Hands on: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

Early Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is big, bold and brash. It features almost every top-end spec you could want on a premium smartphone, and going on first impressions it looks capable of competing with the cream of the Android crop and Apple’s best iPhones, although we’ll need to test it more thoroughly to see if it meets our expectations.

For

  • Top of the line specs
  • Strong design

Against

  • Big for the hand
  • Oddly dated ‘fast’ charging tech

The new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t any bigger than Samsung’s top phone from six months ago, but it may be wholly better, with a huge 6.9-inch screen, feature-packed stylus and top-of-the-line specs. Of course, you’ll need a big hand and deep pockets to embrace Samsung’s new best. 

Oddly, the Note 20 Ultra feels like more of a sibling of the Galaxy S20 Ultra than of the Galaxy Note 20, which was released alongside it at Samsung’s virtual Unpacked event. The standard Note 20 is a decidedly lower-specced version of the Note 20 Ultra, while the Galaxy S20 Ultra is similar in terms of both specs and size.

We’ve had some brief hands-on time with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and here are our early thoughts.

Want to hear all about Samsung’s Unpacked? These are the highlights of the Note 20 launch:

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra release date and price 

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was unveiled on Wednesday, August 5 at the company’s virtual Galaxy Unpacked event, alongside the new Galaxy Note 20 and a variety of other devices, including the Galaxy Watch 3.

You’ll be able to pre-order the phone right away in the UK, and at midnight on August 6 in the US. The official Galaxy Note 20 Ultra release date is Friday, August 21. Australia’s pre-order date is yet to be confirmed.

The ‘cheapest’ variant of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs $1,299 / £1,179 / AU$1,849, and in the US that gets you 128GB of internal storage, while the UK and Australia base model has 256GB of storage, both with 12GB of RAM.

There’s a variant with 512GB of storage that costs $1,449 / £1,279 / AU$2,199. In Australia, there’s also a 4G-only version of the phone that costs AU$1,849 but you can’t buy that in the UK or US.

Whichever version you’re looking at, those are extraordinary amounts of money to pay for a smartphone, and you’ll want to seriously consider whether you need everything the Note 20 Ultra offers before investing in it. The new Galaxy Note 20 is significantly cheaper, but, as we’ve mentioned, it comes with lesser specs across the board.

Design and display 

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the sort of device that makes you sit back and wonder if phones really need to be this big. It has a 6.9-inch screen, and you’ll be glad to know that the front of the device is pretty much all screen, so that’s nearly the overall size of the handset too.

The screen itself is gorgeously bright, with a Quad HD resolution of 3088 x 1440 and curved edges at the sides. The only intrusion is the smallest punch-hole we’ve seen in the top of the display to house the selfie camera.

Samsung galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The display has a 120Hz maximum refresh rate. That means the screen will refresh quicker than your older phone to give you a smoother picture, whether you’re watching a movie, playing games or simply scrolling your social media feeds.

The refresh rate is adjusted dynamically depending on what you’re doing, so your phone will decide when to max out at 120Hz, and when to dial the refresh rate back in order to save battery.

The example Samsung gave us was that when you’re gaming the phone will give you the full 120Hz, but if you’re reading a web page or an ebook it will drop it down to a lower Hz, and you shouldn’t even notice the switch between apps.

We weren’t able to experiment with this feature much during our limited hands-on time with the phone, but Samsung assures us that you can switch the dynamic setting off if you don’t like the idea. However, you still can’t use 120Hz mode with the QuadHD resolution, which is going to disappoint anyone who wants the best of the best.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a large device that will require the use of both hands at most times, even if your hands are fairly big.

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Samsung galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The S Pen stylus is housed on the left-hand side of the Note 20’s bottom edge. That’s a switch from the right on more recent Note phones, so if you’ve been using one of those you may find that muscle memory has you reaching for the wrong side to pull the stylus out initially.

Samsung has brought a few minor improvements to the S Pen for the Note 20 series, and these include additional gestures for controlling particular functions, as well as an improved latency and a nib that should allow you to write more accurately and quickly.

The rear of the phone is made of glass, which feels more premium than the ‘Glasstic’ (really: Polycarbonate) material used on the Galaxy Note 20, and the edges of the device are aluminum. If you’ve used a recent Galaxy Note device you’ll find that these edges are a little less rounded than before, but the device still fits comfortably in your hands with a little stretch.

Samsung galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

As on other recent Galaxy devices, the fingerprint scanner is embedded inside the display, and it’s nice to have both this and Face Unlock. As with most things, you may need to use two hands to reach that embedded fingerprint sensor comfortably. The device is IP68 water and dust resistant, so it should be able to survive the odd splash of liquid.

You’ve got the choice of three colors: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black and Mystic White. Our favorite is the first in that list – the copper-like bronze hue you can see above – but if you’re looking for a more subdued shade you may want to opt for one of the other two.

Camera and battery

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

 As with most recent Samsung phones, the rear array comprises three cameras. This time, it’s a 108MP f/1.8 main camera, 12MP f/3.0 telephoto and a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide, which on paper sounds less impressive than the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

In our limited testing, the Note 20 Ultra seemed to offer similar image quality to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, albeit without the 100x ‘Space Zoom’ and with a slightly wider telephoto aperture. We still have a 50x ‘Space Zoom’ which is where the usefulness and quality bar of the S20 Ultra cut off anyway.

We’ll be testing the cameras much more extensively for our full review and determining if the Phase Detection Autofocus (PDAF) does as well as the Note 20’s Dual Pixel Autofocus, so be sure to check back for our considered verdict.

On the front of the phone is a 10MP selfie camera, similar to the front camera on the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus, and we got great photos out of those two phones. Of course, on the Note, you can trigger selfies remotely with the S Pen, which is a perk for some people.

The Note 20 Ultra is packing a 4,500mAh battery, which we suspect will see you through a full day from a single charge, although again we’ll need to do further testing to see exactly how it performs. 

An oddity here is that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra only supports 25W fast charging. That should see your device charge quickly, but it’s not as speedy as the 45W charging we saw on the Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 10 Plus. Instead, Samsung has opted for the older tech used on phones like the Galaxy S20.

It’s unlikely to be detrimental to your experience with the Note 20 Ultra, but it’s an odd quirk given that Samsung has maxed-out the specs in most other areas – and when you’re paying top dollar for a phone you could be forgiven for feeling a little short-changed.

At least 15W fast wireless charging is supported, so you’ll be able to give your phone a quick top-up by popping it on a charging mat or dock, rather than having to plug it in every time.

Performance and software 

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Running the show on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset or a Exynos 990; which processor you get depends where you are, with US versions of the phone using the Qualcomm, while the UK and other markets get the Exynos variant.

We found that the phone performed well during our short time testing it, with apps loading quickly and games booting up as easily as you’d expect on a flagship device. We’ve yet to intensively test the phone though, and we’ll be sure to push both chipsets, and the 12GB of RAM they’re paired with, to their limits for our full review.

All regions will get a version of the Note 20 Ultra with 512GB of storage; if you need less storage and want to save some cash, you’ll be able to buy a 128GB variant in the US, and a 256GB model in the UK. If you need additional storage, the Note 20 Ultra comes with a microSD card slot for up to an additional 1TB of storage – the regular Note 20 doesn’t have this slot.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is 5G all the way in the US and UK, so you won’t be able to get a version of this phone that only has 4G connectivity. That means you’ll be able to take advantage of next-gen connectivity and faster speeds, assuming that you have coverage where you are, and the requisite data plan. 

Those in Australia can get a 4G-only variant of the phone, if you’re not interested in 5G connectivity.

Early verdict

The Note line has always been synonymous with the best Samsung has to offer, and Ultra is a fitting moniker for the company’s most powerful and feature-packed Note phone yet.

If you’re looking for the biggest and best handset from any Android manufacturer, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is shaping up to be exactly that.  It offers some of the best spec available in a mobile device right now, in a bold and premium design – assuming you’ve got deep enough pockets, in every sense. 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews’ are a journalist’s first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it’s like to use, even if it’s only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar’s Reviews Guarantee.

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