I’ve had the Samsung S24 Ultra for a couple of weeks now. If you add the hands-on time I had with Samsung’s latest flagship smartphone before its release (on two separate occasions), it’s fair to say that I’ve got to know it pretty well.
This is not going to be another in-depth review. I’ve already run through the key highlights of this device, including the AI features Samsung is touting so heavily. There is also a metric tonne of brilliant, detailed reviews on this phone out there already.
Instead, I want to tell you what I love and what I don’t love about this phone. And, remember, this is written from the perspective of a long-term iPhone devotee. I feel I should also note that the S24 Ultra featured in this review was purchased by yours truly.
Spoiler: the S24 Ultra really is going to take some beating.
And if you’re wondering whether or not I’ll be switching… well, I’ll get to that later.
What I love about the S24 Ultra
This list will dart all over the place, so forgive me – but let’s start with the display.
It is, as was the case with its predecessor, the gold standard of smartphone displays, and the fact it is now flat does make more of a difference than I was expecting.
The reason the S24 Ultra display is so brilliant is that it retains that incredibly expansive feeling that has always been present in Samsung’s large-screened flagship devices. The near-absence of bezels and the presence of a pin-hole camera make for one of the most immersive smartphone experiences on the market. It also makes the rounded corners of the iPhone 15 Pro Max look increasingly dated.
It’s as bright and vibrant as Samsung displays have always been, but the addition of the anti-glare coating is one of the most impressive upgrades; the S24 Ultra deals with reflections far better than both the S23 Ultra and the iPhone 15 Pro Max.
Much has been said about Samsung’s decision to switch to titanium. The number of people who informed me in the comments section of my initial review that Samsung had simply ‘copied’ Apple was, frankly, hilarious. I don’t care who gets there first, I care what the user experience is like. For some reason, the S24 Ultra feels like a more impressive switch in material from its predecessor.
It feels lighter than the iPhone 15 Pro Max did over its own predecessor. I’m also a big fan of the colour choices Samsung has opted for – particularly the orange version I have (although it could be a bit more orangey).
A special note must also go to the battery performance. Like so many Android phones I test, the S24 Ultra benefits from epic standby time. The iPhone doesn’t even come close in that regard. But the S24 Ultra is also a brilliant performer when in use – it’s a two-day phone – and then some. The fact I managed to easily sail past two-day territory while travelling to a different country this weekend (with all the network switching that comes with such a trip) is a testament to how much stamina this thing has.
This is, for the first time in a long time, a Samsung phone which I am dearly tempted to make my main device. I’ll explain why I can’t later. Although, you can probably guess.
Is Galaxy AI any good?
The point of the AI stuff built into the S24 Ultra (and, it should be noted, the S24 and S24+) is that you’ll either find something that proves consistently useful, or you’ll ignore it entirely. Either option is absolutely fine.
What you will do, however, is try every single AI feature almost as soon as you unearth the device from its box. I did that in my original review if you want to check it out.
The AI features Samsung has chosen could be seen as gimmicky by some. Others might consider the translation stuff to be cumbersome and entirely unrealistic in real-life situations. That’s fine – you don’t have to use it.
Although, my good friend Ben from Lover of Tech tried out the Interpreter feature during our time in Germany over the weekend and it helped us confirm with a non-English-speaking doorman that the karaoke bar we were attempting to enter was, indeed, invitation-only.
For me, there are two stand-out AI features. Circle to search (which is now also available on the Google Pixel) is as impressive as it is likely to be useful for a lot of people. Want to know what that landmark is? Just circle it. Spot something you want to buy but have no idea what it is? Just circle it. It’s hard to fool and it even makes the S Pen semi-useful.
The photo editing features are a particular highlight. Erasing reflections from photos taken through windows feels like one of those features that I’ve been missing my entire life, and the generative fill stuff – while a bit rough at times – is a useful creative tool.
I also recently discovered the generative wallpaper option. Samsung has, smartly, limited it to terrains, paintings, minerals, and abstract stuff, but the results are rather nice and you at least know you’re ending up with some fairly unique.
Apple needs to up its game with iOS 18 this year. At the very least, the Photos app needs those same generative AI features.
How good is the S24 Ultra camera?
I won’t beat around the bush – the S24 Ultra camera system is very good.
A quick reminder of the options this phone gives you. Optical focal lengths are 1x, 3x, and 5x. Everything else is digital, including the once-optical 10x (which is now enhanced by the new Adaptive Pixel Sensor and some AI trickery). If you’re worried, don’t be – 100x is still there, but still largely unusable.
I also can’t notice a difference between 10x photos taken with the new sensor versus those of the S23 Ultra. They look great.
The result is a camera system which, just like the S24 Ultra itself, will take some beating in 2024. The availability of a 5x optical zoom is now the gold standard, thanks in no small part to the iPhone 15 Pro Max (I guess Samsung copied Apple there, too, eh?), and it’s a focal length I challenge you not to use all the time.
The 5x focal length works brilliantly for video, as well, and provides some lovely compression that adds a cinematic element to the footage you shoot. The video performance of the S24 Ultra overall is very impressive – easily on par with what the iPhone is capable of.
It feels like Samsung has really refined the camera system on its flagship. Gone are the days of oversaturated images and in their place are images that are clearly Samsung, but which are far more pleasing (at least, to my eyes).
There’s a lot of sharpening going on, as you can see from some of my test images, but that gives the S24 Ultra a Pixel-like feel – something which is becoming commonplace in Android land. I’m absolutely here for that.
Selfies are handled with aplomb, too – even in challenging lighting conditions. Please excuse the unkempt beard.
The sillily-named Nightography continues to produce stunning results, although, during my initial testing, the 5x isn’t quite as stunning in low light as the iPhone equivalent.
One of my biggest complaints about the S23 Ultra was the slow shutter speed and the resulting challenges during the shooting of fast-moving objects. The good news is that the S24 Ultra has definitely made strides in this area.
It still doesn’t deliver iPhone levels of reliability with such subjects, but it’s getting much closer.
Overall, the S24 Ultra camera is a beast. The presence of 120fps at 4K (accessed by entering Pro Video mode) without any form of crop caps off a stellar package that’s hard to find anywhere else. Don’t forget – this phone can record at 8K, too – which is, well, silly, but who cares?
What I don’t love about the S24 Ultra
The Galaxy S24 Ultra isn’t perfect. This is still a very expensive flagship smartphone and one which, consequently, deserves close scrutiny. Having said that, it feels like all three of my ‘complaints’ are pushing it a bit. For instance, two of them relate to the S Pen.
Let’s start there.
If you choose a fancy new colour for your S24 Ultra, the S Pen won’t be colour-matched. Whether or not that bothers you is entirely a personal matter and is one on which I certainly won’t pass judgment. Because it bothers me.
The S Pen is also, still, a troubling accessory. It has a fiercely loyal fanbase (trust me, I’ve run into it many a time) but I still can’t find a consistent use for it beyond the aforementioned photo editing. You can just do everything with your finger, which means beyond handwritten notes and the remote shutter feature for the camera, it quickly gets forgotten.
Lastly, as nice as the orange titanium version I have is, it could be a bit more lairy. This is an instance where Samsung – and, indeed, every other tech brand – should take a leaf out of Apple’s book and their beautifully in-your-face orange iMac.
That’s it. I have no other complaints about the S24 Ultra. This raises one big question.
Conclusion: will I switch from the iPhone?
This is probably really annoying – I know. I’m also acutely aware of the feeling towards ‘I’m switching’ videos on YouTube, but I should remind you that such content is designed entirely to direct as many people towards it as possible. I know this because I’ve done it myself. It’s called ‘clickbait’.
The fact remains that I am welded to the iPhone – and I don’t like this form of entrapment. The S24 Ultra is one of those flagship smartphones to which I feel compelled to switch full-time. But I can’t. And it’s for the stupidest of reasons.
It’s that bloody Apple ecosystem. It’s also the Apple Watch. Arguably, it’s the Mac, too. All of that stuff plays perfectly with my iPhone (or, in the case of the Apple Watch, needs the iPhone) and means I can’t put my main SIM card into the S24 Ultra.
This is silly. It’s frustrating. I’m not entirely sure whose fault it is*. But it is what it is.
The S24 Ultra is an absolutely brilliant smartphone – one of the best I’ve ever used. It has a forward-thinking feature set, the build quality is befitting of the price tag, and it still has the best display on the market. Throw in a camera system that rarely frustrates, and it is the phone to beat this year.
Google, Apple – over to you!
*it’s mine, isn’t it?
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