The Galaxy S24 Ultra could be one of Samsung's most controversial upgrades. Hardware changes are relatively minimal — you won't find an overhaul of the phone's look, for example, and the biggest camera upgrade may not even be an upgrade at all.
Instead, the biggest changes with this year's premium Samsung device involve software, with the phone maker throwing its resources into AI-powered features. It's an impressive set of new capabilities, but will it be enough to convince people to buy the Galaxy S24 Ultra now that the phone is on sale?
If you're puzzling over that very question, we can help. Our Galaxy S24 Ultra review includes our test results and our analysis of the phone's strenghts and weaknesses. But we can also sum up the reasons why you'd want to pay up for the S24 Ultra — and why you might want to give this model a pass.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Save up to $750 with trade-in @ Best Buy
The Galaxy S24 Ultra is powerful but pricey, but if you trade-in a device, you can get up to $750 in credit from Best Buy. The retailer is also offering a $150 Best Buy e-Gift Card with purchase. The Galaxy S24 Ultra features a long-lasting battery, excellent cameras and new AI-powered features that impressed in our testing.
Reasons to buy the Galaxy S24 Ultra
Powerful AI features
There's no debate about what feature is the highlight of this year's Galaxy S updates. Samsung has put a substantial effort into AI-powered capabilities, all of which are present on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. And the best thing about the Galaxy AI features is that they're actually useful and not just parlor tricks to amuse you and your friends.
Take Circle to Search, developed with Google — you can circle or tap something in any app and a Google search box will slide up from the bottom of your screen. Make a phone call to someone who speaks a different language, and Live Translate kicks in from the Phone app with real-time translations. Chat Assist helps you strike the right tone when text messaging friends or colleagues, and the built-in Notes app has a bunch of AI tools that automatically generate summaries or formatting for your notes.
We haven't even discussed the role AI plays in photo-editing. A slick tool can turn any video you've shot on the Galaxy S24 Ultra into a slow-motion one, and AI can suggest various tweaks and fixes to your photo. Most users are going to gravitate to Samsung's generative AI editing tool, in which you can select objects and move them, resize them or eliminate them entirely from the shot.
Maybe you've never had much use for the Bixby smart assistant on your Galaxy S flagship. But you're going to want to check out the Galaxy AI capabilities the moment you get your hands on the S24 Ultra.
Brighter, flatter display
If we had a complaint about previous Ultra iterations, it was the curved screen, which not only made the phone difficult to hold but also could make interacting with items near the screen's edge more complicated than it needed to be. Thank heavens, Samsung has given us a flatter display with the Galaxy S24 Ultra without sacrificing any space on the 6.8-inch panel.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra isn't just easier to hold and use because of Samsung's screen changes — it's brighter, too. The Ultra now uses a panel with a maximum brightness of 2,600 nits, up from 1,750 nits on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. In our testing, we got a reading of 1,363 nits on a light meter — not as much as the maximum brightness, but still a display that's easy to view regardless of the lighting conditions around you. You're not going to have to squint to make out details on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
The best Android chipset
The system-on-chip powering your phone varies by where you are in the world if you opt for the Galaxy S24 or Galaxy S24 Plus. There's no such mystery for Galaxy S24 Ultra users — every model of Samsung's premium phone features the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3.
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 delivers more than just performance gains. It also handles power more efficiently — we'll talk about that in just a bit — and the neural processing unit has seen some improvements, too, doubtlessly helping with the Galaxy AI features we've talked about.
Amazing battery life
We've already got some preliminary battery test results from the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Let's just say, you're not going to have to go looking for an outlet to charge your phone too often during the day.
Specifically, the Galaxy S24 Ultra lasted 16 hours and 45 minutes on our test, in which we have phones surf the web over cellular until they run out of power. Right now, that's third on our best phone battery life list of devices we've tested over the last 18 months, and the only two handsets ahead of it are gaming phones specifically built to last a long time on a charge.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra recorded its stellar battery test result with its adaptive refresh rate enabled, which makes that lengthy endurance even more impressive. The S24 Ultra can scale up to 120Hz when there's a lot of on-screen activity, though faster refresh rates like that have been known to drain a phone's battery. That doesn't appear to be an issue with the Galaxy S24 Ultra and its brighter display doesn't seem to be impacting battery life either.
Brighter main camera
Samsung hasn't made too many changes from last year's camera setup for the Galaxy S24 Ultra, with the biggest adjustment being a new 50MP telephoto lens. (Believe me, we'll be getting to that in a moment.) But one of the changes that you will notice on the Galaxy S24 Ultra involves the pixel size on the 200MP main camera. They're 60% larger than before, according to Samsung, and that's going to translate into brighter photos.
Bigger pixels capture more light, and you can see the result in the above gallery featuring a New York City fountain. The differences between the Galaxy S24 Ultra and Galaxy S23 Ultra shots are subtle, but they're present — the buildings in the S24 Ultra image have a brighter shine to them and the reflections on the water are more pronounced. I find the blue signage in the background richer and more detailed in the Galaxy S24 Ultra photo as well. Throw in a much darker image captured by the Pixel 8 Pro, and the differences couldn't be more stark.
A more durable phone
Like Apple with last year's iPhone 15 Pro models, Samsung adopted titanium for the frame of the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Apple may have gotten their first, but that will hardly matter to Galaxy S24 Ultra who will enjoy a device made out of a more durable material than the aluminum frame Samsung previously used.
Samsung didn't stop with titanium when it came to strengthening the Galaxy S24 Ultra. The new phone uses Corning Gorilla Armor, which is rated as 4x more scratch resistant than other types of toughened glass. Third-party durability tests have also indicated that the Galaxy S24 Ultra is built to handle life's bumps and bruises. Still, we'd recommend buying one of the best Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra cases to protect your $1,299 investment.
Seven years of software support
You'll want to keep your Galaxy S24 Ultra looking pristine for as long as possible because Samsung just made a policy change that should let you hold on to your phone for as long as you like.
Previously, Samsung offered four years of Android software updates plus an additional year of security support for its top Galaxy devices. That's changing with the Galaxy S24 series, as you'll now get seven years of software and security support.
Will anyone really want to keep using a phone they buy in 2024 into the start of the next decade? Maybe not, but it's still good to have that option, especially if it helps justify the cost of the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Reasons to skip the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
A shorter range for the zoom lens
Easily the most talked about change for the Galaxy S24 Ultra is its new telephoto lens. Samsung replaced one of the 10MP lenses on the Galaxy S23 Ultra with a 50MP lens, which should produce more detailed zooms. But the new 50MP lens only offers a 5x optical zoom, as opposed to the 10x zoom that the departed 10MP sensor provided.
Samsung argues that this is an upgrade overall, as the 50MP lens can still provide 10x zooms of optical quality — it's cropping the full 50MP shot into a 12MP image in that case. Samsung also says its customer research indicted that more Galaxy owners shoot 5x zooms so it instead put its efforts into using a sensor capable of capturing more details at higher resolutions.
It's a convincing argument in theory, but our preliminary testing suggests that the S23 Ultra's zoom remains superior. In our Galaxy S24 Ultra vs Galaxy S23 Ultra zoom testing, S24 zoom shots at 10x had softer details than comparable shots taken by the S23 Ultra. The Galaxy S24 Ultra still produces good zoom shots, though we do feel that the telephoto lens has taken a small step backward.
No new S Pen features
The S Pen migrated over from Samsung's now defunct Galaxy Note line for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Since then, the only change has been the S Pen getting more responsive and finding a slot within the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Samsung really hasn't added new capabilities.
That trend is continuing with the Galaxy S24 Ultra, as the S Pen remains unchanged from previous models. This feels like a wasted opportunity — the S Pen is one of the Ultra's most unique features. Why not add more capabilities that highlight what a valuable productivity tool it can be — especially in support of new AI features like Circle to Search and various live translation capabilities?
One expensive starting price
When the iPhone 15 Pro Max raised its price by $100 last fall, we thought the more presented a golden opportunity for Samsung. For years, Apple's best phone had cost less than Samsung's premium device. Now, it had the same $1,199 price tag. Surely, this would give Samsung a chance to show off how its phone delivered more bang for all those bucks.
Instead, Samsung increased the amount of bucks you need to hand over. It also raised the price of its phone by $100, as the Galaxy S24 Ultra starts at $1,299. Tha's the most Samsung has charged for a phone that doesn't fold in half
Yes, Galaxy S24 Ultra deals can help you save, but $1,299 is a lot to pay for a phone — particularly one with modest hardware improvements from the previous year's model.
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra outlook
We think the Galaxy S24 Ultra is one of the best Android phones you can buy right now. We love the brighter display and long-lasting battery life, and the pictures produced by the cameras are solid, too, even if we're not fully convinced that the zoom lens is an improvement over the one on the Galaxy 23 Ultra.
That said, if a $1,299 starting price makes you hesitate about the Galaxy S24 Ultra, we can't hold it against you. Much of this phone's appeal is going to lie in its AI features. If you appreciate those, you likely won't blink at the S24 Ultra's cost; if they fail to impress, then you might want to consider a different phone.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.