Samsung occupies an extremely strong position in the world of premium flagship smartphones, with the annual refreshes in its S series and Note series portfolios being the torchbearers. Since last year, that position has solidified even further, given the brand’s efforts in the foldable smartphone segment. While the foldable segment is still very new, it’s Samsung’s Note range that stands out even more in my opinion. The reason is simple – no other smartphone manufacturer as been able to come close to a Galaxy Note smartphone’s prowess (specifically the S Pen) in all these years, and it’s not because of lack of effort either. Quite a few have tried, and failed. This is why the unveiling of a new Galaxy Note is special each year. This time, the spotlight is on the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G, Samsung’s latest and greatest… a brand new unit of which is now in my hands.

Now that my hands are on it, I must tell you how the hands-on went. The retail box doesn’t really hold any big surprises, except probably some that relate to the omissions rather than the inclusions. You see, I couldn’t find the usual silicone case, which is usually part of the package. Those apart, the box has the usual paraphernalia that includes a fast charging adapter, a Type-C to Type-C cable, AKG-branded wired earphones (with a Type-C connector), a SIM eject pin and some documentation. 

The Note20 Ultra 5G is a mouthful of a name for a smartphone, but after a gander at the device itself and a quick scan of its specs sheet and feature set, it seems to me that the big moniker is justified. The smartphone is large, but you might still be surprised to know that it holds a screen that measures 6.9-inches diagonally. That’s almost tablet territory, but the Note20 Ultra’s size is still manageable, thanks to the super-slim bezels around the display. The smartphone is semi though, and despite its weight, feels well balanced in the hand. The look and feel is quite premium, as expected of a Samsung flagship. The sleek glass-encased body, with the new matte-finished, Mystic Bronze shade looks quite distinguished and elegant. Of course, if you don’t like this hue, there are other options to choose from. Personally, I find it quite nice…. it’s understated and classy. Furthermore, the screen is layered with Corning Gorilla Glass Victus, said to be the toughest glass ever on a smartphone. Well, I haven’t put it to the test yet, and nor do I intend to, frankly. However, I’m glad it’s there, and hopefully, it should be able to keep dings and scratches at bay. 

The large camera bump on the top left of the back protrudes quite a bit, so much so that it doesn’t seem like a cohesive part of the phone’s body…. looking like something that has been slapped on as an afterthought. Three circular and large lens openings can be made out clearly, alongside a flash and a laser AF module. Other than that, there’s just Samsung branding on the back.

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The top edge of the phone holds a SIM tray that accepts two nano-SIMs, one of which can be traded for a microSD card. It seems that Samsung is the only brand that’s still offering memory expansion on premium flagship smartphones, which is quite appreciable. On the other hand, the company has joined others in dropping the 3.5mm audio socket, and there’s no sign of that on the Note20 Ultra 5G. The left side of the phone’s body is barren, while the right spine holds the power key and volume rocker.

On the bottom, you’ll find the Type-C port and speaker, with the silo that holds the S Pen on the left. On the previous model, this silo was placed on the right, which just seems a more natural place for it. So I’m not sure what prompted the change… or maybe I’m just being selfish since I’m right handed myself. The spring-loaded S Pen pops out with a press, and as is the case each time, forms the mainstay of the smartphone…. more on that in just a bit.

Now a 6.9-inch sAMOLED screen, offering QHD+ resolution, with HDR10+ support and up to 120Hz refresh rate, and bearing Samsung’s name has to be a visual treat, and that’s exactly what the Note20 Ultra 5G’s screen is. Only disrupted by a small punch hole in the top centre for the 10MP front camera, the so-called Infinity-O display does look gorgeous. Inside is Samsung’s Exynos 990 SoC, the same 7nm silicon that powered the brand’s S20 lineup. This time though, Samsung has brought the 5G version of the flagship to India – not that it’s going to do you any good. Still, it’s nice to know that the device is future proof in that respect, and users could potentially get to use its 5G capabilities while roaming internationally, once the COVID-related concerns subside. Also on offer is 12 gigs of RAM, and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage. There’s no doubt about the fact that this smartphone is quite fast, and powerful enough to handle all kinds of tasks. And there were really no jitters or hiccups in my brief usage to indicate otherwise.

The S Pen, which is the pillar of the Note lineup, brings a ton of features as usual. The pointing device uses Bluetooth, just like that last couple of iterations, and lets you jot down notes, draw, drag/drop stuff and lots more. You also get the ability to convert handwritten notes into editable text that can be pasted into documents, translate text from one language to the other, etc. The remote functionality that was also part of the deal with the predecessor is also there. allowing you to use the S Pen to perform gestures in the air (the feature is aptly called Air Actions). The gestures get converted into actions for navigating pictures in the gallery, shooting pictures and selfies, and others, depending upon the actual gesture you performed. On the Note20 Ultra 5G, Samsung has expanded the gesture controls functionality, and added something called “Anywhere actions” that allow you to use gestures to navigate the phone. However, one of the biggest ways  the S Pen in the Note20 Ultra has been improved is by reducing latency and enhancing the gyro sensor and accelerometer. Samsung says the combination of all these enhancements results into the most realistic handwriting and drawing experience possible, and that’s something I’ll be putting to the test.

For shooting, the Note20 Ultra 5G offers a triple camera setup, comprising a 108MP wide-angle main snapper, aided by a 12MP ultra-wide and a 12MP telephoto sensor. There’s 8K video recoding, 5x optical zoom, 50x Super Resolution Zoom, along with features like Single Take, Video Snap, dedicated Night mode, 960 fps Super Slow-mo, and even HDR10+ video recording. Basically, the whole gamut of Samsung’s photography and videography expertise is on offer, and going by past experience, I think it should be able to deliver the goods, even without testing it properly. That said, it would still be interesting to how the Note20 Ultra’s camera fares in real life.

Samsung’s OneUI 2.5 based on Android 10 is on board, complete with the comprehensive ecosystem of the brand’s apps and services. There are a bunch of pre-loaded apps as usual, and apart the standard set that comes from Google, there are some from Samsung and Microsoft as well. Among Samsung’s offerings, there are the likes of Samsung Pay, Samsung Health and Secure Folder (which is part of the Knox security platform).

Also part of the package are a smorgasboard of productivity-related features. The DeX functionality, which provides the user with a desktop-like experience when the smartphone is connected to a large-screen display, is there. This time though, the functionality has been made wireless. Apparently, it works wirelessly only with compatible TVs, but otherwise, you still have the option of connecting the phone to a TV using an HDMI dongle. You also get Link to Windows, a feature which enables you to use the Note20 Ultra with a Windows PC or laptop, and seamlessly drag and drop files, copy paste text etc. 

The Note20 Ultra 5G is powered by a 4,500mAh battery, and while I can’t use a 5G network to see how it holds up, the large display with 120Hz refresh rate and QHD+ resolution, along with some good ol’ gaming and lots of heavy-duty usage should be enough for stress testing. I’ll keep you posted on how it fares in terms of the battery life. All the other expected features are present – 25W fast charging, IP68 rating, wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging as well.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G is a loaded smartphone, taking an evolutionary route rather than a revolutionary one, and at Rs 1,04,999, costs a pretty penny too. I will have a few more things to say about it in the coming days, after I’ve had a chance to use it properly. So watch this space, stay tuned and keep your eyes peeled.