I’ve been using the new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G for a couple of days and I can confirm it is too much: too much money, too much camera bump, too much screen.
The Note has always been the most phone you can buy, but I’ve never personally thought it was too much until now.
Samsung stuffs the Note with all the most premium features possible, with that S-Pen that curiously no other phone manufacturer has tried to copy (LG’s mid-range devices aside), and even though it’s a bank-breaker, I always felt it was worth it if you wanted the most bells and whistles Android phone going.
The Note 9 was classic Note territory, a phone that combined industrial design with capable cameras and great performance. It also stands as the last time Samsung gave Note users exactly what they wanted – one phone.
You could just get the Note every year knowing you had the one phone Samsung thought was the best possible. The fine Note 9 was only two years ago, and last year I wrote about how much I liked the Note 10 Plus. But now the Note line is a mess.
Last year’s Note 10 and Note 10 Plus were too similar, with the larger Note offering a better resolution display and bigger battery. That was practically it, and they looked identical. Now, the Note 20 Ultra is weirdly superior on paper to the regular Note 20. The latter has a plastic back and a 60Hz display and costs from £949 if you want 5G.
You get 90Hz, glass back and 5G from the £379 OnePlus Nord. Sure, that phone doesn’t have a stylus but come on, Samsung. There should be just one Note again rather than this odd pairing.
The 5G-only Note 20 Ultra costs from £1,179 and I am underwhelmed. Its body is thicker than you’d expect and I’ve no doubt that is to try and play down the insane camera bump of this thing. It didn’t look good on the S20 Ultra and it doesn’t here either. No number of heart eyes tweets during the launch with the press images and the new Mystic Bronze colour should be able to cover that up.
The thickness could also be for the 4500mAh battery, up from 4300mAh in the Note 10 Plus. Given the Exynos version of the Note 10 Plus was not a battery champ, I would on balance take a thicker Note 20 Ultra if the battery life is better. We’ll see.
The new matt finish on the phone is a good thing as it wards off fingerprints but combined with the build it actually feels quite plasticky and the phone sounds hollow. The thing is so unwieldy that you’ll want a case anyway, making this phone even more than too much. I’ve been putting it in my bag because it has fallen out of my pocket so often.
I’ll reserve final judgement on how it actually performs after I’ve spent some more time with it, and I imagine our review will find it one of the most capable phones on the market. But for this writer, the Note line is lost. It has quickly gone from being the ultimate Android phone to the Note 20 Ultra, a gaudy extravagance with hardware that is simply trying to keep all the components crammed in.
I will say that the 120Hz display is gorgeous though, and it’s the thing that elevates this phone above others. Samsung knocks it out of the park every year with its Note displays, and this one is no different. Pair that with the S-Pen and you have the best note-taking phone you can buy, even if the new air gestures are a one-way ticket to gimmick town.
I’d personally go for a discounted Note 10: practically the best note-taking phone you can buy, and it’s still getting software updates (three OS versions of them according to Samsung).
I appreciate that the pandemic means that any very expensive phone is going to seem like an unnecessary extravagance, but even without that context the Note 20 Ultra feels worryingly overindulgent.