The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
brings a new design and overall look, but if you just look at the specs sheet, it looks pretty darn similar to the Galaxy S20
Both have almost exactly the same processor, both come with similarly great AMOLED screens, and both very similar cameras, so is the S Pen on the Note 20 Ultra the only reason to buy it over the S20 Ultra?
Well, in some ways, this is indeed the biggest difference, but we've looked deeper and found quite a few other improvements that when added together make a strong case in favor of the Note 20 Ultra.
#1: 120Hz Refresh Rate
Adaptive refresh rate for the first time on the Note 20 Ultra
The 120Hz refresh rate was one of the most impressive new features in the S20 series: instead of a traditional smartphone that refreshes 60 times per second, the S20 phones could refresh 120 times per second, and this resulted in an experience that just appears to be so much smoother and faster.
The new Note 20 Ultra also supports a 120Hz refresh rate, similarly to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but unlike the S20 Ultra, here for the first time on a Samsung phone, you have an "adaptive" refresh rate. What adaptive means is that the Note 20 Ultra can smartly determine when it needs to run the screen at the full 120Hz, and when it can actually run at a lower screen. For example, if a game is playing at 30fps, the Note should be able to smartly detect that and run the screen at 30Hz.
This might sound like a small feature, but it will have a profound effect on battery life. The S20 Ultra 120Hz refresh rate was a big factor in cutting its real-life battery life significantly compared to just using the phone at 60Hz, and the Note 20 Ultra will likely be a much better optimized for battery life. At the end of the day, even though the Note 20 Ultra has a smaller, 4,500mAh battery, compared to a 5,000mAh battery cell on the S20 Ultra, it might actually have the superior actual battery life.
The Note is thinner and it has colors that don't appear "dead"
One of our biggest complaints about the Galaxy S20 Ultra was that its design was... well, just kind of lacking. The S20 Ultra was and still is offered and gray and black, and both of those finishes are glossy, fingerprint magnets that lack any excitement and actual color.
The Note 20 Ultra, on the other hand, is a phone that shows Samsung can listen to users' complaints and react quickly. After the bland S20 Ultra, the new Note is one of our all-time favorite phone designs.
First, at 8.1mm, it's thinner than the 8.8mm S20 Ultra, which just felt a bit too girthy. The new selection of "mystic" colors is also nice without going over the top. The finish is no longer glossy, but a new satin coating that feels nice to the touch and not so prone to fingerprint smudges. And then, Samsung has also embraced the camera bump and each of the cameras is accentuated with a beautiful ring around it. Well done, Samsung!
#3: Exynos situation
US users are lucky to have the Snapdragon processors
If you happen to live in the United States, you can safely skip this point: the Note 20 Ultra comes with the newer and improved Snapdragon 865+ chip that brings a nice performance boost over the Snapdragon 865 on the S20 Ultra.
BUT if you happen to live anywhere outside of the US, the processor under the hood of the Note 20 Ultra is the Exynos 990. Yes, that's the very same processor as on the S20 Ultra. Not only is there no upgrade, but this Exynos processor is known to have a bit worse power management than the Snapdragon chip.
#4: No more 100X Space Zoom
...but it's no big loss
Samsung proudly imprinted "Space Zoom" on the camera bump of the Galaxy S20 Ultra and it bragged about the phone being able to zoom up to 100X times. Later on, however, all of this came under fire when users found out that the quality of those 100X zoom shots is basically a blurry mess.
The Galaxy Note 20
Ultra takes a step back. First, it has a different telephoto sensor, it features 12-megapixel folded periscope camera with a 5X times native optical zoom, while the S20 Ultra shipped with a 48-megapixel 4X native zoom periscope lens. On the Note, you can go up to 50X times "hybrid" zoom. This is still plenty far reaching and while the quality is not great, it's actually something that is usable, unlike most 100X zoom shots.
#5: The important details
Storage and performance seem to be a bit faster on the Note
There is another tiny detail that you may not even notice on a specs sheet: the storage! Both the new Note 20 Ultra and the S20 Ultra feature the same amount of storage at 128GB (and both support expandable storage via microSD cards). However, what is different is the actual type of that storage. On the Note, you are getting the newer and faster UFS 3.1
storage while on the S20 Ultra you have the UFS 3.0 storage.
This combined with the improvements in the new OneUI 2.5 on the Note, result in a slight but noticeable improvement in actual performance. Snapping a photo seems to be a bit faster, and things just happen a bit faster and everything is a bit more responsive.
Expensive, but not quite as outrageously expensive as the S20 Ultra
At a starting price of $1,300, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra actually costs less than the initial price of the S20 Ultra ($1,400). Of course, it has been nearly half a year since the launch of the S20 Ultra and its price has now dropped quite a lot, so if you compare the prices of these phones directly, you will find the Note being the more expensive phone.
However, it's important to see that Samsung is dropping the price. This move tells us that after all that $1,400 initial price for the S20 Ultra might have been a bit of an overkill and Samsung is tacitly admitting this and lowering the initial price for the Note.
#7: The S Pen (duh!)
Of course, let us also remind you of the most important new feature of the Note 20 Ultra: the S Pen. This is likely the biggest upgrade to the S Pen in years. The Note now supports a much lower latency (that's the delay between the moment the S Pen touches the screen and the moment you actually see your drawings). At a latency of just 9ms, down from 42ms, using the S Pen feels just like using a real-life pencil. Impressive!
Unfortunately, what hasn't changed is the fingerprint scanner. The Note 20 Ultra features the same ultrasonic fingerprint reader embedded in the screen as the S20 Ultra, and it's just not quite as fast and reliable as optical fingerprint scanners that you get on even $400 phones like the OnePlus Nord
these days. What also hasn't changed is that there is no headphone jack on either of those models.