The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra – while expensive – feels like a flagship with great potential. In contrast, the Galaxy Note20 – also quite expensive – feels like you’d be better off getting a Note10+ instead.

What happened?

Domino effect

When it comes to displays, the difference between the Galaxy Note20 Ultra and the vanilla Note20 is quite stark. This time it isn’t size – at 6.9” and 6.7” they are closer than before – but it’s the type of the panel used.

Hot take: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

The Ultra has sharp 1440p+ display that can refresh at 120Hz. This also brings 240Hz touch sampling rate, Samsung wants to turn this into a sort-of gaming phone with a collaboration with Microsoft and its service that will stream 100+ Xbox titles to your phone.

The faster display also allows the phone to track its S Pen with lower latency, making its use even more natural. The 60Hz display of the base Note20, while still offering faster response times than the Note10 duo, can’t quite match the 9ms of the Ultra. Cutting one feature disabled two others.

And we haven’t even mentioned the resolution yet – 1440p on the Ultra, 1080p on the vanilla. Granted, you have to set the rendering mode to 1080p if you want to use Ultra’s 120Hz capabilities, but you still get the option for sharper 1440p rendering.

There’s probably not much overlap between business people who want to annotate documents with the stylus and gamers who want to play PUBG at 120 fps. Still, both groups of people are not easily scared off by a four digit price tag, which is great since the Note20 Ultra starts at $1,300/€1,299.

Hot take: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

But could the vanilla model struggle to justify its €949 asking price? It may end up stuck in no man’s land – too expensive to be a Lite, not capable enough to be a 2020 flagship.

The prince and the pauper

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra will be the first phone to hit the market with the new Gorilla Glass Victus. We’d be curious to see if it can live up to the promise of surviving drops from 2 m (6.5 ft) height, but either way the knowledge you’re getting the latest and greatest softens the blow of that hefty price tag.

However, the Galaxy Note20 is getting only Gorilla Glass 5 – that’s what the Note9 had, the Note10 used GG6. Why the downgrade? And that’s not all, the vanilla model has a polycarbonate back.

Now, typically we’re fans of the material but it’s down to execution – when done well, polycarbonate can be wonderfully soft and warm, scratch and shatter resistant too. Or it could feel like ordinary plastic. Having not spent enough time with the Note20 we don’t know which it is yet, but we’re pretty sure that the last polycarbonate flagships we handled didn’t cost $1,000.

Honestly, once you put a case on it, it doesn’t matter, but it still stings to know that you’re paying a princely sum and getting a plain material in return.

Player 1 has joined the game

Is Samsung seriously trying to turn the Galaxy Note20 Ultra into a gaming phone? The 120 Hz screen with 240 Hz touch sampling rate plus Snapdragon 865+ say “yes”. The collaboration with Microsoft and the Xbox Game Pass app concur.

Hot take: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

There’s also the heat dissipating case from Razer that adds a dash of gaming aesthetic as the phone itself lacks sci-fi embellishments and RGB LEDs. Those who pre-order can score the free gaming bundle, which includes three months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, a wireless charger and a MOGA XP5-X+ controller.

It may seem a little jarring to think of a Galaxy Note as a gaming phone, but this will expose the pricey phone to a new group of potential buyers. And as discussed, this group is used to paying top dollar.

A chip(set) of the old block

The Snapdragon 865+ is the chipset of choice for the latest Android gaming phones. Not only does it bring 10% higher CPU and GPU performance, it also enables Wi-Fi 6E connectivity, which has much lower latency than 5GHz Wi-Fi (input and network latency are the sworn enemy of high-paced gaming).

Hot take: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

And if you live in North America, South Korea, Japan or China, that’s the end of the story. If you’re in Europe, India, Brazil or Australia, however, you’re getting the Exynos 990 instead. Not 990+, not 995, just the same chipset as the Galaxy S20 phones from earlier this year.

Many were unhappy about the Snapdragon/Exynos divide when the S20s came out (and those had the non-plus 865) and now the gap between the chips is even larger, so many more will (rightfully) complain. Especially since the phones cost more in Europe than they do in the US.

Camera improvements pending review

The plus versions of Samsung’s flagships have had better camera hardware for a while now. That is more true than ever with the Ultra models, they are the only ones in the Galaxy family with a periscope lens.

The S20 Ultra impressed with a 48 MP Quad Bayer sensor that was pretty large to boot, 1/2.0”. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra switches the optics – the new periscope offers 5x magnification (up from 4x) and a brighter f/3.0 aperture (compared to f/3.5).

On paper, the smaller 12 MP sensor that sits behind the new periscope seems like a downgrade. However, the new optics may prove to be just what was needed to improve the image quality of zoom shots, so we’ll wait until we have fully reviewed the phone before passing final judgment.


Camera specs: Galaxy Note20 Ultra
Camera specs: Galaxy Note20

Camera specs: Galaxy Note20 Ultra • Galaxy Note20

The massive 1/1.33” 108 MP sensor is still a marvel, even if some were unhappy with the occasional focusing issues. Samsung axed the 3D ToF sensor in favor of a Laser AF, which again may seem like a downgrade, but we’ll give Samsung engineers the benefit of the doubt – if the switch resolves the focus issues, we’re all for it.

We’ve focused on Note20 Ultra’s camera so far as there’s not much to say about the base Note20 and its camera. It’s just the S20/S20+ triple setup again, which while quite capable, is available on much cheaper phones.

That said, when we compared the Galaxy S20 and Note10 (which has the same cam as the Note10+), we found that the S-phone performed better in the dark (using the main and ultra wide cams) while the zoom camera produced better results during the daytime (at night they were about even).

Slow on fast charging

Multiple companies are rushing to release the first phone with 100+ watt fast charging now that 65W is reasonably common. Samsung itself designed chips that support 100 W USB Power Delivery.

Hot take: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

So, how fast can the Note20 phones charge? 25 watts. Even the Galaxy S20 Ultra could do 45 W (assuming you bought a separate charger), why are we taking a step back to 25 W? We know that some prefer charging the phone slowly to extend battery life. But you can always do that, even if it supports 100 W. The opposite, however, is not true.

Other bits and bobs

The new S Pen features “Anywhere gestures”. It uses its gyro and Bluetooth to sense motion gestures and inform the phone. While cool, it only supports a few gestures (back, home, etc.) so you can’t use it as a mouse.

More interesting is the wireless DeX capability. You can mirror the screen on many modern TVs and do a presentation or just set up a split screen view to do multiple things at once.

The capability to “run” Android apps from your phone on a Windows computer (really they run on the phone, which then streams video to the PC) also seems promising as the apps appear as native windows.

Finally, Samsung is promising 3 major OS updates for both the Note20 and Note20 Ultra. That’s great news at a time when the Pixel lineup was relegated to the mid-range. Also great since phones this expensive should last 3-4 years and they will.

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