When I first spent time with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I said it felt a lot like a Galaxy S20 Ultra "with a stylus and a bit of a makeover." I also said that, with devices like that super-premium S20 Ultra kicking around, the Note 20 Ultra didn’t feel distinct or even necessary.
It's time to eat some crow. What didn't come across during that brief socially distanced demo was that, by curbing some of its wilder initiatives and dutifully improving existing features, Samsung built its best big phone ever. Sorry, S20 Ultra: This thing is faster, sleeker, more technically impressive and even a little less expensive. You never stood a chance. What people should keep in mind, though, is that we live in an age where powerful smartphones are getting cheaper, and cheaper smartphones are getting better. Since that (very good) trend seems unlikely to change, the Note 20 Ultra is only worth the splurge if you need the best of the best... and the S Pen.
- Big fantastic screen
- Excellent battery life
- Top-of-the-range performance
- Writing with the S Pen feels more immediate
- Some new S Pen features are thoughtful
- It’s expensive even by flagship standards
- “Anywhere Actions” need some fine-tuning
- Wireless DeX can be hit-or-miss
- Cameras are solid but inconsistent
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
Octa-core Snapdragon 865 Plus
MicroSD card support
Yes, up to 1TB
6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display
1440 x 3088 (21:9)
108MP f/1.8 wide camera with OIS, 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera (120° field of view), 12MP f/3.0 telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom, laser autofocus
10MP f/2.2 camera
Android 10 with One UI 2.0
USB-C, supports fast wireless charging
Yes, rated IP68
Yes, sub-6 and mmWave
When the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra goes on sale on August 21st, you'll have two versions to choose from. The base model comes with 128GB of internal storage and costs $1,300 — that's $100 less than the similarly spec'd S20 Ultra. If you need even more space to play with, the 512GB variant will set you back $1,450. (Bear in mind, both accept microSD cards as large as 1TB.) Your next choice is color: The Note 20 Ultra is available in black, white and bronze.
Samsung will also sell a pared-down version — simply the Note 20 — for a more “reasonable” $1,000. We haven't been able to test one thoroughly, but the company had to make some notable compromises to drive its price down. That might make sense for some people, but most die-hard Note fans will want an Ultra instead.
Design and display
I used to be obsessed with big phones, but after spending some time with the iPhone SE and the Pixel 4a, I'm over them. These days we have to find comfort where we can, and the idea of one-handing an enormous slab of glass and metal doesn't have the appeal it used to. I mention this because, on paper, the Note 20 Ultra sounds big enough to make my wrist twinge in pained anticipation.
Thankfully, the Note 20 Ultra feels a lot more manageable than I would’ve expected. For one, it isn't as chonky as the S20 Ultra; Samsung shaved a few meaningful fractions of a millimeter off the Note's waistline. At 208 grams (or 7.34 ounces), the Note 20 Ultra is slightly lighter than the S20 Ultra too. The difference roughly equals the weight of two nickels, but believe me when I say every gram counts in a device you unlock dozens of times a day. And to top it off, the Note 20 Ultra's nearly bezel-less Dynamic AMOLED 2X display has a 21:9 aspect ratio, which means this 6.9-inch screen is more than twice as tall as it is wide. That’s enough to make the Note 20 Ultra almost surprisingly easy to grip.
That'll be little consolation to people who prefer small devices, though, since Samsung screwed them this year. See, last August, the company released its first-ever “small” Galaxy Note, giving folks who can't palm basketballs a chance to experience life with the S Pen. Rather than keep that promising trend going, though this year's standard Note 20 is just a fraction of an inch smaller than the Ultra.