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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Review: The best smartphone of the year? so far

1 month ago 21

Samsung versus Apple, this has been the debate for over a decade now. Competition is good since it also means progress as rivals look to outdo each other, stay relevant in the market, and most of all, roll out new features for users to benefit from. The smartphone war between these two technology behemoths has resulted in huge advancements, generation after generation. At the same time, competing brands have also come up, offering at-par specifications at a lower price, but both these tech titans still take the crown when it comes to offering a flagship smartphone experience. Samsung has consistently taken the crown of the largest smartphone seller of the year for over a decade but was dethroned recently by the iPhone maker. In a bid to regain its market, Samsung has launched its Galaxy S24 series comprising 3 devices - Samsung Galaxy S24, Galaxy S24 Plus, and Galaxy S24 Ultra. While the standard and Plus variant boast great specifications, it is the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra that has yet again captured the limelight for its design and the special features it offers. It has even got an AI boost now, bringing it to par with another one of its rivals, Google's Pixel series.

But are the upgrades transformational enough to sway buyers, especially now that it has received a price hike in India? After spending several weeks with the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, here is what I think. Here's why.

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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Design

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra cannot be considered a fundamental shift in design from its predecessor, yet is different in many ways. For starters, it gets a flat display on the top instead of a curved one (more about it later). Moreover, Samsung has moved to a titanium chassis for its top-of-the-line smartphone, a move that Apple also made last year with its iPhone 15 series. While the latter shed considerable weight courtesy of this change, the Galaxy S24 Ultra weighs the same as its predecessor. It gets the same camera sensor placement at the back, the same power and volume rockers, and the same S-Pen slot. Yet, it feels much nicer to hold. Now what's different are the speaker grill and the microphone placement.

As is the case with Samsung smartphones, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is available in multiple colours, with a handful of them exclusively available at Samsung.com. I received the Titanium Grey variant and it is easily the best-looking colour, although the Titanium Violet available on the Samsung website could provide a tough competition.

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra was nearly perfect in terms of design and it would've been a bold decision to move away from its design strategy, a decision which fortunately Samsung hasn't taken.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Display

The Titanium frame might perhaps be the most talked about design change of the Galaxy S24 Ultra, but it isn't the most consequential one. That crown is taken by the new Gorilla Glass Armor display. The display remains identical to its predecessor, still boasting a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel with a 120Hz refresh rate.

But what's new here is the anti-reflective coating at the top. Samsung says it has worked with Corning to develop the Gorilla Glass Armor that reduces reflections, and it is one of the most monumental changes I've ever seen introduced on a smartphone. That change is immediately felt even when first booting the smartphone. The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra blew the iPhone 15 Pro out of the water during a side-by-side comparison. Samsung has even bumped up the brightness to an astounding 2600 nits and it looks fantastic, even under bright sunlight. The display is flat this time around with symmetrical bezels, providing a more uniform look all across, which I think is an upgrade.

That said, there are a handful of issues that need to be addressed. The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra still does not support Dolby Vision. Moreover, the Vivid picture mode isn't vivid anymore. Samsung has adjusted the colour and it now feels more like a Natural mode. Now, I understand that displays are colour-tuned differently, Vivid should offer punchy colours, which it doesn't anymore. I want Vivid to be vivid (take notes Samsung!)

Note: Samsung has announced that it will soon roll out an update to fix the Vivid colour mode issue, alongside other camera improvements.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Cameras

The camera system on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the same except for one sensor. This year, Samsung has moved away from the 10X telephoto sensor in favour of a 5X one, a trade-off that I consider an upgrade. It now gets a 50MP sensor that takes 5X shots with much more detail than its predecessor by allowing more light. Even at 100X zoom, the dynamic range is better on most occasions. What the Galaxy S24 Ultra compromises in finer details, it makes up for in overall image quality.

There are also a handful of Pixel-esque generative AI features if you wish to tweak your photo. You can remove reflections, and shadows, resize, remove and move objects around. The Galaxy S24 Ultra will even make suggestions to improve the quality of the photo.

While snapshots taken with the Galaxy S24 Ultra can still hold a candle to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the results are erratic. Burst shots captured often have slightly different details. Low-light photography is another area where results are inconsistent, a key area where smartphones like the Google Pixel 8 Pro and the Oppo Find X7 Ultra triumph. Moreover, shots taken at 9.9X magnification seem to look better compared to those taken at 10X which have more noise. Weird to say the least.

That said, I love the new natural tone in photos. Samsung has had issues in the past with unnatural colour tones, but that is not the case anymore. It is the nearest Samsung has ever come to offering an iPhone-like natural colour tone in snapshots. The selfie camera is identical to its predecessor and it produces quality shots. However, HDR photos captured with the Galaxy S24 Ultra will now appear as they are on Instagram, courtesy of the social media platform's partnership with the South Korean smartphone maker. So, if you're a photophile, then it is the smartphone for you.

There are also a handful of generative AI features if you wish to tweak your photo. You can remove reflections, and shadows, resize, remove and move objects around. The Galaxy S24 Ultra will even make suggestions to improve the quality of the photo. Check out a few camera samples below.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Performance, AI features

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the only device in the latest lineup to get the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 SoC coupled with 12GB RAM under the hood in all markets, and it is the first Android smartphone to topple the iPhone in terms of sheer power. It stands shoulder-to-shoulder, if not above the iPhone 15 Pro Max as the most powerful smartphone in the market. Playing games like Call of Duty Mobile and Genshit Impact is a breeze as the S24 Ultra powers through ease.

Samsung has taken the plunge this year by offering artificial intelligence (AI) features that rival Google Pixel 8 Pro, leaving the iPhone 15 Pro Max in the dust. These features include Circle to Search, Live Call Translate, Chat Assist, Note Assist, Generative Edit and more. Most of them come in handy, but there's one issue - none of them are visible on the first boot. You have to go through multiple menus just to find these features. But once they are activated, they come in handy.

The Circle to Search feature works like Google Lens, only quicker. It produces results within seconds, allowing you to find the latest dress that you saw on an Instagram reel. The Live Transcribe feature automatically notes down everything that's being spoken and even keeps a history. It works great. The Generative Edit features (which I've already talked about before) offer AI editing but not up to the level of the Pixel 8 Pro. The latter's best features such as Photo Unblur and Best Take are missing, despite the S24 Ultra being powered by Google's Gemini LLM. Moreover, Samsung has confirmed that some of the AI features will only be free-to-use until 2025, meaning if you'll still be holding on to your Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra after that, you'll have to pay to use them, which is a bummer considering it is a smartphone that costs upwards of Rs. 1 lakh.

Features like Chat Assist are often erratic. While it can change the tone of the text you have typed depending on the preset you select, I found myself using the text I had initially written rather than the AI-generated one. Moreover, the Samsung Keyboard is a mess. It inserts words in-between without making sense and even completes partial words while you're typing, something which irritated me on more than one occasion. Ultimately, I switched to GBoard.

Samsung still remains the king of multitasking courtesy of Samsung DeX which allows you to turn your smartphone into a full-fledged desktop. The company wants to make sure you use the Galaxy S24 Ultra for a long time, as it is now offering up to 7 years of software updates and security patches. Will the hardware stand the test of time? We will see.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Battery life

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has the best battery life of any smartphone I've tried so far. It lasts more than a day and a half of moderate usage that includes listening to music, taking a handful of snapshots and drafting emails. It offers battery life at par, if not better than the iPhone 15 Pro Max and the iPhone 15 Plus. It gets juiced up fairly quickly too, courtesy of 45W fast charging.

It also supports reverse wireless charging, meaning if you should ever find your earbuds or smartwatch running out of juice, simply use your Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra to charge them up.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra comes with a stunning display that has a fast refresh rate and is great to look at, even under direct sunlight. It gets an AI boost this year with features like Circle to Search and Generative Edit, all of which contribute to the experience. It is also powerful enough courtesy of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, and with a promise of 7 years of OS upgrades, you'll never have to worry about missing out on new features and important security fixes. The camera system is great on most occasions but is inconsistent in low-light situations. You can get a day and a half's usage out of the Galaxy S24 Ultra on a single charge, making it one of the best in the business. To sum up, purchasing it should be a no-brainer if you're looking to upgrade.

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the best smartphone of the year…so far. Over to you Apple!

Product Name

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Specifications

  • Display

    6.7-inch, Dynamic AMOLED 2X

  • Refresh rate

    120Hz

  • Processor

    Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

  • RAM

    12GB, LPDDR5X

  • Battery life

    5000mAh, 45W

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