I remember initially seeing the original Galaxy Note at IFA in Berlin, I loved its huge screen but did wonder how it would be perceived. Several years later “Phablets” are now the latest trend with several companies opting for screens over 6 inches. For this review, I will be looking at the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The top of the range and the best Samsung has to offer (well at least until the Galaxy Z Fold 2 launches)
Design and Specifications
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a stunning 6.9 inch Quad HD+ Dynamic Amoled display, without a doubt this is the best display on the market with vivid colours and superb brightness even on the sunniest of days. Samsung has also included a 120hz refresh rate on the panel (Yes, I’m looking at you Apple) which makes Twitter and Facebook scrolling a delight. Unfortunately, one caveat to this is you cannot run the screen at Quad HD resolution and use the 120hz refresh rate. However, Full HD still looks fantastic and the trade-off is worth it. Samsung has also included adaptive refresh, this means the phone will actively change the refresh based on what you are doing on the Note, this should aid battery life. The display is more curved than the S20 Ultra, however, the design is boxier in traditional Note fashion. I do wish the display was flatter, but the curved display still looks stunning.
Samsung has opted for a 4500mah battery in the Note 20 Ultra, this is lower than the 5000mah that was in the S20 Ultra, however, I will cover more on the battery in the performance section. The Note 20 Ultra takes off where the S20 Ultra left off in the camera department with notable improvements. The Note features a triple camera setup which includes a 12MP Ultra Wide camera, 108MP Wide-angle Camera and a 12MP Telephoto Camera. The S20 Ultra was plagued with autofocus issues, this has now been rectified by the inclusion of a Laser Autofocus on the Note 20 Ultra. The camera bump is on the larger side and may cause the device to rock when on a table, therefore a case is recommended. Samsung still opted for a 10MP selfie camera on the front. Take a look at our below camera section for a look at the Note 20 Ultra in action.
Of course, The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes with its trademark S-Pen, however, this has now moved to the left of the device (This only took a few days to adjust). Samsung has improved the S-Pen as the latency is now only 9ms. This puts it equal with the Apple Pencil and writing on the Note as never felt so good. Unfortunately, I did not get any spare tips in the box this year.
Performance on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is quite a heated debate. This is due to Samsung using different configurations depending on which region you purchase the device. In the UK we get the Exynos 990 chip which is the same as the S20 series, US, China and Korea get the latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+. As I previously wrote here, I cannot help but feel we get a poor deal in Europe. Samsung has optimised the chip further in the Note 20 Ultra, however, the 990 was already beaten by the Snapdragon 865 so the new + version is even further ahead. You may be able to import the Snapdragon version but then you risk not having a warranty in your country or not being able to access 5G or Wifi Calling. Even more confusing is that in the UK we get 12GB Ram and 256GB storage in the Exynos variant, however, India has a version with only 8GB ram. The base Snapdragon version comes with only 128GB internal. This is where Samsung could really take a leaf out of Apple’s book and release equivalent models worldwide. There are strong rumours that the S21 series will be all Exynos, however, these will be made alongside AMD and are expected to be a success. It would be nice for Samsung to finally give all users the performance they are paying for.
So, How does the phone perform? I won’t bore you with benchmark scores as these are readily available on other platforms, however, I can confirm that the phone has so far been flying for me. I have not experienced any slowdowns at all and everything is buttery smooth. In the quick gaming sessions, I have had no issue running Call Of Duty or Fortnite at a solid FPS. The Note did get a little warm, however, this was nothing out of the ordinary. The difference here would be on the Snapdragon model you may be able to squeeze out a higher FPS. Multitasking as also been a breeze, this is thanks to the 12GB ram in the Note.
Coming from the iPhone 11 Pro Max, I can confirm that the Note is nowhere near in the battery performance. So far, I am achieving around 4 and half hours of screen-on time on the Note with the Exynos processor. I have now introduced little charging sessions into my routine to make sure I make it through the day. The included charger is only 25W, however, it still charges very quickly compared to the iPhone. Samsung has removed the 45W option that was available in the Note 10+, this is probably due to the very small benefit it provided.
The speaker quality is solid thanks to Dolby Atmos, and audio with the Galaxy Buds Live is superb. The Note has the usual IP68 resistance rating meaning you can watch your favourite videos in the shower or write your notes in the rain. Call quality is also solid with the phone regularly showing 5G and full signal strength using the 5G EE network in Birmingham. Wifi performance is great on my home Google Nest Wifi, the Note also includes Ultra Band Wifi technology which also helps power the nearby share feature, however, I have not had the chance to test this yet.
Camera & Photography
As mentioned above, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra takes everything that was good about the S20 Ultra and improves on it. The 50x zoom is genuinely useful and the camera takes excellent vibrant shots. Samsung’s Super Steady mode is available again for video and this almost eradicates the need for a tripod.
I recently took a trip into Birmingham City Centre and compared the Note 20 Ultra with the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Which photos do you prefer?
The Note 20 Ultra comes with Samsung’s latest OneUI 2.5. This is based on Android 10 with Samsung’s extra features baked in. One of the best features for me personally is the support for gesture navigation on third party launchers, I have always used Nova Launcher on Android and it is great to be able to use this along with Samsung’s Gestures.
Another useful feature is Dex Wireless, when Samsung first introduced Dex, you were required to purchase a special dock to be able to use it. The fact that you can now use it wirelessly on supported TV’s shows how far technology has advanced. Dex can be ideal for viewing the internet whilst travelling if the hotel has a compatible TV, presenting in a meeting or even for mobile gaming on the big screen.
Samsung’s OneUI has improved greatly from its Touchwiz roots, however the Note still comes with a lot of software bundled in. Microsoft apps and Samsung’s own apps come pre installed which often results in having two applications for the same task. However, this doesn’t seem to hinder performance and the software is still buttery smooth.
The Galaxy Note always has special features based around its S-Pen and this year is no different. When you remove the SPen you are greeted with a pop up menu, this gives you quick access to various shortcuts such as taking a note, screen writing or creating a live message (GIF). The SPen is not only useful for writing, it can also double up as a bluetooth remote for taking pictures or controlling media. This means you can set the Note up in position, then move back and take a photo without the need for pressing the screen. This is done by simply clicking the SPen button when the camera is open.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a fantastic phone and probably the best phone money can currently buy. I wish that the UK also received a Snapdragon processor, however, the performance has still been great. With the Note, you are getting a jaw-dropping display and great multitasking. I do feel that the battery in the Note 20 Ultra could have been bigger, the Note is meant to be the go-to phone for power users, however true power users may need to charge during the day to be able to reach late evening. I shall be continuing with the Note 20 Ultra as my daily driver, finally replacing the 11 Pro Max. However, I am eagerly awaiting the launch of the Galaxy Z Fold 2 as this will include many improvements over its predecessor and also include the Snapdragon 865+. Eventually, I foresee the Note series and the Fold merging once the components for folding devices are more mass-produced. The Fold is crying out for the Note’s SPen capabilities…
- Stunning class leading display.
- Solid performance due to further Exynos optimisation.
- Camera capable of some fantastic shots, along with 50X zoom.
- SPen integration.
- Useful software features such as Dex Wireless.
- Exynos chip is still inferior to the Snapdragon variants.
- Battery life could be better.