The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in the test: With this smartphone, the South Korean manufacturer wants to play at the top of the mobile phone league again. At least in terms of price, the company has succeeded. However, shortly after the presentation, the smartphone did not go down well with our readers. Our review clarifies whether the flagship has enough technology for the high price and whether it is convincing.
Design and feel: business look with grip and bump
Rounded corners, a glossy back, and a display that takes up almost the entire front: Visually, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is reminiscent of the slightly older Galaxy S20 Ultra. As is typical of the Note series, the new flagship looks a bit more adult than the S models. The edges are still rounded, but at the same time look a lot more angular. The screen is also curved a little less around the sides. Overall, the look is less playful and more “business-like.”
The only drawback is a hump.
Most noticeable, however, is the camera on the back. The large module sticks out a fair bit from the housing and thus looks very bulky. If you don’t like that, you should use a protective cover that conceals it.
The overall somewhat “more serious” design still appeals to me. The seamless transitions between the front and back make the smartphone look like it was made from one piece. The whole thing is reminiscent of the quality of Apple’s iPhone range.
The Note 20 Ultra feels so good in the hand.
Despite its size, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra didn’t feel heavy in the test; in fact, it only weighs around 208 grams. This is very good for such a massive device. For comparison: The iPhone 11 Pro Max is 226 grams.
Fortunately, the glass back of the Note 20 Ultra is also convenient, so that I could always hold it securely in my hand. And that was very important during the test (more on that later).
The volume and standby buttons are on the right. Fortunately, Samsung has set the controls so far down that I can comfortably reach them with my thumb if I only operate the Note 20 Ultra with one hand. For the top part of the display, I need a second hand. Otherwise, I can’t get it.
Display: 120 Hz over a large area
Samsung has given the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra a colossal screen. The screen measures 6.9 inches diagonally. As usual, it is an OLED display. There is nothing to complain about in terms of brightness, black level, colors, and contrast. A resolution in WQHD + (3088 x 1440 pixels) also ensures very high sharpness. I didn’t use it at all during the test. The increased refresh rate of 120 Hz is (unfortunately) only available with Full HD +.
At first, it annoyed me that I couldn’t select 120 Hz in combination with the maximum resolution. However, I’m sincere here: Even if my cell phone runs permanently in WQHD +, I don’t see a difference to Full HD +. The 120 Hz mode, on the other hand, makes a big difference, as the picture looks noticeably softer and more fluid. However: Compared to a 90 Hz mobile phone like the Xiaomi Mi 10, I again didn’t notice any difference in practice.
Samsung One U.I.: is something new?
Attentive CURVED readers probably know that I am still using a Galaxy S10 as a personal cell phone. I am, therefore, all too familiar with the One U.I. user interface from Samsung. And here I noticed something that is positive on the one hand and negative on the other: I was able to find my way around the menus of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra immediately. I was already familiar with almost every option, apart from menu items for features like the S-Pen control, the 108 MP camera mode, or the 120 Hz repetition rate.
However, I miss such real innovations or extensive exclusive software features on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra test. Sound: There are functions such as the wireless DeX mode, which, in conjunction with a large screen, turns your mobile phone into a kind of computer with a desktop surface. However, there is a lack of new “on the go” options. I even knew the pre-installed always-on displays. Here the competition sometimes has more customization options, as MIUI 12 shows, for example.
But stop! Why could that be positive? Quite simply: It is gratifying that Samsung is bringing almost the same One-UI features to older devices such as the Galaxy S10 – which is technically also able to benefit from new camera modes, designs, options, and more. Nice to see that there is no artificial exclusivity here.
Technology: An “old” chip, but
The technology is probably one reason why many of our readers demonized the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra right after unveiled. Samsung has not installed a new, powerful chipset here (as usual). The same Exynos 990 is used that is already installed in the Galaxy S20. And this chip is unfortunately inferior to its competitor, the Snapdragon 865. It is all the more incomprehensible that Samsung has given the Note 20 Ultra the even faster Snapdragon 865+ in some countries – just not Germany. After all: According to Geekbench, the Note 20 Ultra is shorter than the S20 series – despite the same chip.
On paper, this may also cause us frustration and incomprehension. In practice, however, this is almost (!) In every category, negligible. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra showed itself to be very fast in the test. Only recently, I had smartphones with the competitor’s chip in my hand, and I can say: there isn’t a difference in practice. The cell phone is fast. It loads fast. You can use it to play every mobile game smoothly in maximum quality. Point.
However, it remains a sour aftertaste, as the Snapdragon 865 Plus could get even more frames per second in games. As an enthusiast, anyone who wants the highest possible maximum of the currently available cell phone performance will be disappointed. Besides, the Qualcomm chip has an entirely different decisive advantage than the Exynos, which we will only come to when we come to the subject of “battery.”
We confronted Samsung weeks ago with the question of why Germany and Co. opted for their own slower chip, but not for the U.S. market, for example. We have already been promised an answer, but it seems to be a long time coming.
At this point, a few words about the fingerprint sensor: It is again an ultrasonic sensor that is built into the display. For me, he unlocked the smartphone reliably and quickly during the review – even with a wet finger. The latter caused problems for my S10 to this day.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra specifications
- Display: 6.9 inch AMOLED display with 120 Hz, resolves in WQHD + (3088 x 1440 pixels)
- Chipset: Exynos 990 (presumed)
- R.A.M.: 12 G.B. of RAM
- Storage space: 256 GB or 512 GB internal storage
- Triple camera: 108 MP (wide angle), 12 MP (ultra wide-angle), 12 MP (telephoto zoom)
- Front camera: 10 M.P. (wide angle)
- Battery pack: 4500 mAh, Fast Charging (25 W), Wireless Charging (15 W)
- Operating system: Android 10 pre-installed from the factory
- Connections: USB-C
- Dual SIM: Yes (5G)
- Fingerprint sensor: Built into the display
- Others: S Pen included
- Price: 1266 euros with 256 GB storage, 1364 euros with 512 GB (both variants with 5G)
Battery: An “old” chip, and …
Many Samsung flagships have had one point of criticism for years: the maximum average battery life. And it’s almost like it’s an integral and wanted part of the Samsung image because nothing changes with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The test lasted for a day, depending on usage, up to half a day longer. Sometimes I watched videos for more than 30 minutes without this smartphone getting warm or losing too much battery percentage.
Discharge despite standby
Two days were not possible, however. One of the reasons for this is that it consumes more standby energy than some of its competitors. At least that’s my observation: Even if you remove the SIM card (which increases the running time drastically) and hardly use the mobile phone, the Note 20 Ultra had to be exhausted back into the socket at least one day before the Xiaomi Mi 10 in the test.
An example: around 10 p.m. I had fully charged my cell phone. Without a SIM or WiFi connection, I took four to five photos and then put them aside. At around 1 p.m. the following day, I took it out again – and the battery had already dropped to 78 percent. With frequent users, the whole day could run short.
Exynos chip reduces battery life.
One reason for this is likely to be the Exynos 990. Many users may not notice that a Snapdragon 865 Plus is even faster in practice. However, the Qualcomm chip also saves energy. And that’s the crux of the matter: PhoneArena was able to compare the Exynos version of the Note 20 Ultra with the Snapdragon version. And in PCMark, the editions were separated by several hours. According to the benchmark, with the 856 Plus, the battery life is a whole 25 to 27 percent longer. Depending on whether the 60 Hz or 120 Hz mode is active. Ouch.
But whether the difference is that big depends on what you do with the Note 20 Ultra: The Exynos version should only deliver 10 percent less runtime if you only use fewer complex applications such as Office apps, WhatsApp, browsers, and the like. Uses. It’s not that big of a difference, but it’s still annoying.
Let’s be honest: Nobody buys a 1266 euro cell phone and then only runs it in energy-saving mode and at only 60 Hz. With all the cool features and without the handbrake on, you can usually only run for a whole day. Therefore, I hope that Samsung will concentrate heavily on the “battery” issue with the next flagship. I expected more than an average runtime from a cell phone as expensive as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
The camera put to the test: Ultra cell phone with ultra zoom.
I’ll tell you straight away: The camera is my big highlight of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Since the right work-life balance is essential, I took the cell phone with me on my short vacation to Denmark and took some photos. And I’m happy about it. Because at least one image, I couldn’t have snapped with my private Galaxy S10. Among other things, because the autofocus works quickly and satisfactorily. Samsung has made significant improvements here.
Good during the day
During the day, the camera setup is enjoyable. This is not only due to the sumptuous details that ultra-wide-angle and wide-angle provide. The third lens is a fivefold optical zoom. Thanks to this setup, I was able to take useful pictures even with a twenty-fold magnification – and photograph such a timid animal better than ever before. Incidentally, since the cell phone is comfortable to hold, I never had to worry about dropping it in the sand.
There is also a 108 MP mode, by the way. But it doesn’t provide more details. The high resolution reduces the contrast ratio (despite HDR), leading to overexposure or dark areas.
Night? Overlooked the Note 20 Ultra
The Huawei P40 Pro may provide a little more here, but the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra takes perfect photos in the dark. Here details come to light that my Galaxy S10 from last year cannot capture at all. Until it was dark, the cell phone was hardly even impressed by the twilight.
Selfies: Bright self-portraits
Selfies in daylight and twilight were convincing. Here, too, the cell phone got a lot out of the low light. It looks different in the dark. The night mode doesn’t save anything here either.
The S-Pen: Samsung’s pen with many features
As usual for the Note series, the S Pen is a prominent figurehead on board. Little has changed here compared to its predecessor: You can draw gestures in the air to trigger actions, handwrite notes and record thoughts on the always-on screen even in standby. It’s all pretty handy. Most of the gestures are just gimmicks for me – unless I use the pen to control presentations.
Less latency, more writing experience
What is new, however, is that the stylus interacts much more quickly with the smartphone. The lines on the screen no longer follow because Samsung has reduced the latency. This should make you feel even more like writing on paper. That felt nice when we tested the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Besides, the tip is incredibly soft on the display. I like the writing experience even better than with the Surface Pen on my Surface Pro. Very good: if you hold the pen at an angle (and choose the right type of cell), even hatching is possible.
Joker or main feature?
But it is usually not more than that. If you don’t want to draw on the Note 20 Ultra on the go or use the pen for business apps, you will probably rarely pull it out of the device.
Sure: it’s very cool to have the S Pen. At least for me, it was more of a gimmick – but it is definitely fun and especially makes shopping lists and quick notes easier. And I say that even though professionally (as mentioned), I use a device with a stylus every day.
Sound: Downgrade in the stereo area
Like other premium devices from Samsung, the Note 20 Ultra has stereo sound. If you hold the device sideways, a real stereo effect is created, in which you can distinguish whether a sound is coming from the left or right. A feature that I love. So I also have the flagship with rock songs and strange modifications fed.
However, the quality didn’t quite convince me here. Subjectively, the sound is worse than on my Galaxy S10. On my smartphone, the sound seems more transparent and more precise. However, with the Note 20 Ultra, the song’s instruments are blurred, and the sound is rather tinny. Here I had a lot more fun with other stereo cell phones, especially with hard guitar sounds. But if you only use the internal speakers now and then, that won’t bother you.
Headphone users and owners of external speakers, on the other hand, can look forward to prominent features such as Dolby Atmos and an equalizer. For my part, I often listen to music this way – and here, the Note 20 Ultra is, of course, convincing, although I have to use a USB-C adapter or Bluetooth because there is no headphone jack.
Conclusion on the test of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Hit-Phone or Galaxy Nope?
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra does many things right: It is excellently made, sits comfortably in hand, and takes perfect photos (possibly one of the best cameras on the market). Besides, there is the privilege of having an S Pen available. I had a lot of fun with the smartphone during the test period. I especially enjoyed playing around with the camera.
I wouldn’t say I liked the built-in Exynos 990, as the Snapdragon 865+ would have been the better choice for German buyers. In terms of performance, this may hardly be noticed in practice. But with a relatively average battery life of one day, it isn’t enjoyable when the Snapdragon version achieves noticeably better results than the Exynos version. Samsung’s chip policy rightly causes a lack of understanding here.
Now is the time to classify these points: Is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra worth its 1266 euros? Yes and no. Compared to last year’s model, I lack major innovations that go beyond the camera. Besides, the Exynos chip cannot keep up with the scraps from comparably expensive flagships.
Yes, I had a lot of fun with the Note 20 Ultra, and it’s just a perfect smartphone for everyday use that I enjoyed using. From my point of view, however, it is only worth buying when the price has dropped a bit. Or you can grab the premium cell phone subsidized with a contract.