Realme 9i full review
The Realme 9i is an Android smartphone which aims to deliver a high-end experience for a low-end price – just under £200.
There’s plenty of competition at this price point, with the Redmi Note 11 offering a similar performance-per-pound promise and the Poco M4 Pro 5G boasting many of the same features, but with added 5G support, for a bit more at £239.
While there’s a lot to weigh up, on its own merits, the Realme 9i already offers a lot – a 6.6in 90Hz display, all-day fast-charging battery, a triple lens camera – and all for just two tons. Can the Realme 9i challenge for the best budget phone.
Design & Build
- Plastic body, metallic finish
- Type-C reversible USB, 3.5 headphone jack
- Fingerprint scanner built into power key
Like a lot of budget Android phones, the Realme 9i is made from lightweight plastic, but it has a reflective coating. It comes into two colour options, Prism Blue and Prism Black, and the blue option I've tested is a nice, light shade similar to that of a fancy bottle of gin.
The Realme 9i's lightness (190g) means that most people should be able to comfortably hold and use it in one hand, but it's by no means a small phone; it's got a 6.6in display, and is roughly 165mm tall.
The power key on the right-hand side features a fingerprint scanner, which makes for fast and convenient unlocking. This is a feature that's increasingly common on budget phones, but it's always a welcome addition.
Type-C USB along with a regular 3.5mm headphone jack sit at the base, next to an external speaker and noise cancelling mic. On the left-hand side sit two volume keys and the combination SIM and microSD card tray. There's nothing on the top side, save a cavity for another noise microphone.
The earpiece speaker is razor-thin, crammed into the top, and is barely noticeable against the super-thin bezels. Instead of a notch/teardrop at the top for the front-facing camera, there’s a hole punch for the camera set into the top left-hand corner of the display.
Screen & Speakers
- 6.6in LCD
- Full HD+
- 90Hz refresh rate
- Dual speakers
The Realme 9i squeezes a 6.6in Full HD+ LCD display into a slim and lightweight body. That would be good going for a budget phone anyway, but, the Realme 9i's display has another ace up its sleeve in the form of a 90Hz maximum refresh rate.
This chiefly means that game and video content looks as smooth as polished silver, but also mundane things like scrolling through menus just feels a tiny bit smoother with the 90Hz mode turned on.
It's arguably this feature more than any other that makes you forget that the Realme 9i is a budget device. Brightness is also decent, good enough to punch through the glare of a bright sunny day as I recorded a peak brightness of 556 nits.
Regardless, the Realme 9i’s display, as good as it is, can't match that of the Redmi Note 11, as no LCD will ever beat an AMOLED in the contrast department. Still, it’s a good enough display, capable of making video content and some mobile games look pretty fantastic.
Specs & Performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 680
- Up to 6GB RAM
- Up to 128GB storage
- No 5G
Performance of the Realme 9i is broadly within expectations for a 2022 budget device – it’ll do the basics very well, and in some cases, performance combined with the 90Hz display will impress. In other areas, it’s quite clearly lacking.
The most obvious example is gaming, which is a mixed experience. Dead Trigger 2 looked great and played extremely well, with the game assistant software telling me I was getting 55-58fps most of the time. On the other hand, the pre-installed beta version of PUBG Mobile, while reasonably stable, shuffled along at 20-25fps. No wonder I died constantly.
The Realme 9i is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680, the same mid-range eight-core processor which also sits under the hood of the Redmi Note 11 – it’s not surprising then, that benchmarking results are very similar. The GPU scores here aren’t much to get excited about. At a glance, they’re only slightly better than those of the cheaper Realme C31.
As for general phone operations, the Realme 9i is absolutely fine. There’s hardly any lag, zipping through menus and jumping from tab to tab in the browser feels reasonably speedy, and the camera is quick to respond to commands.
Rarely did I have to shut down dormant apps to free up memory. The version I was sent for testing featured 4GB of RAM, so presumably, the 6GB version will let you do more of the same without having to kibosh old processes quite so much.
How well a 4GB phone will last you over the years is another thing – if you can pick up a 6GB version, that’s obviously the one you should go for. This version is nowhere to be seen on the official UK store, but you do get 128GB of storage as standard.
Less good news is the absence of 5G connectivity, although if this is a problem for you, then you might want to hold on to your wallet for the Realme 9 5G and Realme 9 Pro phones, both of which feature 5G support. If you’re not fussed about last-gen mobile speeds, or you live somewhere which still can’t get 5G reception, this might not be a problem anyway.
- 50Mp main camera with 2Mp black & white and a 2Mp macro sensors
- 16Mp front facing camera
- Records up to 1080p @30fps
- Time lapse and slo-mo modes
The Realme 9i's 50Mp main camera can take some very good stills, but, as is often the case with cheap phones, there are some limitations; the autofocus sometimes struggles with fast-moving subjects, and low light shots are generally quite noisy.
The photo of the white spider on the red acer is a good example of the Realme 9i's ability to lock focus on a gently moving subject. When taking this photo, a light breeze was moving things around a lot, so it's impressive that the spider is as detailed as it is here. However, as you can see from looking at the leaves in the foreground and background, additional detail is lost.
The main camera is generally speaking better at capturing wide-angle shots. The dedicated macro mode did not, in my experience, capture much more detail than close-ups taken in auto mode, and generally resulted in much darker images, with less natural-looking colours. So just like almost every budget phone, then.
Night shots, in the right circumstances, can be stunning. If there's plenty of ambient light, even shooting on auto produces acceptable results, but the Night mode long exposures really bring it on home. Look at the photos of the National Theatre building for a good example of the impact Night mode has.
In less positive news, colours tend to be a bit exaggerated and unnatural but this is still pretty good going for a budget phone. A lot of other phones in this category aren't half as good (looking at you, Realme C31), just be aware that you'll probably be taking ten photos, discarding nine, and keeping the one that’s good a lot of the time.
Selfies, as you might expect, look their best if you’re taking them in well-lit areas with plenty of light. There’s a fill light effect, which can alleviate gloomy shots, but as you can see, the results are not fantastic, especially if you’re wearing glasses.
The Realme 9i can record 1080p video at 30fps, and results are generally acceptable, though results are best if you're using a tripod, or have the phone propped up on something. The camera sensor is good at adjusting to lighting conditions on the fly, and resulting footage generally looks smooth, but pans and tilts often come out looking shaky.
Battery Life & Charging
- 4880mAh battery
- Over 12 hours of power
- 33W fast charging
Battery performance is a real standout feature of the Realme 9i. It delivered well over 12 hours of power in benchmarking tests, even with the higher 90Hz refresh rate turned on.
Anecdotally, I would end most working days with around 60% power left over after taking calls, streaming music to a Bluetooth speaker, and playing idle games on lunchbreaks. This means many users will get two days out of it.
Running the PC Mark Work benchmark, which simulates a range of tasks like web browsing and video streaming, the Realme 9i gave me 16 hours and 49 minutes with the highest refresh rate setting on, outpacing most rivals.
Dropping down to 60Hz, I ran the same test again to see how much power you could save by having the screen refresh at a lower rate, and I got 17 hours 22 minutes – a difference of about half an hour. In other words, if you're low on power, you could probably switch to 60Hz and squeeze in one more episode of Selling Sunset before peeling yourself off of the couch in order to locate your charger.
And speaking of charging, you actually won't be bereft of Netflix for too long, because the supplied 33W charger will get you from flat to full in just under 1 hour 20 minutes. Half an hour on the mains from empty will net you around 45% while an hour will see you walk away with roughly 80%. That's fast by any phone's standards, but excellent for a budget blower.
Software & Apps
- Android 11
- Realme UI 2.0 custom interface
The Realme 9i runs Android 11 out of the box, with version 2.0 of Realme’s custom UI, the cryptically-named ‘Realme UI’, slapped on top.
Custom interfaces on Android phones can be a pain, because they’re sometimes poorly thought out, and/or aesthetically offensive. Realme UI isn’t either of those things, but it also doesn’t really enhance the stock Android experience in a meaningful way either.
That said, it's a simple enough user interface to navigate, and while there are a bunch of apps and games pre-installed on the phone, most of them can be uninstalled if you don’t want to use them.
The ones which can’t, like the Compass app, are tiny, and don’t take up much space – so if you don’t use them, you won’t really miss them and with 128GB of storage as standard in the UK it's not an issue to worry about.
You can, for the most part, customise things to your liking. You can easily change the app icon alignment grid so that everything snaps to a 5x6 grid, stick whatever wallpapers and widgets you like on the home screen, toggle dark mode if you’d rather that the menus were a more nightime-friendly black than white.
Price & Availability
The Realme 9i is available to buy now in the UK, directly from Realme for £199 SIM-free and unlocked. This is for the 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage version.
At the time of writing, no UK pricing information for 4/64GB or 6/128GB variants were available, and the Realme 9i won't be available in the United States or Australia, although you can buy some versions on Amazon US for around $215.
As mentioned earlier, there's plenty of competition around this price point so check out our chart of the best budget phones to see what else might take your fancy.
The Realme 9i is a fantastic value for money Android phone which does the basics in style, offers great battery performance, and the cameras are pretty good too. It’s priced very nicely, looks good, is lightweight and is easy to use. It’s ideal for buyers on a budget, or people who want a reliable back-up phone.
That said, the Redmi Note 11 is priced the same, offers a lot of the same features, and if you were to split hairs, you might be tempted by the fact that it has an AMOLED screen, whereas the Realme 9i has an LCD. The older Realme 8 also has AMOLED on offer.
It’s also not a 5G phone, and while you shouldn’t necessarily expect 5G support for £200, the Poco M4 Pro 5G does include this, and it’s only about £40 more, so that might sway you.
These are relatively small issues, though. The Realme 9i is an excellent budget phone that will more than satisfy most buyers after a cheap ‘n cheerful device.
Realme 9i: Specs
- Android 11 with Realme UI R Edition
- 6.6in 2412x1080 90Hz LCD display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 processor (up to 2.4GHz octa-core)
- Qualcomm Adreno 610 GPU
- 4GB/6GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB internal storage
- microSD up to 1TB
- 50Mp main camera, f/1.8
- 2Mp black & white lens, f/2.4
- 2Mp Macro lens, f/2.4 aperture
- 16Mp selfie camera, f/2.1
- Fingerprint scanner (on power key)
- Bluetooth 5.0
- GPS, Glonass, Galileo, BeiDou
- Dual SIM
- 4,880mAh battery
- 33W charging
- Prism Blue, Prism Black
- 164.4 x 75.7 x 8.4mm
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