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Galaxy A8S a practice run for Galaxy S10's O-notch screen? It makes sense

Commentary: Samsung can work out the kinks on a less important phone to ready its flagship Galaxy S10 for the new design.

Detalle de la pantalla perforada del Galaxy A8s.

Keep your eyes glued to Samsung's new Galaxy A8S phone for China. Not because its screen looks unlike any other Samsung phone on the market, but because the hole in the top left corner of the display is one you could see on a phone available all over the world: the Galaxy S10

Samsung's anticipated flagship phone isn't expected to arrive until late February or early March, but rumors already point to it sporting a screen with a similar "notch," which Samsung calls the "Infinity-O" display. Where other handsets use bezels or notches to house the front-facing camera, the Infinity-O display fits the lens into a small punch hole within the screen itself. While Samsung showed off two other notch styles as its developer conference in November -- a V-notch and a U-notch -- this is the design that cuts out less of the screen, and in more subtle ways that the notch found on phones like the iPhone XS and the Pixel 3

Rumors abound  supporting the Galaxy S10's inclusion of the Infinity-O display, which would make the S10 look a lot like the Galaxy A8S -- all screen and whisper-thin bezels, with a small camera cutout in the corner. It's quite possible that Samsung is using the A8S as a testbed for troubleshooting any issues with the punch-hole look before trotting it out on the anchor in its lineup. If the Galaxy S10 doesn't keep Samsung's bread buttered, more specialized phones like the Note 10 and niche foldable phone won't sell in the volumes needed to pick up the slack. 


The Samsung Galaxy A8S is now official.


Testing the public's reactions to a new notch style could help Samsung adjust the Galaxy S10's final look and feel. The furor over screen notches on Android phones reveals buyers' strong feelings about phone design. Samsung's unique approach would allow it to stretch the display across most of the phone face, while also carving out a space for the phone's front camera. A successful design could earn Samsung kudos and keep its reputation for innovation strong alongside aggressive Android competitors like Huawei and Google, while also quieting naysayers who bristle at having a notch taken out of the all-screen display.

The Galaxy A8S' O-notch isn't our first inkling that Samsung's playing it safe by testing parts bound for the Galaxy S10 in a midrange phone first. The Galaxy A9, a midrange effort that normally wouldn't draw much pomp and circumstance, was the first Samsung phone to debut four rear cameras, a showing you might expect to see on a premium model before trickling down to the mid-tier. 

But the Galaxy A9's launch drew Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh, whom CNET interviewed at the event about Samsung's foldable phone. Koh's appearance underscores the importance of the three-camera play for Samsung. By contrast, the Galaxy Note 8, Note 9 and S9 Plus are the only premium Samsung phones to have two rear cameras; the Galaxy S9 has one. 


Could the A8S be Samsung's practice phone for the Galaxy S10?


2018 wouldn't be the first time that Samsung used a decoy phone to test the reception to a new design element. The Galaxy Round and Galaxy Note Edge were both fairly sacrificial models that served as an early litmus for the curved screens that are now a routine part of the Galaxy S9 and Note 9's look. 

The Galaxy S10 is under tremendous pressure, even before it launches. With phone sales slowing down across the board, Samsung needs a big hit to keep ahead of hungry rivals like Huawei, which elbowed Apple out of the way as second-largest phone maker. Huawei's embrace of three rear cameras and an in-screen fingerprint reader before the Galaxy S10's debut is lending credence to the idea that Huawei is out-innovating Samsung. The Korean tech giant needs to hit back if it wants to stay on top.

So far the Galaxy A8S has only been announced in China, where it'll go on sale Dec. 21. There's no word yet if other countries will get the phone and when. 

Now playing: Watch this: Samsung's S10 reportedly features 5G, huge screen

Galaxy A8S specs

  • 6.4-inch display, with Full HD+ (1,080x2,340-pixel) resolution
  • Octa Core (2.2GHz Dual + 1.7GHz Hexa) processor
  • 6GB/8GB of RAM
  • 128GB of storage
  • 24-megapixel front camera
  • 24MP/5MP/10MP triple rear camera
  • 3,400mAh battery
  • Android 8.1 Oreo OS

First published Dec. 10, 10 a.m. PT
Update, 10:35 a.m.: Includes reported Galaxy A8S specs.

Update, 11:52 a.m.: Adds more details. 

Update, Dec. 11 at 2 a.m.: Adds more details.

Update, 10:21 a.m.: Adds commentary.

Update, 6:24 p.m.: Fixes typo; the Galaxy A9 has four rear cameras, not three.

Update, Dec. 13 at 9:20 a.m.: Adds official specs from Samsung