One major feature of the Samsung Galaxy S line that we have seen in place since 2010 is the physical home button. On the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, that button has been removed and this trend may continue with the next Apple iPhone.
The Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event in New York City last week was very exciting and I enjoyed the opportunity to try out the new Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus (Check out ZDNet's Jason Cipriani's detailed first impressions). As a guy who appreciates the efficiency and security provided by the physical home button, this was one area I focused on while interacting with the demo devices on the display stands.
ZDNet's Ross Rubin made the point that the Galaxy S8 escapes the sea of sameness. I often hear people mentioning that all phones are "black slabs" that are hard to differentiate. Samsung worked hard to set the S8 and S8 Plus apart with its Infinity Display, which resulted in the loss of the home button.
The latest Samsung smartphones have amazing cameras and the ability to simply double press the physical home button to launch the camera and start shooting was important to me. While the home button is gone, simply perform the same action with the power button, centered on the right side, to launch the camera.
Pressing and holding the physical home button also launched Google Now while the display was on. Google Assistant is now available for all newer Android devices and you can launch it simply by stating OK Google.
In addition to Google Assistant, the Samsung Galaxy S8 comes with a left side dedicated physical button that launches Samsung's own AI assistant, Bixby. Bixby is a bit different than Google Assistant with a focus on helping you perform actions that would require screen taps and touches. It remains to be seen how useful Bixby will be, but it will be one of the first things I test when my S8 Plus arrives.
The near instantaneous response and convenience of having the physical home button meant that many of us enabled security settings on our Samsung Galaxy phones. To be honest, I rarely locked my phone with a PIN or password before the latest fingerprint scanners so even if fingerprint security isn't foolproof, having some security is better than none.
There is a fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S8, but it is located to the right of the rear camera and its usability and placement appear to be questionable at this time.
Instead of using the fingerprint scanner, Samsung provides an iris scanner as an option for security. The iris is similar to a fingerprint in that it is unique so you get the same level of security with an iris scan. It may be more secure because a fingerprint can be lifted while your iris is integrated further into your body.
There is also a face recognition option, but this is not designed as a secure means to unlock your phone and more for convenience. Some initial testing has shown that a photo may work to unlock a phone with facial recognition.
Benefits of removing the physical home button
As you can see, efficiency and security concerns have been addressed by Samsung and are not areas to be concerned about when you see the physical home button missing on the Galaxy S8. There are some benefits to removing this button, including:
Moving parts are gone: A physical home button is a moving part so that means it is a possible failure point on a device. We have seen manufacturers in the past, BlackBerry for example, remove physical elements because they were the obvious failure points on a phone.
More usable display: The Galaxy S8 is focused on the Infinity Display and by removing the physical button we are able to get more usable display in the same area where we had a display and a button. We see miniscule top and bottom bezels, paired with screen sides that extend down over the edge.
Configurable navigation buttons: Samsung may have been able to make this change with a physical home button present, but I'm going to list it here since this is a major change for Samsung. Samsung has always placed the back button on the lower right and the recent apps button on the lower left. This is opposite the majority of Android phones and something that I know bugs many people. With the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, users can now choose to switch these around.
Samsung was able to integrate advanced technology, similar to Apple's Force Touch, to provide a pressure sensitive area where a home button is expected. Some apps may not even show any buttons along the bottom row, but pressing in on this area will continue to act as a home action and bring you back to the launch screen.
Apple switched to a capacitive home button on the iPhone 7 and it took me about a week or so to get used to this approach. I'm sure it will take me some time to adapt to the new method on the Galaxy S8 Plus, but we have seen other Android manufacturers remove a physical home button and most have adapted to the change.
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