REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, at 6.9 inches, is the biggest Note device along with the Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, at 6.9 inches, is the biggest Note device along with the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Dubai - Is less better? Device's cameras are down to three, but with some good reasons



By Alvin R. Cabral

Published: Tue 18 Aug 2020, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 18 Aug 2020, 8:00 PM

Samsung Electronics threw a little surprise in its newest biggie - and it's one not typically what you'd expect from a heavyweight competitor always looking to one-up the rest of the field.
Or, at the very least, keep pace. Ever since dual-lens cameras appeared on smartphones, manufacturers have been trying to outdo one another by putting more and more lenses on their products (yo, Nokia!).
So, from four lenses in the Galaxy Note10+, Samsung threw a curve ball with that device's successor. Will it work?
That's only one of things we're about to tackle as we dive into their latest device, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G (whew, 12 syllables; imagine if 'Electronics' was also in there). Buckle up for another extensive pre-sales look.
TALE OF THE TAPE

If you look at the tale carefully, pound-for-pound only the most critical parts have received upgrades. And there is a good argument to be made that these are "only" token upgrades.
Which brings us to some irony. We know what you're thinking: From four cameras on the Note10+ to only three on the Note20 Ultra? Well, you should always think of the philosophy that more doesn't necessarily mean better - especially if you note those (somewhat very familiar) upgrades the Note20 Ultra's snapper system has. We'll find out about that a little later.

And we should also note that - with reference to our specs disclaimer - only the 256GB and 512GB versions are officially available in the UAE. We're guessing that if the 128GB model was available, it would be around the price of last year's Note10+ 5G shown above. Still, having that third option would be welcome, as we reckon a good number of users are happy with that storage space (and will be able to save a few hundreds).
FORM
Evidently, Samsung decided to keep the overall design of the Note20 Ultra 5G similar to that of its predecessor, in the process maintaining its identity. And anyway, it's only the second Note to don a true full-screen design, so it was quite expected.
At 6.9 inches, this is by far the biggest Note device, at par with the Galaxy S20 Ultra units launched earlier this year. And it still retains the beauty of those sharp corners and round edges, which harmoniously blend to create an imposing figure. The screen spills over to the edges, which again gives extra oomph when you've viewing the device from a tilted angle.

And as is becoming somewhat standard with Samsung (and several others), you'll find the volume rocker and power button on the right, the card tray on top and the USB-C port below, to the left of which is everybody's favourite Samsung tool, the S Pen. Don't even ask about a 3.5mm audio port (for the uninitiated, Samsung - finally - said goodbye to our good ol' friend in last year's Note10).
After you lift it you'll notice that it isn't among the lightest, as the Note20 Ultra 5G clocks in at 208g - even heavier than the Note10+'s 196g but, oddly, lighter than the S20 Ultra 5G's 222g. That may be good for some - particularly those who want to get or have a good grip for their smartphones - and unlikeable for others.
Right behind - aside from the camera setup, the Samsung logo and some regulatory thingamajigs printed on it - you'll get a glass finish with the Mystic Black and Mystic White colours, or a matte-and-metal combo with the newest option - Mystic Bronze. This is the Note20 Ultra's distinguishing physical feature (the regular Note20 has, in its place, Mystic Green, also a fine choice) and its balanced nature is a pleasure to the eyes, plus it doesn't expose fingerprint smudges that much (good luck with that on the first two).
A critique: Just like with the S20 Ultra, the camera panel protrudes a lot, putting it at risk if accidental bumps or, worse, drops happen. Surely there is a way to resolve this?
PERFORMANCE
It's fast. On to the next portion.
Just kidding.
The main hardware elements are top of the line (of course). As usual, there are two chips powering the Note20 Ultra 5G, depending on where you are: A Snapdragon 865+ for the United States and an Exynos 990 for the rest of the world. That means we're getting the latter here in the UAE, but that doesn't mean performance is sacrificed. Exynos is to Samsung as what the 'A' chips are to Apple and Kirin is to Huawei.
(In case you're wondering why this is the arrangement all these years, well, let's just say Samsung using a duo of chips is the result of a number of factors, particularly pricing, technical requirements and some legal stuff. It's all over the Internet.)
Samsung also decided to add an entry-level 128GB storage option in addition to the resident 256GB and 512GB models, but that won't be available in the UAE. Memory (RAM) remains at a sturdy 12GB, so all these combined are more than enough to give you a great experience. From navigating to working and browsing to gaming, the entire experience was seamless.
And aside from Samsung's own Members app, there isn't any bloatware to annoy you.  
S PEN
The Note's little buddy, the S Pen, is back with some new tricks. 

Samsung says the enhanced S Pen has enhanced latency for a more pen-to-paper feel, therefore making it quicker and more responsive. 

Aside from the S Pen's general features on the set on the left, you'll notice the five new Air Actions in the middle. Remember you can do this even if you're not pointing the S Pen on the Note20 Ultra 5G, but be wary because there are times the S Pen confuses one action for another, so just make sure you perform one while holding it in a plain orientation, so to speak.
Two samples of notes are also shown above: The first one's written while holding the Note20 Ultra 5G, while the other was done while it was lying flat. Of course, having the device on your hand wouldn't make it 100 per cent stable, but the results are quite close.
Another note on Samsung Notes: It will now automatically sync with your other devices. Well, actually, it works like this: In previous generations, you had to tap on save for it to sync; now, you won't have to do that. And it'll take about 12 seconds to sync - significantly lower than the approximately 40 seconds it took before.
Want more syncing? Samsung's partnership with Microsoft got even more intimate as Notes will automatically sync with some of the latter's apps, including OneNote and Outlook. You'll have to wait for an update for this though, which is coming soon. 
CAMERA
Alright, this will be a head-scratcher for some, but let's put things into perspective: Swapping out four cameras for three isn't a bad idea, especially if you're going to slap in some ridiculously high-end features.
And we're talking about the lead of this trio, the 108MP wide-angle lens. Sounds familiar? That's because this was first introduced in the S20 Ultra range that came some months ago. Completing the symphony of lenses on the Note20 Ultra 5G are ultra-wide and telephoto lens, which both clock in at 12MP.

Personally, the camera setup is one of the most beautiful - if not the most beautiful - I've seen on a smartphone. Its balance and complementing bronze colour - plus its thickness - makes it so imposing (never thought I'd actually praise the protrusion there).
There's also an improved laser autofocus sensor. And good ol' 108MP also brought along its buddy from the S20 Ultra, Space Zoom, which brings with it up to 5x optical zoom and up to 50x 'Super Resolution' zoom - the latter of which is half of the ridiculous 100x when Space Zoom debuted in the S20 Ultra.
Sounds good. And as we've explained and as is the general rule in pixel counts, the higher it is, the lesser detail you will lose when you crop or edit a photo. It's also no guarantee zoomed-in shots will be crystal-clear. Let's (camera) roll.

Well, it's always nice to be in a place with food as colourful as orchids for a buffet. The lights used in this scene were mostly warm ones, and the Note20 Ultra 5G brightened it enough with an even result. 

Closer shots are also sharp. However, if you inspect the upper-right cake pic, you'll notice that the blur is inconsistent; towards the corners, the image is sharper, as if it was part of the main focus. And that prawns image doesn't have a smudge; it's the smoke as a result of its sizzling nature.
You can imagine how accurate it would be then under bright sunlight.
Zoom time: 

These shots - clockwise from uppermost left pic - were taken using 1x, 2x, 4x, 10x, 20x and 50x zoom (my bad I forgot the super-wide-angle 0.5x). Acceptable until 20x, but 10x is still the best you can go.
Meanwhile, a walk in the park at night provides some good scenes. Top photos used regular mode, while those below used night mode:

Details are a tad sharper with the latter mode. Glare also reduced, but apparently the brighter the light is, the more glare is still able to escape.
Also notice that there's some distortion towards the sides; this was taken with no zoom (1x).
The next one's nice:

This was on a parking lot with the only lights coming from the surrounding structures. I like how night mode made all elements - especially the background - sharper.
Next one, just for fun: The image on the right was taken with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra's night mode, while the one on the left used a Galaxy S8:

Here's the deal: This area was practically devoid of light, but the Note20 Ultra 5G's shot makes it look like that the sun's happily up.
And how did zoom perform at night? Regular mode, again, has presets of 0.5x, 1x, 2x, 4x, 10x, 20x and 50x...

...while night mode has 0.5x, 1x, 2x, 4x and 10x:

In our review of the Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G, 10x was the best you can go without sacrificing much detail. In the Note20 Ultra 5G - based on both day and night scenarios - it seems that 20x still holds up pretty well.
The 10MP front camera, meanwhile, delivers something I really like - no exaggerated beauty effects and smoothening of faces. The images on the left were taken on normal and wide-angle mode, respectively:

The set on the right, on the other hand, shows how night mode can fix you up on places like that parking lot. It isn't perfect, but it does eliminate much of the smudges and graininess.
And another key feature from the S20 Ultra, 8K video, is also present. We've seen similar results, and you'll continue to enjoy 33MP stills (we do hope you have an 8K display to fully appreciate this stuff).
As we write, camera aggregator DXOMark has yet to (expectedly) include this device among its top tier. We'll find out pretty soon what they have to say about it.
BATTERY
The Note20 Ultra 5G has a 4500mAh battery, marginally up from the Note10+ 5G's 4300mAh, with Samsung also saying it would last (marginally, again) five per cent longer. For comparison, the regular Note20 is pegged to last 20 per cent longer compared to its predecessor. Well, a bigger screen and other tremendous processes do whack battery life a lot, so it's quite understandable.
In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, it lost eight per cent, at par with both the Note10 and S20 Ultra; looks like the larger screen's need for more power cancelled out the bump-up in battery life, but that's still a very acceptable result.
Charging, meanwhile, is, by today's standards, speedy. Not as fast as what some brands like Oppo and Realme offer, but more than enough to give you a lot of juice when you're power-thirsty.
The device comes packed with a 25W Super Fast Charging wall plug. Here's how it went:

 15min 29%
 30min 57% 
 45min 80%
 1hr 94%
 1hr 10min 100%
 
Oh we'll take these numbers any day. Almost 60 per cent in half-an-hour is good enough to last an entire day, especially given the fact that during our run, the device was, after a full charge in the morning, able to last until late-afternoon the following day.
And with what Samsung calls Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, this alternative method should also come in handy. Now keep in mind that wireless charging is indeed slower than wired; this is the first time we're doing a full-blown test on it, so bear with us (just like what we actually did while waiting for it):
 15min 9%
 30min 21%
 45min 31%
 1hr 41%
 1hr 15min 51%
 1hr 30min 61%
 1hr 45min 71%
 2hr 81%
 2hr 15min 91%
 2hr 30min 99%
 2hr 31min :) 100%
 
Well that was fun - especially at the end. Seems like it started off and finished slow.
Wireless PowerShare is also back, the Note20 Ultra 5G's ability to charge other devices by placing them back-to-back. And it seems on par with regular wireless charging: In 20 minutes, the phone being charged ticked up 10 per cent; the Note20 Ultra 5G, meanwhile, lost 17 per cent. Consider this as a for-emergency-purposes option.
AND SO...
Well, downgrading isn't always a bad thing, as proven by the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, particularly the decision to trim down its camera system by a lens.
While not a 100 per cent direct comparison, we have to point out that it was able to rectify a number of camera issues on the S20 Ultra, particularly the ones on focus and Space Zoom. Especially with the latter; sure, the 50x zoom on the Note20 Ultra 5G is indeed half of the previous 100x and not perfect, but it's improved. (To be fair, it's really tough to put a 'perfect' long-range zoom on a mobile device.)
Auto and faster syncing, meanwhile, is also a boon for those who heavily rely on the smartphone for cross-platform productivity. Think jotting down notes in a hurry then needing to work more on it on a bigger, more capable machine.
And we won't be surprised to see next year's Note (30?) touching the seven-inch barrier.
GOODIES: Rectified cameras, gorgeous look, enhanced productivity, more versatile S Pen
GOOFIES: Price would still be too high for some, minimal increase in battery life
EDITOR RATING: Let's keep this plain and simple: More for practically the same price. We gotta hand it to Samsung this time. 5/5
alvin@khaleejtimes.com


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