Galaxy S24 Ultra: One Day With Samsung’s New Phone

The Galaxy S24 Ultra may look a lot like the Galaxy S23 Ultra at first glance. But Samsung’s newest phones are the first to come with Galaxy AI. It’s an umbrella term for tools and features powered by generative AI that can generate content and responses that sound conversational (but aren’t always accurate) after being trained on data. It’s the same flavor of AI that fuels ChatGPT, and the Galaxy S24 lineup is an example of how the tech is being applied to new smartphones.

This story is part of Samsung Event, CNET’s collection of news, tips and advice around Samsung’s most popular products.

I’ve been using the Galaxy S24 Ultra for a day, and one Galaxy AI feature has stood out to me in that short time: Circle to Search. I just press and hold the home button and draw a circle around anything I see on screen to launch a Google search for that object. It works intuitively and reliably so far and feels practically useful in everyday life unlike other AI-powered additions to the Galaxy S24.

Read more: Samsung’s Galaxy Ring Will Need Less of Your Attention Than a Smartwatch

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I need more time with the S24 Ultra to truly assess the usefulness of Galaxy AI and to test out the new 50-megapixel telephoto camera among other updates.

As I wrote in my initial first impressions story, Samsung’s new AI features don’t feel strikingly new and different from the generative AI features from Microsoft and Google. Instead, the Galaxy S24 Ultra feels like a statement about how generative AI features are becoming table stakes on new phones. 

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Circle to Search is the standout Galaxy AI feature so far

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's Circle to Search feature being shown on screen
The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s Circle to Search feature.John Kim/CNET

Galaxy AI is a collection of features that spans everything from photo editing to texting, phone calls and note-taking. There’s a tool for moving and removing unwanted objects from photos and refilling the scene so that it looks natural, for example. The Samsung Notes app can organize notes into bullet points and phone calls can be translated between languages in real time. (Check out my first impressions story for a list of some of the top Galaxy AI features.)

But Circle to Search is the one that stood out to me the most. The feature, which was developed in partnership with Google, allows you to search for almost anything on your phone’s screen just by circling it. Based on the time I’ve had with it so far, Circle to Search seems fairly accurate in determining the type of content I’m looking for based on what I’ve circled. 

For example, when I circled an image of the character Siobhan Roy from the HBO drama series Succession in a news article, the Galaxy S24 pulled up results that showed more information about the actress Sarah Snook, who plays her in the series. But when I just circled her outfit, I got results showing where to buy cream-colored blazers and slacks similar to those she was wearing in the image. 

I’ve also been using the Galaxy S24 Ultra to organize my notes during the process of writing my review and transcribe meetings. I appreciated being able to have the phone turn my list of tests I’d like to run on the Galaxy S24 Ultra into neat and tidy bullet points. Samsung’s Recorder app also transcribed a meeting and summarized the key points into bullet points. While I wouldn’t rely on those bullet points alone for work-related tasks, it was a handy way to see which topics were discussed at specific timestamps in the conversation. 

That feature isn’t unique to Samsung’s Recorder app; Google’s app can also do this, as can the transcription service Otter.ai. But combined with other features like the ability to automatically format notes, I’m beginning to see how generative AI could make phones more capable work devices. 

Galaxy S24 Ultra’s new telephoto camera and slow motion

The Galaxy S24 Ultra's camera interface shown on screen
The Galaxy S24 Ultra’s camera interfaceJohn Kim/CNET

The biggest difference between the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s camera and the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s is the latter’s new 50-megapixel telephoto camera with a 5x optical zoom. That replaces the Galaxy S23 Ultra’s 10-megapixel telephoto camera with a 10x optical zoom, a choice that Samsung made after hearing feedback that users generally preferred to zoom between 2x and 5x.

Read more: Samsung Galaxy S24 Phones Have a New Zoom Trick to Get That Close-Up Photo

I haven’t had too much time to test this extensively, but I’m already seeing a difference. Take a look at the 5x zoom photos below of a wooden sign I came across at a San Jose, California, park. The photos may look similar at first, but you can see the changes when enlarging the images. The text is sharper in the Galaxy S24 Ultra’s photo, and there’s less image noise. 

Galaxy S24 Ultra 

A photo of a wooden sign in a park
A photo taken on the Galaxy S24 Ultra at a 5x zoom. Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Galaxy S23 Ultra

A photo of a wooden sign in a park
A photo taken at a 5x zoom on the Galaxy S23 Ultra. Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Image quality aside, Samsung also introduced some new camera tricks on the Galaxy S24 Ultra. While Generative Edit may have gotten a lot of attention following Samsung’s announcement, Instant Slow-Mo has impressed me the most so far. I just hold down on a video clip I captured and the phone converts it into a slow motion video by generating extra frames. I can preview how the clip will look in slow motion by pressing and lifting my finger to switch between the regular and slowed-down footage. 

Taken together, it seems like Galaxy AI has the potential to make Samsung’s phones more useful and helpful. Most of the features that are currently available, like Circle to Search and note summaries, feel practical rather than gimmicky. But the bigger question is whether Samsung will be able to meaningfully differentiate its offerings moving forward, especially since Google’s Pixel phones provide similar functionality and Samsung plans to bring Galaxy AI to the Galaxy S23 lineup as well. 

Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.

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