Although it didn’t do so at the recently concluded CES 2024 in Las Vegas, Samsung is still starting the year with a bang with its own Unpacked event. To no one’s surprise, the stars of the show are, of course, the new Galaxy S24 trio, though the much-rumored Galaxy Ring also made a very brief appearance as an unambiguous teaser. Samsung’s early 2024 flagships are bringing the expected upgrades in terms of hardware, but they’re also riding on the AI train in their own, unique way. But with every new Samsung phone also comes the question of whether its price is worth its weight in gold. We take a cursory look at what the Galaxy S24, S24+, and S24 Ultra have to offer to bring you that answer.
Of course, there are the customary hardware upgrades you’ll see every year, but there are a few surprise twists here and there. All three, for example, are powered by a new Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 “for Galaxy” chipset that’s marketed as a special flavor designed just for Samsung’s newest darlings. It’s presented as being optimized for hard AI work that we’ll get to later, but the exact performance differences between this and a vanilla Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 are probably going to be subtle.
Also subtle are the slightly larger displays on this year’s generation of Galaxy phones, at least for the Galaxy S24 and Galaxy S24+, and only by 0.1 inches. The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s screen remains the same large 6.8 inches, but the design change is actually greater in some other areas, as we’ll soon see. All three get brighter panels, though, so reading under the sun shouldn’t be a problem if it was before.
While most of the features are similar across the three models, differing mostly in screen size, things take a very different turn when it comes to the cameras. Suffice it to say, the Galaxy S24 and S24+ do not get any meaningful upgrade in terms of camera hardware, while the Galaxy S24 Ultra seems to take one step forward and one step back with at least one of four cameras. One of the two telephoto cameras gets a denser 50MP sensor but halves the optical zoom from 10x to 5x. Samsung assures, however, that the quality of a 10x “hybrid” zoom from that new sensor will just be as good, thanks to some AI tricks, of course.
Bold Direction towards Flat Design
The Galaxy S24 series looks nearly identical to its predecessor at first glance, but once you take a closer look, you will notice some subtle yet important differences. The Galaxy S24 and S24+ now adopt a completely flat design on its front, back, and sides, except for the rounded corners that help it avoid a completely boxy appearance. This refinement, though small, does put it in the same boat as many notable premium smartphones these days, particularly the latest iPhones.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra only changes its screen design, but that actually has the biggest repercussion in this generation. Gone are the curved edges that used to mark high-end flagships, with a screen that’s completely flat across the surface. It gives it a more modern look, at least as far as current design trends go, but the more important consequence is that owners now have full access to the entire screen using the included S Pen. No more avoiding or accidentally sliding off the edges because you can now utilize every single inch and pixel on that large screen.
AI for a Price
With AI still reigning as the buzzword in consumer electronics, it was really only a matter of time before Samsung joined the bandwagon in this industry as well. There are plenty of AI-powered features being advertised on the Galaxy S24 and, to Samsung’s credit, they really do show what the technology can do and how we can harness it for our benefit.
Real-time translations are one of the best examples of this artificial intelligence, and both two-way Live Translate and split-screen Interpreter help break down language barriers when communicating with people around the globe. Samsung Notes also gets an AI-assisted Notes Assist for summaries and template creation, while Voice Recorder gets Transcript Assist for transcribing audio recordings. And, of course, there are also tons of AI-powered image editing features in the Camera and Gallery apps.
There is one particular application of AI that also demonstrates the continued cooperation between Samsung and Google, former frenemies on the Android platform. As the name clearly states, Circle to Search lets you simply draw a circle around an image or even a block of text on your screen to initiate a Google Search.
As useful as these may sound, it seems that Samsung will be taking a rather controversial approach to providing AI features on its gallery phones. Samsung’s suite of Galaxy AI features will apparently be available for free on these devices only until 2025, after which it could charge a subscription fee for using them. It doesn’t exactly state how much that will be or which features will be covered by this limitation, though Google’s Circle to Search and other third-party AI features are most likely going to be exempt. Nothing’s set in stone yet, but this will surely lessen the appeal of relying on these features heavily.
Should you buy it or upgrade?
And now for the most critical part of the decision-making process: the price tags. The Galaxy S24 starts at $799.99 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, while the Galaxy S24+ will go for $999.99 for 12GB RAM and either 256GB or 512GB of storage. These are pretty much the same launch prices as the Galaxy S23 and S23+, which isn’t surprising considering very little has changed.
The Galaxy S24 Ultra, however, is a chunky $100 higher than last year’s model, now starting at $1,299.99 for 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. It’s a considerable price jump, especially when you consider you might be asked to pay for those trendy Galaxy AI features in two years. That new telephoto camera might be partly to blame, among other things.
If you’re looking to jump into the Samsung ecosystem for the first time, then it’s really only a choice between the smaller and more affordable Galaxy S24 and the larger, fully-featured Galaxy S24 Ultra. The Galaxy S24+ might sound like it has the best of both worlds, but it’s actually the opposite. Its only winning grace is the larger screen and battery, both of which will set you back $100 more than the Galaxy S24 but still won’t have the better cameras of the Galaxy S24 Ultra at the very least.
Considering all these, it’s going to be tough to recommend upgrading to any of the three models if you still have a perfectly fine Galaxy 23 or even a Galaxy 22. Even the Galaxy S24 Ultra, with a creator-friendlier flat display, is going to be a hard sell considering it’s also more expensive. The jury is still out on the camera improvements, though it’s probably not going to be too mind-blowing compared to the already decent quartet on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Of course, if you have a Galaxy S21 series or older, then there’s almost no more doubt about making the jump or not.