The latest flagship from Samsung, the Galaxy S24 Ultra, is more than yet another yearly update. While it’s definitely that, this phone has more going for it, and that’s exciting.
Glance at any tech website, this one included, and you’ll notice something in 2024 probably more so than in any other year: lots of mentions of the word “AI”.
An initialism that clearly is holding onto the world of technology and not letting go, artificial intelligence is hardly new, but in 2024, it can feel like we’re all beginning to drown in it.
Easily one of this year’s big trends, AI is everywhere, even in phones. We knew it was coming, and with neural cores now found in pretty much every major phone chip for flagship phones, handset makers are being asked to make AI work for consumers. As in what can AI do for you?
Answering that question is difficult, because AI can do a lot of things. It can augment the monotonous jobs and help us in our daily life after being trained, it can find ways to improve battery life, and it can weed out noise and cancel out unnecessary sound.
It can do so much, but it needs a purpose, and a reason to be used. And finding that reason hasn’t been easy. It’s why seeing the term “AI” on so many devices this year has seen a bit of fatigue. We’re only two months of the year, and it’s becoming tiresome to see AI mentioned on a device. It’s February, and you just know brands are going to milk this thing for what it’s worth.
That’s possibly what makes the Galaxy S24 Ultra so damn intriguing.
At the launch of the S24 Ultra, we expected to hear about AI in a phone, and we did. But what we got was AI with an actual purpose. And not just one, but several. Samsung is ready with a phone that makes use of AI in positive ways to improve the mobile owning experience, and to innovate in convergence, and even in conversation, which is what a phone is made for in the first place.
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There may well be a new model number, but the design isn’t seeing much of a change, as Samsung refines what has worked for the past few years, improving the materials and flattening the display.
Much like how Google flattened its previously curved display in the Pixel 7 Pro to the Pixel 8 Pro, the curved edges on the S23 Ultra’s display are flattened in the S24 Ultra, and still looks schmick and premium.
The change in screens fits in amongst a slightly more polished body, which keeps the slick design of the previous Ultra models, while Samsung also updates the casing, moving from aluminium to titanium.
You can’t give credit for Samsung first for the idea of titanium — that goes to Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max, which was the first big phone to get that extra light-yet-durable material — but it’s here in the S24 Ultra, and it helps to bring that little bit extra class.
It’s shiny, it’s slick, and it’s pretty damn special, too. It’s about the nicest Galaxy S we’ve ever seen.
Inside, there are your typical spec updates, with the sort of things you’ve come to expect year in and year out for a phone update.
That means last year’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 is being replaced with this year’s chip of choice, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, paired with 12GB RAM and a minimum of 256GB storage, though this is set at the time of purchase like with pretty much every other high end phone.
Like every other flagship, you can expect some obvious inclusions in the S24 Ultra, such as 5G (sub-6), Bluetooth, GPS, mobile payment via Near-Field Communication for Google Pay and Samsung Pay, as well as strong WiFi specs, as well. That includes WiFi 6 and 6E, but also WiFi 7, giving the S24 Ultra a higher level of WiFi future-proofing than quite a lot of phones out there.
Cameras are also a big part of the package, with four on the back and one on the front. At the rear, there’s a 200 megapixel F1.7 standard wide camera covering 24mm, a 10 megapixel F2.4 3X telephoto covering 67mm, a 50 megapixel F3.4 5X telephoto covering 111mm equivalent, and an ultra-wide 12 megapixel F2.2 covering roughly the equivalent of 13mm, kinda sorta. On the front, there’s a 12 megapixel F2.2 camera for those selfies you’re looking for.
|Samsung Galaxy S24 (SM-S928B)
|Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
|12GB RAM; from 256GB storage
|200mp F1.7 wide,
12mp F2.2 ultra-wide,
10mp F2.4 3X telephoto,
50mp F3.4 5x telephoto
|5G (sub-6), WiFi 6/6E/7, Bluetooth 5.3, GPS, NFC, USB-C
|Starting from $2199 AUD
Atop all of this is what you’ll spend time gazing at, with a lovely 6.8 inch LTPO AMOLED screen, sporting a resolution of 3120×1440 and a variable refresh rate of 1Hz to 120Hz, making for super slick animations.
Corning’s Gorilla Glass Armour protects the front glass, giving you a high level of durability for scratches and drops, though we wouldn’t go out of our way to intentionally drop this thing.
It’s also a flat screen, signalling a bit of a change for Samsung, which has traditionally gone with screens offering a curved edge in its Ultra models. Flat seems to be the trend at the moment, with the Pixel 8 Pro also ditching the curved edge screen last year.
Really, though, it’s just a lovely screen to look at, which is what you’ll be doing as you use the phone.
Using it isn’t dramatically different from any other Android you’ve seen in the past, and if you’re coming from an iPhone or even starting out brand new, it’ll be fairly easy for you, as well.
You’ll find an in-screen fingerprint reader and facial security to unlock the hardware, not to mention the S-Pen at the bottom that you can take out and write and draw on the screen, much like you could in last year’s S23 Ultra.
Android 14 arrives on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, as you’d expect given it’s the latest, and that means you can expect home screens, widgets, and customisation aplenty.
All of this is pretty standard Android fare. What Samsung has added in the AI department is not.
An extra feature, Samsung’s use of artificial intelligence permeates the S24 range in a positive way, encouraging you to really find a way to make AI part of your life.
It’s no wonder: AI is clearly this year’s tech trend, because you can find it in everything. Phones have it. Computers have it. Even cars are getting it. We’ve even heard of home appliances being endowed with it.
In the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, AI extends to some key features, notably what you write, how you translate text and phone calls, if you decide to generate custom wallpaper, and image editing on the device. These features are all connected to AI in some way, and are all a Samsung-specific AI component, which can change how you use the phone.
Granted, they all have a specific purpose, so you may need to explore the phone to really get the most out of them, but once you start delving into them — and they’re listed in the “Advanced Intelligence” part of the Samsung menus — you may find yourself playing with them for much longer than you anticipate.
There was a moment where this reviewer spent so long, he had to glance up to actually listen to something, which AI can probably help with, but didn’t in the uses he was trying.
Let’s break down what AI in the S24 Ultra can do:
1. AI text sprucing
With the power of on-device AI, you’ll find a button that’ll versions familiar which looks like a few stars in a box. It may as well be the symbol for magic, which we suspect is what Samsung is trying to impart here.
And if you want to give your text a little dose of that magic, you can select a small portion, touch that button, and have it change your words.
There are a few options, such as professional, casual, and even a web savvy emoji-laden version #hashtagfun, but it works across text messaging and even other note taking apps. You might even be able to take a dot point or two, and have Samsung make sense of it for you, rehashing and changing aspects so that it makes sense for other people.
2. AI text summaries
While text sprucing works in short blocks of text across messages and note-taking apps, Samsung Notes provides a way to summarise text thrown into its note app.
You’ll need more than 200 characters, but if you have a long block of text, you’ll find Samsung Notes can turn bits of it into dot points, so you can easily digest something being sent to you.
What’s that, you say? You don’t use Samsung Notes? Neither do we, but fortunately you can select the text in an email (quick select all), and then share it to Samsung Notes, creating a new note in the process. Then it’s simply a matter of clicking in the text and looking for the same magic star box we mentioned before, which will become consistent throughout Samsung’s AI experience.
You’ll need to keep it to a maximum of 1500 words, though, because Samsung Notes won’t let you select more than that for its summary system, making long documents impossible to quickly summarise. Also some of the points may not be as useful across documents, so just be aware.
3. AI translation
Speaking more than one language isn’t something everyone does, so why not have your phone do it for you?
The AI on the S24 Ultra can help you do this, whether it’s translating text in messages, translating text in person, or even translating words each way in voice.
It’s a clever addition, and one that could become very useful in person, though may not nail every block of text or conversation, and won’t make up for you attempting to learn the language for your next overseas holiday.
4. AI image editing
Quite possible the most talked up feature, Samsung’s AI image editing feature needs internet access to work, but can do wonders. You can remove things from the scene and have generative AI replace what should be there, or even expand an image and get AI to guess at what should be around a photo. You can even enlarge or shrink parts.
There’s a debate going on for whether these images remain photos, and it’s clear they’ve been edited, because Samsung provides a watermark showing they’ve been edited. Curiously, you can use image editing to remove the watermark all too easily, so that’s a thing.
However, it’s an intriguing inclusion, simply because these tools are within reach for more people, and feel easier to grasp than even Google’s inclusion of the tech in the Pixel range.
5. AI wallpaper customisation
A genuinely unexpected feature we’re not sure many will know about let alone use is the ability to make AI change your wallpaper. And we’re not just talking about switching it daily, but rather actively give you a different, custom wallpaper.
With the power of generative AI and some preset themes, you can have the S24 build some custom wallpapers if you choose, which makes for a very different approach for AI.
6. AI search improvements
One final AI addition that won’t just be limited to the S24 Ultra, you can now circle to search anything on screen, with AI being used to work out the subject of what you’re circling, and a search box allowing you to add to that.
We’re not sure how often we’ll use this feature, but it’s handy to have, simply because so much of the time, you mightn’t be able to describe what you want to search, and might simply see it as you browse a new social network, or even pausing on a music video of sorts. This is one way to find when visuals are happening on your phone.
AI delivery can range from fast to not-as-fast, and really depends on what you’ve tasked the phone with. However, the performance across the board is some of the best we’ve seen from any phone.
The S24 Ultra is the first phone we’ve reviewed with Qualcomm’s latest high-end chip, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, and married to 12GB RAM, it just flies. Apps run without issue and you can multitask your little heart out, while our benchmark just adores the new chip.
Comparing the phone over the past four generations of Galaxy Ultra handsets, there’s a clear speed increase in every category, whether it’s CPU or GPU speeds. This thing is faster than any other Galaxy in scores you can see.
A similar picture is painted when you compare the S24 Ultra to the flagship Androids of 2023 not made by Samsung. Granted, there weren’t a whole heap of those, but between the Motorola Razr 40 Ultra, Oppo’s Find N3, Google Pixel 8 Pro, and Asus Zenfone 10, it’s pretty clear who the winner is, even in the short release difference between them.
The obvious reason for this dramatic difference is very likely that new chip, with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 seeing improvements over the Gen 2. This isn’t the AI making a difference. What it does show is that picking a 2024 flagship over a 2023 will make a reasonable amount of dent in the performance category.
While synthetic benchmarks don’t necessarily paint the picture of how the phone will handle every day app and game life, the combination between high-end chip and cooling system on the inside means you can expect plenty of power when you need it.
There’s a similar picture for 5G, and while it’s only sub-6 5G in Australia, you should still see decent speeds, provided you’re within range of a tower and there’s bandwidth available.
In Australia and tested on the Telstra 5G network by way of Mate’s bandwidth-limited connection, we found speeds as high as 138Mbps during our time with the S24 Ultra.
As always, your mileage may vary, but we found the 4G and 5G speeds from the S24 Ultra to be totally fine.
There’s also a great camera system, though it’s one that sees Samsung back away from the advertising-laden approach of big zoom for little reason, instead opting for something far more usable.
As a result, there’s no 10X super zoom in the S24 Ultra, with the stack changing to accomodate a new 5X zoom, which is a bit of a drop, but still closer than a lot of other phones. If you’re still hankering for the super-zoom 10X, you’ll find digital zoom is still offered, cropping the sensor and filling in some gaps using AI and sharpening.
That being said, 5X is still plenty close for a phone camera, and helps you get in closer than pretty much any other phone, so it’s not a major loss. Plus it’s easier to control.
It also means the S24 Ultra camera system feels better designed, with a camera at 0.5X for ultra-wide, the standard 1X wide camera (albeit running at 200 megapixels with downsample almost always on), plus a 3X and a 5X, meaning the spots in between those lengths aren’t wide enough to make the images seem weaker.
You don’t have a 2X or 4X, but the image processing tech and large sensor sizes can fill in the gaps a whole lot better than the massive stretch of space that exists between 3X and 10X.
Beyond the numbers, the image quality of the Galaxy S24 Ultra is lovely, with some excellent images in daylight, solid portraits, and some capable low-light images, as well.
The macro images help it along, with some delightful close-up details, while images with a nice balance of light will find that balance transferred to the phone, as well.
At night, you should expect night mode to kick in, even though Samsung frequently tells you to use it instead (you don’t need to actively choose it, and it seems to switch on regardless), with results that just feel like they find the extra light that doesn’t normally exist.
All up, it’s a lovely camera system, and one that rivals what is clearly Samsung’s biggest competitor in the field: Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro Max.
That rival also features decent battery life, and so does Samsung’s S24 Ultra, which features a massive 5000mAh battery married to a high-end chip made with a 4 nanometer process.
The combination sees a good day and a half of battery life with 2-ish hours of screen time per day, which is about normal for our usage, but if you use a phone more, expect the battery to need a charge nightly, particularly around the 4 to 5 hour screen time mark.
Based on our tests, it’s entirely possible to hit the fabled two days of life if you keep your usage down, but we suspect like other big phones, this will be a 1.5 day phone for most.
However, the phone is still pricey, very much like its predecessors. We suppose this is just the way life is at the moment, with everything seemingly expensive. Services are expensive and the devices you use to access those services are also expensive with them.
To Samsung’s credit, the S24 Ultra is a high-end phone boasting some high-end features, and you don’t get that excellent 0.5X to 6X camera system on any other high-end model in its line-up, nor do you get the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, with the other two S24 and S24+ models relying on a Samsung Exynos chip.
Yes, the S24 Ultra is the premium model, and in Australia, it chimes in at a premium price, starting at $2199 for the 256GB model, with the 512GB variant costing $2399 and the 1TB option at $2799.
By comparison, the 256GB model is the same price as the iPhone 15 Pro Max, while the 512GB and 1TB cost less than their respective equivalents, so Samsung actually has a sense of value here, modest as it may be.
What needs work?
Aside for the price, the things that could be better are minor in number, but still worth talking about.
Take the lack of Qi2, which means the S24 Ultra is missing out on the all-new magnetic wireless charging technology that will likely become standard across flagship phones in 2024.
What’s that you say? The S24 Ultra is a flagship phone in 2024? By jove, you’re right! And yet it misses out on this tech, which we’re guessing comes from the inclusion of the stylus.
Samsung’s S-Pen relies on magnets to work, and so that might be preventing Qi2 from rolling out in this phone. That’s a guess, not a confirmation, though we’ve put the question forward.
You can still find regular un-magnetic Qi wireless charging, just not the fancy MagSafe-based tech known as Qi2, which is a bit of a downer in a 2024 phone.
Also a bit of a downer is knowing that these neat AI tools built into the phone will eventually cost money. That is to say they’re free now, but they won’t be free always.
Samsung indicates as much, which basically means if you enjoy the AI features the S24 Ultra specifically arrives with, eventually you’ll likely need to add it as a service you subscribe to. The cost of living crisis isn’t kind to our wallets, though this may well be different.
Final thoughts (TLDR)
There’s a rather obvious statement to be made that this year is Samsung’s best Galaxy yet. That’s iterative and expected. Few phones go backwards, and Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra is definitely a better phone moving forward. Owners of the S22 Ultra, S21 Ultra, and S20 Ultra looking for something better will clearly see that, and so will owners of anything older.
But more than that, the S24 is something different.
It’s a forward thinking phone. It’s Samsung thinking about AI and delivering more than the buzzword. The AI does something. The AI isn’t just a bolt-on marketing exercise, but rather has been thought about with the rest of the phone.
Even if you don’t use all of the artificial intelligence features in the S24 Ultra, they exist for a reason. You can translate text and conversation, you can spruce up your messages, you can edit photos and generate custom wallpapers, and you can even find ways to help you search. And while that last one is coming to more Android phones, Samsung has set the pace for what AI can do.
Samsung has delivered. This isn’t just an updated Galaxy Ultra for the new year, but one that feels revitalised. It’s about the most premium Android available right now.
How long it’ll hold onto that spot remains to be seen; our guess is September, when Samsung will likely have a new and hopefully more-exciting-than-last-year Galaxy Fold, or October when the new Google Pixel Pro 9 will presumably pop up. It’s always possible we’ll see something equally clever and exciting beforehand, of course, but Samsung often holds its spot until other high-end models pop up throughout the year.
Right now, if you’re looking for the most intriguing Android, Samsung has it good to go. It’s more than just an iterative update, with a plan to show what AI can be used for in a phone. That’s exciting, and helps make this phone highly recommended.
Frankly, it’s about the most excited we’ve been for a Samsung phone in ages.