In what may be the device’s swan song, the newest Samsung Galaxy Note, dubbed the Note 20 5G, has landed, and if it is indeed the last of its kind, the Note 20 series is going out on a high note.

The Galaxy Note 20 5G comes in two editions: Note 20 5G and Note 20 Ultra 5G (guess what – they support 5G). We received the Note 20 Ultra 5G for review, in the flagship colour of Mystic Bronze. It’s also available in Mystic Black.

As you can guess from the name, everything about the Ultra is bigger. Its display is bigger: 6.9 inches vs 6.7 inches for the Note 20; it’s heavier: 208 grams vs 198 grams; and–to no surprise–the price is bigger, too: starting at CA$1,819 versus the CA$1,400 of the Note 20 5G.

Unlike the Galaxy S (GS) series, which is sleek and curved, the Note is squared off, with flat ends, tiny bezels, and a not-too-curved screen that doesn’t wrap around the edges too much. I like that; it means when I pick up the phone, I don’t accidentally activate apps. One additional benefit of the device being relatively flat is that, unlike the Galaxy S series, the Note doesn’t slither off the table if it’s not on a perfectly horizontal surface.

Despite its boxy look, the Note 20 is gorgeous. Its Mystic Bronze back (Gorilla Glass Victus on the Ultra, but polycarbonate on the base model) has a matte finish so fingerprints are not as much of an issue as they are on the shiny GS series.

However, the rear camera bump is substantial on all of this year’s Galaxy offerings, and the Note Ultra is no different. The bump is 1 3/4 ” x 1″ and is a good 1/8″ high. It’s like a little pedestal when the phone is on its back.

The bump. Photo by Lynn Greiner.

Marching around the periphery of the phone, on the right we see the volume rocker and power button. On top, there’s the SIM tray, which also will hold a microSD card with up to 1 TB capacity (the base Note doesn’t support SD). On the left, there are no buttons, just a pristine sweep of Mystic Bronze, and the bottom houses a speaker, a USB C port, the S Pen dock, and no, there is not a headphone jack. In fact, Samsung doesn’t even include headphones in the box. It does, however, unlike Apple with iPhone 12, include a power adapter.

The S Pen, docked on the opposite side to that of the Note 10 just to keep us on our toes, is the same greatly improved version that arrived with Galaxy Tab S7+ tablet that ITWC reviewed in August, so I won’t dwell on it except to say that it writes as nicely on the Note’s screen is it did on the Tab S7. The pens are also interchangeable, meaning you won’t have to constantly switch between two if you have both the Note and the Tab.

About that screen – as on the GS 20, the refresh rate has been kicked up to 120Hz at FHD+ (it will step down to 60Hz to save battery when appropriate). The Super AMOLED display is capable of more – WQHD+ (3088 x 1440) but only at 60 Hz. It’s set to FHD+ out of the box. It has no notch, just a small hole in the centre for the 10MP front camera lens. As for quality, well, Samsung lives up to its usual high display standard. You can choose from Vivid or Natural screen colour modes, and in Vivid mode you can fiddle with colour and white balance as well.

The in-screen fingerprint sensor is, quite frankly, a royal pain. It’s finicky and slow, and if you don’t hold your finger down on exactly the right spot for a good second it will insist there’s no match. Reviewers have been complaining about this for several years but Samsung hasn’t managed to sort it out yet, though other vendors like Huawei have managed to do so.

The rear cameras include a 12MP ultra-wide camera, a 108MP wide-angle camera, and a 12MP telephoto camera, plus a laser autofocus (AF) sensor to improve performance in closeups and under low light. You get 5x optical zoom, and up to 50x hybrid zoom.

The camera performed well, although in its default photo mode, the camera muted some colours, such as those of autumn leaves, which struck me as odd (Samsung cameras, if anything, usually oversaturate images). This comparison shot of the same leaves, taken with last year’s Huawei P30 Pro, more closely resembles human vision. Indoor shots were fine – the two phones matched evenly.

Note 20 Ultra
Huawei P30 Pro.

Battery life, of course, varies based on your activity. I easily got a day out of a charge, although others have complained of only getting 7 or 8 hours. The specs say up to 15 hours Internet usage, up to 23 hours video playback and up to 103 hours audio playback – “up to” being the operative phrase.

Wireless charging is supported, and Wireless PowerShare allows the phone to kickstart other fading devices – as long as its own charge is above 30 per cent. It works for any vendor’s devices supporting Qi wireless charging, including phones, watches, and earbuds. It’s very slow, and there’s one big thing to be aware of – the phone will continue feeding the device being charged until said device is topped up, or the phone’s charge drops to the level you specify (default is 30 percent). The phone will also disable Wireless PowerShare if it’s running on full throttle.

As far as computing power goes, this is a flagship phone and performed accordingly. It’s got plenty of muscle, configured as it is with an Qualcomm’s flagship octa-core Snapdragon 865+ processor, 12 GB RAM and 128 or 512GB of storage (plus that 1 TB expandability via microSD).

The Samsung Galaxy Note has had a chequered past. It went from being a cool phablet to an incendiary device in 2016 when enough batteries caught fire that Samsung was forced to recall the Note 7. Then it recovered to march through the drama-free Note 8, Note 9, and last year’s Note 10. But the bottom line: the Note 20 Ultra 5G a lovely phone with plenty of power. The downsides are few – that fingerprint sensor is a disaster, and it’s very expensive – but if your budget will stretch to it, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is a winner.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada


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