Galaxy Note 20 Ultra ongoing review: Everything I love so far (and some of what I don’t)

The Galaxy Be aware 20 Extremely is a dear telephone with energy options.

James Martin/CNET

After months of lockdown where I live, reviewing the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G has been an absolute blast. Samsung’s most superior telephone for energy customers is dear — it begins at $1,300 (£1,179, AU$1,894) for the 128GB mannequin — but it surely’s additionally filled with options and an arresting (some may say divisive) design, all of which makes it enjoyable to discover. There have been some bumps alongside the best way — which is typical, no telephone is ideal — but additionally some very nice perks of it being a premium system with a superbly detailed 6.9-inch display screen.

My favourite solution to evaluation a telephone entails residing with it and utilizing it as naturally as potential. Meaning taking photographs of issues I would usually submit on-line or ship to buddies. I am going to admit that reviewing a telephone throughout a pandemic is weird, as a result of I am unable to go to the locations and do the issues I usually would when testing a telephone’s options, like utilizing the Be aware 20 Extremely’s S Pen capabilities throughout conferences, taking pictures photographs of my buddies at evening or recording avenue performers to check the Extremely’s new professional video mode. It additionally does not assist that I stay fairly removed from my ordinary testing grounds.

In some ways in which’s the right take a look at of a telephone in these occasions. Life is not the identical right this moment and we do not understand how the ongoing coronavirus pandemic might completely change the best way folks work and stay. A do-everything system for work and play makes good sense for our prepandemic occasions, however how does it match right into a world the place extra folks could work from home and be less socially active, significantly till there is a widespread vaccine?

Listed here are my high observations to date. Be aware that since that is an ongoing evaluation, so my impressions might change and deepen as time goes on. 

Galaxy Be aware 20 (128GB, $999)

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Galaxy Be aware 20 Extremely (begins at 128GB, $1,299)

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That Be aware 20 Extremely digital camera bump means enterprise.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Be aware 20 Extremely is additional huge, particularly the digital camera bump

Every thing about Samsung’s new telephone is supersized, from the 6.9-inch display screen to the large — and I imply HUGE — digital camera array on the again. It is 2 inches tall and over an inch huge, and it juts out prominently. 

Samsung has executed a good job of creating this digital camera mount look as jaunty as potential, but it surely’s nonetheless not my favourite look, and in the event you do not use a case to spherical it out, I am involved that any drop or scrape will scratch the digital camera first. This has occurred to me with a telephone earlier than, and my ultrawide photographs have been by no means good once more. Additionally, f you lay the Be aware 20 Extremely down, say on a tabletop, and write on the display screen, the digital camera mount will trigger the telephone to rock.

For me, the Be aware 20 Extremely is a tad too huge to comfortably slot in my fingers, and it towers comically out of my again pocket in a manner that may make a bystander nervous.

Though the display screen is large, which is terrific for studying of any sort and watching video, I might level out that in right this moment’s atmosphere the place my laptop computer seems like an extension of my arm, I am extra prone to observe a house exercise on the 13-inch laptop computer display screen as a substitute of on a telephone.

Be aware 20 Extremely: What I like proper now

Shade: I can see why Samsung made mystic bronze its signature shade and swapped out a shiny end for a smooth, refined matte sheen. It is lustrous and understated with out being boring, and looks as if far much less of a grease entice.

Informal images: Taking photographs is enjoyable. Pictures are vivid and 5x optical zoom retains image high quality excessive sufficient to make me hold utilizing it. Ultrawide-angle photographs are all the time an amazing device to have within the photograph arsenal to offer dramatic impact. Sure, the Be aware 20 Extremely continues Samsung’s tendency to oversaturate some photographs, and 108-megapixel images can produce blended outcomes. Extra on this in my ultimate evaluation. Total, I am pleased with most of its photographs.

Zoom images is trying higher: I am glad the Be aware 20 Extremely steps again from the Galaxy S20 Extremely’s 100x “house” zoom. My finest shot at 50x AI-assisted zoom was one I lucked into (see above). It seems to be good, however even with an onscreen viewfinder and a stabilizing drive like a tripod, the picture jumps like loopy.

Display high quality: The display screen is 6.9 inches and, as all the time, brilliant and sensible. This was glorious for studying the information, watching movies and scrolling by photographs. See the flip facet to brightness beneath. For the reason that bezel’s so slim, I hold unintentionally urgent the edges of the telephone (extra beneath), however the picture itself is terrific, even on the default FHD Plus setting of two,326×1,080 pixels (it goes as much as WQHD Plus, which is 3,088×1,440 pixels). 

Stylus tips: My favourite Galaxy Be aware instruments are right here, like taking a extremely exact screenshot utilizing the S Pen, utilizing the Be aware 20 Extremely’s magnifying device to learn on-line menus and too-small font (so easy), and simply making a display screen recording or GIF of a portion of the show. You too can double-click the S Pen button to erase what you’ve got written. There are a couple of extra apart from, like writing on high of a PDF you possibly can import into the notes app (sure!) and annotating a display screen. A brand new structure within the Notes app makes it simpler to modify amongst menu objects. 

Selfie shutter button: Taking a selfie utilizing the S Pen is a breeze if you press the stylus button with one hand with out having to stay your arm out at a clumsy angle or fear about dropping the telephone. Face tone filters for selfies are a pleasant manner so as to add some heat or tone it down if an image is oversaturated. 

Cellphone calls: Who makes use of a telephone anymore? I do, particularly now that I take quite a lot of work calls whereas out on a stroll. Each name has sounded nice in my space, each over mobile and by way of apps like WhatsApp and Slack. In fact, your state of affairs might differ relying on the service the place you reside, and the identical goes on your 4G or 5G connection.


The S Pen nice for display screen navigation, writing and any precision work like taking screenshots of precisely the half you want.

Angela Lang/CNET

The Be aware 20 Extremely options I am protecting a detailed eye on

Battery life: After an uneven first day, the Galaxy Be aware 20 Extremely’s 4,500-mAh battery is behaving extra like how I would anticipate for a flagship telephone — whew. On my heaviest day of use to date, it was at 35% after 12 hours (which included an hour and a half of Google Maps navigation) and slowly drained to 16% by 7 a.m. This was utilizing the default 120Hz display screen setting with adaptive brightness and no battery optimization setting. I’ve now turned that on, so we’ll see the way it goes.

Edge contact rejection: I’ve began to note that the razor-thin bezels could also be interfering with how I exploit the Be aware 20 Extremely, particularly after I’m mendacity down on my again or facet, and particularly when typing. The notification shade will immediately begin sliding down as if I’ve summoned it, the sting display screen could come out or another situation may interrupt my typing. It is not a deal breaker for me at this stage, however it’s one thing that is occurred most mornings and evenings. 

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First Look: Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra


It’s heavy: After an especially grueling day, I wanted to veg out watching Netflix before drifting off to sleep. After 10 minutes, my hand grew heavy trying to hold up the phone. I switched to my phone stand, propping the Note 20 Ultra on the stand and putting the stand on my belly. It wobbled and swayed every time I laughed. It even fell off once. I finally put the stand and phone on my nightstand and flipped to my side to watch, until I got a crick in my neck and called it quits after about an hour. Great sound and image quality, though.

The S Pen placement: It may be something I simply need to get used to, but so far, the move from the right side of the phone to the left isn’t working all that well for me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the design, but for some reason reaching for it feels like a chore. Did it move to accommodate the camera hardware? We’ll see if I warm up to the changes as the tests go on.

Nighttime screen brightness: With the lights out, Android’s Wind Down mode on and the brightness slid to its lowest setting, the screen is too bright to induce sleepiness. It’s more likely to rev me up during middle-of-the-night wakeups than lull me back to sleep. I’d love to see a more aggressive midnight setting. 


The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a bright, massive 6.9-inch display.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Wired headphones don’t come in the box. My colleague Patrick Holland embraces this — and maybe for you, it’s not a big deal as Samsung transitions users to wireless earbuds like its Galaxy Buds Live (aka Galaxy Beans). But the Galaxy Buds Live cost $170 and Samsung spent years touting the $99 value of the wired headphones that came in the box. If you didn’t care all that much about getting wireless headphones (for example, they always fall out of my ears or pick up wind noise outside), you’re automatically losing the $99 value of the bundled headphones, plus the $170 or however much you wind up spending on something else. So if you don’t already have headphones you want to use, your cost of ownership just went up.

It can get a little toasty. My CNET colleagues and I have noticed the Note 20 Ultra seemed to both generate and dissipate quite a lot of heat — this has been a daily occurrence. Nothing out of the ordinary, just an emanating warmth that phones (and laptops and other electronics) can get when they’re working hard. On a hot summer day, this hasn’t been the most pleasant sensation in my pocket and hand, but definitely not a deal breaker.

There’s still so much to see as the Note 20 Ultra begins to settle in as my daily phone for the next week. Keep checking back as this review develops day by day. 

Note 20 cameras: 108MP, pro video mode, 8K video capture

The camera array is where Samsung wants the Note 20 phones, and especially the Note 20 Ultra, to shine. It’s taken a step back from the ostentation of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, which boasted a 100x Space Zoom feature and a main camera capable of shooting a 108-megapixel photo, to concentrate instead on the idea of cropping in for more detail. 

Note 20 vs. Note 20 Ultra camera

Galaxy Note 20 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Main camera 12-megapixel (F1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 1.8μm, 79-degree FOV, 1/1.76 inch image sensor) 108-megapixel (F1.8, OIS, 0.8μm, 79-degree FOV, 1/1.33 inch image sensor)
Ultrawide angle 12-megapixel (F2.2, 1.4μm, 120-degree FOV) 12-megapixel (F2.2, 1.4μm, 120-degree FOV)
Telephoto 64-megapixel (F2.0, 0.8μm, 76-degree FOV) 12-megapixel (F3.0, 1.0μm, 20-degree FOV)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel (F2.2, 1.22μm, 80-degree FOV) 10-megapixel (F2.2, 1.22μm, 80-degree FOV)
Zoom 3x hybrid 5x optical
Super Zoom 30x 50x
Laser auto-focus sensor No Yes
Video capture 8K 8K

Samsung still gave the Note 20 Ultra an 108-megapixel camera option — you tap it to turn it on when you want the full resolution. When it comes to zoom, the Note 20 falls back to 50x zoom, with the Note 20 settling in at 30x. 

It’s interesting to see Samsung backtrack like this, but the company seems to be responding to feedback that the S20 Ultra was too expensive and its 100x zoom wasn’t good enough or useful enough to justify the price.

The Note 20 Ultra has 5x optical zoom, though the camera shortcut tools make it easier to pick 2x and 4x zoom before jumping to 10, 20 and 50x zoom settings. You can go more granular by pinching and zooming in the viewfinder. 

Faster autofocus in the Note 20 Ultra is also designed to give it an edge over the standard Note 20, so you can snap photos of squirmy pets, amusing facial expressions and flapping hummingbirds faster, without missing the shot. 

A pro video mode packs in more manual tools and options for capturing footage, which should make aspiring moviemakers happy. This has been one of Samsung’s weaker areas for several years, compared with the latest iPhone. Like the Galaxy S20 Ultra, both phones support 8K video capture. Just be aware, it’ll make video files enormous on and off your phone. We’re still testing this mode and we’ll also focus on it in a separate camera deep dive.

Supporting writing is something Galaxy Note phones do best.

Richard Peterson/CNET

The Note 20 Ultra has a new S Pen stylus and note app tricks

What would the Galaxy Note be without its stylus? For loyalists, scribbling, navigating and annotating are part of the phone’s charm. So is the fact that the Notes app allows you to do all of the above. Here are the newest features for both Note 20 models.

New S Pen gesture navigation: Pointing the pen tip away from your body (and at a distance from the phone), press and hold the stylus button while making one of five new gestures to go back, go home, open a recent app or take a screenshot with Smart Select. You can also squiggle the pen to capture the entire screen.

The S Pen is more responsive on the Note 20 Ultra when the 120Hz screen option is on.

Handwriting recognition gets better, with tools including autostraighten. 

Samsung Notes gets live auto-syncing at long last. This will store a note in the cloud for you to access from any other device — as long as you’re signed in to a Samsung account.

Attach and time-sync voice recordings: You can get your voice note to sync with what you write so it’ll play back from the time you mention the word.

Import a PDF to annotate or highlight: Instead of printing out a page or downloading it to sign and then upload or send out again, you can simply mark your signature and export it back.

Other Note 20 features and goodies

  • UWB support for sharing files like a digital key. Point to share with other Samsung devices using UWB. 
  • Support for Google’s Nearby Share.
  • 120Hz refresh rate by default, with an option to flip into 60Hz to save battery life.
  • New Gorilla Glass Victus on both sides.
  • Colors: Mystic bronze color (matte), mystic black and mystic white (glossy).
  • Xbox Game Pass Ultimate gives you access to over 100 games you can play on the fly. 
  • Samsung’s Microsoft partnership: Drag-and-drop and syncing from Windows devices and apps to your Samsung phone, including notes and reminders.
  • Samsung DeX, the vision for replacing your computer with your phone, now lets you connect to another screen wirelessly to view your content, say on your TV screen in your living room. 
  • You can pair a Galaxy Note 20 with the new Galaxy Buds Live to turn on noise cancellation. In the taped demo I saw, you still hear a lot of static and distortion, but it did cut out interfering conversations.

Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra specs

Galaxy Note 20 vs. Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Display size, resolution 6.7 inches; 2,400×1,080 pixels 6.9 inches; 3,088×1,440 pixels
Pixel density 393 ppi 496 ppi
Dimensions (inches) 6.36×2.96×0.33 in 6.49×3.04×0.31 in
Dimensions (millimeters) 161.6×75.2×8.3mm 164.8×77.2×8.1mm
Weight (ounces, grams) 6.84 oz, 194g 7.33 oz, 208g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (ultrawide), 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel
Video capture 8K 8K
Processor Snapdragon 865 Plus Snapdragon 865 Plus
Storage 128GB 128GB, 512GB
Expandable storage No Up to 1TB
Battery 4,300 mAh 4,500 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen
Connector USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No
Special features S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water-resistant (IP68) 5x optical zoom, UWB sharing, S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water-resistant (IP68)
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 $1,300 (128GB); $1,450 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £849 £1,179
Price (AUD) AU$1,499 AU$1,849

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Jessica Dolcourt

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