08/09 Update below. This post was originally published on August 6
Samsung’s Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra are now official and there’s one big takeaway from their unveiling: run a mile from the Note 20.
08/08 Update: SamMobile reports that Samsung has already issued a massive but mysterious software update for both the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra. The update weighs in at a hefty 500MB but, strangely, Samsung has not revealed any specifics about what’s inside it. Instead, all Samsung writes in the release notes is “A software update can include, but is not limited to: Device stability improvements, bug fixes. New and/or enhanced features. Further improvements to performance.” None of which is remotely helpful. That said, such a large update coming before either phone has even been released, strongly suggests a lot of bug fixes and Samsung often tries to optimize its smartphone cameras after launch. Either way, it looks like both the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra require significant updating out the box and I suspect several more patches will follow in quick succession.
08/09 Update: a fascinating update from prominent Samsung insider Ice Universe has revealed that my misgivings about the Note 20 are not misplaced. “In fact, most of Samsung’s employees are not optimistic about Note 20,” says the anonymous leaker, explaining that the phone’s design was part of pressure from leaders within the company to “maximize profits and limit costs”. This seems to have backfired, however, with reception to the device being highly critical (in contrast to the popular Note 20 Ultra). This is typified by a subsequent poll Ice Universe held, where 85% of over 26,000 voters said they would not consider upgrading to the phone. That’s a damning number and Samsung’s new entry-level Note is shaping up to be a damaging own goal.
Price – the Note 20 costs $1,000. That’s a premium price, but there’s very little that’s premium about this phone. Such as…
Design – the Note 20 is not just a predictable step back from the Note 20 Ultra, it is a step back from the entry-level Note 10. The Note 20 has thicker bezels on all sides and is the first Note since 2014 not to ship with a glass back, using a polycarbonate plastic chassis instead.
Display – jumping from the Note 10’s relatively portable 6.3-inch form factor to a massive 6.7-inch display will polarize opinion, but using two year old Gorilla Glass 5 when the Note 10 uses Gorilla Glass 6 and the Note 20 Ultra uses the latest Gorilla Glass 7 (aka ‘Victus’) is a slap in the face.
Refresh Rate – every Galaxy S20 shipped with a 120Hz fast refresh rate display. Not so the Note 20, which is stuck at 60Hz. With the £399 OnePlus Nord offering a 90Hz refresh rate, this is an inexcusable backwards step for a $1,000 outlay.
S Pen – the primary reason to pay so much for a Galaxy Note is its S Pen, but even here the Note 20 is inferior to the Ultra. The former has a 26ms response time, the latter a significantly better 9ms. At least this is one area where the Note 20 does improve on the 2019 Note 10.
Future Proofing – despite being seen as a major shortcoming in the Note 10, the Note 20 again comes with no expandable storage. Both the Galaxy Note 10+ and Note 20 Ultra offer this. The Note 20 Ultra also added Ultra wideband (UWB) for super fast file transfers and Samsung has grand plans to use it for improved positional tracking and AR technology. Apple is also betting big on UWB. The Note 20 doesn’t have it.
Performance – the Note 10 and Note 10+ both used the same Snapdragon chipset, but the Note 20 gets Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 when the Note 20 Ultra has an upgraded Snapdragon 865+. The 865 remains a fast chipset, but if Apple can put the same chipset in its $399 iPhone SE as its $1,100 iPhone 11 Pro Max, then Samsung should be offering parity with its sibling for $1,000. Edit: the Note 20 will have the Qualcomm 865+.
In sum, the Galaxy Note 20 is not a $1,000 smartphone and, in many ways, it is inferior to last year’s Note 10 and Note 10+ – both of which can now be bought for a lot less. Initial reaction to the device also appears to be overwhelmingly negative and it’s hard to understand what Samsung was trying to achieve, especially in a financially restricted, pandemic impacted world.
At $1,299, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is an expensive phone, but if you can afford a $1,000 smartphone chances are you can afford the extra and you’ll be getting a cutting edge device in every respect. In contrast, the Note 20 is a mess. And don’t let the name fool you. This is not a Note 20, it’s outclassed by its predecessor and by all manner of cheaper smartphones already on the market, including the entire Galaxy S20 series.
History won’t remember the Note 20 kindly. With the radical new Galaxy S21 already on the horizon, do yourself a favor and forget it too.
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