I’ve spent 48 hours with the Galaxy S24 Ultra — what I like and what I don’t

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra back
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I've been lucky enough to take the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra for a spin since the phone was announced at Galaxy Unpacked on January 17th. And for the most part, it's been an enjoyable, smooth ride.

Thanks to Samsung's new focus on Galaxy AI, plus some design changes and spec updates, the Galaxy S24 Ultra feels like a much fresher phone than previous updates. However, I've found that not all of those changes live up to the promises Samsung made yet, plus some of the specs that have remained the same since the Galaxy S23 Ultra are disappointing in their own right too.

Our full Galaxy S24 Ultra review is in progress, but after spending two days with the phone, I've already got some strong opinions on it. And you can read all about them below.

The titanium frame feels great

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra cameras and frame

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The moment I felt the Galaxy S24 Ultra for the first time, I was delighted Samsung made the swap to titanium for the phone's side rails. Its satin finish has enough texture to it to make it feel grippy, but it still produces enough of a shine to look pretty.

My colleague Josh Render did note that the matte finish makes the Galaxy S24 Ultra a little less eye-catching than the glossy finish of the Galaxy S23 Ultra's aluminum body. But shiny sides like that attract fingerprints easily, whereas the S24 Ultra has proven quite resilient to frequent handling by me and the people I show off the phone to.

AI tricks are a mixed bag

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Circle to Search

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

In my demo at Samsung HQ, I was impressed at how many apps and functions the Galaxy S24's Galaxy AI system covered, although their current effectiveness isn't quite what I hoped for.

Take Circle to Search for example. It stood out to me as the most interesting of the new features, taking a task we all do frequently and putting it within easier reach. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem quite as effective at providing full answers as I hoped.

As a test of its abilities, I opened up the Gallery app, long-pressed the gesture bar and then drew a circle around a photo of some nacreous clouds I'd taken back in December. The clouds were identified successfully, but the search box just showed me more images, failing to direct me to basic information, such as how these clouds are formed. I had to do a regular search to get that answer. Turns out it's a mix of very cold weather and twilight lighting conditions. Neat!

With internet-based features like this, it'll likely get smarter over time as the algorithms get refined. But I can't help but feel that early buyers of the Galaxy S24 series may be somewhat underwhelmed by their phone's alleged AI smarts when they start playing with them straight out of the box.

The new display is a surprisingly big upgrade

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra Notes app and S Pen

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Unlike many users, I wasn't as annoyed about the Galaxy S24 Ultra ditching the curved display edges that had been a part of Samsung's premium smartphones since the Galaxy S7 series. But I also like using styluses to take hand-written notes on my tech, and the rounded edges definitely made the canvas for using the S Pen on previous Galaxy S Ultra phones narrower than I liked. Now that the Galaxy S24 Ultra uses a fully flat screen though, I don't feel so hemmed in when making notes. I might actually make full use of the S Pen this time around as a result.

That's not the only benefit the new screen brings. The improved anti-reflective tech in the Gorilla Armor glass, combined with the display's higher brightness rating, means it is very easy to read the screen, even in harsh winter sunlight. Even compared to the iPhone 15 Pro Max, which I have little trouble using outdoors, the Galaxy S24 Ultra is noticeably brighter.

Photography feels same-y

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra taking selfie

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I'll caveat this point with the fact that I've not taken a huge number of photos yet, but the photography experience on the Galaxy S24 Ultra doesn't feel that different to the Galaxy S23 Ultra I've been using with Samsung's latest One UI 6 software installed.

This isn't surprising when you look at the specs. The main camera, ultrawide camera, 3x telephoto camera and selfie camera are identical between the Galaxy S24 Ultra and the Galaxy S23 Ultra. The S24 Ultra has some software refinements like Super HDR support and better low-light photography but those haven't made a clear difference in my testing yet.

Only the second telephoto camera has changed between generations, but maybe not for the better. While it's now 50MP instead of 10MP, the Galaxy S24 Ultra's zoom performance doesn't seem better off for it in an early comparison done by TG Phones Editor John Velasco.

At least portrait mode still cuts around my glasses well, a refinement I very much appreciated being added to the Galaxy S23 series last year.

Strong battery life 

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I've only had to charge the Galaxy S24 Ultra once since getting it, despite all the messing around I've been doing with its various features. Granted I've not moved into it as my primary device (at time of writing…), but I would still have expected to have needed to charge it up at least twice by this point based on my usual Android phone testing experience.

This observation of mine is backed up by our battery test results. The figures show it's a big step forward from the already good battery life of the Galaxy S23 Ultra, only losing out to a phone with 500mAh more battery capacity, and only then by a couple of hours.

Between the new, more efficient Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset and the battery management software refinements Samsung's made since last year, battery longevity now looks to be a true strength of the Galaxy S24 Ultra. It's not a glamorous upgrade like shiny AI-powered abilities, but it's one a lot of regular phone users will care about.

Stay tuned for our full review.

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.