Review: The excess of the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a good thing, if you can afford it

  • Pros: Excellent screen; powerful performance; great cameras; tonnes of features
  • Cons: Really, really expensive; iffy in-display fingerprint scanner

Review: The excess of the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a good thing, if you can afford it

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is… a lot. It’s huge. It’s gloriously powerful. It’s filled up to the brim in features. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much. It’s like an over-packed luggage on a trip – you’re mostly certain that you don’t need the extra phone charger or more spare changes of underwear, but it feels reassuring in a “you never know when you’ll need it” kind of way.

My experience with the Note20 Ultra is an exercise of remembering the existence of its many features. For one, I forgot that you can use the revamped S Pen to return to a previous app page by drawing “<” on the air, sort of like flicking a wand. I also forgot that you can pair the phone wirelessly to a Windows machine, which lets you do things like drag and drop files, see notifications, and respond to texts.

Most times, it feels like you’ll need to undergo a training montage to fully utilise the Note20 Ultra. Over time, however, things will begin to click. You might toggle the stylus to Google Chrome so that you can scroll through a recipe without using your grimy fingers. You begin to revel in the phone’s 5X zoom that allows you to shoot solid photos from a distance.

Do you need these features? Likely not. But it’s the sort of excess that feels like future-proofing. It’s hard to see the Note20 Ultra – what with its juiced-up hardware and inclusion of 5G – becoming obsolete in a matter of two to three years. Future Samsung flagships might include better cameras and more powerful processors, but the Note20 Ultra feels like it will set you up for the long haul.

You just have to be willing to pay for it.

 

Living up to “Ultra”

At the very least, you’ll be paying for beastly performance. The Note20 Ultra, in Malaysia at least, runs on an Exynos 990 processor that is coupled with 12GB of RAM.

I suppose some might lament missing out on the Snapdragon 865+ chipset that comes with the Note20 Ultra in certain countries, but in practice the phone still exudes power and rarely ever feels like it would slow down. It can switch between eight different apps or run the most graphically-intensive mobile games with barely a hitch.

Adding to the experience is the 6.9-inch AMOLED screen (which is a notch bigger than the Note10+), which stretches all the way to the edges of the phone’s body. Like the Note10+, the selfie camera sits in a tiny circle in the top centre, not at all intrusive or distracting.

The screen is expectedly rich in colour and is bright enough to beat back direct sunlight for a seamless viewing experience. But the truly marvelous upgrade here is the refresh rate – the Note20 Ultra’s screen runs on 120Hz, twice that of the usual 60Hz on most devices (the Note10+ is on 60Hz). These extra frames makes animation and scrolling effects more fluid and enriching, so much so that it’s hard to go back to a traditional screen.

While the sleek design means that you can still hold the phone in one hand, the massiveness also makes it quite difficult to use single-handedly. It does look gorgeous, however – the glass back is now less reflective, and the copper-toned Mystic Bronze colour makes it look exquisite. The camera module juts out pretty significantly, but it’s not an encumbrance.

Rounding things off are other premium-grade inclusions, such as IP68 water-resistance, microSD slot expansion, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G connectivity, plus a pair of speakers that sound loud and really good. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor much like its predecessor, which can be a bit iffy at times but otherwise will work where face unlock becomes unfeasible (such as when wearing a mask for groceries).

Wide angle shot with the Note20 Ultra

Serious snappers

The camera system on the Note20 Ultra features a main 108MP shooter that is coupled by two 12MP ultra-wide and telephoto cameras.

The telephoto lens in particular is sublime, allowing users to capture sharp and high-quality images at 5X zoom. You can go for a 50X digital zoom if you want, which may be half of what the S20 Ultra offers, but it’s nonetheless enough for most users (the pictures, expectedly, comes out grainier the further you utilise the digital zoom).

The rest of the shooters are just as great. The main camera, for one, has a 108MP mode that can preserve more details and creates a high-resolution image. I think it works pretty well and consistently.

The main shooter’s images might appear a little oversaturated, but the details are great. It works well in Samsung’s dedicated Night Mode, too, which takes several photos in quick succession and stitches them together to produce sharper, clearer image in low-light situations. While I’m not sure how it competes with, say, Google’s Pixel 4A, it works well enough that you can be assured of producing good images at night.

The Note20 Ultra is an equally excellent smartphone for videos. It can shoot up to 8K in 24 frames per second, but you’ll really want to delve into Pro Video mode to fully appreciate the device’s video capabilities. Here, you can choose which microphones on the phone you want to use when recorded, or even record audio from wireless earbuds like the Galaxy Buds Live.

 

Features galore

It’s not a Galaxy Note device without the S Pen, which – I’m glad to report – still works amazingly as a stylus. The experience is, in fact, improved with the inclusion of the 120Hz display, which makes the pen strokes more precise.

The S Pen might start off being an easily-forgotten feature, but in time you’ll begin to appreciate being able to use it to scribble down notes or to highlight specific things on a document. You can also use the stylus for a myriad of remote actions, like using it to take selfies.

It helps that there’s improved connectivity between the Note20 Ultra and Windows. For instance, you can synch the Samsung Notes app with OneNote, which makes transferring work more seamless. But what’s more interesting is wirelessly pairing the Note20 Ultra to a Windows 10 PC and using the latter to open apps or respond to text.

The UI remains similar compared to the Note10+ and other Samsung contemporaries. The Note20 Ultra features a 4,500mAh battery. It’s notably at a smaller capacity than the S20 Ultra’s 5,000mAh battery, but I constantly find myself having at least 30%-40% of juice left at midnight (with regular usage, that is).

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra might feel like it packs too much into one device, and while I won’t deny that a number of its features may feel unnecessary, they are at least practical when put to use. Combined that with state-of-the-art hardware and an excellent camera, it’s easy to peg the Note20 Ultra as one of this year’s best flagship smartphone.

It is, however, really expensive. The device prices at US$1,253 (RM5,199), and in Malaysia it nets you the unit with the Exynos 990 processor rather than a Snapdragon 865+, the latter being reportedly better on the graphics department. There are other great flagship devices at a decidedly lower price, but they won’t be quite as well-equipped as the Note20 Ultra.

In a way, I suppose you can say that the Note20 Ultra will be worth your money. But don’t be in a hurry to get it, either. A phone as remarkable as this can be gotten later (and, hopefully, cheaper) and still won’t likely lose out to newer competitors.

 
 

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