The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has been in my pocket for a couple of days and it’s a really good phone but for an ultra-premium flagship price I’m hoping for more. There’s a lot about the phone that is very easy to like, there are some areas that could, probably should, be just a little bit better.
The design of the phone is — much like other facets of the device — very typical of the Note range and unmistakably Samsung design. If you’re a fan of Samsung hardware then this alone will be a big winner for you, I’ve seen this already from people asking me “What Samsung is that?” because their design is so distinct.
They’ve got other distinct features in how they deliver functionality and the two features that a huge percentage of consumers care most about have, in true Samsung fashion, been nailed. The user interface and the camera are both great in their own right, but there are other areas that need to be looked at to decide if this is the right phone to buy.
The camera is easy to use, consistent and produces great results
We will go into more detail about the camera, specs and the results in the coming couple of weeks, but the early impression of the camera is impressive. The simple fact is that in the few days I’ve had the phone so far, the camera automatically adjusts and selects an appropriate mode to your target subject extremely well each and every time.
The other area that has made this a very usable camera for me is the speed of the automatic focus. This is undoubtedly through the laser autofocus sensor in use on the phone. We will take a closer look at the camera in our full review, but until then – here’s a few sample pictures to give you an early taste.
The good and bad
The specs are really good and it seems to tick all the boxes. The performance that I’ve seen from the phone in the early stages is excellent and I’m very happy with the physical presentation generally as it’s easy on the eyes. The physical size of the device is a perfect size for users looking for lots of screen space. There’s a lot of really nice detail about this phone and frankly a hell of a lot to like.
For me, the highlight is the display which is a stunner. It’s a 6.9-inch dynamic AMOLED 2X panel running at 1440 x 3088 resolution. Where this screen goes from great to amazing is the 120hz refresh rate although it cannot run the display at both full 2k resolution and 120Hz like all other ultra-premium devices in 2020 (aside from the Galaxy S20 Ultra which is similarly gimped) — it instead will only allow 1080P resolution at that refresh rate. This gives the screen an amazing look for media playback as well as excellent touch response.
It’s been mentioned in our reviews before that a great screen can make up for other failings of a device, or it can contribute to poor user experience. In this case, it’s a great user experience but it contributes in part at least to one of the detracting features of the device.
There are a couple of areas with the Note 20 Ultra that aren’t great. I’m not a fan of how big the camera bumps are getting in the current range of devices and the Note 20 Ultra is not alone here. They’re getting to a point where it’s almost comical and being passed off as engineering artistry. For me, it would be a wiser decision to make the entire phone a touch deeper and heavier to incorporate an even larger battery.
Speaking of which, the early impression of the battery is that it’s not great and frankly, I don’t blame Samsung for playing it a bit safe. Despite the size of the battery, in my normal use patterns, I’m looking for a quick top-up charge around 3:30 in the afternoon just to make sure I get to bedtime with a working phone.
Iteration, not innovation
This is far from the first Galaxy Note device I’ve used — I’ve purchased a couple in the past and loved them. At the time, they offered something a bit different in the truly premium handset with features not readily available elsewhere.
In 2020 we see the Galaxy S20 Ultra with a 6.9-inch display, matching the Note 20 Ultra. The Galaxy S20 is a 6.7-inch screen that matches the Note 20, so the screen size isn’t that point of difference any longer. There’s little if anything to differentiate between the cameras as well that just leaves the question – other than the S Pen what’s the advantage of the Note devices?
These days, it seems the focus of Samsung has changed from the Note range to the Galaxy S and Fold devices. That makes the Note range now feel more like an iterative device, rather than pushing the envelope and innovating each year.
Am I disappointed by the Note 20 Ultra?
No, far from it — it’s a very good phone as I’ve already mentioned but it’s a phone that will set you back two grand so I expect more than very good. It is growing on me and quickly as I adjust to proactively seeking out the S Pen for interfacing. The screen is damn good, it’s got good storage and the camera produces some great results.
I’m looking forward to spending some more quality time with the Note 20 Ultra over the coming couple of weeks. In that time we’ll be taking a deeper dive into areas of the phone in far more detail. While the Note 20 Ultra isn’t thrilling me yet, it is growing on me.
What would you like to know about the Note 20 Ultra when our review is done?