Galaxy S5 launch: No lines, but preorders look strong

Samsung's smartphone launches may lack the fervor that accompanies iPhone arrivals, but don't confuse that with lackluster sales.

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Best Buy employees get the Samsung section of the store ready for customers. Roger Cheng/CNET

NEW YORK -- The Galaxy S5 is no iPhone when it comes to launch-day craziness.

But that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

A cursory visit to a handful of stores in the New York City area for the Galaxy S5 debut Friday found no lines and just a handful of customers, a sharp contrast to the block-spanning lines and festivities found when Apple first releases an iPhone or iPad.

The truth, however, is that it's impossible to judge just how well a product will do based on those early, at times fanatical, crowds (or lack thereof). While there may not be a lot of early hoopla at the stores, the Galaxy S5 will likely be a hot seller and help keep Samsung perched atop the smartphone heap.

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Edelfin Cintron was the first customer to buy a Galaxy S5 in the Best Buy Union Square store. Best Buy

Samsung has never been able to draw the crowds that flock to the iPhone and the iPad, but there are logistical explanations for that. Unlike Apple, Samsung doesn't have its own retail stores, instead relying on a large network of retail partners and carrier stores. Even during an iPhone launch, these stores don't get the kind of massive lines that you find at an Apple store. In New York, most of the attention is centered one the Fifth Avenue Apple Store, known as the "Cube."

The carriers, retailers, and Samsung have also made it a lot easier to preorder the smartphone for delivery on launch day, so customers don't even have to leave their house to get the Galaxy S5. By contrast, Apple makes it much more difficult to preorder an iPhone or iPad, with supply restrictions limiting the number. For some people, the only way to get an iPhone is to wait at a store.

Representatives from all of the carriers noted strong preorder numbers for the Galaxy S5, although none would provide specific figures.

"Preordering has been a pressure valve release," T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert told CNET. He previously tweeted that the Galaxy S5 drew more than 100,000 preregistrations, breaking a record at the carrier.

"I wouldn't expect lines at our retail locations," said a Sprint spokesman. Still, he said, "we're pleased with the response to the Samsung Galaxy S5."

A Samsung spokeswoman said the company doesn't typically break out US sales numbers or first-day sales figures.

Possibly the first owner of the Galaxy S5 in New York was Edelfin Cintron, a central processing technician for a hospital in uptown Manhattan. He dropped by Best Buy's flagship store in Union Square at 8:30 a.m. ET on the way home to pick up the phone (Other stores were instructed to begin selling the phone at 9 a.m. ET).

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Today was the first day Best Buy had a demo model of the Galaxy S5 up for customers to test out. Roger Cheng/CNET

"I was surprised," he said when he walked into the empty store.

Cintron and his wife are loyal to Samsung; he was upgrading from a Galaxy S3, while his wife previously upgraded to a Galaxy S4. He said he was attracted to its bigger screen and improved camera.

"I love gadgets," he said. "I did a lot of research, and saw the phone does a lot of what I like."

Cintron was only one of two customers who purchased a Galaxy S5 from that Best Buy on Friday morning. By 9 a.m., the store was virtually empty.

"Customers don't feel like they have to come in right away," said Krishe Ramdhanny, a sales manager at the store. He said he expected a pickup in traffic as more people come in during their lunch break or after work.

Ramdhanny said the Galaxy S5 has gotten roughly the same number of preorders as the HTC One M8, which recently launched.

Tomas Castillo, meanwhile, was among the first customers at a Sprint authorized retailer in Upper Manhattan when he walked out of the store a little after 9 a.m. ET. He chose to pay $180 for the phone up front and to pay the rest in 24 monthly installments, opting to skip the contract.

"This, the first one, and it's mine!" Castillo said in Spanish. He planned to give his Galaxy S4 to his daughter.

It looked like a normal day at a Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile store in Hoboken, N.J.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, a visit to a T-Mobile store found two customers. A store clerk told CNET that she thought it would be busy, but "it's been dead."

Samsung will likely never replicate the phenomenon that is an Apple launch day, even though it is keenly interested in it. Apple's launches have become more about enthusiasts coming together, or other people grabbing a share of the publicity, or even selling their seats in line to the highest bidder. In a sense, it's become commercialized.

On Galaxy S5 launch day, it was all about the phone.

Laura Martinez, Sarah Mirtroff, and Dan Graziano contributed to this story.

 

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