Has a new rockstar has been crowned?
With hundreds waiting in line and hundreds of thousands watching online, Samsung unveiled the flagship smartphone in its lineup, the Galaxy S4, at what seemed to be the center of the universe -- Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
If Apple has long been renowned for throwing spectacular events, Samsung proved itself equal to the task. Where Apple relied on the sheer charisma and magnetic personality of Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck, Samsung went for pizzazz, enlisting the talent of a myriad of dancers, a full orchestra and extravagant sets -- at one point, a car was suspended sideways in midair -- during the highly choreographed event. Radio City was packed with not just the media but also fans of the new kid on the block.
Samsung wasted little time before revealing its new flagship phone, accompanied with the tagline, "life companion." More than just a smartphone, Samsung pushed the idea that the new Galaxy S4 is a constant friend, a willing companion and able assistant.
"For each of us, life is a journey. What you want is a device that can help us on the journey," Samsung's CEO JK Shin said on stage, later adding that "We will make life richer, simpler, and fuller." (Shin proved himself a showman as well, though perhaps no Jobs; he appeared as several different characters throughout the hour-long, staged unveiling event.)
The smartphone will be available at the end of April in 155 countries, although Samsung did not reveal the price yet. Sprint immediately announced plans to carry the device, though it did not say when.
"Sprint is excited to bring the benefit of Truly Unlimited 4G LTE data to the U.S. variant of Galaxy S 4 in the second quarter of this year," Fared Adib, senior vice president of product development, said in a statement.
As expected, the phone is best in class against most quantifiable measures.
"It's slimmer, yet stronger," Shin said, who at one point appeared on stage dressed in full costume. The new phone is visually almost identical to its predecessor, the SIII, but slightly larger with a 5-inch 1080p AMOLED screen and a 13-megapixel camera, all of which is enclosed in a polycarbonate case that comes in white and black. It feels thin yet solid in the hand, and the screens transitioned smoothly and looked sharp.
The S4 is powered by a 1.9-Ghz processor, 2GB of RAM, and 4G LTE, running on a 2,600-mAh removable battery.
Samsung emphasized more "human" modes of interaction through eight sensors, including infrared "air" gesture and eye-tracking, enabling users to manipulate the device without actually touching it. An advanced touchscreen accepts input even with gloves on. The phone can also detect the temperature, humidity and your heartbeat.
More than impressive specs, Samsung showed off a plethora of new software features that includes instant translation, pictures with sound, and numerous TouchWiz updates. Samsung wants the Galaxy S4 to be central to your interconnected life, allowing seamless interaction with the cloud and also the ability to control your television or car. S-Health can then tell you how many calories you've burned and detect your sleeping patterns.
In the end, however, the S4 appears to be a continued evolution more than revolution. While every category appears to have been improved, there's nothing that resoundingly screams "breakthrough," despite the energy of the event, which was at once enthusiastic but sometimes also awkward. It also remains to be seen whether users embrace the mountain of new features.
But what is clear is that Samsung has once again raised the bar, leaving no stone unturned for the next generation of the world's most popular Android phone, and will put further pressure on Apple with a new flagship that more or less lives up to expectations.
The only question left unanswered, after a staged spectacle like this: Is there another act in Apple's playbook?
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