First look: Samsung Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra

The green Samsung Galaxy Note20 (left) and the bronze Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra (right).
The green Samsung Galaxy Note20 (left) and the bronze Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra (right).ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

SINGAPORE - South Korean electronics giant Samsung launched the Galaxy Note20 series of smartphones on Wednesday (Aug 5), its second flagship phone launch this year after March's S20 handsets.

Where the S series phones are more lifestyle oriented, the Note series devices are geared towards work and productivity.

This year's Note20 phones - which come in two variants, the 6.7-inch Note20 (available on Lazada and Shopee) and the 6.9-inch Note20 Ultra (available on Lazada and Shopee) - are no different and slightly larger than last year's 6.3-inch to 6.8-inch Note10 phones.

Going by a recent 30-minute hands on The Straits Times had with them, the Note20 phones do not feel that much larger by today's standards. They also feature a better stylus experience than what I remember with the Note10.

DESIGN AND FEEL

The Note20 phones feel lightweight given their size and I can hold each in one hand without any issues.

While both phones look very similar - slim and sleek - the biggest difference between the regular Note20 and the larger Note20, besides screen size, is curves.

The Note20 has a flat screen with straight edges on the sides, while the larger Note20 Ultra's display is curved towards its sides, not unlike last year's S10 phone.

This means the phones have a different in-hand feel to them and it is down to personal preference for users.

The new phones come in several colours which can affect not just their looks but also feel. The Note20 will be available in three colours - bronze, green and grey. The Note20 Ultra comes in bronze, black and white.

The regular Note20 has a textured back regardless of which colour you choose.

The black and white colours for the Note20 Ultra feature a glossy finish which will catch the eye of some people. But the bronze Note20 Ultra has a textured, matte finish, that helps to cut down on fingerprints and smudges on the back of the phone and is, at least to this writer, the most beautiful of the colours.

There are also some design changes in the Note20 phones compared with last year's Note10. The S Pen stylus - used for taking handwritten notes and other tasks - is located on the bottom left of the phone instead of the right.

The volume control and power buttons have been moved to the right for the Note20 series from the left. This may be good for some people and bad for others. But I personally prefer the new button layout - it is more natural and convenient to access the buttons.

NOTE TAKING

What sets the Note phones apart from their S series cousins is the S Pen stylus for writing notes. Scribbling on the Note20 phones' screens with the stylus feels close to writing on paper and is possibly even more responsive than last year's Note10.

While more testing is needed, this is likely because the new stylus is said to have a 40 per cent latency improvement for both Note20 models over last year's phones.

 

The S Pen also has a handy feature for people who have trouble writing notes in a straight line - a function that automatically "straightens" text scribbled in a slanted way with the tap of an onscreen button. And it worked for me.

The Note20's note taking app, Samsung Notes, now has a more intuitive folder management system too, that makes notes easier to find. This means no more browsing through your entire notes library to find what you want.

SPECS

The regular Note20's 6.7-inch screen sports a resolution of 2,400-by-1,080 pixels, while the 6.9-inch Note20 Ultra has a higher resolution of 3,088-by-1,440 pixels.

Most importantly, the Note20 Ultra's display has a fast refresh rate of 120Hz, compared with the Note20's 60Hz. The fast refresh rate theoretically allows for smooth browsing of webpages and reduced lag when playing games.

Camera-wise, both Note20 models feature a 10-megapixel (MP) front-facing camera. But they differ in their rear triple camera systems.

Both models have the same 12MP ultra-wide-angle camera on the back.

However, the Note20 Ultra features a 108MP wide-angle camera and a 12MP telephoto camera with 5x optical zoom. In contrast, the Note20 has a 12MP wide-angle camera and a 64MP telephoto camera with 3x hybrid optic zoom.

The Note20 Ultra also features a laser autofocusing sensor that the Note20 lacks.

Going by the brief hands-on test, this translates into fast autofocusing for the camera. More testing will be needed to suss out the other features.

Both Note20 models offer a Pro Video mode with fast zoom speed and 8K video recording.

Users can also control the direction of where they are recording audio from - whether it is omni-directional, from the smartphone's front or back. This is a new feature the Note10 did not have.

Under the hood, both Note20 models use the same Samsung Exynos 990 processor with 256GB of internal storage and support up to 1TB extra storage via a microSD card. At least based on short my hands-on, browsing webpages and apps was smooth on the phones.

PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

In Singapore, the Note20 will come in 4G ($1,398) and 5G ($1,548) versions, while the Note20 Ultra will only come in a 5G version ($1,898).

The Note20 series phones will be available from Aug 21, with pre-orders starting on Thursday (Aug 6, 10am).

The Straits Times Photo Desk will be using the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G smartphones to cover this weekend's National Day celebrations around the island. Look out for photos and videos shot using this new smartphone on the various platforms of The Straits Times.