The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Is a Super Phone Finally Worthy of Its Name

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Is a Super Phone Finally Worthy of Its Name
Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

When Samsung released the Galaxy S20 Ultra at $1,999, it felt like Samsung was trying to push its super-premium phones into a whole new tier, a tier that would justify its obscene price tag. However, even though the S20 Ultra had a giant 6.9-inch screen and a huge 10x lossless zoom, it lacked some of Samsung’s usual polish and simply didn’t offer enough to make me feel like all that money was worth it.

Editor’s Note: In Australia the Note 20 has an Exynos 990 processor, not a Snapdragon 865+. This will cause some variations in performance and battery life. You can read the Australian review here.

But fast forward six months, and now the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has arrived sporting an even better screen with a variable 120Hz refresh rate, a much more refined design, speedier performance, enhanced productivity, and an upgraded S-Pen. Oh, and it’s actually slightly cheaper than the S20 Ultra. So after some careful retooling, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has become a fully armed and operational battlestation, and it’s the true heir to the empire.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

WHAT IS IT?

Samsung's latest do-everything hyperphone

PRICE

Starts at $1,999

LIKE

Polished design, strong battery life, 5x zoom camera, 5G-ready, enhanced S Pen features, the best screen in the industry

DON'T LIKE

Very Expensive, no headphone jack

Unlike the S20 Ultra which always felt sorta clunky, between its signature Mystic Bronze finish and new matte glass back, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra feels like the first-class device that Samsung has been trying to deliver. In fact, aside from its admittedly large camera bump, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s body and bezels are actually slightly thinner than the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s, so even though both phones have 6.9-inch screens, the Note 20 Ultra feels like the much more wieldy device. As for that camera bump, while it does stick out quite a bit, considering the number of buyers who instantly throw their phones into cases the moment they get it, it’s hard to complain about too much. Big camera modules are here, and they aren’t going away anytime soon.

The Note 20 Ultra’s biggest upgrade is its new 120Hz variable refresh rate display. Every year, Samsung saves its best mobile screen for the Note, and this year Samsung is really flexing on its competition because there’s no other display like this on the market. During testing, the Note 20 Ultra’s display hit a peak brightness just short of 800 nits (with Samsung claiming the Note 20 Ultra is capable of up to 1000 nits in certain conditions), while also producing some of the most vivid, eye-catching colours around.

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Click through for more close ups of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's features and design.

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

The Note 20 Ultra is available in three colours: bronze, white, and back. Mystic Green is only available on the standard Note 20, which is kind of a bummer.

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

Photo: Sam Rutherford, In-House Art

And on top of all that, Samsung has upgraded the Note 20 Ultra’s 120Hz display to support variable refresh rates, so that instead of being locked to 60Hz or 120Hz as on the S20 Ultra, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s display can adjust its refresh rate dynamically depending on what’s on the screen. This lets the Note 20 Ultra conserve power when you’re doing less intensive things like viewing photos or typing an email, which is important because as a phone that supports full 5G connectivity, when you do connect to a next-gen cell network, having extra juice in the tank is always welcome. And when you’re watching movies or playing games, you can take full advantage of those high refresh rates to get super smooth looking video and graphics.

On the inside, the Note 20 Ultra is also overflowing with an excess of specs and performance. Boasting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ processor , 12GB of RAM, 128GB of base storage (or 512GB if you upgrade), and a microSD card slot, Samsung’s hyper phone never feels like you’re taxing it, no matter how hard you try. Across the board, the Note 20 Ultra consistently posted top-tier benchmark numbers, including the highest score we’ve ever seen on Geekbench 5’s Compute test (3,658).

amazon prime day 2020 phone deals handset The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's new laser autofocus module does a lot to address complaints over inconsistent focus many people had with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. (Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo)

I also really appreciate that Samsung gave it the ability to connect to any Miracast-enabled TV while using DeX, which gives you yet another way to utilise all of the phone’s performance. For a phone that’s designed to cater toward power users, combined with Samsung’s usual wired DeX mode, this really elevates the Note 20 Ultra from being a really powerful phone into more of a laptop replacement, or at least something you can get real work done on in a pinch.

Speaking of work, in addition to the Note 20 Ultra’s new screen having variable refresh rate (VRR), Samsung has also lowered its touch input latency down to just 9 milliseconds, just like what you get on the Tab S7+ or an iPad Pro. This makes note taking, sketching, or whatever else you use the S-Pen for feel incredibly smooth. And with five new Anywhere Actions for going Back, going Home, summon Recent Apps, using Smart Select, and turning on Screen Write, you could easily use a Note 20 Ultra to host a full Powerpoint presentation without ever needing to hook up a real computer.

But that’s not all, because thanks to the ability to more easily annotate directly onto PDFs using the S-Pen, automatically sync the Samsung notes apps across multiple devices, and link the Note 20 Ultra to a Windows PC via the Your Phone app, using the Note 20 as a complementary work device is even easier now too.

The Note 20 Ultra's high resolution comes in real handy in shots like this, allowing you to capture more details like tiny specks of pollen inside the flower. The more shallow depth of field is a nice touch too.

In this shot, you can see the Note 20 Ultra suffer a bit from Samsung's typical oversharpening, but aside from that, the Note 20 Ultra produced a very respectable image.

While the Note 20 Ultra captured a warmer and more appetizing

Apparently someone doesn't think very highly of the lawn

Th

Once again, the Pixel 4 XL just narrowly beats the Note 20 Ultra thanks to better white balance and details.

Here's one final comp showing the difference between the Note 20 Ultra's main camera and its 5x optical zoom telephoto cam.

Meanwhile, around back, Samsung has remixed the camera components from the S20 Ultra for the Note 20 Ultra, so that this time you get a 108-MP main cam, a 12-MP ultra-wide cam, and a 12-MP telephoto with a 5x optical zoom. And instead of a 3D time-of-flight sensor, Samsung gave the Note 20 Ultra a new laser autofocus system. This might be one of the most clever adjustments Samsung made for the Note 20 Ultra, because by including one less camera ( especially one that was somewhat gimmicky), Samsung was able to lower the price of the phone’s components, while also giving you better more usable camera performance in the real world.

Now admittedly, the Note 20 Ultra’s cameras aren’t without their flaws, because like a lot of Samsung phones, they have a tendency to go a little too hard on sharpening and can sometimes push white balance to skew too yellow, but overall, the Note 20 Ultra’s image quality is just a bit behind what you get from a Pixel 4, which is a respectable place to be. Details are generally sharp, shutter lag is almost non-existent (unless you turn on the phone’s full 108-MP resolution mode), and it’s Pro Video recording mode has even more features and settings for more advanced mobile videographers. And if you have a pair of Galaxy Buds Live, you can even use them as a remote mic while filming when paired with the Note 20 Ultra.

Finally, while the Note 20 Ultra’s 4,500 mAh isn’t quite as large as what you get in a Galaxy S20 Ultra (5,000 mAh), thanks to its more energy-efficient processor and screen, it’s overall battery life of 14 hours and 23 minutes was just 20 shorter than the S20 Ultra (14:41). That’s better than an iPhone 11 Pro (13:00), and a Pixel 4 XL (12:36), but just a bit shorter than an iPhone 11 Pro Max (15:00)

Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo Photo: Sam Rutherford/Gizmodo

For a long time, I’ve been asking what the Galaxy Note line is supposed to be other than just a Galaxy S with a built-in stylus, and with the Note 20 Ultra, Samsung has finally responded. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a gorgeous screen with faster performance and even more productivity features than you get in the fanciest Galaxy S phone, along with way more productivity features and a price tag that’s $140 less.

Frankly, the S-Pen is just a bonus, and when it comes to taking notes during meetings or just drawing silly captions on photos, I’m glad it’s still around. But even without it, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is still so much more thoughtful and refined than the S20 Ultra, or any other super premium phone. Yes, even at $1,999, this thing is still exceedingly expensive, but at long last, Samsung has finally made something truly worth of that “Ultra” tag.

README

  • Samsung says the Note 20 Ultra’s zoom goes up to 50x, but that’s really pushing it. Stick to 5x to 10x for optimal results.
  • It’s hard to capture in photos, but the new matte texture on the Note 20 Ultra’s back feels fantastic.
  • Samsung’s new variable refresh rate display allows the Note 20 Ultra to adjust its scan rate based on the type of content you’re viewing.
  • Despite having faster performance, a better screen, and a built-in stylus, the Note 20 Ultra actually costs $140 less than an S20 Ultra.
  • Samsung is now supporting three generations of Android OS upgrades on select Galaxy phones including the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (which comes pre-installed with Android 10), which makes you feel better about the longevity of a phone this expensive.