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The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is packed full of features, but can you justify the cost?
The most fully-featured smartphone around, but it comes with a hefty price tag.
Once upon a time, in a land before iPhones, almost all smartphones came with pens and ran an operating system called Windows Mobile. Almost two decades on, and there’s just one pen-toting high-end mobile standing – the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra combines the brand’s signature S Pen, with a huge, sharp, smooth, and immersive screen, lux styling (especially in its Mystic Bronze finish), and no less than 108 megapixels (MP) of camera resolution around the back.
Without a doubt, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra could be the do-it-all smartphone. It’s a looker, is loaded up with power, and has an incredibly clever S Pen. Of course, the S Pen is designed for convenient note-taking and doodling, but it can also convert your handwritten scrawl into selectable text. With Bluetooth connectivity, the pen even lets you remotely control your camera when a few metres away with hand waves and gestures – expelliarmus! Absolutely standout stuff from Samsung.
At an eye-watering £1,179, though, it’ll take a lot more than party tricks for the Note 20 Ultra to doodle its way into your heart. On top of its high price, the new Galaxy S21 Ultra is now available, which betters the Note 20 Ultra’s camera and power, and supports the S Pen (though it doesn’t come with a pen in the box). What’s more, there’s plenty of affordable competition from the likes of Google, OnePlus and Xiaomi, so justifying the Ultra’s high price is no easy decision.
To read more on Samsung devices, try our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review and Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 review. Or head to our list of Samsung Galaxy phones with prices to see all your options.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is available on all major networks and mobile retailers and can be bought off-contract at Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the ultimate oversized smartphone, combining a huge screen, stacks of power, plenty of party tricks and an impressive camera system. If you want it, there’s a good chance the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has it, but like all good things, it comes at a price – or two prices. The first is the actual price; the phone costs an eye-watering £1,179, making it one of the most expensive Android phones you can buy. The second is its size.
With a large 6.9-inch screen, the Note 20 Ultra certainly makes its presence felt, whether in a palm or a pocket. In turn, for anyone on a budget or in need of a compact option, we would recommend saving your pennies unless you absolutely need a smartphone with a pen. That said, if you live by the mantras like bigger is better, go big or go home, and every smartphone should stow a shiny pen in its base, then the Note 20 Ultra could just be your dream phone.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs £1,179 and is available at Samsung and Amazon, in addition to all major phone networks, if you're looking for a pay monthly contract.
The fact no other phone does what the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can help to justify its high price tag. After all, it combines an across-the-board top-end smartphone experience with the best pen input available on any mobile. That said, calling any £1,000+ phone good value for money is a stretch.
The Note 20 Ultra may be the best, but it isn't the only smartphone around with pen support. Consider its predecessor – the Note 10 Plus, which can be had for significantly less, provided its inferior camera and design don't put you off. Then there's the Ultra's less premium sibling, the Galaxy Note 20, which swaps glass for plastic and shaves a few hundred pounds off the price.
What constitutes good value for money is always relative, but one thing is for sure: the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a quality product that’s the best of its kind.
There’s a lot more to the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra than its S Pen. Switch the phone on, and its screen shines brightly – all 6.9 inches of it. That size makes it the biggest-screened mainstream smartphone you can buy. Luckily, Samsung is well known for its display quality, and the Note 20 Ultra doesn’t disappoint. It features a sharp, smooth Dynamic AMOLED screen. This Samsung technology ensures blacks look deep and inky, colours pop vibrantly, and with HDR10+ support, visuals look rich when watching compatible HDR shows on Disney Plus and Netflix.
The Note 20 Ultra’s screen also makes for a fantastic canvas for that S Pen. Unpop the spring-loaded tool from the bottom left of the phone, pull it out of its cavity, and you have yourself a palm-sized, high-tech notepad and sketchpad.
With 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, the harder you press on the Note’s screen when writing or drawing with the pen, the thicker the stroke. This is the same kind of technology found in professional graphic designer tablets. With mightily capable illustration software available through the Google Play Store, it isn’t a stretch calling the Note 20 Ultra an artist’s tool.
The Samsung Notes app is also loaded up to get you started. It can convert your handwritten words into searchable, selectable text and syncs with Microsoft OneNote, so you can access them on other devices.
It may sound like overkill loading up the Note 20 Ultra’s pen with Bluetooth connectivity, and it is a little, but it’s also fun and handy in specific situations. When you’re listening to music, for example, you can play, pause and skip tracks with S Pen button presses and gestures in mid-air. The S Pen is also super helpful when taking group photos. You can position the phone on a surface (or on a mobile tripod if you’re fancy like that) and use the pen as a shutter release, even when you’re a few meters away.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra doesn’t have the biggest smartphone battery around, which is a bit of a concern when you factor in just how much power and screen it sports – the two biggest factors when it comes to battery drain. That said, if you’re smart about how you use it, the phone should comfortably make it through a full day.
Within the phone’s settings, there’s an option called ‘Battery and device care’. In addition to showcasing handy information, like how much storage you’ve used up and whether or not you’ve activated ‘Device protection’, which guards against digital nasties, there are a number of battery options here.
To get a sense of how much smartphone time you have left, the Note 20 Ultra’s battery menu can give you an estimate based on how you use your phone. Want to activate power-saving mode? The ‘Battery and device care menu is the place to do it. Turn on the feature, and the phone disables power-drains like 5G, maximum screen brightness and full-power processing.
In the real world, we found that when we hammered the Note 20 Ultra with streaming videos, gaming, and video calls, we struggled to make it through a whole day. Most days, when using the phone more typically – an hour of music playback, tracking workouts, WhatsApps and occasional calls – we got by from morning to night on a single charge without any issues.
While the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t the fastest charging phone around, it still outperforms an iPhone, powering up fully in around 70 minutes. It can also charge wirelessly in roughly two hours, and if you feel like sharing your precious power, reverse wireless charging turns the phone into a wireless charger, so you can power up your friend’s phone (or your own wireless charging accessories).
High-resolution cameras and lots of them; the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra pulls no punches in its efforts to out-snap the competition. Spearheaded by a 108MP main camera, the phone captures crisp photos loaded up with detail. Unlike most mobile cameras, the Note’s photos also deliver soft-focus, blurred depth when capturing close-up objects, adding an artistic flourish – and that’s before you switch ‘Portrait mode’ on.
If you want to get a bit closer to the action, the Note 20 Ultra sports a mighty zoom range of roughly five times. While this doesn’t quite beat the Galaxy S21 Ultra, it’s amongst the best you can get, and the phone’s 12MP ultra-wide camera is also a welcome addition for GoPro-like fisheye style shots.
As a package, the Note 20 Ultra is an incredibly versatile solution for photographers or casual snappers, with quality guaranteed. It also performs well in low-light scenarios, automatically activating the phone’s night mode and brightening up photos in the process. Samsung touts the Note 20 Ultra as more than just a stills camera, though, with its ability to shoot video at up to 8K resolution. It even shoots video in full-manual mode, so you can control everything from shutter speed to manual focus, connect an external microphone, and so much more.
The Note 20 Ultra also includes one of the most fully-featured selfie cameras around. Firstly, it includes autofocus, so whether you’re right up close to it or at arm’s length, you will look sharp. Believe it or not, while it might sound like a given, it’s something most smartphone front cameras like the Google Pixel 5 and iPhone 12 Pro miss out on. The Ultra’s front camera also captures video at up to 4K resolution, while the competition tends to climb up to just Full HD – roughly half the sharpness.
Before you come to set the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra up, you might take a moment to appreciate the majesty of its design. Between its size and magnificent finish – the matte, frosted glass back elegantly curves into the high-polish metal frame, which leads into the all-encompassing curved glass screen – it really is standout.
Despite its size, the phone is elegant, and in Mystic Bronze, it feels head and shoulders above much of the competition from a style point of view. Luckily, it’s also loaded up with substance, thanks to Samsung’s smart software experience: OneUI 3.1, which is matched with Android for fantastic app support.
If you’ve already got a Samsung smartphone, then you can look forward to a headache-free setup process when you move your mobile life over to the Note 20 Ultra, thanks to Smart Switch. This Samsung service migrates everything, from photos and videos and even your old phone’s apps and home screen layout. Samsung's alternative to an iCloud backup, the feature makes sure anxiety around upgrading your phone fast becomes a thing of the past.
Running Google’s Android 11, the phone also supports Google’s own auto-login feature, so apps like Netflix and Spotify will likely log you in automatically. There will be a few third-party apps that might require a username or password. However, these were in the minority in our experience with setting up the phone.
For visual thinkers, there’s nothing quite like putting pen to paper, and that’s the itch the Note 20 Ultra scratches. With its fantastic S Pen, matched with the wonderfully optimised suite of apps and experiences Samsung loads up, the phone really is a doodler and note-taker’s dream.
Samsung doesn’t stop at pen wizardry on its Note 20 Ultra. Combining premium design with a mighty camera system, ample power for smooth performance, and a mesmerising screen, there’s very little we would hold against the fine-looking flagship.
At £1,179, the Note 20 Ultra 5G needs to be perfect, and it falls slightly short of that mark, mainly owing to its adequate, not exceptional battery life. Also, the phone can get hot when gaming, which can make for an uncomfortable experience. Those two points aside, if you want the best pen on a smartphone and aren’t put off by the high price, very little else comes close to the Note 20 Ultra.
Design and set-up: 5/5
Overall rating: 4.5/5
The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is available at a number of providers, either sim-free or on a pay monthly contract.
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