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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 Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a strong 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: 2208 x 1768 pixels (374 pixels per inch)

Cover screen: 2268 x 832 pixels (387 pixels per inch)

3088 x 1440 pixels (496 pixels per inch)
Operating system Android 12 with One UI 4.1 Android 12 with One UI 4.1
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 4 out of 5 stars 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 shallow triangular angle when closed. This isn’t a huge issue really, but it does make the Note 20 Ultra feel even more elegant. 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 Z 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, which makes it more powerful than the Note 20 Ultra. It actually needs that power too, thanks to the much larger tablet-like display and the ability to open up to three apps at the same time.

What about the battery? Running all that hardware and two displays does take it out of the Z Fold 3’s rather small battery, and we found it struggled to make it to the end of the day when really tested. When tested in a similar way, the Note 20 Ultra also struggled, but didn’t need the same top-up in the evening that the Z Fold 3 needed. The Note 20 Ultra’s battery wasn’t a showstopper by any means, but it’s still managed to one-up the Z Fold 3’s.

The Z Fold 3’s processor is more powerful, but the weaker battery really lets it down. This is a tie.

Winner: Tie

Camera

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

The Galaxy Z Fold 3’s camera is nothing to be sneezed at. 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. This suite is good, and it does a capable job with most scenarios. There’s also a new type of camera, an “under-display camera” (or UDC) underneath the inner display. On first impression, 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 bad lens on such a premium flagship.

Unfortunately for the Z 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 Z Fold 3, but it’s the main camera setup that puts the Note 20 Ultra above the Z 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 12 skin, OneUI 4. 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 to 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 Z 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, and prices 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 also 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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