The Samsung Galaxy S4 World Tour arrived in South Africa on the 25th of April 2013. Bandwidth Blog attended both the press briefing and spectacular public launch!
I actually slammed my jacket shut in my car door trying to hastily make my way to the Sandton Convention Centre where Samsung was about to launch the Galaxy S4. No, I wasn’t late, which actually would be a conceivable excuse with the Joburg traffic these days, rather I was just so excited about this much anticipated launch that I probably looked like one of those kids on Reggie’s Rush. My excitement was fuelled by the enormous marketing hype created by Samsung and the fact that this was my first launch as a member of the media. The launch was held at the world class Sandton Convention Centre and even before entering the building I was greeted with a strange sight. Initially I thought it was balloons, but on closer inspection some Samsung kitted promo staff were creating big number “4s” out of bubbles! Yes, the Samsung Galaxy S4 World Tour had arrived in Jozi.
I made my way up to the 4th floor (Samsung booked out the whole 4th and 5th floors) and registered at the media welcome point. I was surrounded by the who’s-who of the media world including Aki Anastasiou (who I quickly greeted in a “nice-to-meet-you” kind of way). We were ushered into the press briefing hall and took our seats in anticipation. We were packed in quite tightly, due to all the laptops, cameras and media kit each person brought with. About 5 minutes before the presentation was due to start an interesting looking man took a seat next to me. Lo and behold Mr Jack Parow was leisurely getting ready for the presentation and I just had to have a quick chat with him!
(This was actually in Afrikaans)
Me: Hi, I’m Jaco from Bandwidth Blog. Didn’t know you were so interested in technology?
Jack: Nee bra! These guys actually sponsor all my mobile stuff, phone tablet and sh$t. So I attend all their media events. Just flew in from Cape Town and off to Namibia tomorrow.
Me: Ok cool. So have you got the new S4 yet?
Jack: Yip, very cool. (Unfortunately doesn’t take it out – presentation about to start)
Me: Mind if I take a photo for the blog?
We were greeted by George Ferreira (COO of Samsung Electronics Africa) and taken through Samsung’s African strategy of innovation and involvement. He gave the press the lowdown on Samsung’s and the world’s smartphone statistics mentioning the fact that 92% of the world’s mobile data is consumed by smartphones. George was tasked to talk about the services supporting the new S4. He took us through the Kleek music service as well as the AlwaysOn data deal (1GB of Wi-Fi data for 12 months). The big announcement though was the new ADH (accidental damage from handling) warranty. Samsung will replace broken screens and fix water damaged hardware twice over the lifetime of the device. This announcement certainly set the press buzzing, many tweeting out the revelation as it was revealed. George also went on to say that the ADH warranty will ship with all future Samsung products.
George went on to introduce Craige Fleischer (Director of Mobile Communications SA) who promptly took us through all the new S4 features. It became clear that Samsung no longer put emphasis on hardware as a selling point (although the S4 is packed with high end hardware) but instead focus on features. And there are a whole lot of them! Group Play, Air View, Air Gestures, Smart Pause, Smart Scroll, S-Translator to name but a few (look out for more details with Bandwidth Blog’s hands-on review coming soon!). All the S4’s features are aimed at the phone being one’s “life companion”, helping out with everything from scrapbooking to tracking your health (S-Health). Two colours will be made available, the “White Frost” and “Black Mist” versions. The S4 will house a 2600mAh battery, yet another improvement on the S3 and sorely needed to power the latest set of features.
George Ferreira wrapped up the briefing by saying that the S4 will go on sale on the 27th of April, retailing at R8499 for the 3G model. Yes, unfortunately the LTE model will only arrive in SA in about 6 weeks and will cost about R300 to R400 more.
The media was allowed a Q&A session for 30 minutes after the presentation. There was a lot of interest especially since the Johannesburg launch included the African launch. A lot of media from different countries attended and there were a lot of raised hands hoping to be heard. Here are a few of the more interesting and important questions asked (I also got one in):
Q – Aki from 702: We have heard a lot of news from the States that there might be a shortage in stock due over demand in the USA. Will we see such problems with the South African launch?
A – George (Samsung): With the popularity of the S3 last year we have anticipated a large demand for the S4 this year and have adequately planned for the launch on Saturday. Obviously the initial rush will put strain on the stock, but we are confident that 2-3 weeks down the line anyone will be able to get an S4.
Q – Jan from MyBB: We know that the S4 has two different models with regards to the processor. Which model will be available in SA?
A – Craige (Samsung): The 3G Samsung Galaxy S4 model comes with the Korean electronics giant’s Exynos Octa processor, which boasts 8 cores. The LTE model will be introduced with the more conventional quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.
Q – Bandwidth Blog: Little has been said about the Android OS shipping with the S4. Will the TouchWiz overlay be the best integration with the Android OS to date?
A – Craige (Samsung): Samsung has put a lot of emphasis on the user experience of the phone. The integration and how it works with Jellybean will probably come down to personal taste, but all the new features were extensively designed and tested to fully integrate with the OS.
So the press briefing was finished and we started filtering out of the small presentation room. I immediately realised that there were more people than before, a lot more people! In fact there were over 2000 people who had arrived for the public launch. Let the festivities begin! Waiters started pouring out from everywhere, serving finger foods and taking drinks orders. Every surface in the convention centre was covered with some type of Samsung marketing product, from banners to LCD displays as well as hordes of promo girls. We stepped into the huge hall decked with chairs for each of the individuals attending and there was a growing sense of anticipation from everyone around me. There was a huge screen (as pictured above) blasting marketing images with great clarity and booming sound.
The launch video reminded me of a Hollywood action movie. The lights were dimmed and the Samsung world tour video started, accompanied by a live modern string-quartet. Michael Moll appeared on stage afterwards and welcomed everyone. What followed was basically the same presentation the press received, but on a much larger scale. The S4’s features were introduced by celebrities (Danny K, Juandre Kruger etc.) and highly regarded business people like Pieter Uys.
Afterwards the public was allowed to get their hands on the new S4 in the “experience” zone. What immediately struck me was the weight of the device. I know that the evolution of the smartphone is aimed at the thinnest and lightest concept, but unfortunately the polycarbonate shell and lightweight feel just made the S4 feel like a cheap toy. Harsh words I know, but most of the people I chatted with agreed that the phone doesn’t feel premium. The features deliver as promised though. I tested out most of them including the Jedi-like air gesturing flipping through the photo albums. My favourite thing about the phone isn’t a feature, but the full HD super AMOLED screen. It is simply a thing of beauty. The screen extends nearly to the edge of the phone (a whopping 5 inches!) and when previewing any video the HD screen almost gives a 3D type experience.
The newest Touchwiz overlay runs quite smoothly. I did however get lost in some of the menus as I am used to a more intuitive iOS setup. But it seems as though Samsung also feels that a certain segment of the market might feel overwhelmed by the smartphone’s features. So much so that the S4 comes with an “Easy Mode”, this effectively hides a lot of the icons and features allowing for simpler use.
Samsung certainly flexed their marketing muscle on Thursday evening. A recent article on Bandwidth Blog indicated that Samsung electronics spend $1 on marketing for every $46 dollars of revenue. That sounds like a good return, but in comparison to HP ($1 for every $120) and Apple ($1 for every $156) Samsung is lagging behind. That said, the huge investment is starting to pay off. The Galaxy S3 was voted the number one premium handset sold in 2012 selling over 40 million units worldwide.
The S4 is a powerhouse phone packed with gimmicks, features and stuff you will never even know about. It will undoubtedly be a top-seller, but I do think Samsung’s next focus should be the physical design. Plastic phones just don’t make the cut in the premium smartphone market anymore. If I was looking to buy a smartphone today I would seriously consider the HTC One and Sony Xperia Z along with the S4.