Galaxy Note 20 Ultra vs. Note 10 Plus: I tested both phones, and here's what I found
They're among the best Android phones you can get. But should you spend more on the current Note 20 Ultra, or save some cash and go with the Note 10 Plus?
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
With its premium specs, gorgeous high refresh-rate screen and top-of-the-line multicamera setup, the
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
is a beast and has all the features you could want in a phone. But it's pricey, originally starting at $1,300 (£1,179 and AU$1,999) even though
has now discounted it to $1,100 a month after release. Meanwhile, the Galaxy Note 10 Plus from last year, which is currently available from around $850, is still an excellent phone in its own right. I wanted to find out if the Note 10 Plus could hold its own against the Note 20 Ultra, especially if your budget for a high-end phone doesn't quite stretch that far.
To work out if you should pay more for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, or less for the Galaxy Note 10 Plus, I used them both side-by-side for several weeks to compare everything from battery life and performance, to the cameras and the S Pen.
In the end, I found that the Note 20 Ultra is a fantastic phone that offers all the bells, whistles and future-proofing you could want. If you can afford it, you won't be disappointed. But for me, the Note 10 Plus offers the most rounded experience between all-day battery, S Pen performance and a sleeker design that's easier to use one-handed. Even though it's the older phone, it's the one I'd pick regardless if I were on a tighter budget.
Featuring a big, bright 6.9-inch screen, 120Hz refresh rate, 108-megapixel camera system, 8K video recording and a stylus, the Note 20 Ultra won't leave you wanting. It's also future-proofed thanks to 5G and is guaranteed updates for three years.
Though it launched in 2019, the Note 10 Plus is no slouch compared to the latest Note. You get very similar performance, a great screen that's just a touch smaller and a design that's easier to use for those with smaller hands. Sure, it doesn't have the latest and greatest camera technology or 5G on the base model, but you'll get a great phone nonetheless and a battery that lasts and lasts.
The Note 20 Ultra is big and bold, while the Note 10 Plus is slim and sleek
have a curved dynamic AMOLED screen, a hole-punch selfie camera in the display and a stylus. But the Note 10 Plus is slimmer and lighter overall, thanks to its slightly smaller 6.8-inch display. I find the Note 10 Plus easier to use one-handed too, and to slip into my pocket.
The camera module on the Note 20 Ultra is also significantly larger than that on the Note 10 Plus. If you want to mitigate the camera bump and keep it flush, you may want to put a case on the Note 20 Ultra, which will also help it slide more easily into a pocket.
Another reason to use a case is durability. Both the phones have Gorilla Glass to protect them from drops and scratches, but the Note 20 Ultra has the latest Victus glass (compared to Gorilla Glass 6 on the older Note), which can withstand drops from greater heights. In our tests, the Note 20 Ultra is more durable when dropped onto concrete, although not invulnerable.
Note that Samsung flipped the orientation of the power and volume buttons. On the Note 10 Plus they're on the left edge, and on the Note 20 Ultra they're on the right. The position of the stylus is also swapped, so it's on the left on the newer Note and on the right on the older phone.
Both displays are bright and easy to read in direct sunlight, though I found the Note 20 Ultra a tiny bit brighter outdoors. But the obvious benefit of the Note 20 Ultra's screen is its variable screen refresh rate of up to 120Hz, which makes scrolling and gaming incredibly pleasant. In addition to scrolling through news feeds and web pages, you can watch videos shot at 120 frames per second in all their smooth glory. That said, if you do use the phone at 120Hz you're limited to full HD+ resolution (i.e. 1080p) rather than the highest 3,088x1,440-pixel resolution, aka WQHD. The Note 10 Plus on the other hand, has a fixed refresh rate screen at 60Hz, and the same 1440p resolution (though it defaults to 1080p to save battery).
Both phones feature an in-screen fingerprint reader. They don't work perfectly 100% of the time, but I found that the reader on the Note 20 Ultra gave far fewer errors when trying to unlock the phone with my thumb.
Speaking of fingerprints, the Note 10 Plus is a real fingerprint magnet thanks to its shiny finish. While the Note 20 Ultra is much better in this regard due to its matte glass, the occasional smudge still does show up.
Watch this: Galaxy Note 20 Ultra or Note 10 Plus: Which phone is the better buy?
The Note 20 Ultra clearly has the better camera
Both phones have three rear cameras with an ultrawide, standard and telephoto lens, but that's where the similarities end. It's no secret that the Note 20 Ultra has an almost overwhelming number of features for photographers, including 8K video recording, a 108-megapixel sensor, 50x zoom with 5x optical lens and pro video and photo modes.
That 108-megapixel sensor means the Note 20 Ultra gets the most detail out of its 12-megapixel shots thanks to a technique called pixel binning. As a result, the dynamic range (shadow and highlight detail) is clearly better on the phone compared to the same shots taken on the Note 10 Plus.
The zoom is also superior at 5x optical on the Note 20 Ultra versus 2x on the Note 10 Plus. You can also push the Note 20 Ultra to a maximum of 50x, although I would recommend sticking to the 10x hybrid digital/optical zoom for best results.
You can see more photo samples and camera analysis in the video on this page, plus our in-depth camera comparisons here and here.
Yes, the Note 20 has more S Pen tricks, but they're not that special
One of the main reasons to buy a Galaxy Note phone over any other Android is the stylus, or S Pen. The S Pen is physically identical on the Note 20 Ultra and the Note 10 Plus. You can use air gestures to do a number of things like change tracks in a music app, or switch back and forth between the front and rear cameras. The Note 20 Ultra adds a few additional gestures called Anywhere Actions that let you navigate back and forth between web pages or apps, for example, but I didn't find them particularly responsive or useful.
The Note 20 Ultra's S Pen has a reduced latency (9 milliseconds compared to 45 ms on the Note 10 Plus) and it feels really nice and responsive to use on the phone's 120Hz screen. I think the newer phone would be most beneficial to artists, or those who want the most realism when writing or drawing with the stylus. That said, for regular scribbles and note-taking, I really couldn't tell the difference between the two S Pens when switching back and forth between the phones.
Note 10 Plus still has excellent battery life and performance
These phones do not skimp on performance and if you want to see their full benchmark results, check out their individual reviews on CNET. In real-world situations I didn't encounter any discernible difference between the two when I was filming 4K videos, playing games or having a multitude of apps running in the background. They both have 12GB of RAM, so you're definitely not missing out on performance if you choose the older phone.
When it comes to battery life though, your mileage will vary depending on how you use your phone. Although the Note 20 Ultra has the higher-capacity battery (4,500 versus 4,300 mAh), its screen's higher refresh rate will impact the battery life compared to using the phone on the 60Hz setting.
For my usage, which generally included watching videos, making calls, checking email, recording video and editing photos, I got through an entire day with anywhere between 15% to 25% battery remaining on the Note 10 Plus. In our lab tests for continuous video playback on Airplane mode, the phone averaged 21 hours. The Note 20 Ultra on 120Hz drained faster and left me with about 10% by the end of the day. I still managed to get through the day, but heavy users may need to give their phone a top-up at some point. We're still testing the Note 20 Ultra's battery and I'll update this piece when I get those times in.
Both juice up from an empty battery to 100% in about an hour with the 25-watt charger that's provided in the box. The Note 10 Plus also offers compatibility and faster charging with a 45-watt charger (which costs extra), while the Note 20 Ultra is capped at 25-watt charging.
Finally, the Note 20 Ultra has
as standard, while the Note 10 Plus has the option of a 5G version that costs extra. Funnily enough, the base storage is actually higher on the older phone (256GB) compared to 128GB on the Note 20 Ultra. Both have expandable storage up to 1TB.