How we got to the Galaxy S4: the evolution of Samsung's Galaxy S family

Rarely is the mobile world found wanting for excitement. With devices like the BlackBerry Z10, Sony Xperia Z, HTC One, and LG Optimus G Pro all launching in recent memory, the beginning of 2013 has witnessed a rash of top notch smartphone unveilings. Consumer choice is as rich as ever, yet the showy Samsung Galaxy S4 launch was truly in a league of its own - in terms of both bizarreness and market importance. Not since Apple was building towards the iPhone 5 did we hold our collective breath like we did for the Galaxy S4, but just how did the consumer world become so paralysed by excitement? Where did Samsung's prodigal journey to New York's iconic Radio City Music Hall begin? With Samsung's new flagship now announced and still very much at the front of everyone's mind, let's take a look at the evolution of Samsung's Galaxy S line.

Samsung Galaxy S

Unveiled in March 2010, the original Galaxy S handset is a modest device by today's heady standards, but it certainly received its fair share of plaudits back in the day. Featuring a single-core Exynos 3 SoC clocked at 1GHz (though, like many Samsung products, it came in a number of regional variants) and a 4in, 800 x 400 pixel Super AMOLED touchscreen, the Galaxy S shipped with Android 2.1 Eclair and was soon upgradable to version 2.2 Froyo; eventually, it anted up to Android 2.3 Gingerbread. With a 5-megapixel camera, the Galaxy S made an ample photography companion as well, and was also praised for the quality of its audio. Indeed, the influential TIME Magazine went so far as to name the Galaxy S its second best gadget of 2010 - comfortably ahead of the sixth-placed Apple iPhone 4, we should note. Its strengths were myriad and this translated into considerable commercial success: as of January 2013, Samsung reported that the Galaxy S had surpassed 100 million units shipped.

Samsung Galaxy S2

The Samsung Galaxy S2 launched in May 2011 at Barcelona's Mobile World Congress and, despite now being nearly two years' old, it's still a respectable mid-range handset. Featuring a dual-core Exynos 4 chipset clocked at 1.2GHz and a 4.2in WVGA display, the Galaxy S2 stands out as one of the first handsets to support NFC. It also sported a snazzy 8-megapixel camera and boasted support for 1080p video. Despite starting life on Gingerbread, it's now upgradeable all the way to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Even more so than its popular predecessor, the Galaxy S2 garnered heaps of industry praise, taking the coveted Smartphone of the Year gong at the 2012 Global Mobile Awards. Needless to say, this positive critical reception translate to strong sales: Samsung reported global shipments of some 10 million units after just five months of availability. Make no mistake, the Samsung Galaxy S2 was a great smartphone - but it was only a taste of things to come.

Samsung Galaxy S3

The Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 both caused a sizeable stir, but it was nothing compared to the impact of the Samsung Galaxy S3, which launched in London in May 2012. If the first two handsets shook up the smartphone sector, the S3 completely redefined the market, earning the 'iPhone killer' moniker by way of its runaway success. Eye-tracking technology, a Siri-rivalling intelligent assistant, and support for 4G LTE networks? It was all there. A full suite of top notch hardware specifications? Check, by way of a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 4.8in, 720p display, and 8-megapixel camera, plus a mammoth 2,100 mAh battery that frankly embarrassed the competition. The latest software? The Galaxy S3 arrived running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and enjoyed a boost to 4.1 Jelly Bean in September 2012, with a further leap to 4.2 Jelly Bean being hotly linked with tonight's S4 launch. To give some sense of just how big the Galaxy S3 has been, in just nine months of existence, it has sold a whopping 30 million units (as of January 2013) and, for a second year running, Samsung scooped the Smartphone of the Year award at MWC.

Samsung Galaxy S4

The latest addition to Samsung's Galaxy brood, the Galaxy S4 boast a number of major selling points. It's got top-of-the-range hardware, headlined by a 5in, Full HD display at a retina-pleasing 441ppi, plus a 13-megapixel camera. There's plenty of muscle under the hood, too, with the LTE version of the handset coming with a quad-core Snapdragon 600 SoC clocked at 1.9GHz - the highest smartphone processor clock speed we're aware of - and the 3G-only model delivering the eagerly anticipated 8-core Exynos 5 Octa chipset based on ARM's big.LITTLE architecture. There's also bevy of slick software-based features. Following the example set by the HTC One, the Galaxy S4 features an infrared LED sensor, enabling your handset to double as a remote control in the living room. Then there's S Translate and S Health - the former is a real-time translation feature, while the latter monitors your activity and provides an insight into your health.

Elsewhere, Samsung Knox enables employers and IT departments to create a sandboxed work environment on the S4 to protect sensitive enterprise data -BlackBerry Balance is the obvious reference point here. Based on eye-tracking technology, Smart Scroll and Smart Pause are designed to allow you to stop video and scroll around pages via intuitive retina movements, while Air Gesture is a feature that helps you navigate your smartphone without actually touching the screen. Make no mistake - the Samsung Galaxy S4 is an impressive handset and a worthy addition to this best-selling family.

To see how the latest Galaxy S handset compares to its antecedent, check out our Samsung Galaxy S4 vs Galaxy S3 spec comparison. Alternatively, why not take a look at how the Galaxy S4 compares to the iPhone 5?

If you're interested in a more professional angle on the story, our resident business analyst Rawiya Kameir has given her thoughts on what the Galaxy S4 means for Samsung's business.