In recent years, Samsung has gained a loyal following in the Note line, which remains without direct competition in the market. THE Galaxy Note 20 Ultra it is the most complete version of the new generation, bringing the best resources for those who were already fans of the segment. It offers a larger 6.9-inch screen, new possibilities with the S Pen and refinements in the rear cameras.
The launch price remains high and reaches R $ 7,999 in Brazil. For that amount, Samsung delivers a triple rear camera, including a 108 megapixel camera, panel with refresh rate up to 120 Hz and 5G connection, in addition to the DeX mode, which turns the phone into a desktop, now without any wires. Worth it? I’ve used the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in the past few weeks and count my impressions in the next few minutes.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review on video
THE Tecnoblog is a technology-independent journalistic vehicle that helps people make their next purchase decision since 2005. Our product reviews are opinionated and have no advertising intent. For this reason, we always transparently highlight the positive and negative points of each product.
No company, manufacturer or store has paid the Tecnoblog to produce this content. Our reviews are not reviewed or approved by external agents. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was provided by Samsung on loan. The product will be returned to the company after testing.
Design (and a chat with Hongmin Kim)
In the bronze version, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is elegant and escapes the sameness of electronics without being very appealing; it is for sure the color I would choose. The metallic edges are shiny, while the glass back is more discreet, with a matte finish, which does not leave the finger marks very visible. On the left side (and not on the right, as in previous generations) is the compartment for the S Pen.
It is impossible not to notice the large bump in the rear camera, which manages to be as or more pronounced than in the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The problem is that, in the case of the Note line, the protrusion hinders the time to write with the S Pen, since the cell phone is not secure on a surface. Therefore, the use of a case is mandatory even for ergonomic reasons, not only to protect the smartphone against falls.
I’m going to go into the look of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra because I had the opportunity to chat with Samsung’s vice president of global design strategy, Henry Hongmin Kim. In an exclusive half-hour interview between São Paulo and Seoul, I was able to answer questions not only related to the Note line, but also other products of the new generation, such as Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Watch 3.
One of my curiosities was related to the format of Samsung’s two flagships. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a more boxy phone, with right angles, as well as other devices of the Note line, but it is different from the Galaxy S20, Galaxy S10 and earlier, which are more rounded and full of curves. Why does it happen? Here is the explanation of those who understand:
The Galaxy S is our main flagship, we want it to be used by anyone. It is almost universal, it is not aimed at any age group, gender or region. We have to make sure it fits in everyone’s palm and pocket. It is ergonomic, rounded and has no rigid edges.
Note is very different. The name itself comes from the intention of the product. Think about your own notebook: do you want it with rounded edges, or in a triangular shape? No! Productivity is the main selling characteristic of the Note. Note’s goal is to fit as much content as possible, so you need to organize the information as efficiently as you can. Therefore, the rectangle is the most appropriate shape for the Note line.
This objective is also in line with another change that I was seeing in Samsung’s last line tops: while Huawei and Motorola started to launch phones with more curved sides, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra screen came with smaller curves than the previous generation , while the Galaxy Note 20 is the first since the Galaxy Note 5, excluding the Lite versions, to be equipped with a fully flat screen. Hongmin Kim explains:
On the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, we wanted to have a full screen phone and we used our Edge screen, which is our creation and we are very happy for that. At the same time, we have people who wanted the Note experience without the curved sides. (…) So we decided to have two versions: if you like the Edge screen and maximum productivity, here is the Ultra, but if you are more comfortable with a flat screen, hey, we have another version!
And about the peculiar color, which is in the whole new line of products of the brand:
It is very difficult to say “this is the best color for everyone”. I just admit it. But at the same time, we try to find out which color offers the best experience and at the same time reflects the spirit of the generation. (…) We did a lot of research, tested hundreds of different colors and Mystic Bronze was the most sustainable choice. By sustainable, I mean that it is not a fashionable color, it is not ephemeral and people can appreciate its sophistication and elegance for a long time. That’s why we say that it is a sustainable premium.
The screen of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is 6.9 inches and has a giant resolution. I will not waste time detailing the image quality, because it remains the best on the market. Human eyes were no longer able to notice the advances in the Galaxy Note 10+ screen and, in this generation, Samsung came even closer to perfection.
It is worth mentioning the variable update rate. Unlike the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which supported 60 or 120 Hz, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can display images between 11 and 120 Hz. This means that the animations are as smooth as butter, giving a pleasant sensation of fluidity, but the screen does not drink at all. straw battery when you are viewing static content or something that doesn’t move as much.
Does it change your life? No. But it creates a beautiful impact in the first moments: our eyes have become so used to seeing 60 Hz screens on smartphones in recent years that when we move to a higher refresh rate, either 90 or 120 Hz, the new one simply appears to be much faster.
The S Pen benefited directly from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s 120 Hz screen, as latency dropped to just 9 milliseconds. It is a practically instantaneous response between the moment the tip slides and the line appears on the screen, strengthening the feeling that you are writing on paper, not electronic. Not that the Galaxy Note 10’s 41 ms delay was bad, but the improvement for those who constantly use the stylus is noticeable.
The shape of the S Pen remains the same, as does the side button to trigger an alternative command or make gestures in the air. I keep the caveat of previous models of the Note line: the S Pen does not change your life overnight; you need to get used to using it and include the pen in your tasks, which is not so simple, because few applications support suspended actions and gestures are not so intuitive.
But the S Pen remains a differential for advanced users, which is why the Note line remains with a loyal audience. Switching between cameras and taking a photo without touching the screen opens up new creative possibilities. Samsung Notes may not be a must-see notes app, but it has great features. And navigating between photos or PowerPoint slides using the stylus as a remote control is useful, especially if you are projecting the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra screen on a TV.
The novelties of the S Pen take us to another feature of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: the fully wireless DeX mode. It turns your phone into a desktop, showing an interface with floating windows and a taskbar on a larger screen. You could already use a wireless mouse and keyboard, but you still needed at least one USB-C to HDMI cable to transmit the screen. DeX now works on any Miracast-compatible TV, with performance optimizations for Samsung TVs coming in 2019.
Wireless transmission is not always perfect, but it works well. To modify a spreadsheet, edit a slide or browse more comfortably, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra takes the letter, even allowing the use of the S Pen as a mouse. But, if you want to watch a video on YouTube, for example, the playback is choking. Still, there is a more efficient way to consume this content on a big screen, which is using the YouTube application’s own broadcast button.
As for the system, I’ve already praised One UI, which I consider to be the best experience available on Android and significantly superior to Google’s own interface, but I also need to highlight Samsung’s new update policy. In the Note line and even in some more accessible cell phones, the company started to publicly guarantee Android updates and security fixes for three years.
It is curious to see that this commitment came from one of the most criticized manufacturers regarding software updates in the past, but it is great to know that Samsung made this decision and that there is now a relevant alternative in the market besides the Google Pixel line. I hope that other big brands will follow suit and that some of them will regain that spirit. Motorola, I’m looking for you.
Samsung did not pay much attention to the front camera of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, maintaining a 10 megapixel sensor and a lens with an aperture of f / 2.2 that is as discreet as possible so as not to disturb the use of the screen. Despite this, the quality of the selfies remains good. The beautification mode is activated by default to remove skin imperfections, but you can disable the effect if you prefer. The definition is as expected and the tones please me.
What certainly does not go unnoticed is the trio of rear cameras, each with a shiny ring to show that they are there. The main sensor, by default, takes 12 megapixel photos with excellent definition, great dynamic range and almost no noise even in very challenging lighting conditions. Activating the 108 megapixel mode, you can see a small improvement in the definition, but only if you zoom in on the photo and pay close attention.
The main camera lens has a f / 1.8 aperture and I especially liked the depth of field. I have reservations about Samsung’s Dynamic Focus mode by software: even though it reduces the intensity of the background blur effect, it still seems a little artificial. But the bokeh from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra lens itself is a pretty sight to behold.
The ultra-wide 12-megapixel lens does not bring big surprises, with a slightly more limited dynamic range, but still offering great quality for landscape photography. And the telephoto with 5x optical zoom suffered a little in my hands to focus on more specific and distant objects, where the new laser focus does not reach, but it surprises by the balanced colors, good definition and very controlled noise, even with a small aperture of f / 3.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra comes standard with a professional recording mode, which also came to previous models through a software update. This mode displays a histogram to help balance light and shadow during recording, as well as manual controls for focus, white balance and ISO. A nice feature is being able to choose which microphones to use (it can also be a Bluetooth model) and adjust the sound gain.
To test the recording capabilities, I used the device itself to shoot my latest reviews: both on Galaxy Buds Live and Galaxy Watch 3, Samsung’s new phone was adopted as a second camera, recording in 4K at 60 frames per second and without any color correction in editing. In this review of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, my secondary angle was originally captured at 8K at 24 fps.
Guys, I need to talk about this processor
As usual, Samsung chose to launch versions with two different processors. In a few countries, such as the United States and South Korea, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is equipped with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Plus, while the rest of the world received the model with the Samsung Exynos 990, exactly the same chip that equips the Galaxy S20.
In previous Samsung line tops, I didn’t care about the topic because Snapdragon and Exynos from the same generation were equivalent. For normal people, it makes no difference to have 300 more points in a benchmark application or 27 minutes less in a battery test that does not reproduce real conditions. They are just numbers to satisfy the ego of those who would not buy the product in any way: the experience remained great, regardless of the chip.
But the situation is different this time: between the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, hardware in some countries has evolved from Snapdragon 865 to Snapdragon 865 Plus, which offers higher frequency and a graphics chip up to 10% faster for gaming, while the Exynos 990 stayed in the same place. Not an overclock, not an optimization, nothing. In doing so, Samsung disrespects consumers in Brazil, Europe and other regions, in addition to being a step behind the competition.
Obviously, I’m not saying that the performance of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is poor. In fact, it’s one of the fastest Android phones I’ve ever tested. However, when a manufacturer launches a top of the line, we expect it to come with the best processor of the moment, not a reused model from a previous product.
Hardware and connectivity
The difference in the processor in different countries creates another problem: Samsung tends not to launch a feature that works only on one of the chips, which ends up leveling the product underneath. In the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, a notable absence is Wi-Fi 6E, the biggest new feature in decades on Wi-Fi, which is compatible with the Snapdragon 865 Plus, but not with the Exynos 990.
Perhaps to avoid unbalancing the range of features offered by the different versions, none of them has Wi-Fi 6E. This is a problem if we consider that Anatel has already approved the frequencies of the new technology and that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an expensive product, built to last for several years. It is expected that it will be compatible not only with what is already popular, but with everything that is most modern in the market.
Cellular connectivity has been maintained, at least. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the first Samsung device in Brazil with 5G. It works on DSS networks (with dynamic spectrum sharing) and frequencies below 6 GHz that will be auctioned to operators in the coming months. Unfortunately, as in the Motorola Edge +, the national variant does not support millimeter waves, which are provided for in Anatel’s announcement.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra battery is good, although it leaves that little bit of disappointment. First because it only supports 25-watt charging, a limit that has already been exceeded within Samsung itself on the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Second, the 4,500 mAh capacity could be greater, especially considering the huge bump in the rear cameras; I would accept a gain of a millimeter in thickness in exchange for more battery.
In my quarantine pattern, with three hours of video playback on Netflix, one hour of web browsing and 30 minutes of Asphalt 9, always on Wi-Fi and with maximum brightness, the battery went from 100% to 49%. It is a drop compared to the Galaxy A71, for example, which has the same battery, but more economical hardware. Still, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra should last until the end of the day on most occasions.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a product for fans. A major issue with the Note line is that it has no direct competitor in the market. So, despite having some negative points, like any other smartphone, this is the best Note ever launched and brings advances in relation to previous generations. Only the question remains: is it enough for someone to exchange an old Note for a new one?
It depends. From the Galaxy Note 9 to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I see beautiful improvements in the cameras, in the battery and, for those who play, in performance, which makes the upgrade worthwhile in many cases. Between the Galaxy Note 10+ and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the differences are much smaller: it is not a 120 Hz screen that will bring you an experience from another world, so you can take a longer time with the current device .
Those who do not care much about the differentials of the Note line can be happier with the Galaxy S20 Ultra or, if they are willing to try another platform, the iPhone 11 Pro Max. For a slightly lower price, there is also the Motorola Edge +, which brings inferior cameras, but it delivers quite raw performance and a battery of respect.
Regardless of the alternatives, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a very complete phone, with great performance, excellent cameras, sophisticated finish and well-maintained software. It is not a revolution, but it is a very welcome evolution in Samsung’s most unique product line. At the moment, my mind only imagines something else: have you ever thought of a Galaxy Note with a large folding screen?
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
- The screen is amazing, but we all already knew that
- Excellent workmanship and sophisticated materials
- Camera takes good pictures in any light condition
- Public commitment of updates for three years
- Professional shooting mode is useful
- One UI is one of the best interfaces ever made on Android
- Chip one level below other Android flagships
- Processor dispute also affects connectivity
- Could have bigger battery
- Screen: 6.9-inch (3088 × 1440 pixels) Dynamic AMOLED 2X with curved sides and refresh rate up to 120 Hz;
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 990 2.7 GHz octa-core;
- Connectivity: 5G sub-6, 5G DSS, Wi-Fi 6, UWB, NFC, MST;
- RAM: 12 GB;
- Internal storage: 256 GB;
- Frontal camera: 10 megapixels (f / 2.2);
- Rear cameras:
- Main: 108 megapixels (f / 1.8);
- Telephoto: 12 megapixels (f / 3.0) with 5x optical zoom;
- Ultrawide: 12 megapixels (f / 2.2);
- Depth sensor;
- Laser auto focus;
- Operational system: Android 10;
- Drums: 4,500 mAh with 25 watts fast charging;
- Colors: Mystic Bronze (bronze), Mystic Black (black) and Mystic White (white);
- Dimensions and weight: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm, 208 grams.