Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G Review Part 1: Striking Design, Fluid Display

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is the first smartphone with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus.

The smartphone flaunts a massive 6.9-inch display with a refresh rate of 120Hz.

It features a triple rear camera set-up with a 108MP primary camera sensor.

2020 has been a difficult year after the COVID-19 outbreak. But that has not stopped smartphone makers from innovating. The year started with the launch of Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, with features including 108MP quad cameras, 5G and high refresh rate display. Xiaomi entered the ultra-premium segment with the Mi 10 while OnePlus matured from being a flagship killer to flagship grade with the OnePlus 8 seriesOppo introduced its ultra-premium Find X2 Pro, whereas Vivo innovated by adding a gimbal camera system to the X50 Pro. And that brings us to the highly anticipated smartphone of the year, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.

With a starting price of $1,299, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the most advanced smartphones available in the market today. Compared to last year’s Galaxy Note 10+, Samsung has improved the note-taking experience on the new smartphone. There are design refinements, upgraded cameras with 50X zooming capabilities, and a high refresh rate display. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is also more tightly integrated with Microsoft productivity and gaming apps. In a nutshell, the smartphone has all the bells and whistles that power users could appreciate. But does it deliver on the promise? We will answer that in our review as we take a deep dive into each aspect of the phone starting this week.

CMF: Mystic Bronze is the new gold standard

The Galaxy Note line has always been the first to embrace Corning’s new Gorilla Glass solutions, and the same continues with the Note 20 Ultra 5G too. It is the first smartphone to feature the new Corning Gorilla Glass Victus both on the front and the back. The company says it is twice as scratch-resistant as the previous generation. It can survive drops of up to two meters, compared to 1.6 meters on the Gorilla Glass 6.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g vs note 10 plus

The Galaxy Note 10 with Aura Glow color was one of the sexiest looking phones that changed colors as light reflected from different sides on the back. But having a glossy surface had two major disadvantages – it was slippery and was a big fingerprint magnet. With the Note 20 Ultra 5G, Samsung has opted for a frosted glass finish which takes care of both the issues. It is not slippery and does not attract fingerprints easily.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review back

Further, as we continue to talk about the CMF (Color Material Finish), Samsung deserves a shoutout for the new Mystic Bronze color. It is undoubtedly one of the most striking, elegant and sophisticated looking Galaxy phones yet. The aura of this color is such that people had been asking me about the phone every time I took it out in front of my family and friends. And there is a small gradient effect to it too. When looking from an angle with mild sunlight, at times, it appears like the Rose Gold color.

Samsung has nailed the CMF part in making Mystic Bronze the new gold standard.

Design: Minor tweaks bring some learning curve

Design-wise, you still get a big slab of metal sandwiched between the glass on the front and the back. The edges are curved on the sides, which is something that we have seen since the Galaxy Note 7. There are two major changes that the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G brings on the design front, and it will need some learning curve to get used to, especially if you are a Note 9 or Note 10 user.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review buttons

To begin with, the volume rocker and power buttons have been moved from the left to the right. This is good news for people who use their phones with the right hand. But for people who use their phones with the left hand, it will need a bit of time to get adjusted to the new layout. I, for once, have been using the Galaxy Note 10+ for a year now, and right after switching to the Note 20 Ultra 5G, the muscle memory of my left-hand thumb always acts whenever I want to control the volume or lock the screen.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review top and bottom
Ports placement Galaxy Note 20 Ultra (top), Galaxy Note 10+ (bottom)

Second is a major change, which has happened after 10 generations since the first Galaxy Note was launched. I am talking about the S Pen stylus here. From the first Galaxy Note to the Galaxy Note 10+, it has always been on the right edge, but with the new Note 20 Ultra 5G, the S Pen is now on the left.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review s pen

What prompted this change in position? I believe it has to do with the big camera sensor and 5G RF antennas that Samsung had to accommodate in the design. Again, there is a small learning curve, but two or three weeks after using the phone, you will likely get used to it.

The Note 20 Ultra changes the placement of S Pen, volume rocker and power button, and it takes time getting used it.

There is one more annoying part of the design which may bother some users. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G brings a giant triple camera module on the back with a big camera bump. From an engineering point, I get that this was needed to accommodate the periscope-style zoom functionality. But it makes the weight distribution uneven. Even Oppo has offered a periscope-style zoom without needing a big camera bump.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review camera module

The problem with the bump is that when your phone is placed on a table facing its back, it wobbles. And unlike the previous models, Samsung has not even shipped the smartphone with a cover case, so that becomes an additional purchase for the users.

The big camera bump at the back makes the phone wobble when placed on a flat surface.

Display: One of the best-looking screens on a smartphone

There is no doubt that Samsung is a pioneer of AMOLED screens. With every new iteration of the Galaxy S and Note-series smartphones, the company has improved the touch and display experience. The Note 20 Ultra 5G flaunts a big 6.9-inch WQHD+ Dynamic AMOLED display. The screen has a resolution of 3088×1440 pixels and a refresh rate of 120Hz. It is also HDR10+ certified which makes content viewing on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video a pleasurable experience.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g review front

It is also the first Note-series smartphone to come with a variable, high-refresh-rate screen. The motion is incredibly smooth, and it is visible to your eyes when scrolling through menus or webpages. But the way this variable refresh rate works here is different from the other smartphones.

Motion smoothness is easily noticeable when playing games or scrolling through the menus.

The refresh rate varies from 60Hz to 120Hz depending on the screen resolution you choose. If you want to enjoy the high refresh rate benefits, you will have to scale down to FHD+ resolution and choose the Adaptive option under display settings. It will automatically adjust the refresh rate depending on the content and help save battery life. Though, I think an option of at least 90Hz by default for WQHD+ resolution would have been better. Since I got the Note 20 Ultra 5G, I have been using it at FHD+ resolution, and there is no visible difference in the reduced sharpness.

counterpoint samsung galaxy note 20 ultra 5g variable refresh rate

Otherwise, the panel is gorgeous. It is bright enough to offer great legibility under harsh sunlight. The colors are punchy, blacks are deep and whites are bright. Viewing angles are good too. No matter what content you are viewing on the screen, be it movies or games or simply scrolling through Instagram timeline, the display is a pleasure to look at.

We will keep updating the review as we test the phone more over the next few weeks. Next up, we will talk about the cameras in-depth, so stay tuned for that.

Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones