This year’s fall Samsung Unpacked event was loaded with new product announcements, many of which were expected. Earlier this year, right before COVID-19 shut down the whole world, some of the world’s press and analysts, including yours truly, attended the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy Z Flip launch event in San Francisco. Now, with Covid-19 still a very present threat, Samsung’s fall event went virtual, live streaming for all the world to watch. Samsung’s new Galaxy line of products, announced at the event, is led by the Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra phones, followed by the Galaxy Tab S7/S7+, Galaxy Watch 3 and the Galaxy Buds Live. Let’s take a closer look at these announcements.
Galaxy Note20 and Note20 Ultra
With their larger screens and stylus, Samsung’s Note line targets business users. In some ways, the Note series has pulled the rest of the industry along with it, inspiring others, such as Apple, to adopt larger screens as well. While the new Note20 Ultra and Galaxy S20 Ultra (announced earlier this year) effectively share the same screen size, they possess decidedly different designs. The Note features a much sharper, more square design with, surprisingly, a slightly lower resolution display (3088x1440) than the S20 Ultra’s (3200x1440). Meanwhile, both have 120 Hz refresh rates. All of that said, most users won’t notice any difference between the two devices, especially since the Note20 Ultra is slightly shorter (2mm), slightly wider (1mm) and thinner (0.7mm) than the Galaxy S20 Ultra. What’s even more interesting is that the S20 Ultra weighs 222 grams while the Note20 Ultra is only 208—an almost 10% weight reduction. This reduction in weight and thickness is likely what enabled the Note20 Ultra’s 10% smaller battery. I believe that Samsung has very likely perfected the software and gotten better power-optimizations out of the Note20 Ultra, rendering the 5,000 mAh battery unnecessary. This weight reduction is welcome, considering how heavy the Galaxy S20 Ultra is, but it remains to be seen how this will affect battery life. Samsung also brought back the 108MP camera from the Galaxy S20 Ultra, with improved capabilities including a 5x optical telephoto. This time, however, Space Zoom is limited to 50x. This is not such a big deal, in my opinion, since it was pretty much useless beyond 30x zoom in most scenarios anyways (as it is with most smartphones that feature this capability).
The new Note20 and Note20 Ultra feature a new and improved S Pen with significantly reduced latency, as low as 9ms latency on the Note20 Ultra. This gives the S Pen a more natural and nearly pen-like feel. Off-screen, the Note20 and Note20 Ultra also leverage the S Pen for touch-less navigation. While I was a little skeptical about this feature’s utility, I have used my S Pen as a remote trigger for taking group photos. I believe that alone is a good enough use case to justify it. Additionally, when I use a Note as my primary device, I find myself jotting down notes far more often and remembering things that I would have otherwise forgotten by the time I pulled up the Notes app. The Note’s ability to write with the screen “off” is fantastic and I really think it’s an undersold feature. Additionally, Samsung’s Microsoft integration gets even tighter this year, with an upgraded Link to Windows. Later this year you will even be able to run multiple apps side by side on your Windows 10 PC. Having all your Microsoft ecosystem tools syncing with Samsung’s on-device apps is a welcome addition, and I believe these integrations make the Note series even more business-friendly.
The new Samsung Galaxy Note20 series is still great for entertainment. This is further emphasized by the announcement yesterday with Microsoft that, beginning September 15th, Microsoft Xbox xCloud will be available on the Note20 series via Game Pass Ultimate. The new Note20 Series also captures 8K video, as the S20 series did, but with 21:9 aspect ratio and 24 fps recording, for those looking for a more cinematic feel without having to manually render it down at a lower frame rate. The Note20 Series will also support both onboard and external audio sources for video recording. The Note 20 series in the US will be powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865+, with 5G in all versions of the device (though in some regions it will be powered by Exynos rather than Snapdragon). Additionally, the Note20 Ultra features 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, with an optional expandable microSD card slot. The Note20, on the other hand, features 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage without a microSD card slot. The Note20 Ultra features UWB (Ultra Wide Band) which powers Samsung’s Nearby Share—a capability that allows for point and share and improved location services, applications such as AR and IoT. Samsung says that the Note20 Series also has “Super-Fast Charging” capabilities that will charge up to 50% in just 30 minutes. This is slightly disappointing, since Qualcomm just announced QuickCharge 5.0, reportedly capable of 0 to 50% in only 5 minutes. Perhaps that’s something we will have to wait for the Note30 series to see.
The Note20 Series starts at $999 for the Note20 and $1299 for the Note20 Ultra and will be available at all major carriers and unlocked, starting August 21st (with pre-orders beginning August 6th at midnight eastern time).
Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+
Samsung, in my opinion, is the only company that can produce an Android tablet even remotely competitive with Apple’s iPad. Smartly, Samsung leveraged its display technology advantage to give the new Galaxy Tab S7+ a 12.4” Super AMOLED Display with a 120 Hz refresh rate. The Galaxy Tab S7 has a similar, but smaller 11” display, while both share the same Snapdragon 865+ SoC as the Note20 series. This means that it will be very snappy (no pun intended) and still only weigh about a pound. In fact, at 575g, the Galaxy Tab S7+ (12.4”) is lighter than both the Wi-Fi and cellular models of the iPad Pro (12.9”). The Galaxy Tab S7+ also features a 5G model (in addition to the Wi-Fi and LTE models). All versions of the Galaxy Tab S7 feature the S Pen and have two cameras in the back and one facing forward. Additionally, both models of the Tab S7 possess 45W Super-Fast Charging support with the appropriate adapter and fingerprint sensors (on a side key for the S7, and in-screen on the S7+). The Galaxy Tab S7 and S7+ will be available in the fall, starting at $649 for the Tab S7 and $849 for the Tab S7+ (the base-model Wi-Fi versions).
Galaxy Watch3 and Buds Live
Samsung also announced the Galaxy Watch3, a welcome update to the company’s Watch2, which itself was an extraordinarily strong pivot towards health and fitness. Now it seems like Samsung is doubling down even further on health and fitness, with the Galaxy Watch3’s slimmed down rotating bezel, improved sleep tracking, blood oxygen saturation readings, ECG and blood pressure monitoring. Samsung just received clearance from the FDA to do ECG and will have more details soon. As with previous models, there will be a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth version, as well as one with LTE. I am hoping to see better app and service integration, though that remains a question mark.
Samsung also announced another wearable, Galaxy Buds Live, that many people are endearingly calling the Samsung Galaxy Beans, which finally bring active noise cancellation (ANC) to Samsung’s line of earbuds. I personally use my Galaxy Buds+ nearly every day and love them very much. While they were a big improvement over the original Galaxy Buds, ANC is something that has been missing for quite some time. The driver in the Galaxy Buds Live is also reportedly larger, which should result in even more bass and overall better sound quality than the previous versions. Additionally, it has 3 microphones for improved voice quality and noise cancellation, which I will have to hear for myself before I comment on. The Galaxy Buds Live and the Galaxy Watch 3 will both be available August 6th, starting at $169.99 and $399, respectively.
Overall, these updates to Samsung’s product lines are welcome, and they come at a time when people’s phones are more important to them than ever before. Regardless of what device you currently have, if you’ve had it for a while, the Snapdragon 865+ in these devices will make your current device seem pedestrian. Since I first experienced the Galaxy S20 Ultra’s 120 Hz display, I have not been able to go back to a phone with anything less. That’s why I believe the Note20 Ultra will be such a great upgrade for Note users. Samsung isn’t targeting the usual user with these devices—instead, it’s targeting people who are either already Note users, or those business users who have been interested in the Note for a while, but haven’t yet pulled the trigger. I know that my Mom has been waiting in the wings with her Note9, and I am positive that she will be upgrading to the Note20 Ultra on Day One. Whichever way you look at it, this is the best looking, fastest, and most capable Note device ever.