Mobiles & Tablets

Note20 Ultra 5G: Samsung’s creme de la creme phone

Mala Bhargava | Updated on August 30, 2020

Big and beautiful, it’s the pen-enabled computer in your pocket. But it’s expensive, and the ergonomics have changed

Anyone who’s considering buying Samsung’s best-of-the-best Note20 Ultra needs to bring along three things: lots of money because it costs upward of a lakh, an unending to-do list, and an extra-large pair of strong hands. The original big phone has gone and pushed the size envelope so much it’s now quite possibly too big for its boots. Will Note fans still love it?

This most premium of phones certainly looks the part, especially in the signature ‘Mystic Bronze’ colour. It’s a kind of extreme rose gold and with a matte finish that doesn’t show off finger smudges which are in any case more easily wiped off on this surface. The glass used is Gorilla Glass 7 or ‘Victus’, and hopefully, it’s a lot stronger than previous versions. The aesthetic is that of clean straight lines and while everyone calls it ‘boxy’ it’s very much how they like it; with no roundedness. The second colour available for the Ultra is Mystic Black, but this isn’t matte finish. There’s a large camera setup taking up quite a portion of the back. The assembly shows three big camera rings, and they look like they mean business. Overall this smartphone looks like a serious chunk of hi-tech.

 

Altered ergonomics

The world all but forgot the odious word ‘phablet,’ once invented for the Note, when all phones turned out huge. But the new Note20 Ultra has a 6.9-inch screen, a mere 0.1 inches away from official tablet territory So the word would fit it again. Having become somewhat larger and definitely heavier at 206gms, it’s now going to be too heavy for some, specially with one hand. And there’s no escaping holding it in one hand, because that’s how you use its signature S-Pen.

 

The ergonomics of the Note are altered in another aspect. The S-Pen stylus has been shifted over to the left. Finally, left-handers get a break, but now right-handers have to figure out changing their muscle memory. The shift is probably because of the huge new camera casing, but some may like the trade-off and some not, depending on how much the S-Pen is used. The stylus actually needs quite a strong press to disengage from its slot and an even stronger one to push back in, so you really have to watch how you now hold the phone. It’s slim, but the size and weight may not suit everyone. A recommendation is to see the device physically if you have any doubts.

Before we get to the good part, there’s another design issue to talk about. The Note20 Ultra has the biggest camera protrusion I’ve ever seen on the phone, unless the company has tried to make a phone look like a camera — which Samsung certainly did once with a fascinating device that actually had a big camera lens in the centre. In India, Samsung doesn’t provide a case so one will have to buy that separately, and it will be essential to offset the protrusion. Samsung says the glass is strong, but it isn’t just the fragility you have to worry about. When you put the Note down flat on a table to write (and you should be allowed to do that) the whole device rocks on every touch of the pen. That’s what a case may help with.

Maxed out specs

However, none of this detracts from the fact that the Note20 Ultra is about the most power-packed phone around. It’s filled with features, partly because of Samsung’s UI but mostly because of the S-Pen’s special usage. If you barely plan to use the pen, you would be better off with the S20+. But if you are a heavy pen user, you’ll find it is, as promised, with much lower latency now. As someone who just handwrites, it’s of minimal importance to me, and I even prefer slightly higher latency as it gives certain traction on the screen instead of seeming to move faster than one’s thoughts. But if someone sketches or does any sort of precision work with the pen, the reduced latency should be welcome.

 

The S Pen has many more tricks up its sleeve now — too many to traverse here and now. One thing a good number of users will find useful is how one can open up a PDF file in the Notes app and mark it up using the pen —- the precision coming into use here. When you lasso some text with the pen, you can convert writing to text, translate, or keep the capture as a sticky note on the screen. The S-Pen also has a bunch of navigation gestures associated with it that involve waving the pen above the screen in specified shapes to trigger actions like going to the home screen, moving back, etc. We’ll have to see how many users use this feature beyond showing them off.

It isn’t just the S-Pen that makes this phone special but also the incredible Dynamic 2K screen with just a whisper of bezel around it before it curves into the sides. It’s more screen space than one has seen on the phone. The display also refreshes at a 120Hz rate, switching to 90Hz dynamically depending on the content. It feels fast and is fast with the Exynos 990, but savvy users can’t help feeling upset that they don’t have the Snapdragon 865 version in India as they believe that to be faster. We have no way of checking. The device has 12GB LPADDR 5 RAM and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage. The phone takes two SIMs, one of which can be an eSIM or a memory card.

The Ultra has a 4,500mAh battery with 25W fast charging. I found it charged fully in a one hour and 15 mins and with moderate use, lasted the day with about 40% charge to go. Needless to say, there’s wireless and reverse charging supported. No 3.5mm headphone jack, of course. This series has said goodbye to that. A USB-C set of AKG tuned earphones is in the box. Not much else by way of extras for a phone that’s really expensive.

Always a shot

I’ve always been partial to Samsung’s phone cameras and the way they process images, making the most mundane shot look quite artistic. That’s not what everyone may be looking for, but in various surveys and polls online, one can see that it’s the saturated or ‘popping’ images that get upvoted rather than outright realistic ones. On the rear, the primary is a 108MP wide angle with a 12MP ultra-wide and a 12MP telephoto camera. On the front is a 10MP lens. As ever the dynamic range is perfect, so you get very rich looking photos. The main sensor is larger and brings in much more light. Shots in low light are also quite lovely. You’ll find background blur handled well and quite dramatically. The phone uses a 5x optical zoom to which you can add software and AI zoom closing in the way up to 50x. At the lower end it enhances photos and at the higher end, helps you see something far off.

 

Video recording can now happen at 8K, if you have the means to see it in that quality. You can shoot in 24fps and choose between 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratios to enhance a cinematic feeling. There’s OIS of course. You can also zoom in on audio sources with external microphones or the Galaxy Buds.

Undoubtedly the Note20 Ultra has more features to offer than we’ve even been able to cover in a single review. It can work with your PC in novel ways through the DeX mode and with Microsoft’s Your Phone app. It really doesn’t have any leap of innovation over the previous gen and perhaps just more of everything, so many find it too expensive in this time of the pandemic. Sadly, because its slightly cheaper sibling, the Note20 is also still expensive while making some compromises such as using a plastic back, fans of the product are a bit baffled and disappointed at the choices offered. If you’re considering this phone, you will get the best of Samsung’s hardware, feature-rich software and an extremely advanced digital pen, but this time, the asking price may be too high.

Price: ₹1,04,999

Pros: Top-end premium, more capable S-Pen, superb camera setup, powerful and fluid, newest Gorilla Glass, pretty good battery life

Cons: Too expensive, heavy and large, S-Pen ergonomics changed, no dramatic innovation over the previous gen, no case provided and dangerous to use without one, enormous camera protrusion, no extra S-Pen tips provided as before

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Published on August 18, 2020

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