In Seoul’s COEX convention center for the second Samsung Galaxy Unpacked event of 2023, the stage lights started flashing, the loudspeakers kicked on, and the bass rattled my hungover little brain. I started to feel yesterday’s trip to Zest in Cheongdam—where the bill was only $70 USD for four of the best drinks we’ve ever had—plus our night cap of two more bars and then a soju and wings spot.
Do I regret my big night out, jet lag and all? No, not really. Mina, our dear Korean friend, told us, “The only way to be in Seoul is drinking and staying out too late.” Seoul is a fucking great city to do that in. It’s easy to navigate, it’s cute, it’s affordable. It’s just a great city for having a good time. I think Samsung tapped that in this rollout, and it works.
Instead of a quiet, design focused keynote like you’d get from Apple, Samsung’s event was loud, bright, and more focused on the lifestyle surrounding its products. It featured three new ambassadors for the flagship Galaxy lines: Sydney Sweeney (a random pick), Suga (an obvious pick), and Son Heung-min (who I, personally, love). Fans were waiting outside to catch Suga and other K-Pop stars in attendance. Media and influencers were blatantly snapping pics of Sydney Sweeney as she left the event. It was a real red carpet vibe. It was a party. I wish they’d had soju.
The major news? Samsung gave updates and new design features to its two existing foldables, its smart watch, and its line of tablets. But the party vibe with the lifestyle focus is what saved the day, and it’s what will continue to keep Samsung relevant in America’s world of Apple dominance.
With smartphones, people don’t care about specs. A powerful processor doesn’t mean shit, except to a few tech nerds and some mobile gamers. What sells new smartphones are lifestyle upgrades—like cameras, and Samsung has the best on the market. Beyond that, lifestyle is going to win customers over, and Samsung is quickly moving in the right direction. The brand makes cute phones; it makes unique phones. Apple is winning in America, but Samsung is pushing the smartphone category forward.
Courtesy of Samsung
Galaxy Z Flip5
Originally released last year, the device is our official return to vertical flip phone life. Let’s refer to it as a hamburger bun of flip phones. With Sydney Sweeney as the face of the Flip5, Samsung hit hard on customization capabilities. It’s made to be propped up for selfies, and the Window—the small screen that’s visible when the phone is closed—can be used like a mini smartphone with a new suite of convenient widgets.
This is the phone I’m most interested in because it is far and away the most practical, in my opinion. It’s the one that I can see winning over iPhone users (myself included). Instead of making another black rectangle, it throws smartphones back to the old world of cell phones, when they were tactile and creative. It’s small for storing, and the Window lets you do all the little things with no effort. Flip it open, and you’ve got a full sized phone. Flip it half open and you can do full solo photoshoots. The 10MP and 12MP cameras are phenomenal, and the Snapdragon Get 2 processor makes photo editing a breeze. Conceptually, this is where I would put my money on the smartphone category going. The Flip5 is more fun and more convenient than anything else out there, including other foldables.
Galaxy Z Flip5 starts at $999.99
Courtesy of Samsung
Galaxy Z Fold5
Now for the vertical. This phone also flips, but is the hotdog bun. The Fold5 had Suga as its celebrity endorser. BTS is a massive band, so it makes sense that he’s the face of the Fold—it’s a physically massive phone. When open, it’s more of a small tablet, and that’s how Samsung is positioning it. The brand talked about the new Snapdragon platform the phone is running, making it a beast for graphics processing, streaming, and real office or design work.
As for as where this one sits in the industry, I don’t know. It’s more of a specialist device—for gaming phone or a work phone. But that said, I’ve seen the Fold4 all over while tooling around Seoul. People on the bus watching TV on a fold-out phone the size of a tablet. If it can work here, who’s to say it won’t catch on stateside.
Galaxy Z Fold5 starts at $1,799.99
Courtesy of Samsung
Galaxy Watch6 and Galaxy Watch6 Classic
Son Heung-min, South Korea’s biggest soccer star and one of the best players in the world, is the new face of the Galaxy Watch. Even with one of the most dynamic wingers of the past decade sporting the watch, it’s tough to get me interested. With smart watches, I feel like we’ve seen all the innovation there is to be had. It tracks your health data, it looks kinda ugly. Useful but unaesthetic—that’s the trade off.
But what if there was no trade off? Samsung is bringing back its “Classic” line of Galaxy Watch. The Galaxy Watch6 Classic is made to look like a traditional watch, with an always-on face and a rotating bezel. It comes in a sleek silver or low-key black. Finally, we can get a smart watch that looks good, a watch that’s not embarrassing to wear to brunch with a bunch of Watch Guys.
Galaxy Watch6 Small (40mm) for $299.99, Galaxy Watch6 Large (44mm) for $329.99, Galaxy Watch6 Classic Small (43mm) for $329.99, Galaxy Watch6 Classic Large (44mm) for $429.99
Courtesy of Samsung
Galaxy Tab S9 Series
This is the one that’s actually a tool. After the tablet craze a decade ago, things have cooled down. Tablets have become work devices for digital artists and photo editors. The S9 tabs—also using that Snapdragon Gen 2 processor—are going to be perfect for anyone looking for a work tool.
But with a handful of the new accessories, it’s a good return to the mass-market appeal of tablets. Because that processor is as good as what you’ll find on budget laptops, a stand case and keyboard accessories mean you could pretty easily dump your laptop for a Galaxy Tab S9+ or S9 Ultra. And for the amateur designers, there’s a new paper white screen cover that, along with the S Pen, makes for a much easier-to-learn drawing experience.
GalaxyTab S9 starts at $799.99, Galaxy Tab S9+ starts at $999.99, Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra starts at $1,199.99
So, my final review? Seoul is fun. If you’ve never been, you’ve got to get out there. Once you do, you’ll have a new distaste for how baseline shitty American cities are. And if Samsung keeps on its current trajectory while the iPhone remains uninspired, maybe I’ll see as a similar dynamic playing out in our respective electronics markets. I might already be thinking that way, to be honest.
Associate Commerce Editor
Luke Guillory is the Associate Commerce Editor at Esquire.