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Realme 9i review: a step in the right direction?

It’s 2022, and almost every smartphone launched outside the budget segment supports 5G, despite the fact that there are still no signs of 5G networks in India. Realme has been pushing a lot of 5G phones for over a year now, but oddly enough, Realme’s latest 9i offering is a 4G-only model. This is the entry-level offering in the all-new Realme 9 series, which will soon be followed by the upcoming Realme 9 Pro and Realme 9 Pro+. While a 4G-only phone might still be relevant if it works in other areas, the Realme 9i seems to have a few omissions compared to its predecessor, the Realme 8i.

So, is the Realme 9i worth considering as your next purchase, or are the competitors offering a better price? I checked Realme 9i to find out.

Realme 9i price in India

The Realme 9i is available with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage, priced at Rs. 13,999 or with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage, priced at Rs. 15,999 people in India. This smartphone is available in two colors: Prism Black and Prism Blue. For this review, I had the higher end configuration in Prism Blue.

Realme 9i design

Realme’s latest India launch, the Realme 9i, features a new “Stereo Prism” design. It features a 6.6-inch display with thin bezels on the top and sides, and a thicker chin. You get a notch in the top left corner of the screen for the selfie camera. The phone has a plastic frame with the power button on the right and volume buttons on the left. The capacitive fingerprint scanner is built into the power button, which allows you to conveniently unlock your smartphone. The sides and corners are rounded so the bezel doesn’t dig into your palms when you hold this phone.

Realme 9i is equipped with a 5000 mAh battery.

The Realme 9i has a USB Type-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a speaker and a main microphone at the bottom. At the top there is only an additional microphone. The earpiece serves as a second speaker for stereo sound. The SIM tray is on the left side and supports two Nano-SIM cards as well as a microSD card. The Realme 9i has a 5000mAh battery and weighs 190g, which is quite acceptable. In the kit you get a 33W charger.

The Realme 9i has a triple camera on the back. The camera module is similar to the Realme GT Neo 2 module (review). There is a pattern on the back panel that is only visible when light hits it from a certain angle.

Specifications and software Realme 9i

Realme 9i features a 6.6-inch Full HD+ display with a 90Hz peak refresh rate that can dynamically change based on the content you’re watching. However, this panel is a step down considering the Realme 8i (review) screen has a 120Hz refresh rate. The Realme 9i is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 SoC. Realme has implemented the DRE (Dynamic RAM Expansion) feature that allocates up to 5 GB of memory to be used as RAM, but is only available in a higher memory variant.

Realme 9i is a 4G capable smartphone offering dual VoLTE. Since 5G networks are yet to be rolled out in India, the lack of support shouldn’t keep you from considering this phone. This phone also supports Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi, and quad-standard GPS.

Realme 9i Hole Punch Realme 9i Review

The Realme 9i has a 90Hz punch-hole display.

Relame 9i runs Realme UI 2.0 based on Android 11. My 9i device had the January 2022 Android security patch installed. The user interface was easy to use and I had no trouble finding the path. I found that the phone had a large number of pre-installed applications, some of which sent spam notifications after launch. Luckily, you can remove most of them. You can customize the display’s color mode and even set it to 60Hz. There are various features that can be activated with gestures if enabled. Realme has also added a gaming mode that lets you turn off incoming calls and notifications for smooth gaming.

Realme 9i performance and battery life

The Realme 9i performed well and showed no signs of slowdown in my use during the review period. I found the display to be bright enough most of the time, but I had to shield it from direct sunlight to see content clearly outdoors. The 90Hz refresh rate makes scrolling very smooth. The speakers are not balanced and the bottom one sounded louder. With 8GB of RAM on my test unit, multitasking was a breeze. Realme has enabled the DRE feature by default, which boosts usable RAM to 11GB. When using the phone, I never needed more than one attempt to unlock it with the fingerprint reader, and the facial recognition was also reliable.

In AnTuTu, Realme 9i managed to score 280,907 points. It scored 383 points and 1554 points respectively in Geekbench 5 single-core and multi-core tests. It scored 8101 points in PCMark Work 3.0 test. The GFXBench graphics test in the T-Rex and Car Chase scenes ran at 36fps and 7.2fps, respectively. These scores were slightly lower than the Realme 8i, which is powered by a MediaTek Helio G96 SoC.

realme 9i camera Realme 9i review

Realme 9i has a triple camera setup.

To test the Realme 9i’s gaming performance, I played Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), which was set to “smooth” graphics and “medium” framerates by default. On these settings it was possible to play without lags. After playing for about 21 minutes, the phone felt slightly warm to the touch. I also noticed a four percent drop in battery level.

The Realme 9i is very power efficient and lasted about two days on a full charge. Idle battery drain was also very low. It managed 22 hours and 42 minutes on our HD video loop test. For example, Realme 8i supports 18W fast charging, Realme 9i supports 33W fast charging. The included 33W charger was able to charge the phone up to 51% in 30 minutes and up to 91% in an hour. If you are an undemanding user, you will not need to charge your Realme 9i frequently.

Realme 9i Cameras

The Realme 9i is equipped with a triple camera setup consisting of a 50MP main camera, a 2MP macro camera, and a 2MP black and white camera. For selfies, it has a 16-megapixel front camera. The Realme camera app is easy to use. You get quick toggles for HDR and AI scene enhancement. The phone quickly locked focus and set the correct exposure.

Photos taken by the main camera have been pixelated up to 12.5 megapixels by default. Daylight photos had medium dynamic range and looked good as is, but zooming in revealed lower detail, especially in the shadows. When taking photos in bright conditions, the phone automatically turned on HDR and managed the exposure well. An ultra-wide-angle camera would have improved the setup, but unfortunately that feature is missing.

Sample photo of Realme 9i in daylight (click to see full size)

Close-up photos were clear and had good detail. Portraits had good edge detection, and the phone lets you choose the level of background blur before shooting. Macros taken with the Realme 9i had decent detail, but the result was not high resolution.

Realme 9i close-up sample photo (click to see full size)

Realme 9i portrait sample (click to see full size)

Low-light photos taken with the Realme 9i looked hazy and objects in the distance were barely visible. Objects in the shadows also looked grainy. There was a slight improvement in shadow detail in night mode.

Realme 9i low light camera sample (click to view full size)

Realme 9i night mode sample (click to see full size)

Selfies taken on the Realme 9i in daylight were decent. The portrait mode created a good separation from the background. Selfies in low light were strictly average.

Realme 9i portrait selfie in daylight

Video recording reached 1080p for both the main and selfie cameras. There is no stabilization, so the frames are shaky. Low-light footage was also a bit grainy.

Verdict

Realme 9i starting price in India is Rs. 13,999 and that might make it attractive to those on a budget. However, the more expensive option competes with other smartphones that offer better performance as well as 5G connectivity that the 9i does not. This new model offers stereo speakers and faster 33W charging, which is an improvement over the previous model. However, the 90Hz refresh rate is a downgrade from the 120Hz display on the Realme 8i (Review).

The Realme 9i’s camera performance is also below par, making it even harder to recommend the more expensive option to those looking for an all-rounder. Surprisingly, the Realme 8i offers the best features and camera quality for the money. If you’re looking for an up-and-coming smartphone with 5G connectivity, you might want to consider the Moto G51 (review) or the Redmi Note 11T 5G (review) instead.


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