Samsung accounted for one in four of all mobile phones shipped worldwide last year, as its shipments rose nearly 20% to 396.5 million, a report says.
Apple's phone shipments grew by 46% to a record 135.8 million mobile phones worldwide in 2012.
But Nokia's global phone shipments fell by 20% from 417.1 million units in 2011 to 335.6 million.
Overall, total shipments grew by 2% annually to reach 1.6 billion units in 2012, according to Strategy Analytics.
Neil Shah, senior analyst at the research firm, said: "Ongoing macroeconomic challenges in mature markets like North America and Western Europe, tighter operator upgrade policies, and shifting consumer tastes" were among the reasons for the modest global growth figure.
He added: "Fuelled by robust demand for its popular Galaxy models, Samsung was the star performer, shipping a record 396.5 million mobile phones worldwide and capturing 25% market share to solidify its first-place lead.
"However, Samsung's total volumes for the year fell just short of the 400-million threshold."
Meanwhile Strategy Analytics said global smartphone shipments grew by 43% annually to a record 700 million units in last year.
Global smartphone shipments for the full year reached a record 700.1 million units in 2012, from 490.5 million units in 2011, but there were signs that shipments of smartphones began to mature in developed regions such as North America and Western Europe.
Once again Samsung had the biggest market share, at 30% worldwide and extending its lead over Apple and Nokia.
The research comes as Samsung reported a 76% jump in profits for the last three months of 2012, helped by sales of its Galaxy smartphones.
Net income rose to a record 7.04tn won ($6.6bn; £4.2bn), up from 4.01tn won in the same period a year earlier, beating analysts' expectations.
The Korean firm said its mobile profits more than doubled over the same period.
Last year, Samsung became the world's biggest smartphone maker, overtaking Apple, its main rival in the sector.This week Apple also reported quarterly results, showing flat profits, unchanged from a year earlier at $13.1bn, and record quarterly revenue of $55bn.
But it was not enough to overcome disappointment over sales of the company's new iPhone 5, as analysts said the firm was in danger of becoming a victim of its own success.
The firm said late on Wednesday it had sold more iPhones (47.8 million) and iPads (22.9 million) in the final three months of last year than in any previous quarter, but investors had expected more.
"If you look at Apple, their position of strength in the smartphone market has generally been in Europe and North America, " said Mark Newman, head telecoms analyst at research firm Informa.
"A lot of their continued growth will be in emerging markets, in Bric countries such as Brazil, India and China. There has certainly been this feeling that Samsung is catching up up, and overtaking Apple in terms of sales."
Meanwhile Nokia, the struggling Finnish mobile phone maker which once dominated the global mobile market, said on Thursday that it had swung back into profit in the last three months of 2012.
Pre-tax profit for the quarter was 375m euros (£316m), against a 974m-euro loss last year. Nokia said it sold 15.9 million smartphones in the quarter, down from 19.6 million a year earlier.
"We have seen Nokia hit rock bottom but there are now some gentle signs of a recovery," said Mr Newman.
He said in that the smartphone marketplace Apple and Samsung currently occupied the top tier, with "many players vying for position in the mid-range marketplace," including Nokia, and others such as LG, Motorola, HTC. and Sony.
"This is an extremely competitive place, and it is difficult to see any of these brands capturing the mid-market, which is so fragmented," added Mr Newman.
He said at the bottom end of the smartphone market there was "pent-up demand" for a phone retailing at about 100 euros, and Chinese firms Huawei and ZTE were "making most of the running here".