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Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra review: AI gimmick or landmark smartphone?

At its worst, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is another expensive phone. But at its best, it offers a glimpse of how much fun life with an AI smartphone could be

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra could turn out to be a landmark smartphone. But there’s still a long way to go.(Samsung)

By Shouvik Das

LAST PUBLISHED 25.02.2024  |  12:00 PM IST

In September last year, I reviewed the Google Pixel 8 Pro. The headline was: The right idea for the future of smartphones. The reason for this was, of course, artificial intelligence (AI)—which headlined as the key new feature on Google’s latest smartphone. It was, to be fair, quite fun, although the AI features that included live transcriptions and magical editing of photos to remove background photo-bombers were not consistent, yet.

A month ago, Samsung introduced the Galaxy S24 Ultra. Its biggest flagship phone makes it to many lists, ranking it as one of the best smartphones every year, alongside the latest of Google and Apple. But this year, Samsung too went the AI way—going so far as to market this phone as “the world’s first AI phone".

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Two weeks into using the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, I realised that there are still plenty of roadblocks to cross. But the S24 Ultra swings both ways—at its worst, it’s just another needlessly expensive smartphone. At its very best, it offers a glimpse of how fun, convenient and drastically different life with an “AI smartphone" could really be.

Do you really need AI in your daily life?

In the history of mobile phones, any new technology is often greeted by scepticism. When mobile cameras were introduced, naysayers said they would never be good enough to replace actual cameras. With the Galaxy S24 Ultra, that new tech is AI. In the present format, all the AI prowess of the smartphone undeniably feels surplus. After all, you don’t really need ChatGPT to write your emails, or Imagen to create wallpapers. So, is the S24 Ultra’s innovation truly beneficial for the consumer?

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra can live-translate your phone calls, transcribe your voice recordings and summarise them, remove unwanted objects from photos, generate wallpapers based on various keywords, and also selectively summarise webpages on browsers. The resultant effect is a smartphone that feels haute couture—when all features work as intended, the S24 Ultra is bespoke to just what you need.

This makes it feel new. Creating new wallpapers based on keywords is neat and feels refreshing, and live-translating phone calls is helpful for cross-continent corporate teams. Editing unwanted items in photos is likely to be the first mainstream AI feature within the next year, and is already baked into Samsung’s Gallery app.

This is key. For Samsung has integrated most of these features into the native interface. Hence, no AI feature feels retrofitted or third-party.

An influencer poses with Samsung's new Galaxy S24 Ultra model phones offering AI functions at the Galaxy Unpacked event in San Jose, California, U.S. January 17, 2024. (Reuters/Loren Elliott)

Are we witnessing history?

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra could turn out to be a landmark smartphone. But there’s still a long way to go. For instance, transcriptions are far from accurate even in American English (AI’s primary training language). Summaries get confused, almost always.

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Webpage summaries work only on Samsung’s own browser, which nobody uses anymore. Even then, it failed to show summaries on 8 out of 10 occasions. Live translation of calls, from Hindi to English, seemed consistent—as did “generative edit" in photos. However, you’d need more than one edit to remove objects with finesse, and cluttered backgrounds easily break the algorithm. Generative wallpapers, meanwhile, feel restrictive and are limited to select preloaded keywords.

This makes you wonder if AI is still a gimmick. But using Apple’s iPhone 15 alongside it does show a difference—the lack of transcriptions and generative edits on iPhones are glaring misses. Samsung, it seems, is on the right track.

Beyond the AI

AI aside, the S24 Ultra is an able flagship. QualComm’s latest chip—the 4nm, AI-friendly Snapdragon 8 Gen 3—powers it. The processor doesn’t break a sweat in any mainstream smartphone task. The 6.8-inch Amoled display hits the right sharpness and vibrancy, and its 120Hz smoothness makes all animations on screen feel fluid—which adds to the overall experience. This makes it feel like one of the most expensive smartphones around.

The main 200-megapixel camera has gotten better over time, and low-light and warm-light photography feels effortless. You can still also go up to 100x in digital zoom to take the now-expected moon shots. However, the quality of these moon photos, despite all the AI, hasn’t improved since the S21 Ultra. But you can now record 4K HDR videos at 120 frames per second, which look rich and are well-textured, even on editing timelines. However, Samsung lacks Apple’s pro colour profiles—a factor pros won’t ignore.

For all the AI and a premium, feel-good design, you pay a hefty premium of up to 1.6 lakh for the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. Such pricing is hard to justify for phones—gadgets that you’ll likely replace within two to three years.

Is the phone worth buying for the AI it offers? To be fair, the S24 Ultra does feel exciting when the AI works. And, a lot of its features will likely improve with future software updates as Samsung collects and processes more data over time.

If you are an enthusiast, you will likely find the S24 Ultra a worthy splurge. It undeniably feels newer than Apple’s latest, and far more premium than Google’s. But, if you are not, you will likely want to consider the base Galaxy S24—or perhaps explore less expensive options from OnePlus or even Samsung itself.

Also read: Google Pixel 8 review: The little Android smartphone that can