Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are now official and there’s one big takeaway from their unveiling: run a mile from the Note 20.
Confirming my fears, in the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Samsung announced its most compelling smartphone of the year but, in the Note 20, its least. Here’s why:
Price – the Note 20 costs $1,000. That’s a premium price, but there’s very little that’s premium about this phone. Such as…
Design – the Note 20 is not just a predictable step back from the Note 20 Ultra, it is a step back from the entry-level Note 10. The Note 20 has thicker bezels on all sides and is the first Note since 2014 not to ship with a glass back, using a polycarbonate plastic chassis instead.
Display – jumping from the Note 10’s relatively portable 6.3-inch form factor to a massive 6.7-inch display will polarize opinion, but using two year old Gorilla Glass 5 when the Note 10 uses Gorilla Glass 6 and the Note 20 Ultra uses the latest Gorilla Glass 7 (aka ‘Victus’) is a slap in the face.
Refresh Rate – every Galaxy S20 shipped with a 120Hz fast refresh rate display, even the Note 10 and Galaxy S10 have the option to enable this. Not so the Note 20, which is stuck at 60Hz. With the $349 Google Pixel 4a offering a 90Hz refresh rate, this is an inexcusable backwards step for a $1,000 outlay.
S Pen – the primary reason to pay so much for a Galaxy Note is its S Pen, but even here the Note 20 is inferior to the Ultra. The former has a 26ms response time, the latter a significantly better 9ms. At least this is one area where the Note 20 does improve on the 2019 Note 10.
Future Proofing – despite being seen as a major shortcoming in the Note 10, the Note 20 again comes with no expandable storage. Both the Galaxy Note 10+ and Note 20 Ultra offer this. The Note 20 Ultra also added Ultra wideband (UWB) for super fast file transfers and Samsung has grand plans to use it for improved positional tracking and AR technology. Apple is also betting big on UWB. The Note 20 doesn’t have it.
Performance – the Note 10 and Note 10+ both used the same Snapdragon chipset, but the Note 20 gets Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 when the Note 20 Ultra has an upgraded Snapdragon 865+. The 865 remains a fast chipset, but if Apple can put the same chipset in its $399 iPhone SE as its $1,100 iPhone 11 Pro Max, then Samsung should be offering parity with its sibling for $1,000.
In sum, the Galaxy Note 20 is not a $1,000 smartphone and, in many ways, it is inferior to last year’s Note 10 and Note 10+ – both of which can now be bought for a lot less. Initial reaction to the device also appears to be overwhelmingly negative and it’s hard to understand what Samsung was trying to achieve, especially in a financially restricted, pandemic impacted world.
At $1,299, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an expensive phone, but if you can afford a $1,000 smartphone chances are you can afford the extra and you’ll be getting a cutting edge device in every respect. In contrast, the Note 20 is a mess. And don’t let the name fool you. This is not a Note 20, it’s outclassed by its predecessor and by all manner of cheaper smartphones already on the market, including the entire Galaxy S20 series.
History won’t remember the Note 20 kindly. With the radical new Galaxy S21 already on the horizon, do yourself a favor and forget it too.