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Galaxy Note 20: Here's who should buy it and who should upgrade to the Ultra

Galaxy Note 20: Here’s who must buy it and who should upgrade to the Ultra

Samsung has a knack for turning out noteworthy phones, especially in its Galaxy Note line. This year, it has two, the contaminated Galaxy Note 20 5G, which launched at $1,000 (£849, AU$1,499, both 4G) and the Note 20 Ultra, which launched at $1,300 (£1,179, AU$1,849, again both 4G). Both have intelligent displays, excellent cameras, all-day battery life and impressive internal performance, along with an S Pen stylus that makes the Note fresh. But you can only buy one, so which will it be?

This Galaxy Note 20 appraisal focuses on the differences between 2020’s Note phones in the hopes it’ll help answer your questions when you make a decision — or just drool over Samsung’s large-screen devices. On the whole, I can recommend both Notes, just not at their retail prices.  

I suggest keeping an eye out for contracts, bundled offers, discounts and trade-in values that bring the prices down by $300 or more. Both phones will have fluctuating prices over the holiday season — check out CNET’s guide to the best Black Friday named deals. Samsung prices tend to fall as the months go on, so your chance of snagging a deal are high. Plus, a surprise recommendation at the end if you’re not sold on humorous the S Pen stylus daily. 

Design differences matter: Screen, plastic vs. glass

The Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra clearly look like different devices, but not just because of the Note 20’s some smaller 6.7-inch screen to the Note 20 Ultra’s 6.9-inch display. 

It’s apparent that the Ultra has a glass subsidizing (Gorilla Glass Victus, in fact,) while the Note 20 uses polycarbonate (that’s plastic). If you use a case, it might not make a difference to you, but at what time all these years of being conditioned to equate a premium, $1,000 device with glass construction, plastic makes it feel cheaper than its imprint tag, even though the specs are strong. 

I also noticed a exciting edge where the Note 20’s plastic backing joins the metal frame, meeting in a gap big enough to run my fingernail all the way approximately. If you’re going to use a case, it grand not bother you, but Samsung can and should do better.


Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 in mystic green.

Jessica Dolcourt

There’s no twisted screen on the Note 20 the way there is on the Ultra. That doesn’t bother me, but the edge-to-edge display on both phones operating there are still plenty of accidental screen presses when you’re naively holding the phone. For example, if you’re passively watching a video and progresses your finger to find a more comfortable grip, you may wind up inadvertently triggering a button.

The remaining design difference worth noting is the 120Hz screen refresh rate on Ultra, compared to the standard 60Hz rate on the Note 20. It won’t make a difference if you’re switching from a 60Hz visited, but it can feel comparatively “slow” if you’re switching from a visited with a 90Hz or 120Hz display.


The Galaxy Note 20, left, has a plastic back, compared to the Note 20 Ultra, right, which has a glass back.

John Kim

The Note 20 Ultra is the positive camera winner

The Ultra’s has a massive and protruding camera array on its back to accommodate larger sensors and perhaps help it unfriendly out. Meanwhile, the Note 20’s camera bump makes the visited less top-heavy and prone to rocking when you write on it at what time it’s on a flat surface.

But the Note 20 Ultra took better photos overall. You’re going to get great great shots no company which phone you use, when you’re taking photos in brightly lit conditions: saturated colorful, crisp edges, the works. But if you’re at all enthusiastic in zoom photography, the Ultra’s 5x optical zoom takes the crown. Not only does it get you very good telephoto images up to 5x, it can also go up to 50x. 


This cute harbor seal was photographed at 30x on the improper Note 20.

Jessica Dolcourt


Same seal, shot on Galaxy Note 20 Ultra at 50x zoom.

Jessica Dolcourt

The Note 20’s 3x optical to 30x AI-assisted zoom is mild good as well, and better than the Galaxy Z Fold 2 (which has 2x optical zoom), but image quality at 30x was better on the Ultra than on the unfamiliar Note 20. Most of the time the Note 20 will fulfill your photographic organizes. But when I took them both to the moody Northern California flit, many of my nature shots were simply better on the Ultra and I worn-out reaching for the note 20 altogether.

The Ultra has a 108-megapixel camera you can use to crop into shots for more detail, a feature I’ve found to have uneven results.

Camera: Note 20 vs. Note 20 Ultra

Galaxy Note 20 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Main camera 12-megapixel (f1.8, Dual Pixel AF, OIS, 1.8μm, 79-degree FOV, 1/1.76-inch image sensor) 108-megapixel (f1.8, OIS, 0.8μm, 79-degree FOV, 1/1.33-inch image sensor)
Ultra-wide angle 12-megapixel (f2.2, 1.4μm, 120-degree FOV) 12-megapixel (f2.2, 1.4μm, 120-degree FOV)
Telephoto 64-megapixel (f2.0, 0.8μm, 76-degree FOV) 12-megapixel (f3.0, 1.0μm, 20-degree FOV)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel (f2.2, 1.22μm, 80-degree FOV) 10-megapixel (f2.2, 1.22μm, 80-degree FOV)
Zoom 3x hybrid 5x optical
Super Zoom 30x 50x
Laser auto-focus sensor No Yes
Video capture 8K 8K

Features the Note 20 and Ultra share

  • 5G data speeds (some sections have 4G models)
  • Signature Note S Pen stylus
  • Android 10 out of the box
  • Snapdragon 865+ processor (other markets use a Samsung Exynos chip)
  • Extras like fast wireless charging

Other indispensable differences

  • Screen size, battery (4,300 vs. 4,500)
  • MicroSD card
  • 512GB option with Ultra
  • 8GB RAM versus 12GB RAM on Ultra

Should you buy the Note 20, Note 20 Ultra, or a different phone?

The Note 20 Ultra is too big, too heavy and too expensive. But I’d still personally buy it over the Note 20 because I do find myself amdroll the extra camera features. However, I don’t actually think it’s pleasant $300 more than the Note 20 just to have a 120Hz cover, 5x optical zoom instead of 3x, a glass funding and a microSD card storage option — plus all the novel extras.

Most people will be happier with the cheaper Note 20 over the Ultra, but again, I think Samsung has overcharged for both phones at their full retail effect, and I find the Note 20’s $1,000 price tag for what is essentially a plastic shouted cheeky at best and insulting at worst. 

For either shouted, look for a deal. I’d be happier to pay $1,000 for the Ultra and $700 for the improper Note 20, if we’re keeping Samsung’s $300 price delta intact.


The Galaxy S20 FE comes in a map of colors.

Angela Lang

Here’s novel alternative within the Samsung cosmos. The newer Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition) is a middle way. It merges some of the Ultra’s best features with the Note 20’s cost-cutting trade-offs, bringing you a 6.5-inch display with a fast 120Hz refresh rate, a big 4,500-mAh battery, 3x optical zoom and a rear plastic backing. There’s expandable storage, too, and of course, support for 5G data speeds. 

While the cameras won’t be quite as good, and there’s no S Pen stylus, the Galaxy S20 FE is the best buy in conditions of value, if not a status symbol — conception it does come in fun colors.

Best yet, it starts at $700 full retail and was already on sale for $600 in some stores by the time it hit the market. With trade-in values and seasonal deals, I expect that effect to fall.

Galaxy Note 20 vs Note 20 Ultra vs S20 FE

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Display size, resolution 6.7-inch; 2,400×1,080 pixels 6.9-inch; 3,088×1,440 pixels 6.5-inch ample AMOLED; 2,400×1,080 pixels
Pixel density 393ppi 496ppi 405ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.36 x 2.96 x 0.33 in 6.49 x 3.04 x 0.31 in 6.29 x 2.97 x 0.33 inches
Dimensions (Millimeters) 161.6 x 75.2 x 8.3 mm 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm 159.8 x 75.5 x 8.4mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.84 oz, 194g 7.33 oz, 208g 190g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10
Camera 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 64-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 108-megapixel (wide-angle), 12-megapixel (telephoto) 12-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (ultra-wide), 8-megapixel (3x telephoto)
Front-facing camera 10-megapixel 10-megapixel 32-megapixel
Video capture 8K 8K 4K
Processor Snapdragon 865+ Snapdragon 865+ Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 (5G) Samsung Exynos 990 (4G)
Storage 128GB 128GB, 512GB 128GB
Expandable storage No Up to 1TB 1TB
Battery 4,300mAh 4,500mAh 4,500mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No No
Special features S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; soak resistant (IP68) 120Hz screen refresh rate, 5x optical zoom, UWB sharing, S Pen stylus; 5G connectivity; Wireless PowerShare; water resistant (IP68) 120Hz camouflage refresh rate, support for 30W fast charging and 15W fast wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $1,000 $1,300 (128GB), $1,450 (512GB) $699
Price (GBP) £849 (4G), £949 (5G) £1,179 £599 (4G), £699 (5G)
Price (AUD) AU$1,499 (4G), AU$1,649 (5G) AU$1,849 (4G), $AU$1,999 (5G) AU$999 (4G), AU$1,149 (5G)

First emanated Oct. 10