24 hours with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Big, beautiful, and a little backwards
It's a good thing I've got a couple of spare camera batteries and some new lenses to break in, because my camera will basically be glued to my hands for the next week or two. Yesterday, FedEx came by (a little later than expected) and dropped off two packages, containing Samsung's just-announced Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy Watch 3.
Both came in the new Mystic Bronze color that Samsung made — ahem — quite a fuss over during its Unpacked live stream, and it's absolutely gorgeous, though as many have pointed out, it's much more akin to rose gold than bronze.
Whatever you want to call it, I've been having a lot of fun taking photos of the Note so far, and wanted to share a few of them along with my early thoughts on the phone as someone who spent a considerable portion of the last year using the Galaxy Note 10.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Gorgeous new hardware
The Note 20 Ultra is gorgeous from basically every angle. I know a lot of people have had some Strong Opinions on the giant new camera housing, and it's definitely a unit, especially compared to the relatively slim modules on last year's Note 10+. But it doesn't bother me much; the Ultra definitely doesn't sit flat on a table (at least, not without a case), but it isn't too top-heavy, and I honestly think it looks fine.
More importantly, the new matte texture on the rear glass is a very welcome change from previous years' glossy finishes. Not only does it look better, it keeps your phone from instantly becoming a fingerprint magnet, and even adds a bit of grip to the phone so it doesn't slide out of your hand.
Something I'm not so big on, though, is the relocation of the S Pen over to the left side of the phone. After nine years of Galaxy Notes with the S Pen on the right, it confuses the hell out of me every time I go to press against the righthand corner, only to meet cold, unmoving metal. On the other hand (sorry), this is great news if you're left-handed.
In fact, everything on the Note 20 Ultra is reversed compared to the Note 10+. The bottom-firing speaker is on the opposite side. The volume and power buttons have moved back to the right edge. None of this really affects usability, but I found it interesting regardless.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Improved cameras
I've also been pretty impressed with the cameras, for the most part. The 108MP primary sensor is identical to the one we saw on the Galaxy S20 Ultra, but Samsung added laser-assisted autofocus to help with all of the focusing issues the S20 ran into. So far, I've had zero issues with close-up subjects or wide landscape shots, though it's still a little early for me to definitively say "problem solved."
I still have all of my usual Samsung camera complaints. Colors are way overexaggerated, and the Note 20 Ultra still ramps up low light shots out of what I can only assume is sheer terror that you might lose a tiny bit of shadow detail. There's also the same haloing effect around backlit objects that I've run into with every Samsung phone in recent memory.
Still, dynamic range is great, and just like I experienced on the S20 Ultra and even the S20+, the massive sensor is able to achieve extremely impressive natural depth of field with nearby subjects that could even trick the untrained eye into thinking you're shooting with a DSLR.
Another good sign: zooming seems to be a lot more usable at its upper limits than I had expected. The Note 20 Ultra shares wide-angle and ultra-wide sensors with the S20 Ultra, but the telephoto sensor is totally new. It's 12MP, down from 48MP on the S20 Ultra, but it offers 5x optical zoom, and has both a wider aperture than before at f/3.0 and larger individual pixels at 1 micron.
In our initial hands-on coverage, both Andrew Martonik and I theorized that the lower resolution would have a negative impact on distant zooming, while the 5x perspective would be better for closer zoom ranges than the S20 Ultra's 4x telephoto. To my surprise, not only does 5x look great, but 20x and even 50x, the maximum zoom distance on the Note 20 Ultra, remain relatively clear.
There's still plenty of testing to be done. I didn't get my review unit yesterday until about 11 AM, so it's hard to quantify things like battery life just yet — though as I finish up this article at 4:45 PM, having started my day at 7:30 AM, I'm sitting at 65% with 3.5 hours of screen-on time, which definitely instills some confidence.
This is far from a full review, but hopefully it gives you a good idea of what to expect from the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra until I've had time to gather some more complete thoughts. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my review video — and keep an eye out for my review of the Galaxy Watch 3 as well, coming soon to the site!
Have a great weekend!
So far, so good
Large and in charge
It's still too early to give any conclusive thoughts, but the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is certainly shaping up to be one of the best phones of the year, with incredibly powerful specs and cameras that should meet just about anyone's needs.
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Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.