Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Day Two

Posted on August 27, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android with 29 Comments

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.

Default home screen

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.

Ultra-wide (.5X)

Wide (1X)

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.

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Comments (29)

29 responses to “Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Day Two”

  1. Remtiwk

    I got my Note 20 Ultra as well. I think it's the best phone I've used yet, and I hope it lasts me for a few years, due to the price. :)

  2. dallasnorth40

    My Galaxy S9+ is 28 months old, so I'm feeling the itch. The Note 20 Ultra very tempting. If I can get it down to a grand with my trade, I may have to do this.

  3. joeparis

    Quick question, is there any reason one couldn't remove the pre-installed Netflix app (for example) that came from the Galaxy Store and then install it from the Play Store so that it will take advantage of Google Smart Lock? Obviously this wouldn't work for the Samsung-specific apps, but what about third-party apps?


    Updating non Samsung pre-installed apps via the Galaxy store seems a negative move, it only used to be first party titles. Guess uninstalling them and reinstalling via Play is the fix.

    Facial recognition not working with a mask or sunglasses seems reasonable. Do other phones work with and if so, are they not easily spoofed?

    • Paul Thurrott

      The bigger issue to me is the password pass-through. Granted, it's one-time problem. I didn't mean to suggest that facial recognition should work with sunglasses or a mask. Just that this happened and that I'd be adding a fingerprint.
  5. Daekar

    I'm with you on the initial reaction, I got my first Note this last time around and the large screen was a breath of fresh air. They may not be perfect, but I think Samsung devices are pretty good.

  6. rickeveleigh

    Be interested to know how you get on with the fingerprint reader at the gym. When I go running the fingerprint reader stops working, I assume either because it can't cope with the sweat or my fingers have swollen slightly. Maybe I need to register my fingerprints again immediately after a run.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah. It will be a few days before I'm sure, but having enabled it, I find myself just using it by default and it's been working well. The gym could change that, for sure. Granted, I don't work THAT hard. :)
  7. wolters

    Hey Paul...great Day Two thoughts...I'm in agreement with much of what you much as I like the Pixel, I'm with you..."this is my kind of phone"

    Some of my thoughts:

    • The phone feels like a productivity powerhouse yet it also feels fun.
    • I love the extra screen space for widgets where I can have a home screen or two dedicated to work, using the edge panels for quick access to every day apps, using the main home screen for Samsung Health, personal calendar, home and parental control folders. Then one for media and lastly one for Google News/Feedly and PocketCasts.
    • The camera app is super rich in features and with the excellent video in both 4K and 8K, I feel I could easily do easy to moderate video editing with Adobe Rush and have a very professional looking video. Case and point, for the first time in Arkansas history in my home county, we had a Tropical Storm Warning and I plan on editing a video documenting the days leading up to it and the day of the storm. I feel confident this phone can do an amazing job.
    • The improving but still subtle Microsoft Integrations are nice to have and anxious to get Samsung Notes / OneNote Syncing as I often use Screen Off Memos.
    • Face Unlock is nowhere near as good as Pixel 4 XL but it works well when in good lighting and the on-screen fingerprint has vastly improved over the Note 10+.
    • The camera has taken some amazing shots so far and while I've encountered some of that inconsistency I often get from Samsung cameras, it has impressed me more than frustrated me. Night Mode, so far, still feels inferior to the Pixel 4 XL. I took a few during the storm at night and it just hasn't been as impressive as I expected.
    • One UI is excellent, even if I generally prefer pure/Pixel android.
    • I'm using a clear case so it still shows that awesome Mystic Bronze. Just wish people at work would stop calling it "pink." ?

    I'm quite impressed...

  8. mmcpher

    I've had Notes 8, 9 and 10 and am ready for an upgrade. Out of avarice, not need. I traded my 9 to get the 10, but the "old" 8 still works really well. So my current thinking is to pass on the 20 Ultra and go instead with a Duo or even a Galaxy Z Fold 2. But hearing about the 20 Ultra has me back where I was a few years back, with a perfectly functional Note 9 grasping for some rationale to upgrade. The Trade-in value did the trick.

    I use the S-pen on the 10 more than on any of my previous devices but it is not necessarily the sort of thing that will emerge from a test run review, even if it is extended over a few weeks. The note-taking aspects are still a little disappointing, and as large as the screen is, it still feels cramped (particularly too narrow) for a hand-writing device. But the s-pen is great for precision screen selection and dragging and dropping. Another great thing (in addition to the availability of a choice of great quality accessories) about the Notes is the camera software upgrades work so well. After the most recent upgrade, I was startled by the quality of my own pictures (as if someone else had taken my camera and pictures for me). The Notes are devices that improve over time because of Samsung's updates, and because the user discovers more and better ways to operate the device. It has terrific staying power. If I get a Duo or a Fold, I will fire the Note 8 back up and it will be fine.

    • wolters

      In reply to mmcpher:

      Since the Note 5, I've had the 7, 8, 9 and 10+. The Note 7 (before the battery problem) still feels like my favorite one since then...until now. Not sure what it is but the Note 20 Ultra feels like the perfect isn't like a ton of changes were made but it just feels like the most complete phone for productivity, fun and photography.

  9. dcdevito

    I have (and enjoy) my iPhone 11 (non-Pro) and overall have enjoyed my migration to an all-Apple ecosystem. If there was one device I would switch to it would be the Note, but Samsung's software and software redundancy often makes me forget it - then the next year the successor is released, and I repeat the process.

    This year feels different, I could see myself using just one device "to rule them all" and this device would be the only one that could possibly pull it off. But for $1300+ I can have three apple devices - iPhone 11 ($700), Apple Watch and a base iPad and be just as productive. Perhaps around Black Friday time I will give this device another look.

    • wolters

      In reply to dcdevito:

      I'm actually using Note 20 Ultra, Galaxy Watch 3, Tab S6 (getting 7 when LTE model is out)...I find myself more productive with this setup yet also healthier and yes, I have fun with it. I use a combo of Google/Microsoft apps and use a few Samsung apps that sync between watch/phone to do reminders when at work for when I walk by and someone need something. Main machine is a Surface Book 3 and I am trying to use YourPhone on it and my work PC.

      I think I may stay with this for now...

  10. rlcronin

    I just can't get past the Samsung crapware. Great hardware. Bloated software that needlessly duplicates function and rather than adding value, just confuses things.

  11. igor engelen

    When I purely look at the design and screen quality this is a marvelous phone but since I'm too heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem I'll stick with an iPhone, for now. Not sure for how long though.

  12. Jim Lewis

    Can't reply to premium member crunchyfrog directly but on the "can't replace the battery" issue, I have a Galaxy Note 8 (waiting for BT 5.2, a.k.a. as BT LE Audio, see website). Samsung has made uBreakiFix an authorized service center for Galaxy devices. Last time I checked, I could get the battery in my Note 8 replaced for $80 - I think the service agreement has a disclaimer that if they trash your device in trying to replace the device, they will replace it with an equivalent refurbished device or some such thing (too lazy to look up). So there is some risk to your personal device on getting a battery replacement but it can be done, just as for the iPhone (I think the iPhone battery replacement is even cheaper).

    The main thing is that support and security updates only last 3 years or so. So even if you can replace the battery, you'll soon be skating on thin ice. With autos, I think it's required by law in the U.S. that manufacturers be able to supply replacement parts for something like 20 years (at least it was true long ago when I was a kid). There ought to be some laws that extend the longevity of phones so that they don't build planned obsolescence into the phone. Yeah, I know, legislators are brilliant and not to be trusted and it will make smartphones more expensive because the industry might not then have the device turnover they need to be as profitable as they want. But people should buy smartphones because they want the new features offered not that they can't replace the battery or they can no longer get security updates. If I can have a Windows PC still be a decent PC 11 years later with an SSD in it (2009 Dell XPS 1340), why can't smartphones be made to last at least a few years longer than 3.

  13. lilmoe

    You really do love your sushi. Dammit, I'm calling our favorite place now.

  14. crunchyfrog

    What really gets to me these days is that as great (and expensive) as these premium phones are, we still only keep them for a few years at best. It's really crazy; so much so that I've started leasing my phones and just buying cheap cases because I know I am getting the latest model in 12 months anyway. Why not lease them, you can't replace the battery and those are pretty much worn out within a year or two.

  15. LT1 Z51

    You gotta remove the front plate holder.... Samsung makes the only Android devices that make me think of leaving Apple.

  16. beckoningeagle

    I am probably getting one next Tuesday. I am wondering about what you said with Google Smart Lock. If I use a third party password manager (1Password), would this also be an issue in which I can use it to unlock Google Play apps and not Samsung Apps?

    You could configure the phone to remain unlocked while in the Gym using the Smart Lock functionality. Since you actively use it there it should be fine.

    That looks like a wonderful place to walk a dog. Looks very peaceful.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Hm. I'm not sure how that (password manager with Galaxy Store apps) would work, sorry. I'm going to try to figure this stuff out. It's kind of a weird issue, but aside from many of the Samsung apps, you could always just use Play Store apps and not worry about it. I do have a Samsung account, so there are at least some app passwords syncing through there, but obviously the Samsung apps would just authenticate against your Samsung account, so that's all good.
    • jgraebner

      In reply to BeckoningEagle:

      I use 1Password and it works fine both with the Google Play and Galaxy Store apps on the Note 20 Ultra.

  17. yoshi

    Paul, is it true that it doesn't come with a pre-installed screen protector? I liked that Samsung had been doing that the last couple years. Not a deal breaker of course, but it was nice.

    I will say this post has made me even more tempted to get it. Especially with $500 for my trade.

    • Kevin Holt

      In reply to yoshi:

      It has the same sort of screen protctror that samsung has been putting on the devices for a few years now , so you dont have to worry. Put personally I get rid of it as I find the finderprint sensor works quicker and more acurately with out it.

      • Paul Thurrott

        So, I should have mentioned that the screen protector that Samsung put on this phone had a hole in it where the fingerprint reader is under the screen.
    • Paul Thurrott

      No, it does come with one. I just mentioned this somewhere, but there's a cutout in it for the in-screen fingerprint reader.
      • gartenspartan

        It's not a long term screen protector like they included on the S10 and S20 family. It has a pull tab at the top and is meant to pull off so I don't consider it a real screen protector. Plus the international models of the note 20 do seem to have the actual factory protector installed, which doesn't have the pull tab or the hole for the finger print.

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

  18. rusty chameleon

    Wow you're going to a gym.

    Even with a mask, seems a bit....questionable?

    • Paul Thurrott

      I didn't think I'd go back. But when gyms reopened in PA the gym sent out an email detailing everything they're doing to keep people safe, so I went to check it out, and it does seem safe. They've separated things by more distance where needed, cut off access to the drinking fountains and every other elliptical-type machine, etc. I mostly just use weight machines and everyone is very clean, most people clean before and after use, and the gym does its own sweeps and has extra cleaning stuff everywhere. I feel safer going here than I would stepping foot inside a restaurant.
      • rusty chameleon

        In reply to paul-thurrott:

        Thanks for the info Paul. Our gym has done similar, but no way we're going to go into an enclosed space where people sweat and breathe hard. Our limits might be tighter than yours, however, since we're in the early 60's demo, a bit older than you!

        Stay safe.

        • Paul Thurrott

          I certainly understand and would never try to convince you to do otherwise. For me, it's a big space, I just use machines, so there's no one jumping around and flinging sweat or whatever. I read a mask. Clean assiduously. And get the heck out of there. I wouldn't take a class here, for sure. It's also a lot less crowded than it used to be. I think if I had walked in on a big crowd that first day, I'd have turned around and given up.
  19. dftf

    Two things that may help you Paul with USB file-transfer on your Pixel phone:

    (1) Next time you connect the phone and swipe-down from the top to select the mode, tap "Connected device" under the "Connection controlled by" heading.

    (2) Or go to Apps > Settings > System > Advanced > Developer Options. Tap "Default USB Configuration" and pick your preferred mode there