When a splashy new smartphone hits the market, consumers often weigh whether to place an order right away or to wait and see how others react to the device.
But with the Galaxy S8, Samsung’s first major smartphone release since the spontaneously combusting Galaxy Note 7 was discontinued last year, there isn’t much of a debate. Your best bet is to wait to buy the roughly $750 device — not just for safety reasons, but also because other uncertainties surround it.
Samsung declined to provide an early review unit of the Galaxy S8 to The New York Times, but several consumer electronics experts who tried the device ahead of its release this Friday were cautiously optimistic about the product. Even so, they said the phone had some radical design changes that might make people uncomfortable, a few key features were unfinished and Samsung’s recent safety record remained a concern.
For those who may not recall, Samsung killed the Galaxy Note 7 last year after some of the phones overheated and several of them caught fire. The South Korean company issued two recalls for the big-screen smartphone and blamed battery manufacturing problems and design flaws for the issues.
“What happened to the Galaxy Note raised questions about Samsung phones in general,” said Mark Spoonauer, the editor in chief of the product reviews site Tom’s Guide, who had early access to the Galaxy S8. “I don’t think there’s any harm in waiting to make sure that everything is safe with this phone.”
Broadly speaking, a wait-and-see approach is the most practical route that consumers can take with any brand-new product. Waiting a few months or even years gives tech companies time to improve existing features and to fix bugs. The only reason to rush to buy a gadget is if you are extremely enthusiastic about it and think it might be sold out for a while.
The New Design
When introducing the Galaxy S8 last month, Samsung highlighted its larger 5.8-inch screen, up from 5.1 inches on the previous model. To make more room for the screen without adding bulk to the body, the company reduced the size of the bezel — or the forehead and the chin — on the face of the device. Samsung also made the home button into a virtual button and shoved it under the display. And the fingerprint sensor for unlocking the phone is now on the back of the device a few millimeters to the right of the camera lens.
Several product reviewers took issue with the location of the fingerprint sensor, saying it made it easy to bump into the camera lens when trying to unlock the phone.
“They should just give you a cloth with the phone to wipe it,” said Mike Gikas, a phone reviewer for Consumer Reports who had tried the Galaxy S8. He added that the placement of the fingerprint sensor might make it difficult for left-handed people to unlock the phone.
Jessica Dolcourt, a product reviewer for CNET who used the Galaxy S8 at a media event last month, agreed that it felt awkward to use the fingerprint reader because of its location on the back. Mr. Spoonauer of Tom’s Guide also said the placement of the fingerprint sensor was not ideal, though not a deal breaker.
The Galaxy S8 includes some other unlocking methods, like facial recognition. Raise the phone to your face as if you were taking a selfie to unlock the Galaxy S8.
However, this method is far from secure: People who tested the phone found that the facial recognition feature could easily be tricked with a photo of the device’s owner. A Samsung spokesman said the facial-recognition feature was less secure than the fingerprint reader or a third unlocking method, an optional iris scanner.
Key Features Are Unfinished
Samsung highlighted Bixby, its voice-controlled virtual assistant that will rival Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa, when it initially unveiled the S8. What makes Samsung’s assistant unique is that you will be able to ask it to accomplish tasks like sending your most recently taken photo to your spouse, or streaming a specific video to a Samsung television, which other assistants don’t do.
Yet last week, Samsung said that while some portions of Bixby would be available on Day 1, Bixby’s voice features would not be released in the United States until later this spring. To Mr. Spoonauer, this incompleteness was a problem.
“I think the other more disappointing thing is the fact that one of the most exciting features is not going to be fully baked at launch,” he said. “For that reason people might want to wait and see.”
Ms. Dolcourt was less concerned about Bixby because the Galaxy S8 will also include access to Google’s virtual assistant. She said consumers might take greater issue with the lack of a dual-lens camera similar to the one found on the Apple iPhone 7 Plus or the new LG G6 smartphone. With a dual-lens camera, the two cameras work together to show the photo’s main subject clearly while gently blurring the background, among other effects.
While the Galaxy S8 includes some neat filters and effects for taking photos, it has only a single-lens camera, Ms. Dolcourt noted.
“If somebody has their heart set on two cameras, this device doesn’t have it,” she said.
Samsung’s Safety Record
After Samsung’s debacle with the Galaxy Note 7, there is no knowing whether the Galaxy S8 will also have safety issues once it reaches the masses. Samsung said that after the problems with the Note 7, the company developed a so-called eight-point battery safety check, which involves putting batteries through an array of tests including X-ray and human inspections.
All the reviewers agreed that it was highly unlikely for the Galaxy S8 to face similar problems, largely because the device is crucial to Samsung’s profit. Ms. Dolcourt of CNET said she would personally wait three months to see if the phones were safe to buy.
“The proof is in the pudding if the phones survive without incident for three months,” she said.
Kyle Wiens, the owner of iFixit, a company that sells hardware components, noted that among the roughly two million Note 7 devices that were recalled, only a few dozen were defective. In other words, consumers will need a large sample of devices to be in the wild before concluding that Samsung’s new safety tests worked.
“Somebody’s got to be the guinea pig,” he said, before asking, “Do you want to be the guinea pig?”