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The Galaxy Note 20 is the best and worst phone Samsung has ever made

Galaxy Note 20 Bronze
Galaxy Note 20 Bronze (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

Unless you ignored the entire tech world last week, chances are you've heard about Samsung's new Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra. These were two of the most highly-anticipated phones of 2020, continuing Samsung's high-end Note series with ample upgrades compared to last year's Note 10.

At least, that's partly true. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has all of the new features and specs you'd hope to see in a Samsung flagship, and it does so at an appropriately high price. The regular Note 20, by comparison, is really confusing. It's missing a lot of the Ultra's standout features, is worse than the Note 10 in some regards, and does all of this while still selling for $1,000 outright. It's a phone that's gotten Note fans scratching their heads, and rightfully so. From Samsung's perspective, however, it may be one of the smartest business decisions it's ever made.

Just to make sure everyone's up to speed, let's do a small recap on why people are freaking out over the Note 20.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy Note 20

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

It all starts with the display, which does retain a Super AMOLED panel for vibrant colors and deep blacks. However, Samsung maxes out the resolution at Full HD+ and only offers a 60Hz refresh rate. Full HD/60Hz screens still exist in 2020, but typically only with budget/mid-range handsets — not flagships that cost as much as the Note 20 does. There's also the fact that the Note 20 has a plastic back instead of a glass one, making it the first mainline Note to do this since the Galaxy Note 4 from 2014.

If you follow the industry, a 60Hz screen and plastic back are insulting features for a $1000 phone.

Those are the two main things that have Note fans upset, but the downgrades continue with various other aspects of the phone. You're only getting a 12MP primary camera instead of the Note 20 Ultra's 108MP one, the battery is smaller, there's no expandable storage, you get less RAM, and worse S Pen latency. You may not care about all of those, but they add up to create an overall worse smartphone.

Looking at the Galaxy Note 20 from the eyes of a smartphone enthusiast, it's a pretty big dud. The Note 20 just doesn't compare to other similarly-priced flagships, and when stacked up against the $350 Pixel 4a (opens in new tab), it's flat-out ridiculous. Samsung is absolutely aware of this, as all of the decisions that went into making the Note 20 were very conscious and planned. This isn't a phone for you and me — it's a phone for carriers.

Galaxy Note 20 Vs Note 20 Ultra Bronze

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

In the United States, the vast majority of people still buy their phone from their local carrier store or website. It's how people in the country have been conditioned to buy phones over the years, and it's something that likely won't go away anytime soon. Normal people don't hunt to make sure their new phone has the very latest Snapdragon processor or has a certain amount of RAM. Instead, they just care about buying a phone from a company they know and getting it at a decently monthly rate.

Normal shoppers will just see this as another Note, and that's exactly what Samsung wants.

On Verizon's website, you can buy the regular Note 20 for $41.66/month or get the Note 20 Ultra for $54.16/month. If someone knows they like Samsung/Note phones and wants to get one while spending as little as possible, there's no reason for them to not buy the Note 20.

Note phones have been around for almost a decade, they're synonymous for being high-end devices, and they're still the only smartphone that ships with the S Pen. Everyone knows what a Note is these days, and the vast majority of people won't bat an eye at picking up the Note 20 when it comes time for an upgrade.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

While all of this happens, Samsung is going to be raking in sweet, sweet profit margins. We don't have exact numbers of how much the Note 20 costs to manufacture, but between the plastic body, 60Hz display, lesser internal specs compared to the Note 20 Ultra, and a $50 price hike over last year's Note 10, it has to be a pretty profitable phone. Carriers still get to market it as a high-end flagship, consumers will buy it being none the wiser, and Samsung gets to lessen its production costs.

Call it greedy or unfair if you want, but from a business perspective, it's hard to fault what Samsung did here. Samsung exists solely to make money, and with the Note 20, it found a way to make even more while also cutting costs. Regardless of how this makes you feel, it's a formula that any company would happily implement if given a way to do so.

As Michael Corleone once said — "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

41 Comments
  • Even from a business standpoint it's a dangerous game to play. If you stop taking pride in the products you make and start churning out high priced crap, people will leave. Ask Sony.
  • I see what you did there with Sonny and Sony. Well Played!
  • Note20 with a smaller screen but 120hz screen and glass back for $1000 is what Samsung should have done.
  • And expandable storage.
  • The Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra should have been identical except for their display and battery size. I agree with Andrew's point about most Americans buy from carriers, and purchases from phone "enthusiasts" here won't make a huge difference in Samsung's bottom line. But elsewhere, I think Samsung will lose many potential customers who want a premium Note experience but don't want to spend $1300.
  • Plastic phone for a g-whizz? 60hz display, honestly I don't consider the base model Note a Note. A very dissapointing offering. Why not just make one, the Ultra and forget about it!
  • It has a stylus. It is therefore a Note, albeit a very poor one.
  • They should've just called it the Note 20 lite and priced it around $550. It isn't worth any more.
  • You won't find any phone running the 865+ at $550 unless its second-hand. The Qualcomm processor just costs too much for any company to make money at that price point. Are there even any SD 865 phones out there in that price range. I think they are all $899 and up.
  • Perhaps should've had Exynos 990 with a $550 price tag?
  • I have a Note because of the stylus.
    I do not care about the plastic back - the only phone back I've ever broken was glass. I'm delighted the screen is flat, and not bothered that it is 60hz.
    Why I refuse to buy one at any price is the small battery.
    I would not pay that stupid amount of money for a cut down camera.
  • Agree with you. This is great with flat screen, awesome processor and 5G. But like others mentioned, it is bit expensive for its offering. May be waiting for a deal and buying at around $750 will justify its price.
  • I thought it was a brilliant business decision, but only because I figured the little one was designed to push you to the big one. "Only" $300 more, but look at all you get for that $300!
  • I'm out period, actually was waiting on this phone but will never own one unless ,free threw carrier and or some some pts for it . Absolutely rediculus. Samsung's going done the same path as BlackBerry is some ways . Very dangerous move only time will tell.
  • It brutal what they did to the non-Ultra... A Nokia 3310 with a pencil taped to it is more a Note than that thing.....
  • "from a business perspective it's hard to fault ". I look forward to this same logic and thinking applied towards apple.
  • Part of what you are getting with Apple is 5-6 years of software upgrades. There is value in that for people that don't swap out phones often.
  • It's also a phone for existing customers with Samsung Financing like me. Trading in my aging S9, that $1000 price tag drops to $600 for 2x the RAM, 2x the storage, and nearly 2x the battery plus all of the other features like a bigger display, s-pen, etc. Then they throw in a $50 Reserve credit and a $150 Pre-Order credit for accessories and of course I'm buying it. Slap on some armor, which should be the norm in 2020 for devices costing hundreds to north of $1k, and the color or plastic back becomes irrelevant. I may not get the more exceptional features of the Ultra but I do get 90% of them for $300 less and still annihilate most of the specs on my existing phone. We'll see how it turns out in a matter of weeks when they start to ship.
  • Got my Note20 Ultra for $849. There is no reason that anyone should technically end up paying retail.
  • I just ordered my Note 20 ultra and Tab S6 for $985 including tax with Samsung financing. I don't see how people say it's expensive. I get a top of the line phone and still very good tablet for $1k.
  • Yes I had to trade in my Note 10 but at that price it was a steal! The trick to get the lowest price is to get your order and then cancel it, Samsung with ask you to reconsider for 10% off. With all discounts the total with tax was $985.
  • In Israel, for example, the situation is even worse. Not only do we get the less good processor( Exynos 990 instead of Qualcomm 865+) , the Note Ultra only comes with 8Gb of RAM instead of 12 and no support for 5G. The device is slightly cheaper than the one sold in the US but still expensive. When the Galaxy S20U came out I thought of upgrading, but after reading the negative reviews I decided to wait for the Note model, but there is no way I will buy it in the configuration in which Samsung is selling it here!
  • I have no sympathy for anyone who ignorantly makes a $1,000 purchase (monthly plan or not) without doing even the bare minimum research. There's more than enough information easily available to make a rational decision on a phone upgrade.
  • This exactly! I'm not a tech expert just a regular phone user but I always check out the specs and read and watch a good few reviews before making any decision, not just phones. With the amount of easily accessible information there's no need for anyone to be ripped off by companies putting out inferior products because of buyer ignorance. If more people did this they would start making more informed decisions and not just accept what someone telling them in a phone shop is what they want. This in turn would make manufacturers have to be more accountable for what they put out as people will start to realise they getting inferior products. The only way companies will stop cutting corners on specs is when customers get more savvy and stop buying them. Anyone half switched on who did just a minimal check on these phones, especially the Snapdragon/exynos difference would realise Samsung are ripping people off with the exynos processors and hopefully hold Samsung accountable till they change it.
  • That flat screen on the Note 20 is the only thing Samsung got it right.
  • I guess we're sidestepping that Samsung is also not providing headphones? Seems odd that it's being kept quiet... even if the AKG headphones were not any good.
  • The Note20 shouldn't exist period. Samsung is doing a disservice to Note fans on a budget by making this thing available. Even the Note20 Ultra is overpriced for what it brings to the table vs. the Note10+. If you have a Note10 I don't see any reason to upgrade. If you have a Note9 or earlier and need to upgrade I'd look at the Note10. I was considering the Note20 but with all the trade off's and the cost of the Note20 Ultra I'll sit this one out. If I'm going to move to a Note I'll look at getting a Note10+ off of Swappa which can be had for $680-$700. The Note10+ is still an excellent device and is an outstanding deal in the $700 price range it is selling for on Swappa.
  • This. If had a Note 9 or older phone and wanted to upgrade, I'd get a Note 10/10+ from swappa and call it a day. Both are still quite capable phones, and you can get either for almost half the cost of a Note 20 Ultra. The regular Note 20 isn't even worth looking at.
  • The Note 10+ is really nice...
  • I just ordered a Note 20 ultra and Tab S6 for $985.
  • It can exist, but for $400. Not $1000.
  • Might as well buy a Moto G Note and save a ton of money
  • The SD865+ takes a lot of $, who cares about it using plastic? Is easier and cheaper to replace, and with a $1000 phone you should have a good case. 90Hz should be the mainstream. I like the flater Screen and how diferent is the camera?
  • Glass on a phone is a downgrade from plastic. I still can't understand how tech reviewers hopped onto Apple's bandwagon so quickly with the silly slogan that glass is premium and plastic is cheap. That has harmed consumers the most and you guys don't even acknowledge the role you played in this transition. For years, under the cons section of Samsung phones, you listed "plastic". Sometimes you surprisingly came that a plastic phone couldn't have wireless charging. Now Samsung and the lot charge more for glass phones and replace more backs because they break more often, while you guys provide the justification for glass on the back of something you carry around everywhere.
  • ^^^THIS^^^
    I honestly can't tell you the last time I saw a phone out in the wild that didn't have *GASP* a plastic screen protector. The greatest thing about this phone is it will be half off or more with carrier incentives.
  • bad time to shortchange their customers, especially with sales already falling because of other external factors.
  • The Note 20 is terrible. I said I'd wait two more years, but I didn't... Preordered the Note 20 Ultra this morning.
  • tell samsung how you feel about it by Not giving them your money for junk
  • "Call it greedy or unfair if you want, but from a business perspective, it's hard to fault what Samsung did here. Samsung exists solely to make money, and with the Note 20, it found a way to make even more while also cutting costs. Regardless of how this makes you feel, it's a formula that any company would happily implement if given a way to do so." That's quite the observation. It's the same thing that annoys me when I hear "music aficionados" talking about music makers that were once so good but aren't any longer because they're "now so commercial"! Yeah, everyone thinks that *everyone else but themselves* should be providing their skills and IP "out of love". I am not defending Samsung. If I were going to buy a phone now, I wouldn't pay $1,000 for the overpriced, "lowly-specced" regular Note. Or any other $1,000 phone with these specs. But, BUT, people commenting on technology blogs ARE NOT the vast majority of technology consumers (not by a long shot) – who simply gravitate towards the *best deal they THINK they are getting*.
  • It's 2020 so Samsung is Apple, Apple is Oneplus, Oneplus is Google, and Google is HTC.
  • I'm very much a Samsung fanboy, but to me the base model Note20 is an embarrassing venture? A g-whizz for a plastic back, no micro, no 120hz display. Sure the s-pen makes it a Note but at it's price it just pushes you to the Ultra. But with everything going on with the Economy & COVID-19 it's going to be a tough sell at 1400.00 bucks after taxes, yikes! Go buy a Note9 or 10 & save a bundle. Almost identical 🎭 performance & great displays?