A couple of weeks into the new year, smartphone maker Realme has revealed its first product of 2022. The smartphone, part of Realme’s budget-focused lineup, comes in the form of the Realme 9i and is priced at Rs 13,999. Among a sea of smartphones that cost below Rs 15,000, many of them by Realme, the Realme 9i doesn’t immediately offer anything inherently different. It, however, is the first phone in the market to employ the services of Qualcomm’s new SoC Snapdragon 680. Realme has been quite consistent in terms of offering considerably good performance for reasonable prices in most segments it’s present in. Let’s find out in this detailed review of the Realme 9i whether the company has carried over its philosophy to its latest product.
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Realme 9i is a small but meaningful taste of what consumers can expect from the company’s upcoming devices this year. There is nothing amiss from the 9i unless you count the absence of an ultra-wide shooter and 120Hz refresh rate display. The gaming capabilities seem a bit lacking but otherwise, the Realme 9i matches up in most aspects of a smartphone experience.
The Realme 9i exudes all the class of a typical affordable phone from the outside. Build-wise I had no complaints from the device’s plastic construction which is mostly par for the course for smartphones crowding the budget space. The camera hump, rectangular in shape, houses three lenses, two of which are noticeably large.
I do like the fact that smartphone brands are increasingly opting for a matte finish on their offerings, and the rather obnoxious trend of glassy and even prism-like coating is falling out of fashion. The light blue hue on the Realme 9i’s back panel doesn’t deter fingerprints as much as I would like but is still quite pleasing to look at. The usual assortment of USB C port, speaker grille, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is present on the bottom edge. The Realme 9i doesn’t really stand out when placed alongside a few of its competing products such as the POCO M3 Pro (review) or the Redmi Note 10T (review). Even so, the 9i’s vibrant and youthful appeal should suffice for the target audience.
The Realme 9i features an IPS LCD panel with an FHD+ (2,412 x 1,080) resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. Several of the recent POCO and Xiaomi phones have spoilt me for choice with 120Hz panels, so I am a bit disappointed to see the lower refresh rate on the 9i. Otherwise, the display quality seems fairly decent… the brightness levels seem quite fine to me and the punch-hole at the top has very little backlight bleeding around it. There is WideVine L1 certification on the phone and I browsed through Netflix’s catalogue of content coming away reasonably satisfied. The OSIE engine toggle for boosting colours while watching videos works like a charm and I hardly saw the 90Hz refresh rate dropping frames while scrolling. All-in-all, the absence of 120Hz might only be noticeable to smartphone nerds such as me but not so much to regular users, who can enjoy the display for its more than satisfactory visual experience.
Realme’s record in camera performance has remained a bit spotty although there have been some bright sparks here and there. The Realme 9i relies on a triple-camera layout with the primary sensor having a 50MP resolution, paired with 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensors. Unfortunately, the past week in Delhi has seen mostly overcast weather with sporadic sunshine. Even so, the daylight shots from the device are rich in detail and tone down the usual post-processing that budget Realme phones usually have. Colours are a bit more on the oversaturated side but the dynamic range is maintained quite effectively. I found that the focusing speeds during low light conditions are quite slow for my liking but the shutter speeds are quick. The dedicated night mode is able to rectify a lot of the problems in terms of noise, shadows, and details in general. The absence of an ultra-wide camera is a sore spot for me, particularly when the macro and depth shooters serve little purpose other than camera padding. My experience with optics on the Realme 9i has been sufficiently up to the mark except for a few niggles here and there. The 16MP selfie camera on the device is more of the same with a hint of Realme’s facial oversharpening.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 is a 6nm-based octa-core silicone with maximum clock speeds of 2.4GHz. It is usually surprising not to see a 700 series chipset from Qualcomm or MediaTek’s Dimensity lineup even when talking about sub-Rs 15,000 phones but the Snapdragon 480-powered Moto G51 (review) did help change my opinion. The Realme 9i packs in decent processing capabilities with Antutu V9.2.6 churning out a score of 276,714 and Geekbench 5’s multi-core result of 1,582. My day-to-day experience with the device’s performance-related aspects was pretty satisfactory. Multi-tasking, app-switching, Chrome tabs, social media browsing, and more are easily accomplished on the Realme 9i, or at least as well as I would’ve hoped.
However, gaming, particularly playing BGMI on the phone, isn’t great. The highest setting it can muster up is Smooth Graphics with a High (30fps) frame rate. More than a few Realme phones in the past have not been optimised to run heavy-duty games at high graphics and it appears that the Realme 9i is the same. Perhaps the situation can be remedied via future software updates but for now, if you are looking to play a few GPU-intensive games on a budget, the Realme 9i is not the most ideal choice. The device comes with 4GB or 6GB of RAM and also employs an extra 2GB of virtual RAM from 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. A microSD card of up to 1TB can additionally be used on the device.
On the positive side, I was pleasantly surprised to see a stereo-speaker setup on the Realme 9i which actually sounds quite good with a bass-y sound signature that suits a lot of music genres. The side-mounted fingerprint sensor works well enough as does the face authentication mechanism. There are no 5G capabilities on the device but I did test the phone’s Jio 4G speeds and call quality, coming away satisfied with both. The phone is running on Realme UI 2.0 which is based on Android 11. Realme has made efforts to give its interface a cleaner look while making the design elements more user-friendly. Bloatware is still a problem though.
Finally, there is the 5,000mAh battery present on the device which is in line with today’s budget phones. I ran PCMark’s Battery test on the device and it yielded a score of 14 hours and 42 minutes, which happens to be more than decent for the battery capacity. My daily usage on the Realme 9i entailed upwards of 6 hours of screen-on time while the brightness of the device was at full tilt alongside the 90Hz refresh rate. In terms of charging, the battery is juiced up from 20-100 percent in about an hour thanks to the 33W charging capabilities.
The Realme 9i is not an extraordinary phone but delivers on the basics, offering decent daylight photography, good battery life, a capable screen and rich-sounding stereo speakers. It falters a bit on the gaming aspect, and the cameras aren’t very versatile, but all in all, you should get your money’s worth if you opt for the Realme 9i.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Decent daylight photography
- Good battery life
- Acceptable performance
- Stereo speakers sound good
- Could use a 120Hz refresh rate
- GPU-intensive games not optimised
- Poor macro and depth sensors