Samsung unveils Note20 and Note20 Ultra: Phones ship Aug 21
It is challenging to evaluate what's fresh in tech when you can’t touch, feel and eyeball these latest devices in person. But having been whacked by the coronavirus like the rest of the tech industry, Samsung’s "Unpacked" unveiling on Wednesday of new Galaxy Note20 Ultra and Galaxy Note20 smartphones--not to mention the company’s latest Galaxy Watch3 smart timepieces, Galaxy TabS7 and S7+ tablets and Galaxy Buds Live--was a virtual affair. Sadly, that's the industry's new normal.
Samsung is known for selling two main “flagship”-class Galaxy franchises, the “S series” phones that typically show up late winter/early spring, and the Note devices that are unleashed during the dog days of August.
OK, I should mention a third grouping of bendable/foldable phones, such as the previously-launched Z Flip 5G, and the Galaxy Z Fold2 that was also introduced during the remote Unpacked proceedings. It has a foldable 7.6-inch display, newly designed hinge, and a technology that can "sweep" away debris.
But there's no pricing yet--the first Z Fold cost nearly $2000, and Samsung says more details will be made available Sept. 1.
In the meantime, Galaxy Notes are considered Samsung’s productivity-oriented handsets, and they’ve historically engendered the most loyalty among the Samsung faithful, even after the rough patch in 2016-17, when the Note 7s batteries famously caught fire and had to be recalled.
It’s hard to believe that Galaxy Notes have been around more than a decade ago now; these were the devices that ushered in the phablet era of ginormous displays and in Samsung’s case smart S Pen styluses.
Pricey but powerful: They’ve also been among the most expensive handsets and the new models don't come cheap either. The Note20 starts at $999; the Note20 Ultra $1299. Both can be pre-ordered just after midnight eastern time, and will be available August 21.
These latest Notes are billed as Samsung’s most powerful yet, each a fully-5G capable device with powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processors and big batteries, and those large sweet screens.
The Note20 has a Full HD 6.7-inch edge-to-edge display; the Note20 Ultra a Quad HD 6.9-inch screen (with a zippy 120Hz refresh rate). Screen size aside, I’m slightly confused by Samsung’s messaging. Samsung says the Note20 Ultra is designed more for power and productivity and the Note20 more about maximizing time for work and play. I presume overlap since even those of us who want to be more productive are all about entertainment too.
Power of the pen: You could always use the S Pen to jot down ideas or draw on the screen, and to gesture to remotely control the device. Samsung says the latest S Pens not only improve on latency or lag time but add a variety of new gestures. You might control a presentation by gesturing with the pen from across a room.
Through the Samsung Notes app, you can also save your notes to the cloud via a new live synching feature, or attach voice recordings captured during a lecture, say, which can then be synced to your notes, a potential boon for students and yes us journalists.
Play Xbox: Samsung says it has also expanded on a partnership with Microsoft to more seamlessly let you engage with apps and content on a Windows 10 PC on the phone. And Samsung is making a bigger push into gaming with the ability to let you stream Xbox games on the phone.
You get a three-month free trial for the Xbox Game Pass subscription service that goes public on Sept. 15, after which you must pay $14.99 a month to play those games on the Notes. More than 100 titles will be made available via the cloud and in theory 5G should help make the service operate smoothly on mobile. We'll see.
Camera specs: Samsung will tell you that the S series phones are prioritized for consumers who prize photography and social experiences. On the Notes, Samsung is focusing more on cinematic video mode features (21:9 aspect ratio, 24fps recording, etc.).
That said, some of the camera features on Notes have been borrowed from the S series, including “Space Zoom,” which on the Note20 lets you zoom in on a scene up to 30x and up to 50x on the Ultra.
Both devices have have 10MP selfie cameras. On the rear, both have 12MP ultra-wide shooters, and wide lenses. The Note20’s wide lens is 12MP; the Note20 ultra lens is 108MP.
The Note20 Ultra also has a 12MP telephoto camera; the Note20 a 64MP telephoto camera.
The phones have wide carrier support and come in varying colors. The magic, um, marketing moniker for the device is “mystic” meaning the Note 20 will be available in mystic bronze, mystic gray or mystic green (with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.) The Note20 Ultra comes in mystic bronze, mystic black or mystic white in 128 GB or 512GB, with 16GB of RAM.
Such mystic colors look good in pictures and in promotional Samsung videos viewed from afar. But we'll have to wait a bit longer to not only see how these mystic hues look up close, but how these latest devices perform in the real world.