Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Which phone should you buy?

(Image credit: Samsung)

Last year, Samsung split the Galaxy Note line for the first time with the Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10 Plus, something that we had seen with the Galaxy S line years prior. Not surprisingly, Samsung has done the same this year, although this time around, the larger smartphone is picking up the “Ultra” moniker from the Galaxy S20 line, giving us the Galaxy Note 20 and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Many of the differences between the two smartphones from last year are the same again this year. There’s less RAM and no microSD slot on the Galaxy Note 20 for starters. However, this year the screens on the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are much closer in size, making the overall footprints of the smartphones less of a factor when making your decision on which one to buy.

Here’s our in-depth look at the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra to help you decide which of these powerful smartphones is right for you.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Price

The Galaxy Note 20 starts at $999, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra jumps up to $1,299. Both are powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ CPU, feature 128GB of storage, offer 5G support and an improved S Pen. But as expected, that extra $300 is getting the Note 20 Ultra a few nifty upgrades. 

A bump in RAM is one of the more notable upgrades with 12GB versus the 8GB found in the Galaxy Note 20. The Note 20 Ultra also gets a more robust camera array, a larger battery, and of course, a larger and higher resolution display with a faster refresh rate.

New Samsung S pen

(Image credit: Samsung)

Essentially, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra represents a blending of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus and Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, which makes sense because Samsung stuck with two options for the Note line this time around, not the three it released for the Galaxy S lineup.

Pre-orders for both devices will begin on August 6 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time and, until August 20, qualify for a $100 Samsung Credit for the Galaxy Note 20 and $150 for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra usable on or applicable toward the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Bundle.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Specs

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Row 0 - Cell 0 Galaxy Note 20Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Display (resolution, refresh rate)6.7-inch AMOLED (FHD+, 60Hz)6.9-inch AMOLED (WQHD+, 120Hz)
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 865+Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
MicroSD slotNoYes
Rear Cameras12MP f/1.8 (Wide-angle), 64MP f/2.0 (Telephoto), 12MP f/2.2 (Ultrawide)108MP f/1.8 (Wide-angle), 12MP f/3.0 (Telephoto), 12MP f/2.2 (Ultrawide)
Front camera10MP10MP
Battery size4,300 mAh4,500 mAh
Water resistanceIP68IP68
ColorsMystic Gray, Mystic Green, Mystic BronzeMystic Black, Mystic White, Mystic Bronze
Size75.2 x 161.6 x 8.3mm77.2 x 164.8 x 8.1 mm

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Display

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Miracast DeX

(Image credit: Samsung)

The most basic difference between the displays is the display size; The Galaxy Note 20 uses a 6.7-inch display while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra moves up just slightly to 6.9 inches. More noticeable in actual day-to-day use will be the upgraded resolution of the Note 20 Ultra at WQHD+ (3,088 x 1,440 pixels) along with its support for 120Hz versus the FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080 pixels) of the Galaxy Note 20 that displays at the typical 60Hz.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra picks up the edge Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display that is 25% brighter than the previous version and one of the most widely-praised displays on the market, while the Galaxy Note 20 relies on a flat Infinity-O display, however, both are HDR10+ certified to deliver high-dynamic-range content.

(Image credit: Samsung)

It is worth noting that the 120Hz refresh rate on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is only available when using FHD+ mode, so those who want smooth animations, improved gaming and touch experience from the full 120Hz refresh rate will have to settle for FHD+.

Naturally, both displays support the S Pen, which has seen a massive upgrade of its own this year. Latency on the S Pen has decreased from 42ms down to 9ms, which should make for much smoother and more natural writing and drawing experience.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Battery Life

We haven’t put these phones through our battery tests yet, but the Galaxy Note 20 includes a 4,300 mAh battery while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra packs in just a bit more at 4,500 mAh.

(Image credit: Samsung)

It’s actually a bit shocking to see these phones this close in battery size because the Galaxy S20 Ultra included a 5,000 mAh battery paired with the same 6.9-inch WQHD+ display and support for 120Hz as the Note 20 Ultra. For the top of the line Note to fall short of that figure is a bit disappointing.

We’re certainly interested in how the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra fares on battery tests. The Galaxy S20 Ultra lasted approximately 12 hours when our sister site Tom’s Guide tested it using the standard 60Hz refresh rate earlier this year and only 9 hours and 13 minutes when using the 120Hz refresh rate, both tests were conducted at FHD+ resolution. 

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Cameras

The cameras are another fairly significant point of differentiation for these two smartphones with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra having a few notable edges on the Galaxy Note 20.

To start, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra picks up the monstrous 108MP wide-angle primary lens of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra with optical image stabilization. This is used in combination with the 12MP telephoto lens to deliver a 50x “Super Resolution Zoom” when the standard 5x optical zoom just isn’t quite enough. As Samsung is quick to point out, the image does deteriorate at a certain point when using that massive zoom; most found that around 10x to 20x zoom still produced a very usable image. 

The sensor on the Galaxy Note 20 is 64MP and is used for the telephoto lens rather than the primary. It's capable of 3x optical zoom and a 30x “Super Resolution Zoom” with the same caveats as the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. 

(Image credit: Samsung)

While they differ in configuration, both smartphones use a similar triple camera array with one larger sensor (wide-angle for Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and telephoto for the Galaxy Note 20) and then two additional 12MP sensors that for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra cover the ultra-wide-angle and telephoto ranges while the Galaxy Note 20 uses them for the wide-angle and ultra-wide-angle.

An additional sensor the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra picks up is laser autofocus. The sensor should deliver more accurate and near-instantaneous focusing, something that the Galaxy S20 line (and the Galaxy S20 Ultra in particular) had some troubles with earlier this year. Support for optical image stabilization is present on both, yielding better handheld photo results and smoother video.

Speaking of video, both Galaxy Note 20 variants support up to 8K video capture along with up to 120fps slow-motion recording at full HD. Samsung has added additional software support aimed at prosumer and professional videographers, such as 21:9 aspect ratio, 24fps recording, exposure and zoom speed controls and improved audio controls for gain and source selection for external audio capture with devices like the new Galaxy Buds Live.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Outlook

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra with S pen

(Image credit: Samsung)

The extra $300 for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is probably going to push it out of consideration for some Note fans, and for most people, that’s OK. While the Galaxy Note 20 doesn’t bring some of the top-end features from the Galaxy S20 line, it gets a solid camera upgrade, a fantastic new processor, 5G support and at least comparable battery life to its larger sibling.

With that said, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is unquestionably going to be worth the upcharge for Note fans who are accustomed to having the biggest and best smartphone out there. The jump to 12GB of RAM is significant as is the inclusion of a MicroSD slot or the option to have 512GB of internal storage. There are definite tradeoffs for that 120Hz refresh rate, but those who have moved to a higher refresh rate smartphone almost universally agree that it is a transformative upgrade. The battery life is the one feature we are really going to look out for with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. 4,500 mAh isn’t a small battery by any means but is it enough for that 6.9-inch 120Hz display?

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.