Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: It's the ultimate 2024 premium smartphone, and we've only just begun
Overview, Design, UI
Note: This feature was first published on 31 January 2024.
Unpacking an AI-powered phone
Tech events come and go throughout the year, but an indisputable fact is that Samsung’s Galaxy S series launch is always one of the biggest, most exciting events of the year. This year, the Galaxy S24 series launch introduced the premium flagship Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra along with the Galaxy S24 and Galaxy S24+ models.
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, on paper, has nearly all the trimmings a true premium flagship phone should have. It comes with a customised version of Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 mobile chipset, a flat 6.8-inch QHD+ display with 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate, a new peak brightness of 2,600 nits (nearly 50% higher than its predecessor), Corning Gorilla Armor on the front display that supposedly reduces glare by up to 75%, and a new layer of titanium on the chassis frame.
With 12GB of LPDDR5X RAM across all storage configurations and up to 1TB of UFS 4.0 storage, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s starting point is already higher than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. All these upgrades easily account for why the S24 Ultra's starting price has also inched up from last year, but it's easily justifiable.
While we still get a 200MP main camera, the Quad Tele System rear camera array has been upgraded with a new 50MP 5x optical zoom telephoto lens, capped off with a new ProVisual Engine technology to enhance camera performance using AI tools. All these are on top of existing camera performance techniques like pixel-binning, machine learning and more.
With a host of improvements across the board, it’s hard not to wonder if this phone might be the ultimate Android phone of 2024 this early into the year.
|Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Boosted vision for a flat display
Design-wise, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra iterated far more than previous models. Not only is the display now flat, but the bezels are finally consistent on all four sides. Immediately, it makes for a much more aesthetically pleasing outlook.
The new Vision Booster feature automatically counters extreme sunlit conditions by adjusting display brightness to a peak brightness of 2,600 nits. The display is incredibly legible outdoors, even under harsh afternoon sunlight. Despite the Sun bearing down on us, the panel still outputs vibrant colours. We’re very pleased with this upgrade from the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 1,750 nit peak brightness.
The screen is mildly different now, with a 3,120 x 1,440 pixels resolution compared to the 3,088 x 1,440 pixels resolution of the Galaxy S23 Ultra. However, it still retains the 1-120Hz adaptive refresh rate and 6.8-inch size. The change is likely because of its new flat design and minimised bezels.
Protected by Corning Gorilla Armor, the glass on the front display lives up to the company’s claims of reducing glare (up to 75%), pairing beautifully with the brighter display to reduce reflections from windows and adjacent light sources while in use.
The under-display fingerprint reader is blazing fast, with just a quick tap needed for the phone to read my fingerprint and unlock it. Face recognition is also snappy, with both methods taking less than half a second to unlock the phone.
The new titanium frame of the phone is a nice touch, and Samsung’s implementation is even slightly better than that of another titanium-clad competitor because of its ability to withstand oily smudges and fingerprints better. The downside to a flat display on a big screen is the added dexterity required to wield the phone firmly, especially if you have average-sized or smaller hands.
Our unit in Titanium Grey looks similar to the iPhone's Natural Titanium colourway at first glance. But, under different angles, the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s titanium appearance has a warmer hue compared to the cooler tint of the titanium iPhones.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra comes in Titanium Grey, Titanium Black, Titanium Violet and Titanium Yellow. While the black and grey models are a little more subdued, the yellow option does offer a bright pop of colour. Titanium Violet stands out with its deep purple hues, and it looks almost black in darker venues.
Some readers have asked us what colour to choose if they want to stand out with their new purchase and our recommendation is to go with Titanium Yellow if you would like something fresh, or pick up Titanium Velvet if you prefer darker tones.
Samsung said the Galaxy S24 series features vapour chambers that are 1.9x larger for better heat management and thermal dissipation. While we didn't take apart our review unit (you may refer to the above image as showcased by Samsung), there was a noticeable difference while gaming. The phone doesn’t feel quite as hot in the hand, even after prolonged periods. This is a pleasant surprise as compared to many other past high-end Android phones we've tested. While you may hear otherwise in other reports on the internet, we feel Samsung has made a notable positive impact in heat management while assessing our review unit.
The built-in stereo speakers are impressive, delivering punchy, clear audio that can handle videos and music well. We’ll still recommend getting a pair of true wireless earbuds for the optimal listening experience. Need our recommendations? We've got you covered.
One UI 6 and Galaxy AI features
Samsung’s One UI 6.1 and new Galaxy AI features are nice changes to a familiar handset. The Korean interface has been relatively consistent as of late, so the switch to a new Quick Panel in One UI 6.1 is definitely a big step forward, and I much prefer this new look with a tile-based system.
The pull-down tiles are consistent and look great, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options front and centre before opening into a large tile for all the other features like flight mode, auto-rotate, hotspot, torchlight, and more. It’s a fresh new look that’s modern and enjoyable. However, I do hope Samsung will eventually give us the option to customise this screen and remove or arrange the options based on what we individually want.
The other big selling point of the Galaxy S24 series is Galaxy AI, with both on-device and cloud-based artificial intelligence features. We've previously covered most of the features here, but I’ve also tried out some useful tools, like Circle to Search with Google below.
I tested it with a shot I took of the Sultan Mosque, and it immediately pulled up the information with Google recommending tours for the place of interest. I can see this being a useful tool for planning overseas trips and such, where you can circle landmarks you see on Instagram and figure out where they are.
I also tried Generative Edit, which is similar to Google’s Magic Editor tool. It’s definitely super handy if you’re taking photos in crowded areas and want to get rid of people in your shot.
While it’s not always 100% (as seen in the above photo where the garbled chalkboard “Jazz” word and the smudged walls at the back), it’s really impressive.
I edited this photo twice, taking out different elements each time. The phone took roughly 15 seconds on average for each edit. Of course, you’re also able to edit everything out at once if you so prefer, as the phone will wait for you to finish making all your edits before processing it, which is nice.
If you’re a fan of the Ultra model because of the S Pen stylus, rest assured, it still works just as well as it did on the previous Ultra models. You still get Air Actions, the writing experience is still as good as ever and pulling out the pen when the phone’s screen is locked still automatically lets you jot down notes. Re-inserting the stylus will save those notes, too.
We suppose Samsung thinks there's no need to change what isn't broken, and its matured stylus ecosystem could make the Ultra worth its asking price without any new tricks.