How Do Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 Phones Stack Up Against the Competition?

Samsung Note 20
Image: Supplied

I do love a new smartphone announcement day, and today is Samsung’s time to shine with its brand-new line of Galaxy Note 20 Android smartphones. The company announced two new models today, the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Before you plunk down for a pre-order we’re going to take a look at their specs and see how they stack up against the best of the rest.

Were it up to me, I’d wait for some reviews before I bought a new $1,400+ phone sight unseen, but the power of the pre-order is strong. I get it. To help you figure out which phone fits you best, we’re going to cover eight different categories and 12 different phones in our mini-roundup:

Display

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: 6.7″ FHD+ Super AMOLED (60Hz)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: 6.9″ Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X (120Hz with variable refresh)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: 6.2″ Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: 6.7″ Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 6.9” Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED 2X
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: 6.3″ FHD+ Dynamic AMOLED
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: 6.8″ Quad HD+ Dynamic AMOLED
  • Google Pixel 4: 5.7″ Full HD+ Smooth Display (up to 90Hz OLED)
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 6.3″ Quad HD+ Smooth Display (up to 90Hz OLED)
  • Apple iPhone 11: 6.1″ Liquid Retina HD display (60Hz LCD)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: 5.8″ Super Retina XDR display (60Hz OLED)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: 6.5″ Super Retina XDR display (60Hz OLED)

Analysis: This is one of those “You have to see it before you can talk about it” kinds of things. We haven’t had a chance to play around with a smartphone that has a variable refresh screen, as it’s not a conventional feature. (The Razer Phone 2 has one, if I’m right, but that’s a bit of a niche device.)

The benefits of this are simple: You can lower the refresh rate when it’s not necessary, such as when you’re checking your email, to preserve battery life. You can then kick that refresh rate up for more buttery-smooth video viewing or gameplay. Again, it’s a neat concept on paper — and those of us in the PC gaming world have enjoyed such tech on out monitors for years — and I’ll be curious to see how well it works in person.

However, the fact that you have to make this selection yourself, since the phone won’t switch the refresh rate for you, makes the feature feel a bit meh. You’ll stick with 120Hz, I wager; battery and resolution (which is set lower at 120Hz), be damned

One other note: You only get a variable refresh rate on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The regular Galaxy Note 20 sticks with the more-common fixed 60Hz.

Battery

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: 4,300 mAH
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: 4,500 mAH
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: 3500 mAh
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: 4300 mAh
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: 4,000 mAH
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: 4,500 mAH
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 5,000 mAH
  • Google Pixel 4: 2800 mAh
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 3700 mAh
  • Apple iPhone 11: ~3000 mAh
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: ~3200 mAh
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: ~4000 mAh

Analysis: Don’t buy phones based on their battery sizes, because it’s all about optimisation. A bigger battery doesn’t mean much if the phone’s hardware and software sucks a ton of power. We list these figures out for the sake of having data points, but you’ll want to wait for some hands-on reviews to really see how much time a 4,300+ battery will give you on one of the new Galaxy note 20 phones.

Processor

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • Google Pixel 4: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
  • Apple iPhone 11: A13 Bionic
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: A13 Bionic
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: A13 Bionic

Analysis: A Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ chip is a welcome upgrade over a Snapdragon 855, can run a clock speed that’s 10 per cent faster than the standard Snapdragon 865, but an A13 Bionic is still faster than everything. And when Apple eventually releases its next batch of iPhones, we fully expect the A14 to smoosh the Snapdragon 865+.

Memory

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: 8GB
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: 12GB
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: 8GB/12GB (LTE/5G)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: 12GB
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: 12GB (5G) or 8GB (LTE)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: 12GB (5G) or 8GB (LTE)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 16GB (512GB storage) or 12GB (128/256GB storage)
  • Google Pixel 4: 6GB RAM
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 6GB RAM
  • Apple iPhone 11: Undisclosed
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: Undisclosed
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Undisclosed

Analysis: Not a ton to talk about here, save for the fact that you’re locked into your memory choices this time around; no bonus memory, even if you get a phone with more storage. (That said, does one really need 16GB on a smartphone yet?)

Storage

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: 128GB
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: 128GB/512GB
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: 256GB
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: 256GB/512GB
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: 128GB
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: 128/256/512GB
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 128/256/512GB
  • Google Pixel 4: 64GB/128GB
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 64GB/128GB
  • Apple iPhone 11: 64GB/128GB/256GB
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: 64GB/256GB/512GB
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: 64GB/256GB/512GB

Analysis: A quirky distribution here, given that 128GB doesn’t feel like a lot, and 512GB almost feels like too much for most people. We think 256GB is a happy medium, but you’ll only be able to achieve that on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra by using an add-on microSD card. Said expansion slot is absent on the Galaxy Note 20, so 128GB is all you get, period. If you’re not a huge app or video junkie, that should be fine, but 256GB still seems like a better middle-of-the-road option.

Rear cameras

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: Triple 12MP Ultrawide, 12MP Wide, and 64MP Telephoto
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Triple 12MP Ultrawide, 108MP Wide, and 12MP Telephoto (w/ laser autofocus)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: Triple 16MP Ultrawide, 12MP Wide, and 12MP Telephoto
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: Quad 16MP Ultrawide, 12MP Wide, 12MP Telephoto, and DepthVision camera
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: Triple 12MP Ultrawide, 12MP Wide, 64MP Telephoto
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: Quad 12MP Ultrawide, 12MP Wide, 64MP Telephoto, and DepthVision camera
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: Quad 12MP Ultrawide, 108MP Wide, 48MP Telephoto, and DepthVision camera
  • Google Pixel 4: 12.2MP main and 16MP Telephoto
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 12.2MP main and 16MP Telephoto
  • Apple iPhone 11: Dual 12MP Ultrawide and Wide
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: Triple 12MP Ultrawide, Wide, and Telephoto
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: Triple 12MP Ultrawide, Wide, and Telephoto

Analysis: I tend to not worry about camera specs until I’ve seen people with much more patience and skill than me take all kinds of comparison photos. Nevertheless, that is an absurdly large megapixel count for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s standard wide-angle lens. That doesn’t really mean anything on paper, though; I’d be more concerned about the focus speed, how well the camera takes photos in a low-light environment (with an f/1.8 aperture for both wide lenses), and just how much better the Note 20 Ultra’s laser autofocus helps out your photography — especially since Samsung’s previous flagship, the Galaxy S20 Ultra, had persistent focusing problems.

Speaking of, Samsung has a more subdued “Space Zoom” feature on the Note 20 (scaled back to 50X from the 100X version found on the Galaxy S20 Ultra). I’ve never played with this setting, because any kind of zoom that large will invariably look terrible, but I’m curious to see if this reduction actually improves the quality to a reasonable degree.

Video recording

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: 8K at 24fps (and 1080p up to 120fps)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: 8K at 24fps (and 1080p up to 120fps)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: 4K at 60fps; 1080p at 60fps; 720p at 30fps
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: 4K at 60fps; 1080p at 60 or 240fps; 720p at 30 or 960fps
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: 8K at 24fps, 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 60fps, slow-mo 1080p at 240fps
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: 8K at 24fps, 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 60fps, slow-mo 1080p at 240fps
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: 8K at 24fps, 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 60fps, slow-mo 1080p at 240fps
  • Google Pixel 4: 4K at 30fps; 1080p at 30, 60, and 120fps; 720p at 240fps (rear camera). 1080p at 30fps (front camera)
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: 4K at 30fps; 1080p at 30, 60, and 120fps; 720p at 240fps (rear camera). 1080p at 30fps (front camera)
  • Apple iPhone 11: 4K at 24, 30, 0r 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, 120, or 240fps; 720p at 30fps (rear camera). 4K at 24, 30, or 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, or 120fps (front camera)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: 4K at 24, 30, 0r 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, 120, or 240fps; 720p at 30fps (rear camera). 4K at 24, 30, or 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, or 120fps (front camera)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: 4K at 24, 30, 0r 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, 120, or 240fps; 720p at 30fps (rear camera). 4K at 24, 30, or 60fps; 1080p at 30, 60, or 120fps (front camera)

Analysis: Does anyone really need to shoot videos at an 8K resolution right now? This feels more like a “because we can” upgrade than anything else.

Price

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20: $1,499 (128GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: $1,849 (128GB); $1,999 (512GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10: $1,499
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10+: $1,699 (256GB); $1,999 (512GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20: $1,349 (128GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20+: $1,499 (128GB)
  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra: $1,999 (128GB); $2,249 (512GB)
  • Google Pixel 4: $1,049
  • Google Pixel 4 XL: $1,279
  • Apple iPhone 11: $1,199 (64GB); $1,279 (128GB); $1,449 (256GB)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro: $1,749 (64GB); $1,999 (256GB); $2,349 (512GB)
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max: $1,899 (64GB); $2,149 (256GB); $2,499 (512GB)

Analysis: There’s no doubt in my mind that the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the best smartphone out there, period — at least, based on the features you’re getting. If price is no object, and you don’t mind bloat (or Bixby), you won’t find a phone that has more right now. Ideally, its camera (and focusing) is a vast improvement over what we saw on the Galaxy S20. That in itself, feels like it’s worth a buy over Samsung’s previous flagship.

However, is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra the right phone for you? That’s the bigger question. Given that we’re oh-so-close to the launch of Google’s Pixel 5 — a bloat-free device that gets you the latest Android updates the minute Google drops them — I wouldn’t put in a preorder until I’ve at least seen how Google’s offering measures up.

At least, I’m assuming most people aren’t shopping for a top-tier smartphone, especially during these crazy pandemic times, so it’s possible that a much cheaper offering from Google might be all you need in your next device.

I’m not concerned about the performance of the new Galaxy Note 20 phones; I’m sure they’re plenty fast and look incredible. That all said, my Pixel 3 XL is still plenty fast for all the mundane tasks I use it to accomplish, and I don’t often care about having batshit-crazy screen quality for a 6+ inch display (especially since my phone carrier throttles my YouTube performance anyway on mobile, making a gorgeous display less of a concern for my everyday use).

This analysis is very me, me, me, but I think that’s the kind of thought process you should go through when vetting out your next device. A $2,000 phone sits in “decently well-powered” laptop territory — pricier than the latest MacBook Air, to put it in perspective. I’d almost rather have a reasonable Android device that’s practical and simple and a decent laptop, rather than one souped-up phone that will stop receiving major updates two Android iterations from now.

Again, if money is no object, the $1,999 Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the phone to beat. But we’ve reached a point in the evolution of smartphones where the devices coming out nowadays are plenty fast and pretty enough for everything you’re doing. I’m willing to bet the Galaxy Note 20 will still beat out upcoming Google’s Pixel 5 for overall features, no question, but will it do so enough that it’s worth, say, the extra $600-$1,500 you might be spend? Only you can really decide that for yourself.

My gut feeling is that I’d rather have a cheaper Pixel 5 than a somewhat-watered-down Galaxy Note 20, as long as the camera quality isn’t a blowout for one device over the other. As for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, a starting price of $1,849 for a mere 128GB of memory is getting into territory where it’s worth being picky. I’d have concerns that its cameras share too much in common with Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line. And those weren’t great. In fact, I’d say Google’s Pixel 4 XL is just as good for photos compared to the S20, if not slightly better than Samsung’s phones, for a starting price of only $1,049 (really $1,300+, since you’ll want at least 128GB of storage).

And 5G? Meh. Don’t buy a phone for simply because it offers 5G. You could probably go another year without having to worry about it (and what it does to your battery life if you use it constantly). I’d only care about 5G if I was buying something I know I’d use for the next several years; otherwise, it’s just not that big of a deal yet.

I think you probably don’t need a Galaxy Note 20 unless you really want a stylus. I’d rather have the Galaxy S20’s higher-resolution screen that can run at 120Hz. And if you’re considering the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, I’d wait for reviews to really assess its camera setup. Otherwise, a capable Android phone that doesn’t cost the price of a laptop might be a more reasonable alternative: The Pixel 5 (assuming it’s not terrible) or the OnePlus 8 Pro, for example.

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