The big questions I keep getting asked are why anyone should pay $1,999 for a new Samsung 5G Galaxy Note20 Ultra, what’s it got that an Apple phone doesn’t have, and why Android is better than Apple’s iOS. The answers are all found in Samsung’s latest premium smartphone. Launched late last month, the Note20 Ultra is at the top end of the Samsung product offering – it’s the device you often see in the hands of busy tech executives at trade shows who want productivity over glam on the outside and limited functionality on the inside.
iOS and Apple devices are all about proprietary technology, and Apple makes not only you pay for the privilege of doing business with it, but its partners who supply apps, as their latest court battle with Epic Games reveals.
The new Galaxy Note20 Ultra screams quality the minute you pick it up: the materials, the glass, and the crisp bright display.
This is only achievable because Samsung manufactures a lot of the components found in this device.
As for price, this device is like buying a top end BMW Motorsport car vs an entry level 3 Series.
With the Note20 Ultra it’s all about specs functionality, the enhanced functionality that is the result of Samsung engineers working directly with teams of engineers from Microsoft and Google to deliver third party software functionality in a device.
Unlike Apple, Samsung is opening its devices to third party integration because it realises what its customers need to deliver productivity.
The latest Samsung Note device delivers Office 365 and Windows integration capability; it also pushes smartphone functionality to a new level, which would have not gone unnoticed by Apple who – to be competitive with the Samsung offering, whether it be the S20 Note Ultra or the new Galaxy Z Fold 2 – has got to roll out a seriously good 5G device next month.
At this stage, the single biggest weakness is the corners of the Note Ultra: they are sharp compared to the Samsung S20+, and after a 10-minute call you feel the pressure on the palm of your hand.
This can be fixed by using a cover – and not necessarily the Samsung cover, because its recommended cover currently on sale in Australia is a flip cover, which does not work well in a car, especially if (as I do) you use your Samsung smartphone for map navigation.
This device is designed for Android “power users” who want a phone to do a lot more than make a call and shoot pictures.
The Note 20 Ultra’s 4,500-mAh battery is smaller than the S20 Ultra’s 5,000-mAh battery, but despite this, delivers excellent results due in part to better software management and upgraded processors that draw less power.
The Note has a 6.9” Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED screen that delivers a 3088 x 1440-pixel resolution, with a 120Hz refresh rate.
It’s very sharp, and the 5x optical zoom camera performs brilliantly, as these two pictures taken at Balmoral Beach in Sydney reveal.
The display delivers an immersive look because of the curved, waterfall edge of the screen.
Samsung uses the new Gorilla Glass Victus on the Note 20 Ultra’s front and back glass display, as well as over the protruding camera module. Corning claims the cover material can withstand drops up to 2 metres, and is also twice as scratch-resistant as Gorilla Glass 6, which is rated for a 1.6-metre fall.
The new S Pen stylus for annotating screenshots and taking notes is a lot more responsive, and the integration of Office 365 apps such as Outlook, Word, PowerPoint and Teams is a big improvement – it allows me, for example, to keep in touch with my editorial teams working across several publications in multiple countries.
One thing that is different with this device is that Samsung has pulled back from integrating a 100x Space Zoom on the S20 Ultra, and this is smart because zooming 100x without a tripod was not workable.
The 50x zoom on the Note 20 Ultra is enough for most uses, as I found out when, with a simple press of a button, I was able to zoom into a shot and the image of a fishing boat off Balmoral Beach when zoomed into was crystal clear.
Another built in feature that comes in handy is a ‘Super Steady’ Mode that can easily be activated.
The Note 20 Ultra has a 108-megapixel camera feature, which lets you take a detailed shot and crop photos after the shot has been taken.
Also impressive are shots taken in rooms with poor lighting, and the built-in selfie filter that lets you warm up or cool down the tone before you take a shot.
There is also a Pro video mode which is ideal for users who, for example, are attending a trade show and want to shoot video for TV on-air use. In this mode you can change the microphone direction, and smoothly zoom into frame.
It was easier using this feature than the zoom on the new DJI OM 4 mounts.
You can even record 8K videos, and the Note20 Ultra is perfect for anyone who wants to make educational or fun videos on the go.
This is where the steady mode for the video setting in case you don’t have a tripod on hand kicks in.
A Laser Auto-Focus (AF) Sensor ensures smoothness of the AF transition during live shooting so that a subject is tracked smoothly as they move in and out of frame.
The audio recording is also worthy of mention, as Samsung has positioned three microphones on the top, bottom, and rear of the body. Coupled with the ability to adjust the path of the mic for the front, rear, and Omni, and to see and adjust the audio input level in real-time, the phone does deliver a professional filming experience.
The Exynos 990 chipset processor is extremely fast; this is the same as the Galaxy S20+.
The Note 20 Ultra with Exynos also has 256GB storage versus the 128GB of the S20+, and this is ample as you can easily use cloud storage for any other content.
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G is a real productivity machine: while it’s called a smartphone, it’s also a pro video camera, has Office 365 built in along with Teams and Google DUO, and has a fabulous S Pen that’s fast and smooth.
While price will put some off, those who want true performance and see this as a work tool will find a way to write off the $1,995 price tag as a tax deduction because you can claim it as a mobile office.
In reality, there is an awful lot built into this device to justify the sticker price.
What’s next is anyone’s guess, but AI and new software functionality in partnership with third parties such as Adobe could be in the next Note. As for now, this is the best you are going to get in a smartphone.