Hands on: Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review – What Galaxy learned from Pixel

Samsung plucks some wishes off my list for the new Ultra

What is a hands on review?
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
(Image: © Future / Philip Berne)

Early Verdict

What do you give the phone that has everything? The Galaxy S24 Ultra has more features than any other phone you’ll buy, and this time instead of just adding its own new stuff, Samsung has worked closely with Google to bring some of the best Pixel features to the premier Ultra line, including seven years of Android updates. Check out our hands-on review of the new software, cameras, and more.


  • +

    Great new AI software from Google Pixel

  • +

    Seven years of major OS and security updates (HUGE!)

  • +

    Still as feature-packed as ever


  • -

    Big and heavy, titanium didn't help that

  • -

    Software, especially settings, is a confusing mess

  • -

    Even more expensive than last year

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When Samsung invited me to see new phones in New York City, I could have spent a couple of hours with the whole Galaxy S24 lineup, but instead I went straight for the Galaxy S24 Ultra and wasted all of my time playing with Samsung’s new ultraphone hotness. I’ve owned the Galaxy S23 Ultra and Galaxy S21 Ultra, and I’ve long been interested in the evolution of Samsung’s expansive feature set. 

I’ll be diving into this phone for a more thorough review soon, but for my initial hands-on I had immediate questions. Such as: what does AI look like on a Samsung phone? As one of the first new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phones, it will bear the standard for both Qualcomm’s AI ambitions, as well as Google’s AI approach to Android. I wanted to see if Samsung managed to make AI useful on its best phone.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

Next question: is the Galaxy S24 Ultra a downgrade from the Galaxy S23 Ultra? We’ve heard about the reduced zoom length from 10X zoom to 5X. We know that the display is flat, not curved. We haven’t heard about huge new features, and Samsung hasn't improved its software or hardware design. But the Galaxy S24 Ultra will cost $100 more than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Is it worth that much?

So far, I'm optimistic, for the best reasons: longevity and partnerships. Samsung has clearly been working closer with Google, taking some cues and borrowing software features as needed. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is the most Pixel-like of any Galaxy phone, and while there's plenty of room for improvement, this is the most forward-looking Galaxy Ultra phone that the company has ever offered.

Galaxy S24 Ultra early verdict: beats realistic expectations

The Galaxy S23 Ultra didn’t need an upgrade. It's the most feature-packed smartphone of all time. Thankfully with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, Samsung didn’t just opt for its usual strategy of more, More, MORE! Instead, the Galaxy S24 Ultra shows restraint in favor of quality. It shows cooperation, in exchange for longevity. It shows that Samsung is still the most competitive phone maker in the world, with more room for improvement.

More. Did Samsung increase the zoom from 10X to 20X? Nope. Instead, we get a shorter zoom lens with a bigger image sensor. If you do the math, it’s worth the trade. If you look at the photos taken by the new camera, it’s easy to appreciate this smart decision. The rest of the cameras didn’t change much, and that’s a good thing.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

More. Did Samsung give us the fastest, brightest display on any smartphone ever? Super-fast charging and a bigger battery? Unnecessary new tech, like a temperature sensor? Nope. There are new AI features, but many of those come directly from Google, which is a very good sign. In fact, the Galaxy S24 Ultra gets some cool Pixel 8 features, like Generative AI wallpaper and the Magic Editor for photos, that I thought would be Pixel-exclusive forever.

MORE! Instead of a zoom boost or a confused new spec sheet, we get a promise for seven years of major OS updates and security patches. That’s huge, even more than Apple delivers, and Samsung may have flipped the table on the mobile industry by doing so. 

Google offered seven years of updates on its Pixel 8 family, but Google is small potatoes compared to Samsung. Now that Samsung’s best phone will get the newest OS updates for the next seven years, I’m hopeful that its long-term value will rise, and the ‘cheap’ perception of Android in general will change.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

On the other hand, if you’ve been waiting for Samsung’s next Galaxy S24 Ultra, hoping for something totally new, you won't feel as satisfied as I do. The phone looks identical to last year’s model, right down to the placement of antenna lines around the frame. 

Of course, that frame is now titanium, but unlike the titanium Apple iPhone 15 Pro Max, which feels closer in weight to Apple's older iPhone 14 Pro model than the larger iPhone 14 Pro Max, Samsung hasn’t used titanium to shed weight. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is just as big and heavy as ever.

Because everything must have AI, Samsung has some new AI features on board, but not where I’d hoped. Some of the most impactful AI features are coming straight from Google, and won’t be exclusive to the Galaxy S24 family, like the new circle-to-search feature that Google is adding to its Pixel 8 lineup as well. You can also rephrase outgoing text messages to change the tone, or add appropriate emoji with AI ease. 

I was hoping for some real software improvements. Actually, I was hoping for a major overhaul, because Samsung’s interface, especially Settings, has become a quagmire of menus and submenus and hidden buttons. Many of the new AI features may never get used because they are hidden layers deep within the Settings menu.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

The software and settings are same-old Samsung (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

On the other hand, many won't get used because they aren’t useful. There are AI tools that just reformat the look of your text notes. There are new translation tools for phone calls. Sadly, as a sheltered American, I’m less-likely to need such a tool, though I wish I had more opportunities. Why do we get AI for these tasks, but not for Bixby, Samsung's voice interface? Samsung couldn't say.

Samsung may not have fixed the biggest problems I had with the older Galaxy phones, but it has granted some of the biggest requests I had for the Galaxy S24 Ultra, including my pie-in-the-sky hope that Samsung would support its phones for seven years, just like Google. The S24 Ultra isn’t better in every way, but it has gotten better in the most important ways that could cement its dominance.

Galaxy S24 Ultra design: titanium, but not lighter

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)
  • Looks exactly like last year’s model (and the iPhone 15 Pro Max)
  • Seriously, even the antenna lines match up
  • The screen is flat, but you may not notice

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

Samsung has fully embraced the ‘slab’ aesthetic for its Galaxy S24 Ultra, and the phone is a solid, imposing sheet of glass on the front and the back. The display pushes the boundaries of its bezels, and though it's a nice looking mobile for the size, there’s no getting around this is a huge device. 

If you have smaller pockets or just want a phone that is easier to use one-handed, check out the standard Galaxy S24 or Galaxy S24 Plus, or really anything else, because this is about the biggest smartphone you can buy that doesn’t fold in half. 

Phone geeks like to play a matching game, lining up last year’s model with this year’s to find the changes. That game will be harder with the Galaxy S24 Ultra than ever before, as Samsung’s design is almost identical to last year's. Even the antenna lines on the frame match up closely, which almost never happens. The camera dots, sensors, and bumps match up, and differences are minute, like a changed speaker grate at the bottom, or a moved microphone hole.

The colors this year are very nice, and I especially like the titanium violet option, which contrasts beautifully against the shiny metallic frame and camera lenses. You can also find the S24 Ultra in titanium black, titanium yellow, and titanium grey, which is Samsung’s ‘natural’ titanium color to match the iPhone 15 Pro. Ironically, the actual colored portion is not titanium, it’s new Gorilla Glass Armor, which is an upgrade over Gorilla Glass Victus 2. Still, the colors blend nicely with the metal.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Titaniums violet, grey, yellow, and black (top to bottom) (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

I wish that Samsung, like Apple, had used the titanium frame as a reason to cut weight from the Galaxy S24 Ultra. The new iPhone 15 Pro Max weighs less than before, and it’s about halfway between the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max in terms of weight. Samsung didn’t drop the weight of its Ultra phone at all, inexplicably. You don't get more battery or a bigger screen, either. For Samsung, titanium was not a lighter option than the S23 Ultra’s ‘armor aluminum.’

Galaxy S24 Ultra price and value: More than before

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)
  • Costs $1,299 for the 256GB/12GB model
  • That’s $100 more than last year
  • Hopefully longer support will improve resale values

Maybe the Galaxy S24 Ultra would have come down in price if it were still Samsung’s most expensive phone, but with a model like the $1,799 / £1,749 / AU$2,599 Galaxy Z Fold 5 above it, Samsung had room to jack it up instead. The company may say that it didn't raise the price, it just eliminated the 128GB model, but that explanation insults my intelligence. It raised the price, plain and simple.

Of course, if you’re like me, you won’t pay full price for this phone. I’ll be trading in my Galaxy S23 Ultra when I buy this phone, and if you’re doing the same you should know that Samsung usually offers the best trade-in deals. If you’re trading an iPhone (you mythical switcher, you) any retailer will give you a good value. Samsung and the largest major cellular carriers always offer special trade-in deals when a new Galaxy Ultra launches.

Is the Galaxy S24 Ultra worth the hefty price tag? Not if you won’t be using all of the advanced features. If you just want the best camera around, the Galaxy S24 Ultra certainly gives you more options, but you’ll find a great main camera on the iPhone 15 Pro, or the Google Pixel 8 Pro, for hundreds less than this Galaxy.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

When you start to include features you can’t find anywhere else, the value becomes more clear. You can use the Galaxy S24 Ultra as a laptop replacement, thanks to Samsung DeX, and it's very convenient, especially if you split your phone between work and personal accounts. Not to mention the S Pen, which is useful not just as a writing tool, but also as a remote for the camera, or even as a stylus for playing games and swiping on the onscreen keyboard.

Most importantly, though, seven years of OS updates and security patches makes a huge difference. I don’t expect many of this year’s Galaxy S24 Ultra buyers are going to own the phone for seven years, but I do expect you will want to sell or trade this phone for the next big thing. I’m not sure if longer support will truly increase the value of the phone, but I feel that having worse support than Apple made the Galaxy seem less valuable than the iPhone. Now that's in the past.

Galaxy S24 Ultra specs: up and down the sheet

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)
Swipe to scroll horizontally
Dimensions:163 x 79 x 8.6mm
Screen:6.8-inch OLED
Resolution:1440 x 3088 pixels, 500ppi
CPU:Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy
Storage:256GB / 512GB / 1TB
OS:Android 14; One UI 6.1
Rear Cameras200MP main; 50MP 5x zoom; 10MP 3X zoom; 12MP ultra-wide
Front Camera12MP
ColorsTitanium Grey, Titanium Black, Titanium Violet; Titanium Yellow

Galaxy S24 Ultra display: better than the iPhone

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)
  • Not the biggest, brightest, fastest, or sharpest display
  • Still better than any iPhone display you’ll find
  • Flat sides actually make the bezels look bigger, which they aren’t

The Galaxy S24 Ultra display is excellent, but it won’t be winning any superlatives in this year’s phone yearbook. It isn’t the brightest display, as the Google Pixel 8 Pro can reach higher peak brightness levels. It isn’t the fastest display, as it tops out at 120Hz, while many phones can reach 144Hz or higher. It isn’t the sharpest display, as the OnePlus 12 is just a bit better when it comes to pixel density. Samsung also still shuns Dolby Vision, so if you prefer Netflix, your shows may look better on another brand. 

Let’s be real, though – Samsung only cares about beating one other phone on the market, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra has a better display than the iPhone 15 Pro Max in every way that counts. It’s brighter, sharper, and just a bit bigger. It also works with a real stylus, but that’s just being extra ...er, Ultra. 

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra (left) has a steeper curve than the Galaxy S24 Ultra (right) (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

Compared to the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the S24 Ultra has a display that is more flat, but you wouldn’t notice unless you were holding them side-by-side. In that case, the S23 Ultra looks like it has a smaller bezel because much of that border is tucked into the curve, but the S24 Ultra actually has the smallest bezel Samsung has achieved on a smartphone. The flat screen should make for easier writing with the pen as well, at least near the edges.

Galaxy S24 Ultra software: More Google

It’s no surprise that the big software features on the Galaxy S24 Ultra are all about AI, but maybe it’s a surprise where much of that AI comes from. There aren’t a lot of features from other phones that I wish the Galaxy would steal, but if I had to choose, a top pick would be the amazing Recorder app on the Pixel phones, which can distinguish individual voices and transcribe as it records. 

While I’m on the Pixel, the generative AI wallpaper was the feature I missed most when I gave it up after my review period ended. 

Well, guess what?! Samsung got both of those features. Samsung’s Voice Recorder app now labels speakers, transcribes, and even summarizes recordings, just like the Recorder app on Google Pixel. Samsung also offers generative AI wallpaper, and it’s clearly come from Google, as the MadLib-style prompts are identical. 

Keep going? Samsung got the Pixel’s Magic Editor from Google Photos. What’s truly wild is that the Galaxy S24 Ultra comes with Google Photos, but Samsung stuck the Magic Editor in its own Samsung Gallery app. The new recording features aren’t in Google’s Recorder app, they are now part of Samsung’s Voice Recorder. The duplication of apps will continue until morale improves, apparently.

Samsung even has a few photo tricks of its own up its sleeve. Using generative AI on the phone, you can now adjust and rotate a photo, and the phone will fill in the background if your new tilt doesn’t match the original frame. I twisted a photo of a hiker leaning against a rock and the Galaxy S24 Ultra was smart enough to draw not only the rest of the rock, but also unrevealed parts of the hiker’s shadow that would become visible. I am excited to play with this more, not because it’s very useful, but because I’m curious about what the phone can do.

More problems...

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Samsung also crammed its own AI features into the Galaxy S24 Ultra through the Samsung Keyboard, and these range from mildly useful to potentially hazardous. 

There is a new translation engine on board, and it can handle text and audio, including live audio during a phone call. You can call somebody who speaks a different language and get a real-time translation as they speak. That’s magical, if you need it.

There is also a feature to change the tone of text messages. You type a message and ask the S24 Ultra to change the writing style, and the phone will offer a few different variations, including professional, polite, ‘social’ loaded with hashtags, ‘emojify’ bedazzled with emojis, and a casual option.

I tried out some phrases to see how the Galaxy S24 Ultra would adapt them, some sensitive and some benign. When I asked “how are you feeling today?” the Galaxy S24 Ultra came up with pleasant messages and nice emoji to make my friend feel better. When I asked for help asking someone out on a date, the Galaxy S24 Ultra suggested coffee, which felt appropriately casual.

When I asked the S24 Ultra for help with a break-up text, none of the responses would have been considered sensitive if they were sent from one human to another. I’ll look forward to spending time asking the Galaxy S24 Ultra for more help than just dating advice, but I wanted a challenge during my hands-on and I thought this might produce both good and bad results at once.

Sadly, Samsung still hasn’t made the most necessary changes to its software, and things are reaching a tipping point. I’ve been complaining about Samsung software bloat, especially in the Settings menus, for a long time. Nothing has improved.

In the worst move possible, Samsung has hidden ALL of its important new AI features not just in the Settings menu, but multiple levels deep under an Advanced Intelligence option. It’s like Samsung has completely run out ideas; it’s just shoving everything into the junk drawers in the kitchen. You get the language interpreter and the Magic Editor next to the rubber spatulas and the wine bottle opener.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

Where are the software improvements? Any software improvements at all? I still see Bixby on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, but for some reason Bixby, the one feature that truly needs an AI component, has been left out of the AI conversation entirely. This needs to change. Samsung needs to fix its interface, simplify the software, and make Bixby a real AI. Those are the table stakes for the Galaxy S25 Ultra, presuming Samsung launches an Ultra in 2025.

Galaxy S24 Ultra cameras: when 5X is better than 10X

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)
  • I only focused on the 5X zoom in my hands-on
  • The bigger sensor and more MPs make a big difference
  • Photos look much better, even though they have a bit less fine detail

Let’s skip to the important question: did the Galaxy S24 Ultra cameras get worse? Last year’s Galaxy S23 Ultra was our best camera phone, and while that wasn’t entirely because of the 10X zoom lens, it certainly helped to set the Galaxy S23 Ultra apart. This year, Samsung cut back to 5X zoom, and I would have never, ever bet that Samsung would reduce ANY spec on its Ultra phone year-over-year. The question is whether it still produces the best images.

I didn’t have much time with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, so I jumped straight to that one important question. With my S23 Ultra in hand, I shot some photos on both Ultra phones at 10X zoom. On the S23 Ultra, that’s the optical range. On the S24 Ultra, it uses a digital zoom, but that doesn’t tell you the whole story.

The big change is the sensor size. The new sensor on the 5X zoom lens is more than twice as large. Consider that for a moment. If the sensor is more than twice as large, then using a little digital zoom to get from 5X to 10X won't matter. The sensor will still capture more image than before, even though it technically isn't seeing as far. 

Samsung is also using a much higher quality sensor than last year. The new telephoto sensor is a whopping 50MP, the second-highest resolution of any camera on the S24 Ultra, after the big 200MP main camera. The S23 Ultra only used a paltry 10MP with its 10X telephoto camera. With a 50MP sensor like this, Samsung will combine multiple pixels to form a final image, so the more pixels it has, the better potential for the final image to look great.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Galaxy S23 Ultra at 10X (left) vs. Galaxy S24 Ultra at 10X (right) (Image credit: Future / Philip Berne)

The final image does look great! Or at least it looks much better than before. Returning to photos taken with my older Galaxy S23 Ultra, I could definitely spot more fine details, but the photo was washed out and desaturated. There is a lot of noise and watercolor blurring in 10X photos from the S23 Ultra. 

On the Galaxy S24 Ultra, I didn’t catch all the fine details, but the photos overall are much better. The lighting dynamics and color are greatly improved, and noise is reduced significantly.

I didn’t have much time to test this in the real world, especially taking shots of the moon and astrophotography, the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s real Wow! factor. Still, in my brief hands-on time I confirmed that Samsung has not made the Galaxy S24 Ultra worse than the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Samsung fans can argue over the spec sheet, but photographers will appreciate the improvements.

Galaxy S24 Ultra review: coming soon

I am working hard on my Galaxy S24 Ultra review and I will have my complete testing results and final opinion up shortly. There is still so much to try with this phone. I haven't even talked about the faster 45W charging, how the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 performs under intense tasks like gaming and photo editing, or any of the other cameras, short of the 10X zoom. 

You can check back soon to read our full review and find out whether this phone is worthy of a spot on our list of the best phones, the best camera phones, and the best Android phones, where the Galaxy S23 Ultra is currently saving space. We're confident it will definitely sit atop the best Samsung phones list.

In the meantime, read up on all of our coverage of the new Galaxy family, including our hands-on Galaxy S24 review and hands-on Galaxy S24 Plus review

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for eTown.com. He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. 

Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.

What is a hands on review?

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