Galaxy s20 note

Galaxy s20 note DEFAULT


  • Brilliant screen
  • Solid camera with 3x optical zoom
  • Powerful, high-end performance features
  • All-day battery life

Don't Like

  • Lacks premium look and feel
  • Plastic backing can feel sharp and poorly constructed
  • Too expensive at full retail price

Samsung has a knack for turning out powerful phones, especially in its Galaxy Note line. This year, it has two, the standard Galaxy Note 20 5G, which launched at $1, (£, AU$1,, both 4G) and the Note 20 Ultra, which launched at $1, (£1,, AU$1,, again both 4G). Both have sharp displays, excellent cameras, all-day battery life and impressive internal performance, along with an S Pen stylus that makes the Note unique. But you can only buy one, so which will it be?

This Galaxy Note 20 review focuses on the differences between 's Note phones in the hopes it'll help answer your questions while you make a decision -- or just drool over Samsung's large-screen devices. On the whole, I can recommend both Notes, just not at their retail prices.  

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I suggest keeping an eye out for deals, bundled offers, discounts and trade-in values that bring the prices down by $ or more. Both phones will have fluctuating prices throughout the holiday season -- check out CNET's guide to the best Black Friday phone deals. Samsung prices tend to fall as the months go on, so your chance of snagging a deal are high. Plus, a surprise recommendation at the end if you're not sold on using the S Pen stylus daily. 

Now playing:Watch this: Galaxy Note 20 vs. Ultra: Which should you buy?

Design differences matter: Screen, plastic vs. glass

The Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra clearly look like different devices, but not just because of the Note 20's slightly smaller inch screen to the Note 20 Ultra's inch display. 

It's apparent that the Ultra has a glass backing (Gorilla Glass Victus, in fact,) while the Note 20 uses polycarbonate (that's plastic). If you use a case, it might not make a difference to you, but after all these years of being conditioned to equate a premium, $1, device with glass construction, plastic makes it feel cheaper than its price tag, even though the specs are strong. 

I also noticed a sharp edge where the Note 20's plastic backing joins the metal frame, meeting in a gap big enough to run my fingernail all the way around. If you're going to use a case, it might not bother you, but Samsung can and should do better.


There's no curved screen on the Note 20 the way there is on the Ultra. That doesn't bother me, but the edge-to-edge display on both phones means there are still plenty of accidental screen presses when you're simply holding the phone. For example, if you're passively watching a video and shift your finger to find a more comfortable grip, you may wind up inadvertently triggering a button.

The final design difference worth noting is the Hz screen refresh rate on Ultra, compared to the standard 60Hz rate on the Note It won't make a difference if you're switching from a 60Hz phone, but it can feel comparatively "slow" if you're switching from a phone with a 90Hz or Hz display.


The Note 20 Ultra is the clear camera winner

The Ultra's has a massive and protruding camera array on its back to accommodate larger sensors and perhaps help it stand out. Meanwhile, the Note 20's camera bump makes the phone less top-heavy and prone to rocking when you write on it while it's on a flat surface.

But the Note 20 Ultra took better photos overall. You're going to get great great shots no matter which phone you use, when you're taking photos in brightly lit conditions: saturated color, crisp edges, the works. But if you're at all interested in zoom photography, the Ultra's 5x optical zoom takes the crown. Not only does it get you very good telephoto images up to 5x, it can also go up to 50x. 


The Note 20's 3x optical to 30x AI-assisted zoom is still good as well, and better than the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (which has 2x optical zoom), but image quality at 30x was better on the Ultra than on the regular Note Most of the time the Note 20 will fulfill your photographic needs. But when I took them both to the moody Northern California coast, many of my nature shots were simply better on the Ultra and I stopped reaching for the note 20 altogether.

The Ultra has a megapixel camera you can use to crop into shots for more detail, a feature I've found to have uneven results.

Camera: Note 20 vs. Note 20 Ultra

Galaxy Note 20Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Main camera megapixel (f, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, μm, degree FOV, 1/inch image sensor) megapixel (f, OIS, μm, degree FOV, 1/inch image sensor)
Ultra-wide angle megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV) megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV)
Telephoto megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV) megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV)
Front-facing camera megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV) megapixel (f, μm, degree FOV)
Zoom 3x hybrid 5x optical
Super Zoom 30x 50x
Laser auto-focus sensor No Yes
Video capture 8K 8K

Features the Note 20 and Ultra share

  • 5G data speeds (some regions have 4G models)
  • Signature Note S Pen stylus
  • Android 10 out of the box
  • Snapdragon + processor (other markets use a Samsung Exynos chip)
  • Extras like fast wireless charging

Other notable differences

  • Screen size, battery (4, vs. 4,)
  • MicroSD card
  • GB option with Ultra
  • 8GB RAM versus 12GB RAM on Ultra

Should you buy the Note 20, Note 20 Ultra, or a different phone?

The Note 20 Ultra is too big, too heavy and too expensive. But I'd still personally buy it over the Note 20 because I do find myself using the extra camera features. However, I don't actually think it's worth $ more than the Note 20 just to have a Hz screen, 5x optical zoom instead of 3x, a glass backing and a microSD card storage option -- plus all the other extras.

Most people will be happier with the cheaper Note 20 over the Ultra, but again, I think Samsung has overcharged for both phones at their full retail price, and I find the Note 20's $1, price tag for what is essentially a plastic phone cheeky at best and insulting at worst. 

For either phone, look for a deal. I'd be happier to pay $1, for the Ultra and $ for the standard Note 20, if we're keeping Samsung's $ price delta intact.


Here's another alternative within the Samsung cosmos. The newer Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) is a middle way. It merges some of the Ultra's best features with the Note 20's cost-cutting trade-offs, bringing you a inch display with a fast Hz refresh rate, a big $4,mAh battery, 3x optical zoom and a rear plastic backing. There's expandable storage, too, and of course, support for 5G data speeds. 

While the cameras won't be quite as good, and there's no S Pen stylus, the Galaxy S20 FE is the best buy in terms of value, if not a status symbol -- though it does come in fun colors.

Best yet, it starts at $ full retail and was already on sale for $ in some stores by the time it hit the market. With trade-in values and seasonal deals, I expect that price to fall.

Galaxy Note 20 vs Note 20 Ultra vs S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy Note 20Samsung Galaxy Note 20 UltraSamsung Galaxy S20 FE
Display size, resolution inch; 2,x1, pixels inch; 3,x1, pixels inch super AMOLED; 2,x1, pixels
Pixel density ppi ppi ppi
Dimensions (Inches) x x in x x in x x inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) x x mm x x mm x x mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) oz, g oz, g g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera megapixel (ultra-wide), megapixel (wide-angle), megapixel (telephoto) megapixel (ultra-wide), megapixel (wide-angle), megapixel (telephoto) megapixel (standard), megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto)
Front-facing camera megapixel megapixel megapixel
Video capture 8K 8K 4K
Processor Snapdragon + Snapdragon + Qualcomm Snapdragon (5G) Samsung Exynos (4G)
Storage GB GB, GB GB
Expandable storage No Up to 1TB 1TB
Battery 4,mAh 4,mAh 4,mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra one year later: Is it still worth buying?

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Samsung’s has seen mixed fortunes at first glance, with the Galaxy S21 series delivering cheaper price tags across the board but reportedly seeing lower sales. The company has also launched new cutting-edge foldables in the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Galaxy Z Flip 3, although it’s too early to say whether these are a commercial success yet.

One thing we aren’t seeing in is a new Galaxy Note flagship, as Samsung confirmed earlier this year that this wouldn’t be the case. Instead, those looking for that Note-like experience are being pointed in the direction of the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 3, with both now offering S Pen support.

There is one other option though, and that’s last year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Samsung’s Note series is traditionally more than just an S Pen, as it’s also been one of the best phones for power users. So, as the most recent Galaxy Note phone on the market, how does the phone fare a year after its release? That’s what we’re looking at in our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra long-term review.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review recap

Before we carry on with our long-term review, now’s as good a time as any to look back at what we thought of the phone at launch. You can read the full review over here and watch our video above. You can also check out our six month revisit for the phone here.

How has the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra aged?

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was among the most feature-packed phones of , and time has mostly been kind to it. There’s that slick Hz QHD+ OLED screen, a solid Exynos SoC (or Snapdragon Plus in the US and China), 8/12GB of RAM, //GB of storage, and a 4,mAh battery. In other words, the core specs keep this phone respectable a year later.

It’s also worth noting that the Note 20 Ultra packs a microSD card slot, which isn’t present on the Galaxy S21 series. This is a major selling point for those who want the most local storage possible and those who lamented its loss on Samsung’s flagships.

Another point in the phone’s favor is that Samsung is promising three major OS updates for the device. The phone launched with Android 10 and received an upgrade to Android 11 thereafter, which means you can expect Android 12 and Android 13 at the very least. Toss in four years of security patches and the Note 20 Ultra should age better than other devices from a software perspective.

Moving to basic performance, our review unit contains the Exynos , and it generally kept things running without a hitch. While there was some controversy about the processor at launch, between multitasking, web browsing, and launching apps, everyday usage was a smooth experience. In fact, the only time I really saw any major lag outside of games was in the first few minutes after restarting the device. There’s also a delay of about two seconds between snapping MP shots, but this is understandable given the sheer amount of data being processed at that point.

Check out:The best Samsung phones

Gaming is a far tougher test of a phone’s internals, and the Note 20 Ultra is a mostly smooth experience. One of my go-to titles for pushing a phone is Nascar Heat Mobile, owing to the huge number of cars on track at once, but things ran at a very fluid pace. We also tried out Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact, with the former running very smoothly. Genshin Impact was perfectly playable too but was prone to slow down at times, especially when simply swiping the camera around.

Another great test of a phone’s capabilities is emulation, and we ran games like Metroid Prime and F-Zero GX via the Dolphin emulator and its default settings. Unfortunately, the former offered an extremely erratic experience, briefly grinding to a halt at times. The latter game also saw some stutter as well, although it seems to be a slightly more consistent experience. We tested these games on the Snapdragon toting LG V60 (another great phone from ) and they both ran at a much smoother, more consistent pace with out-of-the-box settings.

Our own Eric Zeman noted that his Snapdragon unit ran hot in his review, but I haven’t felt this to be the case at all with the Exynos variant during my gaming sessions. I’m not sure whether this is due to the chipset difference itself, the fact that some models have different cooling systems, or system updates by Samsung. Nevertheless, we’d definitely suggest you get the Snapdragon Plus variant if you intend to play technically demanding games and emulators on the Note 20 Ultra.

Performance doesn’t mean much without battery life, and another one of Eric’s gripes in his original review was the middling endurance. A period of some relatively heavy usage (YouTube, YouTube Music, downloading/installing games) yielded under six hours of screen-on time at the adaptive refresh rate, which isn’t bad for the battery capacity. The phone still delivers a full day at this pace and you can switch to 60Hz if you need longer battery life. In other words, you’re getting solid endurance, but it is a drop down from devices like the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

It must be said that the S Pen support here is still the best you’ll get on any recent Samsung phone, including the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Galaxy Z Fold 3. The fact that you’ve got a dedicated slot for the stylus is obviously more convenient, for starters. Then there’s the Bluetooth connection here (missing from the standard S Pens seen on the other devices), enabling a host of extra remote-like features.

Related:The ultimate guide to the Samsung S Pen

The biggest downside to using the S Pen on the Note 20 Ultra is that it still feels way too cramped. For example, using the Samsung keyboard’s handwriting recognition to write messages is painful simply because there’s so little space available. It isn’t much better with the Samsung Notes app, either. It really feels like anyone wanting to comfortably write more than a short grocery list should probably get a Samsung tablet or the Galaxy Z Fold 3. It doesn’t help that the phone wobbles on a flat surface too, but more on that in a bit.

In fact, I’d argue that the real strength of the S Pen for most people is the remote functionality. Whether you’re using it as a remote shutter button while the phone is on a tripod, controlling media playback while your phone is connected to a big screen, or simply navigating through your device via accessibility features, it’s become a pretty versatile tool for non-writing tasks.

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Special mention should go to the Hz QHD+ OLED screen, as it’s still gorgeous a year later. In saying so, the inability to run at the higher Hz refresh rate at QHD+ resolution was a minor oversight in and is a little glaring now. You’re still getting a high-quality display regardless, but having to choose between resolution and smoothness is a little disappointing when several and flagships let you have the best of both worlds.

Another rather interesting omission is that you can’t force Hz all the time. It’s an adaptive or 60Hz affair here. I get that the phone’s battery would likely run down in no time flat if Hz was on all the time (even for images and other similar content), but giving people the option is better than deciding for them. Even a 90Hz mode would be a good compromise between a high refresh rate and saving juice. Still, those looking for a slick, expansive screen will be right at home.

A premium, but tall design

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

One of the best things about the Note 20 Ultra at launch was its design, and this remains true 12 months down the line. The flat, polished metal edges on the top and bottom and the metal frame in general both make the phone feel very sturdy yet premium. I don’t personally care for glass backs but it’s an expected feature for modern flagships, which is more than can be said for the standard Galaxy S21 and, notably (pun intended), the vanilla Galaxy Note

There are, however, two design-related decisions that are still a bit tough to swallow after all this time. For one, there’s the sheer size of the phone. It isn’t quite as big as the LG V60, but it’s certainly close. This size and weight (g) mean that the phone feels unwieldy at times, such as when you’re reading in bed. The Note 20 Ultra fits in my jeans pocket just fine, but those with tracksuit pockets and the like might want to watch out.

See also:The best Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra cases you can get

The other lamentable design choice was the sizeable camera bump on the left side of the phone’s back. Camera bumps alone aren’t a problem for me, as I’m okay with a little protrusion if the cameras take great pictures. But the bump’s location means that the phone will definitely wobble anytime you tap your finger in the top-left quadrant of the display while the phone is flat on its back.

I’d rather see a large horizontal camera bump or Xiaomi’s phone-spanning housing on the Mi 11 Ultra. This way, you avoid the wobbling while still delivering great camera hardware. Hopefully, the Galaxy Note 22 (if it’s indeed in the works) addresses this issue.

What about the Note 20 Ultra camera experience?

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra shipped with a very flexible camera system in , and it’s still a versatile experience a year later. In fact, you could argue that the combo of a MP main camera, 12MP ultra-wide lens, and 12MP 5x periscope camera is still better than some flagships.

Related:The best camera phones you can get

The MP camera was a bit of a mess on the Galaxy S20 Ultra owing to focusing issues, but the Note 20 Ultra does go some way to alleviating these problems. The addition of laser autofocus and in-camera prompts do give you a better opportunity to get a sharp shot that’s perfectly in focus. But the large sensor size results in a shallow depth-of-field, which can be great in some situations but also means that you’ll need to occasionally move the camera back a bit to keep things sharp.

Images are shot at 12MP via the main camera and are generally detailed during the day, usually taking a slight turn towards the saturated look. The colors are also consistent between all three cameras, which isn’t always a given on other phones. Check out the gallery below for a selection of shots.

The only real downside to the primary camera (and in general) compared to more recent devices is that it can falter a little in certain backlit HDR scenes. You can note this discrepancy in the image comparison below, showing the Note 20 Ultra versus the Vivo X60 Pro Plus. The Samsung phone definitely features more detail on the Lego model (I tapped to focus on it after all) but it comes at the expense of a blown-out background. This doesn’t happen often at all though, and the phone still prioritized what I tapped on in the first place, but it would’ve been cool to see the background tamed a bit.

You can also shoot at the full MP resolution too, and this can make a notable difference to resolvable detail in ideal conditions. So those who love to crop and pixel-peep photos after the fact will want to give this a try. However, darker parts of the scene can see more noise. You also lose out on the ability to take super-fast burst shots, but the shot-to-shot delay of up to two seconds isn’t awful given the demands on the hardware.

It’s also worth noting that the phone’s night mode is a pretty transformative affair in almost absolute darkness, but it generally doesn’t go overboard like other OEMs when it comes to the brightness of the scene overall. Samsung also does a well-balanced job of noise reduction in these situations, removing grain without smearing away details.

Moving away from the primary camera, the 5x periscope camera remains a top-notch shooter today as well. You’re getting a healthy amount of resolvable detail in good lighting when shooting at 5x and 6x, allowing you to crop in a little more if need be. Detail remains decent provided that you steer clear of anything above 10x for the most part. Move beyond this and things start to resemble a messy oil painting, with no detail, blurry edges, and blown-out whites.

The ultra-wide camera is perhaps the one area where Samsung is lagging behind on paper in It’s still a pretty great wide-angle snapper, but the lack of autofocus is a little disappointing today. This omission means you lose out on macro shots via this camera as well as some flexibility in terms of focusing — tapping elsewhere on the screen only changes the exposure.

In terms of video quality, Samsung has generally been at the head of the Android pack in delivering a polished experience. The Note 20 Ultra still delivers a full-featured experience in this regard, offering 8K/24fps video recording, Super Steady stabilization, fps slow motion, fps super slow motion (interpolated from fps), and more.

It’s not all cutting-edge for video though, as Super Steady video still produces the jelly effect in more demanding scenarios, while fps video doesn’t quite reach the 4K heights of modern rivals like the OnePlus 9 Pro or Sony Xperia 1 III. But the fundamental experience is still great in

Some minor annoyances

David Imel / Android Authority

Samsung’s latest Note smartphone has held up pretty well so far then. But there are definitely a few areas for improvement that bothered me during my testing.

The fingerprint scanner isn’t great

The Note 20 Ultra’s in-display fingerprint sensor isn’t the best experience around. There were quite a few times when the phone refused to unlock with my print. It works far more often than not and it’s fast enough when it does work, but the failed unlocks occur just enough to be a little annoying.

It doesn’t help that Samsung makes unlocking the phone a bit of a chore out of the box. You generally have to interact with the screen or hit the power button to get the fingerprint icon to show, unless you have the always-on display enabled. Don’t have the always-on display active? Then you’ll need to enable the lift-to-wake gesture instead. Why not enable this option out of the box or something similar? To be fair, you can still scan your finger without the fingerprint icon appearing on the screen, but you need to know precisely where to place your finger.

One UI can be confusing out of the box

Samsung’s skin definitely has a few questionable default behaviors for anyone coming from a different phone brand. For one, the power button activates Bixby by default. I’m really not a fan of assistants being tied to the power button at the expense of all power-related functionality — so that was one of the first settings I changed. Another annoyance for anyone coming from a non-Samsung brand is that you can’t set Google Discover as your left-most screen within the default launcher, something that you can do on later Samsung phones.

Read more:Everything you need to know about One UI

One more default choice I hate in One UI is the fact that an upward swipe from a UI element at the bottom of the screen launches Samsung Pay. This makes for a frustrating experience if you’re using gesture navigation and it’s another feature I quickly disabled.

Finally, performing the back gesture sometimes activates the Edge Panel instead. This is because the gesture doesn’t apply to the top-right side of the screen near the Edge Panel, forcing you to use the top-left side or the lower half of the screen. This limitation is understandable, but the sheer size of the phone means that you aren’t always going to be holding it by the bottom half.

Charging wasn’t fast in , and it’s slower now

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers 25W charging speeds, topping up in roughly 75 minutes in my own experience. Eric, on the other hand, noted a top-up time of 70 minutes. Either way, even a 50 to 60 minute charging time would’ve significantly narrowed the gap to rivals without sacrificing battery health too much. After all, sub-one-hour charging times have been a thing for at least two or three years now.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra long-term review: The verdict

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was priced at a rather eye-watering $1, at launch, although it was still $ cheaper than the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Samsung’s late phone has since seen a discount to around the $ mark, making it worth a look if you value the S Pen experience in a premium flagship. Features like water resistance, wireless charging, a periscope camera, a high refresh rate OLED screen, and three years of OS updates round out a great phone that’s still mostly great a year later.

Should you actually buy it in though? Well, if you don’t care for the S Pen slot or microSD expansion then the Galaxy S21 Ultra is a no-brainer over the Note 20 Ultra. Samsung’s early flagship retails for ~$1, on the likes of Amazon these days, offering water resistance, wireless charging, a high refresh rate OLED, and three years of OS updates too. It also brings a few improvements like Hz at QHD+ resolution, two telephoto cameras, a bigger battery, and a faster chipset. And the S Pen support is still welcome, even if storing it is another matter altogether.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Bigger, better, and pricier

Samsung's Galaxy Note line has always been for the power users, and 's models are no different — especially the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. This ultra-premium phone is Samsung's most refined device in

$ at Amazon$1, at Samsung$1, at Best Buy$1, at Verizon$1, at AT&T$1, at T-Mobile$1, at US Cellular₹, at Samsung

Do you think the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is still worth buying a year later? Let us know in the poll above and in the comments.

ReviewsSamsung, Samsung Galaxy Note 20

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review: big phone, small updates

Samsung has settled into a new routine for its Galaxy Note line of smartphones: take some of the major new features from the flagship Galaxy S updates from earlier in the year, improve on them slightly, and add a stylus. Instead of being the first with new technology, the Note has become the phone that refines it.

If there is something new for Samsung’s routine, it’s this new “Ultra” moniker at the end of its flagship S and Note phones. We’re used to phones coming in small and big, but now Samsung wants to introduce yet another tier. Near as I can tell, what “Ultra” mostly means is going all-out on every possible spec and making the camera bump gigantic. Samsung has long felt the likes of OnePlus and Huawei (at least until this year) nipping at its heels, and the Ultra tier of its phones is Samsung’s answer to anybody who thinks it can’t make the highest-level Android phone.

Ultra also means ultra-pricey, as the Note 20 Ultra starts at $1, for a model with GB of storage. You can bump that all the way up to GB for $1,

There are lots of great things about routines: they are predictable, they allow you to build up skills, they are comfortable and familiar. But they can also lead you to fall into a rut. The Note 20 Ultra avoids that trap, fortunately — not because it has new ideas, but because it does such a good job with the same old ones.

There’s no one thing I can point at to explain what makes the Note 20 Ultra such a good phone. But there are a lot of little things.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hardware

The Note 20 Ultra is a huge phone with a inch screen. It’s so big that I want to bring back the term “phablet” just to describe it. That’s because it’s large enough to cross some hazy line where it begins to feel like a little tablet instead of a large phone. Normally, I reach for my Kindle when I want to read an ebook or a Switch when I want a portable game machine, but the screen on the Note 20 Ultra is big enough that I never felt like I needed either.

The Note 20 Ultra’s most prominent hardware feature is a promontory. It has this massive, mesa-like camera bump on the back that houses the three cameras, a laser focus sensor, and the flash. It’s not just that it’s huge, it’s that it juts straight out of what is otherwise a vast, flat expanse of phone.

Camera bump aside, I don’t think anybody is designing nicer phone hardware right now than Samsung. The Galaxy S20 is my favorite phone hardware of the year so far because it has the cleanest lines. The Note 20 Ultra doesn’t quite rise to that level because of the camera bump, but it’s an otherwise flawless execution of what I expect a Note to be.

That means it has a big screen, yes, but it also means that it has squared-off corners, minimal bezels, and is symmetrical front to back. Samsung has a new finish on the back that’s matted instead of glossy. That hides fingerprints, but it (counterintuitively) makes the phone a little more slippery. Samsung is highlighting the bronze color this year, and for good reason: it’s beautiful.

One other oddity: the S Pen stylus silo is on the left-hand side of the phone instead of the right. As a righty, I find it a little off-putting. But I figure it’s time leftys had something swing their way.

Note 20 Ultra screen and specs

There aren’t a lot of surprises with the Note 20 Ultra when it comes to its specs or performance. The screen, in particular, is excellent. It’s big, obviously, but all of the little technical details are spot-on. The color accuracy, viewing angles, and brightness are all superb; I had no problem using it outside in bright, direct sunlight. It’s a quad HD + OLED at ppi, supporting HDR10+ and a few different color options. It’s also using Corning’s latest, stupidly named Gorilla Glass “Victus.”

But the reason the screen is so great isn’t the resolution or the glass; it’s the refresh rate. It can hit Hz, and — in a first for Samsung — it’s a variable refresh rate. The screen dynamically adjusts based on what’s being displayed and can ratchet all the way down to 10Hz if nothing’s moving.

Maximalists will likely sneer at the fact that Samsung won’t let you simultaneously set the maximum resolution and the high refresh rate at the same time, but I don’t care, and I can’t see the difference in resolution anyway. The trade-off is better battery life, and the battery life on the Note 20 Ultra is excellent.

I’m regularly getting through two days of use. Even if I push this thing super hard by shooting 8K video and playing streaming games, it still clocks in around six hours of screen time and doesn’t need to be plugged in until I sleep.

The battery life out of that 4,mAh cell is all the more impressive because it’s powering a lot. The Note 20 Ultra has a Qualcomm Snapdragon + processor, which has a separate modem for 5G (an extra power draw). There’s 12GB of RAM — enough to multitask — and the usual assortment of other Samsung specs: in-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, wireless and reverse wireless charging, expandable storage, stereo speakers, Bluetooth 5, NFC, MST, IP68 water resistance, wireless DeX over Miracast.

Samsung even tossed in a UWB radio just like the iPhone — and just like the iPhone, it seems like it’s here more as a braggy spec sheet checkbox than as an actually useful feature.

It supports both sub-6 and mmWave versions of 5G, and I continue to believe that 5G is still not worth the price premium it commands. Where I live, I find that, at best, it’s only 10 to 20 percent faster than LTE. And in some rare cases, it’s actually slower than LTE.

Overall, general performance on the Note 20 Ultra is top-notch. Apps never seem to close in the background, stutters are nonexistent, and the refresh rate on the screen makes everything feel that much smoother.

The S Pen and Samsung software

There is one spec that is genuinely impressive: Samsung has reduced the latency on the S Pen stylus. It’s down to 9ms (80 percent faster than the Note 10) through a combination of faster processing, a higher refresh rate screen, and some predictive machine learning that can intuit where the stylus is going ahead of time.

It’s impressive because it’s tangible: latency when drawing and writing with the S Pen is the best I’ve ever seen on a phone. The virtual ink flows right out from the stylus tip with nary a gap.

Generally speaking, my advice when it comes to the Note is this: if you definitely want a stylus, your only choice is a Note. If you don’t know if you want a stylus, you probably don’t. It’ll just be a thing that you use a few times and then forget about.

I have always been in the latter camp. After a day or two, I just don’t bother with the S Pen. But this year, I found myself using it a ton. It’s not because of the latency, and it’s certainly not because of Samsung’s silly “air actions” that let you wave the S Pen around like a magic wand remote control.

It’s because of Samsung Notes. I’m going to write a sentence now, and you’re probably not going to believe it. I can hardly believe it. But after a week or so with the Note 20 Ultra, I stand by it. Here we go.

Samsung Notes is the best notes app you can get on a phone.

Samsung’s notes app already does stuff that Apple Notes is just catching up to and Microsoft’s mobile OneNote app still can’t pull off, like letting you highlight your handwriting and copy it as plain text. It also lets you export out your notes (longhand or typed) to a Word doc, PowerPoint, plain text file, image, or a PDF.

Even if you never pull the S Pen out of its silo, the Samsung Notes app is well-designed, handling quick lists and longer notes equally well. It has just the right amount of text formatting, and this year, it added the ability to organize your notes into folders (finally).

But it’s when you use the S Pen that Samsung Notes really sings. Its handwriting recognition is as good as I’ve seen on any gadget — and, of course, your handwritten notes are searchable, too. New this year, Samsung Notes also (finally) can directly annotate PDFs.

If you write at an odd angle, you can tap a button to straighten your handwriting so it flows naturally down the screen. That seems like a silly thing, but it makes your notes much more readable. Notes also does the trick where it can record audio as you jot down notes so that you can go back later and tap on your jotting and hear what was said at that precise moment.

There is a problem with Samsung Notes, though: it’s only that good on the Note 20 Ultra itself. There is a desktop app (who knew?), but the truth is I wouldn’t trust most of my digital life to Samsung Notes unless I could get to everything in it more easily on other devices. Later this year, Samsung Notes will be able to one-way sync to Microsoft OneNote. I haven’t been able to test it yet, and it’s annoying that it isn’t a two-way sync, but it should help.

Samsung’s love affair with Microsoft is getting really serious this year. In addition to Notes’ one-way sync, reminders and tasks will sync both ways with Outlook. Later this year, Microsoft’s Your Phone app on Windows will allow you to mirror multiple apps at once from the Note.

Samsung is also pushing Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate service. I’ve been using the beta, and it’s really good. Playing an Xbox game on the Note’s big (for a phone) screen feels completely natural. It’s a bigger screen than even my Switch Lite. Stadia is fine, too — but it won’t have Microsoft’s game library.

The rest of Samsung’s One UI version of Android is par for the Samsung course. Lately, Samsung has lost a bit of discipline when it comes to software design. The company is always tempted to lade on too many weird features and get you to use too many weird Samsungy services. The experience on the Note 20 suffers as a result. Inside Samsung’s own apps, you’ll sometimes run into gigantic banner ads; Samsung Health is particularly egregious. Dial it back, Sammy.

Also: Bixby. Instead of letting this poor excuse for a digital assistant languish any longer, Samsung needs to send Bixby to be with relatives in that farm upstate where it can live happily ever after.

The Note 20 Ultra camera

With a camera bump this big, you’d expect the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to have an impressive camera system. It does — although the actual photos you get out of it aren’t always great. However, the important thing is that Samsung has largely recovered from the problems that beset the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

I think the Note 20 Ultra has a camera system that’s on par with the best phones out there, except for one part: Samsung biffed it with the selfie camera.

Here’s an example. I took the exact same selfie with a Note 20 Ultra and a Pixel 4. My boss Nilay Patel took one look at the Note’s photo and asked why it made me look like a ham. I hereby dub the Note 20 Ultra’s selfie camera the #Hamcam.

This is a terrible photo, and I have a bunch more like it, but I also have some that look darn good. I’m not sure how or why the camera decides to ham it up, either. Even if you turn off every face smoothing and filter option, Samsung’s selfie camera still applies something to clean up faces. I wish it didn’t because I know there’s a good camera in there somewhere.

The rest of the cameras fare much better. You get three cameras: a megapixel ultrawide, a megapixel telephoto with a periscope assembly, and a megapixel main wide-angle. Let’s take them in order from simplest to most complicated.

Generally, the ultrawide sensor on any phone is the weakest of the bunch, and that’s the case here. However, the ultrawide on the Note 20 Ultra is better than that average. I’m pleased with the dynamic range, in particular, which is important for landscapes.

For the telephoto, Samsung went with its “folded” periscope system. So the sensor sits behind a set of mirrors that extends its real optical zoom range to 5x. Samsung also has this thing it calls “Space Zoom” that lets you combine the optical and digital zooms to get into 50x. Interestingly, the S20 Ultra has a higher megapixel count and offers x zoom, which means Samsung dialed it back for the Note.

“Space zoom” can do 50x, but it’s not very usable.

Good. The S20 Ultra was never anything more than a parlor trick over, say, 15x zoom — but it was fairly impressive at 15x. The same applies to the Note 20 Ultra. Pinch all the way in to 50x, and you’re looking at something more akin to abstract art. But at 10x or so, it’s better than the iPhone 11 Pro and competitive with the Pixel 4. Those phones can’t zoom farther than that, but the Note 20 can, and I got decent results at 15 or even 20x.

Then there’s the main megapixel camera. This sensor is Samsung’s own, and Samsung’s whole project with cameras this year is to make a generational leap over the Sony sensor-using competition by utilizing all of those megapixels.

Samsung stumbled out of the gate with the S20 Ultra, which had serious focusing problems that were only partially mitigated by a software update. The Note 20 Ultra has that update, but, more importantly, it also has a laser autofocus system. It’s a brute force hardware solution, but it works: close up, the focusing is much quicker and far more reliable than the S20 Ultra’s.

You can take megapixel photos, but the reality is that you’ll almost never get enough added detail to be worth it. Better to stick with the default megapixel images, the result of combining (known as “binning”) multiple pixels together. Those results are classic Samsung: good but sometimes a little oversmoothened and / or oversharpened.

Samsung has fallen a step behind the iPhone in terms of color and still hasn’t caught up to the Pixel in terms of detail, but I still think it’s ahead of most of the rest of the Android pack. Surprisingly, I found myself preferring the Note 20 Ultra’s low-light mode photos to the Pixel’s. In those cases, at least, Samsung’s penchant for smoothing made for a more pleasing image in extremely low light.

Finally: video. I am a much bigger fan of Samsung’s Pro Mode for video than I expected to be. Yes, there’s an 8K option in there, and yes, I think that outside anything but ideal conditions shooting simple subjects, you should stick to 4K or lower. But the interface for pro mode is clean and clear. And Samsung has added lots of microphone options, a relative rarity on phones. You can switch between the front mic, rear mic, or the omni mic. You can also plug in a USB-C mic or record off a Bluetooth headset.

It’s fair to call the Note 20 Ultra an iterative update. Doubly so: it’s a refinement of the same Note design that Samsung has been refining for half a decade, and internally, it’s a bunch of tweaks to the Galaxy S20 Ultra from earlier this year.

Beyond that inconsistent selfie camera and Samsung’s refusal to just kill off its Bixby digital assistant, there’s nothing in the Note 20 that I would send back to the drawing board. And though there’s no single big feature that is a must-have, there are lots of little things that made me remember how amazing smartphones can be.

I still can’t get over how good the experience of using the stylus in Samsung Notes is, if only because I’ve been trained by years of Samsung’s software overpromises. This time, it actually delivers. Streaming Xbox games on it is truly immersive and fun — and the battery has the stamina to hold up for hours of it. Even the gimmicky Space Zoom sometimes paid off.

If you have a Note 10 or even a Note 9, this isn’t a necessary upgrade for you. And if you don’t think you’ll use the stylus, there are less expensive options that give you many of the same benefits.

The Note 20 Ultra is a very ostentatious, flashy phone. But this year, it didn’t get a flashy update. It got what amounts to a spec bump (and a camera bump to match). But that’s enough to make it perhaps the best flagship Android phone you can buy right now. Even for a phone as big as this, that is no small thing.


Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: It Better Be Good!

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Note galaxy s20

If you just got a new Android phone this Christmas, there’s a pretty good chance it has a Samsung logo on it. The Galaxy S20 and Note 20 phones among the very best of , and with Samsung’s very aggressive end-of-year pricing, your secret Santa likely saved a bundle to boot. But you might want to return it while you still can.

I’m not here to tell you that your new phone is flawed or busted—in fact, you’re probably going to love it. Samsung’s flagships have been leading the Android pack for years, and the displays, cameras, and designs of the S20 and Note 20 are among the best you can get right now. 

But if you can squeeze just a couple more weeks of life out of your old phone, there’s a new one on the way much earlier than usual. Samsung has confirmed that the new Galaxy S21 will land on January 14, barely a week from today and more than a month earlier than usual. By the looks of things, to, you’re going to be getting a lot more than a slightly updated S From the processor to the pricing and the lineup, there are more reasons than ever to wait for the new S21 to arrive before settling in with your new Galaxy phone.

samsung galaxy note 20 ultra back camera arrayRyan Whitwam/IDG

A better Galaxy in every way

Like the iPhone in September, Samsung’s new Galaxy phones represent the unofficial start of the Android year. That usually happens in February or March, so a reported launch in January likely means that something bigger than usual is on the way. Based on what I’ve seen from leaks, the S21 is shaping up to be one of Samsung’s nicest phones in years, with super-slim bezels, a unique camera array that has a much smaller bump, and some very nice color options.

Samsung will likely launch three models again in very similar sizes to the S Beyond that, quite a bit will reportedly be changing. Rumors suggest a better camera system that utilizes the Note 20’s laster autofocus, which would go a long way toward fixing one of the S20’s biggest issues. Also expected to get a boost are night mode and zoom, two categories that fell into the good-not-great column on the S

galaxy s21 renders leakEvan Blass/@evleaks

A new processor making its debut in the Galaxy S isn’t a surprise, but the type of processor might be. Samsung is due to launch its next Exynos chip on January 12, and this year it might be ready to ship an Exynos-powered Galaxy S phone in the United States  for the first time. But even if it doesn’t, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon is shaping up to be a huge leap over the that could rival the tremendous speed and power efficiency that Apple brought with the awesome A14 Bionic in the iPhone

With the new chip might come a feature that Samsung has traditionally reserved for its Note phones: S Pen support. Earlier this month, president TM Roh confirmed rumors that Samsung will be bringing some of the Note’s “most well-loved features to other devices in our lineup.” That basically means that the Galaxy S21 is almost certain to gain S Pen support, a feature that has sorely been missing from Samsung’s flagship phone.

note 20 ultra camera2Michael Simon/IDG

With the Note 20 Ultra, Samsung reduced the S Pen’s latency and added some impressive translation and fun gestures that bring it to a new level of productivity. Even if it’s not bundled like the Note, the S Pen will be an excellent accessory for the Galaxy S21 that will instantly make it superior to every Galaxy phone that came before it, including the brand-new one you just got.

Even if the Galaxy S21 doesn’t have any new features you care about, there’s still one more reason to return your S20 and wait a couple of weeks: Android.

It’s no secret that the Galaxy S21 will be the first phone to ship with Samsung’s Android based OneUI 3. You may also download it to your Galaxy S20 right now if you decide to hold onto it. But while the Android version is usually an afterthought on Galaxy devices, that changed this year. Now Samsung promises to support three “generations” of Android updates. That means you’ll get two more on the S20 (Android 12 in and Android 13 in ), while the S21 will get updates all the way through to Android 14 in

note 20 ultra notesMichael Simon/IDG

That might not seem like much now, but it’ll mean a lot in two years. Basically, you’re giving up a full version of Android and a year of security updates just to get an extra few weeks with your new phone. It might not seem like much, but those couple of weeks will be very important in August , when Android 14 lands and your S20 doesn’t get it. Basically, waiting a month or so will get you an extra year of updates. That’s a pretty compelling tradeoff.

Don’t get me wrong: You have a very good phone in your possession. But if you return it and wait just a little longer, you can get a much better one. Don’t worry, I won’t tell the person who bought it for you.

Update 1/4:Samsung has confirmed that the Galaxy S21 will launch on January 14

GALAXY NOTE 20: First 10 Things to Do!


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