Over the past few years, the budget smartphone segment has been repeatedly disrupted and redefined by the likes of Xiaomi, Asus and interestingly, Nokia. Absent from the list is Samsung—although it’s been pushing the envelope in the premium segment, its budget portfolio stagnated over time, while competitors like Xiaomi have pushed the envelope with phones like the new Redmi Note 7 Pro.
Its budget smartphones managed to sell solely on Samsung’s brand power, but were devices that one couldn’t honestly recommend in the face of Xiaomi phones at the same price point. Now, Samsung has finally turned the corner and launched the Galaxy M series, starting with the Galaxy M10 and the Galaxy M20. It also has some higher-end, budget-premium phones out now, in the Samsung Galaxy M30, Galaxy A30, and A50, which are worth checking out.
Both phones follow a similar approach as the competition—they’re online-only and offer features and specs that are a first for Samsung phones at this price point—but is Samsung’s brand value enough to edge these ahead in one of the most highly competitive categories?
Samsung Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 specifications
The entry-level dual-SIM Galaxy M10 starts at Rs 7,990 for the base 2/16GB variant, with a 3/32GB variant available for Rs 8,990. At this price, you get a 6.2-inch HD+ (720x1520 pixels) Infinity-V-notched display, a dual 13MP/5MP rear camera with a 5MP front sensor, the Samsung Exynos 7870 SoC and a 3400mAh battery.
The Galaxy M20, on the other hand, features a 6.3-inch full-HD+ (1080x2340 pixels) Infinity-V-notched display, the Exynos 7904 SoC with 3/32GB (Rs 10,990) or 4/64GB (Rs 12,990), dual 13MP/5MP rear cameras and an 8MP selfie shooter, and a massive 5000mAh battery. Both phones support storage expansion up to 512GB and face unlock for authentication, though the Galaxy M20 adds in a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor as well.
Samsung Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 notch design and display
Samsung makes extremely good displays, but it has thus far avoided the all-pervasive trend to add a notch to maximize screen real estate. This year though, it caved a bit, experimenting with punch hole displays (‘Infinity-O’) and the more commonly found waterdrop notches (‘Infinity-V’ and ‘Infinity-U’, depending on the shape).
From the front, both phones look identical, but there’s the difference in resolution. The Galaxy M10 uses a TFT panel on its 720p HD+ display, which isn’t in the same league as some of the IPS LCD panels in phones at similar price points, but where it loses out on sharpness and detail, it makes up for with decent viewing angles and brightness levels. The Galaxy M20, with its sharper full-HD+ display, offers more vibrant colors and better contrast ratios, and you’ll only know this is a TFT panel if you peek at the specs. A couple of issues persist—the palm rejection capability is badly in need of a software fix, as is the fact that content on YouTube or Netflix isn’t optimized for the notch. Both phones support the Widevine L1 standard—a rarity in phones under Rs 20,000—so you’ll be able to stream high-resolution content from Netflix and Prime Video.
Samsung Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 build
The displays redeem the otherwise generic design of both phones, which honestly could pass off for something from just about any budget brand. The rear glossy polycarbonate panels are vintage Samsung and borderline drab when you have the competition trying out gradient finishes and the like. Plus, they’re both fingerprint and smudge magnets, so you’ll probably want to pick up a case sooner rather than later.
That said, the phones feel sturdily built and nothing about them feels flimsy, the buttons are placed well within reach and have the right amount of feedback, and the dual SIM card slot with a dedicated microSD card is a good move so you don’t have to lose out on storage expansion while using both SIMs. The Galaxy M20 is a bit of a handful with the chunky 5000mAh battery, but the weight is well distributed, and the ergonomics are well thought-through. Unlike the Galaxy M10 and a bunch of other devices which continue to use the older micro-USB standard, it’s good to see the M20 using a USB-C port for charging and data transfer.
Samsung Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 cameras
The Galaxy M10 manages to capture details rather well across a number of daytime shooting scenarios, although the dynamic range and colors captured leaves a lot to be desired and the fisheye effect on the wide-angle shooter, while allowing for some creative shots, leaves some cityscapes rather distorted. Low-light images are grainy but not particularly any worse than other phones in its price range. The Galaxy M20 does a better job – colors are pleasing, details are on point and the HDR mode is a lot better. As with the Galaxy M10, the wide-angle shooter should be used sparingly (the 5MP sensor can only be so sharp), and low-light pictures suffer the same fate as those from the Galaxy M10. The only issue with the latter is that it competes in the sub-15,000 segment, and the Redmi Note 6 Pro has us spoiled silly in the imaging department.
Redemption comes by way of the camera app, which is leagues above what the competition has to offer. Remember this is the same camera app that the Galaxy Note and Galaxy S series use, and the Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 really benefit from the trickle-down effect here.
Samsung Galaxy M10 and Galaxy M20 performance
Everyday use on the Galaxy M10 was a breeze, and if you’re primarily using the phone to check on your social feeds, watching some Youtube and playing some casual games, you will not be disappointed with the entry-level power that the Exynos 7870 manages. The user interface is responsive, and Samsung has done a good job at optimizing the Android Oreo-based Samsung Experience UI 9.5 for the hardware, but there is the hint of lag every now and then when you push the phone beyond casual use.
Gaming performance is a tad lacking, with occasional stutters while playing a half-hour session of PUBG. The Galaxy M20 justifies the bump up in price with the Exynos 7904 chip, which turns out performance levels in the same neighborhood as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 636. This means the Galaxy M20 multitasks well between apps and games, while face unlock and fingerprint sensor are snappy, and games like PUBG run at medium settings without any problems. Battery life is good on both phones, with the lower performing chip on the Galaxy M10 taking it past a day of regular use, and the 5000mAh battery on the Galaxy M20 taking it well into two-day territory. As a bonus, the Galaxy M20 supports 15W fast charging and juices up to 100% in a little over 2 hours – the Galaxy M10 without fast charging takes a whole hour more to refuel its smaller battery!
What do I give up for the lower price?
It’s fine that Samsung launched both these phones with Android 8.1, as long as they’re up to date on the security patches (they are, for now at least). There isn’t 5GHz Wi-Fi network support either, and the M10 lacks a fingerprint scanner. What does rankle is Samsung’s approach to ads on this phone. The entire lock screen is now a digital billboard, with Samsung showing a promotional item each time you wake the phone from sleep…and then there are promotional messages and ads from partners, not to mention the glut of messages from the My Galaxy and other pre-loaded apps. You can disable most of these by digging into the settings, but this is precisely the kind of stuff the user should be opting-in to, and not have turned on by default. Not cool, Samsung.
Add to cart?
Both the Galaxy M10 and the Galaxy M20 are a sign of Samsung finally taking the budget competition seriously. The former checks off a number of boxes for the sub-10K market, and the Galaxy M20 is worth the additional premium for its battery performance alone. Samsung has managed to roll out a credible set of phones that can take the fight to competitors – it may not outright beat them on performance and specs, but it’s got solid brand value on its side. With Samsung taking an active interest in these hotly contested segments, it’s only going to get better for consumers.