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Samsung handsets through the ages: A photo tour of phone firsts

With nearly 30 years in the mobile handset business, Samsung has no shortage of milestones, from its first device in 1988 to its recent transition to metal and curved smartphones. ZDNet takes a trip down memory lane.
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By Liam Tung, Contributor on
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1 of 19 Image: CNET

Samsung's very first handset

Samsung’s first handset was the SH-100. Released in 1988, it was typical of an era led by Motorola, a time when mobile hansets were just becoming affordable but remained luxury items.

The SH-100 arrived one year after Nokia launched its first mobile, the Mobira Cityman — a phone that would have cost €4,500 in today’s money and in 1987 found its way into the hands of former Soviet Union president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

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2 of 19 Image: Samsung

1994: Samsung SH-770

In 1994, Samsung delivered the much slimmer SH-770, which launched in its home territory under the Anycall brand.

By then, Samsung's vision for a bigger future in mobile was backed by the beginnings of its now famously gigantic marketing budgets and, of course, a commitment to better quality devices.

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3 of 19 Image: Samsung

SCH-100

Samsung scored a coup with the SCH-100, delivering the world's first CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) handset.

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4 of 19 Image: CNET

Flip phone

Flip phones are staging a minor comeback thanks to their durability and a penchant for retro among some consumers.

Motorola paved the way for the arrival of the clamshell with the StarTAC in 1996.

By 1998 Samsung had jumped on the bandwagon with the SCH-800 flip phone. Its descendent, the SCH-U750 for Verizon (pictured), came in 2010, sharing the same basic design but with a unique two-way flip screen.

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5 of 19 Image: Samsung

Watch phone

If you think the first smartwatch came after 2005, you’d be wrong.

Samsung had the SPH-WP10 CDMA 'watch phone' back in 1999, which it hailed as the first result of a new product segmentation strategy.  Weighing 39g, it offered 90 minutes talk time, and a whopping 60 hours of standby. Samsung execs thought it would be a hit with youngsters.

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6 of 19 Samsung

An MP3 player phone

In 1999 the world still hadn’t seen the iPod and was many years away from the iPhone. However, Samsung had already hit on the idea of music player and phone in one device, releasing its SPH-M2500 with an integrated MP3 player an in-built 32MB memory card.

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7 of 19 CNET Japan

Camera or phone?

Samsung's Galaxy K Zoom camera phone is the latest in a long line of devices that blur the line between phone and camera. Sharp made the first mobile phone with a camera in 2000, but Samsung that year made the world’s first CDMA phone with a built-in camera. The K Zoom's true forebear though was the 3.2 x optical zoom SPH-S2300 (pictured).

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8 of 19 Samsung

First phones that sell 10 million

Samsung's 2003 model SGH-E700 became its second ever phone to join its "10 million seller club", along with later popular devices like the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S lines.

The SGH 3700's design contribution to today’s smartphone is the phone without a protruding antenna - and that was a world first, according to Samsung.

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9 of 19 Samsung

Experiment with swivel displays

In the days before software handled landscape and portrait photos on smartphones, Samsung was thinking about how a display could cater to landscape images. With that in mind, in 2004 it launched the world’s first rotating screen on the SGH-V500. Later models (pictured) included the SGH-P900.

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10 of 19 CNET

TV on a phone

Ahead of its time at least for western markets, Samsung delivered the Anycall SCH-B100, a "digital media broadcasting" device with two displays. Besides the unique flip out screen, it came equipped with a receiver for satellite TV.

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11 of 19 Liam Tung/ZDNet

First touchscreen

The F700 was, according to Samsung, made in 2006 but didn't reach the US and UK until late 2007, forcing it to live out the year in the shadow of Apple's first iPhone. The pre-Android F700 was a touchscreen but had a slide out QWERTY keyboard too. It came with a three-megapixel camera, browser, music player, HSDPA connectivity, but the software was rough around the edges.

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12 of 19 CNET

Before Android, there was Windows Mobile

Samsung launched the Windows Mobile-based Omnia in 2008, bringing in its customisable TouchWiz interface that compensated for Windows Mobile’s shortcomings at the time. While it was a touch phone, the $700 device retained hard talk and end keys and a virtual mouse.

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13 of 19 CNET

Samsung's Symbian with TouchWiz

A year after Nokia acquired Symbian, Samsung (one of the former members of the Symbian Foundation) took the wraps off the S60-powered i890 Omnia HD. It had a 3.7-inch AMOLED touch display, TouchWiz, and an 8-megapixel main camera.

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14 of 19 CNET

The first Samsung Android phone

Samsung's first Android phone the i7500 (known as the Icon in some markets) bears little resemblance to the popular Galaxy S series that would emerge from the Korean company only a year later. However, it still fell short of Samsung's Symbian and Windows Mobile offerings as well as rival HTC’s second Android-powered device, the HTC Magic. It also lacked Samsung’s TouchWiz interface.

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15 of 19 CNET

The first Galaxy S

The first in Samsung’s hugely popular Galaxy S line arrived in 2010 and running Android. It was the only time it would customise Android Gingerbread and include its TouchWiz UI. Even then some were complaining about Samsung choosing a plastic backplate for its four-inch display flagship, which the company would stick with for the next four Galaxy S generations until the Galaxy S6.

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16 of 19 Samsung

The first Galaxy Note

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note in 2011, but many doubted the consumer appeal of a then very large 5.3 inch display smartphone with its S Pen stylus. The Note of course became a top selling device for Samsung and spawned a new category of phablets that first became popular in Asia and has since caught on in the US and Europe.

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17 of 19 CNET

Windows Phone 8

In 2012 ,Windows Mobile was history and Nokia had just turned out its Lumia 920 with Windows Phone 8. Samsung meanwhile offered the world the Ativ S running Windows Phone 8. While it was given favourable reviews, some Windows fans were unimpressed with what looked like a Galaxy S3 running Windows.

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18 of 19 CNET

The curved display

Behind the scenes Samsung had been experimenting with curved displays for several years, but the first it released was the Galaxy Round, a high-end phone solely for the Korean market that employed the company's flexible AMOLED display. Subsequent curved display devices included the Note 4 Edge and  Galaxy 6 Edge.

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19 of 19 CNET

First Tizen

Amid Samsung's reported tussle with Google over Android, the company was developing Tizen as a more independent alternative. Samsung execs were bullish about its prospects in 2013, hoping it would be on everything from phones to TVs and cars. Tizen does run its Gear watch, but the smartphone's release suffered delays and in the meantime many carrier Tizen Alliance members shelved plans.

It received a lukewarm welcome last year, but according to Counterpoint Research, the Tizen device has promise in emerging markets, becoming the top selling device in Bangladesh in the first quarter of 2015.

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