Take That, iPhone 7! The Galaxy S8 Could Glow

Come this time next year, your new Samsung phone might well light up like a pinball machine. And those lights will be able to tell you everything from who's trying to contact you to whether your face is in frame for a rear-camera selfie.

The feature, called Smart Glow, is expected to soon appear on at least one Samsung phone--and it could very well find a home on the Galaxy S8. A report from SamMobile suggests that Samsung has big plans for this feature, which uses a lit-up ring around the rear camera to send alerts and notifications.

We first heard about Smart Glow a few weeks ago in another SamMobile report which said the feature would soon debut in the 2016 edition of the Samsung J2, a phone that's launching in India. Smart Glow puts an illuminated ring around the phone's rear camera lens that can light up in different colors for assorted alerts.

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Specifically, Smart Glow will be light up with colors you assign to contacts when the people you've specified try to call, text and email you. The light will also alert you to things about your phone, SamMobile reports, such as when you're low on battery or when the phone is charging.

The most intriguing part of Smart Glow is a Selfie assist feature, in which the ring around the rear camera will turn blue when your face is in view; after two seconds, the camera will take the shot. It sounds like a welcome addition to someone who'd prefer to take their selfies with the more powerful camera on the back of the phone.

While those features are expected for the J2, SamMobile says that Samsung plans to add more capabilities to Smart Glow, which will find its way to other phones — including next year's Galaxy S8 potentially. And that's why the Smart Glow feature should interest U.S. smartphone customers who are unlikely to ever see the J2 reach these shores.

Among future changes coming to Smart Glow, according to SamMobile, are a weather ring, which will use lighting to alert you to current weather conditions, and a health ring, which will help monitor heart rate. The Selfie alert feature may also use lights to help direct you on positioning the phone so that your face appears front and center in the shot.

It will be interesting to see how useful Smart Glow turns out to be once the feature starts showing up on Samsung phones. I'm particularly interested in seeing how visible those different colored lights are, particularly in bright sunlight. And while light-based notifications could certainly be useful when your phone is out on a desk in front of you, it seems like it won't come in very handy for those times a phone is stashed in your pocket. The feature also won't be that useful to color-blind smartphone owners, if their experience with other color-coded tech products is anything to go by.

If anything, Smart Glow seems to illustrate how tough it's becoming for phone makers to distinguish their devices from one another. There's only so much you can do to make phones thinner, processors more powerful and batteries longer-lasting, so manufacturers seem to be turning to features like Smart Glow to stand out from the crowd. We'll have to wait until the feature appears to see how effective it actually is, but it feels like the degree of difficulty for creating a game-changing phone feature has increased exponentially.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.