Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review: An expensive all-purpose premium phone

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a premium model in Samsung’s recently launched Galaxy Note20 series of smartphones. This smartphone maxes out on almost all fronts — design, display, imaging, productivity features, ingress protection, charging technology, etc. It seems to be one of the versatile smartphones for work, play and everything else in between. However, good things come for a price and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is not cheap — its sole 12GB RAM + 256GB internal storage variant costs Rs 1,04,999.

Is the product truly worth the price tag it carries? Let’s find out:

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Design

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is wide (77.2 mm) and heavy (208g), and it continues with the conventional Galaxy Note-series rectangular slab design. It, however, gets a new Mystic Bronze paintjob, which attracts attention and looks absolutely stunning. The colour might have been named Mystic because it reflects different hues and has a tinge of rose gold, chocolate brown and bronze colours. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is one of the few phones that feel comfortable to operate despite a big stature. This is partially due to its wide form factor, which makes it easy to hold and operate the device while using both hands. That said, the phone is not made for single-hand usage.

Apart from the paintjob, the phone has got seasonal upgrades in terms of design. Made of glass and steel, the phone has a Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front and back. Starting from the rear, the phone has got a big protruding camera module on the top-left corner. It makes the phone wobble on flat solid surfaces like table top and tempers the experience by rendering the phone’s bundled digital stylus (SPen) ineffective in operations like scribbling, note taking, etc. Another design flaw is noticed at the bottom of the chassis — the SPen garage and speaker are now placed on the left side; left-handers might appreciate this move but it is not the natural placement for right-handers to access. Thankfully, there is no key clutter here and the phone has just two keys (volume rockers and the power-cum-Bixby key) on the right side of the chassis.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Display

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra sports a 6.9-inch punch-hole (Infinity-O) screen of a QHD+ (3200 x 1440 pixels) resolution, 120Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch response rate. The screen is an improvement over the one seen in the Galaxy S20-series, especially with regard to features. Yet, it leaves you asking for more.

The display is bright, vivid and responsive. It works well in most conditions but with some sacrifices in terms of performance. For example, the 120Hz refresh rate improves the experience by making user interface transitions smooth and responsive, but it operates only at a fullHD+ resolution, and the QHD+ resolution works only at the 60Hz refresh rate. Moreover, there are only two modes to set motion smoothness – standard (60Hz) and adaptive (automatic). If not 120Hz, Samsung should have let users experience 90Hz refresh rate at the QHD+ resolution. This is not something that cannot be added through software upgrade and, maybe, Samsung should consider adding it in future updates.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Imaging

Like other areas, imaging in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has also got a major boost in terms of features, lenses and overall optic capability. The phone has a triple-camera set-up at the back, featuring a 108-megapixel primary sensor of an f/1.8 aperuture. It boasts the optical image stabilisation technology for stable performance. The other two sensors are 12MP telephoto of an f/3.0 aperture and a 12MP ultrawide sensor of an f/2.2 aperture. On the front, the phone has a 10MP sensor of an f/2.2 aperture.

The phone’s rear and front camera modules are capable units and perform well irrespective of light conditions and scene settings. The phone’s primary rear camera takes photos equivalent to 12MP size, but utilises the sensor’s additional pixels to improve image quality. Therefore, it takes detailed shots with an excellent dynamic range, decent highlights and shadow details, and minimal noise. For even better results, especially in daylight conditions, there is a dedicated 108MP mode. Here, the sensor captures extraordinary detail.

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 108MP vs 12MP
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: HDR
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Primary sensor
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Primary sensor
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Primary sensor (5x zoom)

The ultra-wide sensor is as good as the primary autofocus sensor. It captures good details and manages to flatten out distortions on frame edges and makes the output linear. It is this lens that also enables going down to up to 0.5x for close-up shots, which turns out to be a mixed bag. The telephoto lens, a major improvement, enables up to 3x optical zoom and up to 50x digital zoom. The extraordinary zoom, however, is just for novelty sake and the output has little to write home about.

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Ultra-wide
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Wide
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 10x zoom
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 20x zoom
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 50x zoom
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 20x zoom
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 50x zoom
Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: 50x zoom (lowlight)

Like the Galaxy S20 series, the Note 20 Ultra has a ‘Single Take’ mode. In this mode, the camera captures frames in multiple formats and shows them all at one place. You can select the best shot and delete the rest, keep all of them, or delete them all. The phone takes some time to take ‘Single Shot’ but the wait is worth the collection it creates.

Besides exceptional photography, the rear camera module is also a capable unit for videography. Like the Galaxy S20-series smartphones, the Note 20 Ultra supports 8K video recording. In addition, there is a Pro Video mode that lets users manually control optic settings for personalised recording. In the Pro mode, you can also play around microphone settings and choose how to record audio. There is an option to tweak microphone sensitivity. Besides, there is also an option to choose mic direction (omni, front, rear) and external mic (USB, Bluetooth) if connected.

There is a lot to play around here, and to experiment and explore. However, not all of the camera’s value-added features – tracking autofocus and video effects, for example – are supported across modes and resolutions.

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra camera sample: Lowlight

The selfie camera is also a good performer. It manages to take decent portraits with a good amount of background blur. It also supports the night mode for lowlight selfies, which turn out well.

While everything works well, the auto-focus on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra seems inconsistent. It is also slow and seems uncalibrated.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: SPen and productivity features

With every generation, the SPen gets new capabilities and the journey continues with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra. It now supports more gesture controls and feels natural to use. Moreover, it aids productivity when used with Samsung Notes app. Using SPen, you can now highlight, drag and drop files, annotate, record voice messages, and save notes as Microsoft PowerPoint files. Moreover, you can convert handwriting to text, straighten the text on a single tap and adjust text range, too. Samsung Notes app features auto-save and syncing capabilities, which make it easy and convenient to use across devices. With the SPen, the Samsung Notes app on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is fun to use for both work and play.

As for productivity features, the phone comes pre-installed with the Microsoft productivity suite, which includes Outlook for mails, OneDrive for cloud storage, Office, and LinkedIn. It is the close integration of these services in the operating system that elevates productivity experience. For example, there is a dedicated section on the Office app that lets you access notes saved in the Samsung Notes app. Similarly, you can save any note as word file or ppt file and access it through the Office app on your phone.

Besides, there is the Microsoft’s ‘Your Phone’ app with ‘Link to Windows’ integration. It is a simple and convenient way to send messages, manage notifications, sync photos and make and receive calls all from your Windows 10 PC. In a future update, this feature is set to get more utilities and allow Windows 10 PC users to add and operate mobile apps from their Windows machines.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Performance

Powered by the Exynos 990 system-on-chip, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a performance powerhouse. It, however, suffers from thermal issues and heats up exponentially at times. As a result, the performance is inconsistent and one notices throttling frequently. Interestingly, the thermal issues show up regularly in early days but reduce as you continue to use the device. However, throttling is something that does not go away, especially if you use your phone for heavy-duty jobs for extended hours.

The phone boots Android 10 operating system-based OneUI 2.5 user interface, which is one of the best custom skins for smartphones. The UI is a delight to look at and easy to operate. The UI supports a system-wide dark mode, which goes well with the dynamic AMOLED screen, capable of rendering true blacks. The Galaxy Note20 Ultra is one of the Samsung Galaxy devices that will get three-generation of Android OS upgrades. 

The smartphone is powered by a 4,500 mAh battery, supported by 25W fast wired charger. It has wireless charging support, and there is also the provision for reverse wireless charging, which allows the phone to charge other devices wirelessly. You get around a day of on-battery time if you use the phone for general operations while keeping the display set to use adaptive motion smoothing at the fullHD+ resolution. Processor- and graphic-intensive workloads drain the battery quicker, and you might need to charge the phone’s battery multiple times in a day depending on the usage.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Review: Verdict

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an expensive premium smartphone with several strengths. However, it does not excel on any one particular parameter — except perhaps productivity — if you compare it with other smartphones in the premium mobile phone segment. Therefore, consider the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra for its SPen and productivity features; everything else is available at cheaper price points. You might like to consider the Galaxy S20 Plus (review), which is a lot cheaper and has most of the things that you get in the Note 20 Ultra (except SPen). The Note10 Plus (review) also makes a good deal, if you need SPen. It might, however, not get all the productivity features that come with the Note 20 Ultra.


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