Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: Still Android’s flagship

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galaxy-s24-ultra.jpg

Advantages – Disadvantages

professional

  • The best display available on a smartphone
  • The camera system does it all
  • Battery life is among the best in class
  • AI features provide new value
cons

  • Costs more than some premium laptops
  • No Qi2 magnetic charging
  • A missed opportunity in spatial photos and videos
  • Night mode sometimes kills good photos

Like to buy more

ZDNET’s buying advice

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra brings a surprising number of cool new features to a product line that was already among the crème de la crème of smartphones. And if you’re coming from a phone that’s at least two years old, the S24 Ultra will feel like a superphone.

With its new best-in-class anti-reflective display with 2,600-nit brightness, the S24 Ultra is a joy to look at and use all day long. The camera system is more versatile than ever and has modes for almost every possible shot you could want And AI features, especially Circle to Search and Live Translation, make those tasks smoother and frictionless.

If you’re buying this phone on a carrier plan where you’re spreading out the monthly payments, the S24 Ultra could cost you $5-10 more per month than the standard S24 or S24 Plus. For a few extra dollars a month, there’s a lot to love about this product, and it could feel like an advanced smartphone for years to come.

Specifications

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

display

6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x (1440 x 3120) with 2,600 nits brightness

processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

RAM/Storage

12GB with 256GB, 512GB or 1TB

the camera

200MP f/1.7 wide, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto (3x), 50MP periscope telephoto, and 12MP front

battery

5,000mAh with 45W wired/15W wireless charging

Durability

IP68, Gorilla Armor, Titanium Frame

the color

gray, black, purple,

the price

Starting at $1,299


How I Tested the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

I used the S24 Ultra as my work phone for a full two weeks, running on a Google Fi SIM card. It went on two trips with me. I’ve taken photos at night, in the rain, in the snow, in a variety of sunlight conditions, and in many indoor settings. I’ve used it extensively as a mobile hotspot while traveling. I used it as my primary camera during the MIT Reality Hack event. I tracked my daily usage using the Digital Wellbeing app, my daily data consumption using the Google Fi app, and my daily battery drain using the Settings app.

What are the best features of the Galaxy S24 Ultra?

New anti-reflective, anti-scratch screen and bright display — Never underestimate the value of improving a smartphone’s display to enhance the overall enjoyment of using the device every day. To be clear, the Galaxy S Ultra line has always had excellent screens because Samsung’s sister company Samsung Display is one of the world’s leading display manufacturers and therefore Samsung phones always have access to the latest technology.

But this year marks the biggest jump in a flagship Samsung phone’s display in years. And not just about the image quality on the display, although it’s better with a maximum brightness that jumps from 1,750 nits to 2,600 nits, smoother movements and animations, stronger color accuracy and vibrancy, and excellent performance out in full sunlight.

Even more impressive is the new anti-reflective, anti-scratch glass that Corning calls “Gorilla Armor.” The anti-reflective features actually remind me of Samsung’s S95D OLED TV from CES 2024, which has a very impressive anti-glare screen that doesn’t lose any of its vibrancy. The same can be said for the S24 Ultra, and that makes its screen more enjoyable to use than the iPhone 15 Pro Max and other flagship phones.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Display

The new display on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has a peak brightness of 2,600 nits.

Jason Hiner/ZDNet

Then there is the anti-scratch feature. When I was reviewing the iPhone 15 Pro Max, I left it out of a case for 30 minutes when I first received the review unit and it got a scratch on the screen that didn’t go away. I’ve used the S24 Ultra without a case for three days and haven’t found the tiniest scratch on it. I’ve used it extensively since then and still haven’t had the slightest hint of a scratch anywhere on the screen.

I’m not the only one who cares so much about the new display. DXOMark rated the S24 Ultra display as a no. 1 of the best smartphones in the worldBased on his tests.

Upgraded camera system with new zoom — 10x optical zoom has been my favorite feature in the Galaxy S Ultra series since it first arrived in the 2020 model, so I wasn’t too excited when Samsung announced that the S24 Ultra was backing away from 10x optical zoom and downgrading it to 5x at least. was my first reaction because, over the years, I’ve preferred to use the 10x zoom to get sharper, clearer zoom photos from the Galaxy S Ultra phone than anything I’ve been able to get with an iPhone.

However, the S24 Ultra’s new 5x camera moves from a 10MP to a 50MP sensor and so can offer a 10x zoom that’s simply cropped and uses that extra data from having five times the megapixels to produce a crisp, clear image. In my tests, it performed much better than I expected and the results were at least as good as the 10x zoom photos of previous Ultra models, and in some cases they were sharper and less noisy. Some of this probably has to do with the fact that the new 5x sensor can take in more light than last year’s model with its aperture improved from f/4.9 to f/3.4 (lower equals more light). I would still recommend that you don’t use the digital zoom to go more than 10x, and certainly not up to 100x (although the phone will let you do that). Those digital zoom images still look as grainy and creepy as ever.

Example of 10x zoom on Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Example of 10x zoom on Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Jason Hiner/ZDNet

I had a good experience with other types of photos on the S24 Ultra And as always, it has an incredible number of modes to make it easy for users to get a variety of shots I use Pro and Pro Video modes the most because I like to have more control over the camera and it doesn’t automatically apply computational algorithms to try to make shots better. But most people will generally be happy with the standard photo and video modes, with one exception: night mode. There are times when this feature tries to take a long exposure and make the night look like day and it can ruin a good shot. However, if you tap the crescent moon icon you turn off night mode, and I’ve found that the shot is almost always better because the camera’s sensors are capable of low light without using the poorly implemented long exposure features in night mode.

The camera system has other helpful modes including panorama, portrait, hyperlapse, slow motion and food. If you’re a more experienced photographer and want to shoot raw images, you’ll still need to download a separate app called Expert RAW. Pro mode does not shoot raw images. I’d like to see Samsung simplify this and make shooting raw an option within Pro mode.

AI features in partnership with Google — I won’t go into too much depth about the new Galaxy AI features as my colleague June One has covered them thoroughly in his review of the standard Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus. I’ll simply add that I was pleasantly surprised at how useful these features are and how well they worked overall (although they’re far from perfect) — from circles to search to live translation to note summarization to generative AI photo editing.

But if you’re drawn to the Galaxy S24 Ultra (or other S24 models) for these features, I’d caution you not to buy any of these phones based solely on the AI ​​features, as interesting and even magical as they are. They may seem. Because it powers most of the Google software features and we have to hope that these capabilities can come to Pixel phones and other phones that are priced more reasonably than these Samsung models. So if you want mostly AI, I’d wait for one of those devices that arrive after 2024.

What I would like to see in the next model

1. 3D spatial video and photo capture — My biggest disappointment in terms of a feature missing from the Galaxy S24 Ultra isn’t entirely justified. I wish it had a version of spatial video and photo capture like the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. We know that Samsung and Google have their own XR headsets to compete with the Apple Vision Pro, and it’s said to be coming later this year. Since the product has already been teased, it would have been great for Samsung to step up the game and start capturing stereoscopic videos and photos with the S24 Ultra. Other Android phones are likely to jump on board by 2024 Spatial video and photos are the most impressive features in Apple Vision Pro and Meta announced that it will run natively on Quest headsets. Xreal smart glasses will play them well. This could be a revolution in the making and Samsung will be playing catch up.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Titanium edge

Titanium finish on Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Jason Hiner/ZDNet

2. Qi2 magnetic wireless charging — That Samsung left Qi2 wireless charging out of the S24 lineup is a real head-scratcher, especially considering Apple integrated it into the iPhone 15 lineup five months ago. Samsung is not alone in this regard. The Pixel 8 and OnePlus 12 also lack Qi2, but that was a missed opportunity for Samsung to stand out. As we learned at CES 2024, a flood of Qi2 wireless chargers are hitting the market to bring magnetic wireless charging to Android devices. This allows Android users to benefit from the benefits of wireless charging with magnets that iPhone users have enjoyed with MagSafe for years. It has the ability to charge on a convenient stand and take advantage of magnets so you don’t wake up with an uncharged phone because it wasn’t properly positioned on the charging pad.

Last thought

While the new Galaxy AI features may flash some fancy parlor tricks to make the Galaxy S24 Ultra one of the most useful and capable smartphones on the planet right now, they’re not the reason to buy this phone. After all, we should expect many of these capabilities to come to many other phones in 2024 as Google powers the underlying software in many of them.

No, if you’re going to spend $1,300 on this phone it should be for the hardware features and refinements that are unique to Samsung, and the fact that — more than ever — the camera system can do it all.

Samsung’s Galaxy S Ultra product has been the flagship of Android flagship phones since its first launch in 2020, and especially after it integrated the S-Pen and adopted its current Galaxy Note-like form factor in 2022. While the 2024 version of the Ultra might look like last year’s model at first blush, that hides meaningful upgrades to the display, the flatness of the screen, the camera and the titanium material the phone is made of.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra with Circle to Search

Google’s circle to search on Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra.

Jason Hiner/ZDNet

And while the standard Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus models look and feel like iPhones with their rounded edges, the S24 Ultra maintains the traditional Galaxy Note squareness that’s distinctive among Samsung flagships, making it unique among Android phones and giving it a standout look versus the flagship iPhone. 15 Pro Max.

In fact, while the screen size of the S24 Ultra (6.8 inches) is slightly larger than the iPhone 15 Pro Max (6.69) on the spec sheet, it has more usable space due to those square corners while the iPhone loses usable space. Its corners are rounded at the top and bottom of its screen.

This matches the overall theme of the S24 Ultra. It’s particularly practical, a joy to use every day, and better in many unexpected little ways. In an age of rapid smartphone maturation, those are strong compliments.

Options to consider

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