In August, South Korean Samsung unveiled its latest iteration of the high-end Galaxy Note20. They’ve added the word Ultra to the name, and it's easy to see why!
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra’s specs are mind-boggling. But what exactly do they mean for non-tech wizards?
What we see
It has a large display. It has a 6.9-inch screen (similar to the S20 Ultra), which covers practically the entire face of the device and boasts a resolution of 3,088 x 1,440 pixels and 496 ppi. There’s a thin black line on the upper and lower edges of the device, but otherwise the slightly curved design provides edge-to-edge display. The rectangular design is simple and distinctive. With a 120 Hz refresh rate, any movement on the screen, whether from scrolling or in a game, remains fluid, which makes for a truly pleasant experience. There’s a single small front camera punch hole. An interesting new addition is the Gorilla Glass screen protection, which is claimed to be twice as scratch resistant and 1.2 times more shock resistant, but I’ll wait until I’ve had my phone for a few years before testing this!
What we use
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra features a 10MP selfie camera and a triple rear camera (12MP ultrawide angle, 108MP wide-angle camera and 12MP telephoto camera) with automatic laser focus. These features may sound familiar, and rightly so. It seems that Samsung has recycled part of the Galaxy S20 Ultra triple-lens system, and a quick physical comparison of the two devices shows that the lenses are placed exactly the same. It’s understandable that the company wants to cut costs, but it could have shown a little innovation with the Note and better positioned its set of lenses. The Note20 Ultra is meant to be used with a stylus, but the camera bump on the back of the device makes it wobbly when placed on a flat surface. Why not just change its direction? If the bump was lengthwise, the device would remain stable when laid on a flat surface. The best camera layout design was, in my opinion, on the Note9.
That being said, this is still a robust photography system that, despite it having a lower resolution than the S20 Ultra, provides an amply satisfying image quality. It’s also neat to be able to switch video recording from 4K at 60fps to 8K at 24fps (like with the S20), although very few screens (TVs or monitors) can support that at the moment.
What makes it stand out
The renewed presence of the S Pen stylus is what makes the Galaxy Note20 stand out from its competitors and the rest of the Samsung S range. It converts the phone into a kind of tablet, allowing the user to annotate and edit all types of documents (photos, videos, texts, etc.). As a matter of fact, the S Pen feels more natural and fluid than ever before. With an even lower latency of only 9 milliseconds, it’s even closer to feeling like a real pen or pencil. Latency is, basically, the time it takes for the device to react when you touch the stylus to the screen.
Will you use the S Pen every day? Maybe not, but technical professionals will enjoy using it to annotate plans, use it for presentations, edit videos and more. One small change – the S Pen has been relocated from the bottom-right corner to the bottom-left. This isn’t a big deal, but users of previous Note versions will have to get used to it.
Surprisingly, now you can perform even more actions with the S Pen to control the Note20 Ultra remotely. There are some really interesting ones (such as remote camera/video control), but others, like making gestures with the stylus to view recently used apps or go back to the home screen, are decidedly strange. I’m rarely more than an arm’s length away when I need to perform these actions, so why would I need to do them in the air from a distance? I guess it’s going to be a fun playground for programmers, but at this point I don’t see myself using some of these actions when I can do them by touching the device with the stylus.
And all the rest
The connectivity options have barely changed, perhaps just enough to adapt to changing standards: Samsung DeX is now wireless to create a desktop environment with your phone, 5G networks, Bluetooth 5.0, ultra wide band Wi-Fi up to 1.2Gbps, geolocation, NFC, etc. Physically, the phone is slightly thinner than the S20 Ultra (8.1 mm instead of 8.8 mm) when excluding the camera lenses. It’s also lighter, at a mere 208 grams. It has a 4500mAh battery, 12GB RAM with 128 or 512GB internal storage, a microSD slot and an octa-core processor.
Despite significant technical similarities between the S20 Ultra and the Note20 Ultra, it’s obvious that the two Samsung devices are intended for distinct markets. While the S series was designed for traditional users (social networks, video, photos, etc.), the Note series is marketed toward professionals who need a powerful, versatile phone.
Historically, when looking for the most powerful Samsung phone, we would turn to the Note series. It’s now the Ultra series that holds that title.