Similarly to the S20 family from the spring, the Ultra comes with exclusive all-out hardware not available on the vanilla model. In a somewhat bizarre turn of events that includes the 120Hz 1440p+ display, while the Note 20 has a plain 60Hz 1080p panel. Earlier this year even the smaller S20 had the high refresh rate and the extra pixels.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra retains exclusivity on some of the camera bits too. The periscope telephoto, is something you won’t be able to get on the Note 20, though it’s a different module than the one on the S20 Ultra. For zooming in, the Note 20 has the same 64MP non-telephoto telephoto that stirred some controversy on the S20 and S20+ for the way it was marketed.
The 108MP Nonacell primary cam is also an Ultra-only feature and this appears to have been carried over from the S20 Ultra. Same thing with the smaller Note’s 12MP main shooter that you can find on the S20 and S20+.
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G specs
- Body: 164.8×77.2×8.1mm, 208g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass Victus), glass back (Gorilla Glass Victus), stainless steel frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 1.5m for 30 mins); Colors: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White.
- Display: 6.90″ Dynamic AMOLED, 1440x3088px resolution, 19.3:9 aspect ratio, 496ppi; HDR10+, Always-on display, 120Hz@FHD/60Hz@QHD refresh rate.
- Chipset: Exynos 990 (7 nm+) – Global, Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865+ (7 nm+) – USA: Octa-core (2×2.73 GHz Mongoose M5 & 2×2.50 GHz Cortex-A76 & 4×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55) – Global, Octa-core (1×3.00 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585) – USA; Mali-G77 MP11 – Global, Adreno 650 – USA.
- Memory: 128GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 12GB RAM; UFS 3.1; microSDXC (uses shared SIM slot).
- OS/Software: Android 10, One UI 2.1.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 108 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.33″, 0.8µm, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS; Telephoto: 12 MP, f/3.0, 120mm periscope, 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 5x optical zoom, 50x hybrid zoom; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/2.2, 13mm, 1/2.55″, 1.4µm; LED flash, auto-HDR, panorama.
- Front camera: 10 MP, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 1/3.2″, 1.22µm, Dual Pixel PDAF; Dual video call, Auto-HDR.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 8K@24fps, 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+, stereo sound rec., gyro-EIS & OIS; Front camera: 4K@30/60fps, 1080p@30fps.
- Battery: 4500mAh; Fast charging 25W, USB Power Delivery 3.0, Fast Qi/PMA wireless charging, Reverse wireless charging 9W.
- Misc: Fingerprint (under display, ultrasonic), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer; NFC; FM radio (Snapdragon model only; market/operator dependent); Samsung Wireless DeX (desktop experience support), ANT+, Bixby natural language commands and dictation; Samsung Pay (Visa, MasterCard certified); S Pen Stylus, 9ms latency (Bluetooth integration, accelerometer, gyro).
The Ultra is protected by the brand new Gorilla Glass Victus front and back and both phones get a stainless steel frame – that’s a first on a Samsung smartphone. Oddly enough, the Note 20 comes with a plastic back – that one we hadn’t seen in a while on a high-end Samsung handset.
Both Notes get the S Pen too, at least this much is still guaranteed. It’s been moved to the left of the phone now, a major change from all previous generations. It comes with added gestures and it’s got improved latency for an even more pen-on-paper-like feel – on the Ultra, that is, the vanilla model doesn’t get that either.
Galaxy Note20 Ultra hands-on
The Note20 Ultra and Note 20 sit atop the Galaxy lineup and as such offer premium build quality and design. Having said that, even here the Ultra has an edge on the vanilla model.
Both phones get a stainless steel frame, a new development for Samsung high-end phones after sticking with aluminum for their skeleton needs until now. Apple has had steel on iPhones since the X, now Samsung joins in too.
Where the two differ is in the material of both front and back. The Note20 Ultra is where Gorilla Glass Victus debuts and Corning’s latest should be safer than GG6 in the event of impact while also offering improved scratch resistance. It’s two sheets of Victus on the Ultra – both front and back, while the camera is protected by Gorilla Glass 5.
Gorilla Glass 5 is what your Note 20‘s display is covered by, but that’s not what’s raising eyebrows quite as much as the choice of material for the back – the Note 20‘s rear panel is plastic. Reinforced polycarbonate, as Samsung calls it, and while we’re not entirely opposed to plastic-backed phones, it does sound out of place on a $1000 phone.
Victus or polycarbonate, both phones have this satin matte finish so they ward off fingerprints nicely. We welcome that decision, glossy Galaxies are practically impossible to keep clean. Thankfully, the IP68 rating for dust and water protection is a common feature too as plastic is able to keep the elements out just as well as glass.
At launch, the handsets will be available in three colors each, the Mystic Bronze hero colorway shared between them. The Note 20 also gets Gray and Green, while the Ultra will be available in Black and White – all of them Mystic, as the official naming will have it. Mind you, color options will vary by region with most markets getting two of the three available at launch.
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra
The camera assembly of the Note20 Ultra is quite the chunky one, though having seen the S20 Ultra, we knew it was coming. It feels like this one sticks out even more and that would make sense – after all, the Note20 Ultra is a good 0.7mm thinner than the S20 Ultra at 8.1mm vs. 8.8mm so the camera island gets more prominence. If anything, it’ll be even easier to support the handset by propping your index finger against the camera bump’s edge than it was on the S20U, thus saving your pinky some heavy lifting.
The Note 20 proper has a sizeable camera cluster too, but it’s simply not of the same scale. Both phones wobble on a flat surface, for what that’s worth.
Looking at the front, Galaxy Note20 Ultra follows in the footsteps of the Note10 Plus from last year – a large rectangular slab of a phone with sharp corners and a very technical, no-nonsense look. It’s, in fact, precisely as wide as the Note10 Plus, though a couple of millimeters taller. The S20 Ultra, in contrast, is two further millimeters taller, but a millimeter narrower – so the Note20 Ultra is more squarish.
The Ultra’s display is curved to the sides – ever so slightly, and only at the absolute edges, but it’s curved nonetheless. It’s got almost nonexistent bezels too and the tiniest of punch holes and that’s certainly the closest Samsung has come to a ‘full-screen display’. It will probably pose issues for handling, if you’re one to need extra space to rest your fingers and/or hate curved screens. That’ll be a task for the review to examine, but even in a quick hands-on session it’s clear that for sheer ‘wow’ factor the Note20 Ultra’s display is only bested by foldables.
The Note20 non-Ultra, meanwhile, has more ordinary appeal, to put it this way. Its display is flat, so there’s that, and it’s got a somewhat thicker black border all around. The punch hole in the display is also that extra bit bigger. It’s not bad-looking by any stretch, but it’s no Ultra.
We were particularly vocal last year when the Note10 and Note10 Plus arrived with the power button on the left side, as opposed to the right where it had always been. It was a one-off type of thing, never to be seen on other Galaxies since.
Starting with late 2019 models and continuing into 2020, the volume rocker got relocated to the right, joining the power button on those non-Note10 models – a decision much easier to live with. All of this is to serve as context for us to say that the Note20s have the power button on the right, where it should be, and we’re happy. Of course, our outrage last year was a bit overdramatic as you get used to where a button is in no time, but it’s nice that you won’t need to this time around.
But hear this – the S Pen slot on the Note 20 generation is on the left side of the phone when looking at the display – it’s either that or the Power button it seems.
The S Pen has always been on the right, and it’s a natural position for pulling the stylus out with the right hand, which you’ll then use for writing or drawing, or camera remote, or Air actions (unlikely as that last bit may be). On the other hand, if you’re left-handed, it may very well be the best Galaxy Note to date.
In all fairness, however, we didn’t experience any notable difficulties getting at the S Pen on the Note20 Ultra with either hand. We had a minor argument at the office whether the left-side button placement on the Note10 was related to the S Pen’s position inside the phone and if the internal design was unable to accommodate both on the same side. By the looks of it, that must have been the case.
Ambidextrous Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra
The S Pen itself is virtually identical to the one we got last year. It’s got the clicky top, the button on the side, and the capacitor, gyro, and accelerometer within to enable the remote actions. The stylus also matches the paintjob of the phone it comes out of, though we did enjoy the contrast of the blue S Pen on the Aura Glow Note10s – or as we call that one ‘motor oil in a puddle’ for its rainbow light effects.
Circling back to the Ultra vs. non-Ultra differences, only the ultimate S Pen-wielding Galaxy supports storage expansion via microSD, while the vanilla Note 20 has to make do with what it has from the box. It’s one of the easier downgrades to swallow given that it was the case with the smaller Note10 last year too – so in way, it was expected. Then there’s the matter that the Note 20 comes with decent 128GB storage in its base 5G version and you can bump that to 256GB, while the LTE variant is 256GB only. Still, if all three S20s could have expandable storage, maybe both Note20s could?
One difference on last year’s models that was also seen on the S20 family but is now gone is fast charging support. The Note10+ and the S20 Ultra could be charged faster with optional 45W bricks, while the plainer models only went as high as 25W. Well, the Note20 Ultra and the Note 20 both only go as high as 25 watts. It’s hardly a big deal since the 45W adapter had to be purchased separately and it didn’t bring the kind of speed advantage the numbers would suggest.
The charging situation may be a welcome bit of parity between the Note20s.
Display and S Pen
Displays have always been among the key selling points of Samsung phones – after all, it is a leading manufacturer of OLED panels in these sizes. The Galaxy Note20 pair is no different in this respect. Well, sort of.
Both panels boast a crazy high peak brightness of 1,500nits, a 25% increase over the S20s from just six months ago. That’s useful for displaying HDR10+ content, which they support, but will also be helpful for outdoor visibility – not that the previous ones weren’t great at that, it’s just that the Note20s will be better.
Of course, don’t expect to light up the entire screen with pure white and get all those nits – OLEDs scale brightness depending on the number of pixels being lit. We’ll certainly be doing our own testing, when we get a review unit in our office.
And that’s where the common traits of the two Notes’ displays end. You see, it’s only the Ultra that supports the 120Hz rate, and it’s only the Ultra that has a QHD resolution. Meanwhile, the vanilla Note 20‘s specsheet reads 60Hz and FullHD, and that’s… disappointing.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch display has a 1440x3088px resolution with 496ppi density in the somewhat unorthodox 19.3:9 aspect ratio. It’s branded as Dynamic AMOLED 2X, Samsung’s marketing speak for high refresh rate and the Note20 Ultra does go all the way up to 120Hz, complete with 240Hz touch sampling.
The HRR is done differently this time around than it was on the S20s, where you could pick between 60Hz and 120Hz and the phone would stay locked at those refresh rates regardless of what you’re doing on it.
Here, you get two options – Standard (60Hz) and Adaptive, and that Adaptive mode is what’s having us all excited. The Note20 Ultra will be able to dynamically adjust the refresh rate based on the activity you’re in and the content being displayed, thus striking an optimal balance between smoothness and battery life. We’ll be sure to examine it in more detail come review time.
What’s abundantly clear already, however, is that you still don’t get to the run the Note20 Ultra in its full resolution at its maximum refresh rate. Adaptive mode only works in 1080p, 1440p only works in 60Hz.
In more uplifting developments, the Note20 Ultra adopting a 120Hz screen enhances the S Pen experience. Samsung says it’s improved the latency with which the phone recognizes and displays your S Pen input and it’s now down to 9ms from the old Note’s 42ms, making for an even more paper-like feel.
The Note 20 doesn’t match that number, however – its latency stands at 26ms. It’s still an improvement over the outgoing model, but in what we feel is becoming a theme, it’s no Ultra. Samsung talked about ‘AI-based point prediction’ which aims to anticipate the trajectory in which you’ll be moving the S Pen, and that could be more at play here.
Both phones do get more Air actions, an S Pen functionality introduced with the ‘active’ stylus on the Note9. These are called Anywhere actions and work across the UI as opposed to the limited availability in the ones we had until now. Five new actions are introduced, and you’ll able to launch Smart Select and Screen write with two of them, while the other three serve for basic navigation – Back, Home, and Recent tasks. We’re not entirely sure someone would really use those, and in the limited time we had with the phones, we couldn’t get them to work reliably. Maybe we’ll give them another chance in the in-depth review. Solid maybe.
On a related topic to the S Pen, Samsung Notes has gotten an overhaul for this Note generation. It comes with improved handwriting recognition, straightening of already written text, new background colors and templates, PDF imports, audio-synced annotations, PowerPoint integration and syncing between different devices and platforms. If you do actually use your Note for keeping handwritten notes, this could offer a nice boost to your workflow.
The Note 20 pair comes with Android 10 and OneUI 2.5 out of the box. That’s a newer version of Samsung’s Android overlay than we’ve seen on previous Galaxies, and while there’s little immediately recognizable as new, we’re certain there will be small bits we notice when we delve deeper. Perhaps more importantly, the Notes are promised to get three major OS updates – so expect to see Android 13 on the Note 20 in 2022.
The Galaxy Note 20 and Note20 Ultra have finally arrived after much anticipation and the usual months-long stream of leaks. The S Pen flagships don’t bring massive surprises and will remain high on shortlists for Samsung fans, there’s no doubt about that.
What’s taking us longer to wrap our heads around is the significant segmentation between the Ultra and the non-Ultra – it wasn’t quite so prominent last year with the Note10 and Note10 Plus, and even the S20s from the spring had less of a gap in features. Is it Samsung trying to nudge you into buying the more expensive Ultra or is a way of getting the S Pen into more hands by offering two products that differ in more than just size?
We’ll try to answer this and many other questions once we get to properly review the two phones. For the time being, we can say that pre-orders will be made in this office, though seemingly not quite as many as last year.