As it did with the Galaxy S20 earlier this year, Samsung is explicitly trying to make the “Ultra” moniker push the top-tier specs ever higher, which apparently allows the regular model to skimp on a few features. It’s a tale of two Notes.
The regular Galaxy Note 20 lacks important features like a high refresh rate screen, microSD storage expansion, and periscope zoom lens, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t expensive. It’s £999.99 for a model with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.
The Note 20 Ultra, meanwhile, has everything Samsung knows how to throw at a phone (short of a folding screen) and the price to match those specs: £1,299.99 for the 128GB storage / 12GB RAM model and £1,449.99 to bump that storage up to 512GB.
Preorders for both begin at 12:01AM BST on August 6th, and the phones should be shipping and in carrier stores (the ones that are open, anyway) on August 21st.
Both phones do share some key specs. The one you’re most likely to be told about (because it’s what carriers are pushing) is their support for both types of 5G networks. Samsung has improved latency on the S Pen and added a few more ways you can wave it about to control your phone remotely. They support fast charging, wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging. And Samsung is also using the brand new version of Gorilla Glass that’s supposedly more resistant to scratches.
They’ve got stereo speakers with some Dolby technology, IP68 water resistance, and ship with Android 10. Both can record video at 8K (which seems like overkill for a phone) and support external microphone options. Dex now works wirelessly (via Miracast) and both phones have some important new Microsoft software tie-ins.
Both still feature Bixby, at best the fourth-place digital assistant behind Google, Alexa, and even Siri.
The Note 20s also have a new kind of finish, which Samsung calls “Mystic.” It amounts to a textured finish on the glass that should hopefully do a better job of repelling — or at least hiding — fingerprints. The Note 20 Ultra will come in bronze, black, and white. The Note 20 will come in bronze, gray, and green.
NOTE 20 ULTRA
Simply as an object, the Note 20 Ultra is as imposing as a phone can be — which is a good thing, as that really is the Note’s aesthetic. It’s big and square, with a screen that’s curved (for better or worse) around the sides to minimize the visibility of bezels. It is as close to all-screen on the front as you can reasonably get, interrupted only by a small hole punch and even smaller top and bottom bezels. The camera bump is unabashedly, unapologetically massive.
On a spec level, Samsung does get to claim to be at the very top of the Android heap — at least for the time being. It has a massive 6.9-inch 1440p OLED display capable of refreshing at 120Hz. It has three cameras on the back, one of which is 108 megapixels, while another includes a periscope. It has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and 12GB of RAM, plus the ability to expand its base storage with an SD card. The battery is 4,500mAh and it supports both flavors of 5G.
So flagship specs for the Android world are a check — though it should be said that Apple’s A13 Bionic processor from last year is still faster than anything Qualcomm is putting out.
The Note 20 Ultra adds dynamically adjusting refresh rates for the screen to preserve battery life, but it can’t hit that full rate at its max resolution (also presumably to preserve battery life). Samsung also tossed in an Ultra Wideband (UWB) radio to make it easier for phones to transfer files by pointing them at each other and — eventually — to support unlocking cars. The iPhone 11 Pro has UWB, so it seems like Samsung couldn’t stand not hitting that spec checkbox, too, even though the software isn’t quite ready.
Samsung’s second mission with the Note 20 Ultra is to try once again to turn its Samsung-made 108-megapixel camera sensor into a category-beating camera. Results with that sensor on the Galaxy S20 Ultra were decidedly mixed — it initially had slow focus and, even after a software update, wasn’t as good as a more traditional smartphone camera. Plus, Samsung’s “Space Zoom” feature offered a 100x zoom that honestly should have capped out at something much smaller — the optical zoom from the periscope is 5x.
With the Note 20 Ultra, Samsung has theoretically addressed both issues. For focusing, the Ultra includes the software enhancements Samsung already released for the S20 Ultra. But more importantly, it has swapped in a laser autofocus system, which should speed up focusing considerably. Space Zoom is now capped at 50x — still enough to be impressive, but hopefully not so much that all you’re getting is a pile of pixels.
Where the Note 20 Ultra is a spec monster, the regular Note 20 has a somewhat shorter spec sheet. It’s smaller, for one thing, with a 6.7-inch 1080p display. As a physical device, the regular Note 20 is also more approachable. It has a bit more curve to its corners (though less to its screen) and shows more bezel overall. The camera bump isn’t like a huge mesa on the back of the device, either. It’s still a very large, fairly wide phone by any standard, but it isn’t just a smaller Note 20 Ultra; it has its own design language.
Disappointingly, the Note 20 lacks a few specs that you get on a Note 20 Ultra. Its display has the usual 60Hz refresh rate you see on any phone. You also can’t expand its storage with microSD cards, and there’s only a 128GB model available.
It’s especially baffling because even the regular Galaxy S20 from earlier this year has a high refresh rate screen and also allows for microSD storage expansion. The smaller S20 lacks mmWave 5G, though, so perhaps Samsung sees that as a trade-off. Still, at £999.99, a high refresh rate screen is a must in 2020, and it’s odd to see it missing here.
The Note 20’s camera system is essentially equivalent to the S20’s, at least. It has a main 12-megapixel camera, a 12-megapixel ultrawide, and then 64 megapixels for the telephoto and its non-periscope-enabled version of Space Zoom — which goes up to 30x.
The Note 20 is certainly still a top-tier phone from a spec perspective. It has a 4,300mAh battery, the same Snapdragon 865 Plus processor, and all the same software features as the Ultra. But in dropping some things that are available on the S20 lineup, the Note 20 is asking a decent amount of money for that S Pen.
AlongsideAlongside the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, Samsung also announced a new tablet, a new watch, and new earbuds. It also had previously announced a 5G version of its Z Flip folding phone and may yet announce a second version of the original Galaxy Fold in today’s event. If it does, that Galaxy Z Fold may lay claim to being Samsung’s flagship device.
But for people who don’t want to take a risk on folding phones (and I don’t blame you), the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is Samsung’s best attempt at offering the best you can get on Android. The regular Note 20 is a lot less ambitious but still fairly pricey, probably thanks to those 5G radios. Whether either can live up to or exceed expectations is a question for the review — which we’ll bring to you later this month.
Photos courtesy of the The Verge