Samsung Note 20 Ultra Australian Review: A Beautiful But Inconsistent Beast

Samsung Note 20 Ultra Australian Review: A Beautiful But Inconsistent Beast

The New Samsung Galaxy Note 2o Ultra is now out in Australia. With a gigantic gorgeous display, slick finish and a host of beefy specs there’s a lot to get excited about. But is it actually worth the price?

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

WHAT IS IT?

Samsung's Flagship Note 20 device

PRICE

From $1,849 for 4G, from $1,999 for 5G

LIKE

Gorgeous display, beautiful design, powerful device

DON'T LIKE

Battery life, some camera features, price

Note 20 Ultra Specs

For those of you who are just after the cold, hard specs. Once again Australia is getting a less powerful chipset than most other countries. We’re getting the Exynos 990 instead of the Snapdragon 865+.

Otherwise, things are looking good, including 5G functionality, an impressive display and large specs.

Note 20 Note 20 Ultra
Dimensions 161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3mm, 192g(4G), 194g(5G) 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm, 208g
CPU Exynos 990 Octa-core processor Exynos 990 Octa-core processor
Memory 8GB RAM, 256GB storage 8GB – 12GB RAM, 256GB – 512GB storage
Display 6.7-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED Plus Infinity-O Display (2400×1080), 393ppi, HDR10+ certified 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display (3088×1440),496ppi, HDR10+ certified120Hz refresh rate
Operating System Android 10 Android 10
Cameras 12MP Ultra Wide, 12MP Wide-angle, 64MP Telephoto. 30x optical zoom. 10MP front-facing camera 12MP Ultra Wide, 108MP Wide-angle, 12MP Telephoto, laser AF sensor. 50x optical zoom. 10MP front-facing camera
Network Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, LTE, 5G, Bluetooth 5, Satnav, NFC, USB 3 (Type C) Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, LTE, Bluetooth 5, 5G, Satnav, NFC, USB 3 (Type C)
Sensors Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor, Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensorProximity sensor, Ambient Light Sensor Ultrasonic Fingerprint sensor, Accelerometer, Barometer, Gyro sensor, Geomagnetic sensor, Hall sensorProximity sensor, Ambient Light
Battery 4,300mAH battery, fast-charging, wireless charging, wireless PowerShare 4,500mAH battery, fast-charging, wireless charging, wireless PowerShare

Design

The Note 20 Ultra is slightly bigger this year, coming in at 6.9-inches. It really is a spectacular monster to behold. If you’re not a fan of large phones, this definitely is not the right device for you.

It’s a borderline phablet and that upsets me — not because of the size, but because it’s forced me to use the term ‘phablet’ in 2020.

This year Samsung has gone for a more matte finish, which is great if you found the Note 10 too smudgey. Still, that rainbow Aura Glow colour was hot. I still think about it.

The hero colour this year is Mystic Bronze, and it’s incredibly chic. However, it’s somewhat marred by the enormously chunky camera array that quite literally sticks out like a sore thumb.

Regardless, the Note 20 is pretty overall and is likely to please old school Note fans and newbies alike.

Display

Image: Tegan Jones

At 6.9-inches the Note 20 Ultra is perfect for those who enjoy a big screen. But the 1,440 X 3,088 AMOLED screen isn’t just large, it’s stunning.

This is largely thanks to the brand new dynamic display. This allows the device to scale between refresh rates, depending on what you’re doing. It goes all the way up to 120 Hz, which is ideal for animation-heavy tasks like gaming.

And it doesn’t disappoint. It’s The Note 2o Ultra is gorgeous to both game and streaming content on. It’s the closest I’ve come to being turned around on my dislike for massive phones. There are plenty of use cases for it here.

The higher refresh rate also seems to work well with the S Pen.

The combination of cutting edge display and vibrant, dynamic colours makes the Note 20 Ultra a pleasure to visually devour content on.

But it comes at a price.

Note 20 Ultra Battery Life

Image: Tegan Jones

The most glaring issue with the Note 20 Ultra is its battery. At 4,500MAh it seems like a beast on paper. In practice its a much different story. Myself and some other tech journalists have been comparing notes (hah) all week and we all have similar stories.

40 per cent drop with only one and a half hours of screen time.

29 per cent drop with on 53 minutes of screen time.

Even the AI that is supposed to learn your usage habits and adapt the battery over time didn’t seem to make a difference.

There are two main factors that seem to be contributing to these abysmal results across multiple devices and users. The first is the processor.

Unfortunately us Australians don’t get to enjoy the benefits of the latest Snapdragon 865+, including its battery management capabilities. Instead, we have the Exynos 990. And it comes to keeping this thing alive, it’s not doing a great job.

Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s also not the only factor. Another is that sexy display we talked about earlier.

A dynamic display that can push up to 120 Hz is great for a lot of things. Smoother animations. Watching pretty stuff on the giant screen. Gaming. Sucking the living hell out of the battery.

This isn’t a surprise to phone aficionados. Most devices that have a 120Hz or dynamic option suffer the same thirsty fate. It’s why a 60 Hz ‘standard’ option is also available. In fact it even says ‘Get longer battery life with a 60 Hz screen refresh rate.”

While this did improve the battery life by an hour or so, the sharp decline was not abated. There was another culprit — 5G.

The next generation of mobile connectivity is as power hungry as it is elusive outside major capital cities. Just kidding — it’s hard to find there, too.

Unfortunately, 5G and your devices endless scanning for it gives the Note 20 an absolute battering. Again, this isn’t a problem unique to Samsung.

Of course, there is a simple solution to both of these problems — simply disable 5G and the the dynamic refresh rate. I got hours of extra battery life by doing this. And to be fair, you actually need to toggle dynamic refresh rate on. It’s set to standard by default.

But much like the camera focus issue, I have to ask if this is good enough for a $2,000+ phone — Particularly when its 5G and 120 Hz refresh rate capabilities are being so heavily marketed as highlights of the device.

While I appreciate that this particular issue can be alleviated by the user, they shouldn’t have to at that price point.

S Pen

Image: Tegan Jones

S Pen stans should be quite pleased with this year’s offering. There is a 9 millisecond latency reduction compared to the Note 10. This is an improvement of 40 per cent. And I have to say it’s a pleasure to use.

The S Pen is what made me stop hating styluses, thanks to the Note 9, and it just keeps on improving year-on-year.

You’ll find some favourites from previous years such as the ability to write straight onto your lock screen, handwriting-to-text conversion and auto straighten.

Image: Tegan Jones

Now it has also added the ability to annotate on PDFs, utilise PowerPoint exports, and control the device more robustly through ‘anywhere actions’.

To be honest, I didn’t find a lot of reasons to use the S Pen to control the phone. In my opinion the most useful of these controls is still the ability to take a photo with the S Pen. It certainly makes selfies easier.

But the gesture controls are still fun and are an interesting push into accessibility that I am keen to see more of in the future.

Note 20 Ultra Camera

samsung galaxy note 20
Image: Samsung

Taking snaps on the Note 20 Ultra is where the user truly experiences it plurality. The beauty and the beast.

When pointing and clicking in well lit environments the Note 20 Ultra does a beautiful job. Your average users will be able to take crisp and clear shots with minimal effort and editing. You can optimise it for food shots and the live focus does a lovely job of portrait subjects once again.

And for those who prefer to tinker, there are plenty of manual options in the pro mode.

It all sounds so simple. Sadly, it isn’t always.

One of the biggest issues the S20 Ultra had was camera focus. And it appears again in the Note 20 Ultra. Not always, mind you. Like I said, inconsistency is a common theme in this phone.

But I did find that trying to take simple shots at a closer level (for example, food and flowers) would have trouble focusing on the subject a noticeable amount — particularly when light wasn’t optimal.

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Not loving the difficulty it has focusing. Photo: Tegan Jones

Even tapping on the screen was only met with occasional success. What I was left with were some fine photos, and others there is obvious blurring in odd places.

For a phone that starts at $2,000, this isn’t ideal. Especially as this is now the second time within a year that a flagship Samsung device has had this issue.

Still, the phone is still more than capable of some cracking shots. And it benefits greatly from its ultra-wide option, though sometimes it can veer into fish eye lens territory a bit.

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

The zoom has a mixed performance, depending on your lighting situation. During the day its pretty damn good. While I never had any success getting 50x zoom to look any good — this is relatively impossible without a tripod.

But everything up until 20x has the potential to look fantastic. But again, it can be inconsistent and take some tinkering. It also doesn’t work particularly well once the sun starts to set. Zooming during dusk or with low light doesn’t produce a great outcome. I don’t particularly care about zoom outside of hikes, so this certainly isn’t a deal breaker for me.

And like I said, you can get some great results:

Up to 20x zoom on this clocky lad.Photo: Tegan Jones

Up to 20x zoom on this clocky lad.Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

Photo: Tegan Jones

As for the 10 MP selfie cam, it goes a good job. While it isn’t the most impressive in market it’s fine. For those who enjoy a beauty mode moment, the Note 20 ultra does that for you.

And if you’re someone who enjoys shooting video on their phones, the Note 20 Ultra can go all the way up to 8K. But this isn’t really the best option all round right now. On top of the video files eating up a lot of storage space, you’re not going to benefit from Samsung’s video stabilisation — which isn’t even available with 4K. To get the steadiest results you’ll want to bump the resolution down to 1080p.

Samsung Note 20 Ultra Australian Price

Here in Australia the Note 20 series isn’t exactly cheap.

The regular Note 20 starts at $1,499 for the 4G model and $1,649 for the 5G. Both models come with 256GB storage.

The Note 20 Ultra starts at $1,849 for the 4G model and $1,999 for the 5G model with 256GB storage. And if you really want to go hard you can get a 512GB 5G Note 20 Ultra for $2,199.

Considering the lack of battery issues, inconsistencies with the camera and the fact Aussies son’t get the Snapdragon processor,  it’s hard to recommend the Note 20 Ultra 5G model at $2,000.

Of course, you could buy on a plan but even then the options for the ultra are mostly quite pricey or lock you into a 36-month contract.

Still, it’s worth looking at all the plan choices across the Note 20 range. We have them all right here.

While I haven’t tried the regular Note 20, I’m hoping it’s a little closer to the mark at $1,499.

If the Ultra is out of your price range, it’s worth considering last year’s Note 10+. It’s a brilliant phone and a far cheaper buy right now.

When it comes down to it, there is a lot to enjoy about the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. And fans of the series will probably love it. But at that price I want it to be closer to perfection.