Review: The excess of the Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is a good thing, if you can afford it


  • Pros: Excellent screen; powerful performance; great cameras; tonnes of features
  • Cons: Really, really expensive; iffy in-display fingerprint scanner

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra is… a lot. It’s huge. It’s gloriously powerful. It’s filled up to the brim in features. Sometimes I wonder if it’s too much. It’s like an over-packed luggage on a trip – you’re mostly certain that you don’t need the extra phone charger or more spare changes of underwear, but it feels reassuring in a “you never know when you’ll need it” kind of way.

My experience with the Note20 Ultra is an exercise of remembering the existence of its many features. For one, I forgot that you can use the revamped S Pen to return to a previous app page by drawing “<” on the air, sort of like flicking a wand. I also forgot that you can pair the phone wirelessly to a Windows machine, which lets you do things like drag and drop files, see notifications, and respond to texts.

Most times, it feels like you’ll need to undergo a training montage to fully utilise the Note20 Ultra. Over time, however, things will begin to click. You might toggle the stylus to Google Chrome so that you can scroll through a recipe without using your grimy fingers. You begin to revel in the phone’s 5X zoom that allows you to shoot solid photos from a distance.

Do you need these features? Likely not. But it’s the sort of excess that feels like future-proofing. It’s hard to see the Note20 Ultra – what with its juiced-up hardware and inclusion of 5G – becoming obsolete in a matter of two to three years. Future Samsung flagships might include better cameras and more powerful processors, but the Note20 Ultra feels like it will set you up for the long haul.

You just have to be willing to pay for it.

 

Living up to “Ultra”

At the very least, you’ll be paying for beastly performance. The Note20 Ultra, in Malaysia at least, runs on an Exynos 990 processor that is coupled with 12GB of RAM.

I suppose some might lament missing out on the Snapdragon 865+ chipset that comes with the Note20 Ultra in certain countries, but in practice the phone still exudes power and rarely ever feels like it would slow down. It can switch between eight different apps or run the most graphically-intensive mobile games with barely a hitch.

Adding to the experience is the 6.9-inch AMOLED screen (which is a notch bigger than the Note10+), which stretches all the way to the edges of the phone’s body. Like the Note10+, the selfie camera sits in a tiny circle in the top centre, not at all intrusive or distracting.

The screen is expectedly rich in colour and is bright enough to beat back direct sunlight for a seamless viewing experience. But the truly marvelous upgrade here is the refresh rate – the Note20 Ultra’s screen runs on 120Hz, twice that of the usual 60Hz on most devices (the Note10+ is on 60Hz). These extra frames makes animation and scrolling effects more fluid and enriching, so much so that it’s hard to go back to a traditional screen.

While the sleek design means that you can still hold the phone in one hand, the massiveness also makes it quite difficult to use single-handedly. It does look gorgeous, however – the glass back is now less reflective, and the copper-toned Mystic Bronze colour makes it look exquisite. The camera module juts out pretty significantly, but it’s not an encumbrance.

Rounding things off are other premium-grade inclusions, such as IP68 water-resistance, microSD slot expansion, Wi-Fi 6 and 5G connectivity, plus a pair of speakers that sound loud and really good. There’s also an in-display fingerprint sensor much like its predecessor, which can be a bit iffy at times but otherwise will work where face unlock becomes unfeasible (such as when wearing a mask for groceries).

Wide angle shot with the Note20 Ultra

Serious snappers

The camera system on the Note20 Ultra features a main 108MP shooter that is coupled by two 12MP ultra-wide and telephoto cameras.

The telephoto lens in particular is sublime, allowing users to capture sharp and high-quality images at 5X zoom. You can go for a 50X digital zoom if you want, which may be half of what the S20 Ultra offers, but it’s nonetheless enough for most users (the pictures, expectedly, comes out grainier the further you utilise the digital zoom).

The rest of the shooters are just as great. The main camera, for one, has a 108MP mode that can preserve more details and creates a high-resolution image. I think it works pretty well and consistently.

The main shooter’s images might appear a little oversaturated, but the details are great. It works well in Samsung’s dedicated Night Mode, too, which takes several photos in quick succession and stitches them together to produce sharper, clearer image in low-light situations. While I’m not sure how it competes with, say, Google’s Pixel 4A, it works well enough that you can be assured of producing good images at night.

The Note20 Ultra is an equally excellent smartphone for videos. It can shoot up to 8K in 24 frames per second, but you’ll really want to delve into Pro Video mode to fully appreciate the device’s video capabilities. Here, you can choose which microphones on the phone you want to use when recorded, or even record audio from wireless earbuds like the Galaxy Buds Live.

 

Features galore

It’s not a Galaxy Note device without the S Pen, which – I’m glad to report – still works amazingly as a stylus. The experience is, in fact, improved with the inclusion of the 120Hz display, which makes the pen strokes more precise.

The S Pen might start off being an easily-forgotten feature, but in time you’ll begin to appreciate being able to use it to scribble down notes or to highlight specific things on a document. You can also use the stylus for a myriad of remote actions, like using it to take selfies.

It helps that there’s improved connectivity between the Note20 Ultra and Windows. For instance, you can synch the Samsung Notes app with OneNote, which makes transferring work more seamless. But what’s more interesting is wirelessly pairing the Note20 Ultra to a Windows 10 PC and using the latter to open apps or respond to text.

The UI remains similar compared to the Note10+ and other Samsung contemporaries. The Note20 Ultra features a 4,500mAh battery. It’s notably at a smaller capacity than the S20 Ultra’s 5,000mAh battery, but I constantly find myself having at least 30%-40% of juice left at midnight (with regular usage, that is).

The Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra might feel like it packs too much into one device, and while I won’t deny that a number of its features may feel unnecessary, they are at least practical when put to use. Combined that with state-of-the-art hardware and an excellent camera, it’s easy to peg the Note20 Ultra as one of this year’s best flagship smartphone.

It is, however, really expensive. The device prices at US$1,253 (RM5,199), and in Malaysia it nets you the unit with the Exynos 990 processor rather than a Snapdragon 865+, the latter being reportedly better on the graphics department. There are other great flagship devices at a decidedly lower price, but they won’t be quite as well-equipped as the Note20 Ultra.

In a way, I suppose you can say that the Note20 Ultra will be worth your money. But don’t be in a hurry to get it, either. A phone as remarkable as this can be gotten later (and, hopefully, cheaper) and still won’t likely lose out to newer competitors.

 



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A national scoop for ultra remote town


By ERWIN CHLANDA

Its extreme remoteness – four hours north-east of Alice Springs – hasn’t stopped Ampilatwatja, population 500, from plugging into a national initiative that will deliver to it, by Tuesday, a hospital standard ultrasound equipment.

It’s a long story which started with a mix-up in a Queensland medical centre which finished up with two instead of one of these machines, the second one collecting dust for a couple of years.

This came to the notice of Wayne Leathem, a member of the Sydney Cove and later of the Currumbin Coolangatta Tweed Rotary Clubs, who formed the Medical Repurposing Network for medical equipment which is no longer required by their owners, but in good nick.

The Toshiba XG 500 machine (pictured), about the size of a fridge, worth $200,000, would be adequate for a regional hospital.

Rachael Ashley-Butler, the clinic manager of the Ampilatwatja Health Centre, became aware of a national circular sent around by Mr Leathem, targeting larger medical facilities.

She put the clinic’s name down, without much hope.

Luckily for Ampilatwatja “no-one [else] took them up on the offer,” says Mrs Ashley-Butler, and now, with the help of Rotary members in Alice Springs and Tweed Heads, and Samford Men’s Shed it is on its way.

The Registered Nurse and clinical manager of the clinic with five nursing staff says the advantages of having the machine will be significant.

All nursing staff will be trained to operate it, with the help of the Australasian Society of Ultrasound in Medicine, massively reducing the need for people in the area to go to Alice Springs or Tennant Creek for check-ups.

Most of that training will be online.

“The Ampilatwatja Health Centre Board, and all its staff, are very excited to be able to offer services in a remote setting that has been made available through generous donations,” says Mrs Ashley-Butler.

“And the programme has a potential to be shared with the Alyawarr Nation clinics including Urapuntja clinic, Ali Curung  and the outstations they serve.

This is what it will do:-

  • Provide up to three check-ups for expecting women to determine when the baby is due and if she or he has any medical problems which would show up in morphology, looking at the shape of the baby.
  • Check for deep vein thrombosis.
  • Free fluid assessment (internal bleeding such as after a car or cattle work accident).
  • Kidney stones.
  • Liver and bladder health.
  • Blood vessel damage.
  • Finding hidden veins for taking blood – and more.



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Ultra fashion-brand Boohoo has make headlines over worker exploitation and coronavirus measures


Worth more than big names like Marks & Spencer and ASOS combined, the company’s brands include Nasty Gal, PrettyLittleThing, MissPap and BoohooMAN, among others.

Who are the founders?

Kamani, 55, is a billionaire and Britain’s new king of cheap fashion, after the downfall of Topshop’s Philip Green. A onetime garment supplier to market traders and later a fashion wholesaler, Kamani spotted opportunity in selling cheap clothes online and without a middleman, setting up shop with Kane, who started out as a designer, in Manchester.

Press shy, he is the group executive chairman of the Boohoo Group, while Kane is creative director. The company rarely responds to requests for interviews from the news media.

Kamani’s son Umar, 32, is less low-key and also a key figure at the group. Alongside his brothers Adam, 31, and Samir, 24, he founded PrettyLittleThing in 2012, targeted to young millennials, with designs frequently worn by pop bands like Little Mix.

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The Boohoo Group bought a 34 per cent stake in PLT for 269.8 million pounds (about $AU487,000) in May from Umar, and it is seen as the jewel in the company crown. Society magazine Tatler named Umar its eighth most eligible bachelor for 2019, and he is frequently pictured on social media hobnobbing with the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Megan Thee Stallion and Kylie Jenner. He has almost 800,000 followers on Instagram.

Adam Kamani is now in the property business. Samir Kamani is the boss of BoohooMAN.

What’s ultra-fast fashion? Is that different from fast fashion?

Yes. Ultra-fast fashion players like Boohoo and Fashion Nova have emerged from, and adapted to, fashion trends driven primarily by social media. They have few or no bricks-and-mortar stores. And they cater to the Instagram and TikTok generation that wants to buy today what their favourite celebrity or influencer wore yesterday and will post about their new purchases online.

Fulfilling these shoppers’ relentless demands for new products as quickly as possible means working with factories close to home, which is why Fashion Nova sources a significant proportion of its collections from Los Angeles, and Boohoo from Leicester, England.

More established fast-fashion retailers like Zara and H&M tend to source from developing markets and came under increasing public pressure to investigate, police and invest in the factories that make their products after the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013.

But newer, ultra-fast-fashion retailers have encountered a little less scrutiny thanks to a younger customer base and keeping discussion of their business practices out of the limelight.

They introduce new trends every week and are just as likely to be influenced by the clothes from a reality TV show as the clothes from the runways of New York or Paris. Prices can be even lower than fast fashion or the high street, with $5 bikinis and $15 dresses, and come with next-day delivery. Often, they will be discarded after a single wear.

Are people still buying even today?

It is a slick business model that has made ultra-fast-fashion retailers a force to be reckoned with even in a pandemic. Boohoo sales grew by 45 per cent to 367.8 million pounds in the period of March through May compared with last year, according to the company. Boohoo also recently bought up a number of British high street stalwarts that were on the brink of bankruptcy, including Warehouse and Karen Millen.

In June, the company board approved a package that would pay up to 150 million pounds to the company’s founders and to Kamani’s son Samir Kamani, of BoohooMAN, if they could increase Boohoo’s value by two-thirds in three years.

OK, so what happened?

On Sunday, the British newspaper The Sunday Times published an undercover investigation that said workers in a factory in Leicester that supplied Boohoo were being paid as little as 3.50 pounds an hour. (The national living wage in Britain for ages 25 and above is 8.72 pounds.) The article also said that workers were working without proper equipment to protect against the coronavirus.

The Sunday Times article came several days after a report published by Labor Behind the Label, a garment worker campaign group, that said that multiple garment factories in Leicester, including other Boohoo suppliers, “were putting workers at risk of infection,” with little or no social distancing or personal protective equipment requirements and low pay during lockdown.

Leicester was the first place in Britain to have local restrictions enforced last week to tackle a surge in coronavirus cases, which may be linked to working conditions in its factories that supply fast-fashion retailers.

The town, which has a large South Asian immigrant population, has long been a centre for clothes manufacturing. Its dark factories have been described as an “open secret,” well known in both the industry and government, and were documented in a Financial Times investigation published in 2018.

What did the company say?

Boohoo told The Sunday Times that it was investigating the claims and that the factory in the story was not a direct supplier. It also said that it would terminate its relationship with any suppliers that were found in breach of its code of conduct.

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On Wednesday, the company published a further statement on its website, saying it would begin an independent review of its British supply chain, invest $12.5 million in “eradicating malpractice” in any supplier factories and step up its use of third-party auditors.

“As a board, we are shocked and appalled by the recent allegations that have been made and we are committed to doing everything in our power to rebuild the reputation of the textile manufacturing industry in Leicester,” the Boohoo statement said.

The company said it would report on its supply chain review in September, when it publishes its half-year results, with further updates in January 2021.

Asked for comment by The New York Times, Boohoo did not supply any additional information and referred a reporter to the statement on its website.

What was the reaction?

Between the infections spike in Leicester and the fact that the allegations involved British factories, the impact of the week’s revelations about Boohoo has been considerably larger than most fashion supply chain investigations. The increase in infections and the new information have prompted both a government response and volatility in the stock market.

Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary, described the allegations as “truly appalling” and asked the National Crime Agency to investigate “modern slavery” in Leicester’s clothing factories.

This week Boohoo’s market value plunged by more than 1.5 billion pounds in two days. Boohoo is now worth a third less than it was last Friday afternoon, before the supply chain allegations wiped more than 1.5 billion pounds off its stock market value. Some retailers, including Next, Zalando and Amazon, say they plan to pull Boohoo clothing from their sites.

How did customers respond?

There was a considerable reaction on social media, led by several influencers who had formerly been faces of Boohoo brands. The company has 12 million Instagram followers and spent more than 90 million pounds on marketing last year.

In an Instagram post, Vas J Morgan, a former collaborator, said: “Slavery is slavery and my heart hurts for the families that have suffered at the hands of companies that fail to do due diligence like this. Companies that make billions off the back of hardworking people trying to feed their family.”

The New York Times

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