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Another Samsung phone: hardware, software, and gimmicks

March 9, 2018

I like Dan Seifert’s tagline for the S9 from his Verge review: “The Galaxy S9 is all of the good and all of the bad we’ve come to expect from Samsung”. That pretty much sums up my impressions; the phone fulfills my expectations from 5+ years of working at Samsung Research: good hardware, bad software, and still more gimmicks.

Hardware: starting with the Galaxy S6 Samsung really started nailing it with their industrial design, and they’ve stayed on top of their game since. Well, mostly. It still drives me nuts that they don’t symmetrically align the ports along the centerline of the edges. I don’t care if it makes the engineering easier; it just looks weird. And I’m super glad that Samsung didn’t go with a notch. I hate the notch. I’d much rather have the slim bezels of the S8 and S9 than the bloody notch. I don’t care if you get used to it; it’s still godawfully ugly.

Software: what a shock, Bixby is still a train wreck, and version 2.0 is still a work in progress. Version 1 was a serious blunder. Rather than spend the time to get it right, Samsung incurred serious engineering debt trying to rush it to market. And then, surprise, it turned out awful, and due to accrued debt had to be essentially trashed and rebuilt. And that’s not even mentioning the fact that it was largely based on a mistaken premise, that the way to build a voice assistant was to try to provide full equivalency with touch interaction. I can’t believe Google hired Injong Rhee after Samsung fired him for that debacle. On the bright side, he’s joining the Cloud organization, and they’ll hopefully keep him away from anything UX.

Gimmicks: from what I’ve seen, Samsung decides on features for new products based on what executives like in 2 minute demos. There’s no deeper discussion of pros and cons or considerations of what the experience might be like over a longer period of time. As a result, things that are neat and demo well go in, while more thoughtful ideas that take a little more explanation go nowhere. And thus you get a parade of gimmicks: neat for a quick demo, but generally useless in day-to-day life.

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