Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G review – shooting for the moon and landing among the stars 

Rating: 9/10

Pros:

  • Breathtakingly exquisite design
  • Improved camera performance over the S20 Ultra
  • S-Pen is a treat to use thanks to 9ms latency
  • Display is tailor-made for video watching
  • First 5G-ready Samsung phone in India
  • OneUI 2.5 is a great software experience

Cons:

  • Exynos 990 could’ve been more powerful
  • Average battery life
  • S-Pen gestures still feel gimmicky 

Introduction

Now that the dust has settled around the fact that the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G comes with the Exynos 990 chip – instead of SD865+ – in India, let me take you through how much of a difference that actually makes. Also, since this is the first Galaxy Note phone in our country to breach the 1 lakh rupee price barrier, I’ll let you know if it is worth that much. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G – Design

I spoke at length about the design of the Note20 Ultra 5G in my first impressions piece. And, most of those observations stay. The points worth noting are:

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra – Mr. Phone – 14
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra – Mr. Phone – 15
  1. The Mystic Bronze colourway is a stunner and this is the best looking smartphone of 2020. Period. 
  2. The phone is massive and you’d have to be an alien with gargantuan hands to use the Note20 Ultra with one hand. But, it doesn’t really matter considering the Note series has always been a hulking behemoth so one shouldn’t really complain. Also, the in-hand feel of the matte finish rear is phenomenal. Yes, it is slightly top heavy but not so much that it is unbearable to use or anything. Plus, for what it is worth, the Note20 Ultra minus the camera bump is slimmer than the S20 Ultra.
  3. Talking about the bump, this is the largest protruding camera module you’ll ever see on a phone. And, since there is no case in the box (which is baffling considering the international variant gets a very good hard plastic case), you will have to live with this bump. Thankfully, you get Corning’s Gorilla Glass 6 protection on the bump. 
  4. The position of the S-Pen has changed from the right to the left. It doesn’t really make much of a difference. Your muscle memory will easily learn the change in a few hours with the phone. 
  5. Which brings me to the fact that the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is the first phone to actually use the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and the back. It feels pretty sturdy and I don’t have a scratch in the two weeks that I’ve used it. So, that’s good. 
  6. There’s still no headphone jack. 
  7. The power button and the volume rocker are extremely tactile. And, the SIM tray is a hybrid one. You can add two SIMs or one SIM and one memory card. But, if you have a second sim with eSIM support, you can do that too. 

That about sums up my thoughts on the design of the Note20 Ultra. One thing’s for certain, it is better looking than the S20 Ultra. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G – Display

The Note20 Ultra has a gorgeous 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED screen, with a peak brightness level of 1500 nits that can blind anyone. Also, this is the first Galaxy Note phone with a high refresh rate 120Hz display. Now, this is a new LTPO panel that uses adaptive refresh rate that switches dynamically between 60Hz and 120Hz on the fly. This means you should “ideally” get better battery performance. I’ll tell you why the word ideally is in quotes, a little later.

In any case, this display is a treat for watching movies and playing games. The tiny center punch-hole camera is symmetrical in placement and I didn’t find it distracting during my usage either. I doubt if anyone can find faults with this screen. Except if, someone is vehemently against curved panels. I am not a fan of curved panels but don’t find it irritating if the curvature is not too steep. The subtle curve on the Note20 Ultra’s display is absolutely fine for me. 

By the way, the in-display fingerprint scanner also sits on the display and it is of the ultrasonic kind. It is fast and very responsive. Furthermore, the haptic feedback is the best I’ve tested on an Android smartphone yet. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G – S-Pen

The most significant new upgrade to the Note20 Ultra is something most users won’t even realise until they use it alongside an older generation note phone. In many ways, the upgrade from 42ms touch latency to 9ms latency of the S-Pen on the Note20 Ultra is very similar to the refresh rate upgrade on smartphone displays. I absolutely loved using the new S-Pen on the Note20 Ultra’s display. I am not much of an artist and yet it was such a fun experience to actually use it. I made it a part of my workflow actually. 

Apart from that, the S-Pen now has air gestures available across the system UI. You can do some whacky hand gestures to minimise apps, open the multitasking carousel, and so on and so forth. Trust me, it still feels gimmicky and unnecessary. 

Performance & battery life

Coming to the contentious topic – the use of Samsung Exynos 990 in the Indian variant of the Note20 Ultra. Well, it is definitely a letdown. You don’t get the absolute best performance from a phone that costs upwards of rupees one lakh. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the benchmark scores of the OnePlus 8 Pro (SD865) and the ASUS ROG Phone 3 (SD865+) in comparison to the Note20 Ultra’s Exynos 990. You’ll see a major difference in both AnTuTu and Geekbench. 

Now, I am not saying that the Note 20 Ultra is underpowered. Far from it. In fact, I actually preferred the Note 20 Ultra for COD: Mobile despite playing at one step lower graphics. And, the daily usage was pretty good too. So, if you don’t care about absolute numbers or a 10-20% bump in graphics performance, the Note 20 Ultra will serve your purpose. 

Moving on, there is another problem with the Exynos 990 and that is power efficiency. In my testing, despite the use of the LTPO display and a fairly large 4500mAh battery, I consistently got 5hrs of SoT on heavy usage with the display set to FHD+ res and 120Hz refresh rate. And, the battery actually died in 12hrs of usage. With the display set to 60Hz and QHD+ resolution, I got a slightly higher SoT of 5hr 30mins, but nothing more. I can assure you, the international reviews will have glowing battery life for the SD variant of the Note20 Ultra. In comparison, Exynos 990 has let us down here. Anyway, you also get only a 25W charger in the box and that charges from 0 to 100 in 1 hr and 15 mins. 

Anyway, let’s move on to the good things now. The Note 20 Ultra’s dual speaker setup coupled with Dolby Atmos sounds excellent and the wireless audio performance is great too. I tested quite a few truly wireless earphones with it as well. 

And, the call quality and network performance on Airtel 4G in Delhi NCR was magnificent. No call or 4G internet drops whatsoever. It was rock solid, through and through. The basics is what Samsung always nails and many others sometimes falter at. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G – Software

Now, the software experience on the Note20 Ultra thanks to the very refined OneUI 2.5 on top of Android 10. From UI tuned for big screen devices where the main elements are pulled to the bottom to edge lighting to edge panels and more, OneUI 2.5 is filled with excellent usable features. In fact, I am a big fan of edge panels and use it extensively. Now, Samsung does bundle third-party apps, all of which can be uninstalled, including Facebook (which wasn’t the case earlier). But yes, I did see a few Samsung ads every now and then popping up in my notification shade from first-party apps such as Galaxy Store. You can turn off notifications easily to not be disturbed. It is not very pervasive. Plus, you now have Samsung’s promise of three years of guaranteed software updates. 

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G – Camera

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra has a very similar camera setup to the one on the S20 Ultra. Only thing is Samsung has gone back to the drawing board and made very important changes to ensure that the Note 20Ultra is a more confident shooter. Thanks to the addition of the phase detection autofocus (PDAF) the focussing issues with the S20 Ultra have gone now. Plus, I found the Note20 Ultra’s pictures to be more detailed. However, with the Note20 Ultra, Samsung has gone back to its roots of brighter and more colorful shots. 

The ultrawide angle camera is as sharp as the S20 Ultra. And, the telephoto on the Note20 Ultra uses a longer optical zoom lens, which means you get a 4.6x optical zoom as opposed to 4x on the S20 Ultra. Regardless, pictures at every zoom level look great. The low light performance is exemplary and so is the 4K video taking ability. Best part is the Note20 Ultra actually takes better looking selfies with the 10MP camera compared to the 40MP one on the S20 Ultra. 

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MicrosoftTeams-image (174)_MrPhone
MicrosoftTeams-image (173)_MrPhone
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Overall, I am more than happy with the cameras on the Note20 Ultra. In fact, I managed to capture a few shots that could fool anyone into thinking those were captured using a DSLR. If you want a detailed deep dive into the cameras, take a look at my full-fledged camera comparison with the S20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro. 

Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra?

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a very expensive smartphone, no doubt. But, if you can pay upwards of Rs 1 lakh for an iPhone you can pay the same amount for Samsung’s best phone. I say Samsung’s best phone and not the best Android phone with caution here. It would’ve been the best Android phone in my books had Samsung not used the Exynos 990 in India. I am fairly certain that my reviewer friends in the US are bound to label this the best Android phone of 2020. 

Essentially, Samsung India shoots for the moon with this one and lands somewhere near the furthest star.

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Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?