Samsung currently has two high-end, high-powered and high-priced phones available for purchase in the form of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Note 20 Ultra. But which one should you buy?
If you’re in the market for the best phone within Samsung’s range and don’t have any qualms spending over a grand, then there are two clear options: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Here we’ll discuss the two phones, looking at the specs, camera and overall design.
Price – The newer phone is actually cheaper
The starting RRP of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is £1149/€1249/$1199. The Note 20 Ultra is a bit pricier, starting at £1179/$1299/€1349.
You can pay more for both if you’re after more storage, and as it’s been out for a while you’ll likely find the Note model cheaper in some areas and more likely to be put on sale.
Design and Screen – An important S21 Ultra display tweak gives it the upper-hand
- These are two big phones
- Both have quality displays, even if the S21 Ultra has some extra tricks
These are two big phones and probably should be dismissed if you’re after something a little kinder on the pocket. But, considering you’re reading this, we assume you don’t mind having something with a hefty display.
Both phones have large panels, with the 6.9-inch display on the Note 20 Ultra slightly larger than the 6.8-inch version on the S21 Ultra. We doubt you’ll notice the difference though. Many of the other specs are the same too: 120Hz with adaptive refresh rate, OLED panel, a small cut-out for a front camera and a max resolution of WQHD+.
The big difference though is that while the Note 20 Ultra boasts the high-res and high refresh rate, you can only choose one. So, if you want a 120Hz refresh rate then you’ll have to make do with FHD+ and vice-versa. Hardly a deal-breaker but it’s not ideal either. With the S21 Ultra that compromise is gone and you can really push the screen to its limits.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra also has a brighter screen making it even better for HDR video, especially through services like Netflix and YouTube.
You also get a far better and much quicker in-display fingerprint sensor tucked inside the S21 Ultra. This second-gen sensor from Qualcomm is a huge improvement over the one you’ll find in the Note 20 Ultra.
So, the best screen award goes to the Galaxy S21 Ultra – even though the Note 20 Ultra is far from bad.
We‘d also pick the Galaxy S21 Ultra when it comes to design as we think it’s just the nicer device to use. A lot of this is down to the more curvy look, which helps it sit a lot nicer in your hand. Both have a matte finish (unless you plump for the black Note 20 Ultra), metal rims and classy materials. You’ll also find an IP68 water resistance rating, Gorilla Glass displays and stereo speakers.
Both these phones are heavy (227g for the S21 Ultra, 208g for the Note 20 Ultra) and on the large side.
Specs and Camera – The S21 Ultra is the clear winner here in every area apart from one
- The Snapdragon 888/Exynos 2100 powers the S21 Ultra
- In the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra there’s the Exynos 990 and the Snapdragon 865+
- Both pack main 108MP main cameras
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra continues its impressive run when we come to the specs and camera.
If you’re in the UK, your Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra will be powered by the Exynos 2100. This is a far more capable chip than the slightly disappointing Exynos 990 and in our review we noted how this 5nm chip improved both performance and battery life. The difference is less obvious in Qualcomm regions, where the S21 Ultra runs on the Snapdragon 888 and the Note 20 Ultra on the 865+.
RAM starts at 12GB on both, with the S21 Ultra offering a 16GB option too. Storage options are the same too: 128GB, 256GB and 512GB.
One key benefit the Note 20 Ultra has over the S21 Ultra is that it packs a slot for microSD card, meaning you can up that base storage by up to 1TB. The lack of expandable storage on the S21 Ultra could be off-putting for some.
The final spec to really look at is battery size and battery life. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a 4500mAh cell, which is slightly smaller than the 5000mAh cell inside the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The difference likely boils down to there being less space inside the Note due to the need to house the S Pen. Both phones have 25w charging and 15w wireless, however you’ll only find a charger inside the box of the Note.
In terms of actual endurance, we’d give the win to the S21 Ultra. Its bigger cell and more efficient chipset lead to better screen-on time, however the lack of a charger will be something of an annoyance to some.
In terms of cameras, both pack in the pixels with a 108MP main sensor paired with a strong autofocus system. The sensor on the S21 Ultra is an updated version though, and we have found the pictures slightly better.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra also gets the upper-hand thanks to its duo of 10MP zoom camera, giving you proper 3x and 10x optical zoom. The Note 20 Ultra, on the other hand, has a single 12MP periscope zoom camera. Finally, both phones have a 12MP ultrawide. In terms of video, both shoot 8K at 24fps along with 4K at 30 and 60fps.
While these are both two of the best camera phones around, we give the win to the S21 Ultra.
S-Pen – No longer a Note exclusive, but at what cost?
- No longer a Note series exclusive
- But you’ll have to buy it separately to use on the Galaxy S21 Ultra
In previous years, the S Pen would have been one of the biggest reasons to plump for the Note series over the S series. That’s not the case anymore.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra is the first S series phone to pack support for Samsung’s stylus, however it doesn’t come included with the phone nor does it slot inside the device. Still, if you’ve been hankering to do some doodling on a phone other than a Note, you’re now in luck.
As the S Pen doesn’t fit inside the phone to charge, it lacks Bluetooth support too meaning Air Gestures will not work.
So, if you want the full S Pen experience go with the Note 20 Ultra. However, if you just want the basics then the S21 Ultra is fine replacement.
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: The winner is clear
As good as the Note 20 Ultra is, there is very little reason to choose it over the S21 Ultra – especially as it actually has the higher RRP.
The S21 Ultra has a better screen, better display, more efficient (and newer) chipset and a design that ventures into new territory. Unless you simply must have microSD expansion or the added benefit of Air Gestures with the S Pen, there’s very little reason to plump for the Note 20 Ultra over its superior sibling.