Live By The S Pen, Die By The S Pen

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Fans of the Samsung Galaxy Note smartphones have waited a long year for the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Note20 series. As one of the last few smartphones with a stylus still seeing hardware refreshes on the market, the Galaxy Note20 phones appeal to a very specific niche of people who find the S Pen more productive and intuitive than swiping on a mobile device.

In the hardware arena, the 5G-ready Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra has a curved edge 6.9-inch Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display that supports 120Hz refresh and 240Hz touch sampling rates. The main draw is the improved S Pen with faster input latency of just 9ms, on par with the S Pen found on the Galaxy Tab S7+. Part of the Note20 Ultra’s triple-rear camera configuration was inspired by the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s, with the 108MP wide-angle camera making a return. 

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The main draw is none other than its improved S Pen with faster input latency of just 9ms, on par with the S Pen found on the Galaxy Tab S7+ and about 80% more responsive than the Galaxy Note10+’s S Pen. 

The Galaxy Note20 Ultra carries a design language that’s prominently Samsung’s. It has curved edges on the long side and metal rims framing the device ever so slightly. Textured Haze - what Samsung named their diffused finish - was chosen because it was partial towards neutral colour palettes. This was apparently key to the ‘calm’ appearance of the device.

The 8.1mm thickness gives the Note20 Ultra considerable heft, but it also makes the device sit securely in your hand. Next to the S Pen’s holding slot (at the bottom left) is one-half of its dual speakers (with the other hidden within the call speaker), followed by a centrally located USB Type-C port. The opposite end of the device hides a dual SIM card tray with a hybrid second slot that can take microSDs. 

While it’s the epitome of Samsung’s elegance and refinement, the phone’s design does have its quirks as well. It’s almost as if it’s competing with the Huawei P40 Pro+ in having the most inconvenient lens housing among all 2020 phones.

Samsung relies on its proprietary One UI interface for the Note20 Ultra’s Android 10 base OS. What’s new, however, isn’t only the reduced S Pen latency of 9ms, but also Anywhere Actions: five additional Harry Potter-like gestures for phone navigation. 

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The Microsoft integration feature which was around since Android 7.0 phones and iOS phones - is indeed more integrated on the Note20 Ultra device. Samsung has a specially built Link to Windows app, offering the ability to run your Note20 Ultra apps on the PC itself.

The wireless Samsung DeX feature on the Galaxy Tab S7+ also made it to the Note20 series phones. Interestingly, wireless DeX connectivity isn’t only compatible with Samsung Smart TVs, but with all smart TVs that have Miracast.

Samsung took the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 108MP shooter and plonked it on the Note20 Ultra. Where the two flagship Galaxy devices differ is its telephoto capabilities, with the Note20 Ultra offering 5x optical zoom and 50x’ Super-Resolution Zoom’. In general, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is just as capable as the Galaxy S20 Ultra when it comes to taking regular photos with great accuracy, sharpness, colour balancing, and extremely low noise. 

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The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra uses a triple-rear camera configuration for taking regular photos with great accuracy, sharpness, colour balancing, and extremely low noise 

By now, most buyers would already know that the Singapore versions of the Galaxy Note20 series phones use the Samsung Exynos 990 processor. As expected, the Exynos 990 chipset’s performance is just a little shy of phones with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processors across the board. Despite the scores, the Note20 Ultra works and feels like any other flagship phone.

Where the Galaxy Note20 Ultra tries to make it worth your while is via its significant S Pen improvements and features, alongside enhanced interoperability between Windows 10 and the phone. The interoperability bit will come to other Android mobiles, but they get credit for being the first to push a functional version out of the gate. Topping it all off is a neutral design that’s easy to like. If you’re coming from an older Galaxy Note like the Note9, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is - without question - an upgrade in many of these departments. 

Despite the competitive market Samsung faces, they’ve put out a stylus-based phone with even more improvements and upgrades to help make its case. It may not be the most magnificent Galaxy Note update we’ve seen, but taken as a whole, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra still has its unique charm to impress those who can and know how to put the S Pen to good use. 

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PROCESSOR Samsung Exynos 990

DISPLAY 6.9-inch / 3,088 x 1,440 pixels (496 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / 240Hz touch sampling rate / HDR10+ / Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infnity-O Display

CAMERA 12MP Ultra Wide Camera 108MP Wide-Angle Camera with PDAF and OIS 12MP Telephoto Camera

STORAGE 256GB internal storage

PRICE $1,898 

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