Samsung went all-out for the, putting a powerful camera and gorgeous screen in its most premium design yet with what Samsung claims is the strongest glass ever used on a phone. It’s the first phone, and the only one of Samsung’s new line-up to have the latest on both the front and back which is more resistant against both scratches and drops, according to Corning. The regular Note 20 has Gorilla Glass 5 (now two generations old) on the front, and plastic on the back, but it costs almost $300 less than the $1,300 (£1,180, AU$1,890) Ultra.
To test this claim, we had to subject the new Note 20 Ultra to our own scratch and drop tests.
Scratch test 1: The pocket and purse test
The first thing I noticed about our brand new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra was that it was missing the usual screen protector that usually comes preinstalled, instead it just had the traditional packaging plastic with a tab to remove it. Samsung has included a screen protector on some of its flagship devices over the last couple of years like the S20 and S10. I peeled off all the plastic before starting our durability tests.
For the first test I put a set of keys, a pen, and about five different coins in a small makeup bag, along with a brand new Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.I zipped up the bag and shook it vigorously for about a minute to mimic the real world wear and tear your phone would get from bouncing around in your purse or pocket.
The phone had a bit of debris from the bag when I pulled it out, but after wiping it down with a microfiber cloth, the phone seemed to be completely unscathed. Even on closer inspection, I couldn’t find so much as a scratch.
Scratch test 2: The tile test
Next up, I placed the phone on a slab of rough ceramic tile to see what would happen if it were to slide on a bathroom or kitchen floor. Because I only had one tile to test it on, and not an entire floor to slide it across, I rubbed it, screen-side down on the tile in a circular motion for about 30 seconds.
Again, I had to wipe down the screen with a cloth to get rid of the loose, powder-like debris that had come off both the phone and the tile to expose some pretty significant damage. The phone had some scratches along the left hand side of the screen, a couple superficial scrapes towards the center and a couple of deep scratches running through the top and bottom. Apart from cosmetic damage, the screen still worked fine.
Scratch test 3: The sandpaper test
With the screen scratched, I turned the phone over to see how the back would hold up. Corning uses grit sandpaper to test the durability of its glass because it closely resembles the rough surface of sidewalk. Instead of using the 180-grit sandpaper that Corning uses, I decided to take it up a notch and use 80-grit sandpaper to see how the back glass and camera module would hold up under extreme circumstances. The camera is covered in Gorilla Glass 6, the previous generation of Corning’s glass.
I rubbed the phone across the sandpaper for about 10 seconds, but the camera bump makes it impossible to lay the phone down fully flat so there was little damage on both the back glass and camera, with just some minor scrapes on the frame around the camera.
I then applied more pressure on the phone when rubbing it back and forth on the sandpaper. This time, there were a few deep scratches on the camera glass that made it almost look broken at the bottom, but they were low enough on the glass that they didn’t interfere with any of the phone’s three lenses. The glass covering the back remained unscathed.
To make sure the back glass was making full contact with the sandpaper, I rubbed the phone one last time with the camera bump hanging off the table. This time, I was able to cause some damage to the sides of the glass, but the scratches didn’t look as deep as the ones on the screen and the matte finish of the glass made the scratches less noticeable.
Scratching the phone makes it much more vulnerable to breaks and our test phone was definitely compromised. So to test durability from drops, my colleague, CNET producer Chris Parker, used another brand new Note 20 Ultra.
Drop test 1: Pocket height (3 foot), screen-side-down to sidewalk
Most drops happen from about hip height, like when you take your phone in and out of your pocket. While the phone may survive a drop on a smooth surface, landing on the sidewalk is a different story.
The Note teetered a bit on its sides before finally landing screen-side-down on the sidewalk. The screen seemed to be relatively unscathed, but on closer inspection we noticed the phone had two small dents on opposing corners, likely the first points of impact. The bottom dent caused a hairline fracture that extended outward across the screen. The one on the top of the phone was mainly on the metal frame which didn’t cause too much damage to the glass and the screen still worked.
Drop test 2: Pocket height (3 foot), back side down to sidewalk
For the next test, Chris dropped the Note 20 Ultra with the screen facing up.
This time the phone landed flat on its back with a loud thump. It sounded as bad as the damage: The glass back was completely broken, with visible fractures covering the entire surface. But even with all the visible cracks, the phone felt relatively smooth to the touch and didn’t have glass falling off the back as we’ve experienced in previous drop tests (such as the S20 Ultra).
The camera remained intact, with just two tiny scratches on the sides of the frame.
Final drop test: 6 foot, 6 inch drop, screen side down to sidewalk
This is the maximum drop height at which Corning has tested Victus, but the performance of the glass can be affected by other factors such as thickness and shape, which are determined by the manufacturer (in this case Samsung). For our last test, we decided to test the claim on the screen of the Note 20 Ultra which was still in decent condition.
The phone landed screen-side down again, but this time it cracked all over. The dent on the bottom had continued to break outwards and there were fractures across the middle and top of the screen. But even with all this damage, the screen still felt relatively smooth to the touch and only noticeable when I traced them with my fingernail.
The breakdown: Better, but far from invincible
We put the Note 20 Ultra through the ringer, and went far beyond what’s considered “normal use”. It survived without so much as a scratch after tumbling around in a bag full of keys and coins, and the screen sustained minimal damage after falling from hip height to rough sidewalk.
Our Galaxy S20 Ultra by contrast, cracked on the first drop from hip-height despite the preinstalled screen protector, so it would seem like the Note is a bit tougher. We can’t know that for a fact due to the nature of our real-world tests, which make it hard to replicate the exact same drop conditions with each phone. And even if the Ultra is a tougher than its predecessors, I’d still recommend putting a case on this $1,300 phone (and probably a screen protector too).
If you like to live on the edge and still want to go case-free after reading this article, at least consider insuring your new Note to cover this type of damage. Samsung offers its Care Plus service for $11.99 a month, or you can get it insured directly through your wireless provider.