It’s quite something to see Samsung’s handset in action, particularly in this day and age. We got to head to Samsung’s offices, suitably masked and sterilised, to check out the company’s new hardware for ourselves. It’s one thing to see it on a live stream, it’s another to hold reality in your hand. And this bit of reality feels pretty good.
Samsung’s created another solid set of smartphones here. There are two new Notes — the Note 20 and the Note 20 Ultra and, if you’re a creative sort, then you really, really want the Ultra. The video and creative functions look to be out of this world, particularly when paired with Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live. The buds can be used as a lapel mic, turning your handset into a production studio. In a world where everyone wants to be a creator or an influencer, a studio that fits in your pocket is an attractive idea.
Better by design
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra share a whole lot of the same design elements. If you’re okay with shelling out the extra cash (the Note 20 Ultra will cost you R37,000), you’ll get a 2.5D curved screen, the substantial camera bump that a) hosts your new studio and b) is just begging for one of Samsung’s cases. The Note 20, on the other hand, has a more traditional flat Note display — which should work better for those who are fond of sketching on their screens. The S Pen is present and accounted for, but it doesn’t seem to do anything especially different from what we’ve seen in the last iteration. It’s quicker, according to Samsung, and it’s in both Notes.
From the front, though, it’s hard to tell the Note 20 and the Note 20 Ultra apart. They share the same Samsung screen, even if they’re slightly different shapes, so expect to fall into the blacks, expect colours to pop and it’ll be bright enough to sear corneas if you turn it on in the dark and don’t have adaptive brightness on. The Note 20’s 6.7in screen doesn’t seem much smaller than the Note 20 Ultra’s 6.9in panel. Side-by-side, the phones are almost exactly the same size.
Built to last (but buy a case)
The build is typically Samsung. The chassis, no matter which handset you opt for, is gorgeous. It’s a shame you have to put a case on them. And, make no mistake, you have to put a case on them. You could brave it out but those camera bumps are begging to be wrapped in some fancy plastic (which Samsung is also launching along with the handsets this month).
Attractive as they are, these are still relatively delicate phones. The outer frame can take a bit of a beating and the rear panel is tougher than you’d expect but that all-glass front? You don’t want to drop that on a corner — but if you’re smart you’ll pay the extra for 24-months of insurance coverage from Samsung. Just in case. The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are great-looking phones and you don’t want ’em ruined for half your contract period.
Looking through a new lens
The cameras are where the Note 20 and the Note 20 Ultra really differ. Both sport the same front-facing 10MP effort, with its f/2.2 aperture and an array of fancy Samsung tricks, but the rear is where things get interesting.
The Note 20 has a 12MP ultrawide, a 64MP telephoto lens and a 12MP wide-angle sensor to go with it. The Note 20 Ultra has a 12MP ultra-wide, 12MP telephoto and a 108MP wide-angle lens to play with — and a whole bunch of fancy professional features that we couldn’t even remotely test in a COVID-era Samsung showroom. For the reviews that are due in the next couple of weeks, this’ll be a major focus area for us. Which is just as well, because this is where Samsung spent all of its time when it came to upgrades and new features.
8K video recording is a feature of the Note 20 Ultra. We’re going to have to get an 8K display from Samsung to see what it looks like in practise but the phone can create it. This… could get interesting.
Pumping iron power
These phones, in keeping with Samsung tradition, have enough power to keep your phone from ever slowing down. Samsung’s outfitted both of these with Snapdragon 865 Plus processors or the Exynos 990 (which you get in SA), so not matter which handset you pick you can expect blistering speeds.
Both versions will sport 256GB of storage, according to Samsung documentation at the event, but the Note 20 will have 8GB of RAM to the Note 20 Ultra’s 12GB. We guess it needs extra RAM for all that video processing it’ll be doing. Battery capacities are close: 4,300mAh for the Note 20 and 4,500mAh for the Note 20 Ultra. We’re keen to see what 8K video recording does to daily battery consumption — and your phone storage as well.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20, Note 20 Ultra: Initial Verdict
These handset are more of the same from the Samsung flagship factory. That means high-quality smartphone hardware that consists of more features than you could possible use effectively if you’re just an everyday person. That doesn’t matter, though — the ability to do it is more important than the ability to do it well. Samsung’s aiming the Note 20 Ultra in particular at content creators and it’s here that we plan to focus the bulk of our testing. Those video features have the potential to make or break the Ultra, but it’s a Note. If you must have a stylus (and there are a lot of you), nothing we say will stop you from buying one. Happily, that’ll probably work out for you.