The Samsung Galaxy: a history of the S series

25th Feb 2014 | 12:00

The Samsung Galaxy: a history of the S series

From the i7500 to today - Samsung's Galaxy of phones just got a little bigger

Galaxy i7500 to Galaxy S2

When Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5, the world sat up and took notice, simply because it's one of the most anticipated phones for 2014.

But how did the South Korean giant become so influential in the mobile phone market? Lest we forget, it was a no-hoper just a few years ago, spraying out demi-smartphones that were met with shrugs and derision in equal measure.

Then Android emerged, Samsung decided that enough was enough, and it decided to take the plunge and become a fish in Google's pond.

The Galaxy i7500 - where our journey begins - was by no means a smash hit, and the Galaxy S did little to improve the situation.

It was with the S2 that Samsung really began to get its act together, and even though last year's S4 fell a little flat, the buzz that remains is proof that Samsung is still the only major player that can take on Apple in terms of overall mobile handset sales, and that it's truly become a shark in the Android lake.

Galaxy i7500

Samsung I7500

The month is April, the year is 2009, and Samsung debuts an Android 1.5 Cupcake phone that we described at the time as "run of the mill".

The key specs
Screen: 3.2-inch OLED, 320 x 480 pixels
Battery: 1500mAh
CPU: 528MHz, 128MB RAM
Key features: One of the early phones to run Android
Internal storage: 8GB
OS: Android 1.5
Price at launch: £499

Packing a 5-megapixel camera, the i7500 sported an OLED 3.2-inch screen that offered a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels, and made use of a conventional D-pad — how mobile technology can change in the space of five years. The device weighed in at 116g, which is a little lighter than today's Nexus 5.

Under the hood the handset had a 528MHz Qualcomm MSM7200A CPU and an Adreno 130 GPU powering the display, a setup which we found to be laggy on occasion. The i7500 had 8GB of built-in storage and 128MB of RAM (absolutely paltry by today's standards but not so bad for 2009).

Despite a relatively large 1500mAh battery, battery life was disappointing: during heavy use it only lasted 3-4 hours, and the handset had to be charged at least once a day.

An underwhelming start for the Galaxy range then, and definitely room for improvement. Android was still in its infancy, and Samsung was still finding its feet: in October 2009, HTC was the only other manufacturer making mobiles running Android. The price was off-putting too, with the i7500 originally costing £499 to buy SIM-free.

Galaxy S

Samsung Galaxy S

The next Galaxy handset appeared a little over a year later, in June 2010. The D-pad was gone, and the Galaxy S had a far more recognisable shape and style to it, with the now ubiquitous back, home and menu buttons in place.

The key specs
Screen: 4-inch Super AMOLED, 480 x 800 pixels
Battery: 1500mAh
CPU: 1GHz Cortex-A8, 512MB RAM
Key features: Stronger TouchWiz overlay, front-facing camera
Internal storage: 8GB / 16GB
OS: Android 2.1
Price at launch: £449

The display was bigger (spot the emerging trend), offering a 480 x 800 pixel resolution across 4 inches of Super AMOLED screen real estate.

The S originally appeared with Android 2.1 Eclair and bowed out with 2.3 Gingerbread. The RAM was boosted to 512MB, 8GB and 16GB storage options were available, and a 1GHz Cortex-A8 processor kept everything running. A PowerVR SGX540 GPU was in charge of graphics, and the handset tipped the scales at 119g.

Android had added support for a forward-facing camera, so the Galaxy S included one, as well as a 5-megapixel shooter around the back. The battery was again a Li-Ion 1500mAh model, and again the phone struggled to get through a working day without a recharge. The 2.3 Gingerbread update did wonders in this department though, almost doubling its lifespan.

"There are a few faults, but on the whole it's a cracking bit of kit, and you really could do a lot worse," concluded our review at the time, and Samsung now had a foundation it could build on. In 2010, the SIM-free price for the Galaxy S was £449.

Galaxy S2

Samsung Galaxy S2

The S2 was the first Galaxy phone to cause a significant splash in the mobile handset pond.

The key specs
Screen: 4.3-inch Super AMOLED Plus, 480 x 800 pixels
Battery: 1650mAh
CPU: dual-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A9, 1GB RAM
Key features: Blazing fast internals, strong camera, brilliant screen
Internal storage: 16GB / 32GB
OS: Android 2.3.4
Price at launch: £499

It brought along with it an improved Super AMOLED Plus screen that was expanded to 4.3 inches, a faster dual-core 1.2GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, 1GB of RAM and a superior Mali-400MP GPU.

The Galaxy S2 debuted in April 2011 with Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread and would eventually get as far as 4.1 Jelly Bean, a sign of its prowess and longevity. In terms of storage space, 16GB and 32GB models were available.

In our review of the phone, its thinness and lightness (116g) came in for praise, as did the display, responsiveness and 1080p video recording capabilities.

The camera had been bumped up to 8 megapixels and now had a flash, while the 1650mAh battery was good for almost two days of average use — a target that many of today's phones would love to be able to stretch to. At launch, SIM-free prices for the S2 hovered around the £500 mark.

After the moderate college radio success of the Galaxy S, Samsung finally had a chart-topping hit on its hands: within five months, it would shift 10 million of its S2 phones.

Here's what we thought at the time: "If you're after a one-word summary of the Samsung Galaxy S2: awesome. We've were waiting for a phone to set a benchmark among the dual-core breed, and we found it in the Samsung Galaxy S2."

Galaxy S3 to Galaxy S5

Galaxy S3

Galaxy S3

After a brief Google-sponsored detour to make the Galaxy Nexus, Samsung returned to its own flagship phone in the shape of the Galaxy S3 in May 2012.

The key specs
  • Screen 4.8-inch Super AMOLED, 720 x 1280 pixels
  • Battery 2100mAh
  • CPU quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A9, 1GB RAM
  • Key features Smart Stay, Android Beam, Pop up Play - all about the software and screen
  • Internal storage 16GB / 32GB / 64GB
  • OS Android 4.0.4
  • Price at launch: £499

It was the second home run for Samsung in a row: the S3 arrived to almost universal acclaim, and we called it "the best smartphone around right now" in our original review. Again, the screen was bigger: the Super AMOLED display grew to 4.8 inches at a resolution of 720 x 1280 pixels, and the weight grew to 133g as well.

The heavy lifting was done by a quad-core 1.4GHz Cortex-A9 CPU, while the Mali-400MP GPU showed up again alongside 1GB of RAM. The S3 originally came with Android 4.0.4 Ice Cream Sandwich and was at the same £500 SIM-free price level as its predecessor.

As on the S2, an 8-megapixel camera was around the back, though various software optimisations helped to create slightly better photos. In terms of storage, 16GB, 32GB and 64GB options were available.

Not even battery life could spoil the S3 party: the 2100mAh battery was good for eight hours or so of heavy use, which placed it very favourably amongst the other handsets of 2012. Speed, design, battery life, display, responsiveness, bundled features... the phone scored highly in every department.

Galaxy S4

Galaxy S4

And so to Samsung's current flagship phone until the S5 replaces it this April.

The key specs
  • Screen 5-inch Super AMOLED HD, 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Battery 2600mAh
  • CPU quad-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A15, 2GB RAM
  • Key features Air gestures, Smart Scroll, Smart Pause, Drama Shot, Infra red remote, humidity sensor
  • Internal storage 16GB / 32GB / 64GB
  • OS Android 4.2.2
  • Price at launch: £600

The Galaxy S4 arrived in the world in April 2013, offering users a whopping 5-inch 1080 x 1920 pixel Super AMOLED screen, an upgraded 13-megapixel camera, Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and a 2600mAh battery that typically lasts at least the length of a day.

The specs of last year's model remain impressive: a quad-core 1.6GHz Cortex-A15 CPU, a PowerVR SGX 544MP3 GPU, 2GB of RAM and 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage.

It weighs in at 130g and offers a slew of sensors to track your eyes, measure humidity and more besides. You can currently pick up a SIM-free S4 for around £400, though it was closer to £600 at launch.

Despite a high TechRadar review score, and sales of 40 million units in the first six months, Samsung is reportedly disappointed with the S4's impact on the market. As far as we're concerned though, the phone was a success, if not on the same level as the S2 and the S3.

Galaxy S5

Galaxy S5

So, onto the latest iteration of the Samsung Galaxy family: the S5, and it's powerful while remaining a little underwhelming.

The key specs
  • Screen 5.1-inch Super AMOLED HD, 1080 x 1920 pixels
  • Battery 2800mAh
  • CPU Quad-core 2.5GHz Snapdragon 801, 2GB RAM
  • Key features Waterproof, Super fast autofocus, heart rate monitor, fingerprint scanner
  • Internal storage 16GB / 32GB / 64GB
  • OS Android 4.4.2
  • Price at launch: £TBC

In February 2014 the Galaxy S5 was launched unto the baying public, and delivered in a number of stable ways. Gone were the theatrics and the pointless sensors, to be replaced by a heart rate monitor, a blazing fast autofocus and a fingerprint scanner.

The main specs were up again: the CPU was faster at 2.5GHz, the screen was larger as a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED HD option, the camera boosted to 16MP and the battery now rocking up at 2800mAh.

On top of that Android 4.4.2 was included to make things look a lot slicker and the overall interface was overhauled to make things like the lock screen much clearer and generally improve the flow through the device.

The fitness elements were boosted through S Health 3.0, which brings the most holistic tracking app ever for your fitness, according to Samsung, while most other elements stayed the same - although the rubberised back is a lot a grippier.

We're still awaiting a price, but chances are it will be the same as before, hovering around the £500-£600 mark depending on your spec choice.

Our hands on: Samsung Galaxy S5 review found that the "Galaxy S5 has a great camera, strong screen, impressive packaging, a waterproof casing and a blazingly fast engine pumping things along.

"But it doesn't have an amazing camera, incredibly battery life, stunning design or genuinely innovative feature, and that cause a few people to wait and see what the competition brings."

...and so there you have it: a complete walk down the Samsung Galaxy memory lane. Are there any particular handsets that you have fond memories of? Or are there specific innovations that you'd like to see Samsung offer next time around? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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