You’ve taken a photo. The moment’s since passed, as realisation dawns that reflections and an unwanted object have ruined the photo. Point of no return? Not if you begin to subscribe to the vision of AI phones. On the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra, corrective measures are a cinch. Edit the photo. Artificial intelligence (AI) will remove reflections it detects. You can also simply press and hold to select an object that’s spoiling the frame, and AI can get rid of that too. Takes about 50 seconds, and AI picks details from what is either side of the offending object, to create replacement pixels. It is symbolic of a new direction for smartphones.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra. (Vishal Mathur/ HT Photo)

Little surprise that a flagship phone is at the wheel, ushering us into a new era. There would be fewer contenders better than Samsung’s most capable phone, generation after generation. We must note that the AI suite called Galaxy AI, is in its first implementation. It’ll get better. My takeaways from the photography illustrations earlier, reflection removal from photos tends to be accurate 8 times out of 10. Object removal accuracy depends on the backdrop you’re working with in the rest of the frame – if it is something complex, AI tends to overcompensate with creativity (weaved in well though, with no unmatched lines or patterns), which may in some instances take away from minimalism you’d have hoped for.

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These, just a couple of references to a much broader Galaxy AI suite that Samsung is pitching as the reason why anyone should be spending 1,29,999 (12GB RAM + 256GB storage), 1,39,999 (12GB + 512GB) or 1,59,999 (12GB + 1TB) on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. For the most part, the AI’s utility is undeniable. So much so, switching to another Android phone afterwards, leaves a distinct feeling that something’s missing. The crucial bit to consider is – can you, and are you willing to, make AI work for you at this time? That’s an answer you’ve to find. At the same time, not many phones come close to integrating a proper AI layer, the Google Pixel 8 Pro being the only other true AI phone.

Are you ready for AI’s assistance?

Live translation for phone calls should be interesting as it develops, if you consider yourself something akin to a global citizen – moderately accurate for now, with variables such as pronunciation, accent and quality of audio having a bearing on results. As is translation for messages, integrated within the Samsung Keyboard app (that means you’ll have to switch from Google’s Gboard). Transcriptions in the recorder app are quite useful, if you want to get the text of what was said in a meeting, along with a timestamp and subhead summary. Videos into slo-mo’s. Moving objects around in photos.

Circle to search is definitely something you’ll get used to having around (and that’s indeed headlining Samsung and Google’s AI pitch). Think of this as Google Lens, but available at all times, for anything on the screen at the time. Long press the navigation handle (if you have gestures enabled) or the home icon to call it to action, and then circle anything on the screen for immediate search results. In my experience, results are more oriented towards identifying an object or person, and in case it’s the former, curating a collection of resembling photos (perhaps, you’d find a link to shop from). The quality of results needs to improve, and something tells me, Google isn’t giving Circle to Search, the full beans yet. It was able to identify Liverpool football club midfielder Thiago, but had no idea who youngster Ben Doak is (that wouldn’t happen on regular Search, would it?).

Samsung’s Recorder app is something you’ll find familiar if you’ve had a tryst recently with the Google Pixel 8 Pro’s Recorder app. I had the chance to record a bunch of meetings on this app, the longest being one around 30 minutes. Transcription to text isn’t real time, and took about a minute and a half (it’ll vary, depending on length and number of participants in a meeting) to give me the text for the conversation, with time stamps. Ask it to summarise further, and that takes a few more seconds too. Mind you, the transcriptions in Recorder tend to be impacted by the same variables as the translator, and I would recommend cross-checking with the original voice recording too if there’s even the slightest of doubt on the transcription as you read it.

It is easy to summarise this – the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra holds an impressive suite of AI tools. There’s utility, depending on what you’re looking for. Live translate for voice calls may be absolutely insignificant for you, for instance.

A phone, as a phone

Amidst this collection of the good-to-have, focus mustn’t waver from how good the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is as a phone. The must-have finesse, you’d expect from a flagship Android phone that costs a pretty penny. While Samsung is banking on significant AI smarts that I’ve already described to unlock photo and video editing capabilities, the camera performance is akin to a game of two halves. At least till a software updates comes around to fix some nagging issues.

The hardware hasn’t changed, and as is with the Galaxy S23 Ultra, the Galaxy S24 Ultra leads with a 200-megapixel main camera, 10-megapixel 3x telephoto, 50-megapixel 5x telephoto and a 12-megapixel ultrawide. There’s a trade-off here. The new 5x lens replaces a 10x from the S23 Ultra, which really had unique use cases such as photographing birds in the distant sky. But the 5x, for the sake of broader utility, is a good call. Since its not using digital zoom at 5x unlike the S23 Ultra, photography results are generally more detailed.

But that’s where things become complicated, something not exactly expected from a flagship phone. Specifically talking about the 200-megapixel primary camera here, there is a distinct lack of consistency with photography performance. The same photo of static subjects taken seconds apart, can return very different results with detailing, sharpness and focus. It is a common theme at the default pixel binning, or if you manually select the 50-megapixel or 200-megapixel resolution. I’d expect a software update to solve these (we did hold this detailed review in the hope of one, but the wait continues) focus and detailing foibles.

When you do wrangle the expected detailing and brilliance you’d expect from a flagship camera, those are the moments it’ll feel as though the money has been well spent. As is the Super HDR (high dynamic range) support that the camera integrates (it is also a factor of display supporting this standard). It wouldn’t just be photos that would be have more dynamic range than even HDR photos that most phone cameras can take. It also doesn’t necessitate waiting to capture a photo, because the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera live view preview shows you the frame as you’re about to capture. With time, third-party apps will be able to handle Super HDR photos.

Attention to detail, is well illustrated by the display. Not only is it brighter than its predecessor’s already benchmark setting illumination levels at the time (now, it’s a claimed 2600 nits of peak brightness), there’s a genuine value add too. A new anti-glare coating, that reduces the annoyance of reflections to such an extent that it feels as if your phone’s screen has a ‘matte’ screen protection layer installed. The Galaxy S24 Ultra also introduces the new Gorilla Glass Armor protective shield for the touch screen, and while too soon to judge scratch resistance, there are hints (it’s been in the company of various things in the trouser pocket) it is a job well done.

Despite claimed peak brightness, you may not immediately feel a big difference in what you see, particularly if you’ve used the Galaxy S23 Ultra or the current line-up of flagships including the Pixel 8 Pro. To be specific, colours tend to be muted, with little difference when switched between Natural and Vivid colour modes. Samsung says a fix is coming.

Battery life on the Galaxy S24 Ultra is an incremental improvement over the stamina of its predecessor, the factor in the new flagship being the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset. For most users, the ballpark would be around 7 hours of screen-on time before you’ll need to reach for the charger as the battery charge drops into single digits. That should be enough to get you through most work days without needing a quick top-up in the middle of the day. Speaking of which, this continues to not be a flagship boasting of the fastest charging speeds – it is 45-watts when wired and 15-watts with wireless.

Samsung seemingly has walked the tightrope rather carefully with the Galaxy S24 Ultra. The bets are very clear, with AI smarts which are expected to become a big deciding factor for buyers weighing their options. Generational improvements across the board too, in different degrees, beginning with the latest processor as the beating heart, to a display that’s better too. There can always be the argument that more thought could have been given to give the Galaxy S24 Ultra a design that differentiated it more from the Galaxy S23 Ultra (little difference, except for the titanium build and slightly curving spines). Or more could have been done to make the battery life improvements more than incremental. There’s merit in those conversations.

Yet, the Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra is the definitive Android flagship phone that has ticked all the boxes, in one go. At least for now. A faster chip, software that continues to have rough edges nipped off, the utility of a stylus, a camera that’ll surely evolve to be the best there is, and specs that give it a sense of longevity. The price is slightly higher than last year, and there may not be a compelling argument for Galaxy S23 Ultra owners to rush and upgrade just yet. For everyone else, this is the showcase Android phone, for now. That, and the camera fixes that we expect.

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