Marketed for 1309 euros, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is not only the most expensive (non-folding) smartphone from the Korean brand, it is also the most successful. In line with Galaxy S20 Ultra, from which it borrows almost all of its characteristics, this mobile claims the title of “best smartphone on the market”. Its direct predecessor, the Galaxy Note 10+, moreover still occupies the first place of our ranking of telephony stars nowadays. Is the bet successful? You will see that, for the second time this year, Samsung manages to disappoint us on certain points.
Giant as usual, but no more than the S20 Ultra
Unsurprisingly, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an XXL smartphone. At the same time, this is what made the success of this range which, since the very first generation, has been bigger than the competition. Lovers of small devices are therefore invited to go their way, this smartphone will certainly not please them. Others, if they are not afraid to hold a device that is difficult to use with one hand all day long, may fall in love with the design of this smartphone.
Samsung saw it big, we said, and not just size. The Dynamic OLED panel chosen by the Korean, curved on the sides, measures 6.9 inches and offers a Quad HD + definition. No need to tell you that it’s hard to find better on the market even though, strangely, its specifications are identical to those of the Galaxy S20 Ultra. It is rare that the Galaxy Note is not the largest of Samsung products. We imagine that going beyond 7 inches is a step that the manufacturer did not dare to take. It does not matter, whether it is to watch videos, consult social networks or play (locally or through the cloud-gaming), the smartphone offers a royal experience. We understand lovers of giant screens.
The back of the device, matt for the version we were able to test (Mystic Gold), is a feast for the eyes. This color really gives a feeling of luxury to its user and proves once again that Samsung, long mocked for its questionable aesthetic choices, is now among the best.
If you plan to use the device without a shell, be aware that the protrusion of its camera module may make you change your mind. Placed on a flat surface, the smartphone tilts whenever you want to interact with its screen. Worse, when receiving a call, its vibrator is so violent that it could wake up a baby sleeping soundly in no time … We are here in the perfect illustration of the design error which, for a purpose purely aesthetic, forget the practice. Too bad.
An ultra bright screen
Samsung reigns supreme on screens. An equipment supplier serving most large companies, the Korean has a habit of reserving the best slabs for himself or even Apple, his best enemy.
It’s no surprise that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s display provides some of the strongest brightness on the market. The 01net.com laboratory thus measured 1030 cd / m². With such a result, the device can be used comfortably in all situations. On a beach, on a GPS device or in the street, the screen will remain perfectly readable.
In terms of color fidelity, the smartphone does well if the user configures the “natural” display mode in the settings (Delta E = 2.41 according to our measurements). By default, the “lively” mode is quite disappointing for the high end (Delta E = 5.32). It makes the images very vivid, too flashy in our opinion.
120 Hz screen: Samsung self-clamps
With its Galaxy S20 range, Samsung has switched to 120 Hz. This doubling of the refresh rate of the screens of our smartphones (60 Hz previously) greatly improves the fluidity of navigation. In use, it is a real pleasure, you immediately notice the difference. However, this technology had significant consequences on the battery of the brand’s smartphones … Thus, the S20s were not really tough.
To overcome this problem, Samsung had an idea: to reverse. On a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it is impossible to force the refresh rate to 120 Hz. The brand forces us to choose between 60 Hz or a new adaptive mode that automatically oscillates between 120, 60, 30 and 10 Hz. an AI that decides. We find this choice more than questionable. Samsung has built its reputation on the total freedom it grants to its users in opposition to Apple. By restraining its phones to correct the faults for which it is responsible, the brand is reneging on its promises. Especially since, we will come back to later, the expected results in terms of endurance are not really there.
The S-Pen remains the strong point of the Note
Along with the large screen, the stylus is the other inseparable point of the Note range. Always stored at the bottom of the smartphone, to the left of its USB-C port, the latter allows you to take notes, draw or simply control the device. Samsung has improved it a lot over the years and this time around, tackling the latency issues.
While there used to be a 42 millisecond lag between when you put the stylus on the screen and the virtual ink appeared on the screen, this is now only 9 Do you find this anecdotal? In our opinion, this change marks a real technological breakthrough. For the first time, anyone who enjoys writing a lot can easily imagine abandoning their paper notebook for their smartphone. Everything seems more realistic even if, as we told you above, the inability to put the phone on a flat surface without it starting to oscillate as soon as you touch it (because of its camera module) can quickly make you want to go back to paper. Still salute the progress of Samsung, now at the level of Apple with its iPad Pro and Pencil.
On the other hand, we must admit that we are quite disappointed with the software experience designed around the S-Pen. Samsung promised wonders with this generation, such as better management of OCR or synchronization in the cloud but the changes are still too minimal … For example, impossible to consult your notes remotely from a web browser, to write in the title field with the stylus or to switch quickly from the touch keyboard to handwriting. Samsung would have every interest in reviewing its entire overlay One UI to make it compatible with the S-Pen at all levels. We would like to be able to handwrite an SMS rather than touching the keys on the virtual keyboard with the stylus.
A versatile camera
In the photo, Samsung has not really sought to renew itself. The camera module of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra renews almost identically all the sensors of the Galaxy S20 Ultra, without major changes. We thus find a giant main sensor of 108 Mpix (built on the module of the nona-binning, which makes it possible to merge nine pixels into one to obtain 12 Mpix images), an ultra wide-angle (f / 2.2) connected to a 12 Mpix sensor and a x4 periscope zoom (f / 3.0) connected to a 12 Mpix. There is also a dedicated laser sensor for autofocus, replacing the ToF sensor of the S20, which makes the camera much faster.
What we like about this smartphone is its versatility. The ultra wide-angle, the 108 Mpix sensor and the telephoto lens combined in a single device offer immense possibilities. From x0.5 to x20, the quality is really more than convincing. Beyond that, however, we are quickly disappointed … Too bad that Samsung has removed a stabilization layer from its periscope zoom, which explains why its maximum magnification is x50 rather than x100, as on the S20 Ultra.
As usual with Samsung, the photos are really good. The know-how of the brand is there even if, once again, the 108 Mpix sensor has the annoying tendency to smooth certain faces and elements of decor a little too much in our opinion. Nothing alarming, however. If you would like to see more photos taken with the camera, while waiting for further analysis in our photo tests and comparisons, here is a link Google Photos allowing you to access all our shots.
With at least 256 GB of internal storage, expandable by Micro SD, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is very well equipped. If you plan to take pictures in native 108 Mpix resolution or film in 8K, this could be of use to you.
Exynos 990, fingerprint sensor, charging … Where is the innovation?
The impression that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra often gave us during this test was that Samsung didn’t really want to outdo itself. The number 1 smartphone, whose position is emerging stronger than ever in a world where Huawei is collapsing, does not try anything new and without the slightest remorse reproduces the mistakes of the past.
Most disappointing is the reuse of the Exynos 990 processor in Europe, a chip that was heavily criticized at the launch of the S20 for its inferior performance to the Snapdragon 865 and its disastrous battery management. While our American neighbors have the chance to benefit from a Snapdragon 865+ with their Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, we Europeans are renewing the Exynos 990 experience. The Note 20 Ultra is therefore less powerful than other Android smartphones like the Oppo Find X2 Pro where the Xiaomi mi 10 pro… This is frankly not up to a giant like Samsung.
Of course, let’s clarify that our reviews of the Exynos 990 do not mean that this chip is bad. Compatible with 5G and Wi-Fi 6, this SoC runs all the most common applications without the slightest slowing down. You can also play on this smartphone without the slightest problem. It is just a shame not to sell the same product in all countries.
Another element to be deplored, why Samsung, the only manufacturer in the world to use Qualcomm’s ultrasonic fingerprint sensor, is once again content to use the first generation of this technology which only works on a small surface? Since the end of 2019, Qualcomm has been offering manufacturers a giant sensor capable of running on the entire lower part of the screen and had even told us to work with Samsung to quickly integrate it into their devices. In a year and a half, nothing has changed at this level for the Korean, who may offer a good experience today, could get ahead of the whole market if he wished… Finally, on the recharging side, the 25W block supplied by Samsung with the device is not really dreaming about chargers over 100W from Oppo or Xiaomi. It takes 1:12 to recharge the device’s 4,500 mAh battery compared to half an hour for its Chinese rivals. This is also satisfying, but not incredible.
Autonomy: the weak point of the device
The worst is in store for you, the battery life of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra almost deserves a red card. In fact, of all the high-end smartphones 01net.com has tested in the past year, none have delivered such a weak result. The device only resisted 8:34 to our versatile autonomy test and 10:42 am in video streaming, which is frankly catastrophic for a high-end smartphone. In use, it miraculously lasts the day, but this is clearly not the experience that such a device should deliver, especially at this price point.
Once again, Samsung is the victim of its cursed processor, the Exynos 990. Our American colleagues do not complain about the autonomy of their Note 20 Ultra, which leads us to think that only European models are victims of this problem. Hopefully in 2021 Samsung will make better decisions … like equipping all of its devices with a Snapdragon processor.