Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S9 is expected to be its sleekest phone yet, with slim bezels, a giant display on a relatively small body and a vertical camera module on the back. But it wouldn’t exist without all the Galaxy phones that came before.
The first Galaxy S was announced at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Spain in 2010. Although Samsung had made smartphones before then, this was a true push for a higher-end device, and the global reputation that had eluded what is now one of the world’s top smartphone brands.
The Galaxy S had a 4-inch Super AMOLED touchscreen, a 1GHz processor, a 5-megapixel rear camera (without a flash), 512MB RAM and Android 2.1 Eclair software. The battery had a “whopping” 1,500mAh capacity.
Each US carrier had a different variant it sold exclusively. T-Mobile’s version had the same specs as the global edition, launching with 3G speeds.
Sprint’s version strayed the most from the pack, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard in addition to the touchscreen. Unlike the others, this one actually had a front-facing camera, rear camera flash and 4G speeds. The downside? Only 1GB of internal storage. Good thing it came with a 16GB external memory card.
Verizon also stepped up the base Galaxy S by including a camera flash and the ability to act as a mobile hotspot. However, it still only packed 2GB of internal storage (and 16GB more on an SD card) and lacked a front-facing shooter.
AT&T’s variant was physically edgier than the rest. There was no camera flash and no front-facing camera, but it did have 16GB of internal storage and a 2GB microSD card. AT&T followed up a year later with a slide-out keyboard version, the Captivate Glide.
Samsung began churning out all sorts of Galaxy offshoots — especially for each US carrier — including this one with a secondary ticker display across the bottom. One of Samsung’s attempts at a dual-screen phone, the Continuum, never continued.
The global version of the Galaxy S II (or S2) became a much more modern-looking phone. Its screen size crept up to 4.3 inches. It also got a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, an 8-megapixel camera in the back, a 2-megapixel camera in the front and a 1,650mAh battery.
In the US, the S II arrived for AT&T (left), Sprint (center) and T-Mobile (right). The varied physical designs were supposed to help carriers battle each other to sell what was essentially the same phone, with minor differences in screen size and processor speeds.
The Galaxy S3 was Samsung’s first real Galaxy breakout. Hardware specs improved, of course, but it was the phone’s pebble shape and pearly finish that also drew buyers in. It was also the first Galaxy to come to all US carriers without modifications, a sure signal that Samsung was gaining global clout.
After the Galaxy S3’s success, Samsung announced a smaller version with stepped-down specs. The S3 Mini became one of an army of “mini” phones that followed the trend. It would be joined by the Galaxy S4 Mini and S5 Mini.
When the Galaxy S4 hit, Samsung had finally made it. The plasticky phone looked like a toy compared to rival HTC’s gorgeous aluminum offerings, but it flooded buyers’ senses with too many features to ignore — including an IR blaster to act as a universal TV remote control.
Specs included a 5-inch Full HD Super AMOLED screen, a 13-megapixel rear camera, a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, a 2,600mAh battery and a ton of software extras.
The ruggedized GS4 spin-off expanded on the S4’s core specs with a tougher exterior and physical navigation buttons, a water-resistant design — unusual for 2013 — and an underwater camera mode. It came in gray, bright orange and vivid blue. Samsung has released an Active every year since then, all the way up to this year’s S8 Active.
This is what happens when you slap an optical zoom lens onto the back of a phone. It was… weird. But it also proved Samsung’s willingness to keep trying new ideas. The clunky hybrid streamlined into a second Zoom, followed by two versions of a connected camera, which dropped the cellular radio.
Compared to the fresh feel of the Galaxy S4, the S5 was a nonessential upgrade that followed the exact same patterns. It was plastic (sporting a fingerprint-rebuffing matte finish this time), with a fingerprint reader and heart-rate monitor. The double-barreled charger port was a proprietary mess. Most exciting: It was water-resistant.
US carrier Sprint picked up this exclusive, which looked almost exactly like a pair of shoes I once had, and offered little other than that aesthetic to the S5. Here it sits on top of the S5 and the S5 Active at the bottom of the phone heap.
Wow, finally. That’s what we said when Samsung’s beautiful, first fully metal phone emerged. And the S6 Edge, which had two curved sides? Double wow. It took an already excellent powerhouse and made it feel like an impossibly slim, luxe piece of hardware. High-end hardware like an octa-core processor and 16-megapixel camera didn’t hurt, either.
This was Samsung telling the world it was ready for all-curve phones. A larger version of the Galaxy S6 Edge, the Edge Plus (or Edge+) was basically the Galaxy Note 5, minus the digital S Pen stylus. It had a large, curved 5.7-inch Super AMOLED screen, and cost in between the S6 Edge and curve-screen Note 5.
Well, almost ready for all-curve phones. The S7 Edge used its much larger, curved screen to justify a higher price than the S7 as Samsung perfected the production process on its wraparound displays and glass. S7: 5.1-inch screen; S7 Edge: 5.7-inch.
Both phones wowed us with their 2K screen resolution, whistle-quick chipset and photo quality.
This special edition channeled Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting alter ego to promote the Batman video game “Injustice: Gods Among Us”. The all-black phone came with deep gold accents and a few themed software highlights, including a ringtone and Batman skins.
Samsung made only 2,000 of these devices for fans watching the Olympic Games in Brazil. The sponsor also handed them out to the Games’ 12,500 participating athletes.
Talk about an overhaul. For the first time, both Galaxy models came with curved sides by default, a larger screen with whisper-thin bezels, and a fingerprint reader that moves from the now-nonexistent home button beneath the screen to an awkward spot on the back, beside the camera. A new button pops up on the side for Bixby, Samsung’s brand-new voice assistant.
The Galaxy S9 is rumored to take design cues from the S8, but improve the ergonomics of the camera array on the back, as shown on this conceptual render by Concept Creator.
Will Samsung give its Bixby voice software new tricks? Will it launch the face scanning software rumored to take on the iPhone X’s Face ID? We’ll find out all the details at Samsung’s Feb. 25 launch.