Take Note: S Pen sets it apart from the competition

Another year, another Samsung Note review, but this year there are two models for Noel Campion to examine
Take Note: S Pen sets it apart from the competition

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 in mystic green.

I’ve been testing the lesser expensive Note 20, but those looking for the ultimate in a premium Note experience will have to shell out an extra €350 for the Note 20 Ultra.

Screen

I have been a fan of the Note series since the original Note, which set the trend for larger displays smartphones. It’s hard to believe that the original Note’s 5.3-inch screen begat the term phablet. The Note 20 has a stunning 6.7-inch OLED display with tiny bezels, but unlike the Ultra’s 120Hz display, the standard Note is only 60Hz. This is a little surprising considering the new Galaxy S20 Fan Edition has a 120Hz display for a starting price of €669.

I do like that the screen corners are square rather than the rounded corners preferred by so many smartphone screens in 2020. Also, unlike the Ultra which has rounded sides, the Note 20 has a flat-screen, which I prefer especially when using the S Pen.

The 6.7-inch AMOLED display is excellent, but not quite as bright as the Ultra and it’s only a 1080p display not 1440p. It does come with HDR 10 + support, which is almost a given these days and coupled with a stereo sound system, it’s an excellent device for gaming and watching movies and TV shows.

Build

For a flagship smartphone in 2020, it seems strange that the back is made of plastic and not glass like most mid to high-end phones. Most people put a case on their phones, so this is not a dealbreaker, but without it, it does feel less premium. Personally, I love the look of glass, but to be fair, plastic is more practical.

Features

The Note 20 features all the stuff you’d expect from a flagship including wireless charging, reverse wireless charging, IP68 water, and dust resistance. Wifi 6 and both 4G or 5G depending on the model you buy.

Cameras

Around the back, you’ll find a triple-lens camera system and a camera bump that is significantly smaller than the one on the Note 20 Ultra, which has a 5X periscope lens.

A picture taken by our reviewer with the Galaxy Note 20.
A picture taken by our reviewer with the Galaxy Note 20.

It has a 12MP main sensor, a 12MP ultrawide, and a 64MP 3X telephoto. I’m glad to see they put the higher megapixel sensor on the telephoto where you want to be able to capture more fine detail. This also means you get improved digital zoom (30x) although I rarely see the need to go beyond 10x.

The Note 20 can shoot up to 8K in 24fps from the main camera or 4K at 60fps from any of the cameras, including the selfie camera. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, 8K video is a gimmick and not a reason to buy any phone. However, video at 4K and 1080p is excellent with smooth stabilisation, accurate colours, and high dynamic range.

I really enjoyed using the rear cameras for stills. It was capable of taking excellent close-up macro shots and ultrawide landscapes. Photos can look a little over-saturated, but they’re instantly shareable with lots of stunning detail.

Night mode shots have improved over previous generations but aren’t class-leading.

Around the front is a small punch hole in the display to house the front-facing 10MP camera. This takes decent photos with good details and colour but results are not on par with other flagships like the Pixel 4 or Huawei P40.

Autofocus has been vastly improved over the S20 line and now thanks to Dual Pixel AF, the Note 20 has no noticeable issues acquiring focus.

S Pen

S Pen makes it a Note. 
S Pen makes it a Note. 

The S Pen is what makes this phone a Note. Samsung has improved latency from 46ms down to 25ms although the Ultra manages an even more impressive 9ms. In reality, I don’t think anyone will see much of a difference when taking notes or even drawing on a small screen unlike you would on a tablet. Also, I have found that pen latency is more obvious in some apps with Samsung Notes being the best.

Battery and performance

The Note 20 has a 4300mAh battery, 200mAh less than the Ultra. I was easily able to get through a day of moderate use, but on some days with heavy use, I was looking for the charger before the day ended.

In Europe, the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra ship with Samsung's in-house Exynos 990 CPU, but in other parts of the world, it comes with the Snapdragon 865+ which is more energy-efficient and faster. In real-world use, I never found the Note 20 slow and it always felt super smooth and fast. However, I do find it strange that on both the US and IE sites for the Note 20 they don’t mention Snapdragon or Exynos in the specs sheet. They only refer to the CPUs as octa-core processors.

Verdict

Overall, I really loved using the Note 20 and it is an excellent phone and probably one of my favourites of 2020. The excellent S Pen is what now distinguishes it from all other flagships and not battery performance or overall high-end hardware. However, when compared to other €1,000 phones, it’s hard to recommend unless you’re willing to wait for it to come down in price or the S Pen is a must-have. If you're sitting on the fence about buying the Note 20 you should consider if it's worth spending the extra €350 to get the Note 20 Ultra which has a glass back, 120Hz display, less latency on the S Pen, a microSD card slot, 108MP main sensor and 5X optical zoom, a larger 6.9-inch 2K screen, 12GB of RAM and a larger 4,500mAh battery.

Samsung Note 20 4G with 8GB/256GB is €983 or with 5G for €1,081 from samsung.com

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