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Samsung's Galaxy S4 Launch Was From Another Planet

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

People test out Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S4 smartphones during the Galaxy S4's release in Times Square in New York, on March 14, 2013. Close

People test out Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S4 smartphones during the Galaxy S4's... Read More

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Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

People test out Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy S4 smartphones during the Galaxy S4's release in Times Square in New York, on March 14, 2013.

Gadget makers tend to go over-the-top with their product launches, but Samsung Electronics was in another galaxy tonight.

The Korean tech company brought in Broadway performers for a mammoth production at New York's iconic Radio City Music Hall, which seats about 6,000. The hour-long spectacle was broadcast in Times Square, where chairs were set up for people to watch a talented young boy tap dance and actors crack lame jokes. Oh, and there was also a new phone.

The Galaxy S4 is being generally well-received by gadget hounds. It's packed with whiz-bang features you can show off at the dinner table, like movies that automatically pause when you look away, taking photos using both cameras at the same time, and hand gesture controls.

The Samsung executives on stage at the event did their best Apple-marketing shtick to play up the Galaxy S4′s specs. The 5-inch screen is "unbelievably sharp," said Ryan Bidan, a director of product marketing at Samsung Telecommunications America. "It's mind-blowingly thin." And the "polycarbonate" case (that means plastic) is strong and "simply amazing," said J.K. Shin, the head of Samsung's mobile unit.

That's about where the similarities end. Sure, Apple has had Coldplay and John Mayer perform songs live at its events, but Samsung upstaged Apple with unapologetic extravagance.

"I don't recall ever seeing a full orchestra for when an Apple executive took the stage," Michael Gartenberg, a Gartner analyst who watched the Samsung event and has attended numerous Apple conferences, said in an interview. "If the Apple philosophy is 'less is more,' then Samsung's is 'more is more.'"

The corny gags and skits — sandwiched between dense recitations of technical specifications — didn't go over well with the armchair critics on Twitter. But the tourists in Times Square and the people watching the live-stream video at home got a free taste of something vaguely resembling Broadway. As many as 462,000 people tuned in to watch the official stream, according to the YouTube page, and that's not counting those following the live blogs and other videos.

Samsung spent $401 million on marketing its phones last year in the U.S. alone, while Apple spent $333 million, according to ad research firm Kantar Media. By taking over Radio City and Times Square tonight, Samsung shows it's not about to slow down. And no matter how lame the actual performance was, the company got what it wanted.

"This was not a subtle product launch," Gartenberg said. "There's no doubt that everyone is paying attention to Samsung."

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