Among the long list of features the Galaxy S8 was supposed to get but didn’t, like a dual camera, under-glass fingerprint scanner and 6 GB of RAM, stereo speakers were right up there. But as the rumors coalesced into facts and the big reveal finally arrived, we got last year’s camera resolution, an awkwardly placed fingerprint scanner, 6 GB of RAM only in China, and the same mono speaker we’ve always had.
Now, we were probably never going to get the Galaxy range’s first stereo front-facing speakers on a phone with bezels as tiny as the Galaxy S8’s. But with the Infinity Display becoming the new Galaxy calling card, do we need to make peace with the possibility that we’ll never see stereo speakers on a Galaxy flagship?
Is their continued omission proof that Samsung sees no value in stereo smartphone speakers?
If the Galaxy S8 was Samsung’s redemption song, an all-out attempt to reclaim the company’s standing in the minds of consumers, wouldn’t something as universally popular as stereo speakers have been an easy win? Isn’t their continued omission proof that Samsung simply sees no value in stereo smartphone speakers?
Think about it for a second. Sometimes very small things make a really big difference to public perception. When Samsung removed the microSD card in the Galaxy S6 the outcry was rabid. Bringing it back in the Galaxy S7 put that insurgency to bed. The same went for OnePlus and omitting NFC on the OnePlus 2 – a big mistake. Even if no one really used it, bringing it back in the OnePlus 3 kept everyone happy.
But stereo speakers aren’t an under-utilized talisman for the vocal minority. Stereo speakers are the way we should hear audio from our smartphones. Heck, stereo is the way we should hear audio from any source. But Samsung’s continued resistance to putting stereo speakers on a flagship phone seems more ingrained than even the company’s love of bloatware.
Stereo speakers aren't an under-utilized talisman for the vocal minority; stereo speakers are the way we should hear audio from our smartphones.
Bezels are good for something
With the now-default Infinity Display we're pretty much out of options for stereo front-facing speakers.
With the now-default Infinity Display we’re pretty much out of options for stereo front-facing speakers, but there’s always the possibility of twin bottom-firing speakers or even the iPhone 7 approach of delivering stereo sound through the earpiece and a bottom-firing speaker combo.
The larger form factor of the upcoming Galaxy Note 8 might lend itself to adding front-facing speakers, but considering Samsung was more concerned with overhauling the UI and eliminating bezels on the S8 than improving the camera hardware or finding a more logical place for the finger scanner, I expect we’ll see a Note with the same screen-to-body ratio as the S8 and a mono speaker in the exact same place.
Part of the reason folks were claiming Samsung would put stereo speakers on the Galaxy S8 was because the company bought Harman for $8 billion in November 2016. Perhaps the claim was based on some facts that changed over time or perhaps it was just wishful thinking. But whether Harman will be the harbinger of stereo audio to the Galaxy range or not, we’ll have to wait until next year at least to find out.
Even if Harman does equal stereo, we still won't be seeing it in the Note 8.
While the Galaxy S8 gets AKG earbuds bundled in the box (Harman owns AKG along with JBL and others), Samsung assured us all last year that Harman audio wouldn’t appear on Galaxy phones until “possibly in 2018”. Samsung bought Harman primarily for automotive applications, but using it in phones as well is a no-brainer. But even if Harman does equal stereo, we still won’t be seeing it in the Note 8.
Which leaves us with the question of whether Samsung cares enough about stereo sound to ever include it in its smartphones, and to find a way of doing it without the traditional luxury of large bezels above and below the display. While Apple’s split system works well enough, it’s not the most ideal solution to have your sound sources firing in different directions.
I’m sure the folks at Harman will be pushing Samsung to offer stereo speakers when its audio prowess does appear on Galaxy phones. Anything less would be an insult to the brand. But if and how it will be implemented in stereo is another thing.
Say what you will about Apple, but if the iPhone 7 adding stereo speakers helps prompt Samsung in the same direction, then more power to ’em. And if the Infinity Display is supposed to be all about superior media consumption, stereo audio has to be on the table. If competing with the iPhone and fulfilling Samsung’s own ambitions for immersive entertainment doesn’t make stereo sound the next logical step, I don’t know what does.
Fulfilling Samsung's own ambitions for immersive entertainment makes stereo sound the next logical step.
But Samsung never took the opportunity to offer stereo speakers in its phones when there was more than enough bezel space to do so with ease, and we’ve had curved displays for years. So it’s not a stretch to think the company might remain resistant to the engineering feats required to deliver stereo audio on a bezel-less device.
The truth is we just don’t know what Samsung has against stereo speakers or how malleable it is on the topic. I’m really optimistic about Harman tipping the balance in stereo’s favor, but nothing is certain. While it’s absolutely possible we’ll continue to get the same bottom-firing mono speaker for years to come, I for one am hopeful that the Galaxy S9 will be both bezel-less and in stereo.