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I spent two weeks with Samsung's cheaper S24 phones and didn't envy the Ultra model

The latest Plus-sized Galaxy phone undercuts its Ultra sibling by $300 while getting feature upgrades in all the right places.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
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Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus

4 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

Pros
  • Polished and sleek designs feel better than ever
  • Galaxy AI features are mostly useful
  • Fantastic battery life on both models
  • 7 years of OS updates
Cons
  • No significant changes to the cameras
  • No Qi2/faster charging speeds
  • Uncertainties with Galaxy AI features

ZDNET's buying advice

Samsung's latest Galaxy S24 handsets, while released in January, are already in consideration for the best Android phones of 2024; that's how well-rounded and future-proofed they are. But while I often reserve the "Best Overall" honor for the Ultra model, which fields all the latest and greatest features from the Galaxy maker, I need to think twice about it this year.

Because at $300 less than its ultra-premium sibling, the Galaxy S24 Plus is more polished than ever before, with similar Galaxy AI features and upgrades in key areas like battery life and display quality. And for an additional $200 less, the smaller Galaxy S24 remains one of the best compact phones on the market.

Specifications

Samsung Galaxy S24

Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus

Display

6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x (1080 x 2340) with 2,600 nits of brightness

6.7-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2x (1440 x 3088) with 2,600 nits of brightness  

Processor

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3

Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3  

RAM/Storage

8GB with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB

12GB with 256GB or 512GB

Camera

50MP f/1.8 wide, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto (3x), and 12MP front  

50MP f/1.8 wide, 12MP ultrawide, 10MP telephoto (3x), and 12MP front    

Battery

4,000mAh with 25W wired/15W wireless charging

4,900mAh with 45W wired/15W wireless charging  

Durability

IP68, Gorilla Glass Victus 2, aluminum frame

IP68, Gorilla Glass Victus 2, aluminum frame  

Colors

Onyx Black, Marble Grey, Cobalt Violet, Amber Yellow

Onyx Black, Marble Grey, Cobalt Violet, Amber Yellow  

Price

Starting at $799

Starting at $999


How I tested the Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus

I spent the past week solely using the Galaxy S24 models, with my personal T-Mobile SIM in the Plus and a Mint Mobile eSIM in the standard variant. From morning to night, I used the phones like how I normally would but with an emphasis on the new, most significant features. I also took more photos and videos than usual to see if there were any notable differences from last year's S23 models, even though the camera specs are basically the same on paper.

Also: Samsung Galaxy S24 vs Galaxy S23: Should you make the upgrade?

Testing also involved the new Galaxy AI features, like running Live Translate and Text Call with friends and family who speak multiple languages (Chinese and Korean), redefining images with Generative Edit, and exploring the other practical ways that the new phones can improve our lives. For now, here's what works and what doesn't.

What are the Samsung Galaxy S24's best features?

Flatter, more refined design: Both the standard and Plus Galaxy S24 phones this year look unapologetically similar to the iPhone 15, with flattened edges, symmetrical bezels, and a new OneUI lock screen/always-on dynamic that screams iOS 17. Even the antenna bands on the sides of the phones are nearly identical. 

Here's the thing: I really like the modern iPhone design, and Samsung's approach takes things up a level. The bezels are thinner, the hole punch camera takes up less space, and the satin finish of the side railings makes the devices feel more premium than last year's glossy material. I've been going around town caseless and both the Amber Yellow S24 Plus and Cobalt Violet S24 absolutely pop.

Samsung Galaxy S24 and iPhone 15

The Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus (left) on OneUI 6.1 and the iPhone 15 Plus (right) on iOS 17.3.

June Wan/ZDNET

2,600 nits of brightness is mostly good: One of the more significant upgrades to the Galaxy S24 series is the 2,600-nit display, a feature that both casual and power users can benefit from. Whether I was navigating through the NYC streets or testing the phone cameras outdoors, never did I find myself squinting at the viewfinder or feeling like the adaptive brightness setting was turned off. The phones get plenty dim, too, as I watched the quick panel slider go from noticeably bright to pitch-black dark. 

Also: Samsung's new Galaxy S24 beats the iPhone 15 Pro in one very meaningful way

There is one problem I'm experiencing with the ultra-bright display, and it's not necessarily Samsung's fault: HDR playback. On apps like Instagram, YouTube, and Gallery, the Galaxy S24 display automatically ramps up its brightness when playing HDR-captured videos, which can look brilliantly vivid in daylight but jarringly blinding when you're doom-scrolling at night or in an Uber home. This was a longstanding problem on iPhones, but Instagram has since added a settings toggle on iOS apps to turn off the playback behavior. That same option is absent on Android.

If the camera system ain't broke...: If I had to describe the Samsung Galaxy S24's camera system with one word, it would be "reliable." The triple camera array on both the standard and Plus models is about the same as last year's S23 series, meaning you still get a fantastic 50MP main shooter, a 10MP 3x telephoto, and a 12MP ultra-wide. But the Galaxy S24 now utilizes a new ProVisual Engine that, according to Samsung, helps the phones better distinguish subjects from the background, reproduce colors, and reduce shakiness and blur in photos.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Photo Samples
June Wan/ZDNET

From my testing, which included shooting photos and videos in various lighting conditions, the output generally came out detailed and vibrant. Coming from the OnePlus 12 and Pixel 8 Pro, I wasn't prepared for the uptick in saturation and sharpness, but I was quickly reminded of how much more aggressive Samsung phones captured and processed light. That's a good thing if you'd rather not have to go through the post-editing process to achieve color-popping photos and videos.

Also: The incredible evolution of smartphone cameras and how AI powers a dazzling future

One thing I'm particularly impressed by is how consistent colors look across the three cameras. This is integral when you're recording videos and are switching between the wide lens, telephoto lens, and ultra-wide; it's something I often do when recording footage for ZDNET's short-form videos, and it's never fun when skin tones and other sensitive colors are presented inconsistently.

Seven years of OS and security updates: This one's a big deal, because not only is Samsung matching Google's commitment to Android operating system and security updates, it's doing so while running on a third-party system on a chip (SoC), the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3. That means, unlike Google and its in-house Tensor chips, Samsung must work with Qualcomm to fulfill its seven years' worth of software support, a feat that has never been done before.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Circle to Search

Circle to Search, designed by Google, may be the best new AI feature on the Galaxy S24 and Android devices.

June Wan/ZDNET

Of course, how reliable and consistent the updates roll out remains up in the air, and carrier-exclusive versions often operate on their own timelines. What's certain is that the Galaxy S24 should receive the best OneUI and Android features over the next seven years, and that's a big win for Samsung users.

Galaxy AI features are practical, but for how long?

The big thing with the new S24 phones is Samsung's on-device and cloud-based Galaxy AI features, served atop Google's Gemini and Imagen 2 models. There's a handful of tools seamlessly embedded across popular services like Messages, Gallery, and Phone, so here's my tier list of the very best, from useful to just fun to use.

  • Circle to Search: Answering the who, what, where, when, and why of what's on your screen has never been easier thanks to Circle to Search (how it works is in the name!). Case in point: I was recently shopping for a new bed frame, and Circle to Search presented me with a cheaper option for the same product -- all in less than 10 seconds.

  • Translation features: I communicate across English, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), and Korean-speaking families, so my eyebrows were raised when Samsung first briefed me on the new translation features. While tools like Live Translate, Keyboard Translation, and Interpreter worked very smoothly for me, there were still moments when words would be misinterpreted or just flat-out ignored by the AI. Instead, what the AI does best is dictating the translated messages in a natural-sounding way. For reference, my dad hung up on me the first time I used Live Translate, thinking he had called the wrong person.

Samsung Galaxy S24 Interpreter mode

Interpreter Mode is especially useful when you're traveling abroad and want to translate two languages at once.

June Wan/ZDNET
  • Image editing tools: For fixing off-angle images and misframed subjects, the Galaxy S24's Generative Edit feature can be plenty useful. Just don't expect every touch-up to look perfect, as there will be moments when the phone fills an edited area with an indistinguishable object or the crop effect is not as convincing. You can also use Generative Edit to remove the "Edited with AI" watermark on pictures, but you didn't hear that from me.

  • Summarization in Notes/Recorder apps: As a journalist, I often record interviews and briefings but don't always have the time to go back to pull out key points. That's why the ability to summarize both typed and recorded memos has been game-changing for my workflow, as the Galaxy S24 does it very reliably.

Also: 5 top mobile trends in 2024: On-device AI, the 'new' smartphone, and more

Ultimately, the most useful Galaxy AI features will depend on the end user, as my partner's obsession with Photomoji can support. You may find value in all of Samsung's AI tools, or just several, or none -- and that's fine. There's also uncertainty as to whether or not Samsung will eventually charge users to use its cloud-based AI services -- something the company had originally suggested in its marketing copy but has since retracted.

What I'd like to see in the next model 

Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus
June Wan/ZDNET

Qi2 support: All the hype surrounding the Samsung-backed Qi2 standard only led to disappointment when the company revealed it wasn't going to implement the latest wireless charging tech into its Galaxy S24 phones. Samsung blames the omission on the lack of demand, but I'm unsure if that's the right call when its closest competitor, the now five-month-old iPhone 15 series, already supports the fast-charging standard.

Also: How to add MagSafe to your Android phone (and why you'll love it)

Faster wired charging: While I'm at it, there was no greater shift to my consumer lifestyle than when I switched from the OnePlus 12's 80W wired charging to the Samsung Galaxy S24's 25W. (The Plus model supports 45W output, but while that yields a faster initial charging speed, the power delivery slows down noticeably at the 60-70% mark.) As much as I've enjoyed the long-lasting battery life of both the standard and Plus phones, having to wait a good hour and a half for a top-up felt like a big area of improvement for me.

Final thoughts  

While I've only scratched the surface of what the latest Samsung Galaxy phones are capable of (read: I'll be testing both devices and updating this review over time), I'm compelled to recommend the S24 Plus to most shoppers this year, professional users included. The new QHD+ display, Galaxy AI features, and base memory of 12GB RAM/256GB storage for $300 less than the Ultra make it the better phone deal.

I'll leave you with this: If you're wary of cloud-based AI features and their potential security issues, there's an option to "Process data only on device" within the Galaxy S24 settings. Go to Settings > Advanced features > Advanced intelligence > and toggle the feature on.

Alternatives to consider 

View at Best BuyView at OnePlus
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