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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review
The latest Galaxy Note 20-series line-up has garnered mixed reactions worldwide and specifically in the Indian market. The super-premium Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G has been launched with the Samsung's in-house Exynos 990 chipset in the country. At an asking price of Rs. 1.05 lacs, the Note 20 Ultra is the most expensive Galaxy Note to ever come out from the house of Samsung. It simply dwarfs all other flagship Android smartphones in terms of size, price and features.
- Most Premium Looking Smartphone
- Latest Corning Gorilla Glass & IP68 Certified
- Excellent Camera Performance
- Delightful 6.9-inch OLED Screen
- Fluid 120Hz Refresh Rate
- microSD Card Support
- Improved S-Pen Is A Great Productivity Tool
- Display Refresh Rate Capped At 1080p Resolution
- Battery Life Could Have Been Better
- Heating Issues
- Expensive Price
I have been using the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G in the Mystic Bronze color variant. The design screams elegance and the phablet also brings the largest ever OLED screen on the productivity centric Galaxy Note line-up. Additionally, the new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also improves the camera performance with a glorious camera bump featuring a periscope module capable of 50x hybrid far-field zoom.
But most importantly, Samsung has made some significant improvements to the signature S-Pen stylus. The new S-Pen now delivers more realistic note-taking and drawing experience for on-the-go productivity. It' smarter, durable and gives the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G a definite advantage over the competition. Let's discuss everything in detail in the following review.
Design- Most Elegant-Looking Note Ever
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra looks more like a luxury collectable item than a regular Galaxy Note series device, especially the Mystic Bronze color variant. It almost feels like a regular Galaxy Note underwent some special treatment to look even more classy and sophisticated. It almost reminds me of those gold-plated iPhones that cost a bomb. That said, the premium fit and finish with the flashy camera bulge at the rear panel is an instant head-turner. This is not a phone for anyone who prefers an understated look and feel. The glittering rear panel shouts of luxury and class. I would recommend you to check out the Mystic Black and White color variants if subtlety is what you seek.
As far as buttons and ports placement is concerned, Samsung has positioned the volume rockers and the power button on the right side. The S-Pen stylus housing has now been shifted to the left side and the Bixby button has been ditched for good. The hybrid SIM card tray is placed on top along with a microphone. The Type-C charging port can be seen at the bottom along with the secondary microphone and a speaker unit.
Big And Bulky And Requires Utmost Care
The Galaxy Note line-up was always meant to offer big and bulky phablets that demand two hands for comfortable use even for basic phone-related operations like calling or simply typing a text message. If you look back at the first-generation Galaxy Note, it offered a 5.3-inch screen which in today's time sounds ridiculous. Even the sub-10K budget devices now flaunt 6.5-inches screens nowadays. That said, the 6.9-inch screen size doesn't come as a shock to me in the year 2020 for a Galaxy Note-series device. It sounds just about right for a phablet that's the whole purpose is to enhance your productivity requirements from a mobile device.
However, the thought stayed valid until I took out the new Galaxy Note from its box. In reality, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a behemoth of a phone. It is the biggest (164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm) mobile device I have ever used and almost feels like a tablet in hands. The 6.9-inches display is the largest ever OLED screen ever put by Samsung on a Galaxy Note series device and I wish Samsung sticks to this screen size for coming years. A Note bigger than the Note 20 Ultra will simply step into the tablet territory and would be a disaster from an ergonomics point of view.
With the larger footprint and the glossy polished surface, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra feels hefty (208g) and slippery in hands. You have to be extremely careful while using it in the daily routine if you haven't strapped a case on it. But how durable is the most premium Galaxy Note device ever built? Let's find out.
Is Galaxy Note 20 Durable?
The front and back of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are protected by the layer of the latest generation Corning Gorilla Glass- Victus. The 7th gen protective glass from Corning is touted to better drop and scratch performance compared to its predecessors and also from the competition. While we haven't performed a drop test on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Corning claims that the new aluminosilicate Gorilla Glass Victus will offer protection to up to 2 meters drop onto hard, rough surfaces.
Moving on, the curved front and back of the device are held firmly by a metal frame. The entire device feels like a sturdy block of metal and glass and offers a very confident feel in hands. However, I would still recommend using the Note 20 Ultra with a case as it will prevent unwanted scratches on the back panel and will also minimize the wobble effect caused by the hideous camera bulge when you put the phone on a flat surface. Last but not the least; the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an IP68 certified device. Like its predecessor, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G can also resist dust and water.
Display- Gigantic Curved Quad HD+ OLED
The biggest ever Galaxy Note device is a sheer delight for multimedia consumption and productivity jobs, thanks to the humongous 6.9-inches screen. It is essentially an edge Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display. The gigantic curved edged Super AMOLED panel has a tiny punch hole at the top-centre to house a 10MP selfie camera. The Quad HD panel offers a screen resolution of 3088 x 1440 and a pixel density of 496 PPI.
The display feels super fluid. The animations are 2x smoother than any conventional 60Hz refresh rate panel due to 120Hz refresh rate making scrolling and UI navigation buttery smooth. Importantly, the dynamic 120Hz refresh rate panel was smart enough to adjust the refresh rate based on the on-screen content to save some battery life. For instance, the UI scrolling and navigation works at max 120Hz while video playback runs at lower 24Hz.
Delight For Multimedia Consumption
The HDR10+ certified panel offers deeper blacks and best-in-class color reproduction. Resultant, videos and games simply look brilliant. I enjoyed binge-watching and playing Asphalt 9, Call of Duty, and Dead Trigger on this screen. The darker areas in-game and videos show enough detailing to make the overall viewing experience quite immersive. The screen also does a great job for doodling and reading, both indoors and outdoors as the Note 20 Ultra has a claimed peak brightness of 1500 nits.
120H Refresh Rate Is Limited To 1080p Resolution
Similar to the Galaxy S20-series line-up, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also cannot run the screen at 120Hz refresh rate with the max Quad HD resolution. You can only enjoy the fluid UI at 1080p resolution. While it does put the Note 20 Ultra and Samsung in a tight spot in the numbers game, the real-life performance hardly takes a hit. The massive OLED panel with 1080p resolution running at 120Hz refresh rate felt as good as the screen on the OnePlus 8 Pro running at 120Hz @ Quad HD resolution. I hardly noticed any difference but still if Samsung is charging a fortune for the device, why not just give the full-blown experience to power users?
Also, I liked the motion smoothening feature on the Find X2 Pro and the OnePlus 8 Pro, which seemed missing on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. It is essentially the MEMC technology that makes the graphics smoother for a life-like video playback experience. Most people aren't fond of it as it makes the movie-watching experience a bit unreal but I enjoy it. Samsung could have added it on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra because the device will be majorly used for binge-watching.
Camera- 108MP Quad-Lens Camera With 50x Digital Zoom
Similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G also flaunts a 108MP OIS-enabled primary camera that uses the Samsung's own ISOCELL Bright HM1 sensor. It is a large 1/1.33" sensor (f/1.8 aperture) with impressive shallow depth-of-field for pleasing bokeh results. The massive camera sensor is paired with a 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera and a 12MP OIS-enabled telephoto sensor with the periscope setup to offer the far-field 50x hybrid zoom. Samsung has also added a laser autofocus sensor in the setup to improve the camera's autofocus capabilities. The Note 20 Ultra 5G can record 8K videos in 24fps and 4K UHD videos in 60 and 30fps, 1080p videos in 60 and 30fps and 720 videos in 30fps.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also supports the ‘Super Steady mode' for shake-free video recording but enabling it reduces the video resolution to standard 1080p 30fps. You can also record super slow-motion videos and the standard slow-motion and time-lapse videos. Additionally, you get HDR10+ video recording support, Pro Video mode and features like Zoom-in mic. Overall, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a very feature-rich camera system but how does it perform? Let's find out.
Excellent Daylight Performance
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra just nails the daylight camera performance. The primary sensor captures crisp shots with vibrant colors and excellent dynamic range. And the same is also true for 8K, 4K and 1080p video footage. The images/videos simply look mind-blowing on the 6.9-inch OLED display, a primary reason a good display is so important because 90% of the time you are going to check out all your pictures on the device. Moving on, the 108MP high-res. shots and even the pixel-binned images have an ample amount of resolved details and sharpness. The bigger sensor lets a good amount of light intake to produce bright results.
I am hoping that the massive primary sensor is applying the same pixel-binning process of combining nine smaller pixels into one to create one bigger pixel. Resultant, the images turn out bright and lifelike. Be it greens of trees or blues of skies or vibrant red hues of flowers, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra proves to be an excellent camera device for outdoor video recording and photography.
The new laser autofocus has improved things to good extent but I still faced some difficulties in while shooting videos. Especially while recording handheld videos indoors. The sensor has the tendency to lose the focus on nearby objects. It requires you to tap multiple times on the screen to keep the focus locked on a subject.
Good For Landscape Photography
You can also capture dramatic wide-angle shots on the Note 20 Ultra. The 12MP fixed-focus wide-angle lens captures 120-degree wide- field-of-view and produces good landscape pictures. There's almost no distortion at the corners and the loss in detailing is very less when shots are taken in good lighting. The low-light shots also turn out decent as the dedicated Night mode also works with the 12MP wide-angle lens.
Similar to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, the Note 20 Ultra 5G also captures wonderful portraits, thanks to the 108MP sensor which has a shallower depth-of-field. Check out the above image. It has been shot in normal mode and the primary camera has still managed to create a very pleasing bokeh. The subject isolation looks very natural. The Live Bokeh mode also seems to produce much better results now with both human and non-human subject. The skin smoothening is now less aggressive than the previous generation Galaxy smartphones.
The subject isolation and edge detection are good and portraits also show accurate and natural-looking colors. Overall, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is easily the best smartphone for clicking portraits. You can also shoot live focus videos with real-time bokeh. The results are pretty good provided that you are maintaining the right distance from the subject to let the bokeh effect work.
5x Optical Shots to 50x Digital Images
Samsung seems to have realized that the 100x zoom is merely a marketing gimmick and its real-world usage is negligible. This can be a possible explanation of why the far-field zoom is capped at 50x on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The 5x optical zoom images look crisp and maintain good details, provide that light conditions are favourable. The contrast is slightly cranked up but you can still use these 5x shots to post on social media platforms. Up to 10x, the daylight shots look decent but once you jump the 10 or 12x zoom, the noise becomes very much evident and images start to become highly pixilated. The 50x zoom shots are just not usable at all and Samsung should stop advertising them as lossless pictures.
Samsung has significantly improved the low-light camera performance and it has done it without even adding any fancy 20 or 30-sec long-exposure mode. It is only the standard long-exposure mode with up to 5 second exposure time that delivers well-lit images and as mentioned above, it even works with the wide-angle lens. The noise is very well controlled and 1x zoom images turn out bright even if the available lighting is very less. The 5x zoom shots in low-light show noise and can still be used with a bit of post-processing. You also get full-fledged Pro Modes for still images and videos that if used wisely can yield fantastic results.
10MP Selfie camera Capture Vibrant Images
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also captures surprisingly good selfies in daylight. If you feed goo light to the 10MP selfie camera, it can deliver better results than most of the selfie-centric smartphones from Oppo and Vivo. The 10Mp sensor captures bright and vivid selfies with excellent dynamic range. The camera app also offers plenty of modes and filters and you can also apply all sorts of filters, skin smoothening and facial correction features that you normally find in smartphones that put a lot of emphasis on selfies.
Hardware And Gaming Performance
This is where things get interesting and also weirder. Samsung ships the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in India with the in-house Exynos 990 chipset- the latest and the most powerful one. The same device comes powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus SoC in select markets. The SD865 Plus is the same chipset that supplies power to the Asus ROG Phone 3 which fully impressed us with its gaming and day-to-day performance.
Now, we haven't got a chance to compare the two different Galaxy Note 20 Ultra variants or an SD865 Plus device side by side with the Exynos 990-powered Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. However, I have personally reviewed the Asus ROG Phone 3 and with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra now as my daily driver, I can say that the former is a force to be reckoned with.
This doesn't mean that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra lags or feels underpowered. You might not even feel any difference in real-life performance with day-to-day tasks. It is only when you play the most graphics-intensive games that the differences start to appear.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra As A Gaming Device
For instance, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra performed quite inconsistently with PUBG. I tried all possible graphics settings on the phablet but couldn't enjoy the gameplay. It lags and is plagued by frame drops. Contradictory to this, the Asphalt 9 and the Call of Duty ran with sheer smoothness and I did not experience any gameplay issues on the device. That said, it might be an issue with the game itself as the phablet worked flawlessly with all other heavy game titles. It is also worth mentioning that we did not face any issues with the PUBG gameplay on the Galaxy S20 Ultra which is also powered by the Exynos 990 SoC (4G).
However, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is marred by heating issues. A fifteen-minute gameplay and basic camera usage for about 10 minutes cause heating issues on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The rear panel around the camera bulge and the corresponding spot at the front gets noticeably hot.
Benchmarks Test & Multitasking
We also ran a couple of benchmarks to gauge the performance of the 7nm Exynos 990 SoC. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra scored 11533 in PC Mark's Work 2.0 performance test. It touched a score of 524,622 in Antutu, 914 in Geekbench's Single-core and 2,766 in Geekbench's multi-core test. The flagship phablet scored 6578 in 3D Mark's Slingshot Extreme- Open GL ES 3.1 and 5377 in Vulkan test.
If we compare the results with the SD865 Plus-powered Asus ROG Phone 3, the ROG phone leaves behind the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra by a fair margin. In the PC Mark's Work 2.0, the Asus' gaming handset achieved a score of 13,820 which is noticeably higher than what Note 20 Ultra has recorded.
The ROG Phone 3 also surpasses the Note 20 Ultra's numbers in every other benchmark test. The handset scored 621,142 in Antutu, 981 in Geekbench's Single-Core test and 3,366 in the Multi-core test. The higher numbers also reflect in the Asus ROG Phones' day-to-day performance.
As far as multitasking is concerned, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a beast. You can run more than 20 apps without a glitch. The 12GB LPDDR5 RAM is more than enough to smoothly handle any number and types of apps you throw at it.
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra works wonderfully as a daily driver but the same couldn't be said for its gaming performance. Samsung should have introduced the phablet with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus to offer the performance the power users deserve if they are paying a hefty price of Rs. 1,04,990.
Software And Audio Performance
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra runs on the latest One UI 2.5 based on Google's Android 10. The One UI has matured quite well and is easily one of the best custom Android skin in the market. It is visually appealing, runs smoothly on the Note 0 Ultra, and comes loaded with useful software features and also has plenty of customizations to offer. The system-wide Dark mode works really well on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The phone has a built-in screen recorder, QR code scanner, file sharing tool- Quick Share, a Secure Folder to keep all sensitive data protected from unauthorized access and even a Kids Mode to setup an on-device safe mode if kids have easy access to mobile devices at home. The Galaxy Note Ultra 20 also ensures good privacy of on-device data, thanks to the Knox platform which offers real-time monitoring and protection from virus and malware.
The phone also delivers a solid audio performance, thanks to stereo speakers and earphones tuned by AKG. You can enjoy an entire movie and gaming sessions on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra even without earphones. The sound produced by stereo speakers is very loud and crystal clear.
S-Pen- Versatile Tool For On-The-Go Productivity
Samsung has made some big improvements with the new S-Pen on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The new stylus is more accurate and comes with lower 9mm latency. Earlier it was 42ms. The difference is instantly noticeable and it almost feels like you are writing on a piece of paper. I often found myself taking notes of everything rather than typing everything on Google Keep or the native Samsung Notes application. The fact that you can convert the handwritten notes into typed text with just one tap gives you all the more reasons to use S-Pen for note taking.
Besides, there are plenty of tools and modes to experiment with writing and doodling. If you like doodling, creating digital graphics and also spend a lot of time on excel sheets and PPTs, there's no better device than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
S-Pen- Intuitive Air-Gestures Support
Also, the Bluetooth-enabled supports Air gestures which may sound gimmicky but work quite well. For instance, you can press the button on stylus and perform a tilted ‘V' gesture to trigger a ‘back' action on the device. Similarly, the stylus supports air gestures for Home, Recent apps, Smart Select and Screen Write controls. You can also customize the S Pen's button response in a multitude of apps such as camera, gallery, voice recorder, office, clock, etc. Also, the S Pen stylus is IP68 certified for protection against water and dust.
Battery Life & Connectivity
Samsung ships its mid-range Galaxy phones with massive 6,000mAh battery cells but offers a rather modest 4,500mAh battery unit on the flagship Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The 4,500mAh battery cell has to support the humongous 6.9-inch OLED panel and it does a decent job. If you are running the screen at 120Hz, which naturally means at 1080p resolution, the phone will last you a day with moderate usage. Playing videos on stretch and long gaming sessions take a toll on battery life. You will have to plug in the device twice in a day if you are a power user. To my surprise, the adaptive refresh rate doesn' t help much in improving the battery life. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra supports wireless charging and ships with a 25W fast-charger that takes 60 minutes to refuel the battery from flat to 100%.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the 5G-enabled Galaxy Note 20 Ultra supports both NSA and SA modes for new-age connectivity means. The smartphone also supports enhanced 4x4 MIMO for 4G connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, Wi-Fi 6 (2.4G+5GHz) and comes packed with a hybrid SIM card tray that takes in two one nano-SIM card and a microSD card with up to 1TB storage support. Most importantly, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also supports e-SIM connectivity which means you can have two active phone numbers and a microSD card for storage expansion. In short, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a no-compromise smartphone in terms of storage and connectivity.
There's no doubt that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is an excellent device to amplify your productivity needs. It is built for users who don't want to compromise on design, display, camera, day-to-day performance and especially on productivity features that only a stylus can address. If you are that user, there's no better pick than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.
What if your usage isn't centered around a stylus and you don't want to compromise on camera and display user-experience? In that case, you can check out the Samsung Galaxy S20+ and the Galaxy S20 Ultra. The Galaxy S20 Ultra is more or less a slightly less refined 4G version of the Note 20 Ultra and comes sans a stylus.
We would also like to include the Galaxy Note 20 in the list but we cannot comment on its performance as we haven't got the chance to test the phablet. We will update this space once we get to test the Galaxy Note 20.