Samsung spared no expense at Thursday night's launch event for the Galaxy S4 smartphone. There were multiple, free-flowing open bars to booze up live-bloggers; an entire orchestra literally rising out of the stage at Radio City Music Hall; a big, Broadway-style production with elaborate backdrops, giant screens, and dozens of well-rehearsed actors (including our friend Little Jeremy Maxwell); and several smiling, well-groomed dudes giving away tiny, cold slices of steak.
The whole production was theatrical, a little sexist, and rather grand — an exercise in excess if there ever was one. Samsung's message to the press and consumers was clear as day: Bigger is better, especially when it comes to us.
The diverging philosophies of Apple and Samsung have never been clearer; as TIME's Harry McCracken said on Twitter last night, if the iPhone is "still the best less-is-more phone," Samsung wants the Galaxy S4 "to be the best more-is-more phone." The grandiosity at Radio City Music Hall was merely an extension of Samsung's bold new ethos.
The S4, which I got a brief hands-on with after the event, is a remarkable piece of engineering. It's every bit as thin and light as advertised, with a big 5-inch screen that smacks the eyeballs with bright vivid colors, packing an ultra-sharp pixel density of 441 ppi. It's crammed with super-fast processors, 4G LTE, and other advanced innards. It runs Android 4.2.2. From a pure aesthetic standpoint, it isn't as well-designed as the HTC One, but that's just nitpicking.
However, the Galaxy S4 does come pre-loaded with a few bloated features of questionable utility, which we'll dispense with here first:
* IR blaster, which effectively turns your phone into a TV remote. (I guess this makes sense on some level. But it still feels strange cramming an old, dying technology into a forward-looking gadget.)
* One-of-a-kind ability to sync a song across eight different Galaxy S4s, transforming them into what Samsung called a surround sound system. (The catch: You need eight friends with Galaxy S4s.)
* A multi-channel video chat feature that lets you run the 13-megapixel rear camera and front-facing camera simultaneously. (An actress pretended to talk to her fiancé, who was playing golf, and her bridal party simultaneously. How that's fun for anyone, I haven't a clue.)
That's not to say there weren't a bunch of genuinely exciting new features; there were plenty:
* The display works while wearing gloves! Why this took so long is anybody's guess.
* Air View, which allows you to hover your finger over the screen to preview information. For example, you can hover your finger over a calendar date, and a pop-up will appear showing you your appointments.
* Air Gestures work like an Xbox Kinect, which let's you move your hands to change music tracks or accept phone calls without having to touch the phone. (It sounds like a great feature to have in the kitchen.)
* The S4's camera can capture multiple frames to combine into a single photo. If a photo-bomber jumps into your shot, for example, the software can automatically edit that person out.
* Smart Stay, which uses the phone's camera to track your eyes. If you look away from a video, it will automatically pause; look back, and the video resumes.
* My favorite feature was S Translate, which uses text-to-speech or speech-to-text to translate other languages on the fly. A huge boon for travelers, obviously. But it could also mean that speech-to-speech translation devices are that much closer to being everywhere.
The Galaxy S4 is a top-notch device. It's innovative, bold, loud, and daring. Maybe even best in class.
Samsung didn't release pricing details or a release date (the Galaxy S III was $199 for a two-year contract), but expect the phone to launch sometime between April and June.
And don't worry about possibly missing it. You'll certainly hear about it.
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