2020 has been a year of premium smartphones that have all pushed the limits on what you can exact from mobile computing. From the OnePlus 8 range to Samsung’s S20 lineup, there have been some stunning devices, all promising the best cameras. Performance and specs money can buy. With it getting closer to the fall, Samsung is ready to launch their Note 20 Lineup, and despite it only being a few months since the S20, the Note 20 Ultra feels like a carefully refined device that takes all the lesions of previous devices and delivers one of the best smartphones of 2020.
Samsung’s Note range has never been a slouch when it comes to design or features, and 2020’s Note 20 Ultra is no expectation. The matte metal and curved glass design give the Note 20 Ultra a feel of fine jewelry or a precision-crafted watch. Even at its large size, the materials used make it easy to hold, all while looking stylish as you check messages, play games, or snap a photo. And thanks to the IP68 water and dust resistance, you don’t need to worry about pulling it out in the rain to check that urgent email.
The Note 20 Ultra features a 6.9-inch AMOLED 120Hz display and has Gorilla Glass Victus ensuring you won’t see any major scratches in everyday use. With a resolution of up to 1440 x 3088 and HDR10+ support, the display is stunning to both look at and use. It manages a solid balance of speed and brilliance, making it one of the more pleasing smartphone screens of the year so far.
At 120Hz, the Note 20 Ultra is buttery smooth with all interface and gaming, making the overall experience fun, fluid and pain-free in and out of applications. While it does allow for up to WQHD+ resolutions, it should be noted that you are limited to 60Hz, and will need to drop things down to FHD+ to take advantage of 120Hz, although, I viewed little difference at either resolution, and this has not been a problem in testing over the week I have used the Note 20 Ultra.
This being 2020, Samsung has opted for an in-screen fingerprint sensor that works surprisingly well, but thankfully it does have options for pin, face-unlock or a simple password should you want a more consistent unlock option. It also boasts a 4,500mAh battery, features WirelessSHare (Reverse Charging), Fast Charging 2.0 and 10W+ wireless charging to complete the overall package.
Under the hood, the Samsung Note 10 Ultra is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus SoC with Adreno 650 graphics and 12GB RAM, 128GB of storage, with an option to add up to 1TB more via SD card. This is by far one of the most powerful Smartphones to hit the mainstream market in 2020, with the included SoC and 12GB RAM there are relatively few apps or workflows that could ever come close to bringing this smartphone to its knees or even cause any noticeable slowdown. And thanks to the most recent Qualcomm chipset and 5G support, should your carrier support it, you can take advantage of increased download speeds, but it will dramatically reduce your battery, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
Since this is a Note based device, the S-Pen makes an appearance once again. With things constantly improving on this front, the pen now features 9ms latency, Bluetooth integration, and an accelerometer. While many of the uses for the pen are superfluous (taking screenshots etc) the implication for artists means this year’s device is that much better at drawing, sketching or just getting ideas onto a digital page.
With flagship-like specs, I expected the Note 20 Ultra to be able to tackle the latest games, such as Fortnite, Mortal Kombat, Call of Duty etc, without issue, and I was not disappointed. The 120Hz display makes fast-paced mobile gaming a joy, with the vibrant AMOLED screen made colours pop and the overall experience feel reminiscent of a mobile console. It is a shame that due to its size, it could not fit in the Razer Kishi, as this would be the ideal phone to use as a Nintendo Switch alternative, but as it was, playing Microsoft xCloud games with a Bluetooth controller was a joy and something everyone that picks up this phone needs to try at least once.
Jumping over to the camera, and Samsung have improved the overall experience from this years S20 Ultra dramatically. While it includes similar optics as that smartphone, there have been notable refinements that make it a true joy to use. There are a few different approaches when it comes to photos, the software will fix it model that Google has opted for, and the idea that you just have to have the best hardware available to achieve the best photos possible, and this is what Samsung has to offer in the Note 20 Ultra.
The back of the phone features a 108MP f/1.8, 26mm main shooter, a 12MP f/3.0, 120mm periscope telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom, with the option for 50x hybrid zoom, and finally a 12MP f/2.2, 120˚, 13mm ultra-wide, with a 10MP f/2.2, 26mm front-facing camera that can be used for face-unlock if you are so inclined.
Using all the different camera options and zoom levels is made relatively easy thanks to the included camera app. It was a simple task jumping from the ultra-wide to zoom lens in a pinch, with each camera having an ideal scenario and all offering different use cases that I did not imagine before picking up the phone. That being said, even after using the Note 20 Ultra for about a week, I could not find many situations where the 50x hybrid zoom would be useful to most people. The detail is too distorted for anything you would want to keep, and the overall quality did not feel good enough to make it anything I would recommend.
The main 108MP camera on the other hand managed to capture some stunning shots, with detail looking true to life, and colours looking vibrant, and overall clarity being fantastic. It is hard to know when most people would want to use the full 108MP resolution since the file sizes are ludicrous and will quickly fill a phone’s storage, but it is nice to have the ability should you want it. But even in a reduced quality state, photos look great and should be more than enough to make memories, or even throw them on your favourite social apps, as they will be compressed anyways with these services.
In testing, I found the Note 20 Ultra delivered better overall results when compared to this year’s Samsung S20 Ultra. While the phones share many of the same sensors, the overall experience has been refined, be it hardware or software, and the results look better, deliver more vibrance, and are generally more true to life, with less sacrifice on what photos will look like.
While I still am not a fan of Nite Mode on most smartphones, I found the Note 20 Ultra managed this feat better then I would have expected, with some great shots being captured in low light, and nighttime conditions consistently. The Note 20 Ultra is a phone you can pull out at any time and capture a moment and have it look good constantly, and this is something that even in 2020 is not something many smartphones can boast about.
The Note 20 Ultra feels like a phone tailor-made for content creation, and the ability to shoot 8K video further cements this fact. I tested out 4K, 8K and the standard 1080P 60, all delivering fantastic results. While I still believe that a good DSLR or Mirrorless is the ideal setup for any serious content creation, if you are on the road, and want to pack light, the Note 20 Ultra will not let you down and will deliver consistent, satisfactory results in most conditions.
On the software side, we find Samsungs OneUI built on Android 10, and overall it feels like a refined, albeit slightly bloated experience. Samsung has toned down the animations and eye candy a bit with the release of OneUI 2, and overall I find it much less in the way now, but with an interface built to appeal to everyone, sometimes it does feel a bit clunky. I have always been a fan of the standard Android experience found on Pixel phones, but all in all, this feels far better than seen in the past and gives just enough to make the phone experience a joy to use.
The phone does have the annoying case of doubling up apps, thanks to Samsung including its own offering, along with Google’s making it seem needlessly complicated to open simple things, but this annoyance is minor and can be sorted with the simple matter of organizing and hiding what you don’t need. I still wish Samsung would make a slightly more streamlined experience, and eliminate some of the bloat found on the Galaxy range, but as it is, things are much better than in past years.
This being a flagship device you have the options for Dex, only this time it can be managed without the need of a dock or even cable. Provided you have a compatible display the Note 20 UItra can make transmit the Dex experience, giving you a mobile computing device that can work for productivity. As in past years, I feel this feature is nice but built for a select market. It does allow you to put the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus to work, but I would 90% of the time prefer just pulling out a laptop then going through the hassle of setting up Dex, but it is there should you want it.
The only area I felt disappointed in was with the 4,500 mAh battery. This would in past years have been a top-of-class offering, but with today’s smartphones demanding more power, and 5G increasing this thirst, 4,500mAh is simply not enough for any heavy user. With moderate to heavy use, I could make it to the end of the day, but if I were to game on the Note 20 Ultra, or do anything intensive with the phone, I would find myself hunting down a wall socket to give it a boost. While most people will not run into this issue, it would have been nice to see a bit more battery, especially with the slew of power-hungry features this phone has on offer.
At the end of the day, Samsung has built the Ferrari of smartphones, delivering all the power and features most consumers could ever want, all in a stylish, refined package. While I liked most of what the S20 Ultra had on offer, the Note 20 Ultra surpasses it in almost every way. Samsung has managed to improve on what was already a great offering, making the Note 20 Ultra one of the best phones I have ever used. With a great camera, solid specs and an overall look and feel that is second to none, if you want the best creator phone on the market, look no further than the Samsung Note 20 Ultra.