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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: A good year to upgrade

Gelo Gonzales

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: A good year to upgrade

SAMSUNG S24 ULTRA

Gelo Gonzales/Rappler

The S24's AI functions will eventually find themselves in other Samsung devices, but the S24 Ultra offers the most premium experience

Disclosure: Samsung lent an S24 Ultra for this review.

MANILA, Philippines – The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is quite the phone. Of course, that’s almost always the case with Samsung’s Ultra models. But it’s not every year that they truly hit the mark. However, this year feels like the closest they’ve gotten to a bullseye in recent memory. 

The gist of it is that the S24 Ultra is great on both the hardware and software fronts. On the hardware side, it’s a refinement of last year’s S23 Ultra – and that phone got great reviews last year – with several key improvements. On the software side, there are, of course, all those fancy AI functions you’ve been hearing about. And all in all, it’s greater than the sum of its parts, making the S24 Ultra quite the object of tech desire. 

Of course, it’s not for everyone. Starting at P84,990, there are much more practical choices out there, even within the Ultra’s own S line. But where money is no object, it’s hard not to get excited about the S24 Ultra.

Display ditches the curves and is now flat

The S24 Ultra doesn’t look significantly different from the S23 Ultra: same size (6.8 inch display), and same rear camera array.

But there are changes. The S24 Ultra’s display is now completely flat. The S23 Ultra still had a slight curve. The side of the body still has a slight curve on the S24 Ultra, but it’s less pronounced than last year’s model. It’s a matter of taste, but I’m liking the flat display so far. 

The change is kind of bittersweet too though as curved displays had always been an S-phone signature. Does this officially mark the end for Samsung’s curved phones? 

Titanium build

The titanium back feels great to the touch, and feels and looks premium. Apple also touted the titanium in its iPhone 15 phones, but according to CNN, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max’s titanium can only be found on the frame, while the back remains glass. The S24 Ultra’s frame and back are made of titanium.

Interestingly though, while the S24 Ultra’s titanium use is found on both the frame and back, YouTuber JerryRigEverything’s teardown of the iPhone 15 Pro series and S24 Ultra showed that the former uses higher grade titanium than the latter, which is supposedly tougher. 

Still, I have no complaints on the S24 Ultra. It really feels great in the hand, although it will indeed feel too big for some. Make sure to test out the size at stores, and see if you’re comfortable with this phablet. The titanium back also appears to have some more grip, and less obvious fingerprint smudging than the S23 Ultra’s glass back.

Higher max brightness

The display has a major improvement too, with the S24 Ultra’s maximum brightness increasing to 2,600 nits from the S23 Ultra’s 1,750 nits. You’ll see the difference when using it in broad daylight. Its display is brighter than its rival, the iPhone 15 Pro phones at 2,000 nits.

For further comparison though, there are other flagships such as the OPPO Find X7 Ultra, whose display is at 4,500 nits and the Xiaomi 14 phones at 3,000 nits. But it’s not yet clear when these phones are coming to our shores.

The brightness level isn’t the only thing helping the S24’s display look better in bright scenarios, as its new anti-glare coating appears to be doing some good work too. We tried shining a flashlight on the displays of both the S24 Ultra and S23 Ultra, and there does appear to be a noticeable difference. 

Goodbye 10x optical zoom, hello 5x

On the camera end of things, the big change comes in the form of a new 50MP 5x telephoto camera. Three of the S24 Ultra’s cameras are the same as the S23 Ultra’s: a 200MP wide camera, a 12MP ultrawide, and a 10MP 3x telephoto. Gone is the S23 Ultra’s 10MP 10x telephoto. 

You’re getting less zoom here but a higher resolution with the 5x telephoto. The Verge’s review notes that Samsung’s justification for this change is that the 5x optical is much more usable than 10x. Maybe Samsung indeed has data on what zoom level people use more, but to me, it still feels like a subjective matter, so just be aware of this change. 

Here are a few samples, but we’ll do a more in-depth camera review next time. You can click on the photo for a closer view.

For the processor, in markets outside the US, only the S24 Ultra will have the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. The base and Plus variants will carry the Samsung Exynos 2400. Early benchmarking tests have shown the Snapdragon having slightly better performance than the Exynos. 

AI in focus

For at least a few months, Samsung’s AI features – powered by both in-house AI solutions and from AI partner Google – will be exclusive to the S24 line. That’s one of the appeals for the early adopter, and there are a lot of fun, and some genuinely useful AI features here. 

And even when the AI features do come to the older models, the S24’s newer processors are better attuned for on-device AI processing.

Circle-to-search is the most useful AI feature here, and I’m seeing this as something that changes the way we use and search for information on our phone. It just makes things so much easier. See something you want on your screen you want more information on? Just hold the home button, tap or encircle the particular object you want to know more about, and that’s it, you’re given a set of search results. 

The large display of the Ultra works really well with the new function.

And it works on nearly whatever the screen is displaying on. So far, only Netflix seems to have blocked usage of the feature. But when you’re on Instagram, Facebook, browsing on Chrome, chatting on apps, YouTube, or just on your home screen, you can call up Circle to Search. It can identify art, a pair of shoes, a restaurant, and all sorts of information except for information on people, which are limited. 

Using it is habit-forming, and whenever I switch to an older phone, I feel slightly annoyed that I can’t bring up the Circle to Search function. 

Live call translation and interpreter features are potentially very useful too. But the limitation here is that it’s useful for maybe short conversations, like asking for directions, or as we’ve demoed before, setting a reservation at a restaurant where they don’t speak your language. Longer conversations may feel tedious as while the translation isn’t slow, it’s not fast enough to make a conversation feel really natural.

Voice transcription is a favorite too, as often, such a service can be found online for a fee. It’s great that this can be done via phone. The Google Pixel, however, as The Verge has reported, transcribes in real time, while the S24 can only do so after the recording. Like anything AI-produced though, the transcript or summaries the phone produces is something that I would still double check for accuracy before completely trusting it or using it in my work. 

Of all the AI features, the most fun for me is the slow-mo AI feature for videos. With it, you can turn any video shot at either 30 frames per second or 60 frames per second to slow mo, with generative AI adding frames to achieve slow motion. It’s not flawless, and best results are seen when shooting videos that don’t have complicated elements or backgrounds. 

But when it works, it does look good, and it’s fun to look back at old videos and see how they’d look in slow motion, even if they weren’t shot in slow-mode to begin with. 

There are also image editing features that use AI such as a function that allows you to erase objects or move them around in a photo, or erase reflections. These are fun too but the results can certainly be improved. 

@rappler

Wanna crop out an ex from a photo? Or maybe photobombers from vacay snaps? The brand new #SamsungGalaxyS24 features image editing powered by #AI that lets you do that and more. #Samsung #SamsungGalaxy #smartphone #artificialintelligence #SamsungUnpacked #newsph #tiktokph #fyp #Rappler

♬ original sound – Rappler – Rappler

And by the way, the AI features are only guaranteed to be free until the end of 2025 – a decision that Samsung owes to the high costs associated with demanding AI cloud processing, and evolving AI technology – and we aren’t sure yet what sort of paid system Samsung will put up when that time comes. 

Must Read

The Samsung S24’s AI features will only be free until end of 2025 – here’s why

The Samsung S24’s AI features will only be free until end of 2025 – here’s why

Aside from that, what’s notable is Samsung increasing software and security update support from the S23’s 5 years to the S24’s 7 years. That’s an excellent support guarantee for a phone at this price range, and that’s plus points to sustainability too as the longer you can hold on to your phones, the better it is for the environment.

All in all, with the display brightness improvement, titanium finish, this being the only Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset-equipped S24, and of course, its stage-setting AI features that are a mix of useful, experimental, and extended software and security support, the S24 Ultra represents a good upgrade year. 

Or if you can’t wait to dip your toes into mobile-enabled AI, the Ultra offers a strong package, if not entirely cohesive, as brands including Samsung are only now starting to figure out how to roll out AI-enabled features on their phones. 

Interested only in the AI features? The cheapest way you’ll be able to get your hands on those will be with the Galaxy S23 FE at P36,990. The update for the AI functions is expected to arrive by June 2024, and will be coming to the full S23 line, the Galaxy Tab S9, and the Flip5 and Fold5. – Rappler.com

Pre-order Samsung Galaxy S24 devices:

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Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.