Become a Galaxy Note 20 pro with these 10 hidden features

S Pen tricks, a faster display and a secret folder of apps are just a few functions you should know about.

Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
6 min read

The S Pen writes better and faster on the Note 20 Ultra.

Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

With its new Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra, Samsung has unleashed a swell of new features to the Note line for power users. For starters, the Note 20 Ultra has an impressive 6.9-inch display with a faster refresh rate, a bigger battery and a microSD card slot. But I discovered some wonderful hidden features that make the user experience even better while testing out the Note 20 Ultra (the standard Note 20 review is ongoing right now).

For instance, you can lock your home-screen layout to preserve it exactly the way you want and it won't get messed up after you've taken the time to arrange everything just so, or you can turn on an alarm that will tell you if you've forgotten your S Pen.

Check out the 10 hidden features that make the Note 20 even more exciting.

Watch this: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is a do-everything device that'll cost you

1. Take advantage of that faster display

The Note 20 Ultra has a variable screen refresh rate of up to 120Hz. That means when your phone detects you're doing something like scrolling through a long email or website, it uses the faster refresh rate, making the scrolling experience buttery smooth. 

The standard Note 20 has a 60Hz display, with no 120Hz option at all. 

When you're just looking at a photo, or doing something else that doesn't require a lot of onscreen motion, your Note 20 Ultra will default to 60Hz. 

It's a good idea to double-check that your phone has its Motion Smoothness feature turned on. To do that, open Settings > Display > Motion smoothness and make sure Adaptive is selected. 

As Samsung points out, the increased refresh rate will use more battery, but that's a price I'm willing to pay for a better experience. 

2. Don't forget your S Pen

The Note's S Pen is one of its flagship features, but it's also very easy to leave it sitting somewhere, never to be seen again. 

Thankfully, if you go to Settings > Advanced features > S Pen and scroll down to the Removal section, you'll find an option called Pen proximity alert. Turn it on. 

Now, when you leave your S Pen sitting on your desk, or it falls between your couch cushions and you start to walk away, your phone will beep as you get out of range. 

Samsung's Note 20 Ultra 5G is striking from every angle

See all photos

3. Always-on display puts info a glance away

One of my favorite features about any Android phone is the Always-On Display (AOD). With AOD turned on, you can quickly look at your phone to check the time, see any pending notifications, battery percentage and even control music playback all without having to wake your phone up or unlock it. 

The Note 20 has an Always-On Display option, but out of the box means you'll need to wake your phone's screen before it will show up. It's counterproductive. 

Change that by going into Settings > Lock screen > Always on display. Don't tap on the button to turn it on, instead tap on the text so you can customize how it works. 

Go through each setting and section, picking out the clock and color you like, and even setting a schedule if you'd like. 

See? Much better. 


You really don't want to lose that S Pen, do you? 

Angela Lang/CNET

4. Switch up your lock screen app shortcuts

When you look at your phone's lock screen, you'll see an app icon that provides a quick way to launch an app in each corner. Samsung sets the phone and camera apps as the default shortcuts, but can change which apps you can open and how you access the shortcut. 

Open Settings > Lock screen > Shortcuts and select Floating button. While there, you also can change the apps shown on your lock screen to whatever you want. 

With the floating button turned on, there will be a three-dot icon that shows up just above the fingerprint sensor on your lock screen. Long-press on that button to view your app shortcuts, and then drag your finger to the app you want to launch. 

5. Change the number of notifications shown in the status bar

It can be hard to keep up the countless alerts our phones receive all day long. It's even more of a struggle when the status bar on your Note 20 limits the number of icons for app notifications. 

The Note 20 Ultra I'm testing has a limit of three app icons in the status bar, which isn't close to enough. If you open Settings > Notifications > Status Bar, you can change the status bar to show a number for all pending notifications (which can feel overwhelming, if you ask me), your three most recent, or my personal favorite, all notifications. 

Of course, there's only so much room in the status bar, so if you have a bunch of alerts from a large number of apps, not all of them will show up, but helped me to have more than three present. 


The Note 20's homescreen can be locked in place. 

James Martin/CNET

6. Lock your homescreen layout to keep it looking tidy

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time moving app icons and widgets around your homescreen. There's a rhyme and reason for which apps go where, and when things get moved, it throws your entire flow off. 

Samsung allows you to lock your homescreen layout, keeping everything exactly where you left it. 

Long-press on a blank spot of your homescreen, then tap on Home Screen Settings when the options popup. Find Lock Home screen layout and tap on the switch to turn the feature On

When it's enabled, you'll see a reminder show up on your screen anytime you try to move an app icon. If you often hand your phone to your kid to watch videos, this feature is your new best friend.

Just swipe up to go home. 

Jason Cipriani/CNET

7. Ditch the old fashioned button navigation setup

Out of the box, your Galaxy Note 20 will default to Android's traditional three-button navigation. There'll be buttons to go back, home and view the app switcher. 

It's time to make the switch to Android 10's gesture-based navigation. After a few days of swiping around your phone, you'll forget all about the buttons and appreciate the added screen real estate. 

To turn it on, go to Settings > Display > Navigation Bar and select Swipe gestures. I recommend turning on gesture hints for a few days while you learn the new navigation technique. 

If you find yourself struggling, we have a complete guide to Android 10's gesture navigation feature, complete with animated images that show you exactly what to do. 


The S Pen is one of our favorite Note 20 features. 

Angela Lang/CNET

8. Use the new S Pen Air Commands

Your S Pen can do so much more than act as a stylus to write or draw on your Note's display. Starting with the Note 20 line, you now can use the S Pen to control your device from across the room. All you'll need to do is remove the S Pen, hold down the button and use one of the five new gestures to go back a screen, go to your homescreen and more. 

We cover the new S Pen tricks in full detail, so be sure to check that out.


Live Caption on the Galaxy S20 Plus looks and works just like it does on the Note 20. 


9. Live transcriptions for any audio on your Note

Google's Live Caption feature -- which will transcribe videos, podcasts and even phone calls in real time -- is available on the Note 20. 

All you need to do is slide down the quick settings panel, find the tile labeled Live Caption and tap on it. A black bar will appear with the live text taken straight from the audio. Turn off Live Caption by repeating the same steps in the quick settings panel.

10. Add extra security to select apps using Secure Folder

If you're using a work phone, but have personal or private information that you want to lock down with another passcode or pattern, you can take advantage of the Notes Secure Folder feature. 

Open Settings > Biometrics and security > Secure folder to walk through the setup process. You can install apps and store files and photos. It's like you're using a completely different phone.

If you're still trying to decide whether or not you should buy the Note 20 or Note 20 Ultra, check out our full Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review, or the ongoing Note 20 review. If you already have Samsung's latest phone, take some time to learn all of its new S Pen tips and tricks.