After Samsung introduced a bigger Galaxy Note 10 Plus phone, I didn’t expect the company would follow up with even larger Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but that’s exactly where we are today. The new phablet truly pushes what I would consider a pocketable device with its 6.9-inch display, while also integrating a faster processor and memory, as well as an absurd telephoto camera.
However, for a smartphone that starts at $1,400, it’s far from perfect. In fact, it has a few glaring flaws, including a reduced amount of storage compared to last year’s top Samsung offering. Meanwhile, the display can only present a picture at maximum resolution or frame rate, but not both when other, more affordable handsets can.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Design and Features
From the front, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra looks identical to last year’s model. The biggest difference, of course, is the Galaxy Note 10 Plus’s 6.8-inch display has been replaced with a bigger 6.9-inch screen. This has caused the phone to grow slightly taller from 6.39 inches to 6.49 inches. Otherwise, both handsets are still 3.04 inches wide and the Note 20 Ultra is only 0.01-inches thicker.
That extra thickness comes purely from the Note 20 Ultra’s massive new camera hump that sticks out like a sore thumb on the back of this device. It’s impossible to miss now that all the cameras are surrounded by a rectangular protrusion that’s large enough to make novelty stamps jealous of its size. It also juts out of the handset by a full two millimeters.
Whereas the Note 10 Plus caught everyone’s attention with its extremely reflective Aura Glow colors, this year’s model features a matte finish with subdued colors including Mystic Black, White, and Bronze. Not that I’m knocking the new colors – they pair perfectly with the business nature of this device, and the Mystic Bronze here is a great blend between rose gold and champagne gold. Best of all, the matte finish and rosy color combine together so well it actually looks like it’s made of metal from most angles.
Of course, you probably won’t spend as much time staring at the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s back than its display, and the good news is it’s a stunner. With a maximum resolution of 1,440 x 3,088 and a refresh rate up to 120Hz, this is a great screen for fans of high resolution or high frame rate displays. Now I say “or” because once again Samsung has failed to deliver on a phone screen that is both high resolution and frame rate at the same time – and there’s even less of an excuse this time around.
It was already disappointing to have to choose between a QHD+ resolution or high frame rate on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, but at the time, we chalked it up to a limitation of the Snapdragon 865 chipset. However, a month later, the OnePlus 8 Pro released with a 1,440 x 3,168 display operating at 120Hz and the very same mobile processor. But now Samsung’s latest smartphone (with an even faster processor to boot) still can’t do both QHD+ and 120Hz once again. There just doesn’t seem to be any sensical reason for this limitation, especially when the Note 20 Ultra is so expensive.
The only thing that makes up for the annoying display limitations is the fact the screen itself is fantastic. Samsung’s new Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is simply stunning, with a 1,500-nit peak brightness that overpowers even direct sunlight. You also get the truest blacks we’ve ever seen on a smartphone. When you engage Dark Mode on this phone, the Google Search bar becomes truly black instead of a dull gray like on other handsets. Beyond the amazing levels of contrast, colors just pop off the screen, from the vibrant red of the camera app to the deep green on Spotify’s badge.
Another big improvement is how much better it feels to write notes with the phone’s integrated S-Pen. According to Samsung, the latency between the screen and the built-in stylus has been decreased to just 9ms, and it makes a world of difference.
On older Samsung Note devices, it always felt like my digital scribbling lagged well behind any strokes I put to glass. But now writing and drawing on the Note 20 Ultra feels almost as immediate as a real pen or pencil.
The immediacy gives me a ton more confidence to take notes, whereas the older sluggish interface had me double guessing whether it would exacerbate my already terrible handwriting. Samsung’s character recognition technology also still continues to amaze me as it mostly succeeds at turning my chicken scratch into comprehensible text I can easily export into a normal document in Microsoft Word or Google Drive.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Gaming and Performance
This phablet comes sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus processor, which thus far we’ve only seen fitted inside of gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 3 and Nubia Red Magic 5G. Compared to regular Snapdragon 865, this Plus chip runs at a 0.3GHz higher clock speed, granting it 10% more processing and graphical power. The onboard memory has also been upgraded from LPDDR4 to LPDDR5, which also grants this year’s model with even more speed.
The only curious misstep on this spec sheet is the base storage of the $1,400 handset starts at 128GB while the Galaxy Note 10 Plus of yesteryear started off with 256GB of storage for $1,099. Pricing aside, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra feels like an Android phone that needs more storage now than ever before since it can shoot 8K videos at 24fps.
All of these cutting edge components make the Note 20 Ultra a fantastic multitasker. You can have three apps open at the same time between two across a split window and a third one running on a pop-up menu. Thanks to the Note 20 Ultra’s expansive screen real estate, there’s plenty of room to do all of this legibly.
Of course, you can also use all of that 6.9-inch screen goodness just to play mobile and streaming games on a really big display. Everything from Forza Horizon 4 to Shadow Gun: War Games looks great running on the Note 20 Ultra’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X with perfect contrast and color. Samsung’s special partnership with Microsoft has also led to the best version of the xCloud Game Streaming app I’ve seen. It features a few extra options to block notifications or open your home row apps in a popup window over any game you’re playing.
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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Camera
Fortunately and unfortunately, the Samsung Note 20 Ultra has received a similar, but also worse, camera setup from its Galaxy S20 Ultra brethren. To that end, the Note 20 Ultra now features a 108MP wide-angle camera with a pair of 12MP Ultrawide and telephoto cameras. That’s a little worse off than the Galaxy S20 Ultra that also has a 48MP telephoto camera.
The Note 20 Ultra also features similar Space-Zoom features for a hybrid optical-digital zoom up to 50x – not quite the 100x as was found on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Despite those deficits, this handset takes stunning photos with fantastic color and excellent dynamic range.
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Once again, the most fun thing to do with Samsung’s latest smartphone series is to shoot as far away as possible. Though you’re only limited to 50 times magnification, you’ll rarely get anything more than a garbled mess of pixels when shooting at maximum levels of zoom – and that’s even with the help of a tripod. 20x, and especially 10x, are far more usable and allow you to snap photos of unsuspecting puppies, birds, and boats.
What’s even more impressive is Samsung’s Night Mode, which can take long exposures up to 30-seconds long. That said, it requires you to be either extremely still or have the phone set up on a tripod. While shooting long exposures of water usually turns the surface of the water into a still, glass-like sheet, it was interesting to see how Samsung’s image processing tries to do the same thing while retaining as much detail from some of the waves at the same time.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Battery Life
To accommodate the larger screen, the Note 20 Ultra features a battery with 200 more milliamps of power capacity than the Note 10 Plus. With 4,500mAhs in the tank, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra easily saw me to the end of most days with 65% battery life left – well more than enough to get me through the night and into the next afternoon without having to charge up again. My typical daily usage involved a few hours of YouTube and other streaming media, as well as checking on emails and social media throughout the day.
The included 25W charger gets a completely discharged phone back up to 58% of battery life in just 30 minutes. Meanwhile, plugging in the handset for an hour almost fully recharges the device up to 93%.
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The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is available from Amazon at a starting price of $1,399. Meanwhile, the smaller Samsung Galaxy Note 20 is available starting at $1,199. Both phones come with 128GB of SSD storage, but only the larger Ultra comes with an expandable MicroSD card slot. The Note 20 Ultra also has 12GB of memory, meanwhile, while the regular Note 20 only has 8GB and a 6.7-inch display that reaches a maximum resolution of 6.7-inch 2,400 x 1,080 and a 60Hz frame rate.