is the newest and shiniest gem in Samsung’s Note line, building upon the already strong foundation established by last year’s
. But with all the new tech that’s superseding the old one, there’s a lingering question in the air – should you dump your hard-earned cash and upgrade? The answer is not a definitive “yes” in this particular case here, so let’s explore and break down the matter.
. It’s faster, has better cameras, sleeker design, and is improving the signature Galaxy Note feature – input with the S Pen.
Yes, the new phone is much better in more ways than one, but we shouldn’t forget that the same applies to the
, a device that still stands proud among the top Android devices available. If you can look past the high-refresh rate display, improved hardware, and much better S Pen and camera performance, you should probably hold off on upgrading. When you throw in the price for consideration, things become especially tricky: with its starting price of $1,299, the Note 20 Ultra isn’t an affordable phone, and if you already have the Note 10+, upgrading probably makes little sense.
From a design standpoint, the Note 20 Ultra is a classy evolution of the elegant aesthetic that has always been a signature of the Note-series. The Note 10+ was definitely a much flashier device with a glossy glass back and expressive color options, the Note 20 UItra is more laid back with its frosted glass exterior and stylish colors. The Note 20 Ultra is available in Mystic Bronze, Mystic White, and Mystic Black colors, with the last one being the only color variation with a glossy back that attracts tons of fingerprints. Not such a big of an issue as you are more than likely to put a case on the phone anyway.
Both the Note 10+ and the Note 20 Ultra have slightly curved displays that are a far-cry from the likes of the Galaxy S8 and S9-series, so proponents of flat displays shouldn’t have that many bones to pick.
In terms of size, both phones are nearly identical. The newer device is taller and heavier, but that’s perfectly normal given the current “upsizing” trend. What’s striking in terms of the design is the enormous camera island at the back of the Note 20 Ultra which is protruding a lot. It’s a function over form decision that has to be accepted by the would-be adopters of the new Note, but it takes some getting used to.
Button placement is another area in which the Note 20 Ultra differs quite a lot. While the Note 10+ had its power button and volume rocker on the left side of the phone, the Note 20 Ultra comes up with a more logical placement – all buttons can now be found on the right frame of the phone. The same applies to the S Pen, which also moved from the right to the left side of the phone. From a purely ergonomic perspective, the Note 20 Ultra simply makes more sense, but don’t get an impression that something is inherently bad with the Note 10+.
The new feature that will make tons of difference is the high refresh rate display on the new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The feature is adaptive and will intelligently switch the refresh rate depending on the displayed content: from 120Hz in games and throughout the interface, to 60Hz in movies, and all the way down to 10Hz in social media and apps with mostly static images. Rest assured that at 120Hz, it’s noticeably smoother than the “puny” 60Hz display of the Galaxy Note 10+.
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Hardware and performance
In the US, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is powered by the latest and greatest Qualcomm chipset, the Snapdragon 865+, which brings more than excellent performance. That said, you definitely won’t experience any lack of power with the Galaxy Note 10+, but it should be noted it’s powered by last year’s slightly less powerful Snapdragon 855 chipset. There’s 12GB of RAM on both devices, making them more than adequate multitaskers, which is one of the big strengths of the Galaxy Note series.
Thanks to the high refresh rate, the Note 20 Ultra leaves the impression of being much faster than the Galaxy Note 10+, and that’s normal. In terms of synthetic benchmarks, the Note 20 Ultra easily dusts its predecessor, but does all of this mean that the Note 10+ is a slouch in terms of real-life usage? Not at all: the Note 10+ still has that flagship-grade performance.
However, the international versions of both phones are powered by Samsung’s arguably inferior Exynos chipsets: the Note 20 Ultra has the Exynos 990, while the Note 10+ is powered by the Exynos 9825. The Note 20 Ultra is a 5G-ready device, and that’s great! It makes for a pretty future-proof phone, which can’t be said about the Note 10+. If you haven’t gone for the dedicated 5G-capable version of the Note 10+, your Note won’t be able to enjoy the latest connectivity standard, provided your carrier supports it.
The Note 20 Ultra trumps the Note 10+ in yet another key area: battery size. With a 4,500mAh battery, the newer device holds the promise for a much longer battery life when compared with the Note 10+, which has a 4,300mAh battery.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean better battery life: the Galaxy Note 10+ consistently lasts longer in our battery tests. Even with the 60Hz refresh rate option enabled, the Note 20 Ultra simply can’t last as long as its predecessor. Viewed in a vacuum, the Note 20 Ultra’s battery life isn’t that bad, but performing worse than last year’s model isn’t very inspiring.
Our custom battery tests revealed the following story:
S Pen and functionality
The S Pen on board the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has received some improvements. For one, latency has been reduced all the way down to 9ms, pretty much on par with the Apple Pencil. The older Note 10+ has a much greater latency, which is definitely noticeable. The Note 20 Ultra is the closest we’ve felt as if writing on real paper so far and that’s definitely a great thing given how important the stylus is for the Note lineup.
The Note 20 Ultra has a few new gimmicky Air Gestures that allow you to control the phone from distance with the S Pen, but using this is a hit-or-miss affair. What’s more important here is the improved Notes app, which not only supports cloud sync, but will recognize your scribbles and transform them into usable text more accurately than the Note 10+.
Another strength in the Note 20 Ultra’s arsenal is Wireless DeX mode, which no longer requires cables or any other paraphernalia to cast DeX mode to a compatible device. You can use Miracast instead, while with the Note 10+, you will have to use a USB-C to HDMI cable.
Now, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a 108 MP main camera, a 12 MP ultra-wide, and a 12 MP telephoto camera. It offers 5x optical zoom and up to 50x digital zoom, which is more than enough, as images taken past a certain point are barely usable and only serve for bragging rights. In comparison, the Note 10+ is way humbler with its 12MP main + 12MP 2x telephoto + 16MP ultra-wide camera setup, aided by a ToF sensor. Both phones come with 10MP front-facing cameras.
The Note 20 Ultra is capable of shooting 8K video at 24fps, which is a nice party trick that adds little benefit to the user just yet. Much more usable will definitely be the 4K 60fps footage that both the Note 20 Ultra and the Note 10+ support.
How does it all translate in terms of image quality? Both the Note 20 Ultra and the Note 10+ take great pictures. Broadly speaking, the two share many common consistencies, like colors, dynamic range, and overall looks.
Yet, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra creates images with vastly emphasized contrast, greater dynamic range, slightly more vivid colors, and warmer white balance in certain situations. The differences are easily noticeable when you compare samples from the two devices one next to the other.
When you step away from the main camera and switch to the telephoto lenses, the Note 20 Ultra clearly has the upper hand. There’s tons more detail and the images at higher zoom levels are definitely more usable.
At low-light, the Note 20 Ultra performs better than the Note 10+. There’s simply more detail and better dynamic range in both the regular images and those taken with the dedicated Night Mode on the Note 20 Ultra, not to mention that Night Mode turns itself automatically if you leave the scene optimizer enabled.
And on the video side, the Note 20 Ultra is capable of shooting 8K video at 24fps, an option missing on the Note 10 Plus. Now, we definitely wouldn’t shoot 8K video every day, but if you happen to visit a special place definitely use it. You will be blown away with the amount of detail.