Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is an ultra-premium smartphone that comes at a time when the world is in a state of disarray owing to a global pandemic. Humans have been forced to stay inside their homes and find creative ways to get work done. And arguably, their most important tool right now is a smartphone. With the Note 20 Ultra 5G, Samsung’s aim is to obviously serve the needs of the “ultra” demanding user. What follows are my first impressions of the phone.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Smartphone haute couture
No amount of looking at pictures of the phone will prepare you for the real thing. The combination Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s precision engineering and Mystic Bronze colourway makes it look and feel more luxurious than any other smartphone out there. Yes, I am including the iPhone 11 Pro as well. Let’s get the obvious out of the way, this is a massive phone. And, one shouldn’t really complain about the size because it is a phone from the Note lineup. If you don’t like big phones, Samsung has other phones for you.
Talking about the size, using it with one hand is not easy and the Note series was never about one-handed usage anyway. The phone is obviously top heavy thanks to the massive camera bump…scratch that camera mountain…that protrudes out of the rear. It doesn’t just wobble on a flat surface, it does some complicated dance moves “Oppa Samsung Style.” Maybe a third-party case can hide the bump but it will also add to the girth. That said, the Note 20 Ultra without the camera bump is actually slimmer at 8.1mm compared to the 8.8mm thickness of the S20 Ultra.
Now, the rear and the front are both protected by Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus. In fact, the Note 20 Ultra is the first one to use this new material. The other noticeable change is the position of the S-Pen. It has moved from the right to the left now. Samsung wasn’t very forthcoming with the reason for this move, but it doesn’t really matter to be honest. Oh yeah, and there’s still no headphone jack.
One thing to note (no pun intended) is the Note 20 Ultra has a dual-SIM card tray but you can swap one SIM out for a memory card. Interestingly, this doesn’t mean you have to lose out on the Dual SIM functionality because you get support for eSIM with the phone. So, does this make it a Triple-SIM phone? Well, no. At a time you can only use a couple of numbers, which is still good enough.
Note the High Refresh rate display
So, the 6.9-inch display on the front is an excellent 2K resolution curved Dynamic AMOLED panel which can now go up to 1500nits of brightness. That’s just nuts. Now, this is also the first phone in the Note series to get a high refresh rate panel. Yes, the Note 20 Ultra can go up to 120Hz refresh rate but there is a massive catch. The phone only supports an Adaptive mode where it switches between 120Hz and 60Hz at will. That’s totally baffling considering the S20 Ultra comes with a constant 120Hz mode. Also, 120Hz is available only at FHD+ resolution.
Anyway, in regular usage, you won’t really find these things as big issues. I didn’t. It was still a treat to watch videos on this phone especially on the excellent Dual Speaker setup. Talking about the speaker, I must mention that moving it close to the S-Pen’s position on the bottom edge causes the volume to muffle easily when the phone is held in landscape.
Oh by the way, I have to say that the haptic feedback on the Note 20 Ultra is the best you can find on an Android phone. Period.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Upgraded S-Pen features
The S-Pen has also been upgraded considerably now. Any graphic designer would appreciate the fact that Samsung has reduced the touch latency from 42ms to 9ms, which is a phenomenal upgrade. Numerically, the latency is on par with Apple Pencil’s latency on an iPad. And theoretically, the Pen literally glides on the screen and I could immediately sense that it was better than the Note 10+.
Add to that, Samsung has ported Air Actions from the camera to the regular screen. Which means you can do weird moves to perform different tasks in the air by pressing the button. For example, doing an inverted V minimises the app. Or, scribbling in the air takes a screenshot and you can annotate on it. I doubt if I’d ever use it often.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – The Exynos 990 debacle
Okay, let’s come to the contentious topic – Exynos 990. While it supports 5G now, making it future-proof, it is considerably underpowered for a flagship chip compared to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+. Incidentally, the Note 20 Ultra in the US comes with the SD865+ chip. While I didn’t notice any problem in daily performance, the Exynos 990 is clearly not meant for gamers. PUBG runs at max9 HDR and Ultra settings.
Even Call of Duty doesn’t touch Max framerate at Very High graphics, which is a pity. But, I still enjoyed COD Mobile on this big screen. I was particularly surprised at the incredible touch latency. It was excellent.
Now, the battery inside the Note 20 Ultra is a 4500mAh unit, and I will talk about the battery life and charging speeds in my full review. So stay tuned for that.
Pared down S20 Ultra cameras
I expected the camera setup on the Note 20 Ultra to be exactly the same as the one on the S20 Ultra. However, it has been pared down. While the primary camera is the same 108MP unit, you now get a 12MP telephoto instead of a 48MP sensor from the S20 Ultra. Also, the lens attached to the telephoto camera can zoom in further. So, you get proper 5x optical zoom instead of 4x on the S20 Ultra. Plus there is 50x hybrid zoom as well. But yes, there’s no 100x digital zoom.
There’s also the same 12MP ultra-wide angle camera on the Note 20 Ultra ported from the S20 Ultra.Oh yeah, it also looks like Samsung has realised there is no real use for a TOF sensor, so it has removed that. And finally, you get a 10MP selfie camera, which is also a toned down selfie shooter compared to the S20 Ultra’s massive 40MP unit.
I can’t talk much about the camera performance just yet but I noticed that auto-focussing was better compared to the S20 Ultra thanks to the new extra Laser autofocus. The pictures look good with excellent dynamic range and are ever so slightly over-saturated for that pop of colours. The colour science parity is great between the ultrawide and the main camera as well. Night shots looked good too.
Anyway, I have a few samples, take a look at them and judge for yourself.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Closing thoughts
Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is undoubtedly gorgeous but I am definitely disappointed that it doesn’t get SD865+ in India. Apart from that niggle, there is no denying that with the Note 20 Ultra you get a top-of-the-line premium usage experience and I am already enjoying my time with the phone. Stay tuned for my full review.