The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is an impressive and forceful reconfiguration of the Android superphone goalposts and an assertive push for ultimate productivity and performance.
If you remember, I had referred to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra earlier this year as the first true Android superphone. For me, a superphone is something that further redefines flagship Android phones with a combination of extremely powerful specifications, smarter software and the overall experience that could put most computing devices in the shade. And now we have the second superphone, as I would still like to call it. The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra. This is the latest Samsung Galaxy Note phone, and really, there is no other way of putting this—the greatest Samsung Galaxy Note phone ever. And I say this after having spent enough time with this beauty to truly understand that this isn’t just a typical annual refresh, but a lot of thought has gone into making the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra the package that it actually is.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is part of the duo of Galaxy Note phones that arrive in the market, and in your radar now. The other being the regular Samsung Galaxy Note20. The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra does cost a bit of money, mind you for all the power that you get, with the sticker price that reads Rs 1,04,999. That being said, there are a whole bunch of prebooking offers lined up as well (You can check those out here). Right now, Samsung is offering the Galaxy Note20 Ultra in just one variant in India, which packs in 12GB RAM, 256GB storage and has a microSD card slot that lets you add up to 1TB more storage. This keeps the line-up simple and uncomplicated, particularly because the subjective storage requirements for a user will be taken care of by the card slot, for those who want more than 256GB.
Also, the slightly updated naming bit. The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra succeeds last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note10+, the then larger of the two Galaxy Note10 variants. The switch from “+” or Plus to Ultra brings this at par with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In a way, that makes the distinction between the S series and the Note series even clearer, while retaining the same hints of performance and screen size.
SAMSUNG MAKES SOME MYSTICALLY BEAUTIFUL PHONES, NO ARGUMENTS THERE
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra gets the “Mystic” line of colorways. For the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, it is the Mystic Bronze and Mystic Black that are your choices at this time, while the standard Galaxy Note20 gets the Mystic Bronze, Mystic Green and Mystic Blue colour options—with Mystic Blue getting added very recently. There is just something about the Mystic Bronze finish that makes it instantly likeable. The satin finish, the luxurious aura, the way the light reflects off it in a diffused manner and how it blends with the blackness of the curved display overflowing on the spines. It is very clear that Samsung knows how to make beautiful phones. Personally, the proverbial cherry on the cake is that this finish doesn’t attract dust, smudges or fingerprints—it is priceless.
As far as the footprint goes, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is just very slightly taller than the Galaxy Note10+ and actually less tall than the Galaxy S20 Ultra. This tips the scales at 208 grams, which is a smidgen more than the Galaxy Note10+ at 196 grams and less than the 222 grams of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. There are no corners cut in terms of the added protection layer, with the IP68 dust and water resistance rating. In fact, and this is very rare for big screen phones, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra doesn’t exhibit any urge to slip out of your hand and it stays put quite snugly and that reassurance is very helpful.
While on the face of it, everything seems very much where it should be. But the keen-eyed Galaxy Note users will tell you how the storage chamber of the S Pen in the Galaxy Note20 Ultra has switched to the left side of the phone, as you hold it. The answer lies at the back, with the multi-camera setup taking up the space for innards. The slick mechanism to access the S Pen and safely secure it after you are done, remains as before.
Last but not least is the protection of the scratch and damage resistant glass. The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is the first phone ever to use the very latest Corning Gorilla Glass Victus—the strongest glass the company has ever made, yet. If nothing else, this goes on to show how Samsung has definitely thought out the finer details.
The camera bulge at the back is probably going to face some criticism because it does stick out a bit. That being said, it doesn’t really get in your way except that it doesn’t let the Galaxy Note20 Ultra lie down flat on a table. Therefore, every time you may want to tap the screen without lifting it up, you’ll basically be doing the see-saw with the phone. That’s the compromise for powerful cameras in a smartphone, and I honestly do not mind.
There is just something about the Mystic Bronze finish that makes it instantly likeable. The satin finish, the luxurious aura, the way the light reflects off it
THIS DISPLAY KNOWS WHAT YOU ARE WATCHING AND IS SMART ENOUGH TO ADAPT
This isn’t the first smartphone that has a 120Hz refresh rate display. That is something we have seen on many other phones thus far. But what the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra brings to the table on that front is something that just resets the experience benchmark, significantly. Unlike the standard 60Hz, 90Hz and 120Hz options in the display settings that let you make the switch, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra does things on its own. You simply need to tell it in the display settings that you want it to go all the way to 120Hz when needed. And then the variable refresh rate capabilities come into play. The phone will smartly assess what you are looking at on the display and modify the refresh rate dynamically. To the next round number. If you are reading an email, for instance, you don’t need 120Hz refresh rate. Other Android phones will not do that for you, but the Galaxy Note20 Ultra will drop it down to save on power and battery.
This Dynamic AMOLED 2X display uses a low-power Adaptive Frequency tech that can reduce the power consumption of OLED displays by altering the refresh rate. This screen can go as low as 10Hz, which will translate into significantly better battery over the span of a day as you use the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra as a work phone switching between different apps and tasks. This saves up to 60% battery with certain apps and tasks, and it all adds up in the end. You will never notice any changes in brightness or any sort of flickering when this dynamic switch happens, which is a testament to how smoothly the transition takes place, often more than once every few seconds.
SUPERSIZED BRILLIANCE, AND I LOVE IT
I love big screen phones. I would almost always choose an Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max over an iPhone 11, a OnePlus 8 Pro over a OnePlus 8 or a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra over a Samsung Galaxy S20. Purely for the extra real estate space available to enjoy content on. With the 6.9-inch display, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is now at par with the Galaxy S20 Ultra as the two largest phones in Samsung’s Android phone line-up, if we don’t count the foldable phones for a moment.
If you are okay with big screen phones, you’d love how amazing this canvas is for reading, watching something on Netflix, a bit of gaming, browsing the beautiful feed on Instagram and editing photos. Just pretty much any task you may have on the phone, this will match it with a visual treat that most other smartphone displays cannot do. It is incredibly bright as well, rated at 1500nits, and that makes this more than capable of matching up to a bright summer sun. As for ticking off the spec sheet, this goes all the way up to 3088 x 1440 pixels resolution and is HDR10+ ready.
The one thing that I did keep noticing from time to time is the edge touch rejection. While it absolutely never happened with me while holding the phone normally, but when I was lounging around and had the Galaxy Note20 Ultra resting on my stomach (some say it is bulging more and more everyday), the swipe up gestures to open the task manager for instance, didn’t respond as desired. This could purely require a sensitivity update as part of a future software update to iron this out.
The auto brightness, in my opinion, still remain a tad on the brighter side in a dimly lit room or at night with the lights out. Perhaps the algorithms are erring on the side of caution for better visibility, but I did find myself manually dimming it further by pulling the slider from the notification bar.
MORE POWER THAN YOU NEED, AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT
Under the hood, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra runs the same Exynos 990 chip that does a fantastic job in the Galaxy S20 Ultra as well. This is paired with 12GB RAM. It is pointless to try and illustrate how powerful this combination is. It is very unlikely that you’ll ever be able to take this to the limit, get close to the performance ceiling or even make it slow down.
A lot of the hardware’s brilliance is matched by the One UI 2.5 which while visually remains the same as before for the most part but has seen significant improvements in terms of power and RAM management. All that translates into less utilized resources, less clutter and better battery life.
The Exynos 990 in the current implementation in the Galaxy Note20 Ultra does not exhibit any tendence to heat up, with nothing being felt on the back panel except a mild feeling of warmth after about 15 minutes of playing the F1 Racing game. Or when using the camera to record a video—something I have to do extensively these days because of work from home. Except that one time when the Amazon app started to act up for some reason, and the phone did exhibit some heating just to the right of the lower side of the camera bump on the back. Force-closing the app solved that issue.
The big 4500mAh battery has good stamina levels, which means that not only will you get through the day without battery anxiety towards the evening, but if you forget to charge this at night, it’ll easily last you for a few more hours. The battery saver modes are quite detailed in the Settings app and leaving it on the Adaptive Power Savings Mode worked best for me. A lot of the exact screen run time and total standby hours will depend on the apps you use, screen brightness and more, but the improvements most definitely make this quite robust for a smartphone as powerful and large as this.
Samsung is bundling the 25W Super Fast Charger with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra as a standard accessory. A fully discharged battery can be juiced up to as much as 50% in 30 minutes. It supports Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 too.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra also gets a Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio which allows for proximity file sharing—and that is exactly how you get the Nearby Share option in the Android share sheet that lets you send documents, photos and videos to another Samsung phone that also has UWB. Not many of those around at this time, but it’ll change soon. And it is good to have this option.
S PEN GETS ITS BIGGEST UPDATE IN YEARS
The S Pen is the Galaxy Note’s party piece and has been that way for years. The latency of the new S Pen is 9ms, which is down from 42ms in the last year’s Galaxy Note 10+. Couple that significant reduction in latency with the 120Hz refresh rate display and what you get is an even more accurate scribbling, writing, doodling, annotating and drawing experience. The entire gamut of S Pen capabilities is still going strong, including the ability to quickly jot down notes on the screen without having to unlock the phone or have something you’ve jotted down get converted to text.
WIRELESS DEX MAKES THIS YOUR PC TOO, BUT YOUR TV MAY KILL THE MOOD
We have often been given the whole spiel about how a smartphone can replace a laptop. Well, more often than not, the experience has flattered to deceive. With the wireless DeX mode in the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, that promise could very well be coming true in reality. The idea of being able to replicate a desktop-mode of Android on a large screen, such as a TV, makes a lot of sense.
The DeX UI is something we have seen before as well, including on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6, and it works great for productivity apps in particular. Since its all wireless, it can potentially be very convenient.
Yet, a lot will depend on the TV you are trying to connect with. For instance, I was able to get wireless DeX working on a Sony Bravia Android TV device, but there isn’t any detailed screen mirroring option on the OnePlus TV or the TCL C8 (both Android TVs), for instance. You’ll be the luckiest if you have a Samsung smart TV, which I didn’t happen to have around while reviewing the Galaxy Note20 Ultra.
MICROSOFT’S BEST SMARTPHONE IS MADE BY SAMSUNG
There is a lot happening with the Samsung and Microsoft partnership that will make its way to the Galaxy Note20 Ultra in the coming weeks and months. For instance, there is the option to sync the Samsung Notes app, complete with all your notes and doodles, to Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Outlook apps—this arrives in November.
Then there is the Your Phone app for Windows 10 which in its latest avatar lets you simply replicate your Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s screen on your Windows 10 computing device. All apps on the phone will be accessible on the PC screen, including the ability to pin them in the taskbar. This means you’ll probably not have to even pick up your phone for the most part.
Then there is the Xbox Game Pass that is coming to the Galaxy Note20 Ultra that will let you play more than 100 Xbox games from the cloud. This feature rolls out in beta in September, and you’ll require an Xbox Game Pass subscription.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s very powerful camera setup delivers some fantastic photos. Not everyone may like the bump, but that is a compromise I do not mind for great cameras
CAMERAS ARE A CASE OF ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra packs in an impressive array of cameras. If you are someone who uses the phone to take photos, you will be impressed for sure. This has the 108-megapixel paired with two 12-megapixel cameras along with laser autofocus, optical image stabilization and 50x hybrid zoom. The one thing that Samsung had to guard against was the slow autofocus that the Galaxy S20 Ultra initially struggled with, till software updates ironed that out. For that, Samsung has used the Laser autofocus which really speeds up things.
The Space Zoom is now limited to 50x instead of 100x, which in the real world, as near as makes no difference. On the spec sheet yes, but really, no. What matters is the 5x optical zoom, which should hold you in good stead for distant photography.
There is new smartness for video recordings too, if you are using the Pro Video mode that is—there is the automatic zoom in and zoom out for precise and accurate recordings with no judder that a human toggling the controls might be able to introduce. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra can also record 8K videos at 24fps, which makes this as future proof as a smartphone camera can be.
Coming back to photos, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s very powerful camera setup delivers some fantastic photos, particularly in well-lit environments. In low light, if you work the focus areas manually, you’ll get pretty good detail. I prefer to keep the camera at the 108-megapixel mode—though I lose out on the zoom functionality compared with the standard mode that merges pixel data from the various cameras, I get much more details to zoom in on and even edit. Yes, the image file sizes are much larger, but to be honest, there are enough file storage options out there for you to splurge on and get all the space you need to store these in their original brilliance. Focus is much faster as well and clicking moving objects isn’t exactly hard.
But flip the Galaxy Note20 Ultra to the front, and there is a 10-megapixel camera waiting for you for all the video calls and selfies. This is far cry from the 40-megapixel front camera that the Galaxy S20 Ultra has, and something that I can testify with all the video links that I have shot on it during this coronavirus pandemic work from home time. While this will get the job done for the most part, ensure you aren’t on a Microsoft Teams, Google Duo or Zoom call with inconsistent lighting around you, else some graininess will show.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is an impressive and forceful reconfiguration of the Android experience goalposts and an assertive push for ultimate productivity and performance on a superphone
THE LAST WORD: SAMSUNG GALAXY NOTE20 ULTRA IS ALL POWER AND SOPHISTICATION
In a world and a time when so many smartphones are launched, very similar to each other in more ways than one, it is hard for a new phone to stand out so emphatically. That is exactly what the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra does—it is an impressive and forceful reconfiguration of the Android superphone goalposts and an assertive push for ultimate productivity and performance. Everything about the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is very likeable, almost instantaneously. The few shortcomings aren’t at all important in the larger scheme of things. It isn’t just raw power. It has a beautiful design. It isn’t just another large screen phone. It has a S Pen that’s better than ever before. It isn’t just another Android phone that tout’s performance. It has cameras that are incredibly capable. It doesn’t just have 12GB RAM. It is also futureproof and is ready for 5G mobile networks.
There remains absolutely no doubt that the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is the very best that Android has to offer. Yes, there are phones that cost about half as much, such as the very capable OnePlus 8 Pro, which deliver an excellent Android flagship experience. Yet, let us not do a comparison of disservice to either the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or the OnePlus 8 Pro and similar phones. The thing is, if budget no bar, this is as cutting edge as an Android phone can get. Hence, superphone.