The Galaxy Note20 series was announced on 5th August 2020 and there were many more things announced on that day. The Galaxy Note20 series is obviously the biggest, most anticipated highlight of that Unpacked.
And we’ve already been using the Galaxy Note20 Ultra for quite some time now – and I’m now ready to share my thoughts with you on this brand new smartphone.
In this review of the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, we’ll be touching on a total of 7 points this time – one more than our usual phone reviews, because the S Pen deserves it.
If you want to witness our unboxing experience, then click here. We also have that special edition box and we just used it as a backdrop. Thanks, Samsung, because I really have a hideous background at home.
Let’s start off by first talking about the design. Samsung is trying something new this time around – and I never expected Samsung to make their phones with a matte finish but here we are! The Galaxy Note20 Ultra in Mystic Bronze. And yes, my eyes didn’t deceive me during the briefing session – it is indeed pinkish.
That matte finish is something that I can’t stop touching as it just feels so good. For whatever reason, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is available in 3 colors – Mystic Black, Mystic White, and also the Mystic Bronze. Only this Mystic Bronze is in the matte finish whereas the others are in the traditional glossy finish.
On a side note, Samsung – please bring the Mystic Green color to the Note20 Ultra too. 🙏
One of the first comments that everyone makes when they saw the phone is – the camera bump. Yes, it’s big. It is perceived to be thicker because of the phone body’s thinness. I realized this because I have used both the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Galaxy Note20 Ultra. The S20 Ultra has a thicker body of 8.8mm and that’s why the camera bump on that phone is perceived to be thinner than the Note20 Ultra which is 8.1mm thin.
And that huge camera bump means that you need to use it with a case to “reduce” that camera bump. At least they have two new transparent cases to let us show off the colors.
Also, because of that camera bump, the S Pen has been moved from the right to the left side of the phone. Not a big deal, just something new to adapt to.
There is also one more change in terms of the design when compared to the Galaxy Note10+ from last year – the volume rocker has been moved to the right side, just above the power button.
Okay, so the screen. This is the most beautiful screen have I have seen on a smartphone yet. The edge curvature has been reduced, just like the S20 series of smartphones. This also solves the palm rejection issue, which was something that everyone liked since the Galaxy Note10+.
And oh, the lack of bezels. This has got to be the best-looking display on a smartphone right now. While this phone is stated to have a 6.9-inch screen, I honestly don’t feel like it’s super big. Those nearly-nonexistent bezels just really accentuate the screen’s beauty.
Also, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra also uses Dynamic AMOLED 2X panel to give it magnificent colors and brightness, as well as up to 120Hz refresh rate or up to 1440p in resolution – which is the same case as the Galaxy S20 Ultra. This time around, that 120Hz makes a big difference since it is a part of the puzzle on how Samsung is able to achieve a much smoother S Pen experience – more on that later.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is also protected by the new Corning Gorilla Glass Victus at the front and back, which is claimed to be stronger and more scratch-resistant than before. The camera is still covered by Gorilla Glass 6, though.
And the Galaxy Note20 Ultra also uses LTPO backplane, which means it has a variable refresh rate that can go down to as low as 1Hz. This means that the display can save a lot more power – especially if always-on display (AOD) is turned on.
Software – Android 10 with Samsung One UI 2.5
I think at this point, you guys already know how much I love the Samsung One UI. It is a clean UI that is beautiful and functional at the same time. I still like the utilities that are included within One UI – particularly both Samsung Pay and also the Edge Panel.
The Edge Panel actually got an interface update too. Nothing too major, just most of the buttons are now moved lower for easy access with one hand. Well, not really accessible since the buttons are still… relatively far away.
One new feature Samsung included is the ability to use Samsung DeX wirelessly through screen mirroring. It’s actually very seamless. Just select the new Samsung DeX icon in the quick settings and it’ll immediately search for TVs that can use Samsung DeX wirelessly.
Granted, the wireless DeX experience is highly dependent on the connected network. Since we’re using WiFi-6 at 5GHz, it was a relatively smooth experience.
Another big software update is on the Samsung Notes app. It can now do a few new things – firstly is to straighten your writing, which to me is a quality of life improvement. I always write sideways since I have a place to rest my wrist and have more space to write.
Secondly, the ability to record audio and synchronize it with what you’re drawing with the S Pen. Samsung calls this feature as Audio Bookmark and that is because we can rewind back to a certain part of the audio and see what was drawing at that time, or tap on a drawing to rewind the audio clip instead. It’s a fantastic feature for meetings and lecture classes!
One thing I didn’t realize is how accurate and smart Samsung’s system is. It can accurately detect my horrendous writing! I always write any words with a double-T with a hash sign for the two T’s, like the word “button” as shown in the video. The S Pen detects it and converts it accurately.
The Samsung Notes was also said to have the ability to sync with Microsoft OneNote and Outlook – but this feature is only coming in November 2020, according to Samsung’s website.
Okay, what’s new here is obviously going to be the latency. I don’t really know how they achieve this, but something tells me that it works in tandem with the 120Hz refresh rate and also machine learning. Samsung says that they’re using machine learning to predict where the S Pen is going to move next, which resulted in that 9ms response time.
One more upgrade on the S Pen is the Air Actions. It is now referred to as Advanced Air Actions as it supports a total of 5 gestures now. We can also customize what each of the action does, ranging from navigation to quick app launches.
One thing that I never tried before is the ability to control PowerPoint slides via the S Pen. I mean, since we can already wirelessly use DeX, might as well use the S Pen to control the slides too. Absolutely zero wires in between.
Other than that, the S Pen is still the same as before – very nice tip which is unlike its competitors’ hard plastic on hard glass kind of experience. Samsung’s S Pen is really close to replicating a true pen and paper feel.
Cameras – photography and videography
Okay, so let’s go on to the camera department. The new Galaxy Note20 Ultra now comes with these cameras:
- Triple rear-facing cameras
- Ultra-wide angle: 12MP f/2.2 with 120º FoV; fixed focus
- Main: 108MP f/1.8 with PDAF & Laser AF; OIS
- Periscope telephoto: 12MP f/3.0 with 5x optical zoom & 50x hybrid zoom; PDAF, OIS
- 10MP f/2.2 selfie camera with Dual Pixel PDAF
The main highlight here is of course – the new laser autofocus module. Yes, Samsung heard about your complaints and that’s why they implemented laser autofocus too. This is the fastest focusing module available on a smartphone right now.
I highly suggest you watch the video at the top of this review for the picture and video samples.
As for the picture quality, it’s pretty much the usual Samsung story. It has great dynamic range, good colors, and good clarity. I did realize that Samsung has toned down the sharpening now, which makes the edge of the pictures look less weird.
And the 108MP can still take fantastically detailed pictures. I did show a picture in the video of this little flower bud here and the edges are just so well defined. And just like before, it has HDR pictures in 108MP too. However, it’s just weird that Samsung still doesn’t enable 108MP in Pro Photo mode. That would’ve been really cool, though.
As for night shots with the main camera, I took 2 shots of this playground using different modes – the first one with default auto mode, and the second shot using the dedicated night mode. And honestly – the default auto mode looks much better.
And that’s where Samsung’s camera excels the most – it’s a fantastic point and shoot camera where we don’t have to stand there holding our phones for like 8 seconds to take a shot.
The ultra-wide angle camera is still the same as before, as it can take some beautiful shots. Personally, not a camera that I’ll use often but it does its job excellently when I need it.
Then, there’s telephoto camera. Instead of pushing for that 100x Space Zoom like on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, we now have 50x. Again, it’s nice to have – and it works well when I need it to. Especially when I zoomed in to this wall, and I didn’t realize there were texts on it because it’s just too far away from me.
New pro video mode is fantastic
With the new Pro Video mode, Samsung made an emphasis this time to include useful features that are found on professional cameras. On top of the usual manual exposure settings via ISO and shutter speed, focusing peaking, all of that stuff – we now have audio monitoring, a histogram, and also audio source selection alongside with on the fly gain adjustment.
I just gotta say how much I love the number of features that Samsung has included in the new Pro Video mode. Remember – this is only one smartphone that can do such a thing and I really love it.
There is also a brand new “smooth zoom” feature which I don’t really like since it is stuck from only 1x to 10x digital zoom using the main camera. Digital zoom aside, the zoom smoothness isn’t exactly… that smooth. I think that Samsung still needs to do some refinement to make it smoother because currently, it starts to get jittery once it goes 4x and beyond.
As for the battery… well, it’s kind of a weird situation. Remember – the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is 0.7mm thinner than the Galaxy S20 Ultra. With the S Pen taking some space as well, I think that’s why the Galaxy Note20 Ultra came with a 4,500mAh battery instead of a 5,000mAh battery like the S20 Ultra.
But, that’s not really a big deal, since anything above 4,000mAh can last you throughout the day. In our battery life test, it lasted for more than 11 hours at 1080p 60Hz – which is more than enough for a day’s use, even if you opt for 120Hz. The battery life is very similar to the Galaxy S20+, which I still have about 40% left at the end of the day even while running at 120Hz.
As for the charging time, it takes slightly more than an hour to reach from 14% to 100% charge. It’s fast enough for most cases, honestly.
I’m not really paying much attention to its performance because it’s going to perform really well in day to day tasks. I’m saying that even when our unit of the Galaxy Note20 Ultra here is using the Exynos 990:
- 6.9-inch screen
- Dynamic AMOLED 2X
- 120Hz refresh rate
- 1440p resolution
- Exynos 990
- 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage
- Expandable via microSD
- 4,500mAh battery
And even with the Exynos 990 chipset, the benchmarks scores, as shown here, is just behind the Snapdragon 865 and 865+ but still ahead of Huawei’s Kirin 990 chipset.
And let’s be real here. I’m not going to run benchmarks every day just to see who has a slightly higher benchmark score. It’s like comparing who has a bigger PP, but I want a phone that works well and helps me to work better.
Even in our gaming video of the Galaxy Note20 Ultra – which you can check it out here – yields zero difference when it comes to the smoothness of gaming experience. So, what’s the big deal?
Is it worth the price of RM5,199 though?
Well, yeah. This phone is expensive. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is definitely not the fastest smartphone in the market and that’s fine. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is made with a different focus in mind – for productivity and power users. If you want the best specs that money can buy, then go a gaming phone like the ROG Phone 3 or the Black Shark 3 Pro instead. Don’t compare a fish and a monkey’s ability to climb a tree.
The main highlight of the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is on its productivity software experience – which I have to say, it’s very well-implemented.
If you want to get the Galaxy Note20 Ultra but not a fan of the official retail price, then there are two ways that I can think of. First, get it with a carrier subsidy. You’ll need a telco plan anyway, so might as well get a subsidy. Secondly, as Dave2D said it, wait for it to simmer a month or two. The prices will go down. You won’t get those pre-order gifts or bonuses, but you’ll get a lower price. That’s just how things work.
And since Samsung has promised 3 “generations” of updates, I think we won’t be missing out if we get this phone a little later after launch day.
Whatever upgrading from the previous generation of Galaxy Note series of smartphones? Well, if you’re coming from the Galaxy Note10+, then maybe not. If you’re using the Galaxy Note9, then yes – I think the upgrade is significant.