Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review: Still the Most Unique Android Phone Out There
It keeps getting better, even though it does not need to
The Galaxy Note series is hands down the most unique Android phone in the world. Yes, even more unique than the much-hyped foldables. And that is because it is the one Android phone that not only comes with a stylus (we know a few others do) but which has successfully managed to make the stylus and a great display a core part of its identity (more about the S Pen and its impact here).
For almost a decade now, the Galaxy has been simply the most outstanding Android phone out there. Because there is nothing quite like it. It actually is the one Android phone that many people keep using for years because of its basic features – the stylus and the display simply keep working. We know folks who are still using a Note 6!
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Big phone, big display, big specs
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G sticks to the basics that has made the Note range special. The display is a huge 6.9 inch Dynamic AMOLED one, that curves out towards the sides, but it is the back that is going to grab attention. We got the Mystic Bronze edition and well, it definitely makes the phone stand out and gives it a very unique look. Mind you, it does not change the fact that the Note 20 Ultra is one of the biggest phones we have used and the triple camera unit on the back is still rectangular (a staple across almost all Samsung devices) and really – REALLY – juts out a mile.
There is the latest Gorilla Glass (Victus) front and back and IP68 water and dust resistance. The back and front curve to meet on the sides, making the phone very comfortable to hold in terms of feel and texture. The back in fact almost feels like metal and surprisingly, does not pick up as many stains and smudges as some other glass backs we have seen. All said and done, the Note 20 Ultra is not the slimmest or lightest phone we have seen but it does look incredibly classy. And that new shade helps – it gives the phone a silk-like look which is not bling-y. We have seen some very good designs from OnePlus and Motorola this year, but the Note 20 Ultra manages to make a space for itself in the midst of them all.
Mind you, there’s no denying that this is a massive phone. Bigger than even the outsized (we think) iPhone 11 Pro Max. But when you carry it or place it on a table, heads will turn. Just make sure you keep the camera unit clean though – the phone literally rests on it.
A display and hardware that rock
A brilliant display has been the hallmark of the Galaxy Note series and the Note 20 Ultra delivers perhaps one of the most spectacular mobile displays out there. It is typically colorful in the best Samsung tradition (you can move it to a more natural appearance if you wish, but we would advise going with the default). The Note 20 Ultra a run at quad HD+ (3088 x 1440) resolution, but is set by default to full HD+ (2316 x 1080) because that is the resolution at which 120 Hz refresh rate is supported.
You can either opt for an adaptive screen refresh rate, where the display automatically increases the refresh to 120 Hz depending on the app or function or if you are in battery saving mode, you can stick to a standard 60 Hz refresh rate. There is even an HD+ resolution option but honestly, we do not think that is needed on a display this big unless you are really short of battery. Does that extra refresh rate make a difference? It is definitely noticeable sometimes, especially in scrolling and some high definition games but truth be told, we remain unconvinced about it being a necessity – the experience on quad HD at 60 Hz was superb too.
The display is slightly curved which is not something we like (seeing a picture taper over the sides is not really our cup of tea) but in terms of quality, it is magnificent, with a peak brightness of 1500 nits that makes it very readable even in bright sunshine. Games and TV shows look outstanding and just for that, we are ready to put up with the large size of the device. Sound quality over the stereo speakers is very good again and in the league of the iPhone 11 Pro and the Xiaomi Mi 10.
Which of course makes this a great place to discuss gaming. The much-maligned Exynos 990 processor allied with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage expandable to 2 TB if you can give up one of the two SIM card slots in the tray) proved to be a very good performer in this regard. We played PUBG, Call of Duty, and the Asphalt series and we got no lags at all. The combination of great sound and sight makes this perhaps the best Android phone for multimedia. We had no problems running multiple tasks or keeping dozens of Chrome tabs open either!
And with DeX going wireless, you can now actually connect your Note to a smart television wirelessly (over WiFi), and either totally get into a big-screen experience, or even run different apps on the TV and on the phone. No, we did not actually do this because we never really needed the functionality at home, but we can see people using their phones to stream presentations in board rooms using the functionality… once we get back to using board rooms, that is. But in the meantime, that massive display on the phone itself suffices. Because you have even more space to use that other specialty of the Note series – the S Pen.
S for Super Pen!
The S Pen was always formidable but now has gone even a level further. Yes, you can still use it as a remote (it connects over Bluetooth). Yes, the note making is on another level, with Samsung claiming the 120 Hz refresh rate making it even smoother, although we never had any problems regarding smoothness as far as S Pens and Note devices went. The new S Pen does seem a little smoother and more sensitive. But it is what it does that makes it special. And it still does so much. Handwriting recognition – converting scribbles to printed text – remains the best on any mobile device. And with Samsung Notes Sync, you can even synchronize notes between your phone and your notebook (where they sync with One Note), which is a neat touch. You can also sketch and draw to your heart’s content and share it on Samsung’s Pen Up community. You can make notes, translate them, add sketches, make AR doodles on camera to add a sketchy, loony effect to your images, and a whole lot more.
In short, there is a truckload you can do with the S Pen enough to merit an article of its own (we are writing one) but suffice to say that if you are the type that likes to scribble, annotate and make notes, this is easily the best stylus you could get. And, of course, as it stays lodged inside the Note itself, it stays charged and battery life is never an issue. If your Note has enough charge, it is impossible that your S Pen will not be charged as well. And we cannot state how important that is. We still feel that the S Pen is not designed for heavy-duty note taking – it just seems too small and we were wary of hitting the button on it accidentally a few times, and yes, we do not know how many of its features we actually WILL use regularly, but all said and done, this is the best stylus you can use on any phone out there. Period.
Very very good cameras
It did not initially start out as one, but the past few years have seen the Note become a bit of camera star. And the Note 20 Ultra comes packed with the hardware to deliver some very good photography. There is a massive 108-megapixel main sensor with OIS backed up what we think is the ideal multi-camera arrangement – a 12-megapixel ultrawide camera, and another 12-megapixel camera for telephoto, with 5X optical zoom and 50X digital zoom. There is a laser autofocus sensor too, although that does not take pictures. The front has a 10-megapixel camera for selfies. The camera interface is as multi-featured (and as overwhelming) as the S-Pen so we reckon you will be figuring out new stuff to do with them even after this is written (we WILL write about it, fear not!).
In simple terms, however, Note 20 Ultra’s cameras turn in a very good performance. Are they better than the S20 Ultra? Honestly, we do not think so. We felt that the S20 Ultra just had a huge advantage with the 48-megapixel telephoto, but the Note 20 Ultra does not have the autofocus issues that the S20 Ultra initially had. And in what we think is a welcome move, Samsung has stepped away from the bright oversaturated snaps we used to get from its flagships in the past. The Note 20 Ultra does deliver snaps with more punchy colors than usual but is closer to reality than any of its predecessors. And thanks to that 108-megapixel main sensor, we get a wealth of detail. The telephoto’s 50X claim is a slightly shaky one – we have seen other cameras do better – but the 5X optical zoom is a massive plus, and even up till 20x zoom, you do get good shots with decent detail. Macros are a little mixed though, as we sometimes felt that a bit of focus was being lost. Low light performance too is very good and is in fact among the best one on smartphones with colors being very well represented.[Click here for full resolution images plus additional samples]
There are modes galore so you can mix and match to your heart’s content. On the video side, we found the Note 20 Ultra taking very good video, although the video was a bit on the lower side. There is support for 8K video if you have a display that can show it. More a spec thing. But combine all this with very good selfies and a flexible if the slightly intimidating interface and the Note 20 Ultra does enough to be right up there with the best cameraphones in the business.
Does everything else well
Great display. Great stylus. Great cameras. Those are perhaps the three real highlights of the Note 20 Ultra. But it does everything else rather superbly too. The OneUI interface is getting a little cluttered now, especially with app recommendations during the setup, but by and large works smoothly. Samsung has also added options like Bixby, its virtual assistant, and the Samsung Pay system, which is slowly being seen in more outlets. The Note also comes with Microsoft’s Office, OneDrive, LinkedIn and Outlook on board. Bloatware haters might frown but this being a productivity device, we are totally all right with them.
We did find the in-display fingerprint scanner being a little sluggish, though. Perhaps Samsung should consider taking it to one side (literally) as it does seem to clash with the overall smoothness of the device, The 4500 mAh battery lasted us about a day of normal usage which is not too bad when you consider that we ran the phone in default mode, with a 120 Hz refresh rate at full HD. Switching to quad HD also seemed to give roughly the same battery life. There is a 25W charger in the box, which gets you from 0-50 percent is about half an hour. Not as fast as some (even budget) flagships but more than adequate for most users. Of course, this being a Note, you get support for wireless charging. And while we did not face any heating issues while playing games or multitasking, the phone did seem to heat up slightly during photography and shooting videos.
Want to count out the Notes for this Note?
So should you sink something like Rs 1,04,99 into the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra? There is no doubt that that is a stiff price tag. But on the flip side, the Note 20 Ultra cannot really be compared to the iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max or a Pixel 4 or even its Galaxy S20 Ultra cousin. That display and that stylus make it a very different kettle of fish from the others in this zone. The big question is more likely to be if those who already have the previous generation of the Note should consider investing in this one.
Well, while the Note 10 remains a magnificent performer (and if that does not tell you about the Note series, nothing will), the improved display and the cameras are massive reasons, in our book, and DeX wireless will become another as the lockdown eases and life staggers back to some sort of normalcy. No, everyone does not have a six-figure budget for a phone, but the Note 20 Ultra does deliver a lot for those bucks it charges. If you are among those wanting the closest thing to a computer in their hands, budget no restriction, then the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is easily the best option out there. Worth spending all those notes on? Definitely. It remains the most unique Android phone out there. And keeps getting better, even though it does not really need to.
- Fantastic display
- Top-notch performance
- Good battery life
- Very good cameras
- Camera unit juts out
- Can heat up a little during photography
- Fingerprint scanner is slow
- Definitely expensive
|Build & Design||
It is bigger, evidently better and even more expensive than ever before. But does the Samsung Note 20 Ultra 5G deliver enough value for its six-figure price tag? We try to find out.