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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is an amazingly powerful phone with an incredible camera. But is this market-leading phone worth the high price?

Pros

  • Probably the best screen you’ll see on a smartphone
  • Amazing camera with brilliant 5x optical zoom
  • New and improved S Pen is more responsive with more features

Cons

  • Cost may not fit everyone’s budget
  • Size may not fit in everyone’s pocket

First impressions and design

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra lifestyle

There’s no way around it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a big phone. At 164.8mm tall and 77.2mm wide, this isn’t the type of phone you can just pop in your pocket. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re looking for a large screen with the thinnest bezels on the market.

using the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Note 20 Ultra has sharp corners and a sleek design with a stylish Mystic Bronze finish. However, the main thing you notice is the camera bump, which is much larger than last year’s Note 10 Plus, and far bigger than the one found on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in hand

While the camera bump is big, it doesn’t feel out of place. Instead, it gives the impression that the camera is a key feature of the phone so why try and hide it.

Screen

As we mentioned, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is big, making it all the better to accommodate the 6.9-inch, 1,440 X 3,088 AMOLED screen –– which is absolutely stunning, as you’d expect from Samsung’s flagship phone. The screen refreshes at 120 times per second, making videos, scrolling, games and animation seem smooth and clear as crystal.

A new aspect of the Note 20 Ultra is that this is a variable refresh rate, meaning it can adjust to a lower rate for media that doesn’t require 120Hz in order to save on battery life.

Apparently, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can switch seamlessly between 30Hz, 5Hz, 90Hz, and 120 Hz depending on the use of the phone. In fact, the switch is so seamless that we haven’t noticed it yet.

All that basically means is that the screen is big, bright, smooth, clear, and more energy-efficient than any other device available.

Performance and battery life

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra runs on a Snapdragon 865+ processor, which is a slight upgrade from the Snapdragon 865 used in most other Android models. As you’d expect, the performance of the Note 20 Ultra is excellent. Speedy and responsive, the processor is paired with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM.

An advantage of a phone this size is there’s more room for a larger battery, in this case, the Note 20 Ultra has a 4,500mAh battery life. While this is an increase from the 4,000mAh battery in the S20, it’s still noticeably lower than the S20 Ultra’s 5,000mAh battery. The S Pen slot may have limited the size of the battery, but 4,500mAh is still enough to deliver Samsung’s “all-day” battery life promise.

S Pen

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the S Pen. The Samsung stylus has received a couple of important upgrades from the last model in the form of a smoother, quicker response and a few added functions that you can operate using the S Pen as a remote control for your phone.

This version of the S Pen has a latency of 9 milliseconds, making any lag between your input and it appearing on screen unnoticeable. If you found the previous incarnation of the S Pen slightly sluggish when you used it to write or draw on your screen, you won’t have that problem anymore. The Note 20 S Pen is wonderfully responsive.

The S Pen also allows you to perform a host of shortcuts, such as remotely controlling your camera or swiping on the screen to navigate back and forth. The original S Pen was capable of six gestures, while the Note 20 Ultra’s S Pen includes five more “Air Actions” to make using the smartphone more intuitive.

  • Press and hold the button: Launch the camera app
  • Press the button: Take a photo
  • Lift up or lift down while pressing the button: Turn the volume up and down while playing music
  • Left and back: Browsing back
  • Right and back: Go to Recents app
  • Up and down: Go to Home
  • Down and up: Smart select
  • Shake: Capture and Screen write

Camera

Let’s get to the fun part, the camera. As we mentioned before, the camera module is large, dominating pretty much the whole look and feel of the Note 20 Ultra. But there’s a reason for that as this is a fantastic camera setup. The triple camera system swaps out the 12-megapixel wide lens featured in the Note 20 for a 108-megapixel lens. This is in addition to the 12-megapixel ultra-wide lens and the 12-megapixel telephoto.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra photo of a photo

Samsung was also sure to correct some of the camera flaws customers complained about in the S20 Ultra model released in March. There was an issue with the autofocus in which the S20 Ultra would blur edges or struggle to focus. Fortunately, the Note 20 Ultra has a dedicated laser focus sensor that helps to track subjects and keep them perfectly in focus.

Optical zoom

The Galaxy S20 came under heavy criticism for its claims of being able to achieve 100x zoom. The Note 20 Ultra now boasts a “modest” 50x digital zoom, but what’s most impressive is the camera’s 5x optical zoom. Considering the iPhone is limited to just 2x optical zoom, the quality of the photos taken with the Samsung Note 20 Ultra is truly remarkable.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5x zoom Tower bridge

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra zoom shard

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra zoom monument

Easy to use

Even though the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Google Pixel 4 have some advantages when it comes to low-light photography, the Samsung Note 20 Ultra wins when it comes to how easy and fun it is to get great photos with your phone.

Simple things like double-tapping the power button to launch the camera app and the timer ring around the selfie camera make taking pictures simple and fun.

The Note 20 Ultra also features Samsung’s ‘Single-take’ mode again, which makes it possible to take multiple photos and videos at the same time and taking advantage of the phone’s multitude of cameras and modes. This is ideal when trying to snap pics of fast-moving pets or children. However, the size of the phone can make using it one-handed a bit challenging, especially when trying to grab a selfie with an excitable labrador.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra single shots

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra single shot

Video mode

Recording video is easier than ever, and the introduction of the “Pro Video” mode gives you a near-professional level of control over your video settings. This includes everything from controlling focus points to exposure, shutter speed and aperture.

While the Samsung Note 20 Ultra is capable of recording video in 8K resolution, this chews up a lot of storage and then means you can’t take advantage of the phone’s video stabilization. Unless you really need cinema-quality video, or if you have exceptionally steady hands, we’d recommend filming in 1080p for smoother, more usable video clips.

5G performance

While testing the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra we also had access to Vodafone’s 5G network. And while 5G coverage isn’t as extensive as we would like, when you do have access to 5G speeds it completely transforms how you can use your smartphone.

5G speeds on Vodafone easily blasted past 200Mbps, a far cry from the 10-12Mbps we were getting on 4G. While you might not make full use of this incredible speed during everyday use, the value of 5G comes when looking to download large files in a hurry. I was able to download two episodes of a sow from Netflix in a manner of seconds, meaning I could continue binge-watching while riding the London Underground.

As 5G coverage across the UK expands in the coming months and years, you’ll wonder how you ever survived without it. Read our full 5G review to find out more about 5G speeds in the UK.

Is the Note 20 Ultra 5G good for people with a visual impairment?

Notable features

  • Screen Reader
  • Magnifier Window
  • High Contrast Keyboard
  • Colour Lens
  • Ability to change font size and style

The Note 20 Ultra may take the headlines for some of its flagship items, but what sometimes slips under the radar is Samsung’s host of features designed to help disabled people.

While you will find many of the same offerings across the Android family, it’s the little things that makes this Samsung stand out.

Whether it’s being able to easily change the phone’s font or switching on the High Contrast Keyboard with just a couple of clicks, it’s really easy to make adjustments to your screen.

If you need to use magnification, the Magnifier Window is your best bet. When in use the window can be called upon via a little button at the bottom of the screen.

The tool appears to be just as useful as the full Magnification setting, while being less cumbersome to use. If you need to see something in large form just drag the window into position.

Is the Note 20 Ultra 5G good for people with a physical disability?

Notable features

  • Universal Switch
  • Assistant menu
  • Tap, swipe, and button adjustment settings

Perhaps the biggest challenge a person with physical disabilities will face is with the size and weight of the Note 20 Ultra. At 6.9 inches the screen is easy to see, but it’s one of the biggest around. The phone weighs in at 208g, so expect it to feel heavy in the hand when you first try it out.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have the hands of a giant, the phone is unlikely to sit comfortably in one hand. To ensure the thumb can get around the entire screen, you’ll probably need both hands to stop the phone slipping.

Don’t be surprised to find yourself accidentally tapping the Recent button as you try to flick through your favourite photos for instance. For anyone with unsteady hands, it’s likely to feel a bit unwieldy.

As for the on-board features, users will be able to set things like how long it takes the phone to register screen taps, whether the phone accepts calls automatically.

There’s also the incredibly useful Universal Switch function, which is intended to help anyone who struggles to physically manipulate their phone. Users can perform actions like opening notifications by blinking, jumping along menu items by holding the screen or using an external device, such as an external keyboard to talk to Bixby. A range of functions can be activated by using either the screen the phone's camera or an external device.

One of the best features in this area is the Assistant menu. The moveable icon can be called upon to take actions such as access the Power Off controls, take screenshots, Pinch to Zoom, and pull down the notifications bar.

If it’s a major action, brought on by a pinch or pull to the screen then the Assistant has it covered with a simple tap option. The user can also get app-specific help from the Assistant by toggling on Assistant Plus.

The biggest issue with the helpful feature is that, when not in use, it fades into the background, making it not so easy to see.

If you are a Partially Sighted user who also needs to balance a physical disability, options like the Screen Reader may not be of great value to you. This is because the Screen Reader’s interface requires the use of multiple fingers at once to operate. If you struggle to control your finger movements, it may be difficult to use comfortably.

Consider instead making tweaks to things like font style and size, activating the Magnifying Window, and installing a good read aloud app for internet articles and other applications. Bixby may also prove useful, as the on-board Voice Assistant can control the phone settings upon request.

Is the Note 20 Ultra 5G good for people with hearing loss?

Notable features

  • Hearing Aid compatible
  • Live Caption support
  • Live Transcribe
  • Ability to switch to mono sound

Certain Android phones including the Note 20 Ultra have got a fantastically helpful feature called Live Caption. The option allows the phone to convert sound from media into text.

Whether you choose to watch a clip on fantasy football via the ESPN app, or an educational video essay on Nebula, the phone will provide almost instant subtitling.

In theory this should work for almost any type of media you come across. Android however, does admit that “apps can opt out of sharing their audio stream”.

Although it isn’t perfect, it is astonishingly accurate. The text also comes thick and fast during conversation-intensive moments, so you’ll have to be paying attention to keep up.

A similar function for person-to-person conversation is also available. Called Live Transcribe, the option allows a person’s spoken words to be accurately shown on screen.

Value and verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an extremely advanced phone. With a top of the line screen, camera, and processor, there’s a reason this is Samsung’s pride and joy. Images and videos come to life on its stunning screen, the S Pen creates a whole new way to interact and use your smartphone, and the camera is incredible for taking booths and video.

However, the size and the price tag mean that while it’s specs are impressive, this phone isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you want a budget phone or one that easily fits into your pocket, this is not the phone for you.

But if you want top-end technology in a device that already supports upcoming innovations like 5G and Wi-Fi 6, your Samsung Galaxy Note Ultra is well worth the money and will last you for years to come.

If you think this is the smartphone for you, check out our latest Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra deals.

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