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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

The pinnacle of the Note series

(Image: © Aakash Jhaveri)

Our Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t a particularly big upgrade over its predecessor, but scores high where you expect it to — a big, beautiful display, a gorgeous design, plenty of productivity features and cameras that are reliable. If you have the budget, then it is one of the most capable phones you can buy right now.

For

  • Truly premium design
  • One of the best displays
  • Unparalleled S-Pen experience
  • Massively improved cameras
  • Potentially a productivity powerhouse

Against

  • Camera bump can be annoying
  • Charging isn’t too fast
  • Exynos is still behind Snapdragon

TechRadar Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t a particularly big upgrade over its predecessor, but scores high where you expect it to — a big, beautiful display, a gorgeous design, plenty of productivity features and cameras that are reliable. If you have the budget, then it is one of the most capable phones you can buy right now.

Pros

  • + Truly premium design
  • + One of the best displays
  • + Unparalleled S-Pen experience
  • + Massively improved cameras
  • + Potentially a productivity powerhouse
  • +

Cons

  • - Camera bump can be annoying
  • - Charging isn’t too fast
  • - Exynos is still behind Snapdragon

Two-minute review

The Galaxy Note series from Samsung has always aimed to challenge what we think a smartphone is capable of, thus hoping to be the flag bearer for high-end smartphones. The Note 20 Ultra tries to take that to the next level with improvements on the camera, display, design and functionality. However, it also crosses the Rs 1,00,000 mark for the first time in the history of the series, further raising the stakes.

In many ways, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra seems like the ultimate form of what the Note series started out to be. It seems different (in a good way) the moment you lay your eyes on it. It brings massive refinements over the design language that debuted on the S20 Ultra and switches to a ‘Mystic Bronze’ finish which is a head-turner. 

As always, it ships with the best display currently available in the market and stretches it to the very edges in a way that makes us question if we’ve reached a point where phones should stop growing in size. Regardless, the added real estate comes handy in everything - from scrolling through pages, watching movies or playing games. The immersion is maintained by the stereo speaker setup which feels adequate for all these use cases. 

There’s nothing really lacking with the Note 20 Ultra at first glance, but a closer look at the performance will rightly raise a few eyebrows. For 95% of the time, you will not spot anything unusual, but for the most demanding tasks, the Exynos 990’s shortcomings become evident. You probably won’t notice that unless you have a Snapdragon 865 smartphone in the other hand. But for a phone that costs Rs 1,04,999, each ‘compromise’ becomes a lot more expensive.

(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Samsung has ensured that for most of the other scenarios you get something extra over what a few other phones offer in order to keep the Note series’ pedigree pristine. The newest implementation of One UI does a fine job of balancing functionality with minimalism, giving users the option to tweak only as much as they want to.

Of course, the biggest reason to consider a Note flagship instead of any of its competitors from the Android camp is the feature set unlocked by the S-Pen. Along with a barrage of features that improve/quicken interoperability, it also improves upon the interaction gestures to use the phone without having to touch it.

A big battery at its helm tries to ensure that the Note 20 Ultra lives up to power users’ expectations, as does the fast charging. It was a good attempt.

The cameras also get only a minor upgrade, fixing the small issues that were present on the S20 Ultra. Along with that, it learns a lot more tricks to better serve users who want more control over what is being shot. It is up there with the Pixels and iPhones of this year and even beats them in a few rounds.

At a time when high-end smartphones around the world are pushing the boundaries of how we use them, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hopes to attract users with a more sophisticated approach and promises of plus-sized productivity. If that suite of features is what you desire, then the otherwise conservative Note 20 Ultra will serve you well.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra price in India

(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

In India, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (5G) is priced at Rs 1,04,999 for the 12GB + 256GB variant. Colour options include Mystic Bronze and Mystic Black. There are a few pre-booking offers as well, which can bring down the price.

Check out the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on Amazon.in 

Design

  • Mystic Bronze colour is stunning
  • Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and back
  • IP68 water and dust resistance
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(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)
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Camera rings

Camera rings (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)
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Camera bump

Camera bump (Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

For a product family as beloved as the Note series, Samsung has done a great job at ensuring that the Note 20 Ultra looks iconic without looking polarizing. The Mystic Bronze colour exudes class, no matter what lighting or distance you view it from. Not only is this the most premium smartphone design ever by Samsung, but is also one of the most cohesive implementations around. It feels like a solid, reassuring block of glass and metal with ample heft. The three camera rings give it a bit of personality and uniformity as well as make them seem less daunting. 

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the cameras reside on a real estate that is the size of a small island and even protrudes a fair bit. In reality, it is smaller than the monstrosity that was on the S20 Ultra but the slimmer frame makes it stand out more. Typing with the phone on a desk could be a sport on its own. Jokes aside, it houses two giant camera module which wouldn’t fit in a ‘regular-sized’ phone. Opting for a camera bump ensures that the rest of the phone doesn’t get too unwieldy, which this phone obviously is. The cool matte finish also makes it slippery.

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(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)
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(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

There’s no getting around it - the Note 20 Ultra is a big phone and one-handed usage is not easy. But, it wasn’t as bad as we expected it to be. The overall slim profile paired with curved edges on the front and back make it just a tad bigger than other phones such as the OnePlus 8 Pro. We’re also looking at Corning Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front and back, which is the most advanced drop and scratch protection component available. It has unsurprisingly held up well in the weeks we’ve had it for. The matte finish also wards off fingerprints and smudges with ease. The haptics are great too - the kind that your colleagues on the same table would get annoyed of.

The power button and volume rocker are now on the right side and the Bixby button is done away with. If you’re right-handed, the lock button is exactly where your thumb would be. The volume button is a little more difficult to reach and even after days of use, I often hit the wrong button. 

The top and bottom edges are pretty flat this time around. The loudspeaker grille and the stylus silo - now on the left side - feel like a design misstep. Any right-handed person will use the S-Pen with their right hand but will no longer be able to do that with muscle memory. Not really an issue but something that you will notice and hate each time - till probably the muscle memory reloads. Overall, it seems like a piece of art with no unnecessary creaks or crevices. IP68 water-resistance seals the deal.

eSIM compatibility

The Note 20 Ultra currently supports eSIMs from Jio and Airtel. Vodafone will be added soon.

The SIM tray resides on the top and can house two cards or a SIM card and a micro SD card to expand the storage. The Note 20 Ultra is also eSIM compatible if that is how you prefer to have your secondary number. And before you ask, no, you cannot have three SIM cards at the same time. 

It feels every bit as premium and polished as a phone in this segment should. The bold design and dense weight distribution ensure that you know your phone is special even when you’re not merely admiring the back.

Display

  • Curved 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED display
  • 120Hz variable refresh rate
  • Up to Quad HD+ resolution

(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

As a pioneer of large screens on smartphones, it comes as no surprise that the Note 20 Ultra takes the display to the next level too. Before we even get to specifications and experience, just looking at it even when the panel is off shows Samsung’s design and display prowess. The bezels on the sides disappear in the curves while the top and bottom seem like slivers of shiny metal flanking a big black panel. Even the centrally-placed ‘infinity-O’ punch-hole camera is significantly smaller than anything Samsung has offered earlier. Needless to say, the screen-to-body ratio is noticeably higher than the rest of the lot.

We get a curved 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED display with a resolution of 3088 x 1440 and a refresh rate of 120Hz. It’s also HDR10+ certified. This is the first Samsung phone with a variable refresh rate, allowing it to smartly switch to a lower refresh rate when not needed to achieve better battery performance. Sadly though, you will have to scale down to Full HD+ resolution if you want to cross the 60Hz threshold. 

Most of our testing happened with the display at Full HD+ resolution and adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. The reduction in relative sharpness wasn’t particularly noticeable but the increase in the frame rate definitely was. It is evident at almost all times, be it heavy tasks or casual scrolling. A Quad HD+ with 90Hz option would’ve helped. 

The rest of the panel is an absolute behemoth in all the good ways. During regular usage, the bezels disappear on all sides, providing one of the best viewing experiences on any smartphones. Watching movies or videos on this panel was top-level immersive.

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(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)
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(Image credit: Aakash Jhaveri)

Most big phones also sport curved displays to help with handling. Personally, I really enjoy curved displays and believe that it is going to be the future of all displays in some form. However, it is phones like the Note 20 Ultra which make me question my prediction. It takes the crown for the worst palm-rejection on any curved display I’ve ever used. Even phones such as the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Vivo NEX 3 posed no issues. Samsung’s issues are aggravated due to the sheer size of the phablet, which force you to add an extra hand to get more fingers into the mix more often. It might sound like I am blowing this out of proportion, so here are some very relatable instances: using the phone in bed above your head while the palm tries to stop it from falling on your face; trying to reach the keys on the other side of the keyboard, accidentally touching the wrong toggles in the rather large quick settings menu, etc. Interacting with elements on the edge of the screen is scary.

Back to the good stuff: the colours, dynamic range, max brightness and contrast are best in class. Firing up HDR10 video samples will spoil every other smartphone display for you. There is barely any light bleed between contrasting objects, neither is there any visible smearing or ghosting. It goes beyond true-to-life at this point. The viewing profile can also be customized as per your taste, but we found the default settings to be the most pleasing.

Aakash Jhaveri

Aakash is the engine that keeps TechRadar India running, using his experience and ideas to help consumers get to the right products via reviews, buying guides and explainers. Apart from phones, computers and cameras, he is obsessed with electric vehicles.