Samsung Galaxy Note 20: The 5 biggest unanswered questions

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 camera
(Image credit: Windows United)

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 is set to arrive later this summer, but the cat's already out of the bag for a lot of the changes planned for Samsung's next phablet. 

The new phones are expected to include displays with fast 120Hz refresh rates, only the displays will be fine-tuned so that the feature won't impact battery life. Look for a laser-focus sensor to accompany at least one of the phones to tackle the autofocus issues that plagued this spring's Galaxy S20 Ultra.

While the Note 20 rumors we've heard so far give us a pretty thorough view of what to expect, we still have some lingering questions about the new phone.

Some of those issues will doubtlessly get cleared up before the Note 20's anticipated debut in early August, but until then, we've got some lingering questions about the Galaxy Note 20.

Here's a closer look at what we still don't know about the Galaxy Note 20 and how those questions might be resolved when the phone finally arrives in stores.

Is the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra happening?

In recent years, Samsung's annual Galaxy Note lineup has featured a pair of models: the standard Note and a Plus-sized version. (Last year's installment included the Galaxy Note 10 Plus 5G — a third iteration of the phablet — but that was really just a Galaxy Note 10 Plus with a 5G modem.) 

Since this spring, we've anticipated that Samsung would follow its familiar pattern, after a reputable phone leaker tweeted that two models were once again on tap.

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Ice Universe)

The assumption was that Samsung would stick with the Galaxy Note 20 and Note 20 Plus names. But then leaks started mentioning a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, similar in name to the Galaxy S20 Ultra that debuted this spring alongside the S20 and S20 Plus. 

That meant one of two possibilities: Either Samsung was prepping a trio of phones after all, or the larger of the two Notes coming out in 2020 would be the Note 20 Ultra instead of the Plus.

As it stands, we're inclined to think that it will be the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra joining the standard Note 20 in Samsung's plans this summer. For one thing, the leaked specs of the Note 20 Ultra match what we've previously heard about the Plus. And leakers have stopped referring to the Plus.

Samsung could still surprise us by opting for different names or producing more models than anticipated, but until more evidence emerges, we're going to get used to the idea of the Note 20 and Note 20 Ultra making up this year's phablet lineup.

What S Pen features can we expect?

The S Pen — that powerful stylus that accompanies every Galaxy Note release — is usually one of the stars of any Galaxy Note update. Two years ago, Samsung added Bluetooth connectivity to the S Pen, letting you use it as a remote control, and the Galaxy Note introduced features like Air Actions to the stylus.

This time around? If Samsung is working on big S Pen capabilities for the Galaxy Note 20, it's keeping those under wraps.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite

(Image credit: Future)

Essentially, we've heard two big rumors about the S Pen — that it will gain some new drawing capabilities and that it will get a faster response time. These will both be welcome additions to the S Pen's toolkit, but they're not quite to the level of changes Samsung has made in the most recent Galaxy Note releases.

The drawing-capabilities rumor is a little thin on details, so there could be more there that emerges leading up to the Galaxy Note 20 launch that excites us. 

Samsung also released an S Pen developers' kit a while back that was intended to have third-party app makers bake in additional S Pen functionality to their offerings. We'd love Samsung to trot out examples of apps that do precisely that, just as Apple sometimes turns over its product-launch stage to people who've built exciting iPhone apps.

Will the Galaxy Note 20 feature a Snapdragon 865 — or something more powerful?

The Snapdragon 865 has powered the leading Android phones that have come out in 2020, including the Galaxy S20 series. So you'd expect that silicon to find its way into the Galaxy Note 20, especially since last year's Snapdragon 855 was the chipset inside the U.S. versions of both the Galaxy S10 and Note 10.

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Still, sometimes Qualcomm releases a Plus version of its flagship processor that adds a little processing and graphics boost for phones that come out in the latter half of the year. 

Last year's Snapdragon 855 Plus, for example, delivered a faster prime CPU core and speedier graphics rendering. Phones that incorporated the Snapdragon 855 Plus like the OnePlus 7T were, for a time, the best-performing Android devices around. So a Snapdragon 865 Plus would certainly give the Galaxy Note 20 a leg up.

There's a problem, though: some rumors suggest we aren't going to see a Snapdragon 865 Plus this year, as Qualcomm focuses on next year's top-of-the-line processor as well as 5G-enabled chipsets for less expensive phones. (A contrasting rumor, though, says the Snapdragon 865 Plus will debut in July.) If there's no Snapdragon 865 Plus, that means the Galaxy Note 20 is likely to feature the same chipset as the Galaxy S20. 

That's good news to some extent — the Snapdragon 855 has come the closest to matching the iPhone's performance of any system-on-chip in a long time. But with Apple likely to introduce an even faster processor for the iPhone 12 this fall, the Note 20 runs the risk of being left in the dust.

Some rumors have suggested Samsung might try to shake things up by turning to its own Exynos 992 chipset to power the Note 20 series. But Samsung rarely uses Exynos processors in its U.S. phones — the midrange Galaxy A51 is a notable exception — so we're not sure which processor will be inside the Note 20. All signs suggest a Snapdragon 865, though.

How will the Galaxy Note 20 improve on the Galaxy S20’s cameras?

Traditionally, Samsung saves its big camera changes for the Galaxy S lineup, then adopts what it introduced during the spring for the Galaxy Note that comes later in the year. 

It looks like history is repeating itself with the Galaxy Note 20, as leakers have said to not to expect significant changes from the cameras Samsung introduced in the Galaxy S20.

Galaxy Note 20 Plus camera render

(Image credit: OnLeaks/Pigtou)

But which cameras are we talking about here? The Galaxy S0 Ultra features a 48MP telephoto lens capable of a 100x "Space Zoom" alongside its 108MP main lens, 12MP ultra wide camera and time-of-flight sensor. 

Note 20 rumors, however, suggest that Space Zoom lens won't be coming to either Samsung phablet. Instead, the regular Note 20 could get the same 64MP telephoto lens as the Galaxy S20 Plus, while the Note 20 Plus/Ultra will feature a 13MP telephoto camera with a 50x zoom. 

The Note 20 Ultra will reportedly feature that 108MP main lens, while the Note 20 will make do with a more modest sensor.

As you can see, the rumored camera specs are all over the map, so we're looking for clarity on what kind of camera setup to expect between now and the reported Aug. 5 Galaxy Unpacked event.

One thing we are pretty sure about: The Note 20 Ultra should get a laser focus sensor to accompany its four rear lenses. That addition is expected to help the phablet's cameras avoid the autofocusing issues that plagued the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Galaxy Note 20 price: How much is it going to cost?

Pricing details have yet to leak about the Galaxy Note 20, leaving us to use last year's Note 10 debut prices for guidance. If you recall, the Note 10 debuted at $949 while the Note 10 Plus cost $1,099. The 5G version of the Note 10 Plus added an extra $200.

We certainly wouldn't expect the Galaxy Note 20 to come in at a lower price than what Samsung charged for last year's phablets, especially with the all 5G-ready lineup of the Galaxy S20 commanding top dollar. 

A reasonable expectation might be that the Note 20 costs around $999, while the Note 20 Ultra costs anywhere from $100 to $200 more. We just hope the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra isn’t $1,399 like the Galaxy S20 Ultra.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.