Samsung’s Galaxy Note line has always been my favourite device to launch each year. But since the introduction of the Note8, the Galaxy Note series has been straying away from including experimental features, to becoming more of a refined version of the Galaxy S phones.

Editor’s Note: Even though I tested the Galaxy Note20 Ultra model, it is virtually identical to the standard Note20 apart from screen size, battery and storage.

Design & Hardware

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

Just like the Galaxy S20 series from earlier this year, the Note20 Ultra looks and feels like a premium device with a metal and glass exterior. The back of the phone has a matte finish to it that helps make it easier told hold in one hand.

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

The Note20 Ultra features a 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate and an Infinity-O cut-out and Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back. The display has a resolution of 1440 x 3088 with HDR10+ support. The screen on the Note20 Ultra looks great and is super vibrant.

With the higher refresh rate, everything just feels much smoother when navigating the phone. One thing to note is that the 120Hz refresh rate is only available in the FHD+ screen resolution (2400 x 1080). At the WQHD+ resolution, you’re limited to 60Hz.

Like most Android phones today, the Note20 Ultra has an in-display fingerprint sensor that works most of the time but I was using the face unlock more because it’s faster. The phone is IP68 water and dust resistant.

Just like past Galaxy Note devices, the Note20 Ultra has an S Pen that offers 9ms of latency, Bluetooth integration and an accelerometer.

Powering the Note20 Ultra is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus processor with 12GB of RAM. There’s also 128GB or of storage with a microSD card slot for up to 1TB more. Thanks to that extra RAM, I had didn’t come across any slowdown issues when using the Note20 Ultra and everything just felt quick.

For the battery, the Note20 Ultra has 4,500 mAh which is less than the S20 Ultra. The device also comes with Wireless PowerShare (aka reverse wireless charging), Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 (up to 10W+ wireless charging).

While the Note20 Ultra has 5G support, I didn’t use the phone on 5G networks because my carrier of choice (Freedom Mobile) hasn’t rolled out their 5G network. If I did use 5G with the Note20 Ultra, then I’m sure that would drain the battery significantly.

If you purchase the SNote20 Ultra from Rogers, Bell or Telus in Canada, you’ll be able to use the phones on their respective 5G networks.

The Note20 Ultra comes in two colours, Mystic Bronze and Mystic Black.

Canadian pricing for the Note20 Ultra is below:

  • Note20 Ultra (128GB) – $1,819 CAD
  • Note20 Ultra (512GB) – $2,029 CAD (Only available in Mystic Black)

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is available from Samsung’s website, Best Buy Canada, Bell, Rogers, Telus, Fido, Freedom Mobile, SaskTel, Videotron and Koodo.

Software

On the software side of things, the Note20 Ultra is running Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2.5 (formerly Samsung Experience) on top. While Samsung’s skin has been given a fresh coat of paint, it’s still mostly the same experience as featured on past Samsung devices.

With the S Pen, you have some additional features in One UI like Air Actions, screenwriting, off-screen memos and more.

Samsung One UI 2.5 brings a number of features including:

  • Navigation Gestures, which is based on Android 10’s gesture system.
  • Built-in Screen Recorder
  • Improved Face Recognition
  • Dark Mode (with scheduling options)
  • Digital Wellness
  • Smaller Notification pop-ups

In addition to the tweaks to the UI, the Note20 Ultra comes pre-installed with the usual set of Samsung apps (such as Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health SmartThings and more) as well as some Microsoft apps like LinkedIn, OneDrive and Outlook.

Even though Microsoft apps are pre-installed, you can easily uninstall/disable them. Samsung is also offering three years of update of the Note20 Ultra.

I liked using Samsung One UI but I much prefer Google’s Pixel launcher or Action Launcher.

Camera

In terms of cameras, the Note20 Ultra has a 108MP main lens, 12MP periscope telephoto with 5x optical zoom, and 50x hybrid zoom and a 12MP ultra-wide. The front camera is 10MP which can be used for selfies and face unlock.

While the S20 Ultra came with 100x Space Zoom, the Note20 Ultra has 50x zoom. While the 50x Hybrid zoom isn’t the greatest, it is slightly more useful than the 100x Space Zoom.

Using the Note20 Ultra’s ultra-wide was a lot of fun to use because it could capture a lot more in a single frame, which should make it perfect for group photos. There is a 108MP option but I didn’t find myself using it that often because the file sizes would be much bigger. And if you’re sharing photos from the Note20 Ultra on social media like Instagram or Twitter, both will compress your photos to some degree.

In the camera app, you have the option of going between, 0.5x, 1.0x, 2.0x, 4.0x, 10x, 20x and 50x zoom levels but realistically I was mostly using the 0.5x (which is the ultra-wide) and the 5x. I hardly ever went past 10x since the phone has a 5x optical zoom.

The camera app on the S20 Ultra is very easy to use, with the ability to switch between modes. Those modes include:

  • Single Take
  • Photo
  • Video
  • More
    • Pro
    • Panorama
    • Food
    • Night
    • Live Focus
    • Live Focus Video
    • Pro Video
    • Super Slow-Mo
    • Slow Motion
    • Hyperlapse

The nice thing about the app is that you can drag some of the modes from the more section into the main tabs to swipe between them.

For those who have the Galaxy S10 or Note10 series, Samsung has rolled out a software update a few months ago that adds features like Single Take, Night Mode, Night Hyperlapse and Pro Video. Meaning you won’t have to upgrade to the Note20 series or S20 series to get these camera features.

Photos taken with the Note20 Ultra looked great with quite a bit of detail and colour that pops. I found that the overall picture quality was better on the Note20 Ultra than the S20 Ultra. With the Night Mode, I was able to take some great low-light photos.

The Note20 Ultra is capable of shooting 8K video which I wasn’t using that often, I was shooting mostly in 4K 60fps and 1080p 60fps. There is a Pro Video mode included on the Note20 Ultra that lets you shoot at 8K 24fps, 8K 24 fps at 21:9 aspect ratio and up to 4K 60fps at 21:9 aspect ratio.

Another feature of the Note20 Ultra’s mode is the ability to use an external mic (wired or wireless), you can even use your new Galaxy Buds Live or Galaxy Buds+ as an audio source.

Videos look great and feel very life-like with rich colours and details are shown.

Final Thoughts

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a great device that makes refinements over past Note devices while also bringing smooth performance, fun to use S Pen and a higher price tag.

Pros

  • Great display with a 120Hz refresh rate
  • Long battery life
  • Quick performance thanks to 12GB of RAM
  • S Pen works great
  • Great camera with Pro Camera and Video Modes
  • Large storage options plus a microSD card slot
  • 5G support

Cons

  • The in-display fingerprint sensor doesn’t work all the time
  • More expensive than previous models
  • 50x Zoom is better than 100x Space Zoom but still not great

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