Last year, in a one-off effort, Samsung put out the Note10 and Note10 Plus – a relatively closely-specced pair where size was really the key factor for picking one over the other. Not so this time around. The Note 20 Ultra and Note20 are both big and feature parity is out the door – in a similar fashion to how the S20 Ultra is above and beyond the S20+, only even more so.
Pounding on the Note20 in absentia isn’t what we’re here for and we’ll deal with its shortcomings and limitations when one shows up at our doorstep. For now, let’s focus on the Ultra.
First appearing on the other S20 Ultra, the oversized camera hump makes a return on the Note 20 Ultra. Most of the bits inside are the same, including the main 108MP cam and the 12MP ultra wide. But the periscope telephoto that’s in part responsible for the sheer size of the assembly is now 12MP, swapping out the 48MP unit of the S-series phone – we’ll have to see about that.
Galaxy family shot: S20 Ultra • Note20 Ultra • Note10 Plus
The display is a nice marriage of Note-style geometry with some high refresh rate coming in from the S20s, now supposedly made even better with an adaptive refresh rate adjustment. Oh, and spoiler – it’s the brightest AMOLED screen we’ve seen to date.
The S Pen is here, of course, now relocated to the left side. It’s improved too, getting a 9ms latency (down more than 4 times compared to the Note10), system-wide Air actions, and a Notes app to make you forget Google Keep.
All this comes in a redesigned package featuring a stainless steel midframe where once was aluminum and the brand new Gorilla Glass 7 (aka Victus) for improved durability. For improved looks, the matte finish on the back will ward off fingerprints, though only the Mystic Bronze color option gets that treatment, sadly. The Mystic Black is all shiny.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra specs
|NETWORK||Technology||GSM / CDMA / HSPA / EVDO / LTE|
|2G bands||GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 – SIM 1 & SIM 2 (dual-SIM model only)|
|CDMA 800 / 1900|
|3G bands||HSDPA 850 / 900 / 1700(AWS) / 1900 / 2100|
|4G bands||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 32, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66|
|Speed||HSPA 42.2/5.76 Mbps, LTE-A (7CA) Cat20 2000/200 Mbps|
|LAUNCH||Announced||2020, August 05|
|Status||Available. Released 2020, August 21|
|BODY||Dimensions||164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm (6.49 x 3.04 x 0.32 in)|
|Weight||208 g (7.34 oz)|
|Build||Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), stainless steel frame|
|SIM||Single SIM (Nano-SIM and/or eSIM) or Hybrid Dual SIM (Nano-SIM, dual stand-by)|
|IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins)
Stylus, 9ms latency (Bluetooth integration, accelerometer, gyro)
|DISPLAY||Type||Dynamic AMOLED 2X, 120Hz, HDR10+|
|Size||6.9 inches, 116.7 cm2 (~91.7% screen-to-body ratio)|
|Resolution||1440 x 3088 pixels (~496 ppi density)|
|Protection||Corning Gorilla Glass Victus|
120Hz@FHD/60Hz@QHD refresh rate
|PLATFORM||OS||Android 10, upgradable to Android 11, One UI 3.0|
|Chipset||Exynos 990 (7 nm+) – Global
Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865+ (7 nm+) – USA
|CPU||Octa-core (2×2.73 GHz Mongoose M5 & 2×2.50 GHz Cortex-A76 & 4×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55) – Global
Octa-core (1×3.0 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585) – USA
|GPU||Mali-G77 MP11 – Global
Adreno 650 – USA
|MEMORY||Card slot||microSDXC (uses shared SIM slot)|
|Internal||256GB 8GB RAM, 512GB 8GB RAM|
|MAIN CAMERA||Triple||108 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.33″, 0.8µm, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS
12 MP, f/3.0, 120mm (periscope telephoto), 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom, 50x hybrid zoom
12 MP, f/2.2, 120˚, 13mm (ultrawide), 1/2.55″, 1.4µm
|Features||LED flash, auto-HDR, panorama|
|Video||8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS & OIS|
|SELFIE CAMERA||Single||10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.2″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF|
|Features||Dual video call, Auto-HDR|
|SOUND||Loudspeaker||Yes, with stereo speakers|
Tuned by AKG
|COMMS||WLAN||Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/6, dual-band, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot|
|Bluetooth||5.0, A2DP, LE, aptX|
|GPS||Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS, BDS, GALILEO|
|Radio||FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent)|
|USB||USB Type-C 3.2, USB On-The-Go|
|FEATURES||Sensors||Fingerprint (under display, ultrasonic), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer|
|Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support)
Bixby natural language commands and dictation
Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified)
Ultra Wideband (UWB) support
|BATTERY||Type||Li-Ion 4500 mAh, non-removable|
|Charging||Fast charging 25W
USB Power Delivery 3.0
Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging 15W
Reverse wireless charging 4.5W
|MISC||Colors||Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White|
|SAR||0.57 W/kg (head) 1.02 W/kg (body)|
|SAR EU||0.32 W/kg (head) 1.47 W/kg (body)|
Some other points on that list raise questions, however. Like the battery capacity that’s less than on the S20 Ultra, and the axing of the 45-watt charging support. The increasing gap between the Snapdragon and Exynos platforms is another less than ideal reality that users in half the world need to come to terms with.
Speaking of, we’ll be reviewing the Exynos version of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, in 5G spec. That’s one of few times you’ll hear 5G mentioned in the review, however, as we’ll be dropping it for the sake of brevity.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra unboxing
A rather typical Samsung presentation, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra‘s two-piece black cardboard box features the S Pen printed on the lid. A slightly glossy ‘N20’ contrasts against the matte material while the side edges of the top surface have striped patterns to allude to the curved display inside.
As part of the package, you’d be getting a 25-watt charger that adheres to USB PowerDelivery with the PPS bit of the standard supported as well. A USB-C-to-C cable is included, naturally. A pair of AKG-branded in-ear headphones are in there too, if you’re not getting a pair of Galaxy Buds Live as part of some pre-order bundle.
This being a review unit and not strictly a retail-ready package, it was missing the usual spare S Pen tips and the tool for replacing them. Different sizes of tips for the earbuds were nowhere to be found either. We can’t imagine Samsung‘s skipping either of these things and commercially available units will likely have them.
If you want the ultimate smartphone with a stylus available now, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has no competition even at its steep price of $1300/€1300, it’s simple as that. If you’re willing to compromise in one direction or another, a world of options opens up to you.
If you’re dead set on the S Pen, but the Ultra is too expensive, you have a couple of options – a plain Note 20 or a Note10 Plus. The newer model will get you a next-gen processor and camera setup as well as longer software support. It will come in at $1000/€1000, however, and you won’t be getting a high refresh rate display in the process, and we’re not yet ready to forgive it for its plastic back either.
The Note10+ is glass on both sides all right, and while it too refreshes at 60Hz, at least it’s got the 1440p resolution unlike the Note 20. The Note10 Plus is, admittedly, a generation behind in camera technology, but it still has an easily good enough tri-set. Best bit about it is the price, though that does vary wildly from region to region – a little over half the Note 20 Ultra in Europe at about €800, but a less enticing $1100 in the US. It’s actually more expensive than the Note20 in India at current rates, so that’s easily settled there.
Pick a Note: 20 Ultra or 10 Plus
If, on the other hand, the S Pen is little more than a nice-to-have to you and you’re willing to sacrifice that, but want to keep the camera system, the Galaxy S20 Ultra is just the one for you. If you’re in Europe that is – while the S20U is a good €250-300 less than the N20U there, for some reason it is $100 more in the US and about the same price as the Note in India. A minor hit in battery life is also part of the deal in the Eurozone, but it’s hardly consequential and you’ll probably live just fine with the S20 Ultra’s ‘only’ 1200nits of peak brightness instead of the Note’s 1500nits.
That’s just the Samsungs, though. Oppo will sell you a Find X2 Pro for €1100 through official channels and a case could be made it’s the better deal. It’s a different camera system on the Oppo with its own pros and cons, but it’s a very capable one nonetheless and offers similar coverage, plus the all-important (if only to select few) autofocus on the ultra wide cam. It’s mostly a tie in battery life with the Find charging twice as fast. The Find’s display is nearly as good as the Note’s too – arguably even better in a way because it can run in 1440p at 120Hz. You’ll be sacrificing memory expansion (is it an issue with 256GB of base storage on the Oppo?) and the selfie cam tops out at 1080p30 which could be limiting if you’re one to vlog.
Another entrant from China is the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro – since Xiaomi’s Ultra isn’t leaving its home market. We’re seeing deals for the Mi 10 Pro for as low as €800, and the €500 that you’ll get to keep in your pocket can justify a lot of trade-offs – not that you’d have to make a ton. The Mi’s display isn’t quite up there with the Note’s but refreshes at a sensible 90Hz and is as bright as a Galaxy from the spring. A true quad-cam setup can give the Note 20 Ultra a hard time in most conditions, but this one too is underpowered on the selfie video front. Perhaps the Mi’s biggest downside is the lack of an IP68 rating.
If you’re eyeing the Note 20 Ultra for its zoom power, maybe Huawei could interest you in a P40 Pro+ that can do 10x optically (sort of). That one has no Google services and no stereo speakers, yet is even pricier, though at this point does an extra €100 really count? It matches the Note 20 Ultra for selfie video capture, for a change, adding 3D face mapping in the process. Battery life is a toss up, the display is very good on the Huawei if not quite as good and the 990 Kirin is a bit behind the 990 Exynos. But 10x zoom, though. Okay, 8.5x, technically, but still 8.5>5.
With the bulk of smartphones at most price points, some careful examination is needed to establish if they are a good deal or if the competition offers better bang for your buck. It’s rarely so when it comes to Galaxy Notes thanks to the lineup’s practically exclusive feature set – yes, the S Pen is a big chunk of that, but it’s about the entire full-featured package. Taking that a level up to Ultra in 2020, the concept of value-oriented deal almost becomes irrelevant.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is not twice as good a smartphone as the Note10+ that you can find for half its price in some parts of the world. Dropping this much money on a phone in these… unusual times is irresponsible. This phone or that phone will give you 90% of the experience at 60% of the price – or randomly cooked-up numbers of the sort. The Note 20 Ultra itself isn’t perfect, not to mention it’s even less perfect in half of the world.
Perhaps all of that is true. But the Note 20 Ultra is the most complete Galaxy and very likely the most complete smartphone you can buy right now. If your latest bank statement signs off on it, so do we.
- The best display on the market.
- Surprisingly good battery life for the display/battery combo.
- S Pen is a joy to use, wireless DeX is a nice addition.
- Incredibly versatile and well-performing camera system.
- The camera bump could be unsightly depending on who you ask.
- Performance divide between versions, Exynos variant isn’t up to the same standard.
- Charging speed is not competitive.
- Either 120Hz or 1440p, why not both? Also Adaptive refresh rate mode has a questionable effectiveness.