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Samsung Launches a New Flagship Store in Manhattan Where Nothing is For Sale
Don't call Samsung 837 a pop-up shop, a brick-and-mortar retailer or the global technology giant's first-ever physical store. The location, opening its doors officially today (Feb. 23) in Manhattan's Meatpacking District, has nothing for sale. Instead the three-story, glitzy "flagship" is being billed as a "cultural destination," a "digital playground" and, in the words of Samsung 837 vp and general manager Zack Overton during a press tour this week, a "sandbox for collaborators." The reality may not be that utopian, but for a hodgepodge of Samsung-branded installations, it is nothing if not impressive.
The main floor is dominated by a video screen as tall as the interior -- billed as the world's largest digital display -- that extends downward into an amphitheater setup with a performance space at its floor; Florence and the Machine played a private launch event last night (Feb. 22) for Samsung executives and select VIPs, the first in a yet-to-be-revealed planned series of concerts from both up-and-coming and established artists. An audio studio is couched by the glass walls facing the street, where the company plans to have DJs spinning and artists doing live interviews. An editing suite at the base of the stage allows engineers to quickly produce video clips from the venue's events. In the street-facing windows sits two banks of virtual reality chairs that, paired with Samsung's new VR Gear headsets, creates a fully-immersive virtual reality experience, like the only place a majority of the population is likely to have a virtually realistic experience.
The concept of immersion is a key piece of 837's pitch. A rotating gallery space for art installations is currently occupied by an exhibit called "Social Gallery," put together by design studio Black Egg. In it, a visitor can input their Instagram account name and walk through a bizarre, reflective tunnel where 153 Samsung screens display photos, captions and hashtags sourced from that account.. Afterward, you can take a selfie and have it flash up on the main video screen as a mosaic of Instagram photos. Much like the space itself, it's gratuitous; at least as excessive as the "VR Tunnel" next to it, which Samsung plans to transform into a virtual red carpet for an Oscars viewing party this coming weekend. Overton referred to virtual reality as the "future of storytelling and experience" and Samsung -- Rihanna's Anti Diaries, anyone? -- seems to be diving in headfirst.
If you manage to pass through the gauntlet the sensory overload within 837's main space (a publicist confirmed the building contains more than 360 individual screens), the flagship's second floor offers a reprieve, acting as part Genius Bar-style product support (for Samsung products, it should go without saying), a "chill-vibe" cafe (with no less than three kitchens powered by Brooklyn's Smorgasburg, while Stand Coffee is behind the beverages), and part Ikea catalog, with a living room-type setup that gives an impression of wandering into a model home that no one would feel very comfortable actually living in.
That living room is where the company showcases its new phones, the Samsung Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 Edge, which were unveiled this week, which boast a much-improved camera and a water resistance so exciting that employees gleefully urge people to dunk the phone in a bowl of water. (Of course there's a dunking station.)
As a standalone space, 837 is worth a brief visit, though Samsung plans to use it to host movie screenings, culinary displays, further art installations and "hosted activities" in addition to live music. However, at the moment, its actual utility is minimal unless you've got a cracked Samsung phone screen, existing almost as a future-tech museum designed to elicit "oohs" and "ahhs" while gently pushing its products in the showroom. Samsung is, unsurprisingly, singing 837's praises so far; now the only challenge left is how it will live up to its lofty ideals. And footprint.