Review, Smartphone

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Quick Review: Worth RM5,199?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra brings some much needed upgrades to the Note series. Not only does it have an improved S Pen with added functionalities, it also comes with a more sophisticated camera system and a fast 120Hz screen. Basically, it’s an improvement in almost every way, just like how it was with the Galaxy S20 Ultra and its respective predecessor.

But those improvements also entail a premium price tag – RM5,199, to be exact. For that kind of money, you are getting an excellent flagship smartphone, but whether or not it’s worth spending so much will depend on how indispensable the S Pen is to you.

What It Is

Display6.9-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (3088 x 1440), 120Hz
ChipsetSamsung Exynos 990 2.73GHz octa-core
GPUMali-G77 MP11
RAM12GB
Storage256GB, expandable
Camera (rear)108MP f/1.8, PDAF, Laser AF, OIS
12MP f/3.0 (periscope telephoto), PDAF, OIS, Optical Zoom (5x), Digital Zoom (50x)
12MP f/2.2 (ultra-wide angle)
Camera (front)10MP f/2.2, Dual Pixel AF
Battery
4,500mAh
Dimensions164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
Weight
208g
OSOne UI based on Android 10
Connectivity5G
LTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
PriceRM5,199

If we’re talking about the hardware of a typical Android flagship smartphone, the Note 20 Ultra fits the bill. But it’s worth noting that the Malaysian market is only getting the Exynos 990 model. The more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ variant of the phone is only offered in certain markets, unfortunately enough.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Exynos 990 is a “bad” chipset; it’s just not quite as fast as the Snapdragon 865+. This is really the main issue with the Note 20 Ultra for our market: if you’re going to pay RM5,199 for a smartphone, you would want to get the best level of performance.

Anyway, aside from the SoC, other hardware of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra are really on par with the best flagship smartphones. Let’s move on to the good stuff now.

The Good Stuff

Just like the more affordable Note 20, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra also gets the new and improved S Pen. The design remains largely the same, but the reduced latency make for a more responsive and fluid writing experience. This is made even better with the high 120Hz refresh rate of the screen.

Besides that, the S Pen’s Air Actions is more comprehensive as well. There are now gestures to access the recent apps page, go to the home screen, and even to go back to the previous page. While this is not a feature I personally use extensively, I do see how it can be useful to certain folks.

Moving on, there’s the stunning 6.9-inch QHD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X display of the Note 20 Ultra. Samsung makes some of the best screens in the market, and the image quality of this display is a testament to that. It has deep, true blacks, vivid colours, and extremely high peak brightness. Trust me: it can get searingly bright.

Coupled with support for HDR10+, the Note 20 Ultra’s screen is perfect for any kind of content consumption.

When it comes to performance, the Exynos 990 under the hood of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can keep up with my demands. Granted, it’s not quite as fast as the Snapdragon 865+ model found in other markets, but it’s still a very capable flagship-tier chipset. Throughout my time with the phone, I didn’t encounter any performance issue.

Design wise, the Note 20 Ultra looks and feels like a high-end, premium smartphone. The glass back with a matte finish feels great to the touch, the dual curved screen makes the phone feel thinner than it actually is – not to mention the fact that it looks sleek – and I like the heft of the phone. However, I’m not crazy about the huge camera bump, though it won’t be quite as noticeable with a casing on.

Last but certainly not least is the camera performance of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Its triple camera system is made up of a 108MP f/1.8 primary sensor, a 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle shooter, and a 12MP f/3.0 periscope telephoto lens., Suffice to say it’s a sophisticated camera array that can take great-looking shots in any lighting situation.

What really impressed me was the zooming performance of the Note 20 Ultra’s camera. Even though the Space Zoom is only limited to 50x – instead of 100x on the S20 Ultra – the image quality is noticeably better. Of course, it still doesn’t look particularly great at 50x zoom, but at 10x and 20x zoom, the image quality is more than acceptable. Judge for yourself with these shots.

On top of that, thanks to the new laser autofocus system, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra can lock in focus much faster than the S20 Ultra. This was one of my biggest gripes with the latter, so it’s great to see that the autofocus performance is addressed with the Note 20 Ultra. All in all, this phone is very enjoyable to photograph with.

The Bad Stuff

Even though the camera performance of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is impressive, there are some shortcomings here and there. As is the case with camera systems that offer multiple sensors, the low light performance of the ultra-wide angle shooter and telephoto lens leave much to be desired.

Looking at the image samples above, the 108MP primary sensor takes the best-looking shot, while the other two sensors struggle quite a bit. Noise is very apparent, detail preservation is lacking, and they can’t quite get the right level of exposure.

It’s also worth noting that the 108MP main camera also has its own weaknesses. It’s a large sensor, so it has a shallow depth of field. This is especially noticeable in close-up shots, where only a small area is in focus. Of course, you can get some dramatic-looking shots with the shallow depth of field, but it can also be cumbersome to use in certain situations.

Just like how it was with the Galaxy Note 20, the Note 20 Ultra’s battery life could be better too. On average, I was only getting between four to five hours of screen on time with the 4,500mAh battery. Granted, I set the screen to 120Hz throughout the review period; lowering it to 60Hz should improve the battery life a little bit.

But the biggest issue with the Note 20 Ultra has to be its steep asking price. Retailing at RM5,199, it’s an expensive product, even for a flagship device. Yes, you’re getting an excellent smartphone for that kind of money, but unless you absolutely want the S Pen, there are better options in the market for less.

Is It Worth It?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best Note device money can buy right now, but it is also the most expensive one yet. If you’ve always been a fan of the Note series, and you want a no compromise Note device no matter the cost – RM5,199 in this case – the Note 20 Ultra will be worth it. After all, there are no smartphones from other brands that offer the same utility as the Note device, especially the signature S Pen.

But if you don’t need the Note 20 Ultra’s 120Hz screen, 108MP triple camera system, and premium build quality, consider the standard Note 20 instead. Starting at RM3,899 – that’s a whopping RM1,300 price difference – it’s a far more affordable smartphone. Plus, you’re still getting the same S Pen – the core feature of a Note device.