The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Is My New Favourite Gaming Phone

The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra Is My New Favourite Gaming Phone
It's much bigger than my hands make it look, I promise. (Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku)
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Way back in 2012, approximately three decades ago, I swapped my iPhone for a then brand-new Samsung Galaxy Note II. The large size and open-ended Android ecosystem stole me away from Apple for at least a couple of years. Now I’m back on my large phone kick with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. Between its gorgeous 6.9-inch, 120 Hz display and its perfect-for-cloud-gaming 5G support, I’m good for at least another year or two.

I swear I’m not just hopping back and forth between Apple and Samsung. It’s just that every time I require the services of an Android phone (for instance, when Microsoft releases a streaming game service that doesn’t work on iOS), Samsung is right there. In fact, the press kits Microsoft sent out for this week’s launch of Xbox Cloud Gaming were custom-decorated Samsung Galaxy Note 20s.

Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku

The phone I am using is not one of those. Mine is a Galaxy Note 20 Ultra in Mystic Bronze, a colour just as pleasing but not as annoying as rose gold. The non-Ultra Note 20 has a flat 6.7-inch display. The slightly bigger Note 20 Ultra sports Samsung’s lovely Edge display, wrapping around the edges of the phone, with a resolution of 3088 x 1440. Enabling 120 Hz mode drops the resolution down to 2316 x 1080, but games that support faster refresh rates, like my beloved Alto’s Adventure, flow across the screen like liquid.

Another difference between the Ultra and non-Ultra versions of the Note 20 is the camera array. Both feature a 12 megapixel ultra wide camera and a telephoto camera. Where the non-ultra has a 12 megapixel wide-angle camera, the Ultra boasts a 108 megapixel wide-angle lens, which is completely over the top. It takes images that can easily be cropped or zoomed into without losing fidelity. I can’t even upload an image larger than 25 megapixels to Google Docs. Instead, here’s a picture taken with the default camera settings, which always turns out nice. Note that the Ultra also features a super-fast laser auto-focus on the back, making it an outstanding phone for taking video. It’ll record up to 8K 24 frames per second, and it can also record in HDR. This is a damn fine phone for folks into capturing images.

Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku

But I’m not here to take pictures. I am here to play the latest Android games as fast and prettily as I can, and the Note 20 Ultra gets that job done. With the Snapdragon 865+ processor, the fastest Note processor yet, it’s got power and speed covered. It has 12MB of RAM (the non-Ultra has 8GB), which is a silly amount of RAM for a phone and makes multitasking easy. My model has 128GB of storage, so I can load a whole bunch of stuff. The Ultra also supports MicroSD cards in sizes up to a terabyte.

Whether I’m playing the latest mobile Madden game, attempting to play a mobile MMO, or crushing them candies, every game I play on the Note 20 Ultra plays very well. No hiccups, no random incompatibility. The device does lack a headphone jack, but it also has stereo speakers with support for Dolby Atmos, so that’s sort of a trade-off.

Should your game of choice require a fast internet connection, the Note 20 Ultra’s 5G is that fast internet connection. Microsoft’s new cloud gaming service, formerly known as Project XCloud, runs like a dream on this phone with a T-Mobile 5G connection. Between the speed and the larger-than-normal screen, it’s perfect for playing Xbox Game Pass games on the go.

Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku Photo: Mike Fahey|Kotaku

The only aspect of the Note 20 Ultra that disappoints me is the S Pen, the powered Bluetooth stylus that’s tucked into the bottom of the unit. It’s more responsive than ever, and now supports air gestures, allowing users to perform certain tasks without even touching their phone. I just wish there were games that took advantage of the stylus. It’s great for taking notes and marking up documents, but every time I use the S Pen I imagine the early days of the Nintendo DS, when the stylus was used for inventive games like Kirby: Canvas Curse. Give me some drawing games please, Samsung.

Photo: Samsung Photo: Samsung

Aside from that piddling complaint, my time with the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G has been dreamy. It’s a big, powerful phone that does big and powerful things perfectly. My friends at Gizmodo love it as a big ol’ phone. I love it as a portable gaming device I sometimes talk into.

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