This week on Too Embarrassed to Ask, Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode chat with Dan Seifert, also of The Verge, to get at what Samsung is doing in the wake of the disastrous recall of its prone-to-explode Galaxy Note 7 phone. Seifert traveled to Korea to see for himself the eight-step procedure Samsung now has in place to test the batteries for its phones.
In addition, the trio discusses some of the Galaxy S8’s features (no physical home button), the introduction of the voice assistant Bixby (Kara says the name sounds like a butler, Dan contends it’s more the name of a cute little dog) and whether Samsung will ever measure up to Apple.
You can read some of the highlights from their discussion at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We’ve posted a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.
Kara Swisher: Hi, I’m Kara Swisher, executive editor of Recode.
Lauren Goode: And I’m Lauren Goode, senior technology editor at The Verge.
KS: You’re listening to Too Embarrassed to Ask, where we answer all of your embarrassing questions about tech.
LG: That’s right. Kara has a fair amount of embarrassing questions herself. It’s actually different for her, because she doesn’t get embarrassed. Ever.
LG: It’s impossible to embarrass her.
LG: We do want to answer your questions. It could be about Cloud services, wireless plans, self-driving cars, what travel app Kara just used to book her lovely vacation that she’s on. It really could be about anything.
KS: Thank you so much for revealing my location. Send us your questions. We really do read them all. Find us on Twitter and tweet them to us at @Recode or to myself or to Lauren with a hashtag #tooembarrassed.
LG: We also have an email address if you’d like to email us. It’s TooEmbarrassed@recode.net. A friendly reminder, embarrassed has two r’s and two s’s.
KS: While you’re at it, have a listen to our previous episodes, too, which you can find on iTunes.com/tooembarrassedtoask.
LG: I actually didn’t reveal your location, by the way. I just said you were on vacation. Would you like to reveal your location?
KS: I am on a beach, a lovely beach. I’m enjoying it very much. I’m looking at it now.
LG: Are we in the same time zone?
KS: Yes, we are. I am down in Malibu, California. It’s quite lovely. I’m in The ’Bu. I call it The ’Bu. I don’t know if you know that. That’s what the people here call it.
LG: That’s what the cool people do. They call it The ’Bu.
KS: No, they don’t. Uncool. I just do it to bother the people who live here. It’s quite lovely.
LG: Are you surfing?
KS: No, I am not surfing. I’m walking up and down the beach. Building structures, my son is. The other one is just sleeping because he’s a teenager. We’re having a good time. I like Malibu. It’s nice to get away, I have to say.
LG: That’s lovely. I bet it is nice to get away. Do you miss Silicon Valley? Do you miss all the techies?
KS: Not even slightly. There are no ... I don’t have to worry about Uber here. I don’t have to worry about tech bros. It’s really quite nice. It’s quite lovely. I just go for my little green shake across the street and walk along the beach. It’s a very simple, overpriced life I’m living here.
LG: Well, we miss you. We look forward to you coming back, but I hope that you do thoroughly enjoy the beach.
KS: I’ll be back next week.
LG: What are we talking about today?
KS: Today on Too Embarrassed to Ask, we’re talking about Samsung’s latest product event, which I missed because I was sitting on the beach yesterday! It was Wednesday of this week, and a big deal for the company. Not only because it’s recovering from the fiery phone debacle, but because it announced a lot of new stuff, not just the phone.
Lauren, I bought a Samsung stove and dishwasher today. Casey Newton of The Verge, who will be using it because he is renting my cottage, said, “Will it blow up?” Which I thought was quite funny while I was buying it.
LG: This is how you’re going to take out Casey?
LG: Casey thinks he’s moving into your cottage to enjoy this beautiful, idyllic little place in the heart of San Francisco, and you are just ... This is how you’re going to take down The Verge.
KS: Exactly. This is it. This is my slow plan, and you’re next, Lauren. You’re next.
LG: Thank you! You’re going to supply all of us with Samsung appliances. I can’t wait.
KS: I know, it’s going to be exciting.
LG: While you’re at it, you might as well install smart cameras into our homes, too, so you can watch. You can watch us all go down in flames.
KS: I might as well? I might as well? You think that hasn’t happened already? All right. I was way ahead of the Trump new privacy thing. Just trust me on that. Removing privacy from everyone possible in the interest of corporations. That’s my motto, like it’s the Trump administration’s.
LG: So far, it seems, the theme of 2017 is “we’re not surprised.”
KS: No, not at all.
LG: So the Samsung event. I covered it remotely from San Francisco, but my Verge co-worker Dan Seifert, who runs our reviews program at The Verge, was actually there at the Samsung event in New York. He also just spent about a week in Korea at Samsung headquarters, where he ate living seafood, I have to say. He ate a lot of kimchi. He ate a live octopus. More importantly, he actually saw a Samsung phone explode, which I want to hear about, among other things. Dan, thank you for joining us, and welcome back to Too Embarrassed to Ask.
Dan Seifert: Thanks for having me. Happy to be here. I just have one clarification.
KS: All right.
I think it’s important to say, otherwise Samsung will get really mad. Not that we care what Samsung thinks. I didn’t see a Samsung phone explode. I saw a battery explode.
LG: Oh, excuse me. A battery. That’s right.
I just wanted to clarify that.
KS: I just saw the engine explode of the car, but not the car itself. All right. Got it. Thank you.
Yeah, it was a disembodied battery.
KS: Appreciate it. All right. Nonetheless, there were explosions. It had to do with a phone battery.
There was. Fire.
KS: Which I feel is the real point of the matter.
LG: There was fire.
KS: Go on! go on!
KS: All right. All right, so tell us about the event.
Yeah, this is Samsung’s biggest event of the year. Samsung has a twice-a-year release cadence for their phones. They do their S line earlier in their year, which is there mainstream phone. I believe it takes about 60 percent of their sales, is the S line, which is what we saw yesterday. Later in the year, they do the Note line, which is the one that had all the controversy last year. That’s actually a much smaller part of their actual sales over the year.
This is the big deal. This is when they announce their major phone for the year. They also announce a lot of accessories that go with it, and new services that they’re launching this year as well.
LG: What was the biggest thing about the new Galaxy S8 smartphone?
It’s kind of silly, but it’s really the screen, I think. If you’ve seen any of the coverage or if you’ve had a chance to see the phone in person, like a handful of people have ...
LG: I have, actually. It’s quite pretty.
Yeah, you saw it, Lauren. The screen is just like ... It takes your breath away. I hate to use cliches like that, but it is a stunning display to look at.
KS: Really? How stunning? I’m looking at the beautiful Pacific Ocean right now. I feel that’s stunning. That’s the word I use when I think of a beautiful sunset.
It’s not an ocean.
KS: It’s not an ocean stunning, but what ... Not ’Bu ...
In the realm of smartphone displays, it’s stunning.
KS: Yeah, okay.
It’s very colorful, it’s very vibrant and punchy. The big deal this year is that they’ve pushed the edges of the display almost to the edges of the phone frame. You don’t have these large borders around it, like you might be used to with an iPhone or other phones. Above and below the screen you have the big borders that kind of distract from the screen experience. The new S8 has almost no borders. It’s quite an experience. It feels like you’re just holding a screen when it’s actually an entire phone.
KS: It’s like a waterfall. You don’t see it going over the edge. You don’t see an edge.
Yeah, it does that on the sides because they are curved like the S7 Edge was last year. Both new models that they announced ... They announced an S8 and an S8 Plus, which is a bigger phone. Both of them have that curved screen waterfall effect, which is really, really quite cool.
LG: They got rid of the Edge, I guess, name, right? What this looks like, it is similar to the Edge. One of the things, by the way, we should note. They did, in order to make this kind of bezel-less phone happen, is they got rid of a physical home button.
LG: That’s a thing now.
Yeah. Samsung was one of the last companies in the Android world that was really hanging on to physical buttons on the front of its phone. Most Android phone makers have moved to what’s called virtual buttons where they show up on the display screen itself. Because this new phone — like you said, Lauren — is all screen, there was no room for an actual home button on the front.
They’ve removed the home button entirely. They’re using a virtual home button like a lot of other Android phones. What they did was, they made ... Where the home button shows up on the screen, it is a pressure-sensitive spot, which is similar to Apple’s 4s touch, where you can push hard on the screen to do stuff. This is a super-localized version. It only works on that specific area of the screen. You can push really hard on it to wake up the screen or to go home from whatever app you’re in. It simulates a button without being a button.
KS: You like it? Do you think it will sell well? A lot of people have been asking me about it. They’ve forgotten the battery issue almost. Talk a little bit about the battery issue. Then how they answered those questions around it. Then we’ll talk about how it fits into the larger ... The new products, too.
Yeah. The battery issue ... Unless you were under a rock for the second half of the year last year. Samsung had released a phone called the Note 7 in August. It was released to great acclaim, wonderful reviews. I personally reviewed it last year and gave it the highest score we had ever given a smartphone.
A couple of weeks after launch, it was in customers’ hands, there started to appear reports of fires and explosions happening. It turns out that they were not one-off incidents, but a systemic problem that was related to the manufacture of the phone.
Samsung had to recall 2.5 million phones that it had shipped out. All of them back. Figure out what was wrong with the battery that was ... What was wrong with the device that was causing the fire, they didn’t even know it was a battery issue at that point. They recalled them once. It said it figured out the problem and resolved it.
It put the phone back on the market a few weeks later. Then, it wasn’t long after that, the supposedly safe ones, the new ones were also catching fire. It had to recall the phone a second time, which is pretty much unprecedented in the world of consumer electronics, or most industries. It was a very embarrassing event for Samsung.
Essentially, they canceled the phone after the second recall. They just gave up on it. They recalled all of them back. There were a few dozen incidence reports. I believe Samsung said about a hundred in the U.S., then more globally. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured. There were some minor injuries. There wasn’t any serious property damage. It was definitely a thing, a big problem.
LG: We talked about it on an earlier episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask with Recode’s Ina Fried at the time. We talked about whether or not Samsung could actually recover from this. Then, I think it was about a couple months ago, Dan, where they did have an event. They said we brought in all these third-party independent firms to examine our batteries. We figured out what was wrong. We now have implemented this eight-step battery check process, which Samsung says is more rigorous than most industry battery checks. Now what? Now what with this phone?
Yeah. That was their response; they spent months investigating the issue. Figured out that it was a battery problem. It was a battery problem with the design. Then the suppliers were building based off the design that was faulty. It kind of all trickled down the line.
Like you said, they implemented what they’re calling this eight-point battery check process. I actually got to see a lot of this in Korea when I went to visit their headquarters. They gave us a tour of the factories where they’re building the new phones. They showed us the battery check process. They call it an eight-point battery process, but it’s not like it follows one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight in a row. It’s essentially just integrated into their manufacturing chain now.
It consists of a number of different things. Some of them are all-new tests. Some of them are expanded versions of prior tests. One of the big things Samsung is doing now that it wasn’t doing before, it is double checking the batteries after it receives them from the suppliers. The supplier might manufacture a battery and do it’s own safety checks. Samsung is repeating those safety checks when they get to Samsung’s factories. If it has any issues, it is rejecting entire batches of them, of about 15,000 batteries at a time, if they fail any of these tests.
Some of the other new tests that they’re doing ... One of them is called an accelerated usage test, which is where they try to simulate months of usage of regular, real-people usage in a matter of five days. They do some battery run downs and recharging. They actually have employees sit there and turn the Bluetooth on and off and the Wi-Fi on and off. They open the browser. They do all these kind of normal everyday actions. They are just repeating this over and over and over again.
LG: These poor employees. They’re like, “Hey listen, this might blow up.”
Yeah. It seems like a tedious job. Yeah.
LG: Just sit here and do this. Use one hand. You’ll have another.
Yeah. Of course, like, they’re placing calls to these phones, so you hear that Samsung ringtone over and over and over and over again in this room. I couldn’t take more than five minutes of it before I had to ...
KS: They’re not going to be announced every five minutes on an airline while you’re there. That was to me the worst ... It wasn’t just a product problem, because a lot of products have problems. It became so everywhere. You heard about the problem every time you flew. I fly a lot. Every airline it was on, it was astonishing.
They often got it wrong. They wouldn’t say ... It was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 was the product that was an issue.
KS: Yeah. They just said all Samsung phones.
The airline might just say Samsung phones or Samsung S7 or Samsung 7.
KS: And they did. They didn’t do it just once. They did it like four times on the flight. As you’re taking off, before you get on, you know, it was really fascinating.
LG: You’re like, who is the guy with the Note right now that everyone spotted and no one said anything about?
Yes, it was a hugely embarrassing thing. There are companies that measure brand reputation and whatever. All those companies showed Samsung’s brand take a significant hit in the fall. In the time since, the company has been pretty transparent — or much more transparent than it used to be, at least. It’s using every single opportunity to say how rigorous it’s new testing is. How this will never happen again.
I think a lot of these brand metric measurers are showing that the brand is recovering quite a bit. You know, based on our own internal metrics on interest on the phone, the S8 has a lot of interest. It doesn’t seem like people are, you know, not interested in the new phone at all. A lot of people seem to want to know about it based on what we’ve been able to see.
KS: Yep, they do. For sure. People have been asking ...
LG: It’s a more conservative battery approach in the S8, right? It’s a smaller battery than the Note. They’re not making any crazy claims around it, right?
Yeah, what they did was ... Compared to the S7 Edge last year, the batteries in both models of the S8 and the S8 Plus are smaller in capacity. There’s some technical numbers to go in there. You can just know they’re smaller in capacity. What Samsung said that it did was it changed to a new battery chemistry that is less focused on how much battery capacity it can hold between charges, like how long it’s going to last you before you have to recharge it, but more focused on the long-term health of the battery. In six months or a year down the road, they’re saying that the new battery in the S8 will hold more of a charge than competing batteries or their older batteries.
If you’ve ever owned a smartphone, you know that a year or two later your battery does not hold the charge like it did the day you bought it. Samsung says the new chemistry in their new batteries is designed to prevent that. It holds 95 percent of its charge two years down the road, compared to 60 to 80 percent that other batteries see.
LG: Yeah, I’m just wondering why they showed you a fiery battery on your trip to headquarters in Korea. What was that about?
I don’t think they meant to show a fiery battery, but they did. In one of the tests, they do a long-term testing thing that is simulating exposure over six months. They do a lot of damage tests, which are pretty ... This is not a new test. They pound it with weights. They poke nails through the battery. They have a simulated butt that sits on it, which is always amusing to see.
LG: Apple does this, too. They have this cushion that they push onto their iPhones. They say it’s like a butt.
It actually has a pair of jeans over it. It’s meant to look like a butt. It’s very funny.
KS: Every time you say the word butt, I just laugh. Go ahead.
KS: I’ve been hanging with teenagers and a tween so butt is hysterical right now. Go ahead.
See, I have the sense of humor of a 13-year-old, so it works out.
This one particular test is ... They have the battery in a chamber. It’s not in a phone. It’s just in a ... The battery is removed from the phone. It’s sitting in a chamber. A piston comes down on top of the battery and applies pressure. Their standard test is what they call 13 kilonewtons of pressure, which is ... One kilonewton is the equivalent gravitational force of a 220 pound human. Thirteen is a lot of people. It focuses the weight on that battery. It is supposed to withstand that pressure.
They’re demonstrating this particular test. They see, the piston comes down. It hits the battery. Nothing really happens at first. The piston lifts up. The battery is stuck to the bottom of the piston, which the guide said, “Oh, that’s pretty normal.” Nothing really happens for like a minute. Then all of a sudden, the battery drops off the bottom of the piston, starts to swell up, starts to glow this like bright red glowing, like lava-looking thing. Then it combusts into flames. It burns out. Then it’s just like this black charred piece of electronics.
KS: That was very descriptive.
Yeah. It was a very arresting experience. I’m outside the chamber ...
KS: Felt like “Logan.” Felt like the “Logan” movie I just saw.
LG: Did it smell?
No, because it was in a chamber. This sealed chamber that this test happens in kinda seals out all the gases or, you know, heat. I couldn’t feel the heat. I couldn’t smell it. I could see it through the window. It was still like a “Whoa! This is happening!” type of moment.
What actually happened was that the engineer that was running the test, either he didn’t communicate to his higher ups that he was doing something different or he just kinda flubbed it. What Samsung says is that he applied 20 kilonewtons of force instead of the standard 13 that the test normally calls for. The 20 kilonewtons of force was enough to cause the battery to explode in the chamber.
Needless to say, while we were standing there, the PR team was a little caught off guard. They did not know this was going to happen.
KS: I love engineers! I love it.
There was a lot of scrambling going on, which was also amusing. A little bit of inside baseball.
LG: It was like, “This is fine. This is fine.”
KS: “We meant to do that.”
Our first reaction was ... Just before it had happened, he had given the whole speech of like if it fails this test, we reject the whole batch at once which could be 15,000 batteries. We watch it fail. We’re like “That whole batch is bad, right?”
KS: Oh dear!
It was simulated as opposed to the real thing. That’s the only time I’ve seen a bad battery explode in person.
LG: Hopefully the last.
KS: Let’s talk about how they fit into the larger strategy. It wasn’t just the phones. We need to get off just the phones. Let’s talk about that. Then let’s get to Apple and how they feel about that. Talk about the new products.
Sure. Yeah. In addition to the phone, they announced a Gear VR, which is their virtual reality headset that you stick a phone into. They are releasing a new handheld controller with it, so it makes it a little bit easier to navigate. This is kind of similar to what other VR headsets offer already so that’s a little bit of a catch-up. That’s that. That’s kind of predictable.
They also released a new version of their Gear 360 camera, which records 360-degree photos and video, which you can view on a VR headset or you can view on your phone. This new one actually allows you to livestream 360 video to Facebook or YouTube, which is kind of interesting.
LG: It’s cute, too. The design is different.
It’s a cute little thing. It’s a little bit smaller. It’s got a built-in stand/handle so you can do 360 selfies easier. I still think it’s kind of a ... The time hasn’t quite come for 360 video yet. It’s very early on. Those are the hardware products.
The other things that Samsung is focusing on more so than ever before are its software services. Samsung is a very established company in building hardware. It’s been making phones and electronics like you mentioned, the stove and the dishwasher and washing machines and refrigerators. It makes all of these hardware products for years. You know, generally it makes pretty good ones.
What it doesn’t have that Apple and Google have are services that people associate with those products and want and are looking for. It’s making a big effort this year to create and start these services that provide lock-in to its products or provide extra value to its products.
The biggest one is this assistant called Bixby, which is a silly name. It is essentially Samsung’s answer to Siri and Google Assistant and Alexa and Cortana. What it does, it resides on the ... It’s debuting on the S8, but it sits on the phone. It’s supposed to help you use the phone. It’ll help you accomplish tasks on the phone, whether it’s sending a picture to a contact or sending an email or turning off various features of the phone like Wi-Fi or brightness and stuff like that. It’s not supposed to be a Google where you ask it what the weather is tomorrow or how tall the Eiffel Tower is and stuff like that. It’s a little bit different spin on the assistant idea. It’s interesting and clever but it has a ton to prove. It’s debuting in a very very limited way.
KS: What do you mean, Bixby? What the heck ... Is everything like a butler? Is that a butler name? Who do they come up with this stuff? Why can’t it just be like Phyllis or Joe?
The backstory to the Bixby name is ...
LG: At least it’s not a lady.
KS: I know, that’s true.
The backstory to the Bixby name is a little bit interesting. Samsung sees Bixby as an assistant that can go in all of it’s devices. It’s launching on the S8 but it’s going to be ... The plan is to put it into everything that Samsung makes, whether that’s a gadget or an appliance or something else. Every piece of hardware is supposed to be able to be controlled with Bixby.
If you want to think metaphorically, it is the bridge between Samsung the hardware maker and Samsung the services provider that it wants to be. Bixby is that bridge. It just so happens to be in the state of California, about 120 miles south of San Francisco, is a bridge called the Bixby Canyon Bridge.
LG: There’s also Bixby, Oklahoma. Right? It has nothing to do with that.
Yeah, there’s like, you know, Bixby ... I think there’s an actor named Bixby, with the last name of Bixby.
KS: Bill Bixby.
KS: He had a maid or something, it was “Eddie’s Father.”
The other reason they say to use Bixby is that it’s a unique word that’s easy for computers to recognize or to pick out of the air. Amazon has said this. Alexa is a multi-syllable word that is unique enough for their microphones to pick up and isolate. This is similar to Bixby.
KS: They all have x’s.
Yeah. They’re weird words we don’t say very often. The butler thing is very apt for what Bixby is designed to do. It’s designed to be a butler on your phone. That’s very correct.
LG: One of the things I saw it do that is kinda cool in an early demo was, it has sort of object recognition, which other apps do. Amazon has an app that does this. I think Google has done some of this. The idea that you can just point your phone at an object like a book in your apartment, or in the demo I saw they also pointed it at bottles of wine. Then it just ... The assistant automatically knows what that is and it sends you to an Amazon page. You can buy this here.
I think that ... From my understanding — Dan, correct me if I’m wrong — Samsung is only going to be able to do this with Bixby if they have partnerships in place to bring up those results and basically to get that data. It’s not like it’s just magically going to work. So the rollout might be slow, but it’s kind of a cool feature.
Yeah, the partnerships ... One of them is Amazon. Like you said, you can point it at a book or a product, and it will try to link you to a similar or the same product on Amazon so you can buy it. One is ... that wine bottle partnership you mentioned is with a company called Vivino, which I guess is a giant database of wine. You can take a picture or point your camera at a wine bottle and learn all about its vintage and flavor notes that it scored on all the wine scoring things.
Then they also have a partnership with Pinterest, which will surface similar images on Pinterest.
LG: Kara could actually take the phone and point it at her fancy green juices in Malibu. Then theoretically a Pinterest page would come up of all people that love juice.
Yeah. Exactly that. I pointed it at flowers during one demo, and it showed me a bunch of flowers on Pinterest.
KS: All right. Okay. What else? What else? More things?
There’s a couple other things that Bixby can do. It can set reminders and stuff. It’s like I said, it’s going to be very limited at first. Samsung really sees this as a long game, which is meaning they are really going to have to manage expectations a lot with it. It doesn’t do a whole lot at first.
LG: Then there’s DeX. Talk about DeX.
KS: He’s dating Bixby. Go ahead. Sorry.
DeX is a combination of a hardware and software product. DeX is ... There’s DeX Dock, which you pop the new phone into and it’s got a bunch of plugs in the back. You can plug a monitor and a keyboard into. When you plug the phone into it, it sets up a desktop-like experience on the big monitor.
LG: The idea is, you’re a business person, and you’re traveling and you need to do a presentation somewhere but you don’t want to carry your whole laptop. You take your Samsung phone with you. You bring the little DeX Dock. You plug it in. Everything’s magic. Right?
Yeah. It’s the same concept as Windows 10 Continuum. It’s the same concept that Motorola tried five or six years ago with its Atrix line. Palm tried this even longer than that ago. It’s definitely not a new idea at all. The idea essentially boils down to that your phone is your only computer. When it’s in your hand, it acts as a phone. When it sits in this dock, it acts as a full computer.
It can run Android apps on the big screen. Samsung’s worked with Microsoft to make sure the Office Suite of Word and Excel and PowerPoint all work on DeX. There’s a couple Adobe apps like Lightroom and Photoshop you can use on DeX. Samsung’s browser has been optimized so it shows full screen or full desktop pages when you’re using DeX.
LG: Samsung’s browser, by the way, which is just called “internet.” When you look at the icon, it’s like an old ... It just says “internet.”
Yeah, it’s to the point.
You can also run other Android apps in there as well. Some might be optimized to the screen. Others might run in a windowed experience. You can access all your notifications when it’s plugged into the dock on your big screen. You can answer calls and stuff. You don’t lose any of your functionality of your phone.
When we demoed it ... I got a brief demo of it before the event. I was actually quite impressed with the performance. It was able to load a bunch of tabs in the browser. I was able to switch between applications very quickly and easily. I was really surprised, given that prior experience with Windows 10 Continuum has been pretty sub-par.
There’s still a lot to prove there. It’s interesting. I think it’s gonna to be a total business customer play, like the average customer won’t care about this at all.
KS: This is all like trying to create a lot of excitement around Samsung, with lots of things. Lots of announcements and strategery and things like that. Let’s talk about what it’s aimed at, which is Apple. Correct? I mean, how can they actually overtake Apple, which I think is the point here.
That’s a very interesting question. Since 2012, Samsung actually has overtaken Apple in the smartphone market. It sells more phones than Apple does every year. It ships more phones every year. It generally introduces new technologies to its devices long before Apple does. It is beating Apple in a number of ways.
The big way that it’s not beating Apple is in mind-share. It’s not seen as a leader like Apple is. It really wants to be a leader in its own right. It doesn’t want to be in the shadow of Apple. It doesn’t want to be seen as following Apple. It doesn’t want to be seen as Apple’s foil. It’s really ... Samsung is Apple’s only real competitor in the premium smartphone market. All the other devices, especially in the western markets like the U.S. and Europe, there’s no other players in this space of devices that are $700 or more and selling in meaningful numbers. It’s only Samsung and Apple.
It’s always going to be seen as that foil to whatever Apple is doing. Between the progression it’s made in hardware design ... If you look at a Samsung phone that is released now or even last year, it’s hard to say that it looks like an iPhone anymore. There was a time where ... You know, there’s major lawsuits to this effect from Apple and Samsung where it was almost indistinguishable to tell an Apple phone from a Samsung phone by visual cues. Samsung really designed it’s phones that looked like iPhones. The packaging looked like Apple packaging, etc. Right down to the box it came in. Now, they’ve kind of established their own niche. Those waterfall edge displays are really unique. Uniquely Samsung. Nobody else is doing that. Its devices don’t look like Apple’s. It’s even changed its packaging so it doesn’t really look like an Apple packaging anymore. It’s stepped apart in that sense.
However, the big thing that Apple has that Samsung doesn’t have are those services and software platforms. Samsung’s products run Android, which is a Google platform. Apple obviously has iOS and Mac OS in its own software platforms. It has Siri and iMessage and all these other things that kind of lock you into the iOS ecosystem.
LG: Apple’s really been emphasizing security over the past couple years as well, which I think is a big selling point for people, especially now.
Yeah. Absolutely. Samsung is trying its own services. On the security side, Samsung has developed what it called Knox, which is a very good security platform, it seems. It’s certified by government agencies and actually is used across the world. Things like Bixby, which it’s trying to use as a connective thread between all of its products. There’s even potential for it to bring Bixby to other platforms.
That’s really the challenge for Samsung, is to be able to no longer just be a hardware maker for other people’s platforms. To be a successful company that builds hardware and also has the services that people want and look for and matter. It has struggled to do that for a long time. There’s a whole graveyard of bad Samsung software ideas. Bixby could end up there. We don’t know yet.
KS: Bixby! I’m sorry. I can’t ...
It’s the latest effort.
KS: I cannot go there with this. I’m like, I’m okay with Alexa. Bixby is insane. It’s like you can visualize Bixby, though. Right? The irritating butler guy who like hovers and stuff.
I think of it as a dog name.
KS: Oh really?
Like it’s a cute name for a dog. For a little dog.
KS: All right. All right. Okay.
LG: I don’t really have any thoughts on it. Let’s move on to the Q&A.
KS: Q&A. Yes. Okay.
LG: People have been waiting for their questions to be answered.
KS: Yes. Exactly. In a minute, we’re going to take some questions from our readers and listeners about the Samsung event. First, here’s a word from another fine Vox Media podcast.
KS: All right. If you’ve been listening to this show, you know how it works. Every week, we take questions from our readers and listeners. We try to answer everything we can. This week, we’re gonna answer your questions about the latest Samsung product event. We have Dan from The Verge here to answer these questions, along with assists from Lauren. First question, Lauren, would you like to ask it?
LG: I would like to ask it. This person’s name on Twitter is Cool Blue. The person’s handle is Paul Skent, or Paul S. Kent. “What are the chances it will explode? Can I take it on a plane?” He’s just getting right to the point here. This is what people want to know.
Yeah. Cutting to the chase. The chances to explode? I can’t answer that. The chances are exactly the same as any other phone that is coming through the market. I will say that Samsung is putting a lot of effort — and not only a lot of effort, but a lot of investment, it’s costing them a lot to do all these tests — to make sure that the explosions won’t happen ever again. We’ll have to see if that is the case.
Personally, I would be very surprised if a Note 7 situation happens again. I think that they learned their lesson the hard way on that one. I don’t expect it to explode.
Can you bring it on a plane? Yes. There’s nothing that’s stopping you from bringing it on a plane. In fact, those things that we mentioned earlier in the episode, the announcements on the various flights for the Note 7, because the Note 7 has been fully recalled, it is no longer on the market. They’ve actually ceased making those announcements. The S8 is a different product. It does not apply to the flight ban. Excuse me. Does not apply to it, so yes, you can bring it on a plane.
KS: You cannot wear yoga pants and bring it on the plane. That’s correct? United Airlines staff’s minds will explode that women actually have freedom.
Anyway, next question. From Ivo Sotirov, @IvoSotirov, “Does S8 battery life suffer when they have to cram so much in so little space and power huge display?” That is a good question. Makes me worry, too.
We’ll have to find out when we review it. I can’t answer specifically exactly what the battery life is like. Samsung will tell you that it lasts a day, which is what every single company says about every single phone they release. They do say that their new processors that they’re using this year are more power efficient. It should hopefully make up for the increase in display size.
LG: Okay. Next two questions are about the camera on the new phone. I mean, Samsung is known for having really excellent cameras in its Galaxy line of phones. Jonathan Tanzer asks, “How well does the S8 camera specs and photo quality compare to the Google Pixel?” Another person, Nadir, @nadirkhani on Twitter, “How’s Samsung’s multi-frame compare to Google HDR on Pixel?”
KS: I don’t even know what that means. What does that mean? Explain it for the regular people.
Multi-frame refers to when a camera captures multiple images at one time. Then it combines the data from those images together into one frame so that it can get more detail for that final frame. The Google Pixel does this. The iPhone has done this for a long time. One of the new things that Samsung introduced with the S8 is that feature. It’s the first time Samsung has applied it into their cameras.
One of the other interesting things about the camera is that it is the same camera that was on last year’s S7 phones. Which was an excellent camera. It was one of the best on the market. Really hard to find fault with it at all. It’s interesting that Samsung did not change the camera at all in terms of hardware. It’s the same sensor and same lens. Generally, we see them push the envelope with camera technology. They didn’t do that this year. All the changes were made on the software side.
That said, I think it’s going to be splitting hairs between the Google Pixel and the S8 and the iPhone 7 and whatever Apple’s next camera is. They’re so good at this point, it’s like an untrained eye can’t tell the difference. They should all be really excellent cameras.
KS: Well, good.
LG: Samsung also improved the selfie camera on this one, Kara.
Yeah, the front camera is higher resolution. It auto-focuses now. Most people don’t think about it, but your front-facing camera doesn’t usually auto focus. Now Samsung has auto focus on it.
KS: Wow! I’m very excited about that. All right. Now this one is in all caps from Sahil Bhalla.
Please shout it out.
KS: I’m going to yell it at you, okay? “WHO WOULD PAY THAT MUCH MONEY, ESPECIALLY OUTSIDE THE U.S.??!!” Thank you.
The question he’s asking is who would pay that much money because ...
KS: I believe he’s saying it’s pricey.
The price of the S8 in the U.S. is roughly $720 to $750, depending on your carrier. Then if you want the S8 Plus, which is the bigger model, it’s another $100 on top of that.
Who? I can’t answer who. I can say that Samsung sells tens of millions of phones every quarter at these high prices, as does Apple. There are millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of people that buy these phones. Even outside the U.S., Apple and Samsung sell lots of phones in China, they sell lots of phone in Europe, they sell lots of phones in Korea, and so on and so forth.
LG: Clearly if you buy one you don’t care about your health care because you cannot be buying premium phones if you care about your health.
KS: Oh my god, those people. Ugh. God. Anyway, it is expensive.
It’s an expensive phone but it’s the same price as an iPhone.
KS: I know, but ...
A comparable iPhone is the same price.
KS: Okay. All right.
The thing that’s ...
KS: You can get it subsidized, then?
Subsidized doesn’t really exist anymore, at least here in the U.S. What you can do is get your payment split up over the course of a few years.
KS: It seems like it’s subsidized?
Exactly. It’s $30 a month, it’s not $750.
KS: That’s how stupid I am.
LG: We, shameless plug, did an entire podcast with Joanna Stern on this exact topic a few weeks ago. The way the wireless carriers in the U.S. have kinda structured everything now. I would highly recommend listening to that.
Next question. F. Reid @2lowtech: “I think we’ve reached peak big phones. Have phones gotten too tall?”
Good question. Believe it or not, these phones are smaller than last year. The S8, which has a 5.8-inch screen, which sounds like a very big screen on paper, actually is narrower than last year’s S7, which had a 5.1-inch screen. It is just barely bigger than an iPhone 7, which has a 4.7-inch screen. Because Samsung does that dual waterfall or curved-edge screen, it is able to make the phone narrower than other competing devices. A narrower device is easier to handle in one hand. They did make it slightly taller, but it’s not meaningfully taller than an iPhone 7. If you do get the S8 Plus, which has a 6.2-inch screen, you are dealing with a bigger device. You would probably have a little more trouble using that one handed unless you have really really big hands.
KS: I like ’em big.
The choice is there.
KS: I like ’em big. Stop complaining. They’re great. I like ’em.
LG: They’re great for watching video.
They’re great for everything you use a smartphone for.
KS: I’m telling you.
If you’re reading content. If you’re tweeting. If you’re playing games, watching video. A bigger screen is like a better experience.
KS: Nice. I love my big phone.
LG: Yeah. When you’re watching the movie “Keanu” on a flight. Not that I did that recently. I’m just saying.
KS: Oh my God. Really?
LG: It’s real ... It has a kitten in it. There’s a kitten in that movie.
Is it a good movie? I love Key & Peele so much.
LG: Yeah, me too. Really did not say I did that.
KS: May I suggest going to see “Get Out”? That’s the really good movie of this group.
LG: That’s on my list.
You know what you do is, you go see “Get Out.” Then you palate cleanse with “Keanu.” “Keanu” is a silly comedy.
LG: It’s really quite funny.
And “Get Out” is quite intense.
LG: It means “cool Hawaiian breeze,” by the way.
KS: All right. Next question. Jeff Borden, @imborden. Haha, that’s funny. “What’s stopping Samsung from a break with Android? Does Bixby signal their turn towards the direction even more?” Is Bixby a signal?
That kind of relates to what I was saying earlier, that Samsung makes hardware for other people’s platforms or other company’s platforms. Android is the big platform that it uses on its mainstream devices. It’s been trying for years to push its own platform called Tizen. It’s only released that in developing markets on really low end devices. We’ve not seen any Tizen phones ...
KS: I had forgotten about that.
... in the U.S. or Europe. There’s Tizen running on wearables that Samsung sells. I don’t foresee Samsung really being able to drop Android anytime soon. The big thing with Android is the ecosystem that it has. It has millions of apps. It has an established platform and stuff like that. Samsung doesn’t have that at all.
Bixby might be a go-around, around that. It’s a way to create a software service that still works with Android, but also works with other platforms, whether it’s Samsung’s Tizen platform or another platform beyond that, that provides a unique service. I don’t think it is a zero-sum game. I think Samsung will continue to work with Android while it’s developing its own platforms.
LG: Next question is from Amir Shokouhi — I might have pronounced that incorrectly, sorry about that — @amiru64: “Tell us how much we can turn the software into stock Android.” People always have a lot of opinions about Samsung’s TouchWiz skin over Android. Tell us a little about the software.
This is generally a question that we get from a lot of enthusiasts. They appreciate Samsung’s hardware design, but they don’t like Samsung’s software design. They try to make it look like a Google Pixel phone or Nexus phone as much as possible.
Generally, the tips are you install a different app launcher from the Play Store, which can change the look and effect. You install some other applications that can give you some of the features that a Pixel has. At its core, it’s still running Samsung’s software. Depending on how you feel about the way they organize the settings menu or the way they change the lock screen, that may or may not be a deal breaker for you. Samsung does have a theming engine. You can change the colors and make it look like the colors of a Pixel pretty quickly and easily. It is still Samsung software.
LG: Is that actually what that’s called? A theming engine?
Yeah, it’s an app on the phone called Samsung Themes, which will change the color of the icons ... The look of the app icons. It will change the color of the settings menu. It can change the color of the notification shade. And all these other assets of the phone.
LG: A theming engine. It sounds like a band name. It sounds like a band Kara would front. Except hers would ...
KS: Ha, no. My band’s name ... Everyone has a band name. My band’s name is Pregnant Women Smoking.
LG: Mine is Last Night’s Makeup.
Those are both good.
What? What is mine? What is my band name?
KS: You should have one.
Oh, I should have one. I always come up with one and then I forget them.
LG: Live Octopus.
KS: Okay. Two more questions left. An email question from Nathaniel in Ottawa. This is a long one. “With phone bezels shrinking and smaller and smaller, I’m wonder if there becomes a point at which the phone becomes more difficult to handle. I’ve played with the S7 Edge and know that I had some issues with accidental touch input on the sides. I fear similar problem on phones like the S8 regardless of edge screens. Same problem could potentially be there for the LG G6 and the Xioami Mi Mix.” Difficult to handle. These things become so touchy. Ha ha ha!
Essentially what he’s saying is when there’s no frame around the phone, you’re only touching screen. What happens if you’re touching the screen, which is a touchscreen.
KS: Much touching.
You’re trying to do other things on the touchscreen. With the S8, the curvature on the side is slightly different than the S7 Edge, which may help with that. I haven’t used it long enough to really say. Then Samsung can implement software things that can reject touches that aren’t intended. How well it works I don’t know yet because we haven’t yet done our review. We’ll certainly be finding that out. I can say that Samsung’s been making curved screens for a number of years now, so it has a few generations of this under it’s belt to sort it out and figure it out.
It seems like the industry is going towards more screen, less frame. It’s a way ... The essential problem is, people want a bigger screen but they don’t want a bigger phone. The way to make a bigger screen without making the phone bigger is to shrink the borders around the screen. Samsung’s not going to be the last one. The other phones that Nathaniel mentioned, the G6 and the Xioami Mi Mix, both have screens that are pushed to the edges in a very similar manner. I really think that’s how the industry ... The industry is going to have to figure out how to not accept all our errant incorrect touches.
KS: Oh my God. That’s it. The industry has to accept. I’m not even going to ... I’m really not gonna go there.
Sort it out, industry! Reject my touches!
KS: Okay then. All right. All right. I’m going to move on from that one.
LG: The last question. Let’s move on.
KS: We’re a family program.
LG: Let’s move on. This is a nice segue. The last question comes from someone named ... Kara, can you help me out with this name? I don’t ... It’s tough ... Who is this?
KS: Oh some guy, I don’t know. Some guy.
LG: Waaaa ... Walt Mossberg.
KS: Yeah! Mossberger! Mossberger in Asia.
LG: Yeah. Yeah. @waltmossberg ... Sounds like a nice man. “When Dan was in Korea, how much kimchi did he consume?”
He sounds like a troll to me.
KS: He is. Oh, he is. Trust me on that one.
I learned that kimchi is with every meal in Korea. I also learned that I’m not the hugest fan of kimchi.
KS: Oh, I love kimchi. I just had a delicious kimchi the other night in San Francisco at a delightful barbeque.
I think it’s a bit of an acquired taste and I haven’t acquired that taste yet.
LG: Oh, I like it quite a bit.
KS: Me too.
LG: I’ve only had kimchi in places other than Korea. It’s hard to say how authentic the kimchi ... You’ve had authentic kimchi.
Yeah, they had white kimchi and red kimchi.
KS: Yes, they do.
I had both of them.
KS: We have many Korean’s in San Francisco and they have that also. You can bring real food to other places, I feel. You did not acquire the kimchi, but did you do barbeque and other things? Some lovely things?
We did try the things, as Lauren mentioned at the outset. The weirdest thing I think I ate was a still-wriggling baby octopus tentacle.
KS: Well done.
LG: That’s tough.
It was dismembered, but it was still wriggling. It had obviously not been cooked in any fashion. That was an interesting experience.
KS: And you saw a phone explode. What a great trip you had!
LG: Battery. Battery explode.
KS: Battery. I’m sorry.
LG: I actually once ... I had a shrimp that was still wriggling and alive. I don’t think I’ve recovered from it.
KS: Oh my goodness. You bunch of babies.
LG: I don’t know if you’re ever gonna recover from that octopus.
Yeah, I feel like it’s one of those things that ... I tried it. I said, “I’m good. I did that. I can move on.”
KS: All right. I bit a head off a sandpiper yesterday and I’m just fine with it. Anyway. Anyway, this has been another great episode of Too Embarrassed to Ask. Dan, thank you for joining us.
LG: Yes, Dan, thank you so much for joining us. Dan’s, by the way, his feature from his trip to Korea and his story on Samsung is on theverge.com. You need to go read it. It’s really great.
Please read it.
LG: Especially the lead. The lead is just like ... It sucked the air out of the room when he was there, as he wrote. Go check it out.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.