Having been sorely disappointed by the Galaxy S20 Ultra earlier this year, we opted to review the Galaxy Note 20 5G rather than its bigger sibling, the Note 20 Ultra 5G.
The reason for this comes down to price. At R36 999, the Galaxy Note 20 5G Ultra is a very expensive device and given the current economic climate we aren’t interested in a smartphone that costs nearly twice as much as a normal monthly salary.
There’s also the aspect of diminishing returns to consider.
Does one really need a camera with 50X Zoom? Do you really need a display with a 120Hz refresh rate?
Yes, these are nice features, but a smartphone is less of a fashion statement and more a tool for most people.
So then, is the Note 20 5G a budget version of the Ultra or is it a decent smartphone worthy of an upgrade.
The short answer is, this isn’t the Note to have but we’re close to it.
Inside the local iteration of the Galaxy Note 20 you will find a 7nm+ Exynos 990 chipset running at a peak of 2.73GHz. This is paired with 8GB of memory and performance is solid. Apps launch quickly and run perfectly with no crashes to report in our two weeks with the handset.
What is astounding is how cool this device stays under pressure.
During a marathon run of Formula One: Drive to Survive on Netflix, the Note 20 remained cool to the touch, something that shocked us coming from a Galaxy S10+ which gets rather hot while streaming.
The same is true for games, which are generally rather demanding on smartphones but, seemingly not so for the Note 20 5G.
Comparing this device to the S20 Ultra reveals that there is marginal improvement in performance, but not one that you will immediately notice if you are upgrading from a 2020 release for some reason.
In terms of compute power though, you have an ample amount to draw from in the Note 20 5G.
Where things take a turn for the worse however is when we look at storage.
Our version of the Note 20 5G ships with a dual SIM slot which removes the ability to add a microSD card.
At 128GB some might be scratching their head but as you’ll see later, this handset can record 8K video and 128GB is going to be eaten up very quickly. Thankfully, our review unit was a pre-release version from Europe and locally you will have up to 256GB of storage though there is still not a microSD card tray.
Unfortunately where Samsung is going to lose several points with us is in the battery life of the Note 20 5G.
For our testing the following features were turned on:
- Network (with roaming)
- Always-on Display
- Link To Windows
- Edge Lighting
- WiFi Calling
- 100 percent screen brightness
At 4 300mAh, the Note 20 5G ploughs through its battery life. Browsing through Instagram for five minutes saw us losing 2 percent of our battery life.
This translates into the Note 20 5G needing to be hooked up to the mains for a charge every night. There have also been some days where we’ve had to charge the Note 20 up in the middle of the day as our usage was clearly too much for the battery.
The shining light in this however is that the Note 20 5G supports 25W Super Fast Charging.
This means that you can have your handset juiced up to full in an hour and few minutes. It is honestly astonishing how quickly this battery charges and for that we’re eternally thankful.
The Note 20 5G houses three cameras at the back and the results are great.
While the camera isn’t as great as Huawei’s tech or indeed Apple’s, there are a number of handy features in this device. Being able to record 4K footage at 60fps with image stabilisation on is fantastic for wannabe vloggers.
The Note 20 5G foregoes silly features like 100X or even 50X zoom in favour of a more sensible 30X zoom.
The 100X Space Zoom in the S20 Ultra was a unique feature, but it required the steadiest of hands or a tripod to make full use of so we’re glad to see it’s not a feature again.
Where Samsung still seems to struggle is focus. While images can appear sharp on the handset’s display, once they’re on a larger display the edges look fuzzy and lack the sharpness we’d like.
Our gallery of shots follows below.
As per the norm with Samsung smartphones, the camera doesn’t fare too well in low light without a bit of tweaking from your end. A Pro mode does address this to a large degree but for pointing and shooting you’ll be relying on the presets of which there are a few.
The big draw, well, as far as Samsung would have you believe, is the ability to record video in 8K. Unfortunately we can’t comment on this other than “the file size is huge” because we don’t own an 8K display.
In terms of video, the Note 20 5G is really rather good in this regard. It does require some work on the users end to get some really stellar shots (much like with stills) but the basic options are good enough for most applications.
Thankfully the same focus issue doesn’t seem to be present here but sadly the focus problem persists and seemingly sharp video on your phone can look a bit blurry on larger displays.
As this is a Samsung Note device, the smartphone features the S-pen and speaking frankly for a moment, we don’t quite understand why it’s still included with this handset.
Sure, you can use the S-pen to take photos easily, or take a quick note.
You know what else you can do though?
“Hey Google, remind to call Bob about that building”.
Virtual assistants make things like taking notes a hands-free experience and unlearning that is very difficult. During our time with the Note 20 5G we used the S-pen all of twice and that was to test its functionality.
That’s not to say the S-pen is useless. It’s low 9ms latency is great but unless you’re sketching digitally regularly, for most the stylus is an extra that could really be left out of the handset to bring its price down a bit further.
At R23 999 the Galaxy Note 20 5G is a lot of money for a smartphone but, we are playing in the premium tier here.
The display may not have that smooth 120Hz refresh rate like its Note Ultra 5G peer, but we never felt like this was a feature that needed to be on a smartphone. Is it nice? You bet it is, but it’s not the first thing we care about when using a smartphone.
Where the Note 20 5G does disappoints is in its battery. It would’ve been worse had the display featured the aforementioned refresh rate, but as it stands it’s not Samsung’s best effort as regards battery life.
The camera is also a hit or miss experience as you can see above.
So the only thing the Note 20 5G has going for it then is the inclusion of 5G and its performance.
With all of this having been said, for Samsung fans choosing between the Note 20 5G and Note 20 Ultra 5G, we’d suggest opting for neither.
Unless you live in a 5G coverage zone, the Note 20 LTE is the option you want.
That alone cuts the price to a more digestible R20 999 and you’re able to make full use of the handset’s connectivity features
But again, many of the improvements here are nearly unnoticeable for everyday users and additions such as 8K video are superfluous.
If you must have a new Samsung opt for the LTE Note, otherwise we recommend waiting to see what Apple has in store later this year.
DISCLAIMER: The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 5G was sent to Hypertext by Samsung Mobile South Africa for the purposes of this review. Samsung Mobile South Africa had no influence in this review and the device will now be sanitised and sent back to the firm.