What to Expect From Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Event

2016 has just begun, and a dozen new smartphones that are expected out this year are already on our radar. One of the earliest flagship releases of the year will be Samsung’s new Galaxy S7. While the ever-active rumor mill has already provided a lot of the details about the phone’s specifications and features, the exact timing for the appearance of Samsung’s next flagship phone was up for debate. But Samsung’s put an end to the speculation on that front with an official announcement that the “Unpacked” event where it will introduce “the next Galaxy” will take place on February 21 in Barcelona, just a day before Mobile World Congress begins. So what should you expect from the event?

As Sam Byford reports for The Verge, Samsung’s announcement includes an image of a cube with two glowing edges that form a “7,” which suggests that the company really is planning to introduce the Galaxy S7 at the event. Samsung’s video, above, also shows a user looking through a Gear VR headset at the cube. That probably means that the new Galaxy S7 will work with the existing headset, or that Samsung is going to announce an updated headset.

While conflicting rumors and reports about the Galaxy S7 have surfaced in the past few months, it’s likely that the new flagship model will feature an external design similar to that of the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. The smartphone is also expected to feature a pressure-sensitive touchscreen not unlike Apple’s 3D Touch screen, a microSD card slot, a USB-C port, water resistance, and perhaps even batteries that are significantly larger than those used in past models.

Samsung is reportedly planning to unveil multiple sizes of the S7 and the S7 Edge, though exactly which variants and sizes it will introduce is still a topic of conversation. Some models of the new smartphone could be powered by Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 820 processor, while the other top contender seems to be Samsung’s own Exynos 8 Octa 8890 chip.

Lucas Matney reports for TechCrunch that because the tagline for Samsung’s video is “Get ready to rethink what a phone can do,” and because all of the marketing for the event seems focus on the Gear VR, it’s reasonable to expect a phone update that “adds significantly to the headset’s functionality.” As fans have dissected the teaser, they’ve noted that the model in the video leans forward and reaches toward the glowing cube. Some have taken that to mean that Samsung may have finally come up with a solution for positional tracking, a feature that’s been conspicuously absent from the Gear VR as well as other smartphone-based VR platforms.

There seems to be some evidence for the VR functionality theory in the chip that Samsung is expected to use in its next-generation flagship phone. Matney notes that Qualcomm has emphasized the potential of the Snapdragon 820 for virtual reality applications, noting on its website that the GPU and CPU “are capable of generating photorealistic graphics for console-quality gaming and next-generation virtual reality apps.” It’s possible that what’s already expected to be a big event for Samsung’s flagship phone line will also be a big event for its virtual reality efforts.

As Scott Hayden reports for Road to VR, last year’s Mobile World Congress brought the announcement of the Galaxy S6 series and the second Gear VR Innovator Edition. Hayden thinks it’s too early for Samsung to unveil a new Gear VR, since the current version was released in November, but posits that Samsung is “telegraphing strong support for the mobile headset, which could automatically mean the inclusion of S7 series support.”

It’s possible that the focus on the virtual reality headset could mean something more. Hayden also reports that “the possibility of a cheap or free bundling of Gear VR in the next S7 could explain the large box seen in the teaser.” If Samsung introduces only incremental upgrades with the Galaxy S7, it could use the Gear VR headset “to sweeten whatever comparatively minor hardware changes [it has] managed to fit in.”

Until February 21, we won’t know the specifics of Samsung’s plans for sure. The press day before Mobile World Congress begins traditionally sees several companies hosting their events before the show begins, and LG has also announced invitations to a press event it will hold on the same day as Samsung’s. The event will be streamed live via Samsung’s YouTube channel. There’s no word yet on when the next smartphones in Samsung’s flagship line will be available for purchase in the United States, but sometime in March is a good guess.

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