Galaxy S24 Ultra: once in a few years, we get a REAL upgrade

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Galaxy S24 Ultra: once in a few years, we get a REAL upgrade
It has sort of become a meme to joke about how all smartphones are the same now. Every year, new models are launched, and every year, they are like 1% better. Savvy shoppers buy the older flagship and keep it for longer periods than before.

It's true, the smartphone industry has plateaued — back in the early 2010s, every new model was a huge leap in one form or another. QHD screens became a thing, and then not a thing. Samsung's S Pen was horrible, but then became excellent. LG introduced a module system for its smartphones, then scrapped it a year later. Screen sizes were growing, stereo speakers were being added, then removed, then added again. All until we arrived to the formula of today — a chocobar phone, all-screen front, hole-punch selfie camera, stereo speakers via an earpiece and bottom driver.

When the Galaxy S24 Ultra's launch was approaching, I wasn't gleeful or impatient. Low-key excited? Sure, there's always something surprising at those launch events. But foaming at the mouth? Nah, not anymore.

And then it launched. And then it came to the office. And now I am using it. Why is it so good?

The Galaxy S24 Ultra is an actual upgrade

OK, so yes, it does look the same as before. And I am not super sold on the AI features thus far, even though I am trying to incorporate them into my routine and see what comes from it.

In fact, if you try to figure out the one major new thing in the Galaxy S24 Ultra that makes it better than last year's model — you probably won't find it. However, Samsung has implemented a number of small, tiny improvements, which — when summed up — make this a truly better phone than last year's model.

So, I wanted to make an experiment. I asked the PhoneArena team:

What's your ONE favorite new thing in the Galaxy S24 Ultra?

I purposefully limited them to one, and — as I expected — most of them couldn't help themselves and had to add a second thing as an "honorable mention", going against my instruction. Nevertheless, this is the list of best improvements in the Galaxy S24 Ultra we came up with:

1. The anti-glare screen

This is absolutely fantastic — and you've probably seen reviewers and YouTubers praising it over every piece of media. There's good reason for it. See, the Galaxy AMOLED panels are already very bright, punchy, and colorful. There's only so much more Samsung can do on the back-end of the hardware. The new anti-reflective Corning Gorilla Armor is excellent, because it reduces screen glare by so, so much. This allows the vibrant AMOLED to come through clearer than before and it looks truly stunning, even under direct sunlight.

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Look, I realize I am sounding a bit like an ad read here, right? But it has to be experienced — the Galaxy S24 Ultra went through three PhoneArena authors, as they were out and about taking pictures and making tests for their reviews and comparisons. Each one of them returned the phone to the office with the line "The camera viewfinder looks SO GOOD under sunlight". Yes, it does.

Does it make it The One Phone to Rule Them All? No... no, it doesn't. But it truly provides a premium experience to the user that has paid premium money for this phone. It is one part of making the S24 Ultra a good upgrade. And we appreciate it.

2. The improved camera

Another year, another small camera improvement. Or is it?

Firstly, Samsung kind of shocked us all by saying "We don't need that 10x telephoto lens, let's downgrade it to a 5x, but have a 50 MP sensor under it". Turns out, the zoom didn't suffer much — in fact, the Galaxy S24 Ultra performs close to the Galaxy S23 Ultra when going 10x and above. Slightly softer? Yes. Is that worse? Nope.

But then, there was another ace in the sleeve — a little bit of fine-tuning, which we didn't expect, but certainly do appreciate. The Galaxy S24 Ultra's camera post-processing has been turned... down?

Meaning, colors are no longer neon-bright and saturated, sharpening is kind of reigned in (but let's be real, oversharpening is the current meta in the smartphone world), and dynamics are so, so good. In fact, the Galaxy S24 Ultra currently holds the highest score in our brand-new, carefully crafted camera benchmark, which pits all smartphone cameras through a series of controlled tests, to measure their distinct capabilities.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
PhoneArena Camera Score
BEST 154
PhoneArena Photo Score
BEST 160
Main (wide)
PhoneArena Video Score
BEST 149
Main (wide)

Bravo, Samsung. Another pebble in the improvements basket!

3. "New" design?

OK, a lot of people praise the return of the flat screen. To be fair, I am neither here nor there on that particular point — I personally liked Samsung Edge screens (spoken by someone who used the original Galaxy Note Edge for a good 3 years). But fine, at least fitting a screen protector on it would be easier (spoiler: I haven't put one, because I am worried it will add the glare that Gorilla Armor so expertly removes).

What I really, truly like about the new build is that titanium frame. Yes, it's a lower grade titanium than on the iPhone 15 Pro — as shown by YouTuber Jerryrigeverything's teardown. Who would care though? In fact, I don't even care that it's titanium, but I do like the feel. It's grainy, kind of sticky, it is incredibly grippy.

I've been trying to use the Galaxy Ultra phones since the S22 Ultra — when the S Pen made a return (I do like my S Pen). They've always been slippery, unbalanced, and I've always had to use them with a case. The Note 20 Ultra I tried to use before it had the same issue.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's matte frame has some real friction against your skin and it's very easy to hold. The weight distribution also happens to be on point, and it's oh so thin (Well... all things considered, that is)!

As an aside, and by contrast — the iPhone 15 Pro Max is the first iPhone in 4 years that I feel I could drop. Its beveled corners combined with a very slippery finish on its titanium make for a flimsy grip hold.

4. Seven years of software support

I will be honest, I am not sure how Samsung is going to pull that one off. Seven years is a long time, and you can't really know what demands future operating systems will have. Apple kind of manages to provide 5 years of iOS upgrades because... well, Apple plans its own hardware and software releases, so that should be easier, right?

But then again, as I said, the world of smartphones has slowed down in terms of evolution, and the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip is incredibly powerful. There could be a lot of headroom there.

By the end of the 7th year, the Galaxy S24 Ultra may run terribly, it probably will have gone through at least one battery replacement, and I am not sure how timely those Android build updates will be. Samsung's track record there isn't great, but it has been improving over the past couple of years, credit given.

But where am I going with this tirade? Well, buying or even just recommending a smartphone nowadays does take in consideration the longevity and after-sale value of the product. A smartphone that costs north of $1k? Yeah, that had better last you more than 2 years! And, if Samsung proves itself, time and time again, that these devices will be getting new software and features consistently, and don't turn into a glorified calculator within two years, I believe we can see the Galaxy S phones hold their second-hand value as much as iPhones do nowadays.

One day...

Mix it, cook it, ship it

Now, I do want to make it clear that I am not all sparkly-eyed and everything is not sunshine and rainbows. The smartphone design has plateaued and yes, I understand that I am celebrating a bunch of small ups here and there. But, to be frank, year-on-year, we rarely see a combination of improvements that truly make a phone "better" nowadays. The Galaxy S24 Ultra is not a leap, but it's certainly a hop forward. Not a step, but a nice hop.

I have a friend who uses Samsung phones exclusively. Every year, he asks me — "Is it time?". Sometimes I just point him towards last year's flagship, and he's perfectly happy. Well, in 2024... yes — yes, it's time.

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