Last year was truly unique for Samsung. The smartphone giant was wading through murky waters. It was unchartered territory for a company that has more often than not set the benchmark in the Android smartphone space. But there it was, pegged back by the onslaught from the likes of Xiaomi, Huawei, Honor, Asus, Moto and Realme in the affordable and mid-range Android smartphone price points. The bunch that really brought their A-game to the party. It isn’t to say that Samsung did nothing. Because it did launch a few phones, but you’d be hard-pressed to really pick them over the more exciting rivals. But you can only peg back a company as efficient as Samsung, for so long. Cue the start of 2019, and Samsung has a response ready. It is this background which makes the new Galaxy M series of phones all the more important. The Galaxy M10 (Rs7,990 and Rs8,990) and the Galaxy M20 (Rs10,990 and Rs12,990) are all poised to take on the likes of the Xiaomi Redmi 6 Pro, Realme U1, Xiaomi Redmi Y2, Huawei Y9 2019 and the Honor 8X to name a few. What we are reviewing here is the Galaxy M20, which is priced at Rs10,990 (3GB RAM and 32GB storage) and Rs12,990 (4GB RAM and 64GB storage).
It was perhaps to be expected that the Samsung Galaxy M20 wasn’t going to do anything extravagant in terms of the design. What the Galaxy M20 gets is a polycarbonate body which definitely feels good to hold. The slightly curved side spines do help it sit snuggle better in your hand. You will notice that the display sits on what seems like a higher ridge than where the sides meet the front, something that your fingers will also register every time you make an elaborate swipe gesture to move around Android. There is a dewdrop notch at the top—and well, we really don’t have an opinion whether a dewdrop notch is better or the wider notch that many other phones have, simply because you will stop noticing it beyond a point. The bezels around the display are fairly thin too. The Galaxy M20 does tip the scales just upwards of 180 grams, but you have to factor in the large 5,000mAh battery and its infinite value. This isn’t the most beautiful design at first glance, but then again, it didn’t need to be either. This is functional at best and looks perfectly acceptable while at it.
The display is perhaps the biggest surprise. This is a 6.3-inch screen (2340 x 1080 resolution), which is essentially a PLS TFT display, where PLS means Plane Line Switching. Before you read TFT and walk away, you might want to hold your horses for a while. This is essentially a technology that Samsung has worked on and used for a long time now, and the idea is to bring this display at par with the viewing angles and brightness levels of an IPS display. Not to get bogged down by the technology or the terminology behind this canvas, what you will get is a screen that is undoubtedly rich, quite bright, has good viewing angles and is adequately sharp as well. That’s pretty much all the boxes ticked off. Yes, you may compare the depth of the black levels on this with an AMOLED display that more expensive Samsung Galaxy phones have and say that the latter is better—but that is just nitpicking. We quite like how the colours look vibrant, without any bias towards certain shades. However, at times, the separation between different shades isn’t always visible clearly enough.
Samsung has used the new Exynos 7904 Octa core processor to power the Galaxy M20, with the option of 3GB or 4GB RAM. We tested the latter version, and performance for the most part doesn’t disappoint. It is able to handle most apps that you might use regularly with absolute ease, but if you are to really push the limits of multi-tasking, then you might notice and occasional stutter or some sluggishness while switching between apps. This feels at par with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 636 processor, which powers the Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro. That said, we would recommend you buy the 4GB RAM version since this offers a bit more headroom for multi-tasking than 3GB RAM would. We say that because quite often, with background apps also using up the system resources, we would find only 1.9GB RAM free even though all apps were closed at that point—and this is when you really will get the value of the extra 1GB RAM available to you. From time to time you might feel the performance slow down a bit, but hang on, that is actually not the performance at all. Those are the rather elaborate transition animations of Samsung Experience 9.5—turning these down by enabling Developer Options makes this visual stumble disappear.
Speaking of which, Samsung Experience 9.5 is the wrapper around Android Oreo 8.1 and that is a surprise—we truly expected the newest challenger in the hottest smartphone segment to have the latest and the greatest operating system (OS) which Google has to offer in the shape of Android 9 Pie. Nevertheless, the phone is running the latest January security patch, so at least you are completely secure on that front.
Battery life has to be, and is, a strong point of the Samsung Galaxy M20. The 5000mAh battery, the biggest we have seen in a Samsung phone in recent memory, is designed for endurance. Two days of usage on a single charge is locked and loaded, with moderate app loads and gaming. Juicing this up, once it eventually runs down, will not be a problem either as the Galaxy M20 supports 15-watt fast charging with the USB Type-C port.
The photography performance is one aspect where a few software updates are needed to get the best out of the 13-megapixel sensor (f/1.9 aperture) and the secondary 5-megapixel sensor (f/2.2 aperture) combination. It is the secondary 5-megapixel camera that adds the ultra-wide 120-degree capabilities. On paper, these specifications should get the job done, and that is the case for certain scenarios. Photos taken in good light, during daytime or outdoors in good light reproduce good colours and acceptable detailing, without ever looking too sharp. However, lower light photos tend to be a struggle, with noise creeping in more often than not and colors not looking the most accurate. This is a very quick camera, which means you get the sharpest focus before the inevitable hand shake kicks in, and that means you’ll not have a gallery full of fuzzy or out of focus photos. However, Samsung still needs to optimize the image processing, we feel, to get the best out of this.
Safe to say that Samsung has, after adopting a wait and watch approach for a while, has gotten the ingredients spot on for an affordable Android phone that just works. The Galaxy M20 is clearly in a much better position to compete with the likes of the Xiaomi Redmi Note 6 Pro and the rest. If you are thinking this is just another Galaxy J or Galaxy On-esque affordable Android phone from Samsung, we can assure you that the Galaxy M20 is anything but that. The refreshingly simple design, the good display and a fairly clean wrapper around Android are some of the highlights, and the consistent overall performance is the virtual icing on the virtual cake. We would reiterate again that you should consider the 4GB RAM for better performance overall—and could well be the phone that brings Samsung back into the affordable Android smartphone game.