The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is an incredibly powerful device, and one of the best phones I’ve reviewed in years. It’s only held back by an overreliance on generative AI gimmicks which sound nice, but its results give me serious reservations.
Remember how a few years ago every single tech company was trying to sell us all on the power of the metaverse? Then the power of Crypto and Web3? Remember the nonsense that was NFTs? All those people are now all in on generative AI, and we just need to brace ourselves to have generative AI shoved into absolutely everything over the next year or two until the realities of copyright laws and the “enshittification” of the internet truly come home to roost.
With the Galaxy S24 phones, Samsung is the latest big brand to focus on AI, resulting in a varied experience.
The first thing I noticed after unboxing the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra was just how nice it feels, it is a gorgeous device that is satisfying to hold. The slightly updated shape compared to last year’s Ultra is so welcome because I’m no longer accidentally touching things on the side of the screen when I hold it. The titanium body is silky smooth, the screen is clear and bright, and it feels substantial without being excessive.
The setup process is the same as any other Android phone – pretty easy and intuitive enough. Not incredible, but not bad. It’s the picture of “fine”.
In a vacuum, these specs look great. Compared to last year’s model, these specs look familiar. The big differences are that the telephoto camera has more megapixels (50MP, up from 10), the processor is a bit faster, and the screen is a bit flatter. There’s also no 8GB model, which no one will miss.
For the most part, the “upgrades” are software-based. This makes sense, because aside from foldables, phone design stagnated years ago and no one has come up with a big new feature people actually need. The Galaxy S23 Ultra was already everything Samsung had to offer, and now this is that but more, which is good (but also very expensive, holy crap).
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra performance
The four main areas of performance on this Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra are the camera, design, gaming and AI. In all of these areas, the phone does more than you’d expect. And, in the case of AI, more than you’d want.
The phone has four rear cameras and one front camera, and all of them perform admirably. The photos are clear, the colours are vibrant, and if you’re used to the way Samsung processes photos (or you’re used to changing the processing settings), then you know what to expect. It’s that, but a bit better than before. I recently did a comparison between the Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra and was extremely impressed with the results.
The S24 Ultra’s cameras are all the better for photographing ducks living their lives. Image: Alice Clarke.
As I said in the intro, this is an absolutely gorgeous phone. In the past, I’ve had a lot of complaints about the edge-to-edge curved screens on some Samsung phones because I’ve had a lot of accidental button presses. I still have some accidental presses because the phone is thin and part of my palm seems to envelop a little corner of the screen, but it’s so much better than it used to be. This is also something that will probably be fixed when I get a case.
Image: Alice Clarke.Image: Alice Clarke.
I just can’t get past how nice the phone feels in my hand, though. The titanium is so silky, and the shape is ideal: it’s the maximum size that still feels comfortable to hold and use. If you haven’t used a recent Ultra or one of the ye olde Galaxy Note phones, you’ll really like being able to dock the pen in the phone, and (if you’re anything like me) I always find that I use the S pen more than I think I will.
This is a phone designed to be held, and for maximum productivity.
Gaming seems to be one of the next frontiers in mobile development. Until recently, the camera was everything, but now all the major players seem to have nailed cameras and are just making the spec numbers go higher, they’re turning to the ultimate Make Number Go Bigger arms race: gaming.
Apple is going hard on AAA titles, and while Samsung currently doesn’t have any AAA game titles to point at (aside from Xbox Cloud Gaming and Fortnite), this large screen, quick processor, and vapour chamber are just begging to be played with. Fortnite looks excellent and handles really well.
On previous Samsung phones, I’ve had some dropped frames, and the phone usually gets really hot around the 30-minute mark, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra stays cool and smooth for multiple rounds. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time until AAA titles start dropping for Android.
Here is where things start getting dicey. Putting the ethics of generative AI aside for a moment (a challenge, given the extreme environmental cost and rampant theft required by the creation of these generative AI models), some of these AI features are helpful.
Personally, I take photos to remember a moment and capture the scene how it really was so I can go back later and see how things have changed. But being able to straighten a photo without cropping could be helpful, even if the AI guessing what the rest of the scene would look like can be hit and miss. It’s a nice idea, and relatively harmless at this point.
Lost in translation
Live Translate has the potential to be incredibly helpful once it’s a bit more accurate. The problem, as with all voice-reliant AIs is that accents are hard. I tested this feature with my wife, who speaks European Portuguese and is learning Brazilian Portuguese, and has a stronger Australian accent than she’s willing to admit.
We used the feature that translated me into Brazilian Portuguese and her into English. At the moment, European Portuguese is not an option. This was possibly one of the funniest conversations I have ever had.
Some highlights include:
“Eu quero ir à praia: was translated as “I just cry on the way to the beach” instead of “I want to go to the beach”, which is objectively hilarious, but probably not helpful if you’re having to rely on the translation.
“Eu gosto de massa” (I like pasta) kept being translated as “I like mass”, “I can’t crush you” and “No, I like to massage”. Again, hilarious, but not helpful if you’re trying to choose a restaurant and you’re talking to someone suggesting a pasta place.
“Eu gosto de fruta” (I like fruit) was translated as “I like to frustrate”, which felt accurate enough.
Now, if this was a conversation with someone with a regular Portuguese accent, the results might have been different. It should be fine enough to make a reservation at a restaurant while travelling (though, the AI misunderstood my wife saying 35 as 24 and 130, so there could be some misunderstandings), and you get a transcript written in front of you, so you should be able to tell if the AI is mishearing the person you’re talking to. You both hear the translations, too, so if they understand the language enough to hear it but not speak it, they might catch out the mistakes, too.
Circle to Search
Circle to Search is my favourite of the new AI features because it’s just so intuitive. You get a picture of an item or outfit, circle it, and it searches the web for it. Mostly I’ve been using it to find out if the thing I’m looking at is just a drop-shipped item that could be found cheaper, but it’s also great if you see some shoes in the wild but can’t ask where the person got them from.
Circle to Search is one of the best new software features. Image: supplied.
At the moment, you can just use it for objects (you can a little with people, but it’s limited, so you can’t use it to stalk people or remind yourself of their name), and mostly for shopping. Still, it’s nifty, particularly for someone in the midst of baby-proofing an apartment and trying to choose nice, safe things for a baby.
However, it’s not all oddities and niceties – I really hate the new Summary feature. This feature will have AI look at a piece of writing and then give you the dot points. Obviously, as someone who has dedicated their life to writing, I don’t love this. Particularly given how prone generative AI is to errors, imagining things, and straight-up missing the point.
I also find it really weird that it will not summarise any page with the word “homoerotic”, so it wouldn’t summarise my Tekken 8 review on Kotaku, or the Wikipedia page for homoerotic poetry, but I could get it to summarise some sex toy reviews. Its summaries of the Bible are interesting.
Galaxy AI refuses to summarise some articles. Image: Alice Clarke.
But ultimately, I hate this feature so very much. What a terrible idea that misses the point of so many of these articles, completely stripping them of context and occasionally misrepresenting the content. Who wants to consume articles and stories as a series of emotionless dot points, devoid of context and meaning?
Another AI feature that I really hate is the Remix option in messages. You draft what you want to say, and then the AI will give you suggestions on how to rephrase it to sound more formal, more casual, more like if Shakespeare spun in his grave fast enough to generate text, “lyrical” or funny.
It won’t help you rewrite any trolling or insults (it refused to reword a text in which I called AI stupid). I can see it being useful for people who get particularly anxious about sending a text to their boss, or maybe to people with English as a second language. But it’s also just a great way to make messages read less like they’re coming from a person, and more like what the Slack app would say, were it sentient and trying to get down with the kids.
Who is Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra for?
Great question. The obvious answer is business people with a decent chunk of disposable income and a need for productivity apps and devices (but not to the level of the Galaxy Z Fold range). It’s for people who want the absolute best of what Samsung has to offer.
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is actually more than just the best of what Samsung has to offer. In my opinion, it’s the best of what Android phones are currently capable of. Yes, there are some significant drawbacks resulting from some of the generative AI features, but you can also just not use them.
For people upgrading, if you have an S22 Ultra or newer, you don’t need this phone. People with an S23 Ultra basically already have most of what makes this phone great. The S23 Ultra was basically the S22 Ultra. If you have a Note phone and want to upgrade to something like the Note, then this is the phone to buy.
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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the best phone Samsung has ever made, though the over reliance on AI features is troubling.
Value for money
Ease of use
Good battery life
Over reliance on generative AI features
Not a substantial upgrade over the Galaxy S23 Ultra