Galaxy S22 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra: Should You Save Money and Buy the Older Phone?
The Galaxy Note is dead, but the Note spirit lives on in the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Here's how old and new phones compare.
Lexy SavvidesPrincipal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
ExpertiseWearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive roboticsCredentials
The Galaxy S22 Ultra is a worthy replacement for the Galaxy Note series in everything but name. Even though the Note 20 Ultra is over a year and a half old, in many ways it holds its own against the newer phone. Both have a built-in S Pen, excellent cameras that can film 8K video and 120Hz refresh rate screens.
So it can be tricky to work out which to buy or whether the S22 Ultra is worth an upgrade from older Note phones. To figure it out, I spent a week comparing the $1,199 Galaxy S22 Ultra and $999 Note 20 Ultra on their displays, design, cameras, battery and performance.
Samsung has made a worthy successor to the Galaxy Note phones with the S22 Ultra which, for all intents and purposes, could have easily been called the Note 22 Ultra. It has a brilliant 6.8-inch dynamic AMOLED display that gets slightly brighter than the older phone, plus a camera system that offers better portraits and a more extensive zoom range. But it also lacks a couple key features that Note fans might miss.
This phone might have been released in 2020, but performance-wise it still feels as responsive as the Galaxy S22 Ultra. Unless you need 10x optical zoom, photos from the Note are surprisingly close to those taken on the newer phone. With trade-in offers and competitive discounts that let you find the older phone for as low as $350,it can be a surprisingly affordable option if you're looking for a do-it-all Android phone.
Watch this: Comparing Galaxy S22 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra
The Galaxy S22 Ultra looks like a Note, but better
Samsung has translated its signature Note design to the Galaxy S series, as the S22 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra look incredibly similar from the front. The main giveaway when looking at the two side by side is the S22 Ultra is slightly shorter in the body, as it has a 6.8-inch screen vs. the Note 20 Ultra's 6.9-inch screen.
Flip them over, and the differences are more apparent. The domino-style bump that houses the Note 20 Ultra's three cameras sticks out way more than the four-camera module on the S22 Ultra, which sits flush against the back. This makes the newer device much more balanced to use one-handed compared to the Note -- which can feel a little top-heavy without a case.
I have been using the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra for a 1.5 years and I've dropped it more times than I can remember. There are some cosmetic scratches on the Gorilla Glass Victus screen, but it looks pretty good. It's too early to tell how well the S22 Ultra will hold up, though it does have the newer Gorilla Glass Victus Plus. That said, I'd still urge you to put a case on these phones based on our drop test with the Note 20 Ultra: The back cracked on the second drop from 3 feet.
Despite key differences in their refresh rates and adaptive brightness tech, these dynamic AMOLEDs are both equally great to use. The Galaxy S22 Ultra gets brighter, up to 1,750 nits, while the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra tops out at 1,500 nits. I found it was easier to read the screen on the S22 Ultra in direct sunlight thanks to its Vision Booster tech bumping up contrast and brightness.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra has a key advantage over the older Note 20 Ultra when it comes to its maximum resolution as it supports 120Hz at WQHD+ (3,088x1,440). The Note only lets you use the standard 60Hz refresh rate at that resolution. There is a bit of a workaround for this on the older phone that I've done using Bixby Routines, which I detail in the video on this page.
Performance and the S Pen is a little faster on the S22 Ultra, but not a huge difference
Both phones run either a Snapdragon or Exynos processor depending on where you are in the world. The Galaxy S22 Ultra has the newer Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 or Exynos 2200, while the Note 20 Ultra runs the Snapdragon 865 Plus or Exynos 990. In real-world tests with the Snapdragon variants, like exporting 8K videos, or playing games, the newer phone does offer some speed advantages. But it's not as dramatic as you would expect, edging out the Note 20 Ultra by a second or so. The most noticeable difference I found was making edits to 4K 60 frames per second videos in a third-party editing app, where the Galaxy S22 Ultra exported the finished clip almost five seconds faster than the Note 20 Ultra.
Performance aside, the Note 20 Ultra holds a special place in my heart as it's one of the last Samsung phones to support MST or magnetic secure transmission, a key differentiating factor in Samsung Pay. This lets you use your phone at any payment terminal, regardless of whether or not it supports NFC or contactless payments, while the S22 Ultra only supports NFC transactions. The older phone also has microSD expandable storage, something which newer Galaxy phones like the S22 Ultra lack.
The S Pen experience is almost identical on both phones. You get air gestures so you can interact with the phone without touching the stylus to the screen, use the S Pen as a remote camera shutter, translate blocks of text or scribble notes on your lock screen. Anecdotally, the S Pen feels a tiny bit more responsive when writing on the Galaxy S22 Ultra.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra camera is stellar
The S22 Ultra takes the zoom on the Note to another level with two telephoto cameras at 3x and 10x which offers more flexibility when you can't physically get closer to your subject. The Note 20 Ultra only has 5x optical zoom. The newer phone can also zoom up to 100x whereas the Note caps out at 50x, though I wouldn't recommend using either unless you absolutely have to (or you have a tripod) as results can get a bit messy.
Both phones also have a 108-megapixel main rear sensor, using a technique called pixel binning to generate more manageable 12-megapixel files. In good lighting, I could hardly tell the difference in shots taken on these phones, but it does look like Samsung has tweaked the image processing algorithm a bit to give the S22 Ultra photos a touch more contrast and saturation. When taking photos at 108 megapixels, the S22 Ultra definitely produces a sharper shot, with less falloff around the edges of objects compared to the same image taken on the Note 20 Ultra.
The newer phone also excels at portraits much more than the Note 20 Ultra as it's able to distinguish between fine detail like hair and separate it from the background that falls out to blur. Selfies too look a bit cleaner and have better dynamic range on the S22 Ultra, most likely thanks to the newer 40-megapixel sensor compared to the 10-megapixel version on the Note.
The differences in low-light images weren't as dramatic as I was expecting, though the main rear camera on the S22 Ultra does produce shots that look a little more true-to-life using night mode. The Note 20 Ultra brightens the scene entirely, whereas the newer phone has a bit more nuance and shadow detail. Video at 4K also appears to be a little cleaner on the newer phone, but the difference is marginal to my eyes.
Battery gets a little bit of a boost on the S22 Ultra
Samsung has brought back 45-watt fast charging on the S22 Ultra, something that we haven't seen on a Galaxy phone since the S20 Ultra. This helps the phone charge faster than the Note 20 Ultra which caps out at 25 watts. In reality, this makes a 20-minute difference when charging your phone from flat to full, with the S22 Ultra topping up in 56 minutes and the Note 20 Ultra in 1 hour 16 minutes with their respective chargers. Unfortunately, you'll have to buy that 45-watt fast charger (or any charger) with the S22 Ultra as it's not included in the box. The Note comes with a charger included.
Overall battery life varies depending on usage patterns and the processor onboard, but both phones easily get me through the day. I have the always-on display active and average about two to three hours of screen time, with some video capture, light video or photo editing, web browsing and note taking. I usually end the day with 20% battery remaining on the S22 Ultra and anywhere from 10 to 15% on the Note 20 Ultra. The Note 20 Ultra does have a smaller 4,500-mAh battery compared to 5,000-mAh on the S22 Ultra so that's not surprising.
One key reason you might want to think about getting the newer phone if you're stuck between the two are the Android updates. Samsung has said the S22 Ultra will receive four major Android updates over the next few years. The Note 20 Ultra isn't guaranteed as many as it's an older phone, so if you're planning on hanging onto your device for at least four years, the S22 Ultra might be the better buy.
Both the S22 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra are among the best Android phones you can buy, though it doesn't make sense to upgrade to the S22 Ultra if you already have the older Note, especially as you'll be losing some perks you might find valuable like expandable storage. But if you're choosing between the two, it makes sense to spend a little extra on the S22 Ultra if it fits your budget, especially if you plan to hold onto your phone for several years. It also offers the fastest performance and longer battery life compared to the Note.