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Samsung Unpacked 2024 recap: Galaxy AI, S24 Ultra, Smart Ring, and more

This week's Samsung event saw the unveiling of new Galaxy S24 phones, the company's own generative AI model, and its first-ever smart ring.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Samsung Galaxy S24 models
June Wan/ZDNET

Samsung's Unpacked event has always been a combination of whimsy, showmanship, and innovation. Whether it's celebrities taking photos with foldable phones or an "Avengers Assemble" moment between titans of the industry, you never really know what to expect from the Korean giant's annual product launches.

Also: Samsung Galaxy S24 series hands-on: I did not expect this model to be my favorite

But this year, Samsung is making things clear -- the latest Galaxy phones are all-in on AI, from the way users text on them, to making calls, to taking photos, to searching the web. At the center of the new mobile experience is an aptly named generative AI model, Galaxy AI, made in partnership with Google's Gemini.

If you missed this week's Samsung Unpacked event (and would much rather not rewatch the hour-long keynote), here's the definitive summary of everything that was unveiled, including the company's first venture in the smart ring market. And stick around until the end, where I also break down the products that weren't announced.

1. Galaxy AI

Samsung Galaxy S24 - Galaxy AI
June Wan/ZDNET

The star of the show at this week's Unpacked was, undoubtedly, Galaxy AI, Samsung's new on-device and cloud-based AI model.

Embedded in every Samsung Galaxy S24 model, Galaxy AI brings a host of generative capabilities, including language detection and translation, image creation, and coding. These functions are powered by Google's Gemini family, with the Gemini Nano enabling text-based tools and Gemini Pro for tasks like translating audio. No matter what you're using the new phones for, there's a high chance that the AI model is involved in some way, shape, or form.

Also: Five AI features that make Samsung's Galaxy S24 phones worth the upgrade

See below for a rundown of the newest (and best) Galaxy AI features:

  1. Circle to Search with Google: Previously, long-pressing the home button on Android triggered Google's voice assistant. On the Galaxy S24, the same action prompts a screen overlay where you can tap or circle an object to perform an image-based Google search. Because the results are presented on top of your existing screen or app, exiting out of the interface simply returns you to where you were at the start.
  2. Live Translate: Running on-device, you can now hear real-time translations (and see transcriptions of them) when you're on a phone call. Your recipient will hear you in their spoken language, too. 
  3. Transcript Assist: Galaxy AI can transcribe, translate, and summarize voice memes and text in the Samsung Notes app. To take things further, you can modify how the summary is presented, whether it's bulleted or written in paragraphs.
  4. Generative Edit: Like Google's Magic Editor, Galaxy AI will let you modify images by long-pressing (or circling) subjects and moving, resizing, or removing them from the background. You can also expand images with generative fill, with Google's Imagen 2 running in the backend.
  5. Chat Assist: When you're unsure of how to appropriately phrase a message, Galaxy AI can provide alternatives in different tonalities, including casual and formal tones.

According to Samsung, every Galaxy AI feature, except for any that are specific to camera hardware, will be available across the three S24 models. (Note that Galaxy AI does not replace Bixby.)

2. Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus

Samsung Galaxy S24 Plus and S24
June Wan/ZDNET

Samsung is releasing three Galaxy S models this time around. While the standard and Plus models have never been as flashy as the Ultra, the company's added several feature upgrades this year that make the two a rather promising duo of devices.

Generally, the phones feel thinner and lighter than previous models, with a flat-edged design that, respectfully, reminds me of an iPhone. They come in Violet, Yellow, Gray, and Black colorways, with up to 512GB of storage and 12GB of RAM.

Both the Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus now field variable refresh rate displays. That means the screens will adjust their smoothness based on the task at hand; a slower refresh rate for when you're looking at static images and a higher refresh rate for more animated activities like gaming. They're also brighter than ever at 2,600 nits -- that's significantly more than the iPhone 15's 2,000-nit rating.

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

The efficiency gains of the new LTPO displays should work in tandem with the larger 4,000mAh and 4,900mAh batteries, up 100mAh each from last year's models, though charging for the standard and Plus models remain capped at 25W and 45W respectively. There is no Qi2 wireless charging support.

At the center of the handsets is Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, which brings improved graphics performance and AI computing. You'll receive more RAM on the Plus model (12GB instead of 8GB), for what it's worth.

As for the cameras, Samsung says it's packed the new Galaxy S24 line with larger pixel sensors and 2x wider optical image stabilization. Expect clearer and less jittery photos and videos when taken in low-light environments, and better color reproduction in general.

Pricing for the Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus starts at $799 and $999, respectively. That's the same as last year's asking price, which is good to see, provided you're getting improvements -- both in hardware and software -- across the board. On top of that, Samsung is now promising up to seven years of operating system updates for all Galaxy S24 models, matching Google's commitment for its devices.

3. Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra
June Wan/ZDNET

The premier Samsung Galaxy S24 Ultra model is getting several feature upgrades of its own, starting with a new titanium frame and Corning Gorilla Glass Armor display -- both of which make it Samsung's most durable phone yet.

The Galaxy S24 Ultra still features a 6.8-inch AMOLED display with LTPO technology, along with a built-in S Pen that should come in handy when using Galaxy AI's Circle to Search tool. Oh, and the phone's still boxier than ever -- a good thing for folks who literally want to feel like they got their money's worth and a nightmare for those with smaller hands.

To Samsung's credit, the screen-to-body ratio on the Ultra is slightly larger now -- a good thing -- with slimmer bezels and a flattened display (compared to previous models' curved glass). By flattening the edges, the writing and viewing experience of the Galaxy S24 Ultra should be much better than its predecessors.

Also: Samsung just made to Galaxy S24 users its most ambitious feature promise yet

On the camera front, Samsung has equipped the Ultra model with four sensors on the rear, including a 200MP main lens, a 10MP telephoto with 3x optical zoom, a 12MP ultrawide, and a new 50MP telephoto with 5X optical zoom. Like the base models, the Ultra has 60% larger pixels for better light capturing. You'll likely notice the difference the most in low-light photography, when the phone camera needs to reproduce details in the most resourceful way.

Finally, the Galaxy S24 Ultra features an improved cooling system, with a vapor chamber that the company claims is more than 93% larger than the one on the previous model. Gamers, especially ones who want to leverage the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 processor for ray-traced graphics, will likely notice the advanced heat dissipation the most.

Samsung is selling the Galaxy S24 Ultra at a starting price of $1,299, a $100 price bump from last year. That price includes 256GB of storage, 12GB of RAM, and your choice of Black, Yellow, Violet, or Gray colorways.

4. Samsung Smart Ring

Samsung Galaxy Ring

Recent trademark filings and a teardown of Samsung's Galaxy Wearable APK by 9to5Google had suggested that the company was working on a smart ring. And, to everyone's surprise, the company spent the final minutes of Unpacked teasing that exact health tracker.

Also: First look at Samsung's Galaxy Ring: Features, price, availability, more

While little was shared about the ring's capabilities, the product is entering a market dominated by the popular Oura Ring. If Samsung wants to play spoiler, it'll have to deliver a smart ring that 1) nails the basics that is tracking a user's heart rate, sleep health, temperature, and fitness activities and 2) offers unique features to entice both Samsung and non-Samsung users to make the switch.

What wasn't announced at Unpacked 2024

Samsung XR headset

Sony XR headset demo at CES 2024
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

A little less than a year ago, Samsung took to Unpacked to announce an alliance with Qualcomm and Google to create a premium XR headset. At the time, Apple's Vision Pro was only a rumor. This week, as Apple begins to open up pre-orders for its $3,500 headset, there is still no sign of what the three competing tech giants have created together.

Also: I got a rare demo of Sony's new XR headset at CES 2024 and here's what I learned

Unpacked felt like the most obvious time and place for Samsung to announce a new XR headset, with a live audience of tech enthusiasts, analysts, and members of the press, and a relatively short docket of new releases (just phones; no wearables, tablets, or laptops), but that wasn't the case.

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