When you think about the most noteworthy Android smartphones out there, Samsung’s flagship line of Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series have been a common mention over the years. The smartphones tend to offer a flagship experience with top-of-the-line specifications and features.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is Samsung’s latest and greatest offering for the Indian market. Over the years, Samsung has tried to develop a finished Galaxy Note smartphone that aims to enhance the user experience while improving productivity on a thin slab of glass.
The 2020 Galaxy Note 20 flagship, this time around, gets an Ultra badge positioning itself as the ultimate Android smartphone that you can get for your money.
But is that the case? We have used the latest premium Samsung smartphone for several weeks to find out if you should shell out Rs 1,04,999 from your pocket for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Here is our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: Design and Display
Samsung has gone all-out when it comes to the design language of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. No, it does not fold or bend, but the boxy design is polished more than enough to provide you with a premium in-hand feel.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review unit that Samsung gave us comes with a Mystic Brown paint job, which itself makes the Note 20 a standout. Opinions on the looks can be subjective, but we feel that the Note 20 Ultra is among the best-designed smartphones of 2020. The frosted glass back has a sheen when light is thrown upon, and the matte texture helps keep fingerprint smudges at bay.
The back is also curved around the edges, which aids in giving a good grip while holding this otherwise tall smartphone with a 6.9-inch QHD+ display. If you are someone who consumes content on their smartphone, chances are you would love the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s display. The Super AMOLED panel, which also supports HDR10+, offers punchy colours and is very, very bright. We did not face any issue while using the smartphone outdoors, even in direct sunlight. With a close to no-bezels design, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers an immersive viewing experience. Couple that with a loud-yet-clear stereo setup, and you are good to go.
You also get support for up to 120Hz Dynamic refresh rate with up to QHD+ resolution. There is a big asterisk here as the refresh rate cannot be locked at 120Hz all the time and scales up and down depending upon the kind of content on the screen. You also cannot have that 120Hz refresh rate if the resolution is set at QHD+. Samsung says it is limiting the refresh rate at QHD+ to 60Hz to offer a better battery life on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. While we do not mind that and find the FHD+ 120Hz combo sufficient for our screen requirements, the ones who tend to pixel-peep might call this a bummer. Especially considering the price tag upwards Rs 1 lakh and the fact that the Oppo Find X2 Pro (Review) and OnePlus 8 Pro (review) (which retails at Rs 54,999) offer support for a QHD+ 120Hz display.
Another niggle is that while the curved display does improve the screen experience, it is also prone to accidental touches. We couldn’t help but adjust our fingers while holding the device horizontally to avoid unexpected touches.
The in-display Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner, though accurate, tends to take more than a second to unlock the device, which is slow compared to optical scanners found on devices from other brands.
Coming back to that rear panel, the camera module sticks out a lot, causing the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to rock when kept on a flat surface. This might not be a problem all the time, except when you are using that S Pen for performing some tasks like taking notes when the screen is turned off.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: S Pen
The S Pen has anchored the Galaxy Note series smartphones over the years. Samsung continues to improve the S Pen by making minor improvements that significant enhances user experience. The S Pen on the Note 20 Ultra has a 9-millisecond latency claim, which in reality feels close to pen and paper.
We used the S Pen to edit some images on Lightroom and even take notes, mark screenshots, etc. Sure you can do these things with your fingertips too, but with the S Pen, it gets a lot easier. Take, for example marking the edges of a subject to crop it out from an image. The S Pen will come in handy during such times and help you precisely edit the image. It also continues to offer other features like Air Gestures that give you intuitive control with a wave of your hand, flicking left or right to move between photos and videos, etc.
That S Pen may not be something that you use every day, but you would be more than happy to have it when you need it. Like for example, we used the S Pen as a shutter to click a long-exposure shot using the Pro mode. While we are at it, let’s get to the camera performance on the Note 20 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: Camera
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a triple-camera setup on the back with the star being the 108MP sensor. The main camera shoots extremely detailed shots even when the subject is at a distance. We were more than happy with the overall image output in most of our Galaxy Note 20 Ultra sample shots that were clicked using the primary camera. The highlights and shadows were well exposed, and the colours were not too saturated either. Unlike the focusing issue that plagued the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s camera, opting for laser autofocus worked for Note 20 Ultra.
The other two camera sensors include a 12MP ultrawide lens and a 12MP telephoto lens with up to 50x zoom. The ultrawide does not click as detailed images as the main sensor, but the overall output is pretty good. However, you will notice some fish-eye effect around the edges.
For the telephoto lens, the details are best up to 10x zoom and you will notice a dip in quality at 30x zoom. The image below was shot using the 12MP ultrawide camera of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. To check the quality of 50x zoom, we stood at the exact same spot and tapped on the 50x zoom option in the camera app. Although not as good as the 10x or 30x zoom in terms of quality, the image shot using the 50x zoom feature did surprise us with the amount of detail it offered.
One needs to keep in mind that the quality and details of photos shot using 50x zoom depends upon how far the subject is from where you are shooting as well as the lighting conditions.
In low light, the camera software tends to increase the exposure but also introduces noise. Night mode on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra covers up the noise and also exposes the shadows well without overblowing the highlights. There were a couple of samples where we felt that the Note 20 Ultra outperformed the iPhone 11 Pro’s main camera. Images that had yellow lights helped the Note 20 Ultra balance out the cooler tones, thus offering a neutral colour temperature during the night. The iPhone 11 Pro, on the other hand, tends to oversaturate the yellows in the night, making images look a lot warmer.
The telephoto camera’s night mode performance is not as great as compared to the wide and ultrawide. If you want a better ultrawide camera in lowlight between the iPhone 11 Pro (review) and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, go for the latter as it supports Night mode on all the three lenses.
For selfies, there is a 10MP sensor that clicks detailed shots. Skin colour tone is close to reality and not so smoothened when beauty mode is disabled.
We also used the Pro mode to see how the camera performs in low light. Instead of using the on-screen shutter button, we used the S Pen as a trigger to click images on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to avoid any kind of shake. It is times like these when you think the S Pen is definitely a useful accessory bundled with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Click on the Flickr slideshow below to see some sample images shot on Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: Performance
So far, we’ve been all praises about the beautiful design, the tall display and the impressive cameras. However, the key component that keeps these things running is the processor. And well, the processor is kind of the Achilles' heel for the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which features the company’s in-house Exynos 990. Without getting into the benchmark numbers, we would focus on the practical, real-life performance of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G India variant. After using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Exynos 990 variant for nearly a month, we can confirm two things - 1) The processor can deal with intensive tasks. 2) It struggles with efficiency.
We used the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to binge-watch shows on Netflix and Prime Video, attending some video call meetings while working from home, played many games, including PUBG mobile before it got banned and Call of Duty, shot several photos and edited them using Adobe Lightroom and watched a couple of IPL matches as well.
Although the device does get slightly warm while playing games, there was no sign of any major lag or stutter while using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G during our review period. The software, which is One UI based on Android 10, runs quite smoothly and is well optimised for the Note 20 Ultra. What bothered us the most was the Galaxy Store spamming us with marketing notifications. You can, of course, go in the settings and disable the toggle, but when you pay over a lakh for a smartphone, that’s not something you would expect for a premium experience.
Battery life is a problem on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. For something that is promoted as a productivity device, an average screen-on time of roughly 4 hours is a bummer, considering the fact that the display had 120Hz refresh rate enabled with a FHD+ resolution and not even QHD+. When we switched to FHD+ and 60Hz, the average screen-on time was close to 4.45 hours. The good thing is that Samsung bundles a 25W fast charger with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra which takes about 65-70 minutes to charge the device completely.
So, the main question: Should you buy Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra?
The USP of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, apart from its appealing design, is the S Pen. Although the smart stylus has a limited use case, it sure does serve the purpose when in need. The most premium Note 20 5G model is truly-Ultra in the camera and the display department. The Indian variant running on Exynos needs to be a lot more efficient to offer better battery life like other flagships with a Snapdragon 865+ processor offer. Considering these factors, if you think the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra suits your use case, go for it.
If you have a lakh to spare for an ultra-premium smartphone without an S Pen, why not try and spend a few thousand more to buy the Galaxy Z Flip that offers a clamshell design with a foldable display? When unfolded, you get a tall display plus a flex mode to consume content. Besides, the performance unit is more than capable of offering a smooth user experience.
The Galaxy S20 Ultra is another option from Samsung’s stable of flagship smartphones. While the differences between the Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 Ultra have narrowed down to the inclusion of the S Pen, we feel that the 2020 Galaxy Note flagship is indeed the true Ultra smartphone among the two.