Device reviews
    06 August 2020

    Craig Wilson

    Samsung’s new Note devices, tablets, watch, and noise-cancelling earbuds are here

    The latest stylus-packing Samsung phones take the fight to Apple’s iPhone, while its new bean-like Galaxy Buds rival Apple’s AirPods Pro.

    Remarkably, despite the enormous success the Samsung Galaxy Note range has enjoyed in recent years, and the legendary loyalty of its users, there are still no other top-end phones that ship with a stylus. That’s great news for Samsung, which gets to own the sector. This year it’s got two versions of its latest doodle-friendly phone, the Galaxy Note 20, and the Note 20 Ultra.

    The former is the less flashy of the pair and includes a 6.7-inch display with flat edges, 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, a 4 300mAh battery, and a triple rear-camera setup that includes a pair of 12MP snappers (one wide, and one ultra-wide) alongside a 64MP telephoto camera. Up front, there’s a 10MP selfie camera.

    The Note 20 Ultra, meanwhile, boasts a 6.9-inch curved display, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (both expandable by up to an additional 1TB via microUSB), a 4 500mAh battery, and a different camera setup. This time around the two 12MP cameras are the ultra-wide and telephoto, while the primary rear camera is the same 108MP beast found on the S20 Ultra. However, there’s a crucial difference between the Note camera and the S20 Ultra’s — laser autofocus. That should make those extra pixels more useful than on the S20 Ultra, which was plagued with focusing issues.

    New S Pen tricks

    No Note update would be complete without some new S Pen features. This time around, the latency has been reduced on both devices, so you should see every stroke in almost real-time. New “anywhere actions” also let you use S Pen gestures in any app to do things like grab screenshots or hightail it back to the home screen.

    The S Pen also now enables better handwriting-to-text conversion, better document annotation, and you can record and sync audio recordings to written notes in Samsung’s own note-taking app.

    Galaxy Buds Live

    While Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have always been able to trounce the competition when it comes to longevity (the last generation of Buds last up to 11 hours on a charge), it’s lagged behind the likes of Apple’s AirPod Pros and Sony’s WF-1000XM3s when it comes to noise-cancellation. While both Apple and Sony offer active noise cancelling, Samsung users have had to make do with the passive isolation that comes from a snug fit. But no more.

    Samsung’s Galaxy Buds Live look like beans, there’s no getting away from it. But that’s a pleasant and daring change from the earring-like style of AirPods or the Bluetooth-earpiece aesthetic favoured by Sony, Bose and others. Go for the “mystic bronze” hue and you’re sure to turn heads.

    Here, watch this

    Samsung also unveiled its latest wearable, the Galaxy Watch 3. If you’re wondering what happened to the Watch 2, don’t worry, you’re not losing it. There was no Watch 2. Samsung’s skipped straight to 3. But don’t let the name worry you, it’s the features you should be paying attention to. The Watch 3 comes in 41mm and 45mm variants (with 247mAh and 340mAh batteries respectively), is powered by an Exynos 9110 processor, runs Samsung’s Tizen OS 5.5, and offers 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage (so you can store music on it).

    New sensors enable blood pressure and EKG measurements, and because it runs neither Google’s Android Wear nor Apple’s watchOS, the watch will work with both Samsung’s own devices and Apple’s, though as you’d expect the integration will be somewhat better if all of your devices are in the same ecosystem.

    Keeping tabs on the competition

    Not content with just showing off new phones and a new wrist-hugging computer, Samsung also unveiled two new tablet computers. Like the Note 20, there are two versions of devices: the fancier Tab S7+ and the regular Tab S7.

    The regular Tab S7 includes an 11-inch LCD display, runs the same processor as the new notes and comes in two storage and RAM iterations: 6GB and 128GB, or 8GB and 256GB (expandable via microSD). There’s an 8 000mAh battery under the bonnet, and two rear cameras (a 13MP wide and a 5MP ultra-wide). Like it’s larger sibling, it comes with an S Pen standard, so there’s no need to fork out extra cash for a standalone stylus.

    If you’re looking for something nearer a full-blow laptop replacement, the S7+ has you covered. Instead of an LCD display it includes a larger, 12.4-inch OLED one, and it increases the battery capacity to 10 090mAh. It’s got the same rear camera setup as it’s less-flashy sibling, and the same 8MP front-facing camera for video calls (or selfies, we’re not here to judge).

    Samsung wasn’t able to roll out the red carpet and show off its new devices with the panache and fanfare we’ve come to expect of it, but that doesn’t mean it’s resting on its laurels. It’s new earbuds, in particular, offer a feature — active noise cancellation — we’ve yet to see from the company, and the inclusion of its S Pen with its full range of new phones and tablets makes each item a compelling candidate for any creative looking for portable powerhouse smartphone.

    The Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is available for pre-order from Vodacom today!

    Craig Wilson