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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Hype vs. Reality

Samsung's new AI features are underbaked, but they don't stop the Galaxy S24 Ultra from being an excellent flagship device. 

Galaxy S24 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
4 out of 5 stars
4
Display
6.8-inch Quad HD+
Processor
Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
RRP
Starts at $2,199
Alex Choros
Mar 08, 2024
Icon Time To Read7 min read
Quick verdict: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Samsung's new Galaxy AI features don't match the marketing hype, but even if you strip them away, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is still an excellent device.

pro
Pros
pro Best screen on a phone
pro Long lasting battery
pro Striking industrial design
con
Cons
con AI struggles with complexity
con 5x zoom isn't as fast as rivals
con Expensive

The Galaxy S24 Ultra sure is neat, but it's impossible to talk about it without delving into AI. Galaxy AI - the broad name for Samsung's new artificial intelligence features - is the marketing focus for the new devices, and it promises the world.

"You can unleash whole new levels of creativity, productivity, and possibility."

"Move to Galaxy to make your entire day effortless through the new era of mobile AI."

Reality, however, does not live up to those lofty ideals. Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of interesting ideas in Galaxy AI; new tools like on-call live translation have a lot of promise. But in my time testing the Galaxy S24 Ultra, I ran into a common problem across the feature set. Every AI addition struggles with complexity.

Galaxy AI additions all work well enough when it comes to simple tasks, but become inconsistent and unreliable if you're trying to accomplish anything beyond that.

Galaxy S24 Ultra

How much does the Galaxy S24 Ultra cost in Australia?

The Galaxy S24 Ultra starts at $2,199 this year. That's a $250 price hike over last year's Galaxy S23 Ultra

If you want to get your Galaxy S24 Ultra on a plan, here are the cheapest 36-month options from Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone.

Galaxy S24 Ultra

All in on AI

Let's start with the stuff that works reasonably well. Live Translate is the most ambitious feature, designed for phone calls where you and your conversation partner don't speak the same language. After you've said your bit, the AI will read out a translation. The response you get is translated in the same way.

The delay between the original speech and the translated output means conversations don't quite feel organic. You don't get the flow of a normal phone call. The person you're using Live Translate with is notified that you're using a translation tool at the start of the call, so hopefully, it's not entirely jarring.

My family speak Polish, so I tested this feature on a call with my mum. Live Translate handled shorter phrases with reasonable accuracy but started to struggle if either of us spoke in longer blocks. We could still deduce meaning despite the errors, but Live Translate isn't the kind of tool you'd use for a meaningful conversation. It's better suited to transactional conversations, like making a restaurant booking.

Circle to Search isn't strictly a Galaxy AI feature - it was developed with Google and is also available on the Pixel 8 family - but it's worth touching on. Holding the navigation bar brings up an interface where you can circle anything on your screen, and then use it to start a search. Words can also be appended to it - say if you take a photo of a red flower but want to see it in yellow - and it's pretty damn nifty. It's almost like Google Lens on steroids.

Of course, less useful features too. Summarise is potentially the most problematic. As the name suggests, you can use it to get a quick summary of a website (provided you're using Samsung Internet) or a document in your Notes app.

The same refrain holds true here. If you're looking at a simple web page, you'll get a basic summary of what's there. As soon as you start introducing complexity, there's a risk you'll get errors.

When summarising my piece about the Galaxy S24 family launch, the tool told me the Galaxy S24 Ultra has a larger battery than last year's model, even though I had explicitly written that it was the same size. That's a pretty low-stakes error, but the functionality becomes potentially problematic if, you're say, looking at political reporting, or trying to summarise a document for work. Misinformation is rife as it is, and I don't love the idea of a prominently available gadget adding to it.

(It's also worth noting that the summarise tool has some pretty hard limits when it comes to documents. You can't summarise more than 1,600 words.)

Chat Assist is hands down the weirdest feature in the Galaxy AI suite. It can rewrite your messages or emails for you, in a different tone. More casual or more professional, for example. You type your message, tap the AI button, and you get some suggestions. As a writer, I found the results kinda cringe. Professional ones are overly formal, and there's a "social" option that adds unironic hashtags to your messages.

There's a plethora of photo editing AI tools too. The big one is an editor that's almost Baby's First Photoshop, and almost identical to what Google has been doing in the Pixel family. You can move, resize, or even remove elements from a photo. There are a few other inclusions, like the ability to minimise reflections in photos and generate outside of the frame if you rotate an image, but we've largely seen this before.

Not to sound like a broken record, but we once again run into the issue of complexity. If the S24 Ultra is trying to extend out a skyline, it can do a pretty good job. If there's a tree involved, it's going to look fake. While these are admittedly powerful editing tools, a lot of them feel more trouble than they're worth, given the inconsistency.

Samsung has also left a question mark looming over Galaxy AI; the fine print says these features will only be free until the end of 2025. There's still no word on if every Galaxy AI feature will be wrapped into a subscription model, but it seems likely that at least some will. There's still no pricing on the cards, but for reference, Google is charging $32.99 per month for its "AI Premium" plan. This does however also include 2TB of Google One cloud storage, on top of access to its Gemini Advanced model. OpenAI charges USD$20 for ChatGPT Plus.

The pricing of other AI products doesn't necessarily indicate what Samsung will charge in two years, but it's still worth considering. If you're buying the Galaxy S24 Ultra for a certain AI feature, how would you feel about having to pay a monthly fee to keep using it?

Galaxy S24 Ultra

Everything else

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is a great phone when you look beyond the AI features. While it's quite iterative on paper, some solid improvements make the Galaxy S24 Ultra feel greater than the sum of its parts.

To start, the display is gorgeous. Samsung has a reputation for lovely screens, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra takes it to the next level with Gorilla Glass Armor. Gorilla Glass Armor is more durable than previous generations, but more importantly, features a new anti-reflective coating. The phone barely picks up light from any source. This is great for using S24 Ultra outside, but not as much if you're looking for an improv mirror.

Importantly, the Galaxy S24 Ultra display is flat. Samsung abandoned curved screens on other Galaxy S series phones a few years ago, and has now finally done the same with its top-end device. This is for the best, and I won't be hearing anything to the contrary.

One last screen-related note: the Galaxy S24 family has taken a page from Apple's book when it comes to the always-on display. Instead of the standard monochromatic always-on display we've typically seen on Android phones, you get a more colourful approach. As with recent Pro iPhones, you can still show your wallpaper, in a slightly dimmer version. Rich information, like what you're listening to, also appears on the always-on display.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra has Samsung's best battery in a flagship phone in quite some time. I was comfortable able to get six hours of screen time per charge, solely relying on 5G networks (I had WiFi off) and the always-on display on. Six hours of screen time should be enough for heavy users to get a full day of usage between charges.

Samsung's only made one significant camera improvement in the Galaxy S24 Ultra: a new long-range telephoto lens. The 10MP 10x zoom lens from previous Ultra models has been replaced with a 50MP 5x zoom lens. While that might seem like a downgrade, the aperture on the new lens is wider, so you end up with more consistent photos. You're less likely to get a blurry shot due to hand movement, for example. The Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn't match the iPhone 15 Pro Max or Pixel 8 Pro for reliability, but the new lens is still a big step, and a lot more useful.

Otherwise, the Galaxy S24 Ultra's cameras haven't changed much. You've still got a 200MP primary lens, 12MP ultra-wide lens, and 10MP 3x zoom lens. The results tend to be consistently good, but there are a few key pros and cons.

Samsung has the best portrait mode on any phone right now. The depth effect is realistic, and the phone manages to blur fine details accurately. It's seriously impressive. Conversely, Samsung's night mode is weirdly inconsistent. I've gotten nice photos from it, but I've also ended up with awful shots where colours have been massively oversaturated. The good news is you can still get a great low-light image from the Galaxy S24 Ultra without relying on night mode.

Check out some camera samples below:

Lastly, Samsung has matched Google by promising seven years of major operating system and security updates for the Galaxy S24 family. As such, the Galaxy S24 Ultra should still be receiving upgrades in 2031. That's a hell of a lifespan for a phone.

Is the Galaxy S24 Ultra worth it?

Samsung's AI pitch is understandable given the buzz in the space over the last year or so, but the reality doesn’t live up to the lofty ideal. Generative AI functionality is still a new development, so it makes sense that it's rough around the edges. At the same time, Samsung isn't marketing Galaxy AI as a beta, but as something that will change your life.

It's a shame that interesting but underbaked functionality overshadows some genuinely meaningful improvements. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is clearly the Android flagship to beat. It almost matches the iPhone in battery this year, and outclasses it in display, The Pixel 8 Pro takes better low-light photos, but as an overall package, the Galaxy S24 Ultra takes the cake.

Despite the positives, the high price tag stops it from being an instant recommend for Android fans. At $2,199 the Galaxy S24 Ultra is $250 more expensive than last year. It's also $500 more expensive than the Galaxy S24 Plus, which is almost on par with the Ultra.

For most, the Galaxy S24 Plus is a better buy. There are so few differences between the Plus and Ultra that you'll notice day-to-day. But if you want Samsung's best, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is well and truly it.

Alex Choros
Written by
Alex Choros
Alex Choros is the Group Reviews Editor for Clearlink Australia's local websites - Reviews.org, Safewise, and WhistleOut - and the Managing Editor for WhistleOut Australia. He's been writing about consumer technology for over eight years and is an expert on the Australian telco sector, to the point where he knows far too many phone and internet plans by heart. He also contributes to Gizmodo and Lifehacker, and makes regular appearances on 2GB. Outside of tech, Alex loves long hikes, red wine, and death metal.

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