A month ago, Samsung hosted an online event to showcase the much-anticipated Note20 smartphone range. Most of the attention on the day fell to the Note20 Ultra heavyweight from the range, which sports some of the best specifications for a smartphone to date. That said, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 still has a lot to offer – and not just from a cost perspective.
The device brings with it very similar hardware from the Ultra, minus the obvious exclusion of the extra camera lens. If you’re a fan of the Galaxy Note range and its S Pen offering, there are a few reasons that Samsung Galaxy Note20 may be your preferred option.
Note20 Build and Design
As with many of the latest Galaxy smartphones, the design ethos remains the same for the Samsung Galaxy Note20. In fact, compared to last year’s Note10 smartphone, there’s very little to choose in the form of design changes. The most notable difference between these two devices lies on the rear, where the camera housing has been updated, with the Samsung Galaxy Note20 now including the LED flash as part of the housing.
That said, the newer unit is slightly larger and heavier than the previous model, with Samsung fitting a bigger screen, which now makes the overall dimensions taller, wider and thicker. The Samsung Galaxy Note20 measures in at 161.6×75.2×8.3mm. This makes it roughly 10mm taller, 4mm wider and 0.4mm thicker. That’s not a pretty big difference overall.
The unit does take a bit of a weight bump as a result of these changes, moving up from 168g to 192g. That makes it just over 14% heavier.
The new range of Note devices has an updated palette of colours to choose from. Out with the Auro range and in the new Mystic set of colours. For the Samsung Galaxy Note20, the range includes Mystic Green, Mystic Grey and Mystic Bronze. The Ultra featured two additional colours including Mystic White and Mystic Black. The unit received for review is Mystic Grey, which appears as a type of matte charcoal appearance, with a hint of colour change under certain lighting conditions.
One of the biggest talking points about the new Samsung Galaxy Note20 comes in the form of the plastic rear. Samsung calls this plastic material ‘glasstic’. Not sure if I’m more concerned about the lack of glass finish or the attempt to make it sound just as premium. Mind you, it doesn’t feel bad at all, but definitely not as premium as actual glass. Needless to say, the switch is a definite attempt to keep costs of production down.
The front is still fitted with Gorilla Glass technology, albeit one iteration back from the Note10, which fitted a Gorilla Glass 6 screen, with the new model only having the Gorilla Glass 5 option. There are two reasons that come to mind as to the decision to roll back to the previous version: either it’s a matter of further reducing overall costs or a matter of availability in the manufacturing due to the recent lockdown issues around the world, but that’s a bit of a stretch given that many other smartphones will be releasing with version 6.
Note20 Screen and Display
As mentioned previously, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 is larger than its predecessor. As a result, it’s obvious to deduce a larger screen would be the cause. The screen measures in at 6.7”, a nice bump over the previous model. While the screen is larger, the screen-to-body ratio takes a 1.5% drop. Not a train smash.
Samsung has also upgraded the panel itself, now featuring a Super AMOLED display with a higher resolution of 1080x2400px. The change in resolution is good, but not enough to see a reduction in the pixel density, just shy of the 400ppi mark – now clocking in at 393ppi to be exact. The screen ratio is also affected by the taller design, creating a 20:9 ratio.
Irrespective of the changes, it will all still come down whether the user sees any of the improvements. With the Super AMOLED screen, the darks are much darker and the colours a lot more vibrant. Samsung has never been a brand to limit any of its devices in this department, with even the midrange units sporting great screens the user would fall in love with. The Note20’s screen looks good, and that’s all that matters in the end.
The biggest omission in regards to the screen is the lower refresh rate, limited to just 60Hz on the Samsung Galaxy Note20. For a flagship smartphone range, this is a bit of a disappointment. Samsung has been lagging behind some of the other players on this front, even though we know they have the capability, with the Ultra featuring a 120Hz panel. Again, it might come down to cost, but having already skimped a bit on the design front and the Note20 not on the cheap side of things either, this isn’t something that can simply be swept under the carpet.
Note20 Performance and Battery
As with any Samsung smartphone, the Note20 doesn’t lack in the performance department. Even as the lower-level unit from the range, it’s still pretty powerful. The international model, which is the unit available in South Africa as well, includes an Exynos 990 (7 nm+) chipset, which has an Octa-core (x2 2.73GHz Mongoose M5, x2 2.50GHz Cortex-A76 and x4 2.0GHz Cortex-A55) CPU and Mali-G77 MP11 GPU. It also includes a cool 256GB (UFS) internal storage, with 8GB RAM. The unit runs on Android 10 with Samsung’s One UI 2.5, which sees a few nifty additional features.
There’s no difference between the chipset fitted on the Samsung Galaxy Note20 and the Ultra variants. Noting that, there are some slight performances advantages, especially on the benchmarks, as a result of the former’s smaller screen, which means there are a bit more cycles left to clock a few extra tasks that aren’t processing pixels represented on the screen. You’re not going to be left wanting for power on either device, with the Note20 performing great under daily loads, and then continuing to perform even under heavier load during our testing.
The unit sports a 4,300mAh battery, which is down some 200mAh compared to the Ultra, which, again, needs the extra juice for the extra processing required for the larger screen. The new range of Note20 smartphones has a battery capacity almost 1,000mAh higher compared to the previous models, which means much longer battery life over the course of the day.
The unit powered through an entire day without any fuss, and if I was careful enough through to the next day as well. It is worth noting that I’ve been working from home during this round of testing over the previous Note10 reviews, so I may not spend as much time needing my smartphone. Still, it achieves a good hour of usage under our load testing over the Note10.
S Pen and Features
Needless to say, the biggest draw with the Note range has always been the S Pen. With the latest release, Samsung has created a slightly more advanced stylus for users to enjoy. For starters, the 2020 S Pen now has a much more responsive touch, measuring in at 47ms latency. To put that into perspective, the average human response or reaction time is 250ms, while blinking takes between 100 and 150ms to complete. Pretty impressive. Also, this new response time on the S Pen is said to be about 40% improved over the previous model.
Samsung has also improved the charging capability, as well as the notifications around this. The S Pen has a battery life around 30 minutes of continuous use, or about 200 clicks of the button. Charging, however, isn’t an issue at all, as plugging it back into your phone for just 40s will charge to 100%. Your Note20 smartphone will also provide a 20% battery level notification to remind you that there are just over 5 minutes left of usage.
2019 introduced air gestures to the S Pen, which has again been improved on the Samsung Galaxy Note20 unit. Here, users can wave the S Pen something similar to Harry Potter’s wand to perform some of the other functions. It’s still not as smoothly integrated as Samsung would like, so there’ll be a lot of trial and error in this regard.
One of the biggest features of the S Pen lies in the note-taking, something that has been a mainstay for Samsung since the first Note launched. Samsung has improved the handwriting recognition, which learns the style of writing and makes it easier to create text from your notes taken. If you don’t wish to have your handwriting turned into a mundane text format, you can still keep your notes in your native handwriting and choose options such as straightening your sentences and the likes to at least look much neater.
As with the other models across the range, the S Pen isn’t backward compatible with any of the previous smartphones. It also cannot be used for other Samsung smartphones either, something I’ve long wished for. Given that the unit does make use of Bluetooth technology, although a variant of it that’s limited to use on the latest Note20 range, it might be worth opening it up to the devices. Then again, this may also limit the sales of the range entirely if consumers would be looking at just purchasing the S Pen in future.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 includes four cameras, a triple-lens camera on the rear and a single selfie camera on the front. The rear camera consists of the following lenses:
Primary: 26mm, 12MP, f/1.8 aperture, 1/1.76in sensor size (0.8µm pixel size), Optical Stabilisation (OIS)
Zoom: 3x optical, 80mm, 64MP, f/2.0, 1/1.76in / 0.8µm, OIS, 30x hybrid zoom
Wide: 0.5x, 13mm, 12MP, f/2.2, 1.4µm
The camera here delivers great results. The unit is capable of 3x optical zoom and 30x hybrid zoom, which includes a mix of optical and digital. If you’re wondering how that compares in regards to the Ultra, the latter has a 5x optical zoom and 50x digital zoom, as well as a 108MP zoom lens. Basically, the biggest difference between the two are the zoom capabilities when it comes to the camera. Unless you’re planning on plenty of zoomed photos, it may not be to everyone’s preference. That said, I’m still expecting some great results on the Ultra’s zoom support.
Overall, images are of great quality, crisp and rich in colour. There are occasions where the photos to appear slightly over-saturated, but it’s not a lot, and not something you can’t edit later either if it really bugs you.
The front-facing camera has a 26mm, 10MP lens with f/2.2, 1.22µm aperture. I’m not one for too many selfies, but having played around with it for a few snaps, it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.
The Samsung Galaxy Note20 is a great smartphone. It looks good, it performs really well, and is excellent for taking notes, drawing and the likes directly on your phone.
If you’re not looking for the extra zoom function on your camera, or the 5G option just yet, then you may prefer this unit over the Ultra. At a price point around R10,000 less than the Ultra, your pocket will also thank you in the long run.
Samsung Galaxy Note20
If you’re looking for a solid smartphone with great performance, good camera, and excellent note-taking capabilities, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 is a sure bet.
- Increased screen size
- Increased battery capacity
- Great new features for note-taking
- Needs higher refresh rates
- Plastic rear less premium
Ease of Learning
Ease of Use
Value for Money