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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra hands-on: Adding a pinch of AI spice to the formula

With Galaxy AI at its core, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra wants to forever change the definition of a flagship smartphone.
By

Published onJanuary 17, 2024

I spent hands-on time with the new Samsung Galaxy S24, S24 Plus, and S24 Ultra in London this week, and it left me with both a sense of deja vu and standing in the starting blocks of a very new, possibly game-changing arms race.

On the one hand, the phones look and feel eerily familiar with everything Samsung has put out this decade. After leaving the event, I almost thought I’d pocketed the S24 Ultra by mistake instead of my trusty S23 Ultra. I won’t try to convince you that the new flat display on the Ultra makes a meaningful difference to using the S Pen as Samsung claims, that the new titanium design is groundbreakingly more robust, or that the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy processor is that much more responsive for gaming. But honestly, those aren’t the reasons to be interested in Samsung’s latest flagships, especially if you own a recent generation model.

Instead, Samsung is banking on Galaxy AI — its new suite of local and cloud-based generative AI features — to shake up the formula. Even on first impressions, there is enough new here to get excited about.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Powerful, flexible cameras
Excellent update commitment
Brilliant flat display
See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus
Bright, sharp 1440p display
Excellent update commitment
Handy Galaxy AI features
See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S24
Samsung Galaxy S24
Seven-year update commitment
Neat AI features
Robust battery life

Can Galaxy AI rejuvenate the series?

Samsung Galaxy S24 GalaxyAI Chat Assist
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Galaxy AI encompasses a range of technologies, from Note Assist summaries, Browing Assist page translations, Transcript Assist, various image and video editing tools you might already be familiar with, and a couple of new additions. The good news for prospective buyers is that these features are found across the entire range, from the $799 Galaxy S24 to the $1,299 Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Chat Assist and Circle to Search are the two AI features you’ll likely use daily. Circle to Search will be familiar if you’ve used Google Lens on a Pixel; it’s essentially the same feature. Long-press the home button, circle anything on your screen that you want to look up (including text), and you’ll receive a list of relevant search results. It’s simple and helpful.

What's your favorite Galaxy AI feature?

950 votes

Chat Assist is where the Galaxy S24 truly meets the latest AI trends. Built into the Samsung keyboard, Chat Assist puts spelling and grammar, writing style conversion, and chat translation AI tools into essentially every app on your phone. This goes beyond the typical “as you type” grammar check, allowing you to fix up and rework entire sentences and paragraphs before hitting send. As someone who wastes far too much time recrafting email responses, having AI handle the busy work is a real win. Similarly, the translation feature improves on other setups, allowing you to quickly convert text and even entire message histories without retyping into a new textbox.

While I couldn’t try out Live Translate (real-time audio translation for calls), Google’s similar implementation is hugely impressive on the Pixel 8 series. It hints that we might see quite a bit of feature parity between the two brands regarding translation capabilities. Great for travelers, calling home, and business users alike.

Samsung puts its AI features where you need them without feeling like intrusive gimmicks.

Notably, Samsung strikes the right balance between putting its AI features right where you need them without feeling like intrusive gimmicks. That would have been the easy option to grab attention, but Samsung’s implementation feels built to serve rather than to stand out, seamlessly weaving options into the right places. You can certainly use the Galaxy S24 Ultra without ever touching an AI feature, but you’d be missing out.

Refining Galaxy S24 hardware

If AI isn’t your thing (I can’t blame you; the buzzword seems inescapable), you’ll find a few fundamental hardware changes that might tempt you to upgrade.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra leads the charge with the most significant changes. The old subtly curved panel has been replaced with a flat screen that provides slightly thinner bezels and easier use of the S Pen across the panel. The lovely-looking screen now hits 2,600 nits of peak local brightness for HDR content, with up to 1,500 nits configurable by the user for general viewing, and is protected by Corning Gorilla Armor Glass, boasting a 50% improvement to scratch resistance.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Family 5
Lanh Nguyen / Android Authority

On the back, the camera array looks the same, but the classic 10x telephoto lens has been swapped out for a 5x optical zoom, with Samsung moving to a 12MP crop from the 50MP sensor to provide a “native” 10x crop. While not really a quad optical zoom camera (the focal length doesn’t change), the S24 Ultra pairs these capabilities with multi-frame image fusion that should provide more robust and high-quality zoom across key ranges. With other brands upping their camera game, this could prove an essential change to keep the S24 Ultra competitive in the photography domain.

Samsung houses this all in a sturdy feeling titanium chassis, but otherwise, you’ll find familiar trappings, like the S Pen, up to 1TB storage, and an IP68 rating. However, the new hardware and AI features come with a $100 increase to the starting price tag.

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra boasts most of the series' changes, but costs $100 more.

Samsung isn’t leaving the regular Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus out of the hardware upgrades. Both now sport 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate displays, slimmer bezels, and slightly larger batteries (4,000mAh on the S24 and 4,900mAh on the S24 Plus). The Plus also boasts a QHD display resolution. Sadly, there are no camera hardware improvements for Samsung’s more cost-effective models, which is disappointing. However, their prices remain pretty reasonable, at $799 and $999, respectively.

Another change in store for Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus owners, at least outside of the US, is the return of Samsung’s in-house Exynos chipset — the Exynos 2400 for Galaxy. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know precisely how this stacks up against the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy found in the Ultra and entire US range. Hopefully, we’re not looking at a second-class performance tier, but the good news is that Samsung hasn’t removed any AI or other features for Exynos-powered devices.

Samsung Galaxy S24 series impressions: Our verdict

Samsung Galaxy S24 series standing angled
Robert Triggs / Android Authority

While these changes are welcome, they don’t fundamentally change the Galaxy experience from years gone by. If you’ve used a recent Galaxy flagship, you’ll know what these devices feel like to use, for better or worse. Likewise, One UI 6.1 is an incremental upgrade over the One UI 6 software currently running on the Galaxy S23 series, and with years of updates left, recent models still feel very current.

Samsung’s Galaxy S24 Ultra offers a bit more new hardware, mostly in the camera department. Still, we’ll have to spend more time with it to determine whether the upgrades are worth the extra cash.

Which Galaxy S24 phone are you buying or most interested in?

1235 votes

This circles us back to Galaxy AI as the key reason to have your eye on the new Galaxy S24 series. I’d hesitate to call the new features as revolutionary as Samsung claims. However, the company has earmarked some useful AI utilities and implemented them very well for a first-generation attempt. This bodes well if AI is to become the cornerstone of Samsung’s future Galaxy releases.

Still, this begs the question: Will previous Galaxy handsets see an update to the cloud-based Galaxy AI features at the very least (even if there’s a subscription cost)? Samsung told Android Authority that a number of Galaxy AI features will come to the S23 series, Z Fold 5, Z Flip 5, and Tab S9 in the first half of 2024. The company says it wants to “democratize AI,” which is a great step in supporting older products, but perhaps that leaves the Galaxy S24 series a little harder to sell.

See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Powerful, flexible cameras
Excellent update commitment
Brilliant flat display
See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus
Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus
Bright, sharp 1440p display
Excellent update commitment
Handy Galaxy AI features
See price at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy S24
Samsung Galaxy S24
Seven-year update commitment
Neat AI features
Robust battery life

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