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Friday, January 15, 2021

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review: The king of the hill

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Samsung launched its latest flagship smartphone, the Galaxy Note 20 lineup on the international stage last month. As part of the launch, the company unveiled the top-of-the-line Note 20 Ultra and Note 20. Note 20 series is the latest in line of no-compromise flagship smartphones that launches after the S series each year. Minutes after the launch, Samsung shared the Indian pricing and August 28 as the availability date for both the devices. Now, the device is already available for sale on major online and offline stores across the country.

We have already shared our initial impressions around the device highlighting how the Ultra reaches a new level of premium. Ever since the initial impressions, we have been testing the Note 20 Ultra rigorously to put it through its paces. Overall, our thoughts have not really changed when compared to our first impressions. However, after about 2 weeks of use, we think that we have properly understood most, if not all aspects of the smartphone. Here is our review for the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.

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Galaxy Note 20 Ultra features, pricing, and availability

Before we start with our thoughts regarding the device, let’s get the specifications out of the way. Like any other top-of-the-line Note device, Samsung has gone all-in when it comes to the hardware. In fact, the “Ultra” moniker may be the reason for this instead of the traditional “Note” moniker. The company has added a large 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with 2K resolution and Corning Gorilla Glass Victus. Other features include HDR10+ support and up to 120Hz refresh rate.

Like all Samsung devices in India, our Note 20 Ultra sports an Exynos chip; Exynos 990 SoC in this case. We also get 12GB RAM and 256GB with a hybrid SIM slot to support the expandable storage option. Looking at the camera, we get a 108-megapixel primary camera with a 12-megapixel telephoto camera and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera. Other camera-related features include 8K recording, 50x Hybrid zoom, stereo-sound recording, external audio recorder support, and gyroscope based EIS and OIS. Samsung has also added a 10-megapixel selfie camera with 4K video in the Infinity-O punch hole.

We also get a 4,500mAh battery with 25W fast, 15W fast wireless, and 4.5W reverse-wireless charging. It also features Android 10-based One UI 2.5 to run the device with a plethora of features. Samsung also announced that Ultra will get three major Android version upgrades. The device also features an ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner, Wireless DeX, 5G, IP68 rating, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, and NFC.

Samsung is currently selling the Note 20 Ultra 5G with 256GB storage at Rs 104,990. In addition, the company is also offering multiple bank offers and discounts on protection and other services. One can find all the details on the Samsung website including offers on EMI, cashback details, Samsung Care+, and more.

Features Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
Price 104999
Chipset Samsung Exynos 990
OS Android 10
Display 6.9″ edge Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED-2X Infinity-O Display (3088×1440)
Internal Memory 12GB +512GB
Rear Camera 12MP Ultra Wide Camera + 108MP Wide-angle Camera + 12MP Telephoto Camera + Laser AF Sensor
Front Camera 10MP Selfie Camera
Battery 4500mah

Design and build quality

As noted in our first impressions, the first thing that you will notice out of the box is the design. The company has managed to improve on the design from what we saw on the Galaxy Note 10 lineup. Unlike the flashy, rainbow effect on the Note 10+, we get a mute, more boxy design on the new device. The muted, “Mystic Bronze” look comes with a matte finish on the back of the device. This finish ensures that the Ultra does not become a smudgy mess with fingerprints. Both these aspects of modern design make the device seem much classier than anything in the market.

Samsung has added the volume rocker and power button on the right side of the device. We also get the speaker grille, Type-C port, a microphone, and the S Pen on the bottom of the smartphone. The left side of the device does not come with any buttons as the SIM and microSD card slots are located at the top. It also features the latest, Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back of the device to prevent any damage from scratches or drops. Beyond the metal frame with antenna bands on the sides, we also get a Samsung branding on the rear panel.

Samsung has also managed to reduce the bottom bezel on the smartphone making the display bezels thinner, and more uniform. Beyond the usual front and back panels, the company also went all out to make a beefy rectangular camera module. Unlike most companies, the company does not try to make it compact and uses the space that the hardware needs. This does make the device wonky while using on any flat surface. To stop this, you should invest in a case that flattens the bump.

Additional features

We also get some notable features in the Note 20 Ultra including IP68 water resistance, fast wireless, and standard reverse wireless charging. The Ultra also comes with one of the best vibration motors in any Android smartphone. Overall, all these factors and extremely solid build quality make Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, one of (if not the most) premium devices out there. It is both interesting and commendable how Samsung continues to reinvent, and level up the built quality of the Note lineup each year.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Display

There are two important things about the display on the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G. The first is the size of the display and the second is the actual quality of the panel. Talking about the second one first, unsurprisingly, the Note 20 Ultra 5G sports the best display on any flagship smartphone in the market. Everything from the color reproduction, contrast, and brightness as on point. We also get top-of-the-line features such as 2K (1,440×3,088 pixels) resolution, Dynamic AMOLED panel, and up to 120Hz refresh rate. Other features include Always on the Display feature, 91.7 percent screen-to-body ratio, and 496 PPI pixel density.

Samsung has also added “Gorilla Glass Victus” along with HDR10+ support on the panel along with the curved finish. It also features a tiny punch hole as part of the Infinity-O design at the top of the display. Everything is great when it comes to the looks. Though, feature-wise there is one thing that we hoped considering the company went all out with. The thing that we are talking about is 120Hz support at 2K resolution as currently, the panel only offers 120Hz at FHD+ resolution. FHD+ gets “Standard” 60Hz and “Adaptive” modes for variable refresh rates.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Display options

Moving back to the first point regarding the actual size of the panel; here is where we reach crossroads. We have seen the smartphone world evolve from under 5-inch devices to the almost close to 7-inch displays. This has divided the smartphone audience into several fractions. The ones demanding smaller displays and the ones preferring larger displays. If you are looking at the Note 20 Ultra, then you know what you are getting. It features a 6.9-inch display with 164.8mm height. This makes it massive and one would need both hands for easy use. However, the curved screen also introduces occasional accidental touches on edges.

One UI 2.5 software experience

Samsung has ensured that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is filled up to the brim with software features. Out of the box, we get Android 10-based One UI 2.5 skin that features many important and extremely useful features. At the time of writing the review, we were running the August 1, 2020, Android security patch. As previously noted, the company also confirmed that it will offer three major Android version upgrades to the device. This means that the Ultra user can expect upgrades until Android 13.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Software One UI 2.5 2

If we dive into all the features including the actual functionality then this review will become unnecessarily lengthy. However, we will mention some new and interesting things that are worth exploring and may be useful for users. First up, Samsung introduced significant improvements to Air commands for S Pen. We will talk about this feature below. We also get deeper Microsoft integration with the “Link to Windows” feature. This allows users to connect their Ultra with their Windows 10-powered device through the “Your Phone Companion” app.

One UI 2.5 Link to Windows feature Note 20 Ultra 5G

Link to Windows feature

Some useful features include “Easy mode” (ideal for users with slightly weak eyesight), Edge lighting, and Edge panels. We also get a Video enhancer (making videos brighter with more vivid colors), gesture navigation, built-in themes support, and “FaceWidgets”. The OS also includes “Wallpaper services” support, Samsung Pass (to manage all login credentials, and replace them with fingerprint authentication). Other features include the Secure folder, Samsung Cloud, Samsung Pay, Direct Share, Smart pop-up view, and Bixby Routines (IFTTT-like feature).

We also get Air view, Smart stay, screen recording, One-handed mode, Dual Messenger, Game launcher, “Device care” and Panic mode. More features include Digital Wellbeing, Power modes, Wireless PowerShare, wireless music sharing, DeX.

The catch

We have already talked about the impressive features available on the Ultra. The company also offers a content feed with the help of “Samsung Daily”. One can access this by swiping from left to right side when on the home screen. However, like any other Samsung device, it also comes with several in-house apps and some third-party apps. Beyond the Microsoft apps, we also get Facebook, Netflix, YouTube Music, and Spotify pre-installed on the device.

One UI 2.5 Pre-installed apps Note 20 Ultra 5G

One UI 2.5 Pre-installed apps

We don’t have many complaints about the pre-installed apps as most can be uninstalled and then re-installed from the Play Store. There are several System apps including My Files, AR Zone, Bixby, Gallery, Galaxy Store, Netflix, Tips, Samsung Notes, Game Launcher, My Galaxy. One can only disable these apps if needed.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Notification ads One UI 2.5

Notification ads One UI 2.5

However, the one complaint that we do have about the software is the push notifications that a few in-house Samsung apps throw. Apps like Galaxy Store, My Galaxy, and Samsung Global Goals pushed ads and notifications in the notification shade. We do believe that considering the price and segment that this device targets, the company can do away with the notification ads.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G: Performance

Like the display, the performance of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G also comes with a duality. We have already noted the specifications of the device above. To recap, the Ultra features Exynos 990 SoC with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage with the option to expand it. We also get an ultrasonic under-display fingerprint scanner, 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, and NFC. During my review period, I did not face any slowdowns or hiccups while using the smartphone in a multitude of scenarios. Everything works as intended when it comes to software performance.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review (26)

The device zipped through anything and everything that we threw at it. It did heat up during extended gaming sessions but that was under tolerable limits. We tested several games including Dead Cells, Monument Valley 2, Alto, Sky, Lumino City, Shadow Fight 3, Sky Force Reloaded, Call of Duty Mobile, and the now-banned PUBG Mobile. Beyond this, the audio performance on the speakers during calls and media consumption is good. Though, it is extremely easy to block the primary speaker while gaming. The ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner also works fine but it is not as fast as optical fingerprint scanners.

Exynos dilemma

However, talking about the duality, the one thing that emerges to the top is the presence of Exynos 990 SoC. It is not out of the ordinary for a Note device in India but there lies the problem. Considering the price and the top-of-the-line nature of the segment, we can’t stop hoping for a Snapdragon flagship SoC-powered Samsung flagship. I mean, Exynos 990 SoC is not bad and casual users won’t notice the difference in daily usage. However, a hard-core user who is aware and wants to push the device will indeed feel bummed about it.

samsung, samsung exynos 990, exynos 990, samsung exynos 990 features, exynos 990 specs

What is worse is the evident proof that Exynos 990 SoC lags its Snapdragon 865+ sibling. We ran some benchmarks on the Ultra and ROG Phone 3 and observed some noticeable differences in numbers. Though, if you don’t care about the absolute best performance or the Exynos Vs Snapdragon factor then Ultra is great.

Improvements in the S Pen

One thing that makes the Note lineup stand apart from most flagship smartphones is the inclusion of the S Pen. In fact, most Note fans will term S Pen as the main draw towards the device. The company has improved the technology on S Pen in the last several iterations. Continuing the trend of yearly improvements, Samsung introduced some key improvements on the S Pen with the Note 20 Ultra. The first thing that past Note users will notice is the reduced latency to make the writing or scribbling experience more natural.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review (9)

This reduced latency with optional scribbling sound and hover mode make the Stylus experience more user friendly. We also get improved Air Actions that now allow users to control smartphone navigation using the S Pen. You will need some time to get used to the new gestures, but they work well for basic actions. In addition, the company has also shifted the location of the S Pen from the right to the left side on the bottom side.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G S Pen One UI 2.5

Users can use the S Pen to control a presentation, use it as a mouse to click on objects, play or pause a video, control smartphone audio, or even capture a photo. Samsung has also made improvements to its in-house Notes app for improved handwriting recognition. This ensures that users can convert their handwriting into computer text. We can also realign the handwriting to make it tidier with just one button.

Other features include recording audio while scribbling and synchronizing it with the said writing. While playing back, the audio playback will ensure that it is in line with the scribbling on the screen during recording. Samsung has also announced that it is working with Microsoft for easy integration and sync with OneNote.

The camera system on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

As per the specifications section above, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G features a triple rear camera. This setup includes a primary 108-megapixel sensor, a 12-megapixel telephoto camera, and a 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera. Samsung has also added a 10-megapixel camera on the front in the Infinity-O punch hole for selfies. We also get 8K video recording, 50x hybrid zoom, stereo-sound recording, external audio-recorder support with EIS, and OIS support. Looking at the massive rectangular square module, we are certain that the Ultra means business. The large, 1/1.33-inch image sensor size on the primary camera also introduces naturally occurring Depth-of-Field (DoF).

Samsung has also improved on the deficiencies that we observed in the Galaxy S20 Ultra. These include a much better autofocus system with the help of Laser AF, especially for close-range or low-light environments. The company also stepped back from the 100x Space Zoom to up to 50x hybrid zoom on the Note. We also get 5x optical zoom along with OIS and tracking autofocus. Other features include Super Steady mode, and support for Bluetooth and USB microphones in advanced video recording options.


Getting right to the point, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G features the best camera on any smartphone in India right now. It’s been a while since I enjoyed taking images on a smartphone. This is due to the impressive vibration motor, naturally occurring DoF, and color science. The images shot on Ultra are impressive regardless of the sensor. We get excellent color reproduction without exaggerated saturation, texture, DoF, and details. The difference between the color reproduction and exposure on all three sensors is not drastically different. Check all the image samples below:

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

Testing the telephoto lens, we think that the 5X optical zoom offers the best quality images. 50x hybrid zoom is fine (much better than the 100x on S20 Ultra) but not the best. The telephoto lens on the Note 20 Ultra features lesser megapixels but captures better photos than the S20 Ultra. Beyond the telephoto lens, the ultra-wide camera also captures sharp, vibrant, and good images in most lighting conditions with okay low-light performance. During the night, the device captures decent images but not the absolute best out there.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review (6)

Moving to the front camera, we get good images in decent lighting conditions, but the sensor struggles in low light conditions. Beyond this, the smartphone seems to be processing the front camera images a tad aggressively. Even after disabling the filters, we found the camera software applying some beautify algorithm removing the details from our face. We also think that Samsung should work more on reducing the shutter lag while capturing images.

Checking the video features, we were impressed with the quality during daylight with ample options to muck around. The inclusion of USB or Bluetooth audio recorders is a welcome addition for professionals. The camera sensor offers superior quality videos in ideal lighting conditions but struggles during the night while walking. We also found the camera struggling to focus while recording video in less than ideal lighting, but an update can fix it.

Battery backup on the Ultra

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G features a 4,500mAh battery along with 25W fast, 15W fast wireless, and 4.5W reverse-wireless charging. As noted previously, Samsung has also added multiple power modes in the software. These options ensure that the users can get the best out of the battery. It is also interesting that Samsung downgraded the battery specs in Note 20 Ultra when compared to S20 Ultra. For some context, the S20 Ultra came with a 5,000mAh battery with 45W fast charging.

Though the decrease in battery capacity does not matter much, it does have some impact. During regular workdays, I got about 6.5 hours of screen on time with a full workday of backup. However, extremely heavy use over the weekends pushed the Note 20 Ultra to 5.5 hours of screen time and 7.5-8 hours of total backup. Overall, the device offers decent battery backup, but it is not the one or even 2-day battery champion anymore. This is likely because of the 2K screen with up to 120Hz refresh rate and ordinary battery capacity.

One UI 2.5 Battery section

A typical workday includes constant sync on 4 email accounts, conversations on WhatsApp, Slack, Discord, and Telegram. Beyond this, it also includes 7-8 calls, 3-3.5 hours of music streaming/playback, 1-1.5 hours of video streaming, 30-35 minutes of gaming, and 5-6 photos. Heavy use includes multi-tasking between 8-9 apps, 3.5-4 hours of gaming, 1.5-2 hours of music streaming, and 1.5-2 hours of video streaming. Finally, it took us about 1 hour and 15 minutes to charge the device from 0 to 100 percent.

Conclusion: Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G?

If you are looking at the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G then you know what you want. You want a top of the line smartphone with S Pen, classy design, excellent display, and camera systems. Beyond these, you are also looking at plenty of software features and an all-round performer for better and hardware performance. Samsung has managed to improve its game yet again with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.

The company has also made sensible decisions in fixing the issues everyone noted with the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Though the device is not perfect, and it needs some improvements in some sections. Sure, the company can improve the shutter lag on the primary camera, add a larger battery, and go for Snapdragon SoC along with an ad/notification-free experience. However, none of these sections is a deal-breaker that would stop anyone from buying the smartphone.

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