Technology

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Review: AI at the Forefront

Key Takeaways

  • The Galaxy S24 Ultra has the best display and processor on the market, making it a powerful and visually stunning smartphone.
  • The AI features of the Galaxy S24 Ultra are useful and not gimmicks, enhancing the user experience.
  • The inclusion of the S Pen may not be useful for everyone, and the cameras could use some improvement in performance.


The Galaxy Ultra has always been Samsung’s super-charged flagship smartphone, which hasn’t changed with the S24 series. But this year, the handset’s hardware is not the important talking point; it’s all about Galaxy AI. The Galaxy S24 Ultra still has the best specs, but the software features make this the best Android phone (in most categories).

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra stock image

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is Samsung’s top-of-the-line Android flagship from Samsung. New in 2024, this smartphone features a titanium frame, a flat cover display made out of Gorilla Glass armor, and a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC that powers the new Galaxy AI features. 

Brand
Samsung

SoC
Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy

Display
6.8-inch Dynamic LTPO AMOLED, 3120 x 1440p, 1-120Hz ARR, HDR10+, 2600nits

RAM
12GB

Storage
256GB, 512GB, 1TB

Battery
5,000mAh

Ports
USB-C

Operating System
Android 14 with One UI 6.1

Camera (Rear, Front)
200MP wide, 50MP 5x telephoto, 10MP 3x telephoto, 12MP ultrawide, 12MP selfie

Connectivity
Wi-Fi 7, Bluetooth 5.3

Dimensions
6.4 x 3.11 x 0.34in (163 x 79 x 8.6mm)

Weight
232g (8.2oz)

Charge speed
45W wired, 15W wireless

IP Rating
IP68

Stylus
Embedded S Pen

Material
Titanium frame

Release date
January 31, 2024

Authentication
Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner

Pros

  • Display and processor are the best on the market
  • Seven years of Android and security updates
  • AI features are useful and not gimmicks
Cons

  • Not everyone will find the S Pen useful
  • Cameras could use a performance update
  • No Qi2 wireless charging

Price and Availability

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is available for pre-order at the time of publishing and will be widely available for purchase on January 31, 2024. The 256GB model retails for $1,299.99, with 512GB and 1TB options going for $1,419.99 and $1,659.99, respectively. The flagship can be bought from almost any carrier or retail store that sells electronics. Color options include Titanium Violet, Titanium Yellow, Titanium Black, and Titanium Gray.

If you don’t mind waiting until late February, you can also choose from Titanium Orange, Titanium Blue, and Titanium Green if purchasing directly from Samsung.

Design and Build: Another Year of (Appreciated) Refinements

If I held up the Galaxy S24 Ultra next to last year’s S23 Ultra, I’d bet 99 out of 100 people wouldn’t spot the difference in design. This has been the case for several years as the physical appearance hasn’t changed much.

But on closer examination, Samsung made some much-appreciated changes to the screen. First and foremost, the cover display is no longer curved. The edges are now flat. That lack of curved glass almost means the phone is actually thinner. As this is already a rather large phablet smartphone with its 6.8-inch display, shrinking any part of the device is welcome.

I should also mention that Samsung took a feather from Apple’s playbook and made the handset’s frame out of titanium. The material change from aluminum doesn’t change much in terms of weight (it’s still a rather heavy device due to its size), but you should have a tougher time damaging the phone.

Overall, the Galaxy S24 Ultra feels extremely polished and premium in hand. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the raw metal look and feel of the Titanium Gray model I reviewed, but fingerprints remained at a minimum. I also wish the corners were less boxy and rounded like the Ultra’s little siblings, but that design might not work with the included S Pen.

S Pen: Honestly, I Forgot About It

After moving away from the Galaxy Note line, the Galaxy Ultra has been Samsung’s go-to smartphone for enthusiasts who want to use a stylus. The included S Pen, which pops out of the bottom of the phone, is basically identical in appearance and functionality. You’re able to jot down notes, use the fine point to precisely capture screenshots, and use the stylus to scroll through websites.

For me, the S Pen was an unnecessary inclusion. I’d much rather that space be taken up by an even larger battery or camera sensors. At this point, it feels like Samsung includes the accessory to maintain the lineage. If I could remap the button’s functionality to something custom, like thumbing through pages in the Kindle app, I’d definitely get more use out of it.

Related

No, a MagSafe Case Won’t Break Your Galaxy S24 Ultra’s S Pen

But MagSafe accessories may have a varying impact S Pen performance.

Also, I know this is a very personal gripe, but I absolutely hate that the S Pen is located on the left side of the handset. I know its location likely has to do with the 5G antennas and power/volume buttons on the right side, but reaching with my right hand to the other side of the phone to grab the S Pen feels extremely awkward. This likely added to my lack of usage of the stylus.

I’ll touch on Samsung’s decision not to include Qi2 in a second, but it should be mentioned that some magnetic accessories will cause interference with the S Pen. You shouldn’t run into any issues using a MagSafe-style case, but the stylus might not work properly if you attach a magnetic wallet or mount the Galaxy S24 Ultra to a charger.

Samsung displays a warning notification if it detects a magnetic case or accessory that might cause problems.

Battery Life: Don’t Worry About It

The Galaxy S24 Ultra comes with a 5,000mAh battery. It’s quite literally one of the largest batteries you can find in mainstream smartphones (the iPhone 15 Pro Max only has a 4,441mAh battery). Thankfully, all of that juice means the phone can last all day and probably most of tomorrow.

Most days, if I was really pushing the phone by constantly using the camera and scrolling through TikTok, I was getting over five hours of screen-on time with over 20% battery left. I was so unconcerned about battery life that I turned on the Maximum Battery Percentage feature.

Much like Apple’s Charging Optimization, Samsung’s feature caps the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s battery capacity at 80%. Theoretically, this should protect the handset’s battery from premature aging. Even with this turned on for most of my two-week testing period, I was never stuck looking for a charger before bed.

If you are worried about battery life, I would recommend turning off the always-on lock screen. Even though the display can slow all of the way down to 1Hz, I noticed a significant enough drain that resulted in me turning off the feature. Being able to always see the time and my notifications isn’t worth the 5-8% of my battery life.

Now is a good time to bring up the fact that Samsung didn’t include Qi2 functionality. The Galaxy S24 is capable of 15W wireless charging (and 45W wired), but it’s missing out on all the magnetic accessories that were all the rage at this year’s CES. The previously mentioned S Pen interference issues likely caused the omission, but Samsung also didn’t include the feature in the standard S24 or S24+. It’s disappointing to see as flagships from other manufacturers will likely include the new charging standard.

Display: It’s Beautiful (and Easy to Read Outside)

Person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra showing the How-To Geek website
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

There is one fact about the Galaxy S24 Ultra that no one can argue: the display is absolutely amazing. Samsung has always been a leader in terms of panel quality (whether we’re talking smartphones, monitors, or TVs), but the company took it up a notch this year.

Out of the box, the phone’s screen is set to FHD+ (2,340 x 1080p), but it can be bumped up to QHD+ (3,120 x 1440p). Either way, though, everything pops and looks fantastic. Colors are vivid, text is sharp, and movies look out of this world.

All of those statements are things I could also say about last year’s S23 Ultra. What’s new this year is the display’s 2,600nits peak brightness and the inclusion of the new Gorilla Glass Armor. In addition to being more scratch-resistant than Gorilla Glass Victus 2, Armor shows fewer reflections. This aspect of the material didn’t stand out to me during Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked announcement, but it makes the S24 Ultra a joy to use inside and out.

Performance and Software: All the Power You’ll Need

Person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra showing the quick setting menu
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is powered by the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Samsung SoC and 12GB of RAM. This combination of hardware specs basically means the handset can handle any task you send its way. It should be able to chew through AAA games and easily power a desktop experience when using DeX.

As far as the software experience, don’t expect anything new or revolutionary. If you’ve used One UI at all over the last few years, you’ll already be right at home. Personally, I think Samsung offers too many options literally everywhere you go in the phone’s various menus, but I’d rather have more customization choices than none at all.

Additionally, Samsung is now offering seven years of Android OS updates and security updates on the Galaxy S24 series. With this change, Samsung claims it will support the line of phones longer than most customers will own them.

There isn’t much more I can say about the Ultra’s performance. It’s at the top of the market in terms of capabilities. Thankfully, though, Qualcomm’s over-powered processor comes in clutch when handling Samsung’s (and Google’s) latest AI features.

AI Features: Actually Useful (With Fewer Gimmicks)

If you’re like me, you’re likely tired of hearing about “AI this” and “AI that.” In most cases, this “AI” is nothing more than a fun gimmick that is entertaining for five seconds, and then you forget about it. Thankfully, that’s not the case with most of the Galaxy AI features found on the S24 Ultra.

The AI feature that I think most will use routinely is called Circle to Search. Basically, it’s using Google’s Gemini AI to visually identify objects on your screen and help you search for them. For example, you can circle a handbag that someone is wearing in an Instagram post or select the name of a restaurant in an email. Google will use these details to bring you search results without you typing a single query.

The feature worked surprisingly well, which is why I’m glad that it’ll soon be rolling out to other Android devices, including Google’s Pixel 8 series.

Other convenient AI features that I put through their paces during my review include Live Translate, Chat Translation, and Writing Style. It’s absolutely amazing being able to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak the same language and letting Samsung handle the entire conversation in real-time. You can also use your phone to help draft a more professional-sounding message to a coworker or craft a social media-friendly caption.

I believe that the Galaxy AI features stand out compared to others because they have real-world use cases that aren’t only theoretical. I’ll be traveling to Barcelona for MWC in several weeks, and almost every feature baked into the S24 Ultra will help me communicate with others without a huge translation lag.

Person holding the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra showing the back of the phone
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Samsung, Google, and Apple have all mastered smartphone photography. Sensors are small, so you can’t expect perfection, but for most use cases, the camera in your pocket is more than capable of capturing sights and memories. That basically sums up the five different cameras found on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Looking at the back of the phone, you’ll find a similar setup to what was included in 2023’s S23 Ultra. Both include a 200MP wide, 12MP ultra-wide, and a 10MP 3x zoom. What’s new this year is a 50MP 5x zoom in place for the 10MP 10x zoom. Samsung claims that you’ll get better zoom performance thanks to the higher megapixel count.

Below are samples from each of the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s sensors and optical zooms, moving from 0.6x, 1x, 3x, 5x, 10x, 30x, to 100x.

From my experience, when in good lighting and the subject isn’t moving, you’re able to capture a great-looking photo. Items are sharp, though colors can sometimes be a bit saturated and images can look a bit over-processed.

Here are low-light photo samples from the Galaxy S24 Ultra with the exact same focal lengths.

Low-light performance is still rather solid compared to outdoor shots. You will see more grain and everything is a bit softer, but the sensors collect enough information to produce a photo good enough to post on social media or share with friends.

Unfortunately, I noticed that the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s cameras started to fall short rather quickly when used in less-than-perfect situations. Using the photos below as examples, when standing still and properly stabilizing the phone, I was able to capture an image of a forest and the sky with excellent sharpness and contrast. But then, when I took pictures while on a moving train, both the subject and the background got extremely soft and, oftentimes, became blurry.

This wasn’t only a problem with my review unit. I heard similar complaints from other reviewers. I asked Samsung if the company would be pushing out any performance updates to the Galaxy S24 Ultra before launch, but the firmware version on my handset is what you will be getting if you decide to purchase the phone.

Knowing the image quality of the Galaxy S23 Ultra and comparing it to the S24 Ultra, I have a strong hunch that Samsung will be working on a performance update for the camera. The sensors are clearly able to capture great photos, but something on the software side of the equation needs to be tweaked.

Video Performance

After playing with the Pixel 8 Pro and the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I can confidently say that I believe Samsung is still the king of video capture in the Android world, but if you want the best, you’ll want to look at Apple’s offerings.

That’s not to say the video I took using the Galaxy S24 Ultra is bad. With proper lighting, the phone had no problem keeping subjects in focus. Plus, the microphone performance is superb. But drop into a low-light situation, and things don’t look the greatest.

Samsung also offers a generative AI feature to create slow-mo video out of non-slow-mo clips captured on the S24 Ultra. It does this by creating frames to fill in the gaps. For example, by default, your 30fps video gets slowed down to 120fps. You can see this in action below.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the AI slow-mo. The generated frames tend to look wonky, distorting moving objects between keyframes. In the video, for example, my dog’s legs tend to simply disappear every couple of seconds.

It’s a neat feature to play with, but if you want to capture a video of those around you moving at a lower speed, I’d recommend adjusting your camera settings before hitting record.

Front-Facing Selfie Camera

Front facing selfie camera on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

I’m really going to start sounding like a broken record. The 12MP front-facing camera sensor can capture fantastic selfies, but the phone does its best work in favorable environments.

As with the rear cameras, the S24 Ultra produces sharp images with true-to-life colors while seated and in good lighting. Even Portrait mode looks great with minimal haloing and a natural-looking bokeh.

But as soon as you add in difficult shooting situations, such as movement from a train, subjects are softer and backgrounds go blurry.

What About the Galaxy S24 and S24+?

Person holding up the Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24+ comparing physical size
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Just like in previous years, the Ultra is launching alongside two smaller siblings. What’s different this time around, though, is that there isn’t a giant leap in quality or performance between the S24, S24+, and the S24 Ultra. All three handsets feature the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, 3088 x 1440p displays, and Galaxy AI features.

The main differences all come down to physical size and camera quality. The S24 and S24+ have smaller and more rounded designs, which means they don’t have room for an S Pen, but also means they are easier to hold. The S24 Ultra has an extra zoom lens (the 5x), plus the wide and ultra-wide sensors offer much higher megapixel counts.

Which phone you pick up should come down to what is the most comfortable to hold and use as the specs and features are nearly identical. All three should be able to take great photos, power through tasks, and last you all day on a single charge. Additionally, the S24 starts at $799.99 and the S24+ is $999.99, which is hundreds of dollars cheaper than the S24 Ultra.

Should You Buy the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra?

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in every color
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Pound for pound, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra will likely be the best Android smartphone of 2024. It has the best specs. It has some of the best camera sensors. It has actually useful AI features and seven years of firmware updates. There isn’t much else you can ask for if you’re in the market for an Android smartphone.

The only reason why I wouldn’t recommend the S24 Ultra over the smaller S24 or S24+ is strictly due to size. The Ultra is a big phone. There’s no denying it. If you want all 6.8-inches of screen real estate and an S Pen, then you’ll be perfectly happy with this handset. But if you want a more pocketable device with basically identical performance and only slightly lower-quality cameras, I’d give the other two Samsung flagships a look.

Also, if you’re already an owner of a Galaxy S23 Ultra, I don’t recommend upgrading just yet. The year-over-year performance changes aren’t all that crazy. Plus, if you’re jealous of the Circle to Search feature, it and the other Galaxy AI goodies will be rolling out to your phone later this year.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra stock image

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is Samsung’s top-of-the-line Android flagship from Samsung. New in 2024, this smartphone features a titanium frame, a flat cover display made out of Gorilla Glass armor, and a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC that powers the new Galaxy AI features. 

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