The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has the potential to be one of the best phones of the year. And it should be with a starting price of $1,299. In fact, my impressions are so favorable so far I can see how it could already beat the upcoming iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro.
While Apple isn't expected to release the new iPhone 12 models until October, there have been a ton of leaks already. And based on these reports some clear differences that are emerging between the Note 20 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro. Yes, the iPhone 12 should win on performance with its A14 Bionic processor, but Samsung's phablet should have plenty of other advantages.
Here are five ways the Note 20 Ultra already beats the iPhone 12.
- Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review (hands on)
- Everything we know about the iPhone 12
- Plus: Stunning Samsung Galaxy S20 Fan Edition just leaked
A superior 120Hz display
Rumor has it that the iPhone 12 won't feature a 120Hz display, which offers smoother scrolling along with optimized video playback and gameplay. And even if Apple does manage to add one in time it will likely be inferior to the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's panel.
Samsung's Adaptive Frequency OLED screen is so smart that it can drop down to 60Hz for video playback, 30Hz for messaging and as low as 10Hz when displaying still images. This should really help with the Note 20 Ultra's battery life.
In addition, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max is expected to sport a 6.7-inch panel, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra's is a whopping 6.9 inches. So Samsung's screen should be better all around.
Xbox games over the cloud
The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and regular Galaxy Note 20 both support the new Xbox Game Pass. In beta currently, this service allows you to stream more than 100 console titles directly to Samsung's phablets over the cloud. I tried Forza Horizon 4, and it played very smoothly on the Note 20 Ultra as I raced around the track. The initial load time was a bit slow, but overall I was very impressed.
If you haven't heard, Xbox had plans to launch its Game Pass service (aka Project xCloud) on iOS, but Apple won't allow Xbox Game Pass on iOS, saying that these cloud gaming services violate its App Store policies. Whatever.
108MP camera with 50x zoom
The iPhone 12 Pro Max should have a formidable camera setup, as leaks point to improved sensors across the board You should also get a slightly more powerful 3x telephoto zoom and a dedicated LiDAR sensor that should deliver better photo and video effects along with enhanced AR performance.
However, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra should have the iPhone 12 Pro beat when it comes to resolution and especially its Space Zoom camera. The 108MP main sensor on the Note 20 Ultra allows you to crop way in on images without losing quality, provided there's enough ambient light.
Even more impressive is the 50x zoom, which allows for shots that the iPhone 12 Pro simply won't be able to match, at least based on the rumors surrounding Apple's phone. The Note 20 Ultra's 5x optical zoom should also outperform the 3x optical on the iPhone 12 Pro. In my Note 20 Ultra testing, the results have been quite clear all the way up to 20x zoom, but at 50x some camera shake starts to creep in.
New S Pen powers
For whatever reason, Apple has decided to limit Apple Pencil support for the iPad and iPad Pro, but there haven't been any credible rumors that a stylus of any kind is coming to the iPhone 12. Meanwhile, the S Pen keeps gaining more powers with the Galaxy Note 20 and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Some of the new features include new Air Actions that allow you to perform various shortcuts just by waving the S Pen in front of the phone, from seeing recent apps to capturing screenshots you can instantly annotate. I also like that you can record voice memos and your scribbles will sync with the recordings. allowing you to tap on a word and hear what was being said at that time. it's a handy feature for classes or business meetings.
DeX mode goes wireless
Take that, AirPlay. While Apple's wireless technology lets you mirror your iPhone's screen on a compatible TV or Apple TV, the DeX mode on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is even more versatile. You can run a few apps at once on a desktop-like interface and the phone turns into one big touchpad for moving the cursor around.
I tried out the wireless DeX mode on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, and I was able to show off photos on the big screen using the Google Photos app, scroll my Twitter feed and stream Netflix. I even paired a PS4 controller to the phone and played Fortnite on a 55-inch TCL Roku TV. That game played smoother than the more fast-paced Asphalt 9 though.
Although a lot of smartphone shoppers tend to stay in their current ecosystem lane when it comes time to upgrade, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a lot of features Apple fans will wish the company could borrow or steal. And that's a good sign Samsung is doing something right.
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Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.