Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Who’s a better fit for the S Pen?

Over the past year Samsung’s been paying more attention to people’s favorite aspects of the Galaxy Note experience for the purpose of bringing some of that magic over to the Galaxy S lineup. The Galaxy S21 Ultra embodies Samsung’s efforts in this regard, as it’s become the company’s first-ever Galaxy S phone to support the iconic S Pen.

Comparing a device from the Galaxy S series with a Note-branded phone has never felt more appropriate, so today, we’ll be doing exactly that. We’ll take a closer look at the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra side by side, and maybe we’ll even determine if the Galaxy S21 Ultra is on its way to making the Galaxy Note series obsolete.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Display

The Galaxy S21 Ultra features a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O display with a resolution of 3200 by 1440, HDR10+, and an adaptive refresh rate of 10-120Hz.

On paper, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra display has similar characteristics. It’s a 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Infinity-O panel with HDR10+, WQHD+ resolution, and 120Hz support.

In practice, however, these two panels are not identical. To begin with, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra’s display is not completely flat but it is brighter by around 100 nits. Samsung categorizes the Galaxy S21 Ultra display as an Edge panel that tops out at 1,500 nits, whereas the S Pen flagship’s display can go as bright as 1,600 nits.

On the other hand, the Galaxy S21 Ultra display achieves what the Galaxy S20 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra couldn’t: It supports a high 120Hz refresh rate at maximum QHD+ resolution, so overall, it represents a key upgrade over the previous generation.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Cameras

At first glance the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra share a few camera characteristics but the 108MP sensor on the back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is actually new. It has OIS, improved Phase Detection AF and a laser autofocus module, and an f/1.8 aperture. It’s paired with a 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) sensor with Dual Pixel autofocus.

The Galaxy S21 Ultra abandons the single 12MP periscope camera configuration in favor of two 10MP telephoto shooters. One’s boasting an f/2.4 aperture, OIS, and 3X optical zoom, and the other features an F/4.9 aperture, OIS, and 10x optical zoom for a combined Space Zoom of 100x. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is limited to 50x zoom. In addition, all four cameras on the back of the Galaxy S21 Ultra can record 4K videos at 60 frames per second.

The selfie camera is also better. It has a 40MP resolution, Phase Detection autofocus, an f/2.2 aperture, and it sounds like it was pulled from the Galaxy S20 Ultra. In contrast, the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a 10MP selfie shooter.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Other hardware specs and features

Having been released later than the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, Samsung’s new Galaxy S21 Ultra flagship has the advantage of additional software features thanks to the newer One UI 3.1 version. However, the Galaxy S21 Ultra also boasts a few other key hardware advantages over its sibling.

Excitingly enough, the Galaxy S21 Ultra boasts the new and promising Exynos 2100 chipset, at least in markets where it doesn’t ship with the Snapdragon 888 alternative. The new SoCs are paired with more RAM and Samsung’s letting customers choose from a 12GB + 128GB / 256GB model or a variant with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of internal storage. However, all three new flagships that were revealed at Unpacked 2021 lack external storage.

Then there’s the fact that the Galaxy S21 Ultra adopts Qualcomm’s latest ultrasonic fingerprint scanner that’s both larger and faster, all the while introducing Wi-Fi 6E compatibility. And last but not least, the Galaxy S21 Ultra has a larger 5,000mAh battery, up from 4,500mAh, though it remains to be seen if this translates to better battery life in real-world usage scenarios. It technically should, especially given the higher efficiency of the new 5nm chipsets.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: The S Pen

Bringing the S Pen to the Galaxy S21 Ultra was one of the most unexpected moves Samsung ever made, barring all the leaks that have revealed this nugget of truth months before the phone’s official unveiling. And it remains to be seen whether or not this decision will pay off, but what’s obvious right now is that the S Pen is not viewed by Samsung as a vital Galaxy S21 Ultra component.

Samsung hasn’t converted the Galaxy S21 Ultra into a Note device. The S Pen is being sold as an optional accessory, and as a result the phone doesn’t have a dedicated S Pen holster. This means that the S Pen doesn’t have an internal battery either, and in turn, the input device lacks any additional hardware such as Bluetooth connectivity and the gyroscope. Air Actions are therefore not available.

Samsung claims that S Pens from the Galaxy Note and Galaxy Tab lineups are compatible with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. But it’s unclear if the internal gyroscope and all the features associated with it, or Bluetooth, work as intended when using an S Pen borrowed from the Note or Tab family in conjunction with the latest flagship..

There’s also the matter of not being able to recharge these S Pens through the Galaxy S21 Ultra, so from what we’re gathering, Samsung isn’t suggesting that you should buy an S Pen from the Galaxy Note series and pair it with your Galaxy S flagship; only that you could use one if you already own a Galaxy Note or Tab device with an S Pen.

As for the overall design, the standard Galaxy S21 Ultra S Pen is thicker than the one found inside the latest Galaxy Note models and it doesn’t have the clicker button at the top. Samsung hasn’t revealed any latency figures but the input device should offer the same opportunities for productivity. It can be used for tasks such as photo editing, drawing, note-taking and more.

All things considered, the S Pen accessory for the Galaxy S21 Ultra could be a great choice for users who are looking for a higher level of precision in their photo editing, or for customers who never had plans to abandon the Galaxy S series in favor of the Galaxy Note lineup, yet may want to trial the S Pen experience.

However, the bulky S Pen case and the fact that some features are missing means that the Galaxy S21 Ultra isn’t really a Galaxy Note replacement. Breaking the S Pen’s dependency on the Galaxy Note series could lead to great things, but the Galaxy S21 Ultra will never be viewed as a Galaxy Note replacement by a fan of the Note series, and so far, Samsung hasn’t pitched it as such either, which is the way it should be.

Galaxy S21 Ultra vs Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Final thoughts

The Galaxy S21 Ultra promises a better overall user experience thanks to a handful of significant upgrades, better performance, a larger battery, and an improved camera setup, just to name a few. The one clear advantage the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has over its young sibling is that it should offer a more complete S Pen experience. After all, it was purpose built for the task. It also has a microSD card slot, and that’s a fairly important features for a vocal majority of users.

The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was first released for $1,299 and the Galaxy S21 Ultra will go on sale for $1,199. The optional S Pen is sold for $39 but it’s also paired with a silicon case and a Clear View case for $69 and $89, respectively. Also worth noting that the Galaxy S21 Ultra doesn’t ship with a charger or a pair of wired earbuds in the box, so the prices sort of even out. Granted, you might be able to buy the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra at a discount nowadays, but should you pick it over the Galaxy S21 Ultra?

The new flagship phone obviously boasts numerous upgrades, a couple of which have been waited on by fans for years. But if you’re in it mainly for the S Pen experience then you’re probably better off sticking with the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

On the other hand, if you’re considering switching sides and joining the Galaxy S family, this is probably the best time to do it as you won’t have to give up on the S Pen altogether. Not to mention the fact that the Galaxy S21 Ultra is shaping up to be a fantastic flagship in itself.

You can refer to our Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review for more details, and stay tuned for our upcoming Galaxy S21 Ultra review. Until then, you can check our device comparison widget below for a more complete spec overview between Samsung’s best Galaxy Note model to date and the new Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Galaxy S21 Ultra hands-on | Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review

Galaxy S21 Ultra
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
General Information
Model nameGalaxy S21 UltraGalaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
Model numberSM-G998BSM-N986B
Model typeBarBar
ColorBlack (Black)
Silver (Silver)
Brown (Brown)
Navy (Navy)
Titanium (Titanium)
Black (Black)
Bronze (Bronze)
White (White)
Announced2021, January2020, August
Released2021, January2020, August
Physical Specifications
DimensionsBar: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9 mmBar: 164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm
Operating System
Operating systemAndroid 11Android 11
One UI version3.13.0
KindMain DisplayMain Display
NameInfinity-O DisplayInfinity-O Display
TechnologyDynamic AMOLED 2XDynamic AMOLED 2X
Size6.8 inch / 172.72 mm6.9 inch / 175.26 mm
ResolutionWQHD+ / 3200x1440 pixelsWQHD / 3088x1440 pixels
Pixel density515 PPI496 PPI
Screen to body ratio~89.9%%
RAM/ROM sizes12 GB RAM with 128 GB ROM
12 GB RAM with 256 GB ROM
16 GB RAM with 512 GB ROM
12 GB RAM with 128 GB ROM
12 GB RAM with 256 GB ROM
12 GB RAM with 512 GB ROM
Rear camera
Standard battery capacity5000 mAh4500 mAh
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