Samsung Galaxy M51, M31s review: Making the right moves

Galaxy M51 on the left, Galaxy M31s on the right. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Dialling M for redemption is a phrase I had used to describe Samsung’s new M series phones last year. Over the next few months, Samsung would go on to add a string of well rounded — read, value for money — phones to this series, giving Xiaomi, Realme and others, something to think about. And the story continues to this day.

Samsung took the greater part of last year laying the groundwork for M series and after familiarizing its core audience with whatever it is that it was trying to do — and having received positive response from that audience — it has gradually moved on to the next step. Upping the ante through a more diverse portfolio of M series phones across varying price points. Case in point, the M51 and M31s.

Galaxy M51 on the right, Galaxy M31s on the left. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The M51 is of particular significance. On paper, it is Samsung’s most expensive M series phone to date. A 6GB/128GB variant of the phone currently sells in India for Rs 24,999. There is also an 8GB/128GB variant selling for Rs 26,999. The M31s is also not far behind starting at Rs 19,499 for a variant with 6GB/128GB and going up to Rs 21,499 for 8GB/128GB.

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Samsung is climbing up the price ladder, but for good reason. Only and only if you are stuck with the notion that an M series phone must be priced in a certain way, and that it is some sort of crime if it crosses that barrier, will you find the M51 and M31s expensive. If they were A series phones, perhaps it would lessen the blow. My advice is, treat them like phones stripped off their name tags and you will be pleasantly surprised — I know I am after having used them extensively.

Galaxy M51 on the right, Galaxy M31s on the left. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

There is still some time to go for Samsung to beat Xiaomi and Realme at the spec game, and I doubt that it will even happen anytime soon, but the M51 and M31s are so good in their own right, I am happy to report they are both steps in the right direction. Specs are nice, but they are not the end of the road. There is more to a phone than just cores and megapixels. That is not to say that the M51 and M31s do not have those things.

If you are curious about why I am reviewing two phones together, it is because the M51 and M31s are so similar, it makes sense to also pit them up against each other and see the trade-offs — if any — of a lower priced phone against its higher-priced sibling in real time.

The M51 and M31s are made from the same mould, using the same materials. Both phones have “glasstic” bodies which is how Samsung describes its plastic phones now. Both have Corning Gorilla Glass 3 protection and a centrally positioned punch hole cut-out on the front — curiously, the punch hole is bigger in the M51 ever so slightly. Both phones have L-shaped camera modules housed inside a distinct rectangle that sits flush with the body, so there is no wobble when the phones are kept back facing down. Both have a side-mounted power button that doubles as an always-on fingerprint reader (that is fast and accurate) and a volume rocker that sits too high up (above it) and needs time getting used to.

Both phones have a side-mounted power button that doubles as an always-on fingerprint reader. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Samsung has matched the colours on the back and sides so the whole thing looks unibody and quite stylish in my opinion. The M51 comes in solid colours while the M31s is dual tone — personally, I like the design of the M31s more because of this. Regardless, both phones are glossy. They are good at hiding smudge and fingerprints most of the time which is nice.

The real difference comes by way of size and weight. The M31s is a smaller phone. The M51 is bigger, plus it is housing a bigger battery. Samsung has done well with the weight distribution in both phones, particularly in the M51. It feels well balanced, but you will still feel its extra weight so that is something to keep in mind. For some context, the M51 is thicker and heavier than the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Pro Max. That is another reason why I prefer the M31s. Even though it has a comparable screen size (and battery), the M31s is just more pocketable.

Speaking of screen size, while the M31s is a 6.5-inch phone, the M51 has a 6.7-inch display. Both phones come with 1080p+ resolution — the M31s is more Pixel-dense due to its smaller size. The panel is Super AMOLED in both cases which entails rich colours and excellent viewing angles — brightness levels are also quite good. Samsung is not joining the high refresh rate bandwagon just yet. Similarly priced phones from OnePlus and Realme give you faster screens. It is not a deal breaker or anything, but just something that you should keep in mind.

Galaxy M51 on the right, Galaxy M31s on the left. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Core hardware is where M51 takes the cake. It is a more powerful phone than the M31s, one that finally sees Samsung switching to a more “potent” Qualcomm processor over the aging Exynos 9611. The reason why I call it aging is not because of its shelf life, it is because the Galaxy M31 and Galaxy M30s also came with the same processor.

The M51 is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G, a tried and tested mobile processor that we have seen in many phones South of Rs 25,000 already. And it works like a charm inside the M51. Be it at everyday tasks, or high-end gaming and multitasking, the M51 breezes through everything you throw at it without losing a sweat. Of course, Samsung’s well optimized One UI software also has a big role in all this. Just goes to show how far Samsung’s “affordable” phones have come.

Galaxy M51 on the left, Galaxy M31s on the right. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The same optimizations ensure that the Exynos 9611-powered M31s is no slouch either. Though its GPU does leave a lot to be desired against competition. If you are looking to do a lot of gaming, especially graphics intensive, I suggest you go for M51. If not, the M31s will have all your basics covered. There is plenty of RAM and storage in both phones to satisfy even the most demanding users — expandable storage is also an option.

The same is true about the battery life. The M51 comes with a ginormous 7,000mAh battery and when paired with its more efficient 8nm processor, you are basically looking at a phone that simply refuses to die. This is a phone that will easily last you for two days on mixed usage. The M31s meanwhile has a 6,000mAh battery which again, is not small by any means. Battery stats have been comparable in my usage, therefore I have come to the conclusion, it does not really matter which one you pick, both M51 and M31s have outstanding battery life. Both phones support 25W fast charging and reverse charging which means that you can use them to charge other devices.

Both M51 and M31s have the same cameras. There is a 64MP main (Sony IMX682 sensor), a 12MP ultra-wide-angle (with 123-degree field-of-view), and two 5MP cameras for depth and macros, respectively in both phones. Both phones also have the same 32MP front camera.

One can argue, the processor difference could mean different results and while it is there, I think it is not enough to make a lot of difference and a lot of users would not even notice it. The M51 and M31s are Samsung’s best camera “budget” phones in the market today — its most versatile too.

Galaxy M51 on the left, Galaxy M31s on the right. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

In good light, the 64MP main camera (that shoots 16MP photos by default) can capture a lot of detail and the dynamic range is also at par with many phones that cost even more. The ultra-wide-angle camera may not be in the same league as the main camera in terms of resolution and quality, but it is one of the better ones offering a wider perspective to a scene around its price point. The depth camera is a hit and miss, though in good light subject separation is mostly spot on. The macro camera, though I have never found it useful, might still find takers. It gets the job done. Samsung’s night mode is excellent, even more so at this price, but there is room for improvement. As for the front camera, it can capture plenty of detail with Samsung’s default AI smoothing turned off. Low light selfies are also quite good.

Should you buy Samsung Galaxy M51, M31s?

The M51 is Samsung’s showstopper M series phone in the market right now and while it is terrific value for money, I think for most people, the M31s will be more than enough unless gaming is top on their list. That is how good the M31s is. A large part of why I prefer it over the M51 also has to do with the size and to an extent, its dual tone design. Not only does it look more premium, it is also very handy and easy to operate. Plus, you are not missing out on a lot of things.

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In the grand scheme of things, which means next to competition, both M51 and M31s can stand their ground and give them a tough fight better than any other Samsung budget phone in the past. This is because both M51 and M31s are a jack of all trade giving you a good design, good display, good hardware and software, good cameras, and good battery life, and that is what really matters. Instead of going after one spec or feature, even killer hardware, Samsung chose to get the basics right — and boy, did it get them right!

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