Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra REVIEW

August 18, 2020
Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra REVIEW


Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra REVIEW

Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 20 is the great big Hollywood iMaxx CG epic of smartphones and it’s here to woo you, writes PAT PILCHER


Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Genuine anticipation for new smartphones is at an all-time low. There’s just so much out there at every price point with not so much to distinguish between them. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, however, is an exception.

Like the big-screen Hollywood iMaxx epic with the latest CG technology, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 really makes a statement. It’s big, bold and gold (well, ‘Mystic Bronze’ to be exact) and under the hood is every ramped-up spec you’re looking to find in a 2020 flagship smartphone.

Its design is gorgeous, and the enormous 6.9-inch 120Hz-capable screen is a stunner. Its stylus has new tricks, and it has real superpowers. That said, you’ll need deep pockets to get your hands on one.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Samsung Note 20 Ultra might cost a whopping $2299, but you do get a lot of phone for the price. The base model has 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. A variant with a whopping 512GB of storage(!) is also available.

The Note 20 Ultra isn’t small. Its 6.9-inch screen feels massive. Thankfully, it lacks bezels and is nearly all screen. This makes it holdable for those that don’t have baseball catcher-sized hands.

Given that it’s made by one of the world’s biggest display manufacturers, it’s little wonder that its screen is gorgeous. Not only does it sport a Quad HD resolution (3088 x 1440), it’s searingly bright and super vivid too. Curved screen edges at the sides also add a design flourish even if some find accidental screen touches an annoyance. With next to no bezel, the front shooter is tucked behind a tiny screen punch-hole.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Further adding to the display’s many charms is a 120Hz maximum refresh rate. In non-geek speak, a quicker screen refresh rate translates into smoother video playback, gaming and scrolling through social media feeds. While high refresh rates are nothing new, they usually come at a price in that they hammer battery life. Samsung has designed the Note 20 Ultra’s display so that its refresh rate dynamically adjusts depending on your activities. This allows the Note 20 Ultra to intelligently dial the screen refresh rate back to improve battery life. If you’re gaming, it’ll switch to 120Hz, but for relatively static activities (such as reading a web page) it’ll drop back to 60Hz.

As a Note device, its S Pen stylus sits in a niche on the left-hand side of its bottom edge. The S Pen has had a few new wrinkles added with the Note 20 range. These include new gestures and improved latency plus a redesigned nib that makes writing feel more like a pen and paper.

Like previous Galaxy Notes, the Note 20 Ultra sandwiches a Gorilla Glass Victus back and front with an alloy band. Victus is both lighter and thinner than traditional glass and less likely to break with accidental drops. Best of all it is finished in a slick semi-matt finish that’s not a fingerprint magnet. Another design departure from recent Note devices is more rounded edges. These allowed it to fit comfortably in my hand with minimal stretching.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The fingerprint scanner is embedded under its display, and like earlier models, there’s also a Face Unlock capability. It’s IP68 water and dust resistant too. The review unit I was sent to test was finished in Mystic Bronze, but there’s also a Mystic Black and a Mystic White. The copper-like bronze finish is eye-catching and grew on me.

The rear array consists of three shooters. There’s a 108MP f/1.8 primary camera, a 12MP f/3.0 telephoto camera plus a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide snapper. It delivered image quality similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but without the 100x ‘Space Zoom’. Instead, it comes with a still usable 50x zoom, as well as a slightly wider telephoto. This isn’t a bad thing as 100x zoomed photos on the S20 Ultra were hit and miss owing to camera shake, and 50x zoom is about the maximum you’ll get without camera shake turning pictures into a blurred mess. Focus – an issue with the S20 Ultra – is fixed thanks to laser-assisted Phase Detection Autofocus and Dual Pixel Autofocus. Around the front is a 10MP selfie camera, which despite its lower-res sensor captured plenty of detail.

On the video front, the Note 20 Ultra proved to be a capable beast. It can record 8K video, although it is limited to 24fps, which is also supported with 4K/1080p and 120fps in FHD. A new addition on the video recording front is the Pro Video mode. Podcasters not wanting to sell their firstborns to get a decent video setup are likely to see its addition as a real boon. It supports settings such as zoom speed, white levels and exposure, and directional audio is supported too.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

There are three available mics built into the Note 20 Ultra. With audio so often a weak point with podcasts, getting more granular control over your audio source while recording is incredibly useful. You can select whether the audio focus is on sound from in front of the camera, or while you are recording. Alternatively, you can instead choose an omnidirectional capture to get both (which is useful for interviews). There are real-time audio VU meters and gain control. Nicer still, it will also work with a Bluetooth mic, including the Galaxy Buds which will also act as an audio monitor.

The Note 20 Ultra packs a 4,500mAh battery, which got me through a full day off a single charge with a little leftover for the evening. While it supports 25W fast charging, it isn’t quite as quick as the 45W charging the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 10 Plus comes with. It’s an odd omission given that it’s positioned as a no-compromise phone. On the plus side, it supports 15W fast wireless charging.

Under its hood, there’s a Samsung developed Exynos 990 CPU which proved more than capable for anything I threw at it app-wise. Apps snapped to attention quickly, and multi-tasking was not a problem. This was probably helped along by the generous 12GB of RAM.

As per usual Samsung has tweaked the Note 20 Ultra’s specs by region. There’s Qualcomm Snapdragon CPUs for the US while the rest of the world gets Exynos silicon. Storage has regional variations too. You can buy a 128GB version in the US. In NZ, its equivalent is a 256GB model. Unlike the Note 20, the Note 20 Ultra has a microSD card slot which means it can handle an extra 1TB (!) of storage.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is 5G, which not only means faster speeds (assuming you have 5G coverage), but it provides a good measure of futureproofing too. If you’ve upgraded your router to a shiny Wi-Fi 6 capable beast, the news is good in that the Note 20 will support it for super zippy performance at home.

‘Ultra’ isn’t just a shiny show-off name. While it commands a steep price, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packs specs and power that not so long ago would have required a substation, air-conditioned facility, and state secrecy. If you’re looking for a productivity tool that can do it all, and can afford it, the Note 20 Ultra is the phone you’re looking for.

Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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