Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review: A love note to Note lovers

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review: A love note to Note lovers

Our Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review found three clear reasons to make the jump to this new flagship phone: Mystic Bronze, laser autofocus, and the S Pen’s new 8ms latency. And if you’re looking for any reasons not to, well, there are plenty of those in this review too—namely, it’s gigantic, expensive, and not a huge upgrade over the S20 Ultra.

note 20 ultra screen Michael Simon/IDG

The 6.9-inch screen on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra definitely needs two hands to operate.

But if you’re a Note fan, you know exactly what you’re getting and you know you want it: the biggest, fastest, and most powerful Android phone you can buy. For everyone else, it’s not so simple.

Samsung’s flagships have gotten so good that reviews of them are all basically the same: Yes they have the best specs, but they’re also the most expensive (although the Note 20 Ultra actually costs $100 less than the S20 Ultra). The math is brutally clear: Even with trade-ins and carrier offers, you’re still going to be paying more for this phone than for any other Note that came before it.

There’s no doubt that you’re getting a lot for your money with the Note 20 Ultra. But Samsung has raised the bar so high, the best might not be worth the price of admission anymore.

note 20 ultra buttons Michael Simon/IDG

Sorry, Bixby lovers, the dedicated button is gone for good.

Big, bold, bright, and beautiful

There’s no nice way to say it: The Note 20 Ultra is the most unwieldy phone I’ve ever used. Granted, it’s about 15 grams lighter than the S20 Ultra, three-quarters of a millimeter thinner, and only a couple of millimeters wider, but that phone was already at the upper limit of what my hands and pockets could handle. The extra width on the Note 20 Ultra, along with its very boxy shape, makes it feel incredibly uncomfortable to handle and carry.

The unwieldiness is due in no small part to the camera bump. You’ve seen it in photos, and it’s every bit as obtrusive as it looks. The Note 20 Ultra’s impressive thinness actually works against it here, making the bump feel much thicker by comparison. The size also means it’s tough to use when resting on a table. I even encountered some issues with charging pads. A case would help, but you wouldn’t want to use one.

note 20 ultra bezels Michael Simon/IDG

The bezels aren’t completely gone on the Note 20 Ultra, but they’re not very visible.

Why? Because the Note 20 Ultra is flat-out gorgeous. Samsung’s new colors are dubbed “Mystic,” and they give the Note a refinement and dignity that contrasts with the pop-culture vibe one gets from the S20 Ultra’s bright, iridescent “Cosmic” colorways. 

The Note 20 Ultra has a luscious matte finish that’s nicer than what I’ve seen on any Galaxy phone I’ve ever used. It doesn’t need to grow on you like the iPhone 11 Pro’s Midnight Green, or wait for the right light like the Note 10’s Aura Glow. It repels fingerprints like it was made of plastic, and it has a better grip than the glossy S20 does. The new bronze color’s matching, stainless-steel sides add a touch of sophistication, accentuated by the slivers of color that peek out above and below the display. You’d be nuts to get any other color and even more nuts to put a case on it, even a clear one.

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