Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Quick Review: A Decent Alternative
September 22, 2020 Andrew Cheng

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 series is quite different compared to last year’s iteration. Previously, the regular Note 10 is markedly smaller than the Note 10+, which makes the former more appealing to folks that want a compact flagship. However, this size difference is no longer offered with the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra; both devices are almost the same size.

So then, who is the Galaxy Note 20 for? After spending a few weeks with this device, I do see how it can be appealing to folks that want a more affordable alternative to the far costlier Note 20 Ultra. However, with its more budget-friendly price tag, it does sacrifice on a number of features.

What It Is

Display6.7-inch FHD+ Super AMOLED Plus (2400 x 1080)
ChipsetSamsung Exynos 990 2.73GHz octa-core
GPUMali-G77 MP11
Storage256GB, expandable
Camera (rear)12MP f/1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS
64MP f/2.0 (telephoto), PDAF, OIS, Hybrid Optic Zoom (3x), Digital Zoom (30x)
12MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle)
Camera (front)10MP f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF
Dimensions161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3 mm
OSOne UI based on Android 10
Connectivity5G (optional)
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM3,899 (LTE), RM4,299 (5G)

Without a doubt the hardware disparity between the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra is quite big. Not only does the former lack the Ultra’s faster, sharper 1440p screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, it doesn’t get the more sophisticated 108MP camera system either. Granted, you are saving up to RM1,300 here; that’s an equally big price gap.

Even though it doesn’t compare very favourably to the Note 20 Ultra, the standard Note 20 is still a capable flagship smartphone. It’s powered by the same Exynos 990 chip, its screen is very pleasant to look at, and its triple camera array can take some really good-looking shots. More on that further down this review.

The Good Stuff

Given that the S Pen is the Note’s signature hardware, let’s start with that. Compared to its predecessor, the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 20 got a couple of neat upgrades. It has better latency now – translating to a more fluid writing experience – and the stylus’ Air Actions feature is more fleshed out as well.

Previously, Air Actions can only be used to perform a limited number of things, but it’s now possible to use it to navigate around the phone to an extent. There are gestures to access the recent apps page, go to the home screen, and even going back to the previous page. Basically, it’s more functional now, which can be useful to certain folks.

Aside from that, there’s the fantastic screen of the Galaxy Note 20. Even though it’s not quite as impressive as the Note 20 Ultra’s faster, sharper display, the standard Note 20’s 6.7-inch 1080p Super AMOLED Plus panel is still plenty impressive with vibrant colours and deep, true blacks.

Would it be better if it had a 120Hz refresh rate just like the Ultra? Of course. But that doesn’t take away the fact that this is still a high quality screen.

In the performance department, the Exynos 990 chip under the hood of the Galaxy Note 20 can keep up with any task I throw at it; as expected of a flagship-tier processor. Yes, the Note 20 in other markets do get the faster Snapdragon 855+ SoC, but it’s not like the Exynos 990 is sorely outclassed by the former. It’s still a very fast, very capable chipset.

And then there’s the excellent camera performance of the Note 20. Its triple camera configuration, while not super sophisticated – it’s made up of a 12MP primary sensor, a 64MP telephoto lens, and a 12MP ultra-wide angle shooter – is very fun to shoot with. Just take a look at the sample shots below.

Regardless of lighting situation, the camera can consistently return amazing-looking shots. Sure, the final images are saturated quite a bit – especially the blue sky of the first picture – but it does make for a more appealing shot without looking too artificial. On top of that, the camera interface itself is very responsive, and it can lock in focus very quickly and accurately.

That being said, not everything about the Note 20’s camera is great, which brings us to the next section.

The Bad Stuff

Now, I’m a fan of the Galaxy Note 20’s camera performance, but the difference in quality between the three sensors does mar the user experience. Judge for yourself with these shots taken with the three sensors.

Evidently, the 12MP primary sensor takes the best shots, while the 12MP ultra-wide angle and 64MP telephoto shooters don’t quite stack up with worse detail preservation and more visible noise. But to Samsung’s credit, the zooming capability of the Note 20 is quite decent, which can prove to be useful in certain scenarios.

Besides that, the battery life of the Galaxy Note 20 could be better too. On average, I was getting between four to five hours of screen on time with the phone throughout the review period. This figure is not bad by any means, but I expected more out of the phone’s pretty sizeable 4,300mAh battery.

Thankfully, the charging rate of the Note 20 is reasonably good. The phone got up to 57% from completely empty within 30 minutes of charging – quite respectable.

Last but definitely not least is the build quality of the Note 20; more specifically, the build material. Oddly enough, Samsung decided to use a polycarbonate (essentially plastic) back with this flagship smartphone. You’d expect the phone to come with a more premium material at this price point.

To be fair, I do like the matte finish of the rear panel, but you can really tell that it’s made out of plastic. I cannot stress this enough: the plastic back is really at odds with the premium asking price of the Note 20. RM3,899 – or RM4,299 for the 5G model – is a lot of money, even for a flagship smartphone.

Is It Worth It?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 has its shortcomings, but in my opinion, its strong points outweigh them. If you don’t need the 120Hz screen and 108MP camera system of the Note 20 Ultra, this regular Note 20 will serve as a fine alternative. Plus, you’re saving a good chunk of money with this phone, and you’ll still get the new and improved S Pen – arguably the most important hardware of any Note device.

Are there other flagship smartphones that offer better value for your money than the Galaxy Note 20? Definitely. But no other device in the market now offers the same utility of the S Pen, which is the defining feature of the Note series. If the new S Pen is what you want, the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are your only options.