At a launch event for the Galaxy S IV and new “Samsung Experience” shops in Best Buy stores, Samsung showed that it’s about to give Apple stronger competition on both the retail presence and “user experience” sides. Consumers happily stood in line for hours on Thursday night at a venue in New York City’s West Village, waiting to catch a concert by Bruno Mars as well as to grab hands-on sneak peeks at S IV software features like Air Gestures, S Translator, and Cinema Photo.
As other users will see when the smartphone hits availability with their respective carriers, these features are all part of Samsung’s TouchWiz 2.0 user interface (UI). TouchWiz 2.0, in turn, runs on top of Android 4.2.2, or “Jelly Bean.” Samsung, though, downplayed the technical underpinnings, instead letting users interact with the features at demo stations that carried names like Air Gestures and Italian Trattoria.
“The Galaxy S IV is way better than the iPhone. The interface is a bit more complicated, but you can do much more with the phone,” said an attendee in his mid-20s named Ronny. Ronny told me that he’d been playing around with the phone for an hour or two.
Functionality Not Perfect, But Users Forgiving
Functionality wasn’t perfect, but the users were forgiving. Although some critics have drubbed the performance of the S IV’s Air Gestures, I found that it worked just fine for flipping through a Story Album which Samsung had put together for the celebration.
On the other hand, S Voice — a personal voice assistant — wasn’t operational. A Samsung rep pinned the blame on ambient noise from the din of music playing and crowds of people talking.
A demo involving a combination of NFC communications and Wi-Fi Direct worked well at a demo station toward the front of the hall, but not at the Italian Trattoria or a French bistro or Spanish dessert shop further toward the back of the stone edifice where the event took place. Another Samsung rep pointed to “network failure” as the problem, without elaborating.
Users were supposed to be able to make menu selections on one S IV and beam their requests at another S IV. While this didn’t happen in most of these places, people were able to order the goodies anyway simply by telling the waitstaff what they wanted in an ordinary way.
Users didn’t complain about that, however, standing in more long lines to get the grub and meanwhile interacting with S Translator. By pointing the S IV at a foreign language menu, you could find out on the screen (if you didn’t know already) that the Spanish word “con” means “with,” and that the French term “frites” means “French fries.”
“I would definitely use this feature because I travel a lot — and when I do, I go to restaurants, of course,” said Mike, who was standing in line at the Trattoria.
The lines were just as long or longer at another demo station — or, more accurately in this case, “demo room” — which focused on new photo features. Posing for picures in front of seaside and cityscape wall murals, users toyed with feaures like Dual Shot and Cinema Photo.
Dual Shot allows you to take a photo with both front and rear cameras simultaneously, and then use premade templates to embed one inside the other.
With Cinema Photo, you take a series of shots, and then choose one part of the photos to be animated while the others stay still.
Samsung staffers posted the finished photos on a bulletin board for all to see.