Samsung’s AI reinforcements have arrived


In general the S24U captured gorgeous pics in all sorts of conditions. You’ll still notice Samsung’s super-saturated colors and penchant for slightly warmer hues, but in most cases that just adds an extra sense of vibrancy. Samsung also has a habit of going a bit overboard on sharpening, though it’s not a major distraction. Even in low light the S24U’s Night Mode largely kept up with Google’s Night Sight, which is no small feat.

Software: Samsung’s big push into AI

One tweak Samsung made to the S24 Ultra's photography is a 5x telephoto lens with a higher-res 50-MP sensor instead of a 10x zoom like on the previous model.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Aside from its new hardware, the biggest addition to the S24 Ultra is Samsung’s Galaxy AI features, which are an entire suite of tools that fall into three main categories: text and translation, photography and editing, and search.

There’s an interpreter mode for in-person conversations along with a live translation feature that you can use during calls. Both are good enough to use in a pinch while traveling, but some things like word choice and pacing may be a bit off. The experience can also feel a bit clunky, especially when you’re on the phone and have to wait so the AI can catch up.

Next, you have Chat Assist which can check spelling, grammar and adjust the tone of messages. Admittedly, the social and emojify options are a bit gimmicky, but I genuinely appreciate the polite and professional choices, as they can help prevent a text or email from sounding combative.

Samsung's tone adjustment feature allows AI to suggest different ways of conveying a message with options for polite, casual, professional and more. Samsung's tone adjustment feature allows AI to suggest different ways of conveying a message with options for polite, casual, professional and more.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

In the Notes app, the S24U can also summarize, auto-format, spellcheck or translate a file, which is nice, but not exactly groundbreaking. A lot of these features are already available from other services like ChatGPT or Bard. That said, these improvements may be the biggest upgrades to the S24 Ultra’s S-Pen, which is otherwise largely unchanged.

Out of Samsung’s text-based tools, my favorite is the transcription feature in the Voice Recorder app. It makes grabbing quotes from interviews super simple, though I noticed that Samsung’s UX doesn’t feel quite as polished or streamlined as what you get from Google. For example, the Pixel Recorder lets you see the transcript in real-time, while on the Ultra, you have to record a convo and then hit the AI icon to generate a chat log when you’re done.

Samsung's AI remastering tool makes it super simple to enhance photos with just a couple of taps. Samsung's AI remastering tool makes it super simple to enhance photos with just a couple of taps.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

The AI can also suggest edits for images like automatically remastering images (which is similar to the Auto Tone feature in Photoshop) or removing distracting elements like shadows and reflections. You can see these options by hitting the Info icon in the gallery app, which makes them super easy to access and might be the fastest way to improve your photos. The S24 Ultra can also create slow-mo clips from existing footage, just by tapping and holding on a video while it’s playing. This triggers the phone’s AI to generate new frames based on the fps of the recording (i.e. from 30 fps to 120 fps) on the fly and the results are surprisingly smooth.

If you prefer a more hands-on approach, there are Generative AI edits that allow you to reframe shots, move subjects around or delete them entirely, while the phone fills in the blanks. It’s a simple but effective process that sidesteps the need for Photoshop in a lot of cases. That said, if you look close you may notice areas where Samsung’s AI misses more details than the Pixel 8’s Magic Editor, which is a trend I noticed across a lot of Samsung’s AI features.

The S24 Ultra also has almost completely flat sides to give you the most screen for drawing and notetaking. The S24 Ultra also has almost completely flat sides to give you the most screen for drawing and notetaking.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

All of the new tools generally function as expected, but things don’t feel quite as streamlined or polished as a lot of Google’s alternatives. In the Notes app, there’s a word limit for auto-formatting, summarizing and more, which limits you to about three or four paragraphs at a time. That means if you have a medium-sized doc, you’re gonna have to tackle it in chunks, which gets tedious pretty quickly. And sometimes if you try to highlight areas of a photo to remove reflections, the phone will smooth over the entire area and paint over the details.

In other situations, the AI will suggest edits that don’t make sense, like trying to turn a short motion photo into a timelapse. It’s possible this was my fault for importing a photo taken by another device, but I feel like the phone ought to know better. The AI is meant to work on any photo, regardless of where it came from. Even moving subjects around in a pic can get wonky depending on the shot and what you’re trying to do. And every now and then, the phone will suggest you remaster a photo, only for it to tell you that there’s nothing to fix. As a photographer, that’s a great feeling. But at the same time, why am I being told there are things to fix if that’s not actually the case? But, this is Samsung’s first big push into AI-assisted features, so it shouldn’t be a shock to see a handful of hiccups.

Like before, the S24 Ultra still has a built-in storage slot for Samsung's S Pen. Like before, the S24 Ultra still has a built-in storage slot for Samsung's S Pen.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Rounding out the S24’s kit is Circle to Search, which is the one new AI feature that relies on help from the cloud instead of taking place on-device. It’s essentially a combination of traditional text-based queries and visual search tools like Google Lens but without the need for a standalone app. The neat thing is that it can analyze images from the web or objects in photos you’ve taken yourself, which makes it pretty versatile. But Google recently announced that Circle to Search is coming to Pixel phones too, so it’s not like this is an exclusive feather in Samsung’s cap.

Battery Life: Nearing two days of juice

Between the power efficiency gains from its new processor and a large 5,000 mAh battery, the S24 Ultra delivered truly impressive longevity. On our local video rundown test, it lasted 24 hours and 19 minutes, which is up more than four hours compared to last year. And in the real world, its battery life was even more impressive. The S24U often had more than 50 percent left after 24 hours. So depending on your usage, it’s possible for this phone to last two days without recharging.

Wrap-up

At this point, you’d be forgiven for being fed up with companies trying to push AI into everything. But if you just think about these as software upgrades meant to make your phone more useful, Samsung’s push into machine learning makes a lot more sense. The S23U was already a great phone and on the S24 Ultra, we’re getting the same (though somewhat plain) design, but with a tougher titanium frame, a much faster chip, a brighter display and even longer battery life. Samsung also tweaked its main telephoto lens to provide a more useful focal length but without a major decrease in reach or quality.

While its design hasn't changed a ton, the addition of a new chip and a bunch of AI features makes Samsung's latest flagship a more well-rounded device. While its design hasn't changed a ton, the addition of a new chip and a bunch of AI features makes Samsung's latest flagship a more well-rounded device.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

But the big thing is that, with its Galaxy AI suite, Samsung finally has an answer to the sophisticated features that were previously only available from the Pixel family. Sure, the S24’s tools aren’t quite as polished as Google’s offerings, but they get you 80 to 90 percent of the way there. And as a complement to what is more or less a top-to-bottom list of best-in-class smartphone hardware, it feels like Samsung is using AI to shore up one of the few remaining weaknesses of its flagship handset. Particularly now that the company is following in Google’s footsteps and increasing software support from six to seven years of OS and security updates.

However, the Ultra’s biggest sticking point — its price — remains an issue. With the S24U starting at $1,300, it costs $100 more than the outgoing model. I’m also disappointed that Samsung didn’t adopt Qi 2. It’s frustrating to see all the major OEMs, including Apple, agree on a wireless charging standard only to have the biggest phone maker in the world drag its feet. Qi 2 got approved last year and we may not see it on a high-end Samsung handset until 2025.

While harnessing AI might not be a super exciting development now that everyone and their grandmother is trying to shoehorn it into everything, it does make the S24 Ultra a more powerful and well-rounded handset. And when you tack that onto a phone that already had a lead in hardware, you end with a pretty commanding device.



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