Samsung Galaxy Note 20 hands-on review: the plastic $999 smartphone

Samsung is charging the best part of a thousand bucks for the “smallest” Galaxy Note 20. The new Galaxy Note 20, which is significantly downsized compared to the Ultra model, but is the whole package still solid? Here are our first hands-on impressions.

Who is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 for?

The Galaxy Note 20 is only available in one memory variant, namely with 256 GB. But you have the choice between 4G and 5G. The 4G version costs £849. The surcharge for 5G is an extra £100 if you have the same memory/RAM configuration. In the USA, only the 5G version is available. It starts at $999. With a smartphone costing over this much, the 5G modem should be on board by default in 2020.

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Slim and chic: the Galaxy Note 20 is of high-quality workmanship, no question about it. / © NextPit

An in-house comparison: the Galaxy S20+ is almost identical in size to the Note 20, but has a better display, among other things. For the 5G version, but with 128 GB of storage, Samsung once wanted £899. The street price is now more like £699.

So you can now calculate how much the S-pen will cos you. Is it worth the £150 difference at launch?

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 comes on the market in the colors Mystic Bronze, Mystic Green, and Mystic Grey.

What I like about the Galaxy Note 20…

…the hardware*

Even if the two devices

differ by the suffix “Ultra”, the difference is quite clear. Instead of 4K resolution, there are only 2400×1080 pixels on 6.7 inches and a somewhat old-fashioned 60 instead of 120 Hz refresh rate on the Note 20. The main camera shoots with 12 instead of 108 megapixels, there is only 8 instead of 12 GB of RAM and no optical zoom.

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Little brother: the Galaxy Note 20 makes significant cutbacks compared to the “Ultra” version. / © NextPit

Don’t get me wrong: the equipment is still great, but the step up to the Note 20 Ultra is clearly noticeable. Samsung packs the technology in a chic case that feels as high-quality as usual and is available in bronze (also available for the Ultra), green, and grey (only available for the Note 20).

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 largely inherits the camera setup of the S20(+). That is, despite all justified criticism, rather positive news. While the Galaxy S20(+) was quite convincing with its solid image quality, Samsung has unfortunately cheated quite a bit in terms of its hybrid optical zoom. Read more about it below.

A final downer: as with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the Galaxy Note 20 also contains the Exynos 990 from the S20 series in Europe. This is a pity, especially for high-end users. Outside Europe, Samsung sells its smartphones with Snapdragon 865+, which delivers noticeably better results in terms of battery life, performance, and image processing. Hence the footnote* on the hardware.

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The display of the Galaxy Note 20 offers “only” Full HD+ resolution. / © NextPit

…the S-Pen

True to the principle “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, Samsung leaves its S-Pen largely untouched. The biggest change is the move of the insert from the right to the left bottom side of the device, as happened with its big brother, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Compared to the predecessor the Note 10, the latency of the stylus is said to have improved. Without a direct comparison, we wouldn’t have noticed this in hands-on, though.

Nevertheless, the S-Pen is simply a winner. Samsung has been building its range of Notes since 2011, and the experience pays off. No other manufacturer has refined the pen operation over the years to such an extent and rightly built a large fan base. Screenshots, animated scribble greetings, doodling around, written notes that can be copied as text at the touch of a finger… it’s all really good fun.

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As in the Ultra, the S-pen has also moved in the Note 20. If you pull out the pen and balance it very carefully, you can also place the device on a smooth surface – and snap selfies with the pen’s remote trigger. / © NextPit

Apart from that, there are of course the air gestures, which Samsung introduced in 2019 with the S-pen evolution on the Note 10. For 2020 there are some new gestures, but in my opinion they fall into the category of gadgetry. If you want to spin the S-Pen around for minutes like a senile Harry Potter to activate the 30x zoom, go ahead. The only things I find useful are self-timer and remote control of presentations or slideshows, and that already worked in 2019.

What I don’t like about the Galaxy Note 20…

…the price

Yes, the Galaxy Note 20 will quickly drop in price. A high recommended retail price will please the operators, who will then be able to offer their customers a “more valuable” device in a contract, with probably spectacular margins. The fact that you can get the mobile phone for 200 or 300 quid less just a few months after the launch is irrelevant.

Whichever way you slice it, it’s just an incredible amount of money for only an incremental upgrade compared to the Galaxy Note 10, which is available for even less these days

Especially since the market launch of the Note 20 will certainly result in a discount for its predecessor.

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Here you can see the grey version of Note 20. / © NextPit

…all the fancy advertising talk

The Galaxy Note 20 follows in the dubious footsteps left by the S20 in February. Samsung is advertising the smartphone with a “30x Space Zoom”; with a 1.06-x optical zoom – the camera hardware should be identical to that of the S20, as we assume.

To break down the resolution: an x-fold digital zoom reduces the resolution by a factor of x2. With a 30x zoom, this corresponds to a factor of 900, and the 64 megapixels become 71 “kilopixels”. This roughly corresponds to QVGA resolution with 320×240 pixels. Basically, 1995 called and wants its resolution back.

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Honestly, forget about the 30x zoom. / © NextPit

It may be excessive to make a comparison with various reality-distorting politicians. But it really gets on my nerves, even in the tech bubble, when manufacturers start to advertise with pseudo-facts and thus distort perception in the long run. Of course, this is nothing new in advertising, and of course Samsung is not the first manufacturer to employ such strategies. But it doesn’t make it any better.

Early Verdict

At least before the onset of the comet-like price decline, my first impression is that there is only one reason to buy the Galaxy Note 20 – if you really want that S-Pen badly and you’re a huge Samsung fan anyway. At the same time, however, the extra features on the Note 20 Ultra definitely create a big difference, but it’s also much more expensive.

If you can live without a pen, you’ll get a lot more for your money from the competition in China – or you should take a closer look at the S20 series that was introduced in spring. Here, the prices have already dropped quite a bit.