Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra initial review: The pursuit of perfection

After more than a week, I'm comfortable crowning the Galaxy S24 Ultra as the champ.

Creating generative AI wallpapers on the vibrant display of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
(Image: © Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is one of the best phones I've reviewed in years, offering a camera system that's better than ever, some welcome display changes, and one of the best software promises in the industry. It's not all perfect, but the S24 Ultra gets close.

Pros

  • +

    Most eye-friendly display from Samsung yet

  • +

    Superb performance and battery life

  • +

    Excellent camera experience

  • +

    Useful AI features and seven-year update promise

  • +

    Quality build with flat display

  • +

    Near-perfect repairability score

Cons

  • -

    Camera still struggles to capture motion

  • -

    Uses PWM dimming at all brightness levels

  • -

    Expensive

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Every year, it feels like phone announcements — particularly in the U.S. — get less and less exciting. We've begun to see diminishing returns in hardware innovation of standard slab phones, and even huge processing or software advancements no longer hold the weight of excitement they once had. Samsung's Galaxy S24 series fits quite perfectly into this description, as my colleague Harish Jonnalagadda wrote shortly after the phone series' announcement.

But there's beauty in the pursuit of perfection. Radical innovation or revolution isn't always necessary, particularly when a product is as good as the Galaxy S24 Ultra. It rarely does anything new, but it does do almost everything extremely well. In a nutshell, Samsung took some of the best features of a Google Pixel and put them in the more reliable hardware of a Samsung Galaxy phone without removing any of the features Samsung fans know and love.

I certainly have my nitpicks — the camera still struggles to capture motion, I hate the uncomfortable square corners, and the PWM rate still bothers my eyes when there's not enough ambient light — but what Samsung delivered in the Galaxy S24 Ultra is nothing short of pure excellence. It shows a company willing to innovate where it's necessary and unwilling to move when it's not.

It's the best new Android phone you can buy, but only if you can afford it.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra with its retail box and official case boxes

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Galaxy S24 Ultra ships with a base of 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM for $1,299. Samsung is no longer offering the cheaper model with reduced RAM this year as it did with previous Ultra models, although the best Galaxy S24 Ultra deals can get you upgraded to 512GB or 1TB of storage for less than you might expect.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra ships in Titanium Grey, Titanium Black, Titanium Yellow, and Titanium Violet colorways at your favorite retailer or carrier. Buying from Samsung.com grants access to Titanium Orange, Titanium Blue, and Titanium Green colorways.

All Galaxy S24 phones come with seven years of OS and security updates, a first for Samsung phones.

For this initial review, I spent 10 days with an unlocked Galaxy S24 Ultra provided by Samsung running One UI 6.1.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Design and display

The vibrant display of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The Galaxy Note's DNA runs as deeply through the Galaxy S24 Ultra as it has for the past few years, and you're either going to love or hate Samsung's boxy design here. I find a large phone with square corners very uncomfortable, but it also means that few phones look quite like a Galaxy S Ultra.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategorySamsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
Display6.8-inch AMOLED (2,600 nits)
ResolutionQHD+
Refresh rate120Hz (1-120); 240Hz touch sampling
ProcessorSnapdragon 8 Gen 3 for Galaxy
Memory12GB RAM, 256GB/512GB/1TB storage
Camera 1 (Main)200MP (OIS), Laser Auto Focus (LAF), f1.7
Camera 2 (Ultrawide)12MP, f2.2, 120-degree FoV
Camera 3 (Telephoto)10MP (OIS), f2.4, 3x optical zoom
Camera 4 (Telephoto)50MP (OIS) 2PD, f3.4, 5x optical zoom
Selfie Camera12 MP (2PD AF), f2.2
Battery5,000mAh
Charging45W; 15W (wireless)
ProtectionIP68; Gorilla Armor Glass; Titanium frame
ConnectivitySub-6/ mmWave 5G; Wi-Fi 7; Bluetooth 5.3; UWB
Dimensions & weight6.40 x 3.11 x 0.34 in, 8.22oz
ColorsTitanium Grey, Titanium Black, Titanium Yellow, and Titanium Violet, Titanium Orange, Titanium Blue, Titanium Green

Samsung's addition of a titanium frame this year is largely gimmicky, but it means that the Galaxy S24 Ultra feels even more premium than any previous Galaxy S Ultra. There's something palpably more quality feeling about titanium over aluminum, and the matte texture means it's both easier to grip and doesn't attract fingerprints like Armor Aluminum on the S22/S23 Ultra.

The titanium frame feels wonderfully premium, and the anti-glare layer on the flat display is nothing short of perfection.

While camera islands are still off-center and raised quite a bit — leading to wobble when placed on a table — the best Galaxy S24 Ultra cases all solve this problem. If you're like me and normally don't like using cases, slapping a Thinborne case on it will make it feel virtually caseless while solving this annoying problem.

Beyond just the frame, Samsung has flattened the display for the first time in the history of the series, even if the actual glass itself is still slightly curved at the edges. A flat display means finding a great screen protector is easy but I'm keeping one off of mine for several reasons.

First off, Samsung's use of an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor means that screen protectors make this function nearly unusable. Samsung is also using a brand new generation of Corning Gorilla Glass, dubbed Gorilla Armor. As tests show, this new glass is nearly unscratchable unless you're rubbing the display against stone.

Beyond that, screen protectors remove one of the best features of the new display: the anti-glare filter.

Comparing the glare on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra's display with and without a tempered glass screen protector installed

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The difference this anti-glare filter makes is nothing short of astounding. In the image above, you can see the Galaxy S24 Ultra with a tempered glass screen protector installed on the left. The right side is what it looks like out of the box.

The display is easier to see, has a better PWM rate, and features more natural colors.

This is one of the best enhancements Samsung has ever added to its displays, and it makes seeing the Galaxy S24 Ultra easier in any light. If more displays implemented this sort of anti-glare filter, we wouldn't be seeing the obnoxious brightness race elevate so much.

However, some have pointed out that this new anti-glare filter has one big negative effect: washing out colors. So, I compared the out-of-the-box vivid configuration between the Galaxy S23 Ultra (left) to the Galaxy S24 Ultra (right) with a very vivid character on screen.

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Image compression likely changes the results a bit, but there's no way someone would think this display is less vibrant than other Samsung AMOLED displays unless they were comparing these phones side by side.

In fact, even a slight reduction in saturation is a good thing. Samsung's displays have been so over-saturated for generations now that it's a breath of fresh air to see the company trending toward more realistic colors out of the box. If you want even more natural colors, you can also switch to the natural color palette.

PWM measurements

The PWM measurement of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra at maximum brightness

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

As expected, the Galaxy S24 Ultra uses PWM dimming at all brightness levels, and there's no option to enable DC-like dimming of the display at high brightness levels, as is the case with some other new phones like the OnePlus 12.

However, Samsung did something completely unexpected this year: they increased the PWM frequency to 492Hz, up from 240Hz. This is the sort of advancement we've needed to see from Samsung for years, and it means that they've finally slightly exceeded the PWM rate Apple uses for its OLED phones.

For me, that means I can use the Galaxy S24 Ultra for substantial amounts of time without having to wear my astigmatism-correcting glasses during the day. At night or on cloudy days, the flickering display still negatively affects me, but it takes a lot longer than when I try to use a Galaxy S23 Ultra, which gives me eye aches and headaches within seconds.

It's incredibly refreshing to see Samsung make these changes, making me hopeful for the future of AMOLED-powered phones.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra software, performance, and battery life

Using Air Commands with the S Pen on the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

With the Galaxy S24 family, Samsung has firmly declared 2024 to be the year of AI. Thankfully, for anyone who bought a 2023 Galaxy phone, these features are also coming to your device. Galaxy AI encompasses a suite of a dozen tools - some new, some repackaged existing ones - that aim to create a more helpful experience.

Most experiences require cloud connectivity to work, though. Worse, Samsung may charge for these cloud-connected experiences in two years unless the terms change. But, will you really care much about these cloud-connected experiences outside of a few niche scenarios?

My guess is, no.

Here's a list of the features that work without any internet connectivity at all:

  • Edit suggestions for photos
  • Photo Ambient Wallpaper
  • Translation features (Calls, Interpreter, Messages)
  • Instant Slow-Mo

Testing out the phone call translation feature on a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Funny enough, these were the only features I found myself using on any kind of regular basis. It's not that the other cloud-connected features are useless, it's just that they're not something I care much about. These are the features you need to be connected to the internet to use.

  • Auto Format
  • Circle to Search
  • Generate Cover
  • Generative Edit
  • Generative Wallpaper
  • Magic Compose Texting
  • Summary (Samsung Internet, Samsung Notes, Voice Recorder)
  • Writing Assist

The lone exception was Google Circle to Search, a feature that's not even exclusive to the Galaxy S24 family in the first place. In short, all of the above features work quite well and are extremely handy when you need them. I'm glad Samsung added them, and I think these sorts of tools will significantly enhance the smartphone experience going forward.

You're just not going to find yourself using them every day, and that's probably just fine.

Ray-tracing on a phone is a gimmick. Thankfully, battery life and performance here are not.

On the performance front, I can't ask for much more of a smartphone. While the Galaxy S24 supports ray-tracing features, it's largely a gimmick that you won't see most games implementing in any way for a very long time.

It's one of those bullet points on a spec sheet that looks nice but has very little real value. The real use of ray-tracing capabilities on a GPU is something like DLSS, which uses AI processing to enhance graphics and performance over what pure silicon enhancements can.

The battery life of the Galaxy S24 Ultra is nothing short of stupendous in every regard. I was able to pull around two days out of a single charge throughout the entire review period (10 days, as of this writing), and that's pushing 100% brightness the entire time because of my sensitivity to PWM-dimmed displays.

Samsung has long lagged behind competitors on charging speed, and while I completely agree with my colleague Namerah about Samsung's need to increase charging speeds, having two-day battery life helps me forget about this plea even just a little bit.

A 30W charger (the S24 Ultra supports up to 45W) was able to add 36% battery in 20 minutes (30% to 66%), which is more than enough charge to get me through another 24 hours of use. Still, it's hard to find this acceptable when the OnePlus 12 goes from under 15% to 100% battery in the same time frame.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Cameras

Zooming in to 10x on a Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra to take a picture of a chicken

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Cameras have long been one of my favorite parts of the smartphone experience, but Samsung phones have rarely graced my list of favorite smartphone cameras. That changes with the Galaxy S24 Ultra which now earns the top spot for me, despite one major setback.

Let's get this out of the way first: the Galaxy S24 Ultra still struggles to capture good photos of things in motion. Whether it's a squirmy pet, a hyper kid, or something else moving, it's likely the S24 Ultra will have a difficult time capturing a picture that isn't blurry.

Samsung still struggles to capture objects in motion, but the rest of the camera experience makes up for this lacking area.

Ignore all those times Samsung said it "fixed" its camera. It didn't, and it's beyond frustrating to see the Pixel 8 Pro pummel the S24 Ultra so handily in this particular area.

I've repeated the above test a million times in a million different situations and it never makes a difference. Samsung needs to fix this and it needs to fix it now. It's embarrassing, particularly considering how thoroughly the Galaxy S24 Ultra's camera trounces the competition in most of the rest of the tests.

With that out of the way, let's quickly go over the rest of the tests. Check out my Galaxy S24 Ultra camera review if you want all the nitty-gritty details.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's telephoto cameras win in every lighting condition I tested them in. The result is a clearer, more detailed photo that looks better from every angle. We worried about the change from a 10x optical lens to a 5x optical lens when the phone was announced, but the new 50MP sensor behind the optics more than makes up for the difference.

The rest of the camera experience is pretty similar to the Galaxy S23 Ultra, though, which is largely a good thing. Samsung improved the processing on the main sensor so it looks more like it came from a proper camera instead of a smartphone, and video capture is as good as you'd expect from a Galaxy S Ultra phone.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: competition

iPhone 15 Pro Max review

(Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

At this price level, the only real competition for the Galaxy S24 Ultra in the U.S. is the iPhone 15 Pro Max. It's an incredible phone with an amazing camera, Apple's long-term software support (that Samsung finally matches), and that ecosystem that people specifically switch to Apple for.

Thankfully, Samsung challenges all of these key points with its Galaxy ecosystem of products, interoperability with nearly all Samsung electronics on the market, and deep ties and partnerships with companies like Google. No phone on the market can compete with the iPhone like a Samsung Galaxy can, but that also means Samsung has stiff competition in this price bracket.

On the Android side, nearly all the best Android phones cost much less than a Galaxy S24 Ultra. The OnePlus 12 launched for $799 with the same amount of RAM and storage as Samsung offers at $1,299. Its camera doesn't match Samsung's in most cases — portrait mode being the biggest exception — but OxygenOS is a fantastic experience and a UI that I prefer over Samsung's One UI.

Likewise, the Pixel 8 Pro offers the Pixel experience with updates straight from Google, quarterly Pixel Feature Drops, and major software updates, as well as the best camera for folks with squirmy kids and pets. But Pixels have long had reliability issues, and the internal Tensor G3 processor isn't exactly the best on the market.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra: Should you buy it?

The back of the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra in the Titanium Grey colorway

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

You should buy this if...

  • You want the best Android phone ever made.
  • A high-quality camera is important to you.
  • You like to hold on to your phone for years.

You shouldn't buy this if...

  • You have kids or pets that don't hold still for photos.
  • You're extremely PWM-sensitive.
  • You're not comfortable with spending $1,300 or more on a phone.

Anyone using a Galaxy S23 Ultra right now shouldn't bother upgrading. The new anti-glare filter is incredible, and I hope to see it on more Samsung phones in the future, but S23 Ultra owners can at least partly replicate the effect with an anti-glare screen protector for the time being.

The upgraded PWM rate on the S24 Ultra is a massive deal for the future. You may be okay without it if the Galaxy S23 Ultra's screen doesn't give you eye aches or headaches.

But there's something to be said about Samsung's value here, despite the price. A $1,300 starting price is no laughing matter, but it's also the first time Samsung has promised to keep the phone updated and relevant for seven years. That, alone, might be worth the upgrade for anyone who likes to hold on to their phones for a while.

S23 Ultra owners shouldn't bother upgrading, but everyone else should seriously consider this as the best new premium pick.

On a more personal note, I've been so pleasantly surprised with the Galaxy S24 Ultra since I started using it ten days ago, and I can't wait to put more time into this device. Last year, I was ready to move on from the latest Samsung device because of how its displays made me feel sick, and now I can finally use one again without pain.

Not only that, but Samsung's excellent advancements in camera quality mean that I'll no longer reach for the Pixel 8 Pro just to take a great picture. My son is old enough now to where he'll actually hold still for a picture, so my main complaint about the Galaxy S24 Ultra's camera shouldn't hold much weight for my personal life anymore.

On top of that, One UI 6.1's new AI features are genuinely intriguing, and I can't wait to test more of the translation features when I visit Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress in less than a month. Until then, I'll be playing around with Instant Slow-Mo as often as humanly possible and using Galaxy AI to remove unwanted reflections and shadows from photos.

For now, there's little doubt in my head that this is the best premium Android experience money can buy, particularly if you're in the U.S. and don't have too much choice.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu