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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 hands-on review: Overshadowed, but not outdone

Price when reviewed : £849
inc VAT

Upgrades a’plenty, but the Note 20 lacks some of the Ultra’s key features

The state of the world might feel a bit uncertain right now, but you can always rely on Samsung for a sprinkling of consistency: by the time August rolls around, you know its time for a Note or two to resurface for a yearly re-do.

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Despite COVID-19 disrupting the usual spate of tech launches, Samsung has shown off a wide variety of tech products at its bi-annual “Galaxy Unpacked” event, including a 5G-enabled tablet, a new pair of Bluetooth earphones and the Galaxy Watch 3. We’re here today to talk about the Galaxy Note 20, though, and why it doesn’t need to be as feature-rich as the more expensive Note 20 Ultra in order to successfully stand out from the crowd.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review: Key specifications, price and release date

  • 6.7in, 60Hz FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080), Super AMOLED screen (393ppi)
  • Octa-core 2.73GHz Samsung Exynos 990 processor
  • 8GB of RAM
  • 256GB of storage (no microSD expansion)
  • 4G and 5G variants
  • Quad rear camera: 12MP (f/1.8), 64MP (f/2.0) 3x telephoto, 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide
  • “Space Zoom” (hybrid zoom up to 30x)
  • Selfie camera: 10MP (f/2.2)
  • 4,300mAh battery
  • IP68-rated waterproofing
  • 162 x 75 x 8.3mm
  • 192g
  • Mystic Green, Mystic Grey, Mystic Bronze
  • UK release date: Preorder from 5 August, available from 11 August
  • UK price: £849 (4G), £949 (5G)

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review: Design, key features and first impressions

As it turns out, the less impressive handset of the two might be the smartphone we recommend. The starting price of the Note 20 Ultra – a lofty £1,179 – isn’t for the faint of heart, so you might want to do your wallet a favour and pick up the regular Note 20 instead, saving as much as £330. 

That’s the maximum possible saving, of course, since the Galaxy Note 20’s starting price is only for the 4G model. Whether or not you think it’s worth shelling out the extra cash for 5G is entirely up to you, though. If you ask me, it’s still early days when it comes to 5G infrastructure – the speeds aren’t great and the coverage is patchy – so you’re possibly better off saving your money.

Of course, there’s also the option to ditch both phones entirely, saving even more and buying a Galaxy S20 or Note 10 instead – both of which have dropped in price since launch. This is a matter of discussion for when I publish my full review, however, and I’m sure you clicked on this article to read about all the new goodies that the Note 20 is bringing to the table, rather than read someone prattling on about cost savings.

So, what are you getting for your money? Well, the Galaxy Note 20 is (almost) as fully fledged as the Note 20 Ultra, bar a few exceptions. The biggest differences lie mostly in the screen: the Note 20 has a smaller, 6.7in Super AMOLED display, at a reduced resolution of FHD+. It also doesn’t support the new silky-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, instead making do with a bog-standard 60Hz. The screen doesn’t curve around the left and right edges of the handset, either. How quaint.

On that note, the Note 20 is still as eye-catching as its Ultra counterpart. It might not have curved edges, but the Note 20 looks rather lovely, with a frosted glass back and neat rectangular camera housing. The Note 20 can be picked up in a choice of three colours in the UK: ‘Mystic Green’, ‘Mystic Grey’ and ‘Mystic Bronze’.

On the front, there’s barely a whiff of a bezel, with just a simple circular hole-punch notch in the top-centre of the screen, which houses the 10-megapixel selfie snapper. The phone itself is IP68 rated for protection against water and dust, and there’s no dedicated Bixby button this year, either, fuelling rumours that Samsung is ditching its much-maligned digital butler altogether. Huzzah!

Being a Note phone, Samsung’s S Pen makes yet another appearance, albeit with a few slight changes. It now slots into the bottom left corner of the handset, has a slightly changed design and there are some new “Air Actions” gestures, such as the ability to waggle the stylus to take a screenshot. Samsung has also made a few tweaks to its machine learning algorithm, to help improve and recognise your handwriting.

Aside from the decision to fork out extra for 5G, the Note 20 only comes in one variant this year. It’s powered by a 2.73GHz Samsung Exynos 990 chipset – last found inside the Galaxy S20 – with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Alas, microSD expansion is limited to the more expensive Note 20 Ultra, so you might need to be more cautious with how many Disney Plus and Netflix shows you download.

Finally, let’s talk about the Note 20’s camera array. There are a total of three cameras on the back; including a 12MP (f/1.8) camera, 64MP (f/2.0) 3x zoom sensor and a 12MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide unit. There’s also a 10MP (f/2.2) camera on the front of the phone, which is housed inside a pinhole notch in the top-centre of the screen.

In terms of downgrades, you might have spotted that the Note 20 lacks the 108MP camera on the Ultra, and its ‘Space Zoom’ doesn’t zoom quite as far, reaching up to 30x instead of 50x. That’s about all when it comes to differences in the camera department though, with both phones being able to record video up to 8K resolution, as well as including a handful of software tweaks such as optional on-screen histograms and audio level indicators.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 review: Early verdict

It may lack a few headline-grabbing features, such as that 108MP camera, 120Hz screen and expandable storage, but the Note 20 still looks to be a remarkable Android flagship that’s worthy of any potential admiration that might come its way.

The only underlying issue is that, despite costing less than the Ultra, it still doesn’t come cheap. The Note 20 starts at £849 and that’s for the model without 5G – you have to pay extra if you want access to the new mobile network.

We haven’t received a handset for review, so I can’t deliver my final verdict just yet, but as it stands the Note 20 is shaping up to be an exceptional flagship. You can read my full Note 20 Ultra review while we wait for one to arrive, however, which includes a more in-depth comparison between the two phones.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 specifications
ProcessorOcta-core Samsung Exynos 990 (2×2.73GHz, 2×2.5GHz, 4x2GHz)
Screen size6.7in
Screen resolution2,400 x 1,080
Pixel density393ppi
Screen typeSuper AMOLED
Front camera10MP (f/2.2)
Rear camera12MP (f/1.8), 64MP (f/2.0) zoom, 12MP (f/2.2) wide
Dust and water resistanceIP68
3.5mm headphone jackNo
Wireless chargingYes
USB connection typeUSB-C
Storage options128GB; 256GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Cellular data5G, 4G
Dual SIMNo
Dimensions (WDH)162 x 75 x 8.3mm
Operating systemAndroid 10 (One UI 2.5)
Battery size4,300mAh

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