Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: a productivity and creativity powerhouse

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is a fantastic Android phone for getting things done and being creative

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is beautifully designed, incredibly powerful and has one key feature that you can't really find anywhere else – that useful S Pen stylus. Combined it is a productivity and creativity powerhouse.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Packed with powerful components

  • +

    Giant, gorgeous-looking screen

  • +

    The S Pen continues to improve

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Costs a lot of money

  • -

    Huge camera bump

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is just about everything you would expect from one of the best Samsung phones: it's Samsung's most expensive, most premium Note phone to date, and it comes complete with a huge AMOLED display and of course that S Pen stylus that sets the Galaxy Note range apart.

This is not for the bargain hunters or those who want something small and discreet from their handset – it's for people who want a smartphone that pushes the bar as high as possible in as many different areas as possible and don't mind paying extra for it.

And on the whole, Samsung can be trusted to deliver on its promises – it's been four full years since the tech giant made the Note with the serious overheating problem, and every handset that it has put out since then, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus and Samsung Galaxy Note 9 has been a hugely impressive piece of work.

The thing is, though, there's a new phone on the block from Samsung that supports S Pen digital stylus use – the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is the best phone Samsung has ever put out. So, does that make the Note 20 Ultra a smart purchase today? This Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review will explain all.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is available to buy now – at the time of writing you can buy it direct and SIM-free for £1,179 in the UK and $1,299.99 in the US, though check the widgets on this page for the latest deals on the phone.

A variety of retailers will sell you a Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G on a contract, including Virgin Media (from £44 a month), O2 (from £61 a month), EE (from £61 a month), and Three (from £39 a month). Those prices all vary depending on the length of your contract, how much you want to pay up front, how much data you need, and so on.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: design and screen

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G looks like a phone made for the super-rich (as indeed its price tag suggests) – all finely polished curves and a 6.9-inch, 1440 x 3088 pixel resolution, HDR10+ supporting AMOLED screen. It runs at 60Hz by default, but will ramp up to 120Hz if you knock down the resolution to 1080p FHD (a compromise that we think most people will be willing to make).

Samsung has been making premium phones for many a year of course, and so it's no surprise that the Note 20 Ultra 5G is a gorgeous gadget that you simply can't fault from a design perspective (unless the design is simply not to your tastes). Black, white and bronze (the one that we had to review) are your colour choices, and they all have a certain appeal.

If we did have to pick a flaw, we're not all that happy with the huge camera bulge at the back of the phone, which doesn't really fit in with the unbroken lines that characterise the rest of the phone. You won't be able to lie this phone flat on its back, and the bulge makes it more difficult to slip the Note 20 Ultra 5G into a pocket (as if it wasn't big enough already), but it wouldn't put us off buying the phone.

The power and volume buttons are on the right-hand side of the device, with a USB-C slot on the bottom and the slot for the S Pen. As usual with the Note series, slotting the S Pen inside the phone is quick and easy, and it feels secure once it's locked in place. Even better, the phone is IP68 rated for full dust and water resistance.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: camera and battery

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

(Image credit: Future)

We're pleased to report there's a fantastic phone on the back of the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, and in particular the 5x optical zoom that's going to get you closer to whatever subject it is that you're photographing (the digital zoom goes all the way up to 50x, but you're unlikely to need it, and quality suffers at the higher levels). There's ultrawide here too, which means you get plenty of flexibility when it comes to framing your shots.

The triple-lens 108MP wide + 12MP periscope telephoto + 12MP ultrawide rear camera produces pictures that are fantastically bright and sharp, with excellent colour reproduction that's maybe a touch too vibrant in certain situations. Dark and light spots are well-handled by the HDR processing, focus and shutter speed is good, and overall this is a camera that's definitely worthy of a flagship phone.

Night mode shots come out reasonably well too, though we think that the Google Pixels and even the Apple iPhones are ahead of Samsung in this area – though of course they don't have 5x optical zoom. The brightening effect Samsung uses is just a bit too aggressive, though it will definitely help the camera pick out details where there's very little light available (if you can keep the phone steady for a few seconds).

Battery life is satisfactory without being spectacular, which is perhaps to be expected considering the huge screen, super-fast processor and 5G. While you will make it to the end of most days with some charge left, you might need a top-up during the day if you're really stressing your phone. Our two-hour video streaming test (at maximum brightness) saw the phone battery dip from 100 percent to 82 percent, suggesting around 10 hours of movie watching is possible.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: other specs and features

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

(Image credit: Samsung)

There's a huge amount of power on board the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, led by the Exynos 990 processor (or the Snapdragon 865 Plus, depending on your region). That's paired with 12GB of RAM and up to 512GB of storage, which would outclass many a laptop, never mind other smartphones. The components installed here will cope easily with anything you want to do and any app you want to run on your smartphone.

We can confirm that the Note 20 Ultra 5G is blazingly fast in day-to-day use, even if you've got all of your favourite apps loaded up at once and dozens of tabs on the go in your web browser. The Geekbench benchmark scores of 930 (single core), 2815 (multi core) and 5098 (OpenCL) confirm that this is one of the most powerful smartphones ever released – so powerful in fact, that it offers more speed than a lot of people are really going to need.

Once again though, the key feature of the Note 20 Ultra 5G – as with other Notes before it – is the S Pen. This super-responsive stylus is the main reason most people will get this phone, and it gives you the usual, slick pointing and scribbling performance we've become accustomed to from this accessory. As well as reducing the latency even further from the Note 10, it now supports more remote shortcuts and gestures than ever before, and it's really handy for operating the phone camera via remote control.

5G is on board, as the name gives away, but you'd expect that in 2020 and at this price. You get just about everything you could possibly want in a smartphone, bar perhaps a headphone jack: wireless charging, a microSD card slot, an in-screen fingerprint sensor and even AKG-tuned audio, which sounds perfectly fine. The phone comes with Android 10 on board, and the OneUI that Samsung sticks on top of that continues to improve (even if we still prefer the stock Android experience of the Pixels).

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G review: price and verdict

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G

(Image credit: Samsung)

With a starting price significantly above £1,000 or $1,000, this is not a phone for the faint-hearted. With so many great phones costing significantly less, you're going to really want the best specs and the best screen on the market to think about investing in a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G. The biggest reason to buy the Note 20 Ultra is the same as it's always been with the Note – the stylus you get with it.

The S Pen has been fantastic for several years now, and it's better than ever with the new improvements. Add to that a camera that's great, particularly in terms of optical zoom, and you have your two biggest reasons to pick up this phone. It's also absolutely packed with power, has a fantastic, super-sized display, and is really nicely designed too.

It's hard to put top-tier smartphones in any kind of order nowadays, as they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of powerful, appealing phones that cost significantly less than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G, and some of them have better battery life and better cameras too. That makes it a tough call as to whether you should spend all that money on this – especially which other Note 20 and Galaxy S20 models to pick from.

In the end, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is the phone for the person who wants everything: a premium design, excellent performance, a really good camera, 5G connectivity and a stylus, all wrapped up in one very expensive package. If that sounds like you, and you have the budget to afford it, you won't be disappointed by what this Samsung flagship has to offer.