Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: How good is the new S Pen?

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen upgrades
(Image credit: Future)

Update: Our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review is live

If you’re trying to decide between the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 series, there are lots of differences to consider. The Note 20 Ultra has a snappier Snapdragon 865 Plus chip, a more dynamic 120Hz display and a dedicated autofocus sensor for the camera — but the S Pen remains the biggest reason to buy the Note.

With the Note 20 Ultra, Samsung has included a wide range of upgrades for the S Pen, some of which I found useful and others gimmicky. The most notable change is a faster 9ms response time, but there are plenty of other new features worth a look. After spending over a week with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, here are my impressions of all the S Pen enhancements. 

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen: Smoother performance

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen 9 ms

(Image credit: Future)

The Galaxy Note 20’s 120Hz screen refresh rate combines with a faster 9ms response rate on the S Pen itself to deliver one of the best writing experiences I’ve had on a mobile device. 

Whether I was taking notes or attempting to draw, the overall feel was completely smooth, to the point where I forgot I was writing on a screen. My only complaint is that some of the buttons at the bottom of the screen in the Samsung Notes app are a bit too small, especially considering we're working on an expansive 6.9-inch display

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen: Anywhere actions

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen

(Image credit: Future)

I initially scoffed when I saw the new Gesture options for the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Called Anywhere actions, you can perform advanced gestures to build on top of previous options like long pressing the S Pen button to open the camera app.

The new S Pen gestures let you draw in the air to activate various shortcuts. For example, you can draw a right facing arrow to go back or a right arrow to open recent apps and a little rainbow to go Home. My favorite gestures is Screen Write, which enables you to capture a screen shot and start annotating it.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen: Audio bookmarks

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen audio recording

(Image credit: Future)

If you like the idea of taking notes in meetings or in classes with the S Pen, the new audio bookmark feature will be pretty convenient. You can start a voice recording while you’re taking notes by pressing the paper clip icon, and when you go back you’ll see words light up as the words are spoken. Or you can click on a given word to see what was being said at a given time to check your notes.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen: PC-like folders and cloud syncing

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S pen folders

(Image credit: Future)

Samsung is making it easier to save your notes and find them later, not matter which device you’re on. There’s a new PC-like folder structure for organizing your notes. You just tap the menu (three vertical lines) button and then tap Edit to elect a folder. If you have the Samsung Notes app, all of your notes can be easily accessed from other devices, including tablets and PCs. 

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen: Auto straighten and other upgrades

Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen auto straighten

(Image credit: Future)

If you tend to write a little crooked, there’s a new Auto Straighten button in the Samsung Notes app that will recognize the direction and pattern of lines of your handwriting and attempt to straighten it. You select the section you want to straighten. The feature works, though I didn't notice a dramatic improvement. 

Other S Pen upgrades include the ability to import PDFs for annotation and, new template options and PowerPoint exporting.

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra S Pen bottom line

Even if you don’t use the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s S Pen all of the time, you will appreciate all of the upgrades Samsung has included for this flagship. I found myself using the gestures more than I thought I would, and I especially like the audio syncing feature, which reminds me of Livescribe pens. And with a 6.9-inch display, the Note 20 Ultra gives you a bigger canvas than ever before. 

Mark Spoonauer

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.