Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: Wrong Number

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Stunning design
  • Much improved camera
  • Gorgeous display

Cons

  • High price
  • Unimpressive battery life

Bottom Line

A blockbuster handset that rarely feels bold or special enough to feel like it's worth the high price.

Would you buy this?

  • Price

    $ 2,199.00 (AUD)

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

Unless you’re a cashed up diehard who has been patiently holding out for the Galaxy Note smartphone with a more compelling camera, the new look and minor spec-bump found in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G make it a clear upgrade but a tricky sell over last year’s Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10+. 

In a time where spending this much money on a smartphone may be harder and harder to justify, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G struggles to seal the deal. It makes a strong argument that it’s better than last year’s model but can’t manage to do the same when it comes to making the case that it's exceptional enough to justify the premium price.

Samsung have gotten almost everything right here, except the number attached to their latest superphone. Unfortunately, in the economic uncertainty of 2020, that detail makes this particular device hard to honestly and earnestly recommend buying.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is a blockbuster of a smartphone but rarely feels bold or special enough to feel like it's worth the trouble, let alone the price.

Specs

  • Processor:  Exynos 990

  • Operating System: Android 10 + OneUI 2.5

  • RAM: 12GB

  • Storage: 256GB/512GB

  • MicroSD slot: Yes

  • Headphone Jack: No 

  • Fingerprint sensor: Yes, in display

  • SIM: Dual

  • Battery: 4500mAh

  • Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, GPS

  • Rear Camera: 108-megapixel (f/1.8) wide angle + 12-megapixel (f/3.0) telephoto + 12-megapixel (f/2.2) ultra wide 

  • Front-Facing Camera:  10-megapixel (f/2.2) wide angle 

  • Dimensions:  164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm

  • Weight: 208g

Price

In Australia, retail pricing for the 4G-enabled Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra starts at AU$1849. This device features 8GB of RAM and 256GB of on-board memory. Opting for the 5G version with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage will cost you AU$1999. Going all in on the 512GB version of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G will cost you AU$2199.

You can find the device through all the usual retailers like JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman and, of course, Samsung’s own retail experience locations. You can also nab it a postpaid plan through major telcos like Vodafone, Optus and Telstra. Check out the widget below for a round-up of the best plans for the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G:

Design - Look, Feel, Features and Camera

Samsung’s Galaxy Note9 is the smartphone I just can’t quit.

Sure, the camera isn't much to look at and any technical merits here have been quickly eclipsed. The Note9’s 6GB of RAM and 128GB of on-board storage pale in comparison to what this year’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G comes kitted out with.

Yet, years after it first landed on my desk, it remains the handset that I keep coming back to.This is because the fundamentals of what makes the Note9 a great phone haven't really changed in the intervening years. Most of what I liked about this device at launch remains more-or-less intact.

Credit: Samsung

The display is nice to look at, the S-Pen is well implemented, the form-factor feels slick and the device comes loaded with all the premium features you could want. It’s even got a headphone jack

But, here’s the kicker, jumping from the Note9 to the Note 20 Ultra 5G, Samsung's latest and greatest doesn’t actually feel that different to use. The hype-inducing language and marketing that Samsung uses to sling a powerhouse phablet like the Note might have escalated in the last few years but the final product hasn't radically changed.

If anything, the most attractive evolution that Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra brings to the table is the new paint job. That compliment might sound a little back-handed or superficial but, when you’re spending this much (AU$2199)  on a smartphone, you want it to look more bedazzled than the alternatives.

Credit: Samsung

The Note9 is a nice-looking smartphone but, by the standards of 2020, it’s started to look and feel a little dated. Especially when compared to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G. The Note 20 Ultra might take a similar path to prestige as Apple’s iPhone XS but, nevertheless, it does reach that destination.

The ‘Mystic Bronze’ version of the device is a treat for the eyes and deliciously smudge resistant. This copper-colored look sets the Note20 Ultra apart and above the rest in a way that’s instantly easy to see and neatly complements the physical experience of holding and using the device to boot. 

Even if it isn’t actually that different to the last few flagship Galaxy Note smartphones, the form-factor of the Note 20 Ultra 5G does a great job of selling you on the myth that you’re holding one of the best phones money can buy from the moment you take it out of the packaging. What's more, this pitch is quickly backed up by the crispness of the display.

Credit: Samsung

Samsung’s Note smartphones have always prided themselves on their displays and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is no different in that regard. The curved 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED QHD display lives up to that legacy nicely, with the 120Hz refresh rate making the act of interacting with that screen feel much more responsive. If you haven’t had the pleasure of using a screen like this one before, I promise you’re in for a treat. 

Much the same could be said for the S-Pen that comes bundled with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G. Samsung has upgraded this year’s stylus to be a little bit more responsive than the previous one. Overall, it’s not a huge upgrade but, as someone who has spent a decent amount of time scribbling with the S-Pen on the Note9, it did find that using the new stylus felt quietly superior. 

Credit: Samsung

The rest of the features here are as comprehensive as they are predictable.

In line with last year’s Galaxy Note 10 and Note 10+, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G comes with IP68 water resistance, in-display fingerprint sensor, Qi wireless charging, an S-Pen stylus, 25W fast-charging via USB Type-C.

Credit: Samsung

As cutting-edge as all that sounds, it’s not very different from what last year’s crop (or even the Note9) offers at around half the price. Of course, if you’re looking for differences between the all-new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G and what’s come before, look no further than the chunky triple-lens camera on the back.

Powered by a 108-megapixel main lens, a 12-megapixel telephoto lens and a 12-megapixel ultra wide lens,  Galaxy Note 20 Ultra offers significantly greater zoom capabilities than its predecessor and supports video recording in up to 8K.

Picking up where the Galaxy S20 Ultra left off (and attempting to fix that device’s greatest weakness), the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra makes a bold bid to put Samsung’s finest in conversation with photography powerhouses like the iPhone 11 Pro, the Oppo Find X2 Pro and Google’s Pixel devices. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Does it achieve that? Well, sort of. It is true that this is clearly the best camera that Samsung has ever stuffed in a smartphone and a clear upgrade on the optics found in last year’s Galaxy Note 10+

Credit: Fergus Halliday

For the most part, images taken using the camera on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra rarely made me complain. Details looked crisp, colors looked vibrant and that little bit of extra zoom let me get more creative with shot composition. 

The problems emerge when you take the Note 20 Ultra’s camera and try to combine its various strengths or put them to use in adverse conditions. The main lens delivers great low light performance. The telephoto one? Less so.

Credit: Fergus Halliday

Despite a new laser autofocus component being in the mix, I also still found the Note 20 Ultra 5G to be a little more finicky than some of its competition - especially when relying on the periscope lens. It’d often take one too many taps to get the triple-lens camera on the back of this thing to get in line. 

Credit: Fergus Halliday

I’d still err on the side of calling it a good camera but, for all that the Note is positioned as device that pushes the boundaries of what a smartphone can do, it feels like Samsung are still playing catch up to the rest. If anything, it feels like they’re just lucky that nobody knows what the next big leap in smartphone photography looks like yet and benefiting from that lull in technical innovation. 

Compared to the Note 10, the Note 20 Ultra feels like a leap forward but that sentiment feel more like a consequence of how weak Samsung have previously been in that particular area than anything else.

Credit: Fergus Halliday

The camera on the Note 20 Ultra 5G isn’t jaw-dropping in the way you’d hope a phone this expensive would be but it's more than capable enough. Honestly, if you’re the kind of person who cares enough about smartphone cameras that you suspect you might run up against the limitations of this thing, Samsung is probably not the brand for you.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra shows that Samsung know how the play the game when it comes to premium smartphone cameras. They just don't know how to change it. It is what it is.

Performance - Software, Benchmarks and Battery Life

Software

When it comes to software, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G plays things pretty safe.

Credit: Samsung

It sticks to Android 10 and does little to deviate from the company's own One UI skin. There aren’t many major changes to report here but this aspect of the experience remains a delight. Second only to Google’s own Pixel hardware, Samsung continues to set a high bar for what the software experience of modern Android flagships can look like.

Overseas, Samsung are partnering with Microsoft to position the Note20 as the premium Android handset for cloud gaming. Unfortunately, since this service isn't actually available in Australia, local Note20 Ultra buyers miss out on it.

Benchmarks

Credit: Fergus Halliday
  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (OpenGL): 6672

  • 3DMark SlingShot Extreme (Vulkan): 6287

  • GeekBench (Single-Core): 909

  • GeekBench (Multi-Core): 2804

  • GeekBench (Compute): 5271

Battery Life

As for battery life, the bump up to 4500mAh does leave the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra a tad beefier than predecessors. Unfortunately, the overall story isn’t all that different from the battery life offered by the Galaxy S20 Ultra - which is ultimately and unavoidably a little disappointing.

If you’re using this thing with the high refresh rate and 5G-connectivity enabled, expect it to last a day or so. If you disable these things - which, to be clear, are critical parts of why you would want to spend this much on a smartphone - you can maybe stretch to a day and a half.

Credit: Samsung

Personally, the best I could eke out of this thing was around 3 hours of screen-time on a single charge - which is pretty disappointing. Burned out via streamed video on Youtube, it took the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G 13 hours and 38 minutes to go from 100% to zero.

Compared to the other options, last year's Note10+ or even the battery life of mid-tier options like Oppo's Find X2 Neo, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G just doesn't deliver the kind of battery life you'd think it would.

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra does support Qi wireless charging and 25W fast-charging via USB Type-C. Although the latter is plenty fast, it’s a significant downgrade on the 45W fast-charging found in the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

When you're paying this much for a phone, daily battery usage isn't something you should be worrying about and, coming off the back of Samsung's S20 Ultra, the Note20 Ultra 5G fails to find much in the way of momentum on this particular front.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G provides plenty of familiar flagship thrills but if you’re looking for something a little bolder, you might be better off looking at the Galaxy Z Flip or Z Fold2. Likewise, if the price-tag looks a little steep, you'll probably be almost just as satisfied by last year's Galaxy Note10+.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G addresses the biggest complaints faced by last year’s model but that correction comes at a hefty surcharge. In another time, it might be easier to brush that particular shortcoming off as business-as-usual but 2020 has been anything but.

In the current climate, Samsung’s latest halo device hits a little differently. It looks less like a high standard that lesser smartphones should strive towards and more like an unseemly luxury that most people aren't looking for a way to afford.

My gut feeling? Spending AU$2199 to get the cream-of-the-crop Samsung smartphone of 2020 probably won’t leave you disappointed but that’s not to say it won’t leave you with regrets.

Credit: Samsung

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