Samsung is the world’s biggest mobile phone manufacturer, pushing sales figures to new heights and seeing its domination growing further and further. The Korean firm’s handsets have redefined the smartphone several times over, beginning new approaches that have become widely adopted.
At the spearhead of this success is the Galaxy range of handsets, the firm’s flagship line which has produced a number of the best selling devices of recent years. Running Android, the name Galaxy has become synonymous with Google’s mobile platform for many users; there are even rumours that Samsung’s dominance of the Android world has the search giant a little worried about losing control of its own software.
In total, Samsung has produced 21 Galaxy branded devices, with speculation about several more already circulating. We take a look back over the range, stopping off to highlight the most significant developments along the way.
The story began back in June 2009, with the launch of the Korean firm’s first Android device, simply titled the Samsung Galaxy. Featuring a 3.2-inch display that lacked multi-touch support, the device had a number of physical controls mounted on its front fascia which made it look more like Nokia’s later N-Series devices than the minimalist smartphones that are commonplace today.
While now certainly a landmark, the device didn’t make a huge impact in its day. The Samsung Galaxy’s significance would eventually emerge, but is more due to what followed on from this early handset.
The first S device
A flagship range within a flagship range, it’s the S devices which have clocked up the largest number of sales amongst Galaxy handsets, offering high-end smartphones with leading features but veering away from some of the idiosyncrasies that Samsung has occasionally added to its devices.
The Galaxy S was the first of these, launching in June 2010 at roughly the same time as the iPhone 4 and HTC Desire. Samsung’s offering was bigger than either of those devices, featuring a 4-inch display and equalling both of them in terms of power with its single-core, 1GHz processor.
The handset has since gone on to sell around 24 million units worldwide and laid the foundation for the astronomical success that Samsung has enjoyed in recent years.
Cut price power
Unlike the iPhone range, which has stuck to handsets which are positioned at the very highest end of the market upon release, the Galaxy range covers the whole smartphone spectrum from top to bottom.
The Galaxy Ace is just one of several cut-price devices that bear the Galaxy name and it has proved almost as successful as it high-end cousins. Launching in February 2011, this device has since been revamped and relaunched as the Galaxy Ace Plus and Galaxy Ace 2, bringing extra features and updates to the low end of the market.
While Samsung’s tactics may now have changed and the Ace has possibly been replaced by the likes of the Galaxy S III Mini, many remain in use, a testament to what a well designed handset it is.
The second coming
A real landmark, the Galaxy S II is the handset that pushed Samsung to the very top of the smartphone world and saw the Korean firm overtaking Apple in sales figures. Launching in May 2011, the device was nicely timed to drop in the gap between iPhone iterations, ensuring it didn’t have to go directly up against a new Apple handset.
Consider at the time that the Galaxy S II launched Sony was touting the Xperia Play as its big, bright hope; a strange handset built around physical controls made for gaming that looked like it was from an era before the likes of Samsung’s leading devices.
Bigger and bigger
By no means the first phablet device, the Galaxy Note is the one which popularised the idea of a smartphone with a display that exceeds 5-inches in size. At first the handset may have been thought of as freakishly large but it has since gone on to redefine its market, making such expansive displays commonplace. In this sense, the Note could arguably be the most groundbreaking Galaxy device ever.
The phablet featured a 5.3-inch display and a stylus that could be used to draw and write on screen, with several UI adaptations that make use of this feature.
Many Galaxy devices have featured versions of Samsung’s TouchWiz interface but there is one which emerged with the unaltered stock version of Google’s mobile platform.
The Android creators have launched several Nexus handsets which run a ‘pure’ version of the software and previously collaborated with Samsung for the Nexus S. Emerging in November 2011, the Galaxy Nexus was the first smartphone to launch with Ice Cream Sandwich and was praised for delivering an excellent vehicle for the unaltered version of the world’s most popular smartphone platform.
Freak or unique?
We mentioned idiosyncrasies earlier and while the Note caused raised eyebrows upon launch the reaction was nothing compared to that sparked by the Galaxy Beam, a weird device which went on sale in February 2012. Basically a mid-range Android handset, the Beam had one eye-catching feature; a projector incorporated into its bodywork.
The feature’s uses were limited, save for projecting photos and videos on to surfaces, and the quality of those images wasn’t particularly high. The Galaxy Beam did not prove to be a big selling device and it’s interesting to see that while some of Samsung’s bolder ideas (like the Galaxy Note) succeeded, others certainly did not.
Third is the word
May 2012 saw one of the biggest handset launches of that year as Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S III flagship, a smartphone which has since gone on to break sales records and sell 50 million units worldwide.
One of the first smartphones to make use of a quad-core processor it set the bar for performance offered by mobile devices. The handset also redefined the look of the Galaxy range with a distinctive curved form factor and a new version of TouchWiz which saw nature-inspired animations added to the UI.
Launching with Android Ice Cream Sandwich, the Galaxy S III has since seen an upgrade to Jelly Bean and its form factor has carried through to later devices. Where the Galaxy S II lifted Samsung up to the very top of the smartphone market the Galaxy S III pushed boundaries even further and was the handset that other manufacturers had to beat for much of 2012.
The Note expands
At the end of last summer, Samsung built on the unexpected success of the Note with a second iteration, unsurprisingly called the Note 2. Screen size was pushed further and the later phablet sported a 5.5-inch display along with its quad-core, 1.6GH processor.
The Note 2 expanded on what could be done with its stylus, adding a feature called Air View which allowed users to preview photos, messages and web links by hovering the pen over them. Samsung has since take this idea and run with it, bringing a wide variety on contactless innovations to the user interface of the Galaxy S4. As for the Note 2 itself, it sold 5 million units in its first two months.
Flagship number four
Bringing us up to the present, the latest handset in the Galaxy range is the flagship S4. Featuring a 1.9 GHz quad-core processor (with an octa-core variant available in many markets) and an incredible 5-inch display the Galaxy S4 takes smartphone technology to another level.
Beyond those specs, the Galaxy S4 sees a huge expansion on the Air View feature introduced to the range with the Note 2. These innovations change the way you interact with the smartphone, allowing you to swipe your hand across the device to move through photos albums and scroll through webpages simply by tilting the handset.
We have little doubt that sales of the device will be counted in the tens of millions, possibly breaking the records achieved by its predecessor. The enormous marketing campaign that Samsung has put behind its new handset will certainly help, an area where one of the flagship’s closest rivals, the HTC One, may suffer.
So where will the Galaxy range go from here? There have already been rumours about the Note 3, suggesting that it could have a shatterproof display in excess of 6-inches in size. However, Samsung has already gone further than this, announcing the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and Galaxy Mega 6.3, two huge phablets that blur the line between smartphones and tablets even further.
Along with this there is speculation mounting about a Galaxy S4 Mini and it would be interesting to see what Samsung does with such a device should it emerge. Will the contactless control features like Air View make it to a mid-range handset? Only time will tell.
In the meantime, the Galaxy range will continue to dominate sales of Android handsets across the world for some time. Samsung looks set to push boundaries both with the size of its handsets and the way in which they work and we are likely to see more leading devices emerge as a part of the Galaxy range in the future.