Smartphone reviewers throw around the term “flagship” pretty loosely, to the point where it’s come to mean “a high-spec phone from a major or mid-level manufacturer.” But when you get your hands on a phone with the technical excellence and attention to detail of the Samsung Galaxy S8 series, you’re reminded that there’s more to a great phone than a bunch of chips.

Like Apple and Google, Samsung has something more in mind than just selling phones. The Galaxy S8 and S8+ are devices that bring you into a useful ecosystem in exactly the same way that Apple does with the iPhone and Google does with Android.

The front door to that ecosystem is the assistive software that Samsung calls Bixby. Intended as a direct competitor to Google Assistant, Bixby is an ambitious feature that’s in its very early days. But wait, there’s more: For enterprise customers, Samsung has given us DeX, a device that lets you attach a keyboard, mouse and monitor to the phone and use it as a desktop machine.

Admittedly, it’s been an epically lousy year for Samsung. The Galaxy Note 7 phone showed a propensity for bursting into flames, and was recalled and banned by airlines. A line of high-end washing machines was recalled because the lids sometimes flew off during the spin cycle. Lee Jae-yong, head of Samsung’s parent company, Samsung Group, and a pillar of industry in the company’s home country of South Korea, was arrested and accused of bribery in a wide-ranging political scandal. That the company is able to maintain focus and produce anything of value is a remarkable achievement.

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