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In Attempt to Head Off Apple, Samsung Lets Consumers Test-Drive Smart Devices

A 21-Day Trial Program Kicks Off in Five U.S. Cities

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Samsung is deploying another weapon in its ongoing effort to jostle Apple from the top of the U.S. smartphone market.

Starting on July, shoppers in five U.S. cities can visit a Samsung pop-up store and leave with a device, free of charge. The initiative is partly a marketing bid to convince smartphone and tablet owners to switch to Samsung. It's also a chance for the Korean manufacturer to make consumers comfortable with its growing hardware aresenal, which includes smartwatches and fitness-trackers.

Participants can take the products -- the Galaxy 5S or Note3 smartphones; the Gear smartwatch; and the Gear Fit wrist device -- for a 21-day spin. (They must first put down a refundable $350 deposit.) Samsung quietly launched the giveaway program in lower Manhattan in late May, at its "Galaxy Studio" display store. Now, the program is extending to Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles and Santa Clara, Calif.

Samsung did not specify how long the program will last. Shoppers can even test out new carriers through the program, with Samsung covering the wireless data costs.

The gimmick is not just for driving sales, but it's part of Samsung's broader tactic to introduce consumers to its portfolio of futuristic devices -- ones with largely unproven market traction. At the Google developer conference yesterday, Samsung introduced another smartwatch, Gear Live. Apple is reportedly developing its own connected watch for release this fall.

Unlike Apple, Samsung doesn't have a retail presence in the U.S. in October, the company opened its "experience store" in New York, but visitors can only test products. In the four other cities, the trial programs are offered at Samsung mall kiosks. Consumers must purchase the devices elsewhere.

But Samsung has been ramping up its marketing on Apple's home turf. Samsung climbed from 22 to 16 place in the top U.S. advertisers in 2013, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. Its national ad spending increased 20.8% last year, reaching $1.7 billion – $981 million more than Apple's.

As of March, Samsung claims 27% of the U.S. smartphone market next to Apple's 41.4%, according to comScore.

Samsung does not plan on running TV and print campaigns to promote its trial program. The initiative comes out of its "experiential marketing" division, but the company did not offer further details on the marketing involved.

"Our trial program offers consumers the convenience and accessibility to explore and test Samsung Galaxy products in their own environment, enabling them to experience the incredible things they can do with our products and make educated decisions prior to purchase," Melissa McNutt, senior manager of the division, said in a statement.

Between twenty to thirty Samsung staffers a day man the Manhattan "Galaxy Studio," which can host up to 1,200 daily visitors on a weekend, company representatives said. The kiosk space in the other four cities is significantly smaller.

In 2013, Samsung Electronics reported $3.83 billion in advertising expenses and $7.38 billion in sales promotion worldwide.

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