There is a sense of déjà-vu surrounding the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The Samsung stylus smartphone will not become its flagship of 2020 – that honor is reserved for the next Galaxy Z Fold 2 – but with its combination of S Pen, large screen, large spec sheet and large price tag, the newest Note is a familiar formula. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” says the old saying, but I don’t know how well it applies in today’s cruel mobile world.
Note 20 Ultra Hardware and Design
The first revelation that this is the 2020 Note and not the old Note 10+ is that the volume and power buttons are on the opposite side. It’s not a small phone, but why would you expect it to be? The size delta between the Note and Samsung’s Galaxy S series has continued to narrow with each generation, and although I’m not sure that every S20 Ultra buyer prefers such a large device, if you’re looking for a Note 20 Ultra you you know what you’re getting into.
Unlike the $ 999.99 Note 20, with its controversial plastic rear, the Note 20 Ultra looks as premium as its $ 1,299.99 price could infer. Gorilla Glass Victus curved at the front; more Victus on the back with a matte finish to hide fingerprints; and a polished metal structure running between them. Samsung’s Mystic Bronze finish looks even more pink to my eyes. It is IP68 resistant to water and dust, because that is what is at stake at this level.
The size of the camera protrusion on the back still surprises me every time I take the Note 20 Ultra out of my pocket. Compared to the rather discreet bulge in last year’s Note 10, it is a major – and undesirable – change. Right next to the protrusion of the S20 Ultra, it looks vast, and the sharp metal edges that Samsung gave it do little to disguise it under your fingers.
It’s not just the aesthetic that bothers me. Try using the S Pen with the Note 20 Ultra lying on your desk and there is a good chance that it will sway, unbalanced on its asymmetrical back.
The S Pen is now in a silo on the left side of the bottom edge of the phone, next to a speaker and the USB-C port. No headphone jack and no USB-C headphones in the box; I don’t think either is a business break at this point in the game. However, Samsung offers a 25 W USB fast charger, which I find much more useful.
While the Note 20 gets a flat panel, the 6.9-inch Super AMOLED on the Note 20 Ultra curves on the left and right sides. It looks great, as futuristic as we expect from OLED, and the WQHD + resolution (3088 x 1440) is very sharp to match saturated colors and excellent contrast. Of course, too: 680 nits normally or more than 1,600 in high brightness, which means I could use it even in direct sunlight.
120 Hz update is supported, albeit with some caveats. Typically, the Note 20 Ultra runs at 60 Hz and, in fact, you can lock it in if you prefer; Adaptive mode allows you to automatically adjust the refresh rate, depending on what is currently on the screen. However, you can only activate it if it is in Full HD + resolution (2316 x 1080).
In my eyes, the smooth benefits of having Adaptive Mode on are worth the barely noticeable impact of not having the screen set to its maximum resolution. 120 Hz is one of those things that, after living with it, you really don’t want to give up. The main drawback is usually the impact on battery life, although Samsung says that the rate change should compensate for this at least in part. In fact, it may even drop to 10 Hz if circumstances permit.
The curved edges of the screen look great, but can be a nuisance in everyday use. There is definitely a tendency to ghosting touches, depending on how you hold the Note 20 Ultra.
Integrated with the screen is Samsung’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor. It is fair to say that people were not entirely impressed with the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s sensor, but things have improved a bit on the new Note. Most of the time it works well, even if you tap your finger on the edge of the sensor area. The annoying exception is when you are holding the phone against your little finger, reaching out to unlock with your thumb. This can cause you to touch the sensor with the tip of your thumb, not enough to be recognized.
Note 20 Ultra S Pen and DeX
What makes a note a note is the S Pen, of course. Physically identical to last year’s pen, the Note 20 Ultra’s S pen still supports 4,096 pressure levels, is rated at IP68, has a 0.7 mm tip and charges the battery of your Bluetooth radio while docked in its silo.
For 2020, Samsung has cut ink latency, and it is a subtle but welcome improvement. Sliding, sketching and writing by hand seem a little more real. There are also new aerial actions, which allow you to control the Note 20 Ultra with S Pen gestures as if you were waving a magic wand.
As before, you can swipe back and forth across web pages and presentations, trigger the camera shutter and control multimedia playback. Now, however, there are five more gestures for things like switching apps, going home and triggering Smart Select. I’m sure some users will find them beneficial, but I found it difficult, first, to remember what gesture did what and then to execute it in a way that the Note 20 Ultra would really recognize.
More useful are note-taking enhancements. Handwritten text can now be corrected automatically in your notes, useful if, like me, you have terrible handwriting. You can import PDFs and annotate them, great for signing documents. The audio markers allow you to go through the audio recordings by touching the notes made at each moment; it’s a great way to browse the records of a long meeting, although I want automatic transcription to be included as well.
At the end of the year, notes will be synchronized with OneNote and Outlook. If you are a Windows user, the Windows Support Link also confuses the line between your phone and your computer. You can interact with Note 20 Ultra applications on your laptop, for example, and even pin them to the Start menu.
Samsung, however, aims to give you less reason to take the laptop with you in the first place. DeX gets a wireless upgrade, eliminating the need for dongles, adapters or cables, as long as you have a Miracast-compatible TV. If it doesn’t, you can still use a USB-C to HDMI adapter.
Resolution up to QHD 2560 x 1440 is now supported and you can use different apps on TV and phone simultaneously. Or, you can use Note 20 Ultra as a touchpad, including new three-finger swipes to switch applications and access Recents or the home screen. Up to five applications can be used on the TV at the same time.
For maximum usability you’ll probably want a keyboard, which can be connected via USB-C or Bluetooth. However even just using DeX Wireless to project Netflix or other streaming video to the TV, while using the phone for something else, is a neat trick.
Note 20 Ultra Camera
Samsung offers the Note 20 Ultra a trio of cameras: a 12 megapixel ultra wide angle, a 108 megapixel primary camera and a 12 megapixel 5x telephoto camera. With software tricks, there is a 50x hybrid zoom; half of that boasted the Galaxy S20 Ultra. A laser autofocus system is on the side, helping to justify the camera’s huge lump.
First, the Note 20 Ultra is capable of some great photos. By default, it captures 12 megapixel images, using pixel binning to combine data from pixel clusters; you can manually switch to full resolution, 108 megapixel mode, if you prefer. Colors are accurate, if slightly saturated in HDR mode, there is a large dynamic range and the f / 1.8 lens is able to blur the pleasantly dreamy background, even without resorting to Portrait mode. You can see with an icon in the upper right corner what the scene analysis has decided what the subject is, and sometimes the phone will recommend a shooting mode or settings adjustments, like switching to 2x zoom and back.
The laser autofocus is meant to address the primary criticism of the S20 Ultra’s camera, its sluggish autofocus. There, the Note 20 Ultra is definitely improved, though it’s still not perfect. At times, particularly with moving subjects, there was a noticeable delay between my tapping the capture button and the phone actually taking the picture. It didn’t happen every time, but often enough to be frustrating.
As for the extended zooms, as we saw on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, anything beyond 20x is of questionable usefulness. Photos taken at 50x, for example, tend to look like oil paintings. Not ugly, in their own way, but you have to want something that looks like it’s gone through a Prisma filter.
Better to stick with smaller magnifications, then: when you touch the buttons on the screen, a more granular variety of zoom options appears, or you can swipe up and down to move in and out manually. It would be nice to be able to change the default magnification level for the persistent telephoto button, as I found that I used 2x or 4x more than the preset 5x. Even though it is still within the optical zoom limit, sometimes the Note 20 Ultra apparently defaults to a 5x crop of the primary sensor, and it tends not to look so good.
At the other extreme, the ultra wide camera definitely has its uses. The image is a bit distorted thanks to the 120 degree lens, unsurprisingly, but what I noticed most was the f / 2.2 aperture. You get a noticeable change in depth of field by moving between the wide and ultra wide sensors. Overall, in addition to the few hiccups, this is a fantastic photo for photography.
The selfie camera, in turn, reaches a speed of 10 megapixels with a field of view of 80 degrees. You can switch between a closer or wider cut, depending on how much of the scene you want to include. Samsung’s face softening and distortion filters are available to mask the damage of the pandemic, but there’s usually nothing here that we haven’t seen before.
On the video side, the Note 20 Ultra can record up to 8K 24fps video or up to 4K 60fps. If you want to track the autofocus, however, you’ll need to settle for 4K at maximum 30fps; Samsung’s video effects stop working above 1080p 30 fps.
8K video makes good headlines, although for the most part I suspect that lower resolutions with higher frame rates may be more useful. Either way, Samsung’s images look great and its digital and optical stabilization work together to try to prevent tremors. Unfortunately, this sometimes sacrifices some image quality in the process.
There is an optional HDR10 + capture mode – which only works with 4K 30fps or 1080p 30fps maximum – and zoom microphone, the latter promising to combine the microphone’s focus with zoom out. It won’t replace a suitable microphone, of course, but it works surprisingly well to minimize ambient sound.
The other addition with the Note 20 Ultra is the Pro Video mode. This adds manual control over things like focus (complete with peak focus), exposure, white balance and ISO; you can also switch the microphone between omni, front or rear polarized, or use a USB or Bluetooth microphone. They are controls that there is a lot of desire for more exposed phones and, while Samsung hides Pro Video mode in the “More” menu by default, you can drag it out and pin it to the main shortcuts.
Note 20 Ultra Performance and Battery
A powerful phone gets powerful specs, so it’s not surprising to see that Samsung released the latest and greatest in the Note 20 Ultra. In the US, this means that Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+ comes with 12 GB of LPDDR5 memory and 128 GB or 512 GB of storage; there is a microSD slot to expand this with cards up to 1 TB.
The result is Android 10 that flies around the world without any worries. You can try to slow down the Note 20 Ultra, but even system-intensive tasks can’t get in the way. Then again, this is what you should probably expect from a phone that costs more than a few laptops. It also bodes well for the future, as does Samsung’s promise to provide at least three updates of the Android operating system to the phone (although with no commitment on how long it will take for these updates to actually arrive).
5G is included, with SA / NSA, Sub-6 and mmWave support. Of course, you need to be on the 5G service to benefit from it; luckily, there’s LTE Cat.20 (4 × 4 MIMO) fast for when you’re out of one of those areas. WiFi 6 (802.11ax) and Bluetooth 5.0 are also standard, and there is Ultra Wide Band for short-range directional wireless as well.
Eventually, when more UWB devices are on the loose, it will mean being able to transfer more intuitively using Android Nearby Share – since the Note 20 Ultra will know which recipient you are aiming for – as well as a better perception of the tracking tiles location and similar. For now, there is not much use for that.
The 4,500 mAh battery supports fast wired and wireless charging and, even with 120 Hz mode enabled, it can help me during the day. Obviously, it depends a lot on how you’re actually using the phone: if you’re a big mobile player, it will probably run out of things faster, just like recording a lot of 8K videos or using DeX wireless to its full extent. I can’t help thinking that Samsung may regret not making the Note 20 Ultra a little thicker and adding a 5,000 mAh battery, given the type of demand that its audience of advanced users has. After all, if size really is an issue, they can always opt for the Note 20.
If you can spare the juice, there’s Wireless PowerShare support which turns the Note 20 Ultra into an ad-hoc Qi charging pad. It can be handy if you need to charge up an accessory.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Verdict
In recent years, there has been a feeling that the Note line has reached its peak; that, in addition to adjustments to put on the latest processor and a few more megapixels, there is not much more that Samsung can stretch. Somehow, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra manages to prove and disprove this idea.
On the one hand, there are clear usability improvements. A S Pen with smoother ink; convenient DeX Wireless; that silky screen with a capacity of 120 Hz; and more capable cameras. At the same time, however, nothing seems revolutionary. This is the Note we know and love, massaged with the newest chipset and camera technology borrowed from Galaxy S phones released a few months earlier, and running new software, many of which I suspect Note 10 owners will take advantage of in due course. time .
I can’t help feeling that the next big step is an S Pen-enabled foldable, perhaps a Galaxy Note Fold. For now, the S20 Ultra does most of what the Note 20 Ultra offers, only with the benefit of huge post-launch discounts. If you are among those who simply must have the pen, then there is little to compete with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and there is no denying that this is the best Note yet: just b