It’s been a busy couple of days, so it’s taken me longer than I’d like to check-in again with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which arrived yesterday. But I took the time to get it mostly up and running with the apps I needed and my data, configure at least some of the settings, experiment with its excellent camera system, and use it at the gym. So here are some additional thoughts.
First and most obviously, it’s awesome. I mean, it should be, given its $1300 starting price. But Samsung really delivers on the premium experience in a way that no other smartphone maker, save Apple, does. The Mystic Bronze color of the review unit is fantastic, and while it’s impossible to really know for sure, it seems timeless and iconic. It’s a shame that any sane customer would hide this beauty in a protective case out of necessity. The thing is as slippery as a bar of soap.
The onboarding experience didn’t provide any unwelcome surprises. If you’re familiar with Samsung handsets, you know that the firm adds a few steps to the setup process related to your Samsung account, some unique (and very nice) customizations, and a great many custom apps, but is otherwise a familiar process.
I was originally unsure how to proceed with the SIM card: As you may know, I’m currently reviewing the Google Pixel 4a, which couldn’t be more different from the Note 20 Ultra, but I’ve only had that smaller handset for a week, and I prefer to spend at least a few weeks with any device before posting a review. But Samsung bailed me out from having to choose by supplying a T-Mobile SIM with the Note, so I will use that until my Pixel 4a review is ready and I can switch over.
Getting my apps installed and configured was mostly normal, but Samsung complicates matters a little bit by providing a second app store, called Galaxy Store, on its devices and by using that store to update its preinstalled apps, which include third-party offerings like Facebook, Netflix, Microsoft Outlook, and others in addition to its own apps. That may not sound like too big a deal, and I guess it isn’t, but those apps can’t use the Google Smart Lock for Passwords feature to auto-fill passwords, leading to a situation where you could end up using two password managers, one for Galaxy Store apps and one for Play Store apps.
One thing I really appreciate, however, is the wonderful Samsung One UI and its many additional configuration options compared to stock Android or Google’s customized Pixel version. One of my favorites is Samsung’s custom font option, which can be set to a bold typeface similar to what Apple offers on iPhone. It just makes everything onscreen so much easier to read.
There are also fewer steps for certain common actions; for example, the Note 20 is automatically configured for file transfer when I connect it to the PC via USB where other handsets, including Google’s,l require you to find the option and manually configure it each time.
Also helping matters, and tremendously, the Note 20 Ultra display is easily the best I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, at an expansive 6.9-inches, and is what Samsung calls an AMOLED 2X Infinity-O Display, with a resolution of 3088 x 1440 at 496 pixels-per-inch (PPI). It’s HDR10+ certified and delivers a heady 120 Hz refresh rate for silky smooth scrolling, and is bright, colorful, and perfect. I watched part of Spike Lee’s Inside Man while using the elliptical trainer at the gym this morning, and the experience was all the better for the device’s negligible bezels, which delivers a true “all-display” design that makes the recent iPhones look laughable by comparison.
I’ve only done a bit of camera testing so far (again, it’s been busy). I took some ultrawide (.5X), wide (1X), and basic zoom (5X) shots of the car yesterday, for example.
Zoom (5X)And then several shots this morning while walking the dog, but it was hazy and not the best of conditions.
I’ll take more shots in the coming days, especially low-light and zoom, but I like what I see so far. The Note 20 Ultra camera system seems to cut the difference between the ultra-colorful HDR pop of the Huawei P30 Pro and the dull Pixel 4a/4 XL, so it should be nearly ideal for most.
Authentication has been a bit of a rough spot. The Note 20 Ultra lets you sign-in via facial recognition (which I’ve configured) or an in-screen fingerprint reader (which I just configured while writing this but haven’t tried yet) in addition to using a more pedestrian PIN, and I like that range of choice. But the facial recognition has been hit and miss. When I wear sunglasses, it can’t recognize me. Ditto when I wear a mask, as I do at the gym, and that’s a tough one because I need to check OneNote for the correct weights as I move from machine to machine. I’ll try the fingerprint reader going forward.
As I noted yesterday, I’m very interested in the Microsoft integrations. The phone comes with the LinkedIn, Office, OneDrive, and Outlook apps preinstalled, and there is a “Link to Windows” option in the notification shade’s Quick Actions display, which I did configure. However, as I wrote earlier today, the ability to remotely access the device’s Android apps from a connected Windows PC, currently a Samsung exclusive, isn’t great. I’ll be talking the team responsible for this soon and maybe they have some ideas for a more seamless experience. Looking ahead, however, I also plan to test the other integration features and check out the Microsoft app experience in DeX.
Using this handset side-by-side with the tiny Pixel 4a has been interesting. I really like the Pixel and my review will be quite positive. But my initial reaction to using the Note 20 Ultra was, now this is my kind of phone. I love the display, and I love the form factor, especially the Mystic Bronze finish. I could easily justify the cost by using it over a long period of time and by taking advantage of Samsung’s generous trade-in offers. What was a $1300 purchase could easily be brought down to $700 or $750.
I’m seriously considering it. More soon.