Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra: Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra (Image credit: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Note 20 Ultra is arguably a better overall phone than the S20 Ultra thanks to its camera improvements, dynamic refresh rate display, smaller size, and lower price tag. That it also has an S Pen is just icing on the cake.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

S Pen power

Dynamic refresh rate display
S Pen features
Less expensive
Laser autofocus camera
Smaller battery
Lower resolution selfie camera

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

The S20 Ultra is a tough sell because it's now several months old yet more expensive (at retail price) than the Note 20 Ultra. Its one redeeming quality is a larger battery, which only offers a small improvement in day-to-day usage.

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Tougher sell

10% larger battery
40MP selfie camera
Higher-resolution zoom camera
More expensive
No camera laser auto focus
No S Pen in box

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Price & availability

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra macro

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

The Galaxy S20 Ultra had an early head start on the Note 20 Ultra, which was originally released back on March 6 for $1,400. That price lands you 128GB of expandable storage and 12GB of RAM in either of two colors: Cosmic Black or Cosmic Gray. Though there was initially an upgraded for 512GB, it seems to have been phased out of Samsung's offerings.

Samsung released the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra much later, hitting store shelves Aug. 21 for $1,300 in a single configuration with the same 128GB of storage and 12GB of RAM. The Note 20 Ultra is available in three color options: Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, and Mystic White — the latter two of which feature a glossy finish, while Mystic Bronze comes in a matte frosted finish.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Size, display and specs

As the "Ultra" names would suggest, there's a whole lot shared between these two phones, which stand as ostensibly two of the best Android phones currently on the market. They're built with the same main components and features, with only small differences. You get the same RAM and storage, SD card slot, fingerprint sensor, speakers, connectivity, IP68 resistance, and more. The Note 20 Ultra's display is a small step ahead with its dynamic refresh rate, but that should help get a little better longevity out of its 10% smaller 4,500 mAh battery.

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CategoryGalaxy Note 20 UltraGalaxy S20 Ultra
Operating SystemAndroid 10One UI 2.5Android 10One UI 2.5
Display6.9-inchAMOLED3088 x 1440120Hz refresh rate6.9-inchAMOLED3200 x 1440120Hz refresh rate
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 865+Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Expandable StorageYesYes
Rear Camera 1108MP primaryf/1.8OIS108MP primaryf/1.8OIS
Rear Camera 212MP telephotof/3.05X optical zoom48MP telephotof/3.54X optical zoom
Rear Camera 312MP ultra-widef/2.212MP ultra-widef/2.2
Front Camera10MPf/2.240MPf/2.2
SecurityIn-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensorIn-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
AudioStereo speakersUSB-CStereo speakersUSB-C
Battery4500 mAh5000 mAh
Charging25W wired15W wireless45W wired15W wireless
Water ResistanceIP68IP68
Dimensions77.2 x 164.8 x 8.1 mm76.0 x 166.9 x 8.8 mm
Weight208 g220 g

The differences are subtle, but the Note 20 Ultra has the upper hand.

There are subtle differences in the design, but you can see they were cut from the same cloth. The Note 20 Ultra is considerably more squared-off, whereas the S20 Ultra is more rounded. The Note's back glass is a matte texture as well, which makes it look nicer but is a bit more slippery than the glossy back on the S20. Otherwise, all of the ports and buttons are the same, leading to a very familiar layout. There are subtle differences in size, though, and surprisingly the Note 20 Ultra is the smaller of the two — only by a few millimeters, and about 5% in weight, but it's smaller.

Where there used to be a slight difference in software as well, the S20 Ultra recently received an update from One UI 2.1 to 2.5, bringing it up to speed with the Note 20 Ultra. With the update comes welcome additions like Wireless DeX, allowing you to cast either phone's display to a Miracast-compatible TV with a few simple taps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Cameras

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central and Andrew Martonik / Android Central

The cameras are mostly the same, but with two notable changes. The S20 Ultra has been criticized for its weak auto focus, and the Note 20 Ultra aims to address that with a new laser autofocusing system. The Note also has an entirely different telephoto camera, with a 5X optical zoom to the S20's 4X, and a wider aperture paired with larger pixels to ideally take better photos at 5-15X. The only potential downside is those long zoom shots, where the S20 Ultra's 48MP sensor will do better; but "better" is relative, as the camera's not shown to be very effective beyond 25X anyway.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Which should you buy?

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra Bader

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Samsung set itself up for a weird situation when it priced the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra under the S20 Ultra because, frankly, at the full retail price there's little reason to buy the S20 Ultra. The Note 20 Ultra introduces improved autofocus for the camera, and a better zoom camera, which addresses the main concerns about the S20 Ultra. It's also subtly smaller, and a bit lighter, than the S20 Ultra. You also get the S Pen — for free! — which brings its own value to the equation.

It's worth noting, however, that while both phones have fluctuated a bit in price over the last few months, the S20 Ultra is currently $200 off at Amazon, which makes it $100 cheaper than the Note 20 Ultra. At that point, it becomes a bit more tempting, though you still may want to spend the extra money to get the improved autofocus system and S Pen.

The Note 20 Ultra is the better buy ... unless you want to save more and go with the S20+.

The only concern when choosing the Note 20 Ultra is the battery, which is 10% smaller than the S20 Ultra. However, the dynamic refresh rate reduces the Note 20 Ultra's display to as low as 11Hz when the UI elements are inactive, which helps offset the difference in capacity.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether you should be looking at the Galaxy S20+ instead. It's a little smaller than the Note 20 Ultra, but it's also less expensive — so if you don't need the S Pen, you can save even more money and get the same core Galaxy experience.

Andrew Martonik

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.