Samsung is once again asking for your pre-order money for a new smartphone. The digit has gone up and the prime beef on display is the Galaxy S24 Ultra. But if you paid attention to our comparison last year (or the subsequent review) then you might already have a Galaxy S23 Ultra in your pocket. Should you swap it out for something a single digit higher?
That’s a surprisingly granular question to answer. Last year’s headliner from Samsung was awfully close in terms of spec to the S22 Ultra. The same is true this year. The S24 Ultra and the S23 Ultra are splashing around in the same water. On paper, 2024’s phone is better. In practice…
Eyes to the front
You’ll have to dig rather deep to find a difference between the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s display and its immediate predecessor’s. Both are 6.8in in size and both are dynamic AMOLED screens. Samsung is punting its low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LPTO) screen for the S24 but that tech has been in place since the Galaxy S22 Ultra so it’s just clever marketing. You’re not getting anything new, you’re just being told about it. You know, again.
There’s a minor difference in resolution — the S24 Ultra features dimensions of 1,440 x 3,120 versus 1,440 x 3,088 in the S23 Ultra. There’s a minor uptick in pixel density (505 vs. 500ppi) but if you can discern that with your naked eye we’ll make sure that someone eats that phone. The major change is peak brightness of 2,600 nits in Samsung’s 2024 flagship against 1,750 nits this time last year. That’s quite a jump but you’ll only really notice it in very brightly-lit conditions. For most purposes, there’s no visual difference on offer.
A slight redesign is in the offing for the Galaxy S24 Ultra. It’s flatter, for starters. The screen is noticeably less curved in this year’s model, offering you just a smidge more space to plaster your greasy fingerprints. This is true across the range. The Ultra model has the most subtle shift but that’s fine. There’s also a new construction material in use. Like Apple at the end of last year, this year’s Ultra handset is being made from titanium. Think lighter, stronger, and in a range of colours with the word ‘Titanium’ in them so you don’t forget what Samsung has done for you this year.
But it’s all aesthetics. Last year’s unit was a tightly designed, if conservative, take on a smartphone. This year’s design is the same, just flatter. And lighter, by about a gram. Also tougher, but that’s not enough on its own to make the upgrade a compelling one.
Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra
Nor are the internals for the Galaxy S24 Ultra. If you’re rocking last year’s phone, you can expect an incremental update in the shape of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. Yes, it’ll move a little faster but probably not enough to justify the upgrade. You’re probably also fine if you’ve got the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Older than that and the speed increase is worth taking note of. There aren’t any other internal upgrades worth noting beyond a slightly larger battery cell inside this year’s phone. We suspect that increased capacity won’t give you more time away from the wall socket. It’s there to counteract the power draw from this year’s components.
The tweaked speed isn’t the important bit, however. The Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 facilitates Samsung’s buzzword for 2024 — AI. Galaxy AI, in fact. Smarter functions are a matter of course but it’ll be a little galling for anyone buying Samsung’s shiny new phone only to have the same smarts added to older handsets via a software update. You know, kind of how all of the newer camera features suddenly wind up backwards compatible.
We’re not saying this will happen but the listed features — transcription, on-the-fly translation between two human speakers, and intelligent photography and editing function — will probably prove handy enough to make the Galaxy S24 Ultra an attractive purchase. We’d also be very surprised if the features Samsung has at launch remain the only ones. Expect more to release before the S25 Ultra makes an appearance.
Winner: Galaxy S24 Ultra
The unaddressed section is Samsung’s camera. The Galaxy S24 Ultra makes very few changes to last year’s formula, replacing only a single sensor. The company swaps out the 10MP f/4.9 periscope telephoto lens for a 50MP f/3.4 replacement. Expect more pixels to work though it’ll probably only operate at 12.5MP, binning four pixels down into one for better clarity.
Otherwise? Expect the sensors to remain identical for the rest of the device. The main 200MP it babbled on about last year was apparently too good to upgrade this year. The same goes for the standard telephoto and the wide-angle lenses. Even the front camera is identical to 2023’s phone.
There is one performance change. The Galaxy S24 Ultra will shoot 4K video at 120 frames per second this year. Its previous best was just 60fps. If slow-mo 4K video floats your goat, you’ll be pleased to note that your Caprini is bobbing out in a swimming pool somewhere. But if the camera is your main decision-maker, you’ve possibly got this camera setup (mostly) at home.
Winner: Galaxy S23 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra vs. S23 Ultra – Initial verdict
It’s close. It’s so, so close. If it wasn’t for the different building materials and the flatter planes on this year’s model, you’d struggle to tell them apart. Performance will, obviously, have increased over 2023’s handset but the S23 Ultra was so quick that you’ll battle to fully utilise its capacity for another couple of years. You don’t really need the speed upgrade.
The screens are neck and neck, the cameras are almost identical, and you’re unlikely to find yourself having a novel experience with the software. But… this year Samsung’s got Galaxy AI going for it, provided you’re willing to immerse yourself in the South Korean company’s ecosystem. How useful it is… that’s an assessment that has to wait for now, but if you’re determined to have artificial intelligence in your pocket before anyone else, this is how you’ll go about it.
Since the Galaxy S23 Ultra, if bought directly from Samsung, is R4,000 more than the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s launch price (great strategy, guys), we’re going to have to give it to the newer hardware. Unless you buy it literally anywhere else, in which case the older hardware is definitely cheaper. As it should be.