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Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra: Which should you buy?

S Pen power

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

$1,300 at Amazon

Pros

  • Dynamic refresh rate display
  • S Pen features
  • Less expensive
  • Laser auto focus camera

Cons

  • Smaller battery
  • Lower resolution selfie camera

The Note 20 Ultra is arguably a better overall phone than the S20 Ultra thanks to its camera improvements, dynamic refresh rate display, smaller size, and lower price tag. That it also has an S Pen is just icing on the cake.

Tougher sell

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

$1,400 at Amazon

Pros

  • 10% larger battery
  • 40MP selfie camera
  • Higher-resolution zoom camera

Cons

  • More expensive
  • No camera laser auto focus
  • No S Pen in box

The S20 Ultra is a tough sell because it's now several months old yet more expensive (at retail price) than the Note 20 Ultra. Its one redeeming quality is a larger battery, which only offers a small improvement in day-to-day usage.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Size, display and specs

As the "Ultra" names would suggest, there's a whole lot shared between these two phones. They're built with the same main components and features, with only small differences. You get the same RAM and storage, SD card slot, fingerprint sensor, speakers, connectivity, IP68 resistance, and more. The Note 20 Ultra's display is a small step ahead with its dynamic refresh rate, but that should help get a little better longevity out of its 10% smaller 4,500 mAh battery.

Category Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Galaxy S20 Ultra
Operating System Android 10
One UI 2.5
Android 10
One UI 2.5
Display 6.9-inch
AMOLED
3088 x 1440
120Hz refresh rate
6.9-inch
AMOLED
3200 x 1440
120Hz refresh rate
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
Memory 12GB LPDDR5 12GB LPDDR5
16GB
Storage 128GB
512GB
128GB
512GB
Expandable Storage Yes Yes
Rear Camera 1 108MP primary
f/1.8
OIS
108MP primary
f/1.8
OIS
Rear Camera 2 12MP telephoto
f/3.0
5X optical zoom
48MP telephoto
f/3.5
4X optical zoom
Rear Camera 3 12MP ultra-wide
f/2.2
12MP ultra-wide
f/2.2
Front Camera 10MP
f/2.2
40MP
f/2.2
Security In-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor In-screen ultrasonic fingerprint sensor
Audio Stereo speakers
USB-C
Stereo speakers
USB-C
Battery 4500 mAh 5000 mAh
Charging 25W wired
15W wireless
45W wired
15W wireless
Water Resistance IP68 IP68
Dimensions 77.2 x 164.8 x 8.1 mm 76.0 x 166.9 x 8.8 mm
Weight 208 g 220 g

The differences are subtle, but the Note 20 Ultra has the upper hand.

There are subtle differences in the design, but you can see they were cut from the same cloth. The Note 20 Ultra is considerably more squared-off, whereas the S20 Ultra is more rounded. The Note's back glass is a matte texture as well, which makes it look nicer but is a bit more slippery than the glossy back on the S20. Otherwise, all of the ports and buttons are the same, leading to a very familiar layout. There are subtle differences in size, though, and surprisingly the Note 20 Ultra is the smaller of the two — only by a few millimeters, and about 5% in weight, but it's smaller.

Where there used to be a slight difference in software as well, the S20 Ultra recently received an update from One UI 2.1 to 2.5, bringing it up to speed with the Note 20 Ultra. With the update comes welcome additions like Wireless DeX, allowing you to cast either phone's display to a Miracast-compatible TV with a few simple taps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Cameras

The cameras are mostly the same, but with two notable changes. The S20 Ultra has been criticized for its weak auto focus, and the Note 20 Ultra aims to address that with a new laser auto focusing system. The Note also has an entirely different telephoto camera, with a 5X optical zoom to the S20's 4X, and a wider aperture paired with larger pixels to ideally take better photos at 5-15X. The only potential downside is those long zoom shots, where the S20 Ultra's 48MP sensor will do better; but "better" is relative, as the camera's not shown to be very effective beyond 25X anyway.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Galaxy S20 Ultra Which should you buy?

Samsung set itself up for a weird situation when it priced the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra under the S20 Ultra because, frankly, at the full retail price there's little reason to buy the S20 Ultra. The Note 20 Ultra introduces improved auto focus for the camera, and a better zoom camera, which addresses the main concerns about the S20 Ultra. It's also subtly smaller, and a bit lighter, than the S20 Ultra. You also get the S Pen — for free! — which brings its own value to the equation.

The Note 20 Ultra is the better buy ... unless you want to save more and go with the S20+.

The only concern when choosing the Note 20 Ultra is the battery, which is 10% smaller than the S20 Ultra. However, the S20 Ultra already gets great battery life, and the hope is that the Note 20 Ultra's dynamic refresh rate display will allow it to be a bit more conservative on the power front. If that works out as expected, it makes the Note 20 Ultra the better buy, hands-down.

The question you need to ask yourself is whether you should be looking at the Galaxy S20+ instead. It's a little smaller than the Note 20 Ultra, but it's also less expensive — so if you don't need the S Pen, you can save even more money and get the same core Galaxy experience.

S Pen power

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

A better overall phone, even if you don't care about the S Pen

The Note 20 Ultra is just an evolution of the S20 Ultra, but if you were considering the latter then that's perfect. It's less expensive and includes an S Pen as a bonus.

Tougher sell

Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

Hard to recommend at its full retail price

Unless the S20 Ultra takes a price cut, it's going to be tough to consider over the Note 20 Ultra. Yes, it has a larger battery, but that's the only place it wins over the new Note.



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