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Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra review: Live by the S Pen, die by the S Pen

By Liu Hongzuo - 22 Aug 2020
Launch SRP: S$1898

Benchmark Performance, Battery, Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

By now, most informed buyers would already know that the Singapore versions of the Galaxy Note20 series phones (including this Galaxy Note20 Ultra) use the Samsung Exynos 990 processor. Its natural rivals are flagship-tier SoCs that pepper this year's releases, such as the OnePlus 8 Pro, Oppo Find X2 Pro, Huawei P40 Pro+. For comparison's sake, we're also putting the Note20 Ultra up against the Galaxy S20 Ultra, Note10+, and iPhone 11 Pro Max to get a sense of where they lie.

  Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra Huawei P40 Pro+ OnePlus 8 Pro Oppo Find X2 Pro 5G Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (512GB) Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (128GB) Samsung Galaxy Note10+ (256GB)
  Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra Huawei P40 Pro+ OnePlus 8 Pro Oppo Find X2 Pro 5G Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max (512GB) Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (128GB) Samsung Galaxy Note10+ (256GB)
Launch SRP
  • From S$1898
  • From S$1898
  • From S$1298
  • From S$1699
  • From S$2349
  • From S$1898
  • From S$1598
Operating system
  • One UI, based on Android 10
  • Android 10 with EMUI 10.1
  • OxygenOS 10, based on Android 10
  • ColorOS 7.1, based on Android 10
  • iOS 13
  • Android 10 (One UI 2.1)
  • Android 9.0 Pie with Samsung One UI
  • Samsung Exynos 990
  • HUAWEI Kirin 990 5G octa-core (2 x 2.86GHz Cortex-A76 & 2 x 2.36GHz Cortex-A76 & 4 x 1.95GHz Cortex-A55)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Octa-core up to 2.84GHz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Octa-core up to 2.84GHz
  • Apple A13 Bionic
  • Exynos 990
  • Samsung Exynos 9825 octa-core (2x2.73 GHz Mongoose M4 & 2x2.4 GHz Cortex-A75 & 4x1.9 GHz Cortex-A55)
Built-in Memory
  • 12GB RAM
  • LPDDR5
  • 8GB RAM
  • 8GB RAM
  • LPDDR5
  • 12GB RAM
  • LPDDR5
  • 6GB
  • 12GB
  • 12GB RAM
  • 6.9-inch / 3,088 x 1,440 pixels (496 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / 240Hz touch sampling rate / HDR10+ / Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display
  • 6.58-inches 2,640 x 1,200 pixels (~441 ppi) OLED, 90Hz
  • Always-On Display
  • 6.78-inch / 3,168 x 1,440 pixels (513 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / AMOLED Display
  • 6.7-inch / 3,168 x 1,440 pixels (513 ppi) / 120Hz refresh rate / OLED Display
  • 6.5-inch Super Retina XDR display
  • 2,688 x 1,242 pixels
  • 458ppi
  • 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display
  • 3,200 x 1,440 pixels
  • 511ppi
  • 6.8-inch / 3,040 x 1,440 pixels (498 ppi) / 19:9 ratio / Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O Display
  • Always-On Display
  • Rear:
  • 12MP Ultra Wide Camera, 1.4μm pixel size, 120 ̊ FOV, f/2.2 aperture
  • 108MP Wide-Angle Camera with PDAF and OIS, 1.4μm, 79 ̊ FOV, f/1.8
  • 12MP Telephoto Camera, 1.0μm, 20 ̊ FOV, f/3.0
  • Laser Autofocus Sensor
  • 5x Optical Zoom
  • 50x Super Resolution Zoom
  • Front:
  • 10MP Selfie Camera with Dual Pixel AF, 1.22μm, 80 ̊ FOV, f/2.2
  • Rear: Quad: 50-megapixel Ultra Vision Camera f/1.9 + OIS, 40-megapixel Cine Camera ultra-wide angle f/1.8, 8-megapixel SuperZoom Camera, 10x Optical Zoom, f/4.4 + OIS, 8-megapixel Telephoto Camera, 3x optical, f/2.4 aperture + OIS, 3D Depth Sensing Camera
  • Front: 32-megapixel, f/2.2 + Depth Camera
  • Rear:
  • 48MP, Sony IMX689 1/1.4-inch sensor size, f/1.78
  • 48MP, Ultra-Wide-Angle, f/2.2, 120° FOV
  • 8MP Telephoto, f/2.44, 30x Hybrid Zoom
  • 5MP, Colour Filter, f/2.4
  • Front:
  • 16MP, Sony IMX471, f/2.45
  • Rear:
  • 48MP, Sony IMX689 1/1.4-inch sensor size, f/1.7, All Pixel Omni-Directional PDAF
  • 48MP, Sony IMX586 1/2-inch sensor size, f/2.2, 120° FOV, 3cm Macro
  • 13MP Periscope Telephoto, f/3.0, 10x Hybrid Zoom, 60x Digital Zoom
  • Front:
  • 32MP, f/2.4
  • Rear:
  • 12 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/2.55", 1.4µm, PDAF, OIS
  • 12 MP, f/2.0, 52mm (telephoto), 1/3.4", 1.0µm, PDAF, OIS, 2x optical zoom
  • 12 MP, f/2.4, 13mm (ultrawide)
  • Front:
  • 12 MP, f/2.2
  • Rear:
  • 12MP, 120°, f/2.2, 13mm (ultra-wide), 1.4µm
  • 108MP, 79°, f/1.8, 26mm (wide-angle), 1/1.33", 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS
  • 48MP, 24°, f/3.5, 103mm (telephoto), 1/2.0", 0.8µm, PDAF, OIS, 10x hybrid optical zoom
  • 0.3MP, f/1.0, time-of-flight 3D, (depth)
  • Front:
  • 40MP, 80°, f/2.2, 26mm (wide), 0.7µm, PDAF
  • Rear: 12-megapixel f/1.5-2.4, 26mm wide + 12-megapixel f/2.1, 52mm telephoto, 2x optical zoom + 16-megapixel, f/2.2, 12mm ultrawide, TOF 3D VGA camera
  • Front: 10-megapixel, f/2.2, 26mm (wide),Dual Pixel PDAF
  • 5G (NSA, SA, mmWave), LTE (4x4 MIMO up to Cat 20), Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4GHz, 5GHz, MIMO), NFC, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, BeiDou, Ultra Wide Band
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 5G NR (primary SIM), 4G FDD LTE, dual-band, hotspot, DLNA, Bluetooth 5.1, A2DP, LE, GPS, AGPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, Galileo, USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, NFC
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4G, 5G, 2x2 MIMO), NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 (aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC, SBC), A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, GPS (L1+L5 Dual Band)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (2.4Ghz, 5.1Ghz, 5/8Ghz(, Wi-Fi Direct, hotspot, Bluetooth 5.1, A-GPS, Beidou, Glonass, Galileo, GPS
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax/ac/n/b/g/n/a)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax/ac/n/b/g/n/a)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 + 5GHz), 4G+ LTE Cat 18 (up to 1200Mbps), Bluetooth 5.0, VHT80, MIMO (2x2), GPS, GLONASS, NFC, Screen Mirroring
Storage Type
  • 256GB internal storage
  • 512GB internal storage
  • Huawei Nano Memory expansion (up to 256GB)
  • 128GB internal storage
  • UFS 3.0
  • 512GB internal storage
  • UFS 3.0
  • 512GB internal storage
  • 128GB internal storage
  • 256GB internal storage
  • microSD expansion (up to 1TB)
  • 4,500mAh
  • USB PD 3.0 Fast Charging, AFC, QC 2.0
  • Samsung Fast Wireless Charging 2.0 (15W)
  • 4,200mAh
  • 40W Huawei SuperCharge
  • 40W Huawei Wireless SuperCharge
  • 15W Huawei Wireless Quick Charge (Qi wireless charging)
  • Reverse wireless charging
  • 4,510mAh
  • 30W Fast Charging (5V/6A)
  • 30W Wireless Charging
  • 4,260mAh
  • 65W SuperVOOC 2.0 Flash Charge
  • 3,500mAh lithium-ion
  • 5,000mAh Li-Po
  • 4,300mAh
  • Samsung Super Fast Charging
  • Wireless charging
  • 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1mm
  • 158.2 x 72.6 x 9.0 mm
  • 165.3 x 74.3 x 8.5mm
  • 165.2 x 74.4 x 8.8mm
  • 158 x 77.8 x 8.1
  • 166.9 x 76 x 8.8 mm
  • 162.3 x 77.2 x 7.9 mm
  • 208g
  • 226g
  • 199g
  • 217g
  • 226g
  • 220g
  • 196g
Video Support
  • 4320p@24fps, 2160p@30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@960fps, HDR10+
Audio Support
  • 32-bit/384kHz audio


JetStream 2

To benchmark the phone's web browsing performance, we used the JetStream 2 benchmark test on the Google Chrome web browser app. The test measures a phone's capabilities in handling a variety of advanced workloads and executing codes. JetStream 2 is an updated version of older benchmarks, such as the first JetStream and SunSpider.

While some phones come with custom-made web browsers, We always run this benchmark test on Chrome as it gives the best indication across devices, processors, and OS platforms - whether iOS or Android. Also, we would adjust the phone's display settings to ensure that the screen doesn't turn off mid-test since this would relegate the browser's thread(s) to background processing. Where necessary, we would run multiple test instances to get a more accurate reading of scores.



Note: As of 9th March 2020, all AnTuTu benchmarks were removed from the Google Play Store. This move likely arose from Google's attempts to relieve the Play Store of apps that violate their policies. AnTuTu is working with Google to restore their app listing. For this review, we used the APK file that was available on AnTuTu's website.

AnTuTu is an all-in-one benchmark that tests CPU, GPU, memory, and storage. The CPU benchmark evaluates both integer and floating-point performance, and the GPU tests assess 2D and 3D performance, the memory test measures available memory bandwidth and latency, and the storage tests gauge the read and write speeds of a device's flash memory.


Geekbench 5

Geekbench CPU is a cross-platform processor benchmark that tests both single-core and multi-core performance with workloads that simulate real-world usage. Geekbench 5 scores are calibrated against a baseline score of 1000, which is the score of an Intel Core i3-8100.


3DMark Sling Shot Extreme

3DMark Sling Shot is an advanced 3D graphics benchmark that tests the full range of OpenGL ES 3.1 and ES 3.0 API features including multiple render targets, instanced rendering, uniform buffers and transform feedback. The test also includes impressive volumetric lighting and post-processing effects. The test's Unlimited mode ignores screen resolutions.


Benchmark Performance Remarks

As expected, the Exynos 990 chipset's performance is just a little shy of phones with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processors across the board. The gap will only widen when the Snapdragon 865+ phones start arriving on our shores. For reference, you can look at the Galaxy Tab S7+ benchmarks, since that device uses Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ instead of Exynos processors. (We didn't include it in the graphs because that's a tablet-class device). 

There’s a growing awareness in Singapore concerning Samsung’s use of Exynos chipsets inside their premium handsets for the Singapore market, and how they stack up against Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipsets in terms of performance and battery effectiveness. While it shouldn’t matter (because we’ve been getting their Exynos variants since the Galaxy S6 series and people willingly paid for them despite having poorer benchmarks than Snapdragon 810), it may hurt Samsung’s value proposition when it’s up against Qualcomm-infused, top-tier phones from other brands. You can see the performance difference between Exynos 990 and Snapdragon 865 by referring to the OnePlus 8 benchmarks above.

Despite the scores, the Note20 Ultra works and feels like any other flagship phone. The only time we've noticed a slowdown was when we were trying to use the phone via the seamless Microsoft integration feature. Graphically-demanding and poorly-coded mobile games also don't fare too well on the Note20 Ultra, but it's still smoother than Huawei's Kirin chipsets for gaming. It may not be Qualcomm, but Samsung's Exynos chipset in the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is undoubtedly a flagship-tier processor. You're not getting any less than that.


Battery Life

Our standard battery test for mobile phones has the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra comes with a battery capacity of 4,500mAh. Amongst flagship devices from this year, only the Galaxy S20 Ultra comes with bigger battery size. It seems like the Note20 Ultra delivers reasonable battery uptime at first glance. A closer look would tell you that many other phones not only clocked slightly higher uptimes but also come with lower battery totals. Also, don't forget the Note20 Ultra wasn't exactly beating the Snapdragon-based flagship phones in the performance department, so it's not as if the Note20 Ultra was burning through its juice to provide brain-melting mobile performance.

You might also note that the Galaxy S20 Ultra clocked a 100 minutes more simply because of its extra 500mAh - an expected outcome from sharing the same Exynos processor. The question you might have in mind is why can't the Galaxy Note20 share the same battery capacity as the Galaxy S20 Ultra and to that end, the answer lies with the space occupied with the S Pen that snugly sits within the phone. Something has got to give in such a slim smartphone.

The Note20 Ultra is certified for USB PD 3.0 (PPS) fast-charging, Adaptive Fast Charging (Samsung's proprietary charging technology) and Quick Charge 2.0 (Qualcomm's proprietary tech). Samsung claimed that the Note20 Ultra could hit 50% charge in 30 minutes. For us, it took 60 minutes to go from 0% to 90%, and a total of 90 minutes to hit 100%. It seems like the charging claims are valid, and we do find them sufficiently fast (except for the last 10% taking 30 minutes, that's not fast but we do understand the need to throttle speeds as the battery approaches maximum charge). 

In the wireless charging space, it has Fast Wireless Charging 2.0, which is supposedly rated at "10W or more". According to Samsung, this charging profile is rated at 15W for the Note20 Ultra.



Technically speaking, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a lovely flagship phone. As mentioned, the ones we get in Singapore will not have Qualcomm's processors, but any user of a Galaxy Note20 Ultra will still get a flagship-level performance and sufficient battery uptimes. You'll still get top-notch operational fluidity, and it will last the longer part of the day. 

Where the Galaxy Note20 Ultra tries to make it worth your while is via its significant S Pen improvements and features, alongside enhanced interoperability between Windows 10 and the phone. The interoperability bit will come to other Android mobiles, but they get credit for being the first to push a functional version out of the gate. Topping it all off is a neutral design that's easy to like. If you're coming from an older Galaxy Note like the Note9, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra is - without question - an upgrade in many of these departments. If you're coming from a Note10+, you'll have to weigh out the benefits of these improvements against the Note10+'s 512GB storage at its old street price of S$1,898.

From an Android phone perspective, if I'm concerned with getting the best specs that money can buy, Note20 Ultra isn't an economical purchase. As it stands, we have the OnePlus 8 Pro (S$1,298, 128GB), Oppo Find X2 Pro (S$1,699, 512GB), both with a better processor and battery performance at a lower price, while also being 5G-ready. Heck, the Oppo flagship has double the internal storage, too. Plus, you get 120Hz AMOLED displays at 1440p, which is ironic when it's Samsung that manufactures these AMOLED panels.

But really, the Galaxy Note20 Ultra (and any other Galaxy Note phone) isn't just 'another Android phone'. The S Pen and its constantly growing list of features are why people would happily pay a premium for a Galaxy Note device, even if the phone half shares many similarities with its Galaxy S counterpart. Anywhere Actions was expanded because Air Actions helped its users. S Pen latency was reduced because Samsung wanted to give users an experience as close as possible you get with a classic pen and paper. These are all signs of a unique piece of technology working well in the form factor it was designed for.

Admittedly, I'm not a hardcore Galaxy Note user, but the S Pen certainly holds special meaning and convenience to the people who have truly mastered the stylus. Imagine how much time would you save in a day if you could sign a bunch of documents, mark up work corrections for your teammates, and sketch up ideas while in a taxi or on public transport. Your typical flagship phone isn't going to top that anytime soon, because of how much effort Samsung puts into mimicking the human condition for the S Pen to even work, let alone impress others.

In fact, it might be better value to grab a Note20 Ultra than the Galaxy S20 Ultra at launch. They have same starting price of S$1,898, but the Note20 Ultra packs double the storage of S20 Ultra, on top of the S Pen magic that makes the Galaxy Note series so unique.

The Microsoft integration and the promise of running more apps simultaneously still remains to be seen. If all plays out for Samsung, then the Note20 Ultra should provide the best interoperability experience when running the device via Microsoft's Your Phone app. We'll know more as this feature starts making its rounds on other Android phones.

Despite the competitive market Samsung faces, they've put out a stylus-based phone with even more improvements and upgrades to help make its case. It also reinforces the Galaxy Note series as a purposeful iteration of the standard Android experience, and it's not just trying to be different with a fancy pen. If you still don't understand why it hung around despite every other Android phone having an all-out components war (figuratively and literally), now's the time to see the Galaxy Note beyond its S Pen.

It may not be the most magnificent Galaxy Note update we've seen, but taken as a whole, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra still has its unique charm to impress those who can and know how to put the S Pen to good use.

Do also remember to check out its pre-order details and bonuses here.

Read Next: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra telco price plans compared

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  • Design 8.5
  • Features 9.5
  • User-Friendliness 8.5
  • Performance 8
  • Value 7.5
The Good
Nice display
microSD card slot
Great set of productivity features (responsive S Pen, Microsoft integration)
Good imaging quality
The Bad
No 120Hz refresh rate at 1440p
Average audio quality
Subpar benchmarking performance (Exynos)
Phone design could be more forward looking
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