Samsung introduced its Galaxy S4 smartphone to the world on Thursday evening at Radio City Music Hall in an event that was more of a broadway show than a traditional product launch.
There was so much spectacle, in fact, a casual passerby could have mistaken the event for some sort of fancy Upper East Side gala. Women wore billowing evening gowns and men in suits held cigars between their teeth -- and these were just the people on the press line.
With so much pomp and circumstance, I thought that things could have been a little more orderly than they were. As I approached Sixth Ave and 50th Street, a large cluster of ticketed and invited guests who congregated around the main entrance of Radio City Music Hall disoriented me.
Regular pedestrians muscled their way through the crowd as they walked along the street. Photographers stood on pedestrian railings that lined the street corner so they could get a better vantage point for their photos. A random patron continuously reassured the people around him that they would all get in if they remained calm and patient.
Once I found the press line, a wait ensued. The lines for members of the media started at the side entrance, went half-way up the lengthy New York City block and wrapped back around -- just to let people into the venue.
Samsung rival HTC trolled on the sidelines, handing out fliers and mini cans of Pringles and bottles of water with the HTC One logo. It wasn’t until much later that I heard about the #NextBigFlop thing from Twitter.
An hour later, my party and I finally made it past security with just minutes to find seats before the show started. Inside, hostesses wore Star Trek-esque costumes, and I promptly began referring to them as “Galaxy Girls.” Some people lingered in the lobby, and a collection of others loitered by the open bar.
When I heard the first notes of music from the orchestra, I and those around me concluded that the this sort of spectacle was way too much for a phone. I understand it’s the Galaxy S4, "The Next Big Thing," but an orchestra? Really? At least now we have an idea where Samsung's collective $21 billion on marketing and research was spent.
I quickly became much too engrossed in live tweeting to pay attention to the “performance.” Apparently, all the performers were Broadway actors. That said, I’ve been to Broadway, and that was no Broadway show. They likely didn’t intend to it be a Broadway show, as Samsung's Marketing Director, Ryan Bidan, said repeatedly that the characters were actors and not real people, which made the whole spectacle a bit too trite for my taste.
One thing we did get from the event: We finally got to understand the concept behind the Mobile Unpacked teaser trailers and got to meet Jeremy, who is undoubtedly a weird-looking little kid but a particularly fantastic tap dancer. However, if Jeremy was a character with whom we were intended to connect, Samsung failed miserably. From Jeremy as the Galaxy S4 messenger to Jeremy the tap-dancing kid to Jeremy as Ryan Biden’s son, Jeremy made little impact as the Galaxy S4 ambassador and will likely be forgotten easily.
The other characters from the Galaxy S4 event were equally inconsequential. The glove lady turned bridesmaid -- are you kidding me? The bachelorette party scene for a moment made me not ever want to get married, let alone buy the phone.
While Group Play is a fun novelty feature, I had a discussion with some guys when we got to try out the phones later, and the only uses we could come up with for that feature were flash mobs and college students in need of speakers for an impromptu dorm party.
I understand whole theatrical concept, of having the event in New York City, in Radio City Music Hall, but I just didn’t think it was necessary. The Galaxy S4 could easily speak for itself with its new specs and features.
Previous unveilings had piqued my interest in the past because they stuck to the basics and gave us exactly what we needed to see. How about a little more discussion about the Galaxy S4’s processor, or its operating system? Many around me noted how there was absolutely no mention of Google at any point.
While learning about all of the special new features was interesting, I feel as if a lot of the most important things about a phone unveiling were missing due to the disregard of those particularly important features. Samsung should have remembered that in order to please the masses, it's a good idea to please the experts and enthusiasts first.
I was, however, a fan of the life companion concept; though my sarcastic side perked up and immediately wondered if the concept was inspired by singles who don't have much luck in the online dating scene.
I especially liked that concept because it brought us back to why reason we all went to the event in the first place. It brought the consumer back into focus and reminded us why we want and/or need this phone.
The point is, people came out to see a phone, not a ridiculously exaggerated stage show. For me, the event honestly did not begin until we got to head down downstairs and pick up the phone with our own hands.
I’m simple. I like cameras with fun features. I like health applications. I like games and movies. I like the general practicality of how phones are used in real life. Not a choreographed dance number from a bunch of “high school friends” who aren’t really friends because they are all actors.
I like the really little things, like the fact that the Galaxy S4 is equipped with Polaris Office, so if a brilliant story idea strikes me while I’m stuck on the 4 train somewhere, I can easily jot it down while it is still fresh in my mind -- that is something I would think of when considering whether I will buy this device.
If I were to judge the Galaxy S4 unveiling by the performance alone, I’d likely have to side with HTC with its the "next big flop" dig. Samsung should thank its lucky stars that the hands-on portion of the evening was a major reprieve.
I especially enjoyed the demonstrations of Watch On, which was played on a Galaxy S4 connected to a TV, as well as watching patrons play Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II, which was also connected to a TV.
I had fun attempting and failing at using several of the special features including Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, and S Translator, but that’s a story for another time.
I’d like to think that the makers of last year's bestselling smartphone -- the Galaxy S3 -- would be able to replicate its own success in 2013. But when it comes to entertaining, Samsung -- please stick to your day job.