Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hands-on: Flagship status earned

Patrick

Samsung announced the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra this week, the company’s professional-grade flagship phone for the year. The two phones carry forward the Note brand in style, with top-notch materials, high-level specs, and sultry sex appeal to boot. What is it like to use these phones? Samsung lent us the larger Galaxy Note 20 Ultra so we can offer you our thoughts.

Find out if first impressions are as important as they say in the Android Authority Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hands-on.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Bigger, better, and pricier

Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has always been for the power users, and this year’s models are no different — especially the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. This new ultra-premium phone is Samsung’s most refined device yet.

Design: Frankenphone

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra display

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus was an elegant piece of hardware with delicate lines and classy looks. The S20 series, which debuted in February, was a bit more brutish in its looks, with chunky design elements and outrageous dimensions (at least in the S20 Ultra). The Note 20 Ultra blends delicate with chunky in a way that actually works.

Samsung didn’t move away from the glass sandwich design. You’ve got Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, a razor-thin layer of aluminum in the middle, and Gorilla Glass on the rear. The shape of the aluminum is rather close in overall looks to that of last year’s phone, which is to say the thin rails run down the side edges and then expand along the top and bottom edges. The glass is curved steeply on both sides, something that’s become a signature look for the Note.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra right edge

Then there’s the camera module. One of the S20 series’ most unsightly features are the large, blocky camera modules on the rear panel. Samsung duplicated them to some degree on the back of the Note 20 Ultra, though for some reason it simply looks better. Perhaps it’s the uniformity of the lens size, or the simplicity of the layout. I don’t know what it is, but I don’t mind the camera module of the Note 20 Ultra as much as I did the module on the S20 phones. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s really, really big. The Note 10 Plus’ camera module looks downright dainty in comparison.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera profile

The colors this year are Mystic Black, Mystic White, and Mystic Bronze. Samsung says bronze is the signature look. It’s rose gold to my eyes, but you may see it differently. Personally, I prefer the mirror-like finish of last year’s phones.

Otherwise, I have no significant complaints about the design.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is here

Usability: Hand-stretching

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with accessories

The size will be an issue for some. Samsung stretched the display by 0.1 inches year over year, which means it stretched the dimensions of the phone itself to 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm and 208g. You can’t accuse any Galaxy Note phone of being small, but this phone is simply gigantic. It is on the border of being too big. Surely it will be too big for many users out there, while others will find giving up pocket space for that luscious screen is a sacrifice they’re willing to make.

Samsung made some changes that will simultaneously please and irk Note fans. First, the S Pen. For the first time ever, Samsung has moved the S Pen from the right side of the phone to the left side. As a lefty, this is good news. But my right-handed friends may not be so happy about the change. Almost as if to offset this alteration, Samsung restored the buttons to the right (and correct!) side of the phone. The Note 10 series saw the power and volume buttons placed awkwardly along the left edge. Samsung has returned these keys to the right side where they are more natural to use. The quality of the buttons is excellent.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra top edges

The combo SIM card and microSD card tray is tucked into the top edge of the phone. This is common for Note phones. The USB-C port is centered on the bottom, with a speaker to one side. Despite the gargantuan size of the phone, there is no headphone jack.

Samsung ensured the phone meets IP68 for protection from water and dust.

More reading: Samsung debuts Galaxy Tab S7

Display: The Heart of the Galaxy

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra punch hole

The display has always been the center of the Galaxy Note experience. In this regard, Samsung pulled out all the stops. The panel measures a tablet-challenging 6.9 inches and offers WQHD+ for superior resolution. It’s an Infinity-O panel, which means it features a small, centered punch hole for the selfie camera. Samsung opted for its Super AMOLED 2 display tech and double the refresh rate from the Note 10 Plus’ 60Hz to 120Hz. Together, these specs and measurements mean you get a stellar, stellar display.

At first blush, it looks fantastic. We haven’t performed any sort of objective analysis, but it’s a stunning display that lives up to the Note name. I held it side by side against the Note 10 Plus and the refresh rate delivers a smooth experience that has the Note 10 Plus beat by a mile.

Considering the specs and the initial performance, we’d say this is the display to beat. It’s a gamer’s dream, and will be an excellent canvas for watching movies and getting work done.

Check out: Samsung Galaxy Buds Live review

S Pen: Carried Over

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra S Pen

Unbelievably, Samsung didn’t change the S Pen itself at all. Comparing the Note 10 Plus pen to the Note 20 Ultra pen it’s clear they are the exact same stylus. In fact, the Note 10’s stylus fits into the sleeve of the Note 20 Ultra perfectly. Samsung typically tweaks the S Pen a little each year, which is why I’m so surprised to see it carried over.

The S Pen does have new powers, however, that Samsung says make the Note Ultra 20 all the more powerful. Called Air Actions, you can make certain gestures in the air to get the Note 20 Ultra to perform tasks such as advancing a PowerPoint slide. I like the concept, but will have to test the reality to see how accurate Samsung’s claims really are.

All this said, the S Pen is somewhat comfortable to hold. I prefer a rounder shape, the but two flattened edges of the stylus do make it easier to grip the S Pen tightly when needed. More to the point, the more sensitive display and faster processor mean the S Pen is much more responsive on the screen. Samsung says it reduced latency from 50ms to 9ms. This means it is closer than ever to the experience of writing on paper. We’ll see. In a side-by-side comparison the Note 10’s S Pen felt sluggish while the Note 20’s felt quick.

See also: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Everything you need to know

Everything else: Spec beast

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra camera closeup straight on

There’s a lot going on under the hood here. You’ll find the Snapdragon 865 Plus powering the phone, along with 12GB of RAM and either 128GB or 512GB of storage. The cameras are arranged in a standard array with 108MP main sensor and 12MP wide and telephoto sensors. You’ve got 8K video capture, as well as a 21:9 cinema mode for more movie-like footage. The phone has a 4,500mAh battery, which is bigger than last year’s phone, though smaller than the 5,000mAh beast in the S20 Ultra. There’s 5G, Wi-Fi 6, and Bluetooth 5.1, as well as an UWB tech for fast intra-phone file transfers.

There’s no question the Note 20 Ultra is a monster of a phone.

  Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Display 6.7-inch AMOLED Infinity-O
FHD+ resolution
20:9 aspect ratio
60Hz refresh rate
6.9-inch AMOLED Infinity-O
WQHD+ resolution
19.3:9 aspect ratio
120Hz refresh rate
Construction Plastic (aka Glasstic) body
Flat display
Gorilla Glass 5 display cover
Metal and glass body
Curved (Edge) display
Gorilla Glass 7 display cover
CPU NA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus
Global: Samsung Exynos 990
NA: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus
Global: Samsung Exynos 990
Storage NA: 128GB internal
No microSD card support

Global: 256GB internal
No microSD card support

NA: 128GB or 512GB internal
microSD card support up to 2TB

Global: 256GB or 512GB internal
microSD card support up to 2TB

RAM 8GB
LPDDR5
12GB
LPDDR5
Power 4,300mAh battery
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
4.5W reverse wireless charging
4,500mAh battery
25W wired charging
15W wireless charging
4.5W reverse wireless charging
Cameras Rear:
12MP 2PD OIS wide-angle (ƒ/1.8, 1.8μm)
64MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0, 0.8μm, hybrid 3x zoom)
12MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm)

Front:
10MP 2PD AF (ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm)

Rear:
108MP PD OIS wide-angle (ƒ/1.8, 0.8μm)
12MP telephoto (ƒ/3.0, 1.0μm, optical 5x zoom)
12MP ultra-wide (ƒ/2.2, 1.4μm)
Laser AF

Front:
10MP 2PD AF (ƒ/2.2, 1.22μm)

Video 8K at 24fps in 16×9 or 21:9 8K at 24fps in 16×9 or 21:9
Security In-display fingerprint sensor
Ultrasonic technology
In-display fingerprint sensor
Ultrasonic technology
Durability IP68 certified IP68 certified
Connectivity 5G (separate sub-6GHz and mmWave models)
Wi-Fi 6

4G only model available in selected markets

5G (sub-6GHz and mmWave)
Wi-Fi 6
Colors Mystic Gray
Mystic Green
Mystic Bronze
Mystic Black
Mystic White
Mystic Bronze
Dimensions & weight 75.2 x 161.6 x 8.3mm
192g (sub-6GHz only)
194g (mmWave supported)
77.2 x 164.8 x 8.1mm
208g

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hands-on: Is it for you?

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra rear panel

That’s the question, eh? If you’re a Note fan, there’s lots to love here. It’s a fine-looking piece of hardware that easily covers all the bases. It’s got an elegant design, possibly the best display, and all the tools you’ve come to know and love over the years. For gamers, the allure of the overclocked Snapdragon 865 and high-speed display are a real draw. If you’re a mobile pro, the large screen real estate is excellent for multitasking and you’ve got the S Pen to keep you productive.

As always, cost is an issue. With a starting price of $1,299, the Note 20 Ultra is no casual purchase. You’re looking at about $55 per month (or almost $2 per day) on a 24-month carrier installment plan. That’s no small amount of change.

Our first impression is that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the phone to beat in 2020. For now, however, we’re going to put it through its paces so we can deliver a final verdict later this month.

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