Samsung unveils Galaxy S4 in bid to beat Apple

This is what the mobile phone wars have come to: singing, tap dancing, a packed Radio City Music Hall and a promise that we will be able to live life without boundaries.

Samsung launched its latest smartphone last night with the sort of hoopla and hyperbole normally associated with a movie premier.

The famous Radio City Music Hall was packed as technophiles and the world’s media tuned in for the unveiling of the Galaxy S4 — a phone so advanced that it even keeps track of how many calories the user is burning.

It is an indication of how fierce the competition has become in the mobile phone market that Samsung felt the need to pour millions of dollars into the launch of the 4S. Industry rumour suggests that the company will spend a further $150 million to promote the device worldwide.

The reason for Samsung’s heavy marketing push is that the South Korean company is hoping the Galaxy S4 will be its iPhone killer. The S4 has a large, high-definition screen, a 13 megapixel camera and the sort of clever tricks that encourage people to ditch their old phones in favour of the newest model.

As the orchestra blared away and stages disappeared into the sky at Radio City Music Hall, Samsung appeared to be sending a message to Apple’s bosses in Cupertino, California: you no longer have the monopoly on cool.

On both Wall Street and in Silicon Valley questions are now being asked that would have been unthinkable just a year ago. Has Samsung seized the initiative in the mobile phone market? Has Apple lost its way?

Analysts report that younger consumers see Samsung as a cooler brand and one expert warned earlier this week that Apple was in danger of falling out of favour in the same way that BlackBerry and Motorola have done in recent years.

Not that Samsung has entirely shaken off its conservative roots and the showmanship last night was at times awkward, as might be expected from a company that makes oil tankers and sewage treatment facilities in addition to phones.

Will Chase, a broadway actor who hosted the event, claimed without irony at one point: “You are going to experience life without boundaries, life without limitations.”

But what of the phone itself? The S4 is an updated version of the Galaxy S3 and it comes with a large five-inch screen, which is popular for people using it as a multimedia device.

The S4, which will be available from April, is slightly thinner than the current model at 7.9mm and slightly lighter at 130 grams.

There are a number of nifty features, like a translator function that allows you to communicate with people speaking another language.

Another function allows someone who is taking a picture to insert their own face into the image using the front facing camera on the device. The S4 can take up to 100 pictures in four seconds and can erase unwanted cars or people who move into the frame.

Music, videos and games can be shared among other S4 users and if you are distracted while watching a film, the phone senses that your eyes have been diverted and pauses the show.

Another feature called air gesture allows users to change screens or perform functions on the camera with a gesture rather than a touch, which should be useful after the application of suntan lotion on the beach.

The phone has a thermometer built in and other sensors allow it to calculate how far the user has walked and how many calories they burned.

All very clever but perhaps not quite enough to justify the “life without boundaries” claim.

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