Why our Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review score was 4.5 out of 5 after a week of testing
The Galaxy S24 Ultra is full of great AI features and camera specs, just short of being the perfect Android phone
I’ve tested Samsung’s newest phone for a week and just published The Shortcut’s Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review with the definitive score of 4.5 out of 5, so it’s time to explain why it’s just shy of perfect and still a must-buy for power users who want a truly smart phone. Samsung’s superb AI features, top-notch camera specs and excellent battery life make the S24 Ultra the best Android phone to buy in 2024. Just know it’s lacking a few features found in some of its chief smartphone rivals, namely the iPhone 15 Pro Max and Google Pixel 8 Pro.
I think most people will be fully satisfied with the S24 Ultra – it was close to scoring a perfect 5 out of 5. It’s just that some nagging issues kept it from being the must-buy phone for everyone that you should be aware of. Yes, the $1,299 price is an issue and the biggest hurdle for consumers on a budget, but with trade-in deals and gift card savings from Best Buy and Samsung, the cost was actually the least of my concerns.
Let’s deep-dive into what makes the Samsung’s S24 Ultra the leading Android phone to buy, and why it’s falls short of being everything you could possible want in a new mobile handset in the new year.
✅ 💬 Next-level AI translation features
AI is this year’s overhyped buzzword in tech, as evidenced by all of the microwaves that sported so-called ‘AI’ at CES 2024. But Samsung, as one of the first Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 phones in the US, has a bunch of AI features (some of them more hidden than others) that use generative AI with either on-device or cloud-processing. This matches, and in some case, goes beyond what the Google Pixel 8 Pro can do, according to my review testing of both Android phones.
Two-way live translation on phone calls allowed me to communicate with someone in a different language in real-time. I had the option to hear their voice (in a language I didn’t understand) or silence their voice and just hear the AI voice in English. This will make the Galaxy S24 Ultra an amazing travel companion, especially when I head to Barcelona to conduct our Best of MWC 2024 Awards in late February.
Text-based translations on the S24 series, while not entirely new for phones, allowed me to communicate in 13 different languages (and 17 dialects) in a much better interface than what I’ve used before. Samsung’s app splits the screen into two and you can flip the bottom half of the UI to face the person you’re speaking to (as if this were a tabletop game played on the screen). Best of all, text-based translations using this UI work offline.
✅ 📝 S24 Ultra AI summaries and searches
Note summaries go beyond what Google Pixel phones can do. I recall reviewing the Google Pixel 5 and using the live transcribe feature – well, Samsung takes things a step further. Not only can it translate speakers’ voices (multiple speakers with labels), it can use AI to auto-generate a summary of what was said, formatted with bullet points and headers. A ten-minute podcast topic instantly becomes a scrollable list of talking points you can review in 15 seconds.
Circle to Search with Google seemed silly to me at first, but then I realized all of the Instagram photos and videos without proper product labels on them are less of a problem. Same thing with Yelp dishes at restaurants without a caption. Tapping and holding on the bottom gesture bar brings up Google’s menu and a simply hand drawn a circle will search an item across Google Images. It’s a bit less cumbersome than Google Lens, as you never leave the original app.
✅ 🖼️ AI photo editing
Using the S24 Ultra, I was able to edit and fix photos using AI. These are generative changes that go beyond the basics of core Photoshop and Lightroom. I was able to reposition subjects, circle and generate new elements (the floor is hot lava now) and rotate to straighten and then fill in missing edges, all with the help of cloud processing.
Previous Samsung phones could fix shadows and tamp down reflections (most users didn’t know this), but there’s a bit more polish to the results on the Galaxy S24 Ultra, and that’s thanks to AI, according to Samsung. It’s still not always perfect, but it beats having to open up Lightroom and create mask to do what is now a simple task that could takes a few taps to pull off. Also, special shout out to the AI wallpaper feature hidden in the wallpaper section. I was able to create a bunch of generative home and lock screen backdrops that felt unique to me and my phone.
The only Google Pixel 8 feature that’s missing from Samsung’s bag of tricks is the face swap feature (what Google officially calls “Best Take”). Samsung matches or exceeds the rest of Google’s functionality, and maybe that’s an idea the inevitable Samsung Galaxy S25 Ultra will give us in 2025.
✅ 📸 Samsung’s best camera
The 200MP main camera of the S24 Ultra has brighter night photos (thanks to 1.6x larger pixels than the S23 Ultra) and a bit more dynamic range for tricky shots where there’s harsh light and dark subjects. Its 2x wider optical image stabilization (OIS) also helps take into account any movement – both my movement as the photo taker and the subject’s movement.
The new telephoto S24 Ultra camera is where I saw the biggest changes among my many photos during review testing. Its 5x optical zoom of the 50MP periscope lens backs off of the 10x optical zoom of the 10MP S23 Ultra telephoto, but I was able to see sharper images at the 5x zoom level. It’s the fact that this is now a 50MP camera. Samsung’s camera is able to punch in using an optical-digital hybrid zoom at 10x for still excellent results. Portrait photos at the 5x zoom level were also among the best I’ve tested across the Google Pixel 8 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max phones.
✅ 🖋️ S24 Ultra is the only new pone with a stylus
When was the last time Samsung had competition here? Maybe the Moto G Stylus in 2022 and another in 2023? These mid-range phones didn’t even begin to rival the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra specs. The S Pen itself, built into the phone as of the S22 Ultra series, hasn’t been upgraded in 2024, but the S24 Ultra display is now flat, making it easier to draw to the edge of the phone. Plus, the fact that the rest of the phone has been upgraded means this is the best phone with a stylus you can buy.
✅ 💡 S24 Ultra has a bright display you can see
This is where Samsung beats Apple: The S24 Ultra has 2,600 nits of peak brightness, meaning that it can become incredibly bright outdoors – for a limited amount of time – when you really need to see the screen in direct sunlight. Apple’s iPhone 15 Pro series has 2,000 nits of peak brightness, and the S23 Ultra topped out at 1,750 nits.
Even better, Samsung’s S24 Ultra has a new anti-reflective screen that is less of a mirror than any other smartphone display I’ve tested in my 25 years of tech reviewing. You can very much see yourself in the S23 Ultra when then screen is dim, while it’s difficult to make out any reflection in the S24 Ultra. If there’s one S24 Ultra feature reviewers haven’t written enough about, it’s this one.
✅ 🔋 Samsung’s best battery life
The 5,000 mah battery capacity of the S24 Ultra is a stat that shouldn’t lead you astray. Yes, this number hasn’t changed from the S20 Ultra series in 2020, but the S24 Ultra features the best battery life we’ve ever tested on a Samsung phone. According to our tests, the S24 Ultra lasted longer than the S23 Ultra and the iPhone 15 Pro Max, two previous top contenders for the best smartphone battery award. In fact, even power users will be pressed to drain the battery of the S24 Ultra in a day.
❌ 🧲 No magnetic charging back / Qi2 charger
It’s shocking to think that Samsung has gone out of its way to match nearly every new smartphone idea that Apple has ever put into the iPhone – except this one. And it had the chance to catch up with the S24 series this year. MagSafe has been around since 2017, combining Qi wireless charging and magnets, allowing consumers to easily line up the back of their smartphone with a magnetic charging pad.
The S24 Ultra doesn’t have a magnetic back, even though the Qi2 charging standard (which the S23 Ultra doesn’t support) launched in 2023. Qi2 incorporates the tech behind Apple’s MagSafe to offer a strong magnetic alignment, but while I can charge my iPhone on a nifty charging pad suspended in the air at an angle on my nightstand, my Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra just slides right off. Total miss.
❌ 🎮 Lack of console-quality games at launch
Samsung and, more specifically, the Google Play Store still trail when it comes to being able to play console-quality games that can take advantage of its top-notch ray-tracing-capable hardware. Games like Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG run at 120fps at max settings, and that’s good news, but Apple made a point to bring some of the best PS5 games – like Resident Evil, Resident Evil Village and Death Stranding – to the iPhone 15 Pro shortly after launch. Samsung name dropped Diablo Immortal, Arena Breakout, Night Crows and Racing Master, but four games (two of which aren’t brand new to mobile phones) makes the idea of ray-tracing feel underwhelming.
❌ 📷 Still not the best camera
Samsung has a great camera – and the best camera app UI – but it finishes in a close second place compared to the iPhone when it comes to video quality and low light photography. It better than the S23 Ultra in these areas and dynamic range has been improved, so at least the gap is smaller this year, but for $1,299, I was hoping Samsung would set a new standard with its ProVisual Engine. Samsung still wears the telephoto camera crown, but its the prince, not the king of the rest.
❌ 🍎 Needs better cross-platform software
I complain about this in my review every year, and every year it’s not fixed. Samsung has an excellent operating system with OneUI and great software features, but its software is too siloed to really take off.
Take Samsung Notes, for example. It’s a great to jot down notes with the S Pen and use AI to transform them into text, but… where do they live? The Samsung Notes app is limited to your Samsung phone or tablet and a Windows device. If you’re ever using a Mac, you can’t access these notes. To lure iPhone/Mac users to Samsung devices, Samsung needs to ditch the platform wars and make Apple-compatible software. It’s too much of an ask to have iPhone users (who legit may be tempted by Samsung’s cutting edge stylus or foldable phones) to switch their phone and their computer at the same time in order to get a full use of Samsung’s software.
❌ 📐 There’s no smaller S24 Ultra
I have a love-hate relationship with Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra 6.8-inch screen size. I love the fact that it acts as a large flat canvas for the S Pen stylus and my finger when swiping across the screen. It’s big and bright for watching YouTube videos.
Alas, on the go, the boxy design of this glass-and-titanium phone – in seven titanium-themed Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra colors – hard to juggle. Using the camera’s top-aligned controls while also trying to press the shutter button along the bottom is next to impossible with one hand. At those moments, I wish there was a 6.3-inch Galaxy S24 Ultra. No, not the good, but spec-limited 6.7-inch Galaxy S24 Plus and 6.2-inch S24, but something where the screen size (and maybe the battery life) is the only difference between the two. Apple has (for the most part) pulled this off well with its two Pro iPhone sizes.
The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra has no equal – yet
This is the first AI phone that we’ve tested that actually pulls off on-device and cloud-based machine learning that doesn’t feel like a giant gimmick. There’s so much more to this phone than a rehash of last year’s design – Samsung put more time into what is inside the phone than reimagining what it should look like on the outside.
If you can get the $1,299 price down with the excellent Samsung and Best Buy trade-in values before next Thursday, this is an easy purchase decision. It’s just shy of being the best phone out there and currently ranks at The Shortcut’s best Android phone.