REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G - A whole lot of phone
Samsung continually up their game when it comes to phones, they produce arguably the best displays going around and are a dominant force in the market. They make screens for a number of other phone manufacturers, but understandably keep the best for themselves. On the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G you’re looking at a 6.9″ dynamic AMOLED 2X display that can run at 1440 x 3088 resolution (496ppi). We say can run at that resolution because while it can run high resolution, to do so you’ll drop your refresh rate down. It’d be safe to assume that this has been done to ensure that the battery isn’t destroyed by mid-afternoon on a daily basis.
This is a tale of two screens, the 120Hz FHD and 60Hz QHD options. In fairness, at 60Hz there’s plenty of good points to explore but the drop from 120Hz to 60Hz is surprisingly evident in front of your eyes. It loses something, smoothness of transition, the scrolling is slightly more noticeable and it feels like more work for your eyes.
The colour reproduction is bright and vivid, at times perhaps a little overdone on any of the resolution options — almost unnaturally vibrant colour — and the black is very black but that isn’t special to Samsung. All manufacturers do it to present their screen (and camera) in the best light possible. Samsung hold their place atop the pile of AMOLED screens and with this one, I don’t see any danger of them losing it.
Let’s just say this right off the bat, I’m not a fan of how big the camera bumps are getting in the current range of devices and the Note20 Ultra is not alone here. They’re getting to a point where it’s almost comical and being passed off as engineering artistry. For me, it would be a wiser decision to make the entire phone a touch deeper and heavier to incorporate an even larger battery.
In this case, the camera bump houses some pretty big hardware so let’s get the numbers out of the way first, they’re important but aren’t everything because the usability of a camera and ultimately results are the final piece of the puzzle. The Note 20 Ultra 5G has a 10MP f/2.2 selfie camera and a triple camera primary array:
- 108MP 26mm lens and f/1.8 aperture with laser autofocus and OIS
- 12MP 120mm telephoto lens and f/3.0 aperture
- 12MP 13mm ultrawide lens and f/2.2 aperture
The included camera options are right up with the best offerings on any mobile platform and the results as a point and shoot camera are excellent. The laser autofocus plays a big part in this by measuring the depth of the shot, adjusting not just the focal length but also the mode of photo and producing results like this.
What’s really impressive is the speed with which the camera will focus, this is one of the quickest and more accurate focusing cameras I’ve seen on a phone.
The Camera software
The software is an integral part of the camera experience on any phone. Much like the general software, Samsung has delivered really easy to use software that more advanced users can tinker with to delve deeper into the possibilities.
The available modes for the camera are:
- Single Take: A brief video mode that captures multiple still shots for those who aren’t hugely creative
- Photo – includes use of the laser autofocus and mode switching
Of course, under the more menu, there’s a pile of options that tweak the effects, focus and colour saturation of your photos to yield the best possible results. This includes Pro mode with a full set of features for really advanced users to choose manual settings.
Panorama, Food, Night, Live Focus, Live Focus Video, Pro Video, Super slow-mo, Slow motion and hyper-lapse round out the modes available. They’re all pretty self-explanatory as to what they do and it’s actually pretty fun to play around with a few of them, especially the likes of their super slow-mo which captures up to 960fps.
The S Pen
In the early stages of the S Pen, it was little more than a stylus but as this has evolved over time we’re seeing more function from it. It was two years ago that we saw the S Pen take a leap forward with more controls and wireless connection which recharges when you dock it inside the phone. This year we see that evolve just a touch further.
The controls that the S Pen offers are pretty cool, everything from camera triggers to media playback on top of the integrations with Samsung’s own apps. What I find impressive with the S Pen is the fact that it can detect variable pressure for inputs. While I wouldn’t expect someone to try and achieve high-end artistic results on a mobile phone, the pressure sensitivity is really useful for sketching and signing electronic documents.
They’ve also managed to reduce the latency down to just 9ms so it feels pretty fantastic for writing on the screen with and the response time is as good as you’re going to get from using a stylus of any sort on a smartphone.
The numbers are only part of the story these days when it comes to battery life. A 4,500mAh battery should be enough to last most users a full day but that’s not necessarily the case because there’s a lot of variables not just in usage patterns, but the hardware as well. Everything from the screen brightness, resolution, refresh to screen on time, calls (duration and number) and background apps have an effect on your battery life.
The smart charging capacity these days means that the speed of charging is impressively fast when you first start charging and almost dead phone. But this then slows dramatically as you near the battery capacity, so it’s not that much quicker to use higher capacity charger than the included 25W option – but the initial burst and gain of around 25% is ridiculously quick.
Battery life on a whole with the Note20 Ultra is pretty good but not amazing, again, given the sheer size of the display and the 120hz refresh rate option. It did however manage to get us through a pretty intense day of use so thankfully we weren’t looking for a charger before bedtime.
Two gauges I use to see just how good a phone is are how easily it integrates into my daily life and how I feel when it’s time to send it back. In this case, I’m definitely going to miss the Note20 Ultra’s functionality and gorgeous display. It did everything I wanted it to and more with processing power to spare. Over the last few weeks, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G has grown on me a lot and I’m genuinely impressed with what Samsung has delivered.
There’s no denying that this handset is an impressive piece of engineering that deserves recognition as a leader in the premium phone market. The reality for many potential buyers is that the cost will be a big deterrent, particularly in the current era where COVID-19 has affected people so heavily.
The Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G is available for €1349 from the official Samsung Store and is also available on Flexifi for €48.27 a month but that’s for a 36 month contract. It’s also available on Vodafone Ireland’s Red Unlimited Max plan for €80 a month with an upfront cost for the phone of €449.99