F.ürst Edmund von Clary-Aldringen knew what he was doing when he built the “Sokolí hnízdo” hotel with 50 beds in 1881. It towers majestically over the forests of Bohemian Switzerland in the far north of the Czech Republic, framed by Pravčická brána, the Prebischtor – the largest natural sandstone rock bridge in Europe with a span of 26.5 meters.
Except for the hotel, which by the way is called “Falkennest” by the way, there is exactly nothing in this part of the national park apart from trees and rocks. No electricity and probably no cell phone network. While I am still thinking about it, a huge box beeps and vibrates excitedly in my pocket.
“In” my trouser pocket is most likely exaggerated – because the smartphone that I have been carrying around with me every day for three months is so big that it has stuck out of the pocket of every pair of jeans. As big as its name is long: Because the “Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G“Measures an impressive 6.9 inches. That is the equivalent of almost 18 centimeters of full screen. So there seems to be a fair amount of space under the screen for large antennas. The net is in place, the hike can continue – always following the 18-centimeter giant.
Cell phones are getting bigger again
Such devices used to be called “phablets” – a cross between “phone” and “tablet” and those who dragged the mobile phone giants around with them were mildly ridiculed. Cell phones were small and compact, at best they could be folded up to take up even less space.
Today the devices are getting bigger and bigger, since 2010 the average size has increased by 72 percent to 5.5 inches. But the Note series from Samsung is, so to speak, the king of displays on the market. No manufacturer sells larger smartphones. Why do you do such a thing – and above all: What do you need it for? I asked myself before my test. Three months later, I know the answer.
Part of it: The giant cell phone is a perfect travel companion. It combines interactive maps, a great camera and a travel guide with excellent reception in one device. The result is 208 grams.
For a professional camera, that’s damned little, because on two vacation trips along the Danube and to Bohemian Switzerland, the Samsung bolide manages to displace my camera without any problems.
The reason for this is the built-in camera set-up on the back – the 108 megapixel main camera as well as the telephoto and macro lenses with 12 megapixels each are absolute all-rounders.
Posing with 8K
Excellent photos can be taken with the Samsung mobile phone in difficult lighting conditions as well as in sunshine and backlighting – thanks to the multi-camera aperture (F1.8, F2.2, F3.0). With 5x optical and up to 50x digital zoom, even distant subjects can be brought in without the level of detail suffering too much.
Videos can even be rotated in 8K resolution (7680 x 4320 pixels) or as super slow motion recordings with up to 960 frames per second. For comparison: the human brain processes around 30 images per second – when it’s in good shape.
Sure: Such additional functions are gimmicks, poses by Samsung, with which the South Korean company shows what is technically possible. In everyday life I don’t shoot videos that would quickly consume a large part of the 512 gigabytes of storage space. Also because there is a lack of suitable playback devices that could really do something with the 8K resolution. Because Samsung’s in-house display is not enough for this – although it is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G.
The 6.9-inch screen has a resolution of 3088 to 1440 pixels in what is known as “Quad HD +”. All details can be seen here, photos are displayed with high contrast and texts are razor-sharp and do not flicker.
The rest of the smartphone is of a similar high quality: The color “Mystic Bronze” shimmers elegantly and cuts a fine figure in any meeting room. Despite its size, the mobile phone sits very comfortably and securely in the hand, even if the large camera unit on the back protrudes a bit too far and noticeably sharp-edged from the case. Nevertheless: I like to hold the Samsung mobile phone in my hand – because it is also pleasant to use.
The built-in Exynos 990 processor drives the device to good performance – for example in image processing or in complex games such as “Fortnite”. In addition, work assignments are done quickly, and longer texts can be written on the large display without errors. After all, the virtual keyboard on the screen is almost as big as on a tablet.
It is a shame, however, that there would have been a lot more in terms of performance: Samsung also sells the phone with the Snapdragon 865+ processor on its home market – and it’s simply much faster and more battery-friendly.
Long tours need extra batteries
Because in Bohemian Switzerland, the huge dimensions and the in-house processor prove to be a toxic deficit combination of the device: When you get down from the Prebischtor, the giant cell phone begins to grumble – the battery is running low. On paper, the battery capacity is 4500 mAh and, according to the manufacturer, should last for up to 15 hours of internet use or 75 hours of music playback.
But that is completely exaggerated. Because part of the truth is: When I’m on a day trip with the device, I usually have two external batteries in my luggage to power the cell phone.
Continuous GPS reception in particular seems to affect the cell phone in the test. If you are still taking photos and listening to music while hiking, you need fresh electricity after six hours. And with two external batteries in the luggage, the “total weight” of the cell phone quickly increases by several hundred grams.
Sure: This is an exceptional situation and with normal use in the office or during everyday weekend work the battery lasts until the end of the day, but then at the latest the cell phone needs new energy. All of this is well below Samsung’s manufacturer information.
Oh, by the way: the Note mobile phone also has a pen – this is tradition for the device and almost gives it its name. It is stowed in a slot on the underside. It can be used to take handwritten notes or make gestures like a magic wand, which can then be used to remotely control the smartphone.
At this point I think of Apple icon Steve Jobs, who once asked: “Who brings a stylus?” His and my answer: “Nobody needs a stylus”. In the meantime, the apple company has broken this promise – but only when it comes to tablet operation. A pen is useless to me on a smartphone.
Once it was a unique selling point for the Note series, today it is no longer a reason to buy. Rumor has it that Samsung will part with the Note series this year and sell the pen as an addition to the Galaxy series or integrate it directly into its foldable Z smartphones. It wouldn’t be a shame about the pen, but about the giant cell phone. Because this device is usually bought because of its gigantic screen. The camera and the elegant design round off the list of reasons to buy.
At least if you want to pay the hefty price for it. The smartphone was launched in August 2020 for 1266 euros. The price has now dropped to around 900 euros. That’s still a lot of money for a cell phone, but compared to Apple devices, Samsung cell phones are falling rapidly in price.
This is mainly due to the fact that the South Koreans are constantly flooding the market with new hardware. Whether A or M series, S model, Note series or fold smartphone, hardly a month goes by without new cell phones. Most recently, Samsung added the Galaxy S21 in its various versions on January 14th.
For the Note 20, this could trigger a further drop in price. If the phones hit the 800 euro mark in the coming months, smartphone seekers can consider buying them. The devices are being updated to the current software version Android 11 these days, the hardware on the market has barely become faster. And with a fair purchase price, the money is enough for at least one additional battery.