A refinement of the formula
Samsung has settled into a new routine for its Galaxy Note line of smartphones: take some of the major new features from the flagship Galaxy S updates from earlier in the year, improve on them slightly, and add a stylus. Instead of being the first with new technology, the Note has become the phone that refines it.
If there is something new for Samsung’s routine, it’s this new “Ultra” moniker at the end of its flagship S and Note phones. We’re used to phones coming in small and big, but now Samsung wants to introduce yet another tier. Near as I can tell, what “Ultra” mostly means is going all-out on every possible spec and making the camera bump gigantic. Samsung has long felt the likes of OnePlus and Huawei (at least until this year) nipping at its heels, and the Ultra tier of its phones is Samsung’s answer to anybody who thinks it can’t make the highest-level Android phone.
Ultra also means ultra-pricey, as the Note 20 Ultra starts at $1,299.99 for a model with 128GB of storage. You can bump that all the way up to 512GB for $1,449.99.
There are lots of great things about routines: they are predictable, they allow you to build up skills, they are comfortable and familiar. But they can also lead you to fall into a rut. The Note 20 Ultra avoids that trap, fortunately — not because it has new ideas, but because it does such a good job with the same old ones.
There’s no one thing I can point at to explain what makes the Note 20 Ultra such a good phone. But there are a lot of little things.
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra hardware
The Note 20 Ultra is a huge phone with a 6.9-inch screen. It’s so big that I want to bring back the term “phablet” just to describe it. That’s because it’s large enough to cross some hazy line where it begins to feel like a little tablet instead of a large phone. Normally, I reach for my Kindle when I want to read an ebook or a Switch when I want a portable game machine, but the screen on the Note 20 Ultra is big enough that I never felt like I needed either.
The Note 20 Ultra’s most prominent hardware feature is a promontory. It has this massive, mesa-like camera bump on the back that houses the three cameras, a laser focus sensor, and the flash. It’s not just that it’s huge, it’s that it juts straight out of what is otherwise a vast, flat expanse of phone.