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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: All about (Galaxy) AI

Our Rating :
£1,249.00 from
Price when reviewed : 1,249
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Samsung doubles down on AI with the launch of the Galaxy S24 Ultra and follows the Apple playbook with a new titanium frame

Pros

  • Galaxy AI tricks are genuinely useful
  • New titanium design is lovely
  • Best battery life we’ve ever tested

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Some AI features also available elsewhere

Aiming to be at the forefront of the latest tech trends, Samsung has played all its chips on AI for the release of the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Following months of speculation, Samsung’s ‘Galaxy AI’ is here, and its most prominent appearance can be found inside the firm’s priciest flagship smartphone for 2024.

Galaxy AI introduces a boatload of software tricks for this year’s release, but are there any dramatic updates when it comes to the stuff that really matters? After all, we’re going to need to see some big hardware changes to make its high price worthwhile.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: What you need to know

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is Samsung’s answer to the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max. It’s the priciest handset in this year’s lineup, costing £250 more than the S24 Plus and a huge £400 on top of the entry-level Galaxy S24. For that extra money, you’re getting a handful of exclusive features, most notably in terms of design and functionality.

As you might expect, this is the biggest of the three phones, with a 6.8in QHD+ 120Hz display, and a new titanium frame – exclusive to the Ultra model. New for this year is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy processor, which has slightly boosted clock speeds compared to its non-Galaxy counterpart. There’s also 12GB of RAM and three storage options: 256GB, 512GB and 1TB.

Camera-wise, we have the same 200MP (f/1.7) sensor as before, complemented by a 12MP (f/2.2) 120-degree ultrawide and a pair of telephoto zoom sensors – a 10MP 3x lens and a 50MP sensor that goes to 5x zoom.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Price and competition

You’ve probably already figured out that the Galaxy S24 Ultra is going to be prohibitively expensive. At launch, you’re looking at paying at least £1,249, which gets you the 256GB version, while the 512GB and 1TB models come in at £1,349 and £1,549 respectively.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review - Rear view, in handI’m sure you’ll agree that’s a lot of money to spend on a smartphone, but it’s worth mentioning that this is exactly the same pricing structure as last year. There’s no yearly inflationary price bump in 2024, which is a bit of a surprise.

Those prices are also roughly in line with those of the iPhone 15 Pro Max. The 256GB model is £50 cheaper at £1,199, but the 512GB and 1TB versions of Apple’s premium handset each cost £50 more than their Samsung counterparts.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Design and key features

Samsung is following in Apple’s footsteps this year, with the S24 Ultra becoming the first Galaxy handset to incorporate a titanium frame into its design. It’s the only one of the S24 series to benefit from the hard-wearing metal, too, as both the S24 and S24 Plus continue to use Samsung’s “Armor” Aluminium alloy in their construction.

The phone’s dimensions are roughly the same as last year, at 162 x 79 x 8.6mm. In the UK, the S24 Ultra comes in a selection of three colours: Titanium grey, Titanium black and Titanium yellow, with an extra set of three exclusive paint options available on the Samsung website.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review - Bottom view, in handLike the iPhone 15 Pro Max, this new titanium finish feels wonderful in the hand, with a slightly rough, granular touch. The new frame doesn’t make the S24 any lighter than the S23 Ultra, however, weighing 232g versus 234g. That’s odd, as I would have thought the whole point in using titanium over aluminium would be its superior strength-to-weight ratio. It should, at least, bring some form of extra durability to the phone, though Samsung didn’t go into specifics during the phone’s launch.

Rounding out the protective aspects are an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, and a layer of Corning Gorilla Armor over the display – another S24 Ultra exclusive feature. Samsung says this new protective glass is up to four times more scratch-resistant than previous variants – even going so far as to say it wouldn’t scratch even if you put the phone in your pocket with your keys – as well as offering better impact protection and reducing glare by up to 75%.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Display

The display itself is another 6.8in QHD+ panel, with an adaptive refresh rate that can go all the way up to 120Hz. That’s no different than last year but Samsung says the screen brightness has been boosted by up to 40% in adaptive mode, reaching a peak of 2,600 nits. This is presumably during HDR playback in incredibly bright ambient light as I wasn’t able to achieve this figure in my testing, recording a high of 1,833cd/m2.

The touch response has also been improved, but Samsung has yet to supply any details about what this actually means. Even after doing some digging following the launch, I couldn’t find any official figures – it’s very bizarre.

What isn’t strange about the S24 Ultra’s display is the colour performance, which, as ever, is absolutely phenomenal. On the ‘Natural’ display profile, which targets the sRGB colour space, I recorded an average Delta E score of 1.73. The default ‘Vivid’ mode, meanwhile, widens the colour gamut, with a Delta E of 2.11.

On that topic, it’s worth noting that the curved display is now a thing of the past. Rather than dropping off on the left and right edges, the S24 Ultra’s screen now sits completely flat. I don’t think this makes a huge difference in terms of real-world useability, but it does look rather swish in person.

Finally, the S24 Ultra’s S Pen also returns, once again slotting into the bottom left corner of the handset. Functionally, it’s much the same this year, with even Samsung neglecting to mention anything about it during the phone’s launch. It’s a handy little doodler as always, however, allowing you to sketch, circle and write in various applications, with a pleasing amount of responsiveness when flicking around the screen.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Performance and battery life

The new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 “for Galaxy” chipset is a specially tweaked version of Qualcomm’s high-end CPU, and exclusive to the S24 Ultra. That means we have a boosted maximum clock speed of 3.39GHz from the single Prime Core, compared to the 3.3GHz offered by the regular 8 Gen 3.

What does that mean in terms of raw power potential? Since it’s early days, we’ve only tested one Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 smartphone at the time of writing, and we weren’t entirely satisfied with the performance it was putting out. You can read more in our OnePlus 12 review, but long story short, we shouldn’t be comparing the two phones right now – at least until a software patch arrives.

It’s best, then, to directly compare with the S23 Ultra and iPhone 15 Pro Max. In the Geekbench 6 single- and multi-core performance tests, the S24 Ultra outperformed last year’s flagship by 14% and 34% respectively. Take a look at the below graph and you’ll notice that the S24 Ultra has even surpassed the mighty iPhone 15 Pro Max in multi-core processing. Impressive stuff indeed.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra perfomance Geekbench 6 graph comparisonOn that note, Samsung has made a big song and dance about the S24 Ultra’s gaming capabilities. This year, the vapour-cooling chamber is 1.9 times larger than the S23’s, which should, in theory, help with more consistent frame rates over longer periods. It also supports ray-traced visual rendering in select titles, with Samsung partnering with the developers for Genshin Impact, Diablo Immortal and PUBG: Mobile for the phone’s launch.

Our usual gaming benchmarks paint an incredibly positive impression. Running the GFXBench on-screen Car Chase test, the S24 Ultra pumped out an impressive average frame rate of 83fps at native (QHD+) resolution. Drop the screen resolution down to FHD+ and you’re looking at a flawless 120fps average. That’s the best result we’ve seen so far.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra gaming GFXBench Car Chase graph comparisonSpeaking of award-winning milestones, the S24 Ultra also takes the crown as the longest-lasting smartphone we’ve ever tested. In the Expert Reviews in-house battery test, which displays a looped 20-hour video with all data connections switched off and the display brightness set to 170cd/m2, the S24 Ultra lasted for a whopping 34hrs 36mins before needing to recharge. That’s a frankly astonishing result, and one that’s worthy of an award in my verdict alone.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra battery life graph comparisonThe S24 Ultra runs Android 14 out of the box, with Samsung’s One UI 6.1 pasted over the top. The brand has confirmed that all three models in the S24 series would receive seven years’ worth of both security and OS updates – bringing you all the way up to 2031.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Cameras

The S24 Ultra has a quad camera setup on the rear, consisting of a 200MP (f/1.7) main unit, a 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide and a pair of telephoto modules: one is a 50MP (f/3.4) 5x zoom, and the other is a secondary 10MP (f/2.4) 3x zoom. Space Zoom carries over from the S23 Ultra, once again allowing you to hybrid zoom up to a maximum zoom range of 100x.

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra’s main camera certainly delivers, capturing bold, punchy-looking images with a tremendous use of HDR. By default, images are captured at a 16-in-1 pixel-binned 12MP resolution, but you can also toggle between that, 50MP or full-res 200MP resolution if you prefer.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra camera test shot corner of green copper building in street daytimeAs ever, it’s the zoomed images that are the real star of the show. The 10x periscope camera of last year’s phone has been replaced with a 5x zoom, yet it’s worth noting that this now captures 50MP images, rather than the previous 10MP. During a brisk one-day trip around San Francisco, I had the opportunity to capture some truly excellent stills from various vantage points, zooming all the way up to the maximum 100x.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra camera test shot San Francisco skyline buildings sunsetAnd quite frankly, these are the best-looking zoomed images around, especially those captured between the 3x and 10x range. Anything beyond that, and you’ll spot some rather aggressive over-sharpening, but dip below 10x and you’re looking at a set of pictures with a remarkable lack of visual noise and outstanding clarity, even in low light.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra camera test shot London Skyline across the river Thames with skyscrapers in backgroundOn that note, something I spotted in my nighttime shots was that images looked noticeably darker than before, lacking the over-brightened look of previous models. This is something I much preferred, actually; the less heavily processed appearance made the image feel more natural and true to life, despite the slight boost in overall brightness.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra camera test shot nighttime street with overhead lightsI didn’t have any complaints with the video quality, either. 4K resolution footage at 60fps looked excellent and the image stabilisation has been seriously improved in the 8K mode, as well. Shooting video on a much-too-choppy tour boat around San Francisco Bay, my footage was largely bounce-free in playback, which was a huge surprise.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Galaxy AI

While we’re talking about the cameras, let’s discuss Galaxy AI and the new tricks it’s bringing to the table this year. Using a combination of on-device and cloud-based AI rendering, the new Galaxy AI boosts the S24 Ultra’s camera experience for 2024 in some rather interesting ways.

To begin with, the phone’s AI photo editing is massively improved. The suggested edits now include a number of extra goodies, such as removing glare from a subject snapped behind a glass window, as well as a handful of new portrait blur options. What’s especially cool, however, is the new AI generative fill, which uses cloud-based rendering to fill in the gaps when you rotate an image.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review - Close up of rear camerasAt launch, this is restricted to a rotation of up to 25 degrees, but even still, it worked remarkably well during my time with the phone. Some of the filled-in sections of the frame might have looked a tad mushy upon closer inspection, but there’s a lot to like here, especially since the end result appears in a matter of a few seconds. As far as low-effort editing goes, it is really rather good.

Something else I enjoyed was the ability to cut out individual parts of an image with a simple long press of my finger – similar to the way this works on iPhones. In my experience, the S24 Ultra identified the precise thing I wanted to cut out, be it a person or a large potted plant, and I was able to copy it to the clipboard or save it as a sticker for future use. I was also able to rotate, resize and flip this cutout, and add it to other images.

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Another feature brought about by Galaxy AI is a new frame interpolation option when playing back video recordings. Provided you aren’t playing back at 8K – the feature is limited to 4K at 60fps or 120fps – you can slow down your footage during playback with a long-press on the video, adding up to an extra 120fps (240fps max). You can even then save these slowed-down moments as new clips.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review - S Pen on phone screen, alternative angleOutside the cameras, Galaxy AI is a rather useful productivity and translation tool. The latter allows you to instantly translate calls and audio transcriptions in real time, supporting up to 13 languages at launch. You can also translate text in Samsung Notes or a web page in Samsung’s browser app in up to 35 languages.

The new Notes Assist feature can summarise any notes you’ve made, including speech-to-text transcriptions, in either detailed or simplified views. This also works with web pages, taking just a couple of seconds to summarise my Google Pixel 8 Pro review, for example, with some worryingly accurate results. I fear I may soon be out of a job.

I also quite liked the new “Circle to Search” feature, even if it has the potential to be used in some creepy ways. This allows you to find out more information about an image by holding the home button and circling the area in question with your finger, somewhat akin to Google Lens – understandable, as the feature was developed in collaboration with Google. In a particular case, Galaxy AI correctly identified the exact brand and model of trainer I photographed; it’s pretty impressive stuff.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Verdict

Despite some early reservations, I was left with an overall positive impression following my time with the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Aside from the new titanium frame, flat display and the inclusion of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3, there’s not a lot else in terms of upgrades, but Galaxy AI really picks up the slack. The features introduced are all useful, and in most cases, a lot of fun to play around with.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you need to spend this much on the S24 Ultra, however. Most of these features can also be found on the cheaper models as well, and considering the Ultra’s starting price of £1,249, you might want to consider picking up the Galaxy S24 or S24 Plus, instead.

Yet on the flip side, if you’re really after one of the best-performing smartphones on the market, with an award-winning battery life, then the Galaxy S24 Ultra, in my eyes, is worth the high cost, provided that it fits into your budget.

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