If Samsung doesn’t release a new Galaxy Note smartphone in 2021, which seems very likely, should you still consider buying the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra? Released in late August in 2020, the phone received our coveted Editor’s Choice award at the time but has since been largely passed over by the excellent Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Should it be forgotten in this way? I’ve been using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra for a week now and can confidently say that it is still an excellent smartphone, except for one, pretty important area. It’s a big deal, and along with the S21 Ultra’s shadow hanging over it means that even the Note 20 Ultra’s many positives can’t make it an absolute must-buy, a shock when it’s barely been a year in. his life is.
Samsung S21 vs Note 20 Ultra – Not too big anymore?
First, let’s take a look at what makes the Note 20 Ultra such a great smartphone, and the list is long and extensive. It is beautifully made, the finish has proven to be hardwearing and the Mystic Bronze color is still a real eye-catcher. I also like the square, huge design of the camera module. It has aged very well.
I remember taking the first few weeks of using the Note 20 Ultra in 2020 to adjust to the overall size of the phone. I noted in my review how I missed a smaller, handier-sized phone for quick tasks. The proliferation of phones with huge screens released since then has dulled the size of the Note 20 Ultra. This time it didn’t feel too big at all, except when it’s in my pocket.
Don’t get me wrong, the Note 20 Ultra is still big and heavy, has a slight balance towards the top, and will stretch out the pocket of your jeans. But it is out of sync with other phones in its category. Don’t forget the S21 Ultra too, you can place it next to the Galaxy S21+ and discover it’s not all that different. Obviously, the phone hasn’t gotten any smaller, but the phones around it have definitely gotten bigger. The net result is that the Note 20 Ultra no longer feels like an outsider, but rather is more “standard”, at least among flagship phones. Phones weighing around 200 grams or more are common, making the Note 20 Ultra’s 208 grams weight feel “normal” compared to the competition.
One thing to note is the unusual chatter you can hear on the Note 20 Ultra. It’s distracting and makes it sound like something is broken in the expensive phone, but according to Samsung, it’s not supposed to be a bug or problem and is apparently caused by the camera’s autofocus system. After using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra on and off for nearly a year, the chatter continues but hasn’t gotten worse or affected the camera’s performance.
Samsung S21 vs Note 20 Ultra – Software and the stylus
My Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has Android 11 with Samsung’s One UI 3.1 installed, along with Google’s July Android security patch. It has all been smooth, fast, and completely reliable. Compared to a Galaxy S21+, which has the same software, there are a few differences, one of which I find frustrating. Swipe right on the home screen on the Galaxy S21+ and you can view Google Discover or the Samsung Free feed. On the Note 20 Ultra, it is locked to Samsung Free with no option to switch.
Samsung Free uses Upday as a news aggregator, a collection of links to news stories that only take you to another brief overview of one sentence of the story, requiring you to tap another link to get to the full piece. It is littered with advertisements at every stage. Google Discover is more informative, less annoying, and if you regularly use Google’s services, more tailored to your preferences and effective at highlighting stories you might like. Why this isn’t available on the Note 20 Ultra is a mystery.
I’m not an artist or a prolific note-taker, so I don’t take advantage of the capabilities of the S Pen stylus in any of these areas, but I do find it useful as a remote shutter release for the camera. It works for both stills and video, and it not only allows you to take more natural positions when taking selfies but also shoots video that requires less editing. It’s really helpful. I also like the translation feature, where the mouse pointer over text is translated into your chosen language. While the translations are shaky at times, it’s better than nothing and much faster than copying and pasting the text into Google Translate or Papago.
Samsung S21 vs Note 20 Ultra – Photos and Security
The camera remains one of Samsung’s best. It doesn’t beat the Galaxy S21 Ultra, but its versatility – main, wide-angle, and telephoto cameras – makes it just as useful in everyday situations. Consistency between the main and wide-angle cameras is where it suffers the most, with differences in exposure and dynamic range being immediately apparent. Focusing can also be problematic and you have to force the camera to focus on the intended area when you get close to a subject or settle for a tight central focus.
These points are not unique to the Note 20 Ultra’s camera and don’t spoil it in any meaningful way. It may not be Samsung’s camera superstar, but it comes very close and easily competes with phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Oppo Find X3 Pro. I still think the Single Take mode, which uses a quick video to make a selection of photos and shareable short video clips, is fun to use, and much more useful than most of the added features we get on cameras these days.
My time with the Note 20 Ultra has been very positive for the most part, except for one thing: security. It was bad in 2020, and it’s even worse now. The fingerprint sensor is so unreliable that I disabled it, and this is a really bad thing to have to do. Face unlock is ready as a backup but is also slow and only recognizes my face every three or four times. Every other time I have to use my PIN to unlock the Note 20 Ultra. Given the cost of the phone, this is not acceptable.
The hateful fingerprint sensor problem is largely hardware-based — it uses an old sensor compared to the much-improved newer version on the Galaxy S21 Ultra — and if there have been any software improvements to make it work better, I haven’t noticed them.
Samsung S21 vs Note 20 Ultra – Worth buying in 2021?
If the security system worked as it should on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, it would be a recommendation to buy today, but it isn’t. It really lets an otherwise excellent phone down. The Note 20 Ultra is still the best phone to use with a stylus, for example, although the experience on the S21 Ultra is similar, there’s nowhere to keep the pen when you’re not using it unless you opt for a thick, ugly case.
It runs the latest software and has also received regular updates, which will also take a few years. The screen is fantastic, it’s no longer the monster in the hand it was almost a year ago (at least in comparison), and the camera keeps up with most newer phones. I like the stylish look and the way it feels like a really expensive piece of technology. It’s all high quality, if you ignore the fingerprint sensor, on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
I really like the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, but Samsung makes it very difficult to recommend a purchase today, due to the aggressive Galaxy S21 Ultra prices. The 128GB Galaxy Note 20 Ultra costs $1,200, which is the same retail price as the 128GB Galaxy S21 Ultra. At the time of writing, Samsung is charging $1,000 for the 128GB S21 Ultra, or $1,050 for the 256GB model. It is both cheaper and better than the Note 20 Ultra. The reason to buy the Note 20 Ultra in 2021 is hard to make unless you absolutely want to have the S Pen with you at all times, mainly due to the poor performance of a very important piece of hardware, the fingerprint sensor, and Samsung. charges less for a newer, superior smartphone. We really don’t need a new Galaxy Note phone this year, but a Note 20 Ultra FE would be most welcome, with just a change to the fingerprint sensor needed to make it an absolute winner.