Editor’s note: Jack Narcotta is an analyst with Technology Business Research.

HAMPTON, N.H. – Soaring handset sales in the first quarter have put Samsung on top of the mobile world.

(Note: Furthering bolstering its arsenal, Samsung unveiled its newest Galaxy phone earlier this week.)

The impact of mobile devices on Samsung cannot be overstated. Its handset division profit nearly tripled year-to-year to $3.8 billion, accounting for 73% of a record $5.2 billion total 1Q12 profit, and has positioned the company as one of the few OEMs to reap the benefits of the prolific Android software ecosystem.

Additionally, the company sold 90 million handsets in the past quarter to become the world’s largest cellphone company, ending Nokia’s 14-year reign at No. 1.

Of those 90 million devices, 44 million were smartphones, solidifying Samsung’s competitive position versus rival Apple; TBR estimates the two companies combined now control 90% of the smartphone market.

Strong sales of its flagship Galaxy S II handset, and the somewhat surprising success of the Note phone-tablet hybrid, shifted Samsung’s product mix toward high-end, higher-margin devices and boosted the bottom-line performance of its mobility division. As a result, profit margin of the handset division improved to 18.4% from 11% a year ago and 12% in the previous quarter. Total handset shipments increased across all regions, particularly in emerging markets such as China.

Samsung will utilize intense demand from China’s massive mobile user base to increase sales and market share.

Samsung – which has deals with the top three Chinese mobile carriers – pushed out Nokia as China’s top smartphone vendor in 4Q11, and TBR expects Samsung to increase its lead as smartphone demand skyrockets within China’s 1 billion strong mobile customer base; the country’s largest mobile services provider, China Mobile, provides a customer base of 655 million subscribers alone. TBR expects demand from China for feature-rich smartphones will continue to move Samsung’s product mix toward its marquee products and away from its lower- end offerings, boosting profits and sales throughout FY2012.

(C) TBR