Smart phones have hit a plateau in the last five or six years if you haven’t noticed. We went from huge leaps and bounds in software and hardware to arguing over megapixels, keyholes, and camera bumps. Phones have gotten to a point where even lower end phones are no longer slow and can pretty much do whatever you need. The gap between a premium phone and a low -end phone is shrinking and it’s getting harder to justify the huge price hike in premium flagship phones because of this. Samsung is one of the largest perpetrators of this issue. The Note series was their bread and butter and was easily miles ahead of the iPhone and many other popular phones and continued to innovate with every iteration. Once the Note 8 released I was pretty much over it all. I switched to OnePlus and never really looked back as it offered most of what Samsung could for over half the price.
What made me go back? Especially since Note phones run over $1,200 these days. The Note series has evolved enough since the Note 8 to catch my eye. The phone may not be super special to anyone who upgrades yearly, but for a jump from three generations back it’s a beautiful piece of hardware. The evolution of the Note is still subtle, but in many ways. From the pretty much edgeless display to the return of an aluminum back and expandable storage. The series feels like it went back to its roots compared to older generations. Outside of lightning fast response times and fantastic game performance, those are a given. I came back for the little things.
The unboxing is rather humble and minimal. Just a plain box with the S-Pen on front and a big N20. It’s screams, “Yeah, we don’t need to say much.” Just a charger and a phone without all those crazy adapters that the Note phones started getting since the Note7. When you pick up the phone the first thing you notice is humongous camera bump. Like holy hell this thing has a growth! These things are getting so big and silly, but it doesn’t detract from the phone’s looks. The series finally feels premium again. Glass doesn’t make a phone feel premium – it makes it feel delicate and fragile. I never liked glass backed phones and I’m glad aluminum is back in. The brushed bronze color is gorgeous and it continues on the top and bottom with only the front being glass like it used to be since the Note4. There’s also a lack of a headphone jack, but loo, it’s over. Headphone jacks are bulky and you’re fighting for room inside the phones. You also can’t make a phone thinner than 3.5mm if you keep this.
The software is a rather familiar experience, but I jumped off the Samsung train before the Galaxy One UI ecosystem was created. It feels familiar, but very much evolved and there are subtle things I like. The Note20 has some of the most in depth options for a phone I’ve ever seen and it’s incredibly customizable down to theming. The S-Pen is pretty much the same, but has minor changes, but the biggest one being an internal battery and being able to use it for air gestures away from the phone. The phone also has lost it’s weird quirkiness of slowing down over time and being sluggish which was the main problem I always had with Samsung phones, but it seems the 12GB for much faster processing has helped that.
Gaming on the phone is amazing and it will run any game out there with no issues. Using various controllers and clips of your favorite configuration as well as emulating systems like the GameCube worked really well with not many issues outside of just typical emulator compatibility issues. The phone does get hot, but Samsung’s Game Launcher has evolved to allowed performance plugins to monitor framerate, temps, and CPU and GPU utilization. It’s great that Samsung has embraced the hardware demographic as these are the phones power users reach for.
I do have to talk about the S-Pen and it’s functionality. This is a gimmick still to anyone who doesn’t need to write notes or do art. My previous job found this phone useful as I was always needing to take notes on the fly, but the various software added feels more and more like there’s less of a reason to use the pen. AR Gestures, Live Messages, and various other apps like these are pure fun and gimmicky and there’s no reason why Samsung hasn’t really advanced the Pen’s software suite much in almost a decade. The air gestures are great for presentations or something, but unless you actually need a pen on your phone you probably will never use it outside of satisfyingly clicking the pen in and out. I love the S-Pen and there’s no other phone like it on the market that has something like this.
Overall, Samsung has created the most premium Android ecosystem on the market and the Note20 reigns supreme. With a 108MP camera, themes, always-on display, tons of battery saving measures and options, the best OLED phone display on the market, Dolby Atmos speakers, 120hz refresh rate, true edge-to-edge display, and the return of the aluminum back, the Note20 feels like the Note has returned from a long run of being a copycat instead of staying true to form.