It’s 2022 and almost every smartphone launched outside the budget segment has support for 5G, despite there still being no sign of 5G networks in India. Realme has been pushing a lot of 5G phones for over a year, but oddly enough, its latest offering, the Realme 9i, is a 4G-only model. It is an entry-level model in the brand new Realme 9 series and will soon be joined by the upcoming Realme 9 Pro and Realme 9 Pro+. While a 4G-only phone might still be relevant if it performs in other areas, the Realme 9i seems to have a few omissions compared to its predecessor, the Realme 8i.
So should you consider the Realme 9i your next purchase, or does the competition offer a better price? I put the Realme 9i to the test to find out.
Realme 9i price in India
The Realme 9i is available with 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of storage, priced at Rs. 13,999, or with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, priced at Rs. 15,999 in India. This smartphone is available in two colors, Prism Black and Prism Blue. I had the more expensive configuration in Prism Blue for this review.
Realme 9i design
Realme’s latest launch in India, the Realme 9i, features a new ‘Stereo Prism’ design. It has a 6.6-inch screen with thin bezels on the top and sides, while the chin is thicker. You get a cutout for the selfie camera in the top left corner of the screen. The phone has a plastic frame with the power button on the right and volume buttons on the left. A capacitive fingerprint scanner is integrated into the on/off button, making it easy to unlock the smartphone. The sides and corners are rounded so that the frame doesn’t dig into your palms when you hold this phone.
The Realme 9i has a USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, speaker and primary microphone on the bottom. The top has only the secondary microphone. The earcup doubles as a second speaker for stereo sound. The SIM tray is on the left and supports two Nano SIM cards and a microSD card. The Realme 9i has a 5,000mAh battery and weighs 190g, which is manageable. You get a 33W charger in the box.
On the back, the Realme 9i has a triple camera setup. The camera module is similar to the one on the Realme GT Neo 2 (Review). The back panel has a pattern that is only visible when light hits it at certain angles.
Realme 9i Specifications and Software
The Realme 9i has a 6.6-inch full-HD+ display with a 90Hz peak refresh rate, and this can change dynamically based on the content you’re watching. However, this panel is a step back, as the display of the Realme 8i (Review) has a refresh rate of 120 Hz. The Realme 9i is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 SoC. Realme has implemented its DRE (Dynamic RAM Expansion) feature that allocates up to 5 GB of storage space for use as RAM, but available only on the higher storage variant.
The Realme 9i is a 4G smartphone with dual VoLTE. Since 5G networks have not yet been rolled out in India, the lack of support shouldn’t really stop you from considering this phone. This phone also has support for Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi and four GPS standards.
The Relame 9i runs Realme UI 2.0 based on Android 11. My 9i device had the January 2022 Android security patch. The user interface was easy to use and I had no trouble finding my way around. I found that the phone had a large number of pre-installed apps, some of which pushed spam notifications after they launched. Fortunately, you can remove most of them. You can adjust the color mode of the display and even set it to 60 Hz. There are several features that can be activated with gestures, if enabled. Realme has also added a game mode that allows you to mute incoming calls and notifications for interference-free gaming.
Realme 9i performance and battery life
The Realme 9i offered good performance and showed no signs of slowing down in my use during the review period. I found the screen brightness to be adequate most of the time, but I had to shield it from direct sunlight to see the content clearly when I’m outside. The 90Hz refresh rate made scrolling seem very smooth. The speakers are not balanced and the downward facing speaker sounded louder. With 8GB of RAM in my review unit, multitasking was a breeze. Realme had the DRE feature enabled by default, increasing the usable RAM capacity to 11 GB. While using the phone, I never needed more than a single attempt to unlock it with the fingerprint scanner, and facial recognition was also reliable.
In the AnTuTu, the Realme 9i managed to score 280,907 points. It scored 383 and 1554 points respectively in Geekbench 5’s single-core and multi-core tests. In PCMark’s Work 3.0 test, it scored 8101 points. Graphics benchmark GFXBench’s T-Rex and Car Chase scenes ran at 36 fps and 7.2 fps respectively. These scores were slightly lower than the Realme 8i, which is powered by the MediaTek Helio G96 SoC.
To test the Realme 9i’s gaming performance, I played Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), which defaulted to the ‘smooth’ graphics and the ‘medium’ frame rate. It was playable on these settings without any lag. After playing the game 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 energy efficient and lasted about two days on a full charge. The battery drain was also very low. In our HD video running test, it managed to run for 22 hours and 42 minutes. Wguke the Realme 8i had support for 18W fast charging, the Realme 9i supports 33W fast charging. The included 33W charger was able to get the phone to 51 percent in 30 minutes and 91 percent in an hour. If you are a light user, you will not need to charge the Realme 9i very often.
Realme 9i cameras
The Realme 9i has a triple camera setup consisting of a primary camera of 50 megapixels, a macro camera of 2 megapixels and a black and white camera of 2 megapixels. For selfies, it has a 16-megapixel front camera. Realme’s camera app is easy to use. You get quick toggles for HDR and AI scene enhancement. The phone was quick to lock the focus and set the exposure properly.
Photos taken with the primary camera are pixel-binned up to 12.5 megapixels by default. Daylight photos had medium dynamic range and looked good as they are, but magnifying them revealed less detail, especially in the shadows. When taking photos in bright environments, 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.
Close-up photos were sharp and had good detail. Portraits had good edge detection and the phone lets you choose the level of background blur before taking a photo. Macros shot with the Realme 9i had decent detail, but the output wasn’t high resolution.
Low-light photos taken with the Realme 9i appeared blurry, and distant objects were barely recognizable. Objects in the shadows also looked grainy. With Night Mode, there was a slight improvement in shadow detail.
Selfies taken with the Realme 9i in daylight were decent. Portrait mode provided a good separation from the background. Low-light selfies were strictly average.
Video recording peaked at 1080p for both the primary and selfie cameras. There is no stabilization, which made the images shaky. Low light images were also slightly grainy.
The starting price of the Realme 9i in India is Rs. 13,999 and this could make it appealing to those on a budget. However, the more expensive variant competes with other smartphones that offer better performance along with 5G connectivity, which the 9i does not have. This new model offers stereo speakers and faster 33W charging, which is an upgrade over its predecessor. However, the 90 Hz refresh rate is a downgrade compared to the 120 Hz display on the Realme 8i (Review).
The Realme 9i’s camera performance is also below par, making it all the more difficult to recommend the more expensive variant to those looking for an all-rounder. Surprisingly, the Realme 8i offers better features and camera quality for the same kind of money. If you’re looking for a future-proof smartphone with 5G connectivity, you might want to consider the Moto G51 (Review) or the Redmi Note 11T 5G (Review) instead.