Samsung Note 20 Ultra 5G First Impressions: Bold meets Beautiful
Among the stars of the premium smartphone category, the Galaxy Note series has traditionally stood alone. Sure, you could pick up a device that looked as premium, or had an equally stellar camera, or even one with a screen as expansive, but none have replicated its unique formula of success around the S Pen…and that’s not for lack of trying. The Note series is what you go to when you want the absolute ‘most’ from Samsung – the most specs, the most features, the most ‘most’ for a power user! With Samsung adding the ‘Ultra’ moniker to the Note20 series, my already high expectations for the highest of high-end Samsung flagships rose even higher, and while it’s early days for me to comment fully on the Note20 Ultra 5G, what follows are my first set of impressions of the phone after a couple of days of use.
Compared to the other Samsung that shares the Ultra branding, my immediate reaction to the Note20 was a lot more favorable, and it comes down to the design. That gorgeous new matte-finish Mystic Bronze colorway lends a sense of jewel-like luxury that’s rare even in the upper echelons of the flagship segment. And boy, is this a large phone, much like every Note that preceded it! Even though this is not a device meant for single-handed use, the Note20 Ultra 5G feels refined and elegant and really not that much bigger than the Note 10+ from 2019. New this year is Corning’s brand new Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and rear, and the power/standby button returns back to its natural position (for long time Note users) on the right edge, even as the S Pen storage swaps over to the left of the device.
A big part of the design language and visual character of this phone is the gargantuan-by-any-measure camera bump on the rear. It protrudes so far out that it becomes the subject of discussion, including how it wobbles on a surface…which makes the lack of a silicon case in the box contents all the more surprising. The camera module is bereft of any of the ‘100X Space Zoom’ branding of the S20 Ultra, which keeps things classy, but no, there are no two ways about it – visually, the Note20’s rear camera setup is massive, so I’m hoping that the camera results bear this design choice out. You get the same 108MP sensor as the S20 Ultra, with a 5x optical zoom on the 12MP telephoto lens (plus 50x hybrid zoom) and a 12MP ultra-wide angle (120° field of view) camera, plus a flash and a laser autofocus module. Take a gander at some of the images I shot, while I reserve my judgement on the camera performance for the full review next week.
Samsung’s flagships are among the best in the business, but the 6.9-inch curved Dynamic AMOLED panel on the Note20 Ultra is something else. The display ramps up to Quad HD+ resolution and up to 1500 nits of brightness (so bright, it’s borderline painfully bright indoors at max brightness). This is also the first Note to get a high refresh rate panel, but there is a caveat, one that goes beyond battery-saving measures we’ve seen adopted earlier on the S20 Ultra. The 120Hz refresh rate is available only under what is called an Adaptive mode, which dynamically ramps up and down the refresh rate between 60Hz and 120Hz, depending on the content on the screen. It's a bit like the iPad Pro’s ProMotion tech, which dynamically adjusts the refresh rate to match the movement of the content (for optimal fluidity), reducing power consumption in the process. You simply cannot set the refresh rate at a 120Hz and leave it there, like you could on the S20 Ultra, and the same caveat of 120Hz only available at Full HD+ resolution still applies. As I continue to review this device, I’ll take a look at how much difference this makes in use (compared to a 120Hz display on the OnePlus 8 Pro) but for now, I found no issues while watching content and playing games and the overall experience was top-notch.
An upgraded Note cannot come with an upgraded S Pen experience, and the diminutive little stylus adds a couple more feathers in its cap. Touch latency, or the response time between when the stylus hits the glass and an action is registered, is down from 42ms to 9ms, which is a remarkable upgrade. The Air Actions gestures from last year can now be used not only to perform actions within apps but also navigate the phone interface. The usual – handwriting notes into editable text, translation, all work well. Place in the hands of a long-time Note user, the S Pen continues to work wonders.
Powering the device is Samsung’s Exynos 990 chip, which is the same chipset we saw on the S20 Ultra earlier this year, and one wishes that Samsung had brought in a new chipset to match the uncompromised appeal of the Ultra Note. The Note20 Ultra comes with 12GB of memory and 256GB of expandable storage, and I’ll get into the performance discussion a whole lot more in my full review. I’ll also try and give the wireless DeX capability a shot if I can get my hands on a compatible TV.
Samsung’s positioning of the Note20 Ultra 5G as the phone for power users feels on point, but is the phone worth the princely 1,04,999 price tag Samsung has stuck on it? Watch out for my full review, next week!
Samsung Note20 Ultra 5G
Price: Rs. 1,04,999 for 12GB/256GB, available in Mystic Bronze and Mystic Black
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar