We know what killed the Note 7. Here's how Samsung's Galaxy S8 can rise from the ashes

Commentary: Now that Samsung announced what burned the Note 7, the company can begin to turn the tide -- starting with its next flagship phone.

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Now that Samsung announced that two different battery problems caused its initially well-regarded Galaxy Note 7 to burst into literal flame, the company desperately needs a Phoenix phone -- and the Galaxy S8 we expect to see in the coming months (but not at the usual Mobile World Congress show) will be Samsung's first attempt to convince the world that the company can once again ship reliably safe phones.

Despite a disaster that left the South Korean giant's profits and reputation smoldering, Samsung said "the majority" of unlucky Note 7 buyers still switched to a different Galaxy phone (out of the 96 percent globally who turned them back in). That means Samsung's still a potential major player for 2017 despite the Note 7's claim to infamy as one of the largest recalls in tech history.

But to help buyers believe, Samsung is going to have to put a hell of an effort into making its phone beyond good, its prices more attractive than usual, and its safety testing methods completely transparent. To succeed, it has to repair the trust.

"What Samsung needs to pull off in the next Galaxy device," said Wayne Lam, an analyst with IHS Markit Technology, "is nothing short of creating an iPhone-beater."

The Galaxy S8 will need mega-good parts inside and out

So how do you do that, especially when both Apple's iPhone 7 Plus and Google's Pixel XL launched after the Note 7 debacle to shine as the top large-screen phones -- and upstart competitors like OnePlus are offering top-notch big-screen phones at far lower costs? The Galaxy S8 will have to go above and beyond.

Rumors say that the phone will be available in two sizes -- similar to 2015's 5-inch Galaxy S7 and 5.5-inch Galaxy S7 Edge -- and that both the regular and large sizes will have:

Enlarge Image

Rumors say the Galaxy S8 will come in two sizes that both have curved screens.

Sarah Tew/CNET

More specifically, I think the S8 needs:

  • Camera image quality that matches, or better yet, trounces, that of the already very good iPhone and Pixel
  • A proprietary AI assistant that bests Google's Assistant (Google Assistant is now the gold standard here and Samsung's previous attempt, S Voice, wasn't good at all)
  • To fix minor annoyances like software lag over time; trigger-happy capacitive buttons that interrupt what you're doing; and screens that accidentally turn on in your pocket or bag

A lower Galaxy S8 price, or at least a sweeter deal

The Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and Note 7 were some of 2016's priciest phones, a position justified by top-level specs and beautiful glass-and-metal design. But to wary buyers, Samsung won't have that kind of leverage anymore. It's hard to imagine buyers gambling on an expensive S8 Edge a few months after the Note 7's catastrophic failure. In a time of uncertainty and doubt over Samsung's ability to keep buyers safe, those prices need to come down.

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What if Samsung gave you a wireless charger for free?

Josh Miller/CNET

Or, if Samsung's bottom line can't withstand lower pricing in exchange for greater goodwill, the company should bundle "gifts" and add-on services wisely.


  • Two phones for the price of one
  • A free wireless charger
  • Free extended, two-year warranty

And this time, let's not bundle a phone with a Gear VR headset -- tech that hasn't exactly taken off with the mainstream -- and call it a deal.

Yes, knifing into the already thin profits in the mobile industry likely won't be popular with investors, who are currently putting major pressure on Samsung. But I think the company needs to ensure it gets the latest, greatest new Galaxy phones in as many hands as possible, and call that a strategic investment in the brand.

Oh, and that new phone needs to be the safest Galaxy ever, too.

Samsung needs to keep showing its safety cards

Enlarge Image

No more pyrotecnics, please.


How do we know that what happened to the Note 7 won't happen to the Galaxy S8 or S8 Edge? Well, when Samsung announced the root cause of the Note 7's battery disaster, the company also promised to include additional tests as part of a new 8-point battery inspection process.

These are tests that mobile chief D.J. Koh said are already underway in the Galaxy S8 battery. Future phones like the Galaxy S8 will also have more room for internal batteries, even though that isn't what caused the Note 7's blowout. Samsung doesn't seem to be entertaining a return to the removable battery.

We expect Samsung to announce the Galaxy S8 in the next month or two, though we don't have a firm timeline on exactly when we'll see it launch.

For customers still smarting from unrelated battery errors on the initial and replacement devices, Samsung will need to go the extra mile to ensure that the S8's safety inspection is beyond reproach. I envision labels on the box, or a manual inside. In the usual pop-up shops in busy malls, plazas and big-box stores, there should be trained reps leading concerned buyers through the tests and steps.

Still, there's one question everyone planning to purchase a Samsung phone in 2017 will ask: Can Samsung truly keep this from happening again? For its part, Samsung swears it's learned a valuable lesson.

"Moving forward," a spokesperson told CNET, "We will learn from our mistakes and will continue to pursue meaningful innovation -- safely."

That's the correct sentiment, but sentiment isn't going to stop phones from exploding. Only smart implementation of those values will.

Read next: Here's the whole Samsung Galaxy Note 7 saga from top to bottom (including details on why the phone flamed out)

Watch this: Explaining the Note 7's battery flaws (with cake)

First published Dec. 7, 12:56 p.m. PT.

Update, Jan. 22 at 2:20 p.m.: Adds information from Samsung.

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