Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: A first-class phone that’s really a computer

It’s easy to say that the Note 20 Ultra is only an incremental advance on last years Note 10 plus – because it’s true. But that doesn’t take a way the need for and demand for this device.

The Galaxy Note range of devices are not “just” smartphones. These are productivity devices and the Note customer differs that of the average flagship smartphone.

With a built-in Stylus, the S Pen allows on-screen note-taking, drawing, signing or document markup. That is it’s huge point of difference.

In 2020, there’s no sign of the mobile phone market slowing down, speaking about pre-sale numbers, Garry McGregor from Samsung Australia telling EFTM “this time around, and because of the two variants our net number is slightly ahead of last year

You could assume that’s perhaps people using their holiday money that’s not being used for something new, but as McGregor points out it’s also an indication that the Note 20 meets the needs of modern society in a COVID-19 world, saying “the market conditions this year are wildly different to anything we’ve had in previous years, and we know that technology is playing greater importance in peoples lives than it was before”

Why did Samsung supply EFTM with a Note 20 Ultra to review, rather than the standard (smaller) Note 20? It’s the hero device, but also, as McGregor explained to me, “at this point in time, our numbers are skewed to the ultra”

In fact, it’s doing better than expected according to McGregor, “we under-forecast the ultra numbers this time around.. and similarly the colour mix, we have had a massive swing to the Mystic Bronze.”

You can hear my full chat with Garry McGregor in the EFTM podcast:

So – how does it stack up?

The S Pen

It seems the same, but side by side with previous Note devices, there’s a vast difference. The time between when your S Pen touching the screen and the mark you wanted to make appearing on the screen is 9 milliseconds.

The delay between a HB pencil hitting paper and that drawing appearing is 0 – but that’s just not possible with touch-screens. 9ms is a staggeringly short amount of time. Get a stopwatch with three decimal points and try to stop start it with the clock reading 0.009. That’s how long it takes.

I drew on the screen and wrote notes on the screen, never seemed anything other than instant to me.

Using the built-in PenUp app I even did some colouring in.

It’s utterly relaxing.

But as with the Note 10, this phone can recognise your handwriting, and it can do it better than even my own eyes quite frankly. This year, Note 20 can re-align your wonky text too. It’s smart – no question, and for those who prefer to jot down notes, this is the device to own.

There is no other smartphone available capable of working so seamlessly with a stylus like the S Pen, and it’s the S Pen which makes the Note 20 Ultra such a compelling device.

The Camera

That island became a Continent as we said at the launch of the Note 20 series. I just can’t escape what an enormous “bump” this camera is.

Inside it is a stunning triple-lens camera system. Great standard photos, telephoto zoom and ultra-wide. Make no mistake, the photography capabilities are extraordinary. While it doesn’t have the 100x “space zoom” of the Samsung Galaxy S20, you can still zoom in on the moon.

The camera’s ability – in standard or ultra-wide by the way, to deal with bright spots in an image is exceptional as is evident by this shot of the EFTM studio with bright TV lights on.

In a more “normal” setting, check out this shot taken before a game of Chess in the Long household – with bright light coming in from the doors behind little Harri.

The camera on the Note 20 Ultra is easily one of the best on the market today, the only issue is the bulk it adds to the phone.

Fortunately, I solved that issue by popping into JB HiFi and buying a case which makes the bump go away:)

The best $54 you’ll spend, not just to smooth out the bump, but to protect this massive investment.

The Screen

Unfortunately for Samsung, my eyes aren’t good enough to really notice the true standout feature on the Note 20 Ultra.

Its 6.9 inch screen has a 120Hz refresh rate which is twice as fast for smooth motion – this is noticable when scrolling, and when watching fast moving video content.

My inability to really genuinely notice this is another reason I’d choose the standard Note 20.

Your Note 20 Ultra also features Samsung’s almost trademark curved edge screen. Not quite the curve of the S7 and so on, but those little curved edges are to me just utterly unnecessary – trying to change the font size on an instagram story is harder than ever with the slider positioned basically on the curve.

It’s a little thing, but I really believe this device would be ever greater with a flat screen.

Dont’ get me wrong – it’s a stunner.

The Battery

It’s huge, 4,500 mAh – but it’s job is to power an enormous 6.9 inch screen. With a battery that size you might assume it’s going to last two days. Nope.

This is an all-day battery. Which is totally fine.

By 8pm I’m down to 15% and the battery indicator is red. That’s anxiety time. And by 8pm im staring at this thing more than ever.

Granted, I have an early start, but I did perhaps have higher expectations of this one.

Again, not a deal-breaker, it’s just important not to expect the battery to push past a solid day.

The Capabilities

Sadly for Samsung, 90% of the capabilities of this device will go unused, and untested by most.

It’s powerful, holy heck this thing is a computer disguised as a smartphone.

When connected to a monitor using Samsung Dex, paired with a Bluetooth Keyboard and Mouse, you’ve got a legitimate desktop computer.

Forget the tablet being the “post PC” device, skip straight to the Note 20 Ultra.

Honestly, you could carry this around, and just have the monitor, mouse and keyboard at your desk, and just keep on working.

Samsung Dex is one of the most underrated and underused technology in a smartphone today.

I was also excited by the Xbox Game Pass capabilities of the Note 20 Ultra as announced at launch. Sadly, I was unable to test that. When it’s available – I’ll get right on it.

So, should I buy the Note 20 Ultra?

Are you a Note 10 plus owner? Then this device will feel fresh and new. But you don’t need it.

If you own any previous Note before the 10, The Note 20 Ultra will blow your mind.

I’ll reserve my judgment on for whom the standard Note 20 is for until I’ve had a good go at it – but it appeals greatly to me, its flat screen, and just slightly smaller.

Smartphone innovation has been pushed right to its edge, so it is hard to see the advances year on year. Do not discount the huge advances that are happening in the silicone, under the hood, the power and performance that makes these devices unmatched. The Note 20 Ultra is a leading example of just that.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: A first-class phone that’s really a computer
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