Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hands on: The true spec king

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £1179
  • Android 10
  • 6.9-inch, OLED, 120Hz Adaptive Refresh rate screen
  • Exynos 990 or Snapdragon 865+ CPU depending on region
  • 108MP main, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide tri-sensor rear camera
  • 4500mAh battery

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is Samsung’s latest flagship phablet. It’s a huge, feature-packed, brute of a device that wants to be a productive powerhouse along with a gaming beast.

You only need to glance at its specs to gather the Ultra is an expensive phone. It features a 6.9-inch adaptive 120Hz OLED display, baked in support for Xbox Games Pass streaming over 5G, 12GB RAM and the latest Gorilla Glass 7. While others might be dialing things back to offer higher-end mid-range devices, Samsung is clearly going in the other direction with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Price and release date

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will come in three colours (Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black and Mystic White), with prices starting from £1179. There are a number of pre-order incentives, including free Galaxy Buds Live.

You can pre-order now (August 5) with the release date set for August 21.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra screen is its defining feature

Like all Note phones, the Note 20 Ultra’s most eye catching feature is its screen. Measuring in at 6.9-inches it’s a big display, with slightly sloped edges and an edge-to-edge feel. It’s also the first phone I have used that has an adaptive refresh rate, bumping up to 120Hz when you’re playing a compatible game and ratcheting down to as a low as 1Hz when you’re reading. This is a huge step forward that should help conserve battery life and with a fairly small (for such a beast of a phone) 4500mAh inside that’s no bad thing.

You’re still restricted to FHD+ if you’re running the higher refresh option, which is slightly annoying even if the difference is minimal. Still, if I’m paying this much for a phone I want to be able to do everything I want with it.

Even with the resolution, the OLED panel is up there with the best, from what I’ve seen. The colours are typically rich and it’s still the best for playing back HDR content – there’s just so much punch in colours. The brightness levels seem impressive too, managing to be clearly visible even under harsh demo room lighting.

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The S Pen finally got a decent update

The S Pen has received a number of upgrades this year. It’s far more responsive now, as the latency has been cut down from over 40ms to just 9ms. If you’re familiar with the S Pen then you’ll instantly notice how much smoother it is to draw and jot.

Your pen movements are mirrored almost instantly on the screen and it’s most noticeable when you’re trying to speed jot down notes. It also just feels a whole lot more natural when you’re drawing, as you’re not waiting for the screen to keep up.

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With 5G and Game Pass, the Note 20 Ultra could be the ultimate gaming phone

Another big push for Samsung with the Note 20 Ultra is gaming, specifically game streaming from Microsoft’s xCloud service. While this isn’t an exclusive feature by any means, Samsung is pushing the Note 20 Ultra as a real gaming phone. You can stream over 100 Game Pass titles over 5G, they’ll be a controller clip available and you’ll bag a few free month of the service if you pre-order.

I wasn’t able to try this during my hands-on with the phone, however, it’s certainly a tempting prospect. This large, high-refresh-rate display is the perfect canvas to game on and if the service works as expected, it could finally make 5G game streaming a real thing rather than a lofty idea.

There are few new design tweaks for the Note 20 Ultra

I noted in my Samsung Galaxy S20 review, and even more so in the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra review, that it was an off-year for the brand’s design. Thankfully things feel back on track with the Note 20 Ultra.

It remains a large, boxy phone that’ll be far too big for some and harder to grip for others due to the curved screen. However, the addition of a matte glass back on the ‘Mystic Gold’ hue freshens things up and should help it avoid picking up too many fingerprints.

The slot for the S Pen has switched sides to accommodate the hefty camera array and, as you’d probably expect, there’s no 3.5mm headphone port. Still, an IP68 water resistance rating and microSD expansion remain.

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra specs, performance and camera – Exynos vs Snapdragon?

The high-end feel continues with the internals. Us Brits will get the Exynos 990 chipset – though rumours suggest it might have received some improvements over the version in the S20 – while other regions will be blessed with the Snapdragon 865+ flavour. That’s a disappointment as, if my experience with the previous iteration is repeated, then the Snapdragon version will be preferable.

You’ve also got 12GB RAM and either 256GB or 512GB storage. Interestingly, Samsung has completely ditched support for 45w charging, reducing the max to 25w. I was told this was to protect the battery and due to lack of demand for 45w chargers, which were sold separately for the Note 10. 15w wireless charging remains.

On the back of the Note 20 Ultra you’ve got three cameras, along with a new autofucus sensor that Samsung claims is much faster than before. The main camera is a 108MP sensor (presumably the same as the one on the S20 Ultra), there’s a 12MP ultra wide and a 12MP tele capable to 5x optical zoom and 30x hybrid Space Zoom. The lofty, and downright rubbish, 100x zoom from the S20 Ultra has been ditched.

I’m interested to see if the autofocus issues that were so apparent with the S20 Ultra and its big sensor have been fixed, and whether the overall photo processing has improved. There’s potential for this camera to be great, and in my short time with it, it managed to lock on to targets without too much trouble.

8K video recording was added with the S20 series and of course it’s present here. Samsung has added in a 24fps 8K mode and more in-depth manual controls for shooting video, both of which are a nice touch. There’s also directional voice recording and you can pair the phone with the new Galaxy Buds Live to remove background noise.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – Early Verdict

With the regular Galaxy Note 20 feeling more like a ‘Lite’ version (with a flagship price) it’s up to the Ultra to really retain that high-end, feature-packed standard this series is known for. From early impressions, it certainly does seem like that is the case.

This is the true Note 20 and it doesn’t feel like a simply rebranded S series flagship like the previous iteration. The adaptive display is something I have been wanting for ages, the matte finish is welcome and the new autofocus sensor should *hopefully* rid this of any S20 Ultra-style focusing issues.

The obvious downside is the high price, but that’s to be expected and paying £1100 for a phone doesn’t even seem that wild these days.

A ’hands on review’ is our first impression of a product only – it is not a full test and verdict. Our writer must have spent some time with the product to describe an early sense of what it’s like to use. We call these ‘hands on reviews’ to make them visible in search. However these are always unscored and don’t give recommendations. Read more about our reviews policy.

Unlike other sites, we thoroughly test every product we review. We use industry standard tests in order to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever accept money to review a product. Tell us what you think – send your emails to the Editor.

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