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Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Which phone is best for you?

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

This Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra face-off answers the question of which big phone from Samsung is the best. These two premium flagship phones, which are quite stellar and somewhat similar, go head-to-head to see which is the best one for you. In fact, as you'll see in our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review, it's the most Note-like Galaxy S series phone ever, as it’s the first in that family to support the S Pen.

But if you look deeper, there are lots of key differences between the S21 Ultra and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, from the cameras and the design to the processor and price. Our Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review shows it's still a formidable handset, but it's been surpassed in some ways by the newer Samsung. We compared these two phones side by side to help you decide which one is right for you.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Specs 

Galaxy S21 UltraGalaxy Note 20 Ultra
Starting price$1,199$1,299
Screen size6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3200 x 1440; 10Hz - 120Hz)6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED (3088 x 1440; 10Hz -120Hz)
CPUSnapdragon 888Snapdragon 865 Plus
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB, 512GB
Rear cameras108MP (f/1.8) wide; 12MP (f/2.2) ultrawide; 10MP (f/2.4) telephoto with 3x zoom; 10MP (f/4.9) telephoto with 10x zoom108MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom (ƒ/3.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2)
Front cameras40MP (f/2.2)10MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery size5,000 mAh4,500 mAh
Wireless5G, Wi-Fi 6E, UWB5G, Wi-Fi 6, UWB
Size6.5 x 3 x 0.35 inches6.49 x 3.04 x 0.32 inches
Weight8.04 ounces7.34 ounces
ColorsPhantom Silver, Phantom Black, Phantom Navy, Phantom Titanium, Phantom Brown Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Price

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is priced at $1,199, which is $200 less than its predecessor. On paper, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the pricier of these two phones with a retail price of $1,299. 

However, with discounts you can find the Note 20 Ultra for as low as $1,049, which is $250 off. We would check out our best Galaxy S21 deals and best Galaxy Note 20 deals pages for the latest sales. 

Note that the Galaxy S21 Ultra has three storage options with 128GB, 256GB and 512GB. The 256GB model costs $1,249 and the 512GB version $1,379.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has just two storage options. The 512GB version jumps up to $1,449, but it appears to be out of stock at most retailers and carriers. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Design

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Newer doesn't always mean better. I prefer the design the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra over the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That's because the Note 20 Ultra is thinner, lighter and smaller. The camera bump on the S21 Ultra does integrate better into the back of the phone with Samsung's contour design, but I'd rather hold and use the Note 20 Ultra. 

The S21 Ultra also comes in more colors, including Phantom Silver and Phantom Black, plus Phantom Navy, Phantom Titanium and Phantom Brown through The Note 20 Ultra comes in just Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White. 

If you want to use an S Pen, the Note 20 Ultra is the obvious choice, because there's nowhere to put the S Pen on the S21 Ultra unless you spring for a case. And that adds even more bulk to a hefty device. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Display

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The displays on the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra are fairly similar, with both phones featuring Dynamic AMOLED displays that can scale from 10Hz up to 120Hz for smoother performance. The Note 20 Ultra's screen is only slightly larger at 6.9 inches, compared to 6.8 inches for the S21 Ultra. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

Both of these screens are sharp and amazingly colorful with ultra-wide viewing angles, but the S21 Ultra pulls ahead with its higher average brightness of 821 nits. The Note 20 Ultra hit 662 nits in our lab. 

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Future)

However, the Note 20 Ultra's screen was slightly more colorful, registering 86.1% of the DCI-P3 color gamut, compared to 81.4% for the S21 Ultra. The Note 21 Ultra's panel also proved a bit more accurate, as it achieved a Delta-E score of 0.24 (0 is perfect); the S21 Ultra scored 0.35. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Cameras

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the camera you want if you're looking for the most powerful zoom. It packs two telephoto zoom lenses, which can achieve 3x hybrid zoom and 10x optical and up to 100x digital Space Zoom.

Now, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is no slouch in this department, as it features a 5x optical zoom and 30x Space Zoom, but it simply doesn't go as far. In addition, the S21 Ultra has a zoom lock feature that can help capture steadier shots.

Both the Galaxy S21 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra feature a super sharp main 108MP camera, as well as a 12MP ultrawide camera. However, the S21 Ultra is designed to offer better performance in low light, and it also delivers improvements with its portrait mode. 

The Galaxy S21 Ultra also sports a sharper front camera at 40MP, compared to 10MP for the Note 20 Ultra. When it comes to image quality, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is better in almost every way. 

With this bowl a fruit, the S21 Ultra produces a brighter image, so the oranges in particular look more vibrant. The apple in the S21 Ultra shot is almost too bright, as you lose some definition in the skin compared to the Note 20 Ultra, but overall the S21 Ultra produces a more pleasing photo. 

I used the Night mode on both phones for this photo, which illuminated only by a nearby street lamp. It's not a dramatic difference, but I do appreciate that the sky appears brighter and the tree to the right looks a bit sharper and has more contrast in the foreground. Both phones do a fairly good job overall, though, especially with the footsteps in the snow. 

In this photo of a small lucky bamboo plant, I actually prefer the Note 20 Ultra's photo because of the way it deals with the light streaming through the window. The bright points at the top of the leaves make the shot look more compelling. The S21 Ultra's pic is too uniform throughout. 

This is where the Note 20 Ultra really starts to fall behind. This portrait looks completely blown out compared to the S21 Ultra. It looks like there's a white haze or film over the whole scene. Whereas the S21 Ultra does a better job capturing a more accurate dark blue in my jacket; my face also has a warmer tone than in the Note's shot. 

At 10x zoom, the Galaxy S21 Ultra delivers more detail and more accurate hues in this shot of a tree with some bird and squirrel feeders. The Note 20 Ultra struggles with the bark and the feeder in the top left of the frame gets almost completely lost along the edges. 

Once we get to 50x zoom, it's no contest. The Note 20 Ultra's photo is so blurry and hazy it looks like an impressionist painting. The bark and feeder both look a lot clearer in the S21 Ultra photo. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Performance

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review

(Image credit: Future)

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra packs a newer Snapdragon 888 processor, while the Note 20 Ultra is powered by a Snapdragon 865 chip, so it's not a big surprise that the S21 Ultra offers better performance. But it's not a huge gap.

For example, on our video editing test, which involves transcoding a 4K video clip to 1080p using the Adobe Premiere Rush app, the Galaxy S21 Ultra took 1 minute and 2 seconds to complete the task. The Note 20 Ultra needed a little bit longer at 1:16.

On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the S21 Ultra scored 3,400 on the multi-core portion of the test, compared to 3,294 for the Note 20 Ultra.

However, the Galaxy S21 Ultra may be the better option for gamers, as it scored considerably higher on the 3DMark Wild Life graphics test. It notched an average of 33 frames per second, while the Note 20 Ultra mustered only 24.9 fps.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Battery life

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra battery life

(Image credit: Future)

Both the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will get you through a full day on a charge, especially if you use the 60Hz display mode on each phone. But the S21 Ultra has longer endurance overall.

On the Tom's Guide battery test, which consists of continuous web surfing over 5G on 150 nits of screen brightness, the Galaxy S21 Ultra lasted an impressive 11 hours and 25 minutes in 60Hz screen mode. That's good enough to land this device on our best phone battery life list. With the display's adaptive mode on, which goes up to 120Hz, the runtime dropped to a still-good 10:07.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra didn't fare as well in our testing, as it lasted 10:26 in 60Hz screen mode and 7:59 with the adaptive mode turned on. That's a pretty big drop.

The S21 Ultra and Note 20 Ultra both offer fast 25W charging, but only the Note comes with a charger in the box. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Special features

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The most special thing about the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is its S Pen, but now that the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports S Pen input, what's the difference?

For one, you have to buy the S Pen separately with the S21 Ultra. A combo case and S Pen costs $69.99. Plus, this case adds bulk to an already hefty phone, and the S Pen doesn't support Bluetooth. A separate S Pen Pro will be coming later.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the phone to get if you want to expand storage, as it offers a microSD card slot. Samsung got rid of this perk on the S21 Ultra along with a bundled charger.

The S21 Ultra does have some welcome special features, such as its more powerful Space Zoom and zoom lock feature. In addition, there's a handy object eraser feature in the camera software and a Director's View feature on the S21 Ultra when recording video, which allows you to record using the front and back cameras at the same time. 

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Verdict

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs. Note 20 Ultra

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If I were paying with my own money, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the clear winner. It offers a brighter display, longer battery life and especially better cameras. The image quality difference is pretty stark, especially when taking portraits and zooming in outdoors. 

If you want to use an S Pen with your next phone, I would recommend the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra instead. Yes, the Galaxy S21 Ultra supports the S Pen, but I would rather have it built in to the phone without needing a bulky case. 

Overall, though, the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the better value. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for nearly 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. 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.

  • Stakeout
    bottomline.. I'll stay with my Note 20 Ultra.. MICRO SD CARD .. without it a deal breaker.. you can have the cloud for storage.. unreliable.. I back up on multiple hdd/sd drives for all my phone & DSLR pics
  • Jeff_145
    Well done article. What'd I'd really like to see though is a comparison at 5X zoom. In reality, anything beyond 5X zoom is going to make up a very tiny fraction of the shots taken. I think a comparison at 5X is more realistic for showing a more common zoom shot. 10X is great for showing the how the better zoom camera starts to really pull away. But I would suspect they are very similar at 2X-5X.

    Also, I think one could say it's a bit "unfair" to compare the two considering they were not designed and released around the same time. The fact you are comparing a 20 series to a 21 and it's actually rather close speaks a lot for the Note 20. Really the only complaint I've heard about the 21 Ultra is it's a tad too bulky and heavy even for those used to carrying large phones. The fact the Note is a better weight/size and still packs an S-Pen inside is simply amazing.

    I think the 21 series also has a new improved larger fingerprint sensor (sorry if I missed that comment) which is possibly other than the cameras, could be the best improvement for a lot of people tired of the finicky sensor in previous models.

    Really, the S21 Ultra is the no brainer if you just want the best cameras available on an Android phone that isn't a Chinese model that is banned from Google Play (whether you really need that quality of cameras or not as the Note's cameras beat about 90% from that year.)

    It's like choose (a) best/latest cameras or (b) close second on cameras + SD-Card Slot + Built-In S-Pen. You decide.
  • SleepingJackal
    Really comprehensive review. This has helped me decide the s21 ultra is the option for me. I can always buy the Spen separate if I really need it. I just cant resist the better cameras. Thanks for the article.