The Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra in 4G or 5G are simply, unarguably the best Google Android smartphones on the planet. It is a shame that 99% of us won’t get to experience that.
We all have champagne tastes on a lemonade budget. Sadly, most will not know the certain satisfaction in owning the Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra 5G.
Satisfaction in knowing that no matter what you throw at it – games, multi-tasking, heavy computational apps – they will come through. Pleasure in knowing you have the biggest, best, fastest pocket computer around. Oh, and it will do anything other lesser smartphones can too – only better.
And that is the way you must look at these devices – pocket computers plus benefits. You buy these for the S Pen, amazing camera, huge vibrant super AMOLED screen, masses of horsepower and the secret productivity sauce called DeX.
Last year we reviewed the Note10 (4.9/5) and the Note10+ (5/5). The Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra 2020 scores are the same as there is just a tad spec difference. There is no difference in the delight of ownership.
Australian review – Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra
- Website here
- Price: See table below – from $1449 to $2199. Samsung is offering a trade-in program and 36-months interest-free offer via Latitude Finance
- Elevator pitch: Simply the best (sorry Tina Turner)
- From: Samsung Online and major CE retailers and Telcos
- Warranty: 2-years
- Country of Manufacture: Vietnam
- Samsung is a South-Korean global supplier of smartphones, tablets, TVs, home appliances and more.
We have both on the test bench. The key difference is the Note20 has a 6.7″ flat AMOLED screen, and the Note20 Ultra has a 6.9″ curved edge Infinity AMOLED screen. Apart from some fairly minor battery, memory/storage and camera differences, the bones are the same.
Results apply to both, and we will show any substantial differences. We refer to the Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra as GN20 and GN20U.
As usual, we use the terms FAIL, PASS and EXCEED against test paradigms. As these are the best, please forgive the overly long review. We figure if you want to spend the money, you should know what it can do. Warning – this review is 4000 words and took over four weeks of solid use and testing. You wanted detail!
Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra models
The Note range is a prime target for grey market and parallel importers. We have named and shamed the major ones here. If you are going to spend this much money, get a genuine ‘Made for Australia’ model.
These are the official Australian models (followed by colour codes) – all prefixed with SM and must finish with SA, e.g. 986BZKEXSA. Under Settings, About Phone and Regulatory Information, it must show the C-Tick mark only.
- 980FZ – Note20 LTE
- 981BZ – Note20 5G
- 985FZ – Note20 Ultra LTE
- 986BZ – Note 20 Ultra 5G
- NEX (Bronze 256GB – Note20 Ultra LTE and 4G)
- WEX (White 256GB – ditto)
- KEX (Black 256GB – ditto)
- KFX (Black 512GB – Note 20 Ultra 5G only)
- GEX (Green 256GB – Note20 LTE and 5G)
- AEX (Grey 256GB – Note20 LTE and 5G only)
There are currently no Dual Sim (DS) models for Australia. We get the version with an eSIM and a single nano-sim.
These all have the Exynos 990 chip and Australian modem (see LTE and 5G bands later). Do not buy any using the Qualcomm SD865+ SoC.
Point of interest
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G has a 42% Bill of Materials cost of US$549 of its US$1299 price. By comparison, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is about US$490 of its US$1249 cost.
Counterpoint Research says the Qualcomm/Exynos versions have 50/89.3% of that for Samsung made components. As Samsung controls most of its supply chain, it can offer superior value compared to Apple that has to buy components from a third-party.
First impression – EXCEED
I am really glad that Samsung supplied the Grey Note20 and the Bronze Note20 Ultra. The grey is elegant and sophisticated, and the Bronze is not my colour. My wife quite likes it and calls it Dusty Rose – perhaps more apt.
The Note20 has a flat-screen, and the Ultra has a rounded edge screen – although not as rounded as past Notes or Edges. The 2.45mm camera hump is extreme – it has to be to house all the hardware. It rocks when placed on a desk, so use a case. We also recommend a tempered glass screen protector – your investment and next trade-in value depends on its good condition.
Screen – EXCEED
Centre 3.5mm O-hole
|6.9″ 3D flexible|
60-120Hz and 240Hz touch*
Dynamic AMOLED 2X (LPTO)
*Note: 4K is only 60Hz
Only 1080p with Dynamic Metadata and Tone Mapping
|Protection||Gorilla Glass 5||Gorilla Glass 7 |
Victus 2m drop
|Fingerprint under||Ultrasonic fingerprint||Same|
Blue light filter
Ambient light Gaming
|Up to 15,000 lux|
Low <4.4% Yes
Dual light sensors F/B 18ms G-T-G
L1 HDCP 2.2
|Up to 20,000 lux|
|AOD Proximity sensor||Yes – customisable|
TMD-9407 wake-up under glass
|Video playback||MP4, M4V, 3GP, 3G2, WMV, ASF, AVI, FLV, MKV, WEBM||Same|
|Smart View||Screen mirror [email protected] |
USB-C Alt DP – up to [email protected] on TV
|Edge Panel (slide out from the right side)||Apps|
Smart Select Tools Messages
Both screens are perfect.
The GN20U screen has rare A+ award from Displaymate stating it is visually indistinguishable from perfect. It uses a new Diamond Pixel array that uses different sized RGB pixels based on their efficiency. While it has an adaptive screen rate (48/60/96/120Hz), this only applies to the 1080p setting.
The GN20 screen is no slouch – it is more of the Galaxy S20 generation. You are not losing much by buying this smaller screen.
Processor – EXCEED
|Processor||Samsung Exynos 990, 7nm|
|Modem||Exynos 5123 (separate)|
|Security||Integrated secure element (iSE)* layer stores and manages users’ data separately from the operating system. Includes a physically unclonable function (PUF) – a digital fingerprint, that generates an unclonable key for data encryption.|
Geekbench 5 Compute Open CL
It will play all modern games to up to the highest frame rates. It has a Game Booster mode.
Note the GN20U has a CS40L2 Cirrus Logic chip for UWB*
|Geekbench 5 single/multi-core||924/2820|
The Exynos 990 first appeared in the Galaxy S20. It is functionally equivalent to the Qualcomm SD865+ for the China and US markets. There is no downside in buying the Exynos – besides, that is what we get in Australia.
BTW the SD865+ in its Tab S7 has a Geekbench 5 score of 968/2810 (about the same). But its Compute score of 3516 is well below the Exynos at 5574.
It packages the CPU, GPU, NPU, AI Camera, Audio, Video, DSP, LPDDR5 and UFS 3.0 storage into one chip offering the lowest latency and highest performance between those components.
* The iSE S3K250AF performs a similar function to Google Pixel Titan M and Apple’s T2. But it is in addition to Samsung Knox software security giving it dedicated tamper-resistant strongbox for confidential and cryptographic data. Pins, passwords, crypto-currency credentials, and credit card payment tokens are stored separately from standard mobile memory and can’t be hacked. Add to that the Thales eSIM and NFC protection that makes the S20 series the most secure NFC/contactless payment smartphones on the planet.
CPU throttle test 15 minutes full load 60Hz screen – EXCEED
As you would expect, the devices have excellent thermal design and are capable of sustaining 100% load at less than 10% loss. The processor starts at 171,592GIPS and averages 157,521.
But we did get some odd readings in rerunning the test after prolonged uptime. The GN20U dropped to about 80% and stubbornly stayed there. That is not a major issue.
RAM/Storage – EXCEED
128GB or 256GB (220GB free)
128/256/512GB UFS 3.0
The RAM and storage are the fastest on the planet. We achieved approx. 1650/760Mbps sequential read/write – that is not far off PCIe NVME 2-lane SSD.
The key difference here is that the GN20U has a dedicated microSD and dedicated sim slot, but with USB-C 3.1 gen 1 5Gbps and OTG connectivity, it supports external SSDs to 2TB – no deal-breaker.
* Ultra-Wideband (UWB on the GN20U only) – what is it?
It is like ANT+ that allows you to find other nearby compatible smartphones and devices. It is smart enough to securely control compatible car and door locks as it has precise location, spatial and angle of arrival capability.
Samsung has a techy explanation here.
Sound – EXCEED
|Sound||Earpiece (L) and down-firing speaker (R)|
Dolby Atmos and Dolby Audio
No 3.5mm port
|Amp||2 x CS35L41 Cirrus Logic Mono Class D 5.3W 1% THD amps with DSP and speaker protection.||Same|
|Tests dB||Ringtone: 81|
Music: 78.1 but can get to 85dB
76.3 79.1 77.1
|Hands-free||Test: Loud and clear at both ends – better than most|
|Playback Codecs||MP3, M4A, 3GA, AAC, OGG, OGA, WAV, WMA, AMR, AWB, FLAC, MID, MIDI, XMF, MXMF, IMY, RTTTL, RTX, OTA, APE, DSF, DFF||Same|
|BT 5.0||SBC, AAC and Samsung Scalable (requires Samsung device like Buds Live)|
No aptX or LDAC
Dual simultaneous audio device playback
|Mics||2 with Acoustic Overload Point to minimise noise||Same|
We believe that an earpiece speaker can never match a bottom-firing speaker – it is about physics. There is a slight difference in volume levels from both, but overall, it is not noticeable.
Sound quality is excellent from both. The sound stage is wider and higher than the phones (Dolby Atmos setting).
Sound Signature – Neutral – EXCEED
Both had very similar sound signatures.
- Deep Bass: 20-40Hz – nil
- Middle Bass: 40-100Hz – climbing gently from 40Hz to 100Hz – nice hints
- High Bass: 100 to 200Hz – flat (good)
- Low-mid: 200-400Hz – flat
- Mid: 400-1000Hz – flat
- High-mid: 1-2kHz – flat
- Low-treble: 2-4kHz – flat
- Treble:4-6kHz – flat – flat
- High Treble: 6-10kHz – slight dip to avoid harshness
- Dog whistle: 10-20kHz – strong to 13kHz then slight decline a to 20khz
But what I like are the EQ pre-sets that can adjust most frequency bands by +/-10dB. These include normal, Pop, Classical, Jazz, Rock and Custom.
Samsung/AKG has done an exceptional job in almost neutral tuning (flat) and speaker matching.
That means the EQ can make a difference across the sound signature spectrum. On lesser phones, all you can get is a little more bass at the expense of treble or visa-versa.
We tested the AKG tuned USB-C headset/mic, and it was also quite remarkable for buds. In the BT tests with our reference Sony WH-1000xM3 (M4 review soon), it defaulted to SBC, and we could use AAC. Still, the sound was excellent.
The Samsung Scalable codec (higher res and lower latency) only works with Samsung headsets like the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live (review here 4.3/5). This is similar to the Qualcomm aptX/LL codec found in the Snapdragon version.
We found the Sony LDAC (Opus) codec under Developer options, but it did not connect. This may be the limit of the Exynos version.
LTE and 5G – EXCEED
|4G Bands||1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 17, 18, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 32, 38, 49, 40, 41, 66|
|4G Speed||Claim: Up to 2000/200 Test (in 3 bar area) 175/40Mbps|
|3G bands (not LTE)||1, 2, 4, 5, 8|
|5G||n1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 28, 40, 77, 78|
Only Sub-6Ghz n78 NSA for Australia
|5G Speed (not tested)||Claim: Up to 5.1Gbs but likely under 1Gbps|
|SIM||eSIM and physical sim – both standby but only one active at a time|
|Dual SIM ring tone||Yes|
Sorry, we could not test 5G speeds, but our experience is that out of five tests they will vary wildly. We have yet to find the right benchmarking software.
The LTE signal strength has improved over the Note10 with it now finding the adjacent tower.
Battery – EXCEED
MAX77705 Power supply monitor and glitch immunity to prevent over-voltage and heating
|Charge||Comes with Samsung Fast charge 25W PD 3.0 and QC 2.0|
Fast Qi charge 15W Reverse wireless 9W charge Note there is no 45W support
|Tests||1080p video/ aeroplane mode – 19 hours|
WI-FI, BT general use – 11 hours
Full load – 6 hours
Discharge speed Screen on 400-500mA
Discharge rate Screen off .2mA
Charge time 25W – 1.5 hours
Charge Time Qi – 4 hours
Quick charge – 50% in 30 minutes
|60Hz – 16h |
120Hz – 13h
60Hz – 9h
120Hz – 7h
The difference between 120Hz (adaptive) versus 60Hz and 1080p versus 1440p is between 10-20% lower battery life.
For example, using PC Work 2.0 the GN20U achieves 11 h/46m at 1080p/60Hz, 10h/35m at 1440p/60Hz and 9h at 1080p/120Hz. But these tests don’t reflect real-world use.
On the whole, these meet or exceed the Note10+ battery specs. The omission of the 45W fast charge is puzzling as other brands promote 65W or more.
When you look at the fast charge of the S20 Ultra 5G (65% in 30 minutes and 100% in 60 minutes) and the OPPO Find X2 Pro (95% in 30 minutes and 100% in 36 minutes) you wonder why Samsung took the safe route. Well, at least it beats the iPhone 11 Pro Max for speed (that takes over 2 hours for a full charge).
The difference between the claimed capacity and the tested capacity is also puzzling. We suspect Samsung is overcautious to ensure no battery mishaps.
This has a genuine 5V/1.8A (9W) reverse charge and supports Apple iPhone and Watch (7W) and all Qi//WPC devices. It will charge the Samsung Galaxy Watch/3 and Active/2.
Standby use has improved – the Note 10+ uses about 15% per day in standby (screen off), and this is far lower.
My advice: Have a few Qi charge pads around to top up. Qi is gentler on the battery too.
COMMS – EXCEED
|Comms||Wi-Fi 6 AX HE80, MIMO, 1024-QAM|
1.2Mbps max for AX Test: Signal -328dBm and 1.2Mbps
|BT||BT 5.0 LE, A2DP|
|NFC||PayWave and Mag Stripe|
|GPS||Dual-Band GPS <4M suitable for high-speed turn-by-turn navigation|
|USB-C||3.2 gen 1 5Gbps|
It is a pleasure to use Wi-Fi for file transfer. It is fast and holds signal strength further away from the AX11000 ASUS router than any other AX device we have tested.
S Pen – exceed
S Pen is the prime reason to buy. If you don’t intend using it, then buy the Galaxy S20 Ultra and save a bundle.
Note: Both do the same thing, but the GN20/GN20U has a 26/9ms lag due to the different screen and digitiser. We challenge anyone to tell the difference in lag times. I can’t tell the difference in use.
|S Pen||26ms lag (9ms on GN20U)|
Lithium Titanate Battery: 24 hours standby; 15-minute charge
4096 pressure levels
.7mm tip 5.8 x 4.35 x 105.08mm x 3.04g
Screen off memo
Write on calendar
The S Pen experience is as good as the pen on paper experience. The new GN20U lower lag time improves on that. It is an even more silky smooth, precise experience. You can sketch, doodle, handwrite, professionally draw, translate and more. You can also use it as a remote camera shutter button.
Samsung Notes Productivity
- Works powered on or off – write on the screen
- PDF Mark-up
- Sync note and audio recordings
- A new pop-up note over video/podcast or video conference.
- Converts handwriting to text very well
- Add photos, voice notes and searchable tags.
- Samsung Notes (.SDOCX). Image and text export to Microsoft 365 as well as OneDrive for other Android devices.
Samsung’s Notes app is terrific.
DeX – Desktop eXperience – EXCEED
You can skip this if you don’t use it as a productivity device. Samsung has details on how to use it here.
Both have wireless DeX (Smart View or Miracast [email protected]) in addition to USB-C to HDMI cable, DeX station and many modern USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 dongles. It is possible to get [email protected] screen mirror with a cable.
You can now run DeX in a window so that you can access the TV or monitor content as well. If you use the GN20/U as a touchpad, it now supports three-point Touch although we found it a little laggy.
Build – EXCEED
All prefixed with Mystic
|DeX||Wireless and USB-C||Same|
|Build||GG 5 front|
Polycarbonate ‘glasstic’ back
Stainless Steel frame
|GG 7 Victus front and back|
|Box||USB-C AKG tuned headset|
USB-A to USB-C 2.0 cable (you will need to buy 3.2 Gen 2 to use higher speeds)
Android and OneUI 2.5 – EXCEED
|Android||Google Android 10|
Samsung One UI
Promising three major OS upgrades
Qualcomm QBT2000 ultrasonic under-glass fingerprint detector
2D Face recognition
Fingerprint 7 out of 10 positives
Face: 4 out of 10 (but I have a COVID beard)
A skin (One UI) can either be artistic or add value. Samsung OneUI adds both. It is more like the grease on the Android wheels that makes everything work so much better. But it is showing a little age too – elements of it hark back to Android 8 like its default to an App drawer, home and back keys at the bottom (that I like).
I can see now how Android 10 and 11 (just released) have moved away and I expect Samsung’s OneUI will need to go through a metamorphosis.
BTW – Samsung promised three OS upgrades. That means 10 to 11 to 12 to 13! Android 11 is the first to separate the hardware layer from the UI so that Google can issue OTA security patches.
There is little bloatware apart from Facebook, Spotify and Netflix and Microsoft OneDrive is there as the default backup cloud.
Accessibly – EXCEED
- Voice Assistant
- High contrast theme, font, keyboard, and Internet
- Colour inversion, adjustment, lens
- Magnifier window, widget
- Sound detectors
- Hearing aid support
- Left/right sound balance
- Mono audio
- Mute all sounds
- Live Transcribe/Caption on Android
- Amplify ambient sound
- Universal switch
- Assistant menu
- Interaction control
- Touch settings (Tap duration, Ignore repeated touches, Touch and hold delay)
- Mouse and Physical keyboard (Click after pointer stops, Sticky keys, Slow keys, Bounce keys)
- Direct access
- Flash notification
Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra cameras – EXCEED
Note: Field of View (FOV) varies from Samsung specs due to the test software reporting the cropped image size.
|Camera rear Primary (wide)|
Dual Pixel PDAF
[email protected] HEVC
All modes up to 60fps
Laser AF and PDAF
(binned to 16MP)
.8um (binned to 1.6um)
Dual Pixel PDAF
Presents as cropped 7.1MP, 61.5° FOV
|Camera Ai||Scene Optimiser|
Super Steady VDIS
Zoom in mic
Slow [email protected]/720p/960fps
All the shots below were taken at the same time. They both show excellent colour and detail worthy of a premium flagship.
A note on video
[email protected] is superb – if you have a playback device like a Samsung 8K TV. But it chews 80Mbps and will fill a 128MB card in about 10 minutes.
If you are serious about video beyond a few minutes, you are going to need either the GN20U with 512GB memory or a USB-C 3.2, Gen 1 external OTG SSD. And you can now add a USB-C mic from Blue, Rode ort Sennheiser and have on-phone control.
Video stabilisation is great in all resolutions up to 60fps.
A note on Zoom and Low light
Up to 5x zoom on either is fine for hand-held. Over that, you need a tripod. Similarly, night mode works vastly better with a tripod.
GadgetGuy’s take – Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra 5G – two quite but similar but different phones
The trade-offs (or perhaps trade-ups depending on which way you look at it) for the Note20 are a smaller 1080p screen, less RAM, no MicroSD, 30x hybrid zoom and a slower S Pen. We don’t care if the back is ‘glasstic’. It is a formidable device.
The Note20 Ultra has the larger 4K, 120Hz screen, 12GB of RAM, microSD, 50X Hybrid and a faster S Pen. Is it worth $350 more?
Technically, yes. But given money is hard to come by I would not be surprised if the lower-specified Note20 is more popular.
My takeaway message – there is no better. But if you forget the S Pen and look at the amazing $899 Samsung A71 5G (review here and 4.6/5), I know which way COVID convicts will go.
The Note20 4G/5G 256GB is $1499/$1649. The Note20 Ultra 4G/5G is $1849/$1999 – or add $200 to double the storage to 512GB. For that, you get a lot of phone!
BTW if you own one the differences between it and the Note20 are not enough to commit hara-kiri.
There is no stylus-based competition. The only other phone you could drool over is the OPPO Find X2 Pro 4.9/5). It is $1599 and uses the Qualcomm SD865+. Specs-wise it sits above the GN20 and almost at the GN20U for camera level. OPPO has two OS upgrades.
If you don’t have over $1000, then three are three Qualcomm SD765G 5G phones worth mention (reviews underlined)
- LG Velvet $899 4.9/5
- OPPO Find X2 Neo $999 4.8/5
- Motorola Edge Normally $999 but on sale at $799. The 4.5/5 rating was due to its price, and that would creep up a few notches.
- Samsung A71 5G $899 4.6/5 uses Exynos processor
Rating the Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra
Earlier, we mentioned the use of FAIL, PASS and EXCEED against more than 70 test paradigms. If it PASSES all tests relevant to the price/specification range, it is going to score at least 4/5.
If it exceeds all tests, then it is going to score closer to 5/5. The one test we don’t rate is price because something is only worth what you are willing to pay for it. We do rate value for money against the competition.
Both these phones exceed all test paradigms. The GN20U has a few more features but they are both 5/5.