Samsung’s Galaxy Unpacked event in San Jose, California, was more than just a reveal of the company’s latest smartphone flagship, the Samsung Galaxy S24. It also signalled the end of an era in the world of smartphones.
Say goodbye to the epoch of hardware one-upmanship. The arms race for smartphones supercharged with bigger and badder artificial intelligence (AI) models both on-device and in the cloud has just kicked into second gear.
Hot on the heels of Google’s Pixel 8 last October (or the niche Mertavertu 2 for crypto kiddies with a taste for the chi-chi), Samsung has made good on its repeated teases that “Galaxy AI is coming” with a slew of new AI-powered photography, productivity and accessibility features for all three Galaxy S24 variants, the Galaxy S24, the Galaxy S24+, and the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
More AI, Better Photos
Fans of Samsung’s Galaxy series would probably be aware of its already-formidable AI-enhanced smartphone photography arsenal.
Many tools like the remaster function, which automatically removes imperfections like shadows and reflections from photos, and the object eraser — allowing you to remove a pesky object, person or reflection from your image while intelligently filling up the background — having been introduced and iterated upon since as far back as 2021.
The Galaxy S24, naturally, ships with the latest version of all of these, as well as a range of new features banking on the power of generative AI. You can now straighten out crooked pictures without having to sacrifice the edges, as Samsung’s Galaxy AI can fill in the portions that would normally remain awkwardly blank.
Subjects in your photographs can be intelligently detected, selected and resized or moved around, while any gaps in the background are plugged by AI.
Regular videos you’ve shot can also be turned into slow-motion ones by way of — you’ve guessed it, AI-generated frames, reducing speed of playback down to as low as a quarter of the original.
But even before working AI magic on photographs and videos in post-production, artificial intelligence also plays a part in the shooting process. At its most basic, your S24 is able to give you a preview of a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph before you’ve shot it, regardless of whether you’re using the native camera app or, say, Instagram.
The feted 100x digital magnification offered with previous Ultra versions of the Galaxy makes a return once again, with an added dose of clarity thanks to the S24 Ultra’s new 5x optical zoom lens working in tandem with its 50MP sensor and a healthy dose of AI.
Night photography, too, continues to get an AI-charged boost with the new flagship, where low-light annoyances like noise and blur are detected and reduced before the newly cleaned image is balanced for tone.
Like with most AI-enhanced content, everything works well enough until you start to look really closely. The object eraser, for example, leaves a noticeable patch even when you’ve removed something tiny. It only gets more obvious the larger you go, as the AI understandably struggles to fill the void — much like life.
The night photography enhancements also get a little iffy when shooting in settings with mixed lighting, resulting in photographs that look like they’ve gotten groovy neon highlights.
And then, there’s the Samsung Galaxy S24’s suite of AI-powered productivity and accessibility tools.
The niftiest of these is probably the new live captioning and translation feature for calls. Yes, calls, though you’d have to place yourself on speaker mode (or use a pair of Galaxy buds) to see your other half’s captioned conversation — and its translation — appearing a la minute on your screen as if you were texting.
As with any live captioning, the quality of audio, the speaker’s accent and any background noise all play a part in the final accuracy of the translation. There are 13 languages supported as of launch time, including French, German and English.
The live translation feature also extends to text conversations, with translated messages appearing directly below the text in its original language, saving you a ton of time between switching back and forth to a translation app.
Your own messages, too, can be directly translated as you type on any app including WhatsApp or social media, as the feature is baked into the S24’s keyboard, along with the new Tone Tweak tool as well.
As its name suggests, Samsung’s AI takes the text you’ve written and generates several different versions of varying moods — think professional, casual, and, for the perennially online, ideal for social media, complete with hashtags and appropriately selected emojis.
More AI than you need
Other AI productivity tools include a new gesture-driven shortcut activated by a long press of the home button, allowing users to circle, highlight or otherwise select anything on their screen to look it up online.
There’s also automatic transcription of audio recordings, as well as a staple of many language models, the formatting and summarising of chunks of text.
From the limited time we had with the device, these worked decently well enough for the most part — though far slower when we left it to just the on-board AI.
You see, though we’ve been referring to the S24’s AI as a single entity, there exists an on-device version as well as a larger, more powerful monolith in the cloud. Both work in tandem to produce results in a shorter span of time and, we’re told, with higher quality.
We’re also told that the data you’re feeding it — your photographs, texts, and calls — is processed in a secure way that leaves no room for leaks, though you can disable access to the cloud AI to be doubly sure.
Just know that AI features would naturally be far less responsive. Case in point: It took us around 30 seconds to generate tone tweaks for short phrases like “Can we go for an early lunch, boss?”
Mighty hardware upgrades
With that done, it is finally time to talk about the actual phone. To keep up with all that heavy processing from the on-board AI, the Ultra variant of the Samsung Galaxy S24 will come equipped with an enhanced Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, along with an uprated thermal control system to keep things chugging along nicely.
The screens of all three variants of the Galaxy S24 series can now reach a peak brightness of 2,600 nits — the brand’s brightest ever — for better outdoor visibility than ever before, while retaining the 1 to 120Hz adaptive refresh rates already available with last year’s Galaxy.
Quite a few of the phones’ specifications, in fact, will sound familiar to Galaxy S23 owners. Both Ultra versions of the S24 and its predecessor boast a 6.8-inch QHD+ display. Both of them also come equipped with a 5,000mAh battery (an estimated battery life for the S24 Ultra has yet to be revealed).
What differs is their respective launch prices. The 256GB and 512GB variants of the S24 Ultra will retail at $1,928 and $2,128 respectively, a hundred bucks more than the S23 Ultra for the same size. Both 1TB versions go for the same $2,458 price tag, giving a not-so-subtle hint about which Samsung would like consumers to go for.
Let the race begin
With the AI-heavy announcement for the Galaxy S24, it’s clear that Samsung is putting its chips on artificial intelligence — not just as a way to stir up fresh business for its smartphone division post-last year’s Galaxy Z Fold5 and Flip5, but also to boost its flagging semiconductor department, a large contributor to Samsung’s dismal performance in 2023.
After all, Samsung is the world’s largest manufacturer of dynamic random-access memory chips — the kind of memory chips found in consumer devices like smartphones. The kind of memory chips that smartphones would need more of if they were to, say, pack an on-device artificial intelligence. Get the drift?
Only time will tell whether positive reviews — which have historically produced an increase in the stock price — after Samsung’s big announcement will be enough to allay investors’ concerns in the near future, as the company will be announcing detailed earnings at the end of the month.
But things are always uncertain at the start of something new. Samsung has taken a bold step forward into the nascent space of AI-powered smartphones with the Galaxy S24, and we’re excited to see what it comes up with next.