Samsung was India’s go-to smartphone brand once. But in 2017, it was bested by Xiaomi and the rest as they say, is history. Now you can sit down and analyze Xiaomi’s business model all you want, and you may even find something (a trade secret, if you’re lucky) eventually, but I am sure for most people, Xiaomi’s rise from underdog to India’s number one smartphone brand will not be very surprising. What’s surprising is how a behemoth like Samsung did not see it coming.
There’s no subtle way to put it. Samsung was slow to react. At a time when Xiaomi was going all gung-ho about ‘high-quality products at honest prices,’ Samsung was busy slapping ‘brand new’ stickers on same old rebranded products. Every now and then, Samsung would launch an interesting J-series smartphone, or an interesting new feature like the S-bike mode, but then, there’s only so much that you can do when your rival keeps churning out high-end hardware at rock bottom prices.
Samsung believes its new Galaxy M-series can turn the tide in its favor. Samsung is kicking things off with two M-series phones, the Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20, and India is the first market to get them, underscoring the country’s growing significance among big players. Not that, that’s a secret. India is the second largest smartphone market in the world after China, and has just surpassed 430 million smartphone users, according to data by Counterpoint.
The Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 are not so much about reinventing the wheel, as they are about catching up with the competition. While the Galaxy M10 is an entry-level phone that starts at Rs 7,990, the Galaxy M20 packs better specs at a slightly higher starting price of Rs 10,990. Clearly, the Galaxy M20 is right up there in Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro alley, meaning the stakes will be higher with this one. I have been using the Galaxy M20 for over two weeks now, and it just makes me say, “Samsung, what took you so long?”
With the Galaxy M20, Samsung has finally got the budget smartphone right, and even though it isn’t perfect, it is a step in the right direction. Samsung’s fresh approach to countering competition with the Galaxy M20 is, if you can’t beat them, join them. The Galaxy M20, to that effect, packs a modern design, modern hardware, and competitive pricing which is far cry from past budget Samsung phones.
The Galaxy M20 is the most exciting budget Samsung phone in a long time
Although the Galaxy M20 is built entirely out of plastic, it feels solid in the hands. Samsung is using glossy plastic here, which means the Galaxy M20 looks like it is made of glass from afar. Also, it feels nice to the touch thanks to this finish. It’s not the slimmest or the lightest smartphone around, but then, that’s understandable: it houses a massive 5,000mAh battery inside.
The main USP of the Galaxy M20 is its Infinity-V notch display which is essentially Samsung’s take on the waterdrop/teardrop-style notch found in competing products from Xiaomi (Redmi Note 7) and Realme (Realme 2 Pro). Samsung is also using software tricks (fancy animations for notifications and charging) to make its Infinity-V display stand out in the Galaxy M20.
More specifically, the Galaxy M20 comes with a 6.3-inch Infinity-V TFT LCD display with a 1080p+ screen resolution. The quality of the display is quite good here, with good colour reproduction and ample levels of brightness. Viewing angles are quite good too. Samsung does not say if the Galaxy M20 has any sort of protective covering on top (the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 has Corning Gorilla Glass 5 as a reference), but as a consolation, the device does come with an ambient light sensor, a feature that Samsung has been known to omit in its budget devices. The phone also supports the Widevine L1 standard so unlike many other budget devices, the Galaxy M20 can stream HD content from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.
In terms of core hardware, the Galaxy M20 is powered by Samsung’s new Exynos 7904 processor (octa-core with two Cortex A73 cores that run at 1.8GHz and six Cortex A53 cores at 1.6 GHz) with up to 4GB RAM and up to 64GB storage which is also expandable via a dedicated micro-SD card slot. Samsung says its Exynos 7904 chipset has seemingly been “customized for the Indian consumer needs” and the Galaxy M20 is the first smartphone to get it. Which also means, there will be sometime before we have a more comprehensive opinion about it. For some perspective, benchmark scores pit it straight up against the Snapdragon 632/636, but its inferior Mali-G71 GPU is unsurprisingly no match for the Adrenos inside the Qualcomm chipsets.
So, how does it all work for the Galaxy M20? Well, pretty good, but only if you’re aware of its limitations. Basic tasks are handled well by the phone and so is multi-tasking. Unless when you’re out pushing it, the phone does tend to slow down from time to time. But not to the extent of a bogged down experience. The Galaxy M20 is not a gaming phone though, which means you will not be able to enjoy good frame rates at medium or high settings while you’re sweating it out to win your precious chicken dinner at PUBG. Basic games like Candy Crush and Subway Surfers are handled well. Speaking of which, the Galaxy M20 does heat up some but it is also quick to cool down, so that’s nice.
A lot of this seamless experience (multi-tasking or otherwise), even though the Galaxy M20 is not a very powerful phone, comes from the software. The phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo-based Samsung Experience 9.5 UI which is different from the One UI found inside the company’s more premium Galaxy S and Galaxy Note devices. Samsung is expected to roll out Android Pie software for the Galaxy M20 sometime in August and while it is disappointing that the phone ships with Oreo out-of-the-box, at least, it’s smooth and functional. If only Samsung had cut short on the bloat too, it would have been perfect.
Note: Xiaomi is facing flak for pushing out ads in MIUI, but it is not the only company doing it. Samsung is doing it too. While not as intrusive and abundant as they are in MIUI, Samsung’s Experience UI shows ads on the lock screen (through lock screen stories feature which can be disabled) as well as inside the pull-down notification menu (from Galaxy apps, some of which can’t be uninstalled).
Even though it isn’t perfect, the Galaxy M20 is a step in the right direction
Samsung has been able to well optimize the hardware with the software in the Galaxy M20. This entails in good all-round performance, but it also entails in good battery life. While not as stupendous as say the Asus ZenFone Max Pro M2 or even the Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro, the Galaxy M20 will easily last you more than a day (sometimes even one and a half days) with close to 10 hours of on-screen time no matter how you’re pushing it. The Galaxy M20 charges via USB Type-C and ships with a 15W fast charger in the box.
Phone calls made with the Galaxy M20 are of acceptable quality and the phone supports LTE on both SIMs. The bottom-firing mono speaker is average at best although the phone does support Dolby Atmos for better results through wired headphones.
Speaking of average, cameras on-board the Galaxy M20 are nothing special to write about either. The Galaxy M20 has impressed me in almost all the departments, but it falls short (by a long shot) in the camera department. Even though, its spec sheet would suggest otherwise.
It comes with dual rear cameras consisting of one 13MP sensor with f/1.9 aperture and a secondary 5MP ultra-wide sensor with f/2.2 aperture. The primary camera clicks mediocre at best photos and soft and mushy photos in tricky light. Low-light photos are downright unusable. The ultra-wide camera, although it is a nice addition, does not produce enough detail and often gives you a fish-eye effect in photos. There’s Live Focus for portrait shots, but it does not work on non-human subjects.
One positive of the Galaxy M20’s primary rear camera though is that the f/1.9 aperture results in some good-looking macro shots in good lighting conditions.
The 8MP front camera on the Galaxy M20 can take good-enough selfies in ideal lighting but suffers as the intensity of light goes down. Unlike rivals, Samsung isn’t using AI to sell the Galaxy M20 cameras, but there’s beautification, for those who like to use it.
Let’s wrap things up now, shall we? When was the last time a certain Samsung Galaxy J or Galaxy On-series phone got anybody so excited? The short answer is, not in a very long time. Samsung’s Galaxy J and Galaxy On-series phones had become boring over the years, and rivals were just getting better and better. It seemed Samsung was frozen in time.
But better late than never. The Galaxy M20 is the most exciting budget Samsung phone in a long time. Although, I would also like to point out again that it isn’t perfect. Neither is it made of metal or glass, nor does it rock stock Android. Not to mention, cameras on it are just disappointing. But, here’s the thing, the Galaxy M20 is the first budget Samsung phone to not skimp down on the basics. And it does them well enough, to bring Samsung back in the game again.