A well-designed budget 5G phone with some compromises


Choosing a decent budget 5G phone is pretty hard these days. With the majority of devices closely resembling one another, the Realme 9i 5G is able to distinguish itself from the rest of the competition with its glittering mirrored back. But is that enough to make it better than the sea pool of smartphones available in the under Rs 20,000 category? Here’s our take on the phone.

Realme 9i 5G specifications: 6.6-inch 90Hz IPS LCD | MediaTek Dimensity 810 | 6GB RAM + 128GB storage | 50MP + 2MP + 2MP + 8MP front camera | 5000mAh battery + 18W fast charging | Realme UI based on Android 12

Realme 9i 5G: What’s new?

The Realme 9i 5G comes six months after the launch of the Realme 9i, so you might be wondering, what’s changed? The first thing that comes to mind is the glossy sparkling back. Realme has also changed the camera island and switched from Qualcomm to MediaTek.

While the rear camera remains the same, the front camera has been downgraded from 16MP to 8MP. Also, the Realme 9i 5G offers 18W fast charging compared to the 33W charging on the Realme 9i.

Realme, Realme 9i 5G The phone has a reflective back. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)

What’s good?

Design and build quality

The Realme 9i 5G sports a glittery CD-like back that reflects light. While looks are purely subjective, the Metallica Gold version is definitely eye-catching. When I was taking photos, people would often turn heads and stare. The only problem is that the back is a dirt and fingerprint magnet.

Coming to the build quality, the Realme 9i 5G has a good grip and is really comfortable to hold. Weighing just 187 grams, the company has managed to evenly distribute the weight. It has a plastic back that feels like glass while the frame of the phone looks and feels like metal. While I would still recommend using a cover for the phone, not once did I think I would drop it.

Performance

Powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 810, the Realme 9i 5G is definitely an upgrade over its predecessor. Compared to the Snapdragon 680 4G chipset on the Realme 9i, the phone is certainly faster and has great thermal management. When I tried pushing the CPU to its limit with a stress test, not once did the phone throttle the CPU to below 80 per cent, which means you are going to get consistent performance. However, the story is completely different when playing games. (we will dive into that later)

Software

Running on Realme UI 3.0 based on Android 12 out of the box, the phone is as smooth as it gets when performing daily tasks like watching a video or messaging or taking calls. There were no stutters or lags whatsoever while multitasking. I also received an OTA that updated the security patch to August. 

5G Connectivity

The Realme 9i 5G supports both Standalone and Non-Standalone 5G. The list of bands includes n1, n5, n8, n28, n41, n77 and n78, meaning it is compatible with major Indian telecom networks.

Battery Life

Another area where the Realme 9i 5G excels is the battery life. With a 5,000mAh battery, the smartphone can easily last one to two days of light usage and a day full of heavy usage. And thanks to the power-efficient processor, it might last a full day even if you occasionally play graphic-intensive games like BGMI and Call of Duty. Compared to the competition, Realme ships the device with an 18W charger, which is a letdown since it takes two to three hours to fully charge the phone.

Realme, Realme 9i 5G It has a teardrop notch. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)

What’s not so good?

While the Realme 9i 5G does feature an upgraded processor, the budget segment has evolved a lot in the last year. And it looks like the company has compromised in some areas to bring 5G support.

Display

Featuring a 6.6-inch 90Hz IPS LCD display, the screen is by no means bad when it comes to colour reproduction. But if we compare the Realme 9i 5G to other phones in this price segment, you will see that companies like Motorola and Poco offer AMOLED screens with similar or higher refresh rates.

Also, I found the text hard to read when under direct sunlight. Another problem I encountered is that the display on my unit had a warmer colour tone, like someone had turned on the night light toggle, but it looks like Realme has fixed the problem with a software update.

Gaming performance

While you can play casual titles like Subway Surfer and Temple Run without any hiccups, I experienced random stuttering when playing some graphic-intensive titles like PUBG: New State and Apex Legends. But Call of Duty ran consistently at 60fps. And despite having a 90Hz display with a 180Hz touch sampling rate, RealmeUI restricts games to 60 fps, which is really a letdown since the chipset can run some games at higher framerates.

Camera

Instead of a camera island, Realme has opted to use four individual cutouts, three for the camera and one for flash. The rear camera protrudes out of the body even if you use a cover, which means the lens might get damaged if you place the phone on a flat surface.

Realme, Realme 9i 5G camera The Realme 9i 5G takes decent photos during daytime. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)
Realme, Realme 9i 5G The images are good if you want to upload them to social media. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)
Realme, Realme 9i 5G On zooming in, the photo loses detail. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)

Similar to most phones in the budget segment, the rear camera on the Realme 9i 5G is a hit or miss. In daytime conditions with adequate light, you can expect the device to take some decent photos. While the phone manages to preserve most of the details and the colour is on the natural side, the image softens and loses details when zooming in. However, the photo quality is good if you want to upload them on social media.

Adding to the problem, Realme has opted not to use an ultrawide lens but has replaced it with a macro and depth sensor, which to be honest, are useless at best. Similarly, when taking photos at night, the phone fails to preserve even the basic details. While the 50MP primary sensor manages to capture light, the photos are mostly unusable because of the high amount of noise.

Realme, Realme 9i 5G The macro sensor fails to focus on the subject at times. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)
Realme, Realme 9i 5G The phone loses out most of the detail when taking images in night mode. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)

The front camera is not good either. When taking selfies, the phone loses out on most of the details and contrast. Also, the AI beautify feature is overly aggressive and eliminates all facial details. It reminded me of those days when laptops, tablets and phones shipped with 480p cameras. If you are looking to use the phone to attend meetings or online classes, maybe it’s best to avoid this phone.

Bloatware

The Realme 9i 5G comes with Realme UI 3.0 based on Android 12 out of the box. Though I did not face any random stutters or lags, it looks like Realme has filled the device with lots of bloatware. Thankfully, most of the apps can be easily uninstalled with some exceptions like ‘Hot Apps’. It is really annoying to have apps like Moj and Josh pre-installed.

And when you install apps from the Google Play Store, a screen pops up indicating that the app is installed along with an advertisement on the top. This is something that other smartphone manufacturers have avoided in the last few years. It will definitely break your immersion if you are installing an app in the background while playing games or watching videos.

Realme, Realme 9i 5G The phone has a lot of bloatware. (Image Credit: Anurag Chawake/Indian Express)

Verdict: Is the Realme 9i 5G worth your money?

If you are looking for a phone that can perform basic tasks without any hiccups, the Realme 9i 5G is a good choice.

With a price tag of Rs 14,999 for the 4GB/64GB internal storage variant and Rs 16,999 for the 6GB/128GB version, there are certainly better options in the price range like Poco X4 Pro, Motorola G71, Realme 9 Pro and the Vivo T1 5G.





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