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It is rare to see a new flagship phone emerge that appears almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. That is a sure way to persuade consumers that there is little reason to upgrade.

But when a handset like the Samsung S24 Ultra emerges with superlative capabilities and performance, it becomes obvious that it’s not merely the outer shell that defines the device. It has the same 6.8-inch display as the S23 Ultra, about a gram difference in weight, almost exactly the same display resolution, and the exact same 200MP main lens, 10MP telephoto lens and 12MP ultrawide lens.

It is at the camera, however, that the specs begin to diverge, and inside the camera that they are totally transformed.

Firstly, instead of a 10MP f4.5 periscope lens rounding out the quad-camera array, the S24 pushes this up to 50MP telephoto, with an aperture of f3.4. That means far more light coming in to be captured by the camera sensor, and a far clearer image when zooming in. 

I was dazzled by the performance of the camera array at up to 50x digital zoom – coming close to DSLR cameras in zoom performance, although beginning to blur at that level, when DSLR is still providing sharp images that do not suffer from being magnified.

Until now, we had yet to see such detail in a magnified image on a smartphone.

The real magic arrives once the pics have been taken, however. 

The S24 Ultra represents the debut of Samsung’s new Galaxy AI sub-brand, comprising a wide range of artificial intelligence capabilities built into the device, and set to be rolled out to other current Samsung smartphones. The difference on the Ultra is that it runs on the first AI chip to be built into a Samsung phone, namely the Qualcomm SM8650-AC Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor, versus the second-generation chip on the S23 Ultra. Both use the ultra-thin 4nm fabrication process, the current cutting edge of chip size, but the new one ios the first to be optimised for highly demanding AI processes.

And those processes have to be seen to be believed. Smooth multitasking is obvious and expected. AI-functionality within a pic is not. We were able to improve, alter and totally transform images to an extent that had previously required paid-for applications like Photoshop.

Three AI tools stood out:

  • Generative Edit: allows the user to  erasing or move objects within images, fill in missing parts, and straighten images, with almost no clue to the original ”errors” aside from a small Galaxy AI watermark .
  • Instant Slow-mo: simulates slow-motion by generating additional frames, in between existing frames, based on the movement already detected in a video.
  • Galaxy Enhance-X app: removes blurs and adjusts brightness.
  • Photo Assist: analyses an image and, among other, identifies reflections in a window and removes it. or erases a shadow on a face. 

Some of these functions can be replicated on current iPhones, but not as seamlessly or to the same degree of quality as Galaxy AI makes possible.

Of course, that may be because it is viewed on one of the best displays on the market. With a resolution of 1440 x 3120 pixels, giving a 505 pixel per inch (ppi) density, combined with a brightness rating of 2600 Nits, there is simply nothing on the market to match it. The iPhone 15 Pro Max has a ppi of 460, and maximum brightness of 2000 Nits.

That kind of display is going to be severely power-hungry, which makes it fortunate that the S24 Ultra comes with a large 5000 mAh battery, as with its predecessor. 

What does it cost?

Recommended retail price: R29,999 for the 256GB version.

Why does it matter?

In the coming year, AI capabilities will become the single biggest demand or expectation for consumers as they discover almost unlimited online tools to work with content or create content in general. That demand will extend to smartphones, and many users will find themselves having to download separate apps in order to work more effectively with their content. With a little help from Galaxy AI, many of these capabilities will be ready and waiting, natively built into the S24 Ultra. 

What are the biggest negatives?

  • AI features may require a subscription fee after the first year, but details are not yet available.
  • It’s bulky, even though it looks good. Once ensconced in a protective case, it will be too bulky for the average pocket.
  • Battery and charging functionality remains unchanged from previous version.

What are the biggest positives?

  • Stunning camera performance.
  • Stunning AI features for image manipulation.
  • Samsung promises at least five years of Android updates.
  • It’s a massive handset, but feels strong and durable with its titanium frame.
  • Matches up to its premium price, a vibe enhanced by an anti-reflective coating. 

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx, editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter and Instagram  on @art2gee.

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