On Wednesday morning, I trekked from my apartment in Brooklyn to Lincoln Center for Samsung's Galaxy S8 launch event at David Geffen Hall. The opulent concert hall was packed except for the balcony, which was full of journalists from all of over the world who were there to take in the second biggest mobile phone manufacturer event of the year.
And maybe I'm just a weirdo, but the most interesting things to me about the Galaxy S8 launch event had little to do with the phones themselves.
Don't get me wrong, they were nice. The 18:9 aspect ratio really does provide a nice form factor that serves as a midpoint of phablet and slimmer phones. It ran great. The camera took killer photos. Even the audio, which Samsung is pushing via a partnership with Harman that involves bundling AKG earbuds, sounded pretty damn good on my Oppo planar magnetic headphones. But that took a backseat to, well, everything else.
At one point, while I was at a demo area, a guy in a white shirt walked over to look at the S8. Soon he was complaining about his S7, which he said had a crack in the glass on the rear side that came as a result of overheating, not a drop. The Samsung rep wasn't sure what to make of it. Moments later, I saw the same guy sitting with a bunch of other white-clad young men and women who were in a holding area, playing with their phones. Then it hit me: He was part of the group who marched out of the hall, phones held high, to close the presentation. This guy started kvetching to a Samsung representative about his cracked S7 while he was on the clock for Samsung.
"Huh, that was weird," I thought. I didn't know the half of it.
As I was examining a Galaxy S8 Plus, a man in a glittery blue tux tapped me on the shoulder. "Are you an actor?" he asked with a heavy Italian accent. I told him I wasn't. The glittery Italian gentleman, flanked by a similarly glittery friend in a gold jacket (and sometimes a long blonde wig), looked concerned, then disappeared. I figured they were part of some kind of wacky Italian TV crew covering the launch, like Italy's equivalent of a Japanese talk show, and needed some kind of stereotypical American tech reporter type for whatever they were shooting.
Later, I saw the Italian contingent again. Some other reporters had their eyes fixated on them as well. This time, their wardrobe was not the reason. The Italians were proudly carrying Galaxy S8s in retail boxes, their hands clenched around the packaging as they pumped their fists in the air. It soon became clear that these Italians had gotten their hands on review units, something that set them apart from all of the other hundreds of journalists at David Geffen Hall. One middle aged American reporter corralled a stunned Samsung public relations rep, who said there were no review units yet and had no idea what was happening. Meanwhile, a woman from the Italian crew, who I can only assume was their producer, tried to explain the situation in broken English. It sounded like she was saying they had a different launch date than everyone else.
None of the American media within earshot was very pleased to hear that, to say the least. They stared, slack jawed at the Italian contingent, wondering how the only journalists in the whole building to get review units on site were the guys in the glittery tuxedo jackets.
Must be nice.