It’s a make-or-break moment for Samsung

It’s a make-or-break moment for Samsung with the launch of the Galaxy S8

Samsung’s big test is coming in less than a week.

On April 21, customers will get their hands on the Galaxy S8, Samsung’s first flagship phone since the embarrassing Galaxy Note 7 debacle that damaged the company’s reputation and wiped about $17 billion from its value last year.

Not a good look.

But early impressions of the Galaxy S8 have been amazing.

From a design perspective, the phone features a gorgeous curved screen that takes up almost the entire front of the phone. (Samsung calls it an “Infinity Display” because it gives you the impression that there are minimal borders on the sides.) It’s also made from all glass and metal, with a svelte body that feels great in the hand or pocket.

Overall, the phone features a larger screen in a slim and light package.The iPhone looks chunky by comparison. The Galaxy S8 is the early favorite for the best phone of 2017.

Plus, there are loads of thoughtful hardware innovations like wireless charging and a top-of-the-line camera that has yet to be beaten by competitors. Even after last year’s stumbles, it feels like Samsung is gearing up for a major redemption thanks to the Galaxy S8. (As long as the battery doesn’t explode again, of course.)

Still, there are a few concerns ahead of the launch. Samsung was forced to admit Tuesday that its new voice assistant Bixby won’t be ready when the phone launches. That’s probably a good thing, given that Bixby struggled to work properly in an early demo I saw a few weeks ago. But it’san embarrassing admission by Samsung that it can’t keep pace with the growing voice-control category dominated by Amazon, Apple, and Google.

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Samsung’s decision to create Bixby didn’t make much sense in the first place, since the phone will also ship with Google Assistant, Android’s excellent digital helper. That threatens to confuse users with two different assistants on the same device. Good luck with that.

And until Bixby does launch with a software update later this spring, the dedicated Bixby button on the side of the phone won’t serve a purpose at all. That’s another bad look at a time Samsung needs to really wow users again to make up for last year’s embarrassments.

All that said, the Galaxy S8 will likely live up to most of its expectations. Samsung hasn’t commented specifically on demand, but did say the phone saw growth in pre-orders in the US over last year’s Galaxy S7, which was also well received.

If I had to bet, most people will look beyond the relatively minor software flubs Samsung is making with the Galaxy S8 and instead focus on the innovative hardware and design. Frankly, the iPhone has never looked so far behind in those categories.