Kevin Lee

Samsung takes on Times Square, as real people react to Galaxy S4

NEW YORK—As those on Samsung's press invitation list assembled within the opulent insides of Radio City Hall, an even larger crowd began gathering at the heart of New York City in Times Square. Fenced in by flashing lights and enormous billboards, hundreds braved the freezing twilight for an opportunity to see exactly what little Jeremy, the child star of the company's recent "Samsung Unpacked" marketing campaign, had inside the box.

Of course, we all knew that it was going to be the Samsung Galaxy S4, but no one was certain as to what exactly it meant. Rumors had spread like wildfire throughout the Internet in regards to Samsung's much-anticipated phone, but nobody had solid information. Since it first teased its newest smartphone, Samsung had been asking the world to get ready for the next Galaxy; judging from the turnout in Times Square, many were prepared to be blown away.

Kevin Lee
Hundreds of people crowded into Times Square ready to see Samsung's latest phone.

“We were just passing by and then, we saw the crowd. We thought it was amazing so we decided to stay,” a stern-faced man by the name of Oren, his son perched on his knees, announced to us. His entire family had only just arrived from Greece.

Currently the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S III, Oren was more than happy to expound on his appreciation for his device's screen, features, battery life, and diverse selection of applications (“It feels right to me.”). When asked if he would pick up the new S4, the answer was concise but telling. “If it deserves it, I'll get it,” he said.

On the other end of spectrum there were a fair number of people who knew exactly what was going to happen at the live event.

“I came here for this; I knew it was coming,” said Jonas. “Most of the details have leaked but I was interested in seeing how they would put on a show.” Jonas was one of the first people we talked to in Times Square, as well as one of the many people we met that said they were planning on making the shift to an Android-based phone.

“Years ago, I switched from BlackBerry to iPhone and that was a revelation. Since then, the iPhone has not been as good as those early days. Everything I read about the Galaxy series specifically says ‘give this a shot.’ I’m still not sold on an Android platform but six years ago I would not have even entertained the notion of switching."

“I have an iPhone 4 right now, and I have a friend who is trying to convert me to a Samsung Galaxy user right now. It used to be iPhone was up high and Android was well below that. In the past couple of years though it’s become more even competitive with a combination of the Apple products—specifically the iPhone—have degraded for a number of reasons and the competitors—specifically the Galaxy series—becoming a lot better.”

Kevin Lee
Two friends check the latest Galaxy S4 rumors on their smartphones.

The night progressed, and the temperature dipped even further. Patience grew thin even as excitement continued to mount. One pair of friends seemed more than thrilled by the event and by the prospect of getting their hands on the new S4. “We both have Apple iPhones and we don't like them,” they told us. “This is something exciting.”

Why the dislike for Apple's latest device? “Because they all have the same interfaces; they're just different sized phones. But Samsung? Samsung always has something new.”

Eventually, Samsung unveiled the features of the upcoming Galaxy S4, a revelation that drew a lukewarm response from the crowd. However, the lack of a vocal reception appeared to be the result of the cold weather as opposed to actual disinterest.

Kevin Lee
Sara braved the cold for a chance to handle the new phone.

Sara, who works retail at a cellphone store, was delighted by what Samsung had revealed. “I've been hearing a lot of rumors about it and I'm really excited. A lot of the features are so cool. I love how you can video-chat with yourself and other people in front of you, while video-chatting with others elsewhere.”

A fan of the 5-inch screen, Sara noted that it was a minor upgrade from the S III but one that was "just enough." “It looks scary on the outside, but it still fits comfortably in your hand. My S III fits into every pocket I own.”

Though she found the live-action demonstrations to be a little much, Sara remarked that she feels it is helping Samsung build a loyal fan base. “Customer loyalty is a big deal. They're growing, they're building their fan base. They know how to go about things. Like, this video is amazing because it makes things so easy to understand and getting people to understand is a big hurdle in introducing technology to people. “

Though some were highly enthused about the upcoming phone, not everyone was sold on it entirety. Ryan Ramirez is a proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy S III. While he professed towards being impressed with the software, he was slightly more critical of the actual physical look of the device. To him, it resembled the Galaxy Note II a little too closely.

“So far, the S4 has a lot of promising features. I actually like the add-on that lets you put yourself in the recording of the pictures. I like to take great pictures, but I don't like it when people don't take pictures with me in them.”

Some other people, however, were not so keen about the extra showmanship by Samsung during Thursday’s launch event.

“I think the skits were unnecessary,” said Yichen, a Canadian visiting New York with her boyfriend. “I mean, I came out here to see the phone, not some kid tap dancing.”

Kevin Lee
The crowd wasn't all that impressed by Samsung's tap dancing performers.

The actual phone didn’t overly impress Yichen as well. “I think it looks incredibly like the old Samsung Galaxy S III,” she said. “I think it’s a lot like when the iPhone 4S came out, it has better internals but it looks more or less the same. When they tout innovation, they don’t really do much.”

A large percentage of the people we talked to were generally disappointed about Samsung’s continued use of plastic shells for its flagship phone. But Yichen’s boyfriend, Kevin, disagrees. “I dropped this phone eight or ten times,” Kevin said, whipping out his Samsung Galaxy Nexus. “I have a lot of friends who got Nexus 4s, and they all broke really fast. As long as it’s durable, it really does not matter. What does that have to do with the phone?”

A few were even less impressed by Samsung’s elaborate performances.

“I think the Steve Jobs keynote[s] were more toned down,” a person named Robert told us. “Meanwhile, this event is more fun and friendly. It’s more produced like a show-show, but the skits were very tacky.”

“It’s kind of cool, but a five-inch screen is just too big," Robert continued. “Even my Samsung Galaxy Nexus—it’s a 4.7-inch screen—is too much. It’s gets to a point where [you wonder], ‘are we going to go back to a four-inch screen?'.”

“The only real change is the screen size and the camera for me,” Robert’s friend, Anthony, agreed. “Everything new about the phone could have been done with an update. There was nothing real worth [it] for this whole thing.”

“I wouldn’t say [it's] disappointing, but I’m not blown away either,” Anthony added. “We were following the rumors and there was nothing really mind-blowing. We were kind of expecting this anyway. I think it matched the hype but they are overexaggerating the product. It’s not that much better than a Samsung Galaxy S III, which is still a pretty good phone.”

Kevin Lee
Samsung gave everyone a few minutes to try out some of the Galaxy S4's more talked about features.

Later in the evening, Samsung opened up its doors to a hands-on event. We spoke with two late-night attendees who got to take a spin with Samsung’s latest “unboxed” product.

“The phone is really light and the screen quality is crazy,” said Michelle, a self-proclaimed phone geek. “I think the best part of that phone is the camera. It’s double-sided so you can talk to it front and back.”

In addition to the upgraded hardware, Michelle was also excited about the new apps that come with the phone.

“Especially the S-Walk; it lets you keep track of stuff if you want to lose weight and dieting. So I’m definitely going to upgrade from a Samsung Galaxy S III this coming April.”

We also spoke to Michelle’s friend Crystal, who says this might finally be the phone that makes her an Android user.

“Well, I have an iPhone, so that was just amazing,” Crystal said. “I didn’t expect it to have so much.” She had been thinking about switching from an Apple device to Android beforehand, and the S4 is bringing her one step closer to making the switch.

“The two-camera shot was just amazing, and so was the burst glass function that let you take photos of the kid while he was tap dancing. Samsung is the way of the future.”

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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