If you have been a reader of Mobile Tech Talk for a while, you will know that I am no stranger to Realme and its devices. Some opinions are not so great, but overall the consensus in my mind is that Realme has been improving relentlessly over the years. From my Realme 6i Review to my most recent Realme 8i Review; you can see how much work has gone into improving the fundamentals on a grander scale than I would have never expected in such a short space of time.
Realme was kind enough to send me their latest budget blockbuster the 9i, but will it follow on from the greatness that the 8i showed? It’s a yes and no answer, but let’s get the spec sheet out of the way first then I’ll go into the finer details. Let’s get into it.
- Unrivalling Battery Life
- Decent Display
- Okay Camera
- Fast Charging
- Very Slow Camera Shutter
- Inconsistent Speed
- Slowdowns at Random Intervals
Launch Date: January 10th, 2022
Dimensions: 164.4 x 75.7 x 8.4 mm
Build: Glass Front (Dragontrail Pro Glass), plastic frame, plastic back
Display: IPS LCD, 90hz, 480 nits
Display Size: 6.6 inches, 84.2% screen-to-body ratio
Display Resolution: 1080 x 2412 (FHD+), ~400 PPI density
Software: Android 11, Realme UI 2.0
CPU: Snapdragon 680
Internal Storage: 128GB
Cameras: 50MP, f/1.8 main camera. 2MP, f/2.4 macro camera. 2MP, f/2.4 monochrome camera
16MP, f/2.1 selfie camera
Hardware and Design: Undoubtedly Realme
If you glance back on my reviews of Realme devices in days gone by, you will know that there is one specific thing I always give them praise for and that’s the design of the device.
Each time Realme launch a new device, I am always excited to see where they go in their hardware design because no one phone from them is ever the same. Giving each phone its unique personality, in a largely basic hardware designed world. This is one place Realme has always excelled at and it continues with the 9i.
This year, Realme opted for a Studio Prism design which is quite possibly my favourite design yet. The way the almost pearlescent-like lines of the device shift depending on the angle you hold is why I adore the presentation of the Realme devices. The almost frosted-glass look and the presentation of the Prism finish remind me of frosted windows on a cold Winter morning. For a phone that comes in less than £200, it has no right to be this gorgeous but yet it is. The one thing Realme always gets right with any of their phones, especially their budget range of the device is giving the phone a personality. Sure, you could add a splash of colour and call that a personality, but adding a touch of design to set it apart from the competition is a genius move in my opinion.
Not only is the device gorgeous on the outside, but the internals have also been optimised to make the device thinner and lighter, 8.4mm and 190g respectively.
The 9i comes in 2 variants of colour at the time of writing this, which are Prism Black and Prism Blue. Realme was kind enough to send me the Black version.
Enough gushing over the rear of the device, what do the other parts of the device have to offer? Well, pretty much the same as 90% of other smartphones out there. This is by no means a negative, but obviously, Smartphones need ports to…work.
Starting with the bottom of the device, we have the standard (looking at you, Apple) USB Type-C Port with a speaker port just to the right. We have a welcomed headphone jack to the left of the charging port, too.
Moving to the left, just the extra-clicky volume rocker and just above that is the Dual-SIM tray.
Onto the right, and there is an abnormally large power button, and for good reason as this houses the fingerprint reader.
On the top, just a microphone slot.
In terms of the front portion, it is largely dominated by the 90% screen-to-body ratio display with a small cutout for the front-facing camera which is very Galaxy S10-esque.
Finally, in the box of the device, you get what’s expected of each Realme device I have gotten up until this point: a case. Appreciated.
Also comes with a USB Type-C cable and the simply speedy 33W Dash Charge power brick.
Overall, I immediately fell in love with the Realme 9i for its elegance of design. From the naturally flowing Prism design to the way it integrates into the cameras like it’s one whole unit. At this point, you would mistake me for a Realme apologist but we only speak the absolute truth here at Mobile Tech Talk. I will always give any manufacturer props for adapting and improving each year and learning from their mistakes, which is exactly what Realme are doing.
Display: Less Vulgar; More Voluptuous
The title of the section is more of a callback to the Realme 6i I reviewed a few years back, and how much the display has improved from being simply unusable to a point where I struggled daily, to something that I got pure joy out of using daily.
To start with, the 9i has a standard, yet huge 6.6-inch display from corner to corner and a very welcoming 90Hz refresh rate. The panel is IPS which is to be expected from a sub-£200 device but that is by no means a negative. The battle between IPS and OLED is a purely subjective one to the eye of the beholder. For me, I prefer OLED for its true blacks. A lot of people take the IPS route for its accurate colour reproduction and pure whites.
The display on the 9i is gorgeous, with each colour popping out at you trying to take precedence over your viewing experience. A pure cinema-quality journey that made me appreciate watching movies on this beast of a display.
With the healthy amount of customisation options Realme UI offers (more on that later), you can change the colour temperature of the display on a whim if you would like. I mainly stuck to the default mode which leaned more towards cold than it did warm, but if you prefer a warmer tone to your display experience then you can shift the slider as high or as low as you would like to match your preference.
Whites are paper-like, so much so that if you were to view handwriting on the display you would be mistaken that you can just take it off the display and put it in your pocket and scrunch it up. This just goes to show how much IPS technology is still advancing to this day, even though it’s become a lot more dated compared to OLED which is relatively fresh compared to its IPS challenger.
Blacks will never be as pure as an OLED panel, and I would be giving an unfair comparison if I were to bash this display just because it’s not an OLED panel. Darks are fine, although the 9i’s dark reproduction is very underwhelming as you end up seeing more light than you do dark in this situation. I have seen IPS panels handle it a lot better but they are in a different category of phones upwards of the £300 mark, which the 9i is not.
In summary, this display will impress you in more ways than it does disappoint you. Watching a dark movie, for example, is an absolute joy with the way the colours immediately pop out at you begging for the attention it deserves, and boy does it get it. From gaming to media consumption, you won’t be disappointed in the overall package the Realme 9i’s display produces. It’s impressive beyond belief that this device costs as much as it does, because for the display alone it could contend in a mid-range market if it wasn’t for the below-average black production.
Performance: Snapdragon 680 Global Debut
If we are comparing it to its predecessor, the Snapdragon 680 has a 25% increase in CPU performance compared to the 662 and a 10% increase in GPU performance for a much higher frame rate for your gaming needs which in turn produces a lot less lag. AI Performance has also seen an increase of 25% in image processing, namely in scenes like beauty, night and fast photos.
With its 6nm processor, it has a 211% higher transistor density which in turn consumes up to 62% less power and affords 46% more performance than the previous 12nm processor.
Enough of the specifics on what the 680 can do, how was it in real-world testing?
Honestly, it slightly underwhelmed me in a lot of situations. As much as on paper it sounds like this is a huge improvement over what the 8i had, and it is an improvement all the same, but not as massive as I was expecting when I read the press release of the 9i.
Don’t get me wrong, on a day to day basis you will be able to use this phone fine, but there were moments in my usage where the performance would dip in the most simple of situations. Moving from a less intensive app like the Gallery to a social media app like Twitter would take upwards of a second to load the app in when they were both in RAM and not frozen. If an app is frozen then you can expect it to take more than 2 seconds for it to boot into action.
Another thing I noticed during my daily usage of the 9i was the fact that even though the fingerprint had been read and you get a vibration to give off the impression that it was successful, the screen wouldn’t load up and go into the home screen until a whole second later. I know a second doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but when you have used budget phones in the past that take milliseconds to do the same tasks, you notice the difference almost immediately.
Realme adopted the 90Hz refresh rate as opposed to the 120Hz rate from the 8i and while on paper that sounds like a downgrade, it isn’t. The difference between 90 and 120 to the human eye is nominal and you would be hard-pressed to see that difference when putting it to the test when you are using it. Plus, having less refresh rate at the expense of improving battery life by 46% is much better in my opinion.
The Adreno 610 GPU does its job well in the games I’ve played. I’m not a huge mobile gamer by any stretch of the imagination but for this review, I downloaded Call of Duty Mobile, Genshin Impact and less intensive games like Candy Crush to see how it handles them overall.
This is where the phone impresses beyond my initial expectations. Thanks to Realme’s ‘Game Space’ feature, you can change the amount of power going into games. By default. Balanced Mode is enabled which has a healthy balance between CPU Performance and GPU Performance but if you are about to head into a nuke streak on Call of Duty mobile, Pro Gamer is the right mode for you. It maxes out the performance on both CPU and GPU. You can also customise certain parts of the Game Space like blocking income notifications, locking the brightness and automatically adjusting the resolution to save power. Not that you’ll need it with the behemoth of a 5000mAh battery, but still a welcomed addition.
I played up to an hour of CoD Mobile and Genshin and the phone only got up to a lukewarm temperature. The graphics setting defaults to its lowest being a budget processor but the gameplay was smooth and accurate and the frame rate never dipped below 30 whilst playing.
The less intensive games like Candy Crush can be used in the ‘Low Power Mode’ setting in the Game Space so you can save your juice as and when you need it. The game will still perform as well as it would on the highest setting, so there are no worries about squashing candies at a slower rate.
Another neat feature I discovered while using the device over the past couple of weeks is the DRE Dynamic RAM Expansion Technology. To keep it simple, Realme developed a DRE technology to combat the drawbacks of the lack of memory on the device, which converts ROM into virtual RAM and can expand by up to 5GB to an 11GB-RAM experience. ROM is your internal storage. It’s a brilliant idea, to develop a technology to give off the impression a device has more RAM than it has, in turn, saving costs overall.
The performance of the 9i was a mixed bag, to say the least. In terms of overall operating system performance after the slow turning on of the screen, it works well and as expected. It was just little moments where it started to get annoying over 2 weeks. Hopefully, it’s a simple software optimisation trick that can fix this, as it would appear this way. Realme has always been on top of issues, so the more they are aware of this the quicker it will be resolved.
If you are an avid mobile gamer, you can’t go far wrong with that side of the performance thanks to Game Space.
Software: The Best of the Best
I will keep this section short and sweet, mainly because I have covered Realme UI in more detail in my 6i Review and it’s largely the same, but by no means in a bad way; far from it.
Realme UI, in its entirety, is the best Android overlay I have ever used. Coming from someone who has always been a Nexus/Pixel fan and the unadulterated version of Android, it sounds weird saying that a third-party OEM overlay is quite possibly the best version of Android I have encountered.
It is such a well-polished interface with more customisations options than you can shake a stick at, their implementation of widgets is the best I’ve seen, even compared to the stock experience. Their default apps are the best version of any default I have seen. One thing I love about each default application is a common theme from Realme as a company: personality. Not only in hardware design is it unique, but in software design, it is, too. Every app has its unique coat of paint to separate each version away from the others but doesn’t stray too far from the overall software look and feel.
The wallpaper picker incarnation is the best they’ve done yet, in just a couple of presses of your screen, you have new wallpaper and it’s as seamless as you will ever see on any software.
You can read more on Realme UI in my 6i Review if you would like, but in summary, it is the best OEM skin of Android I have seen and used. It’s a pure joy to use.
Camera: Sluggish, But Acceptable
Thanks to the improved AI in the Snapdragon 680 processor, we see an improvement in camera performance not only in software but processing, albeit not as much as I would like it to have been. I’m hoping this is just software that needs tweaking being such a new device, but we will see.
The 9i has 3 cameras, a 50MP ultra HD main camera with an aperture of F2.4, a 2MP portrait lens and a 4CM ultra-close Macro Lens.
In normal daylight conditions is where this camera excels beyond belief. With the AI Mode and 50MP Mode enabled, the shots you can take could easily be mistaken for a recent Samsung Device like an S22. Colours are natural with a slight hint of saturation depending on the situation thanks to the AI Mode. With AI Mode enabled and you take a picture of, say, grass. It will adapt the colour temperature of the surroundings of the picture to make the greens in the grass pop to become more lifelike as if you are there in that moment. If you disable the 50MP Mode, it defaults to a lower resolution to keep processing at a quicker pace but still manages to keep the same poppiness of colours which is quite outstanding. The 50MP Mode is still really handy if you are looking for a professional shoot at the expense of a slower processing time.
The main thing I was so astonished by was the Ultra Macro camera. I compared it side by side with my main daily driver which is a 13 Pro Max, and although the Pro Max doesn’t have a specific macro camera as it uses ultra-wide trickery to match a Macro environment, Realme 9i in every situation added more clarity and sharpness to every picture taken and beat the Pro Max in every Macro situation. Outstanding for a device that is almost £1,000 less expensive. Props, Realme.
The Night mode photography is lacklustre, to say the least. Each nighttime photo I managed to take just look blurry. Just because you are adding more light to a photo does not mean it automatically makes it an amazing nighttime photo. It needs clarity, sharpness and a focal point to concentrate on to make it all the more impressive. I know I’m comparing Apples and Oranges here and I’m expecting a lot from the camera on this device, especially with the pictures it takes in normal light situations, but if you call a camera ‘Nightscape’, you’d expect a lot more.
Portrait pictures thanks to the dedicated lens blur out the background with ease and thanks to my wearing glasses, I’m a perfect test for the portrait mode as a lot of cameras manage to blur out part of my glasses and making it a messy experience, the 9i passed it with flying colours, though.
Software processing is very slow, even with 50MP disabled. Pictures captured in Night Mode take 5 seconds at least for the finished product to show in your gallery, whereas the standard mode with AI-Enabled takes anywhere from 2 to 3 seconds. It just felt like an overall sluggish experience to me. Again, this can be fixed by software so I won’t give up on it yet as Realme has proven in the past that they fix things pretty quick.
The camera on the 9i is not bad by any means, as most of the time the pictures it produces are more than acceptable for social media, and in a world of social media that is not a negative at all. the 50MP mode is capable of taking studio-like shots in the bat of an eyelid as long as you don’t mind waiting a little longer for it to process, even without the 50MP mode, it takes amazing shots for the price this device comes in at. Don’t sleep on this camera, it can be good, you just need the right situation for it.
Battery: DART Charging at its Finest
According to Realme’s press release they sent me on the 9i, the 33W Dart Charging capability can charge from 0-100% in 70 minutes. The first thing I tested on this device was this exact thing. I drained the phone to a point where it no longer turned on and plugged it into the charger with the provided brick. I timed it, and it took 1 hour and 11 minutes to go from 0 to 100%, which is exactly, give or take a minute, as what Realme had stated to me in the release. Amazing, if you ask me. Especially when they provide the charging brick inside the box to go off like a Dart straight away.
With anything that is that large in wattage, you need not worry about overcharging, as Realme has implemented five-core charging protection, including over-voltage protection, over-temperature protection, and extreme case protection which strictly monitors the charging process.
I will say, the battery optimisation of the 9i is one of the best I have experienced in any device. It took me 3 whole days to go from 100% to 0%. This is with moderate usage, social media, gaming and media consumption throughout intervals in those 3 days. Possibly the best battery experience in any device I have reviewed so far.
In terms of constant use, you can easily get a whole 2 days of usage out of it, with main gaming and Netflix (other streaming services available) watching.
Another feature that helps the battery optimisation is app quick freeze, where the system automatically frees idle applications, and after the application enters the quick-freeze state, it will not consume power.
Another one is a super power-saving mode, where using CPU tuning, backlight adjustment and other strategies and targeted power-saving measures for specific applications reduces power consumption, and the phone life extends.
Verdict: The Best Budget Device Right Now
For the price tag that comes with the Realme budget series, you never expect a lot from it. But you leave with overwhelming positivity and only mainly glowing things to say about it. From the astonishing display capabilities to the Flash-like charging experience, you will never be out of juice to endure the cinema-like experience of the beautiful display and keep gaming like no tomorrow.
The Realme 9i is the best budget device you can get your hands on right now, and I can’t wait for the 10i and what that entails.