobile music, indeed of personal freedom. And Apple now wants to bury that forever...

I'm taking all the other S8/S8+ features for granted. I don't give a monkey's where the fingerprint scanner now is. I don't use it. I couldn't give a tinker's how good the camera is. I use a proper camera instead. It matters not that I'll still have to charge the thing daily, although the larger-batteried S8+ might go further on each charge. I do care about dropping the thing, so I'll need to invest in one of those super-grippy tight-fitting clear-plastic cases that protect the back and side edges of the phone. Modern notions of top-end styling demand the use of metal, and yet the consequent slipperiness of these devices means that you have to swathe them in plastic so that you can safely hold onto them! Ironic, but there it is.

There's the cost to consider, of course - when to buy. And here I have no choice at all. My savings take a serious dip in May, as they always do in that month, and I can't consider buying until they recover later in the year. Say in October, six months ahead. I'm hoping that (a) by then any problems with these new phones will have been sorted out; and (b) with newer competitors' models on the scene, prices will have dropped. Just now the S8+ is costing £779 to pre-order. Phew! But by October I should be able to get one for less than £700. And if the S8 is the better choice for my size of hand, then I'll be paying even less.

It'll still be an awful lot for a telephone. But I shall hardly use it as a device for voice calls. It's really a handbag-sized computer, nearly as capable as my laptop. And I shall intend to keep it for four years. In that light, paying £600-700 up front doesn't seem so much.

One thing had better be given some thought now, though, and not left until later. The new phone will need a name. So far I've named my smartphones in succession Joanna, Eloise and Demelza. Which name next?

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