Samsung Galaxy 24 Ultra review: The era of the AI smartphone has officially begun

Forget hardware – generative AI is poised to become the next big thing in your hands

Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
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In years past, smartphones leaned towards aesthetic flair – those that had the flashiest looks and more camera lenses stood out, with manufacturers touting them at their launches.

Of course software, was also a key part – but thanks to artificial intelligence, never has it been this big of a deal.

So forget hardware, because Samsung Electronics has officially launched the era of the AI smartphone with the Galaxy S24 series.

All models in the line-up – the S24, S24+ and, the unit we will be checking out, the top-end S24 Ultra – come with Galaxy AI, Samsung's on-device generative AI feature that vows to bring the experience of the technological craze in your hands. They are all available for sale in the UAE, starting Wednesday.

And at a time when the global smartphone market is slowing down – and Samsung recently being knocked off its perch as the top manufacturer by Apple – the segment needs something to revitalise consumer sentiment.

The National has already delved into the device's specs and prices, so it is time to find out how the Galaxy S24 Ultra does in real life.

Form: What has changed in the Galaxy S24 Ultra?

Virtually nothing. Samsung has opted to keep a consistent look for three years running – it is always a good idea to distinguish yourself from the competition and have your own identity.

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY S24 ULTRA

Display: 6.8" quad-HD+ dynamic Amoled 2X, 3120 x 1440, 505ppi, HDR10+, 120Hz

Processor: 4nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, 64-bit octa-core

Memory: 12GB RAM

Storage: 256/512GB / 1TB

Platform: Android 14, One UI 6.1

Main camera: quad 200MP wide f/1.7 + 50MP periscope telephoto f/3.4 with 5x optical/10x optical quality zoom + 10MP telephoto 2.4 with 3x optical zoom + 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 100x Space Zoom; auto HDR, expert RAW

Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60/120fps, full-HD@30/60/240fps, full-HD super slo-mo@960fps

Front camera: 12MP f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh, fast wireless charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare

Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC

I/O: USB-C; built-in Galaxy S Pen

Durability: IP68, up to 1.5m of freshwater up to 30 minutes; dust-resistant

SIM: Nano + nano / nano + eSIM / dual eSIM (varies in different markets)

Colours: Titanium black, titanium grey, titanium violet, titanium yellow

In the box: Galaxy S24 Ultra, USB-C-to-C cable

Price: Dh5,099 for 256GB, Dh5,599 for 512GB, Dh6,599 for 1TB

You still get a 6.8-inch display, and the S Pen is still neatly tucked in the bottom-left edge.

The most notable change to the Galaxy S24 Ultra is that it now uses a frame made of titanium, a material lighter yet tougher that Apple began to use in last year's iPhone 15 Pro devices.

However, it does not make that much of a difference in weight, since the S24 Ultra clocks in at 232g – slightly lighter than the S23 Ultra's 234g.

The bezels are also a tad slimmer while the display is less curvy compared to its predecessor.

So, overall, an already elegant look has only looked better.

Also, keep in mind that only the Ultra model uses titanium; the entry-level S24 and mid-tier S24+ still use aluminium frames.

Performance: Even speedier

The Galaxy S24 Ultra uses the Qualcomm Snapdragon Gen 3 chip, which gives it an up to 40 per cent bump-up in performance and up to 25 per cent better graphics processing.

This ensures lag-free performance and speedy results as you zip through the device. This is critical as we go through the AI part in a while.

Heat control has also been improved as Samsung has doubled the size of the device's vapour chamber. We did not encounter any heating issues, not even under the sun in the hot and humid weather in parts of the Philippines.

The Snapdragon Gen 3 processor also shines in the gaming department when we tested out Call of Duty Mobile on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. The graphics were fluid and the chip also did quite well with battery efficiency (more on that later).

Enter Galaxy AI

As we have previously reported, Samsung's Galaxy AI is, without a doubt, the biggest takeaway from the Galaxy S24 series.

Galaxy AI is aimed at helping users for certain tasks, from live translations and transcriptions in chats and calls, to editing and searching for images.

It is powered by Samsung's Gauss machine learning platform, which it launched in November – indicating its official entry into the generative AI race.

In short, it is a big deal. If you still do not believe the age of AI has dawned upon us, look no further.

As we have earlier stated, we already did a rundown of Galaxy AI's features – Live Translation in 13 languages (initially), Interpreter that translates conversations even offline, Chat Assist that sets “perfect” conversational tones, the template creator Notes Assist and Transcript Assist that transcribes, summarises and translates voice recordings.

While driving, Android Auto has you covered, as it summarises incoming messages and can even send details such as your estimated time of arrival.

However, two things stand out.

Learn everything about anything

See something that you would want more information on or want to buy? Galaxy AI will use Circle to Search, powered by Google, to provide the details.

Sneak peek into the all-new Galaxy 24's lineup at Samsung Unpacked

Sneak peek into the all-new Galaxy 24's lineup at Samsung Unpacked

Circle to Search was announced the same week the Galaxy S24 series was launched, as the company aims to attract more users by modifying how they interact with search engines.

The feature will allow users to search for information on their Android smartphones without switching apps. They can do it by using intuitive gestures such as circling, highlighting, scribbling or simply tapping, the company said.

On a Galaxy S24 device, take a photo of the subject you are interested in and draw a circle around it to find out more details.

For example, if you see a pair of shoes, just do the above and Galaxy AI will provide more information, including prices and where you could get them. The feature also applies to a fancy restaurant or a landmark.

Photo manipulation, ethically done

A key aspect of generative AI has been its ability to manipulate images, and Galaxy AI offers functionality to support such advanced picture edits.

Want a person in a different position? Galaxy AI can move them for you. Unwanted obstructions in your photo? It can remove them.

Simply select the elements you want modified by drawing a line around them. The bits not required are removed and Galaxy AI will add generated content into those spaces.

Here is a sample, with Mount Batulao, located in Batangas province, south of Manila, in the background. Also notice that the edited photos have a watermark in the bottom-left corner.

This is quite a good edit, as Galaxy AI was able to perfectly generate the missing background when the bare tree trunks were removed.

This is fairly good as the second coconut tree was made to look like a branchless one, while the last one was nearly completely reconstructed.

Of course, it is not perfect (yet), as we see in the next sets, this time with Taal Volcano, believed to be the world's smallest yet one of the most active, in Tagaytay City, Cavite province, south of Manila, in the background.

It seems OK at first glance – until you realise the shadows of the people are not consistent with the rest, and were even left behind in their original spot.

Meanwhile, this last one gets a bit tricky.

This one completely forgets to include the man's shadow, leaving it behind. To be transparent, we did not select the shadow in the first place, but when we did, this was the result:

As a result, improvements are in the offing. And to ensure transparency and avoid misinformation, metadata is produced and that watermark we mentioned above is placed to indicate that an image has been enhanced or manipulated.

What is our call on Galaxy AI?

All of the features are useful – very useful – depending on your perspective. It is fun to play around with generative AI photo editing and explore with Circle to Search.

But our money is on the productivity tools – they are so, so useful especially for work and breaking down language barriers.

The even better part – they're all on-device, which eliminates the need for a third-party app and the risk of contracting some virus or something.

Camera: a little less is quite more

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has a quad-lens camera bannered by a 200MP lens, plus two telephoto lenses with resolutions of 50MP and 10MP, respectively, and a 12MP ultra-wide lens. Up front, there is still a 12MP lens.

Interestingly, while one of the Ultra's telephoto lenses was bumped up to 50MP, Samsung decided to halve its optical zoom to 5x.

While it looks like a downgrade at first glance, it really isn't. The bigger 50MP sensor compensates for the lower zoom, which should result in better images.

And, as you have seen above, the shots produced are crisp and bright. We reckon its night function has also been improved, with more solid details.

Battery stays put

For the third year running, Samsung's Ultra device clocks in at 5,000mAh. And like its predecessor, you can still stretch it from morning until early evening the following day, so as long as you know how and when to conserve its use.

Ditto for our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, which showed that the Galaxy S24 Ultra lost only 5 per cent of juice.

Meanwhile, its charging features also remain the same. With a 45W charger, Samsung claims it can be charged up to 65 per cent in only half an hour; we were able to climb up at 63 per cent in our test, and 86 per cent within an hour.

A 30W charger, on the other hand, yields results of 30 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively. Again, you will need your own charging cube because Samsung no longer includes those in the box.

Verdict

If this is the benchmark for the first generative AI smartphone, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has set a pretty high bar. Sure, it is not perfect – we could do more with generative AI photo editing and speedier translations – but this is a really good start.

One thing that is certain is that Samsung is not afraid to push the envelope and be at the forefront of something new. In any case, the South Korean technology giant has succeeded in one thing – it has opened the floodgates for what we can call the next great rush of smartphone innovation. Or maybe wait for Jony Ive and Co's 'iPhone of AI'.

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Updated: February 01, 2024, 12:25 PM
SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY S24 ULTRA

Display: 6.8" quad-HD+ dynamic Amoled 2X, 3120 x 1440, 505ppi, HDR10+, 120Hz

Processor: 4nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, 64-bit octa-core

Memory: 12GB RAM

Storage: 256/512GB / 1TB

Platform: Android 14, One UI 6.1

Main camera: quad 200MP wide f/1.7 + 50MP periscope telephoto f/3.4 with 5x optical/10x optical quality zoom + 10MP telephoto 2.4 with 3x optical zoom + 12MP ultra-wide f/2.2; 100x Space Zoom; auto HDR, expert RAW

Video: 8K@24/30fps, 4K@30/60/120fps, full-HD@30/60/240fps, full-HD super slo-mo@960fps

Front camera: 12MP f/2.2

Battery: 5000mAh, fast wireless charging 2.0, Wireless PowerShare

Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC

I/O: USB-C; built-in Galaxy S Pen

Durability: IP68, up to 1.5m of freshwater up to 30 minutes; dust-resistant

SIM: Nano + nano / nano + eSIM / dual eSIM (varies in different markets)

Colours: Titanium black, titanium grey, titanium violet, titanium yellow

In the box: Galaxy S24 Ultra, USB-C-to-C cable

Price: Dh5,099 for 256GB, Dh5,599 for 512GB, Dh6,599 for 1TB