Samsung's Galaxy Note 20 Ultra holds its own one year later

In some ways it feels like a better phone today than when it launched.

Lexy Savvides Principal 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.
Expertise Wearables | Smartwatches | Mobile phones | Photography | Health tech | Assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
2 min read

The Galaxy Note phones have long held a special place in the hearts of Samsung fans thanks to the integrated stylus and a unique design that set them apart from other Galaxy devices. So when the company revealed we won't be getting a new Galaxy Note in 2021, many were concerned that this could be the end of the line for the Note.

Fortunately, Samsung says the Note line is not dead. But with more phones like the S21 Ultra and Z Fold 3 offering S Pen compatibility, one can only wonder how long the Note line can stay relevant.

Back in 2020, CNET's Jessica Dolcourt called the Note 20 Ultra "the right phone in the wrong situation" in her review. I couldn't agree more. It didn't feel like a significant enough upgrade from the Note 10 Plus, which admittedly was a slam-dunk of a phone. But a year after launch, the Note 20 Ultra not only makes more sense because of its lower price (you can find it for $600 or less with trade-ins), but because it represents everything that Note fans want in a phone.

Sure, it doesn't have the latest Snapdragon processor, but it still performs just as well as it did straight out of the box for pretty much everything I throw at it, from filming and editing 4K videos on-device, to gaming. The screen still looks fantastic and on-par with the S21 Ultra, even if it doesn't support the 120Hz refresh rate at the highest 2,960x1,440-pixel resolution like the newer phone. Even more valuable to some users, myself included, are the features it has that are noticeably absent from more recent Samsung phones: microSD expandable storage and support for magnetic secure transmission in Samsung Pay, for example.

Perhaps most important of all, the thing that makes the Note 20 Ultra a Note -- the S Pen -- is stored in the phone itself, rather than in a case like the S21 Ultra or Z Fold 3.

Overall, I've been really impressed with how the Note 20 Ultra has held up after a year of use. It still looks as good as it did initially, spare a few small scratches on the screen. Watch more of my impressions of the Note 20 Ultra a year after release in the video on this page.