Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review: Exceeding my Ultra-high expectations

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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review: Exceeding my Ultra-high expectations

The Galaxy Note 20 is one of Samsung’s most perplexing devices in years. It has most of the modern appointments of a 2020 flagship, including 5G support, a top-of-the-line processor, and a trio of high-quality cameras, but it also ditches the luxe glass backing of its ultra counterpart in favor of a plastic one, and features a relatively dated 60Hz 1080p display.

On paper, these compromises can make the Note 20 seem like a hard sell compared to the Ultra, especially given the abundance of comparably high-end options like the Oneplus 8 Pro at lower price points. But in my time with the Galaxy Note 20, I’ve come to appreciate it as a more practical device than even the pricier Note 20 Ultra that I used just before it. As it turns out, those hardware tradeoffs aren’t so bad.

The Good

  • No accidental touch input on the flat display
  • Excellent battery life
  • Impressive camera performance
  • Promised three years of software updates
  • One UI 2.5 introduces useful features like Wireless DeX

The Bad

  • No Super Resolution Zoom
  • No expandable storage
  • Display is limited to 1080p and 60Hz

The Galaxy Note 20 launched on August 21 for $999.99, with a single configuration featuring 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. Since then, the Note 20 has already seen discounts bringing it to around $800 through most retailers. You can pick up a Note 20 in Mystic Gray, Mystic Green, or Mystic Bronze. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the debate around Samsung’s decision to use a plastic backing on the Note 20, but I was surprised by how solid the phone still feels in the hand. There’s the slightest bit of give in the plastic if you apply enough pressure, but the Note 20 doesn’t creak or feel at all cheap, and the matte finish feels reminiscent of the frosted glass on the Mystic Bronze Note 20 Ultra. In case you’re worried about long-term durability, the Galaxy Note 20 also has an aluminum midframe.

The flat display is a fantastic change of pace for Samsung’s high-end lineup.

The plastic design also helps the Note 20 feel a bit lighter than the Note 20 Ultra, and while the rounded corners are a bit odd to see on a Galaxy Note device (most of which feature a more squared-off look), they keep the phone from poking uncomfortably into your hand.

Of course, in typical Samsung fashion, the quality of the display is excellent, as well. The Galaxy Note 20 uses a Super AMOLED Plus panel with rich colors, great daylight visibility, and a low enough minimum setting to use comfortably at night. It isn’t perfect — more on that in a little bit — but there’s still plenty to love here.

Note 20’s battery life. The 4300mAh battery is only marginally smaller than the Note 20 Ultra’s 4500mAh cell, but between the display’s smaller size, lower resolution, and lower refresh rate, have been able to hit all the way up to 7 hours of screen-on time with ease, ending most days with around 30% battery life remaining.

On the camera side, you don’t get the Note 20 Ultra’s enormous 108MP camera or periscope-style telephoto lens, but the Note 20’s imaging is nothing to scoff at. The main camera uses a 12MP sensor that’s larger than the one on last year’s Galaxy Note 10 at 1.8 microns, which helps it take in more light and perform better in dark situations.

Elsewhere, you get a 12MP 1.4-micron ultra-wide sensor, and a 64MP 0.8-micron telephoto sensor with 3X Hybrid Optic Zoom that can be pushed up to 30X through digital zoom. Of course, that pales in comparison to the Note 20 Ultra’s 50X zoom, or the S20 Ultra’s 100X, and in my experience the Note 20’s telephoto sensor only retains a useful amount of detail up to about 10X. Still, I’ve been overall impressed with the Note 20’s cameras, a marked improvement over the Note 10’s.


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