Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 vs. Galaxy Note 20 Ultra


It’s the end of an era — the later part of the year has arrived, and there’s no sign of a new, updated version of the Galaxy Note. It seems as if the phone that popularized the term “phablet” is finally being put out to pasture by Samsung, making the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra the last and the greatest of the Note line to exist. Bon voyage, old friend.

But if you’re a fan of highly capable phones that prioritize productivity, multitasking, and the adaptable S Pen, Samsung has furnished you with a replacement. The new Galaxy Z Fold 3 appears to be the spiritual successor to the Note lineage, thanks to its massive inner display, S Pen support, and unparalleled ability to multitask. So if you’re looking for a phone that ticks all of those boxes, you’ve got a choice to make. Should you buy the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 or buy the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra? Or, if you’re already using a Note 20 Ultra, is the Z Fold 3 worth the upgrade cost? We found out.

Specs

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
Size Unfolded: 128.1 x 158.2 x 6.4mm (5.04 x 6.22 x 0.25 inches)

Folded: 67.1 x 158.2 x 16.0mm (2.64 x 6.22 x 0.63 inches)

164.8 x 77.2 x 8.1 mm (6.49 x 3.04 x 0.32 inches)
Weight 271 grams (9.56 ounces) 208 grams (7.33 ounces)
Screen size Main: 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X

Cover screen: 6.2-inch Super AMOLED 2X

6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X
Screen resolution Main: 2,208 x 1,768 pixels (374 pixels per inch)

Cover screen: 2,268 x 832 pixels (387 pixels per inch)

3,088 x 1,440 pixels, (496 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 11 with One UI 3.1 Android 11 with One UI 3.1
Storage 256GB, 512GB 256GB, 512GB
MicroSD card slot No Yes
Tap-to-pay services Google Pay, Samsung Pay Google Pay, Samsung Pay
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Exynos 990 (global), Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus (USA)
RAM 12GB 12GB
Camera Rear main: 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12MP wide-angle, and 12MP telephoto rear

Front main screen: 4MP under-display

Cover screen: 10MP

Rear: Triple lens 108MP, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide

Front: 10MP

Video 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps, HDR10+ 8K at 24 fps, 4K at 60 fps, 1080p at 240 fps, 720p at 960 fps, HDR10+
Bluetooth version 5.1 5.1
Ports USB-C USB-C
Fingerprint sensor Yes, side-mounted Yes, in-display (ultrasonic)
Water resistance IPX8 IP68
Battery 4,400mAh

Fast charging (25W, charger not included)

Fast wireless charging (10W)

Reverse wireless charging (4.5W)

4,500Ah

Fast charging (25W included)

Qi wireless charging (15W)

Reverse wireless charging (4.5W)

App marketplace Google Play Store Google Play Store
Network support All carriers All carriers
Colors Mirror Purple, Mirror Black Mystic Bronze, Mystic Black, Mystic White
Prices $1,800 $1,299
Buy from Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart Samsung, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart
Review score Hands-on 4 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is certainly a show-stopper. Folded, it resembles a regular phone from the front, with a 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. But unfold it, and you’re treated to a tablet-sized 7.6-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display. Both of these screens are excellent, as expected from Samsung, with crisp resolutions and super-smooth 120Hz refresh rates. The glass on both displays has been improved, as has the hinge mechanism, so small particles should find it even harder to get in. The Z Fold 3 is a glimpse into the future, and it really does look very good.

Turn it sideways though, and some of that sleek style wears off. The folding mechanism means the phone is as thick as two phones, and sits at a triangular angle when closed. This isn’t a huge issue really, but it does mean the Note 20 Ultra seems even more elegant as a result. The Note 20 Ultra is the culmination of decades of design, and it shows. The 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is just as good as the Z Fold 3’s, and while heavy, it’s lighter than the Z Fold 3 by a considerable amount.

The Z Fold 3 has IPX8 water resistance, which isn’t quite as good as the Note 20 Ultra’s IP68 rating, and it’s likely you’re risking durability problems from the Fold 3’s hinge that won’t be a problem for the Note 20 Ultra. While the folding phone is a technical triumph, the Note 20 Ultra still takes this round.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Performance, battery life, and charging

Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and S Pen on a table.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Neither of these phones is going to quit when high performance is required. The Note 20 Ultra is packed to the gills with top hardware, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus, 12GB of RAM, and the choice of either 256GB or 512GB of storage. It’s a powerful and impressive spec sheet, and it means the Note 20 Ultra can run pretty much any 3D game, can swap between high-intensity apps, and isn’t likely to run out of space for images or videos anytime soon either.

The Fold 3 has a similar setup, with 12GB of RAM, and 256GB or 512GB storage as well. But the Fold 3 has an advantage due to its use of the Snapdragon 888, the newest version of Qualcomm’s processor. This makes it more powerful than the Note 20 Ultra — and it actually needs that power, with a much larger tablet-like display and the ability to open up to three apps at the same time.

What about the battery? Well, we’re not so sure about that yet. We haven’t been able to test the Fold 3’s 4,400mAh dual battery yet, so we’re not sure how it’ll hold up just yet. Battery use on the Fold 2 was good enough, but the newer phone has a slightly smaller battery and may not hold up as well. Thankfully, the Note 20’s battery isn’t a particularly high bar, and while it offered full-day use with over five hours of screen time, we’re hoping the Fold 3 will be able to match this performance.

With a stronger processor, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 wins a narrow victory. But further testing could change this decision.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Camera

Galaxy Z Fold 3 camera module.
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

We haven’t had much time with the Fold 3’s camera yet, but the triple-lens rear setup should be pretty good at what it does. It’s composed of a 12-megapixel ultrawide, 12MP wide-angle, and 12MP telephoto lenses, and there’s a 10MP selfie lens on the front cover to boot. There’s also a new type of camera, an “under-display camera” (or UDC) underneath the inner display. On first impressions, this lens seems to be a rare misstep by Samsung. It’s only 4MP, which is exceptionally low in this day and age, and it didn’t produce good images during our first tests of it. Thankfully, there is no shortage of other lenses to take selfies with on this phone, but it’s still sad to see a potentially bad lens on such a premium flagship.

Unfortunately for the Fold 3, the Note 20 Ultra’s cameras are extremely capable. The main lens is a 108MP monster, and it’s joined by a 12MP telephoto lens with a 5x optical zoom and a 12MP ultrawide lens. As you might expect, the cameras take excellent shots, with the periscope zoom in particular showcasing the improvements over the Note 10 Plus. It also has a 10MP selfie camera, like the Fold 3, but it’s the main camera setup that will probably put the Note 20 Ultra above the Fold 3. This may change after we’ve reviewed the Fold 3.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Software and updates

App helicopter view on the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Being Samsung phones, both the Galaxy Z Fold 3 and the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra run the same Samsung-branded Android 11 skin, OneUI 3. That means you’ll get much the same software experience on both phones, outside of some Note-exclusive features, and the Fold 3’s software that allows it to multitask — but more on that later. It’s broadly much the same, so this absolutely shouldn’t be much of a factor when choosing between these two phones.

The same applies for update speed. Both phones are likely to get updates at roughly the same time, though since the Fold 3 is the newer of the two phones, it will likely get one more Android update than the Note 20 Ultra. That’s actually a fairly large deal, because it essentially means an extra year’s worth of relevance where new features and security updates are concerned.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Special features

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 with stylus.
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 with stylus. Ajay Kumar/Digital Trends

You want special features? These phones have special features aplenty. We’ll start with the Note 20 Ultra. It has access to Samsung’s computer-emulating DeX mode, which now has a wireless mode, as well as power sharing with other wirelessly charging devices. But most of the special features come from the S Pen inside the phone. This tiny scribbler allows you to handwrite notes, perform Air Gestures, remotely trigger your camera shutter, translate text, create GIFs, and more.

That’s a lot for the Fold 3 to match up to, though thankfully it’s not lacking in special features of its own. It has its own S Pen support, though it’s not the same S Pen as the Note uses. It’s much bigger and doesn’t fit inside the device — you’ll have to buy an $80 case to keep it with your device easily. The inner display’s large footprint gives it an advantage though, as it lets you multitask with up to three apps at once.

Both phones also sport 5G, which is a big deal for the future. However, we’re leaning toward the Note 20 Ultra on this one.

Winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

Price and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is currently available for pre-order and will release on August 27. Prices for it start from $1,800, making it expensive even on flagship terms. The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra seems like a budget device in comparison, with prices starting at $1,299. It’s available now, from most carriers and retailers that stock smartphones.

Overall winner: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is an impressive technological feat and a glimpse into the future of smartphones. But it’s hard to compete against one of the most refined smartphone formulas out there. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is one of the best Android phones you can buy right now, and that makes it an exceptionally hard match for the Fold 3. Want an excellent smartphone with a big screen and plenty of power and productivity features? Then you should buy the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

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