Samsung Galaxy Note 20 ultra review roundup: Big price, camera, screen size all make a premium phone with a premium price

Adam Smith
·5 min read
Credit: Samsung
Credit: Samsung

Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra smartphone has been launched, the latest iteration of a tried and tested formula: a huge screen, flagship specifications, and a built-in stylus.

Across the board, many reviewers have been satisfied with Samsung’s latest flagship barring one thing: the price. At £1,279, the Note 20 Ultra is a truly premium device, and with Samsung’s more expensive foldables right around the corner, it can be hard to see where the Korean supergiant’s professional devices can go.

Starting with the screen, which is a clear and sharp 6.9-inch display with a 120Hz screen refresh rate and 3,088 x 1,440 resolution. Cnet’s Jessica Dolcourt says that this is a more polished and useful version of Samsung’s first attempts on the Galaxy S20 Plus and S20 Ultra, and the consensus is clear: Samsung knows how to make gorgeous displays.

However, the refresh rate remains a point of contention. Similar to the controversy around the Google Pixel 4 XL, Samsung does not let users keep the the 120Hz setting constantly, instead having it adapt to the content that is being viewed.

“It varies from as low as 11Hz when you’re viewing a web page to 24Hz when you’re watching a movie, to 120Hz for gaming,” Android Authority reports.

Another issue Samsung suffered from, with regards to the S20 Plus and Ultra devices, was a camera that couldn’t autofocus properly. Input’s Raymond Wong says that there were “many out-of-focus photos on the S20 Ultra because the autofocus simply missed”, likely due to the settings on its 108-megapixel sensor.

Although Samsung released a software fix, it did not reach every device, but happily the Note 20 Ultra does not have the same concerns.

Autofocusing works well, and the differences in image quality between the Note 20 Ultra’s main and 12-megapixel ultra-wide lenses are near non-existent from its 12-megapixel ultra-wide camera, 12-megapixel telephoto lens, and the 108-megapixel main camera setup on the smartphone’s back.

It’s not just still photos where this smartphone excels; its video capabilities are noteworthy (no pun intended) too.

“Samsung is one of the few Android manufacturers that makes phones with video capabilities as good (if not better) than the iPhone. Video image quality is spectacular, as is image stabilisation. With the Note 20 Ultra, you can shoot in 8K at 24 frames per second (with a 21:9 aspect ratio) for a true, cinema-like experience,” Wired’s Julian Chokkattu says.

Unfortunately, many reviewers have complained that it’s too big, resulting in the Note 20 Ultra rocking on flat surfaces, something that is immediately noticeable when writing or navigating with the stylus.

Speaking of the stylus - the raison d'être of the Note range - Samsung has made numerous improvements. The S-Pen can now be used to navigate your device, such as moving backwards or to the home screen, and Samsung has a new Note Sync feature with artificial intelligence that will scan your handwriting and turn it into text or simply align it to the lines on the page.

Such changes are apparently immediately clear. “Latency when drawing and writing with the S Pen is the best I’ve ever seen on a phone. The virtual ink flows right out from the stylus tip with nary a gap,” says The Verge’s Dieter Bohn.

Inside the device is 12GB of RAM with between 128GB and 512GB of storage, expandable via microSD. As is expected of a Samsung flagship, the phone is responsive and slick. “Overall, general performance on the Note 20 Ultra is top-notch. Apps never seem to close in the background, stutters are nonexistent, and the refresh rate on the screen makes everything feel that much smoother,” Bohn also says.

Moreover, Samsung’s deep integration with Windows, which allows you to emulate your phone screen on your laptop via the Your Phone app, gives greater functionality to the Android device in a way that is usually only found with Apple’s suite of hardware such as dragging and dropping files, accessing your photos, checking notifications, and responding to texts and calls.

Unfortunately, Samsung’s One UI operating system overlay has an issue with adverts – including gigantic banner ads within Samsung’s own apps. While the rest of the user interface works well, such blatant profiteering can reduce the premium feel of an already pricey device.

On the whole, the Note 20 Ultra is a refinement of an existing method rather than Samsung throwing out the rulebook.

“The Note represents more of a refinement over its predecessor than something more substantial. If your Note is a year or two old, you certainly don’t need to run out to replace that also very-good phone,” says Techcrunch’s Brian Heater.

“That’s just sort of where we’re at in the life cycle of the mobile industry. On the whole, updates just feel more incremental.”

This conclusion has been echoed elsewhere, and are especially poignant because the phone is so expensive. Samuel Gibbs from The Guardian points out the Note 20 Ultra is launching “at a time when expensive superphones look like lavish exuberance, not must-haves.”

“The real question is whether anyone still wants a giant phone costing £1,179 when you have very good phones costing under £400”, Gibbs concludes.

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