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Samsung's 'unbox your phone' event gave us a phone that's still a box

It's a nice phone, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
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Before Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S8 to the world, it teased the audience with a device that would break the conventions of the traditional smartphone. The event's pre-roll animation showed an enormous 1980s brick phone morphing into a 1990s-era flip phone, which in turn evolved into a modern smartphone. That device then exploded beyond its frame and summoned the event's tagline: Unbox your phone. When the event started, however, Samsung didn't reveal a revolution in smartphone design -- it showed the world another glass slab with a gorgeously large touchscreen. Except this one has smaller bezels.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 certainly has a larger screen than most smartphones: Its display stretches almost the entire length of the chassis, framed only by thin bezels on the top and bottom. The screen is so wide, that it spills over the sides of the phone, curving to the contours of the handset. The device that Samsung mobile chief DJ Koh unveiled onstage is certainly beautiful and it's sure to be a trendsetter, but it's not quite "a new era of smartphone design." The Samsung Galaxy S8 is still very much a box of a smartphone, albeit a slightly fancier (and rounder) one.

Throughout the presentation, Samsung oversold the Galaxy S8's design by a wide margin. Senior VP Justin Denison came onstage to call it a "completely new form factor," telling the audience again that the phone's slightly larger screen made it as big of a revolution in phone design as the jump from flip phone to smartphone. At best, the S8 is a revision that borrows from the best of previous devices. The Huawei Mate 9 Pro, Xiaomi Mi Note 2 and even Samsung's own Galaxy S7 Edge all curved the screen around their phone's sides to some degree, and Xiaomi's Mix has already shown us a smartphone with almost no bezel to speak of. Even the Galaxy S8's so-called invisible home button is old hat. Nexus devices have been shipping without physical buttons for years. Yes, the pressure-sensitive element behind the screen is a good evolution on the idea, but not a completely new one. Remember when Apple introduced 3D Touch?

The Galaxy S8 does have more than a few novel features, but even these are iterative improvements on old ideas. By adding encryption to face detection, Samsung owners can not only unlock their phone by simply looking at it but also use their face to securely log into websites and services. The phone's Dex desktop dock's ability to stretch the smartphone's mobile OS into a traditional computing environment has potential, but it's also something we've seen Microsoft, Canonical, HP, Motorola and others try before. For all of Samsung's pomp and circumstance onstage, there's little about the Galaxy S8 we haven't seen in some form.

Don't get me wrong, the Samsung Galaxy S8 looks like a nice device. Really nice. But it's not the revolution the company claims it to be. It's an amalgam of the best features from previous devices with a screen that takes curved display technology to the next logical iteration. That's something to be proud of, but it's nowhere near the same leap forward in design and technology as the flip phone was to the smartphone.

Click here to catch all the latest news from Samsung's Galaxy S8 launch event!

Sean has a nasty habit of disassembling nearby gadgets. Although he usually gets everything reassembled in adequate working order, you probably shouldn't lend him your phone. He's a lifelong gamer, a comic-book nerd and an Eagle Boy Scout. A fortune cookie promised him he would one day work at Engadget. What else is there to know?
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