For realme, the year 2022 started with the announcement of flagship smartphones realme GT2 and GT2 Pro. But since the company has gained wide popularity, primarily thanks to its inexpensive devices, it would be surprising if another budget smartphone was not announced soon. And so it happened – the first inexpensive smartphone of the brand this year was the realme 9i, which we will talk about in detail today. Let’s try to understand whether the manufacturer managed to bring something new to this segment, and also find out what had to be sacrificed and whether this smartphone is needed at all in the manufacturer’s current range. Let’s go!
Specifications realme 9i
- Display: 6,6″, IPS LCD matrix, resolution 2412×1080 pixels, ratio 20:9, pixel density 401 ppi, 480 nits, dynamic refresh rate 90 Hz, sampling frequency 180 Hz
- Chipset: Qualcomm SM6225 Snapdragon 680 4G, 6 nm, 8-core, 4 cores Kryo 265 Gold at 2,4 GHz, 4 cores Kryo 265 Silver at 1,9 GHz
- GPU: Adreno 610
- RAM: 4/6 GB, LPDDR4X
- Storage memory: 64/128 GB, UFS 2.1/2.2
- microSD support: up to 1 TB
- Wireless networks: Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.0 (A2DP, LE), GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS), NFC
- Main camera: triple, wide angle lens 50 MP, f/1.8, 1/2.76″, 0.64µm, PDAF, 26 mm; macro lena 2 MP, f/2.4, 4 cm; depth module (black and white) 2 MP, f/2.4
- Front camera: 16 MP, f/2.1, 1/3.0″, 1.0µm, 26 mm
- Battery: 5000 mAh
- Charger: fast wired 33 W
- ОС: Android 11 with realme UI 2.0 shell
- Dimensions: 164,4×75,7×8,4 mm
- Weight: 190 g
Positioning and price
realme 9i is the first and probably the most affordable device in the 9th series of realme ‘numbered’ smartphones. That is, the novelty belongs to those inexpensive realme models, which in terms of cost are somewhere between simple budget models of the realme C line and ordinary mid-budget ‘numbered’ models. The latter, by the way, recently reached the milestone of 40 million sales since the release of the first realme 1 smartphone in mid-2018.
As for our new product, it was first announced in Vietnam, and soon it was presented on the Indian market. In dollar terms, the realme 9i in India starts at $186 for the 4/64GB variant and $213 for the top-of-the-line 6/128GB variant. The global version of the smartphone is already available for purchase in China in the 4/128 GB variant at a price of approximately $189. The recommended price tag of the smartphone in Ukraine at the time of publication of the review is unknown, but it will be presented on the Ukrainian market.
The realme 9i smartphone comes in a cardboard box decorated in the brand’s traditional color palette. At the same time, the box has increased black accents, and it itself is now textured with diagonal notches. In addition to the smartphone itself, inside you can find a 33 W power adapter, a USB Type-A/Type-C cable, a silicone protective case, a key for removing the card slot, as well as all accompanying documentation.
The cover is generally quite basic in quality. It is transparent from the back, but the sidewalls are already translucent and have a matte, more textured surface. There are all the necessary slots, duplicated volume control buttons, a high protective border around the camera unit, as well as a border around the display with slightly reinforced corners. Among other nice things, we can mention the protective film that is already pasted on the smartphone display from the box.
Design, materials and assembly
The design of modern realme smartphones is often judged solely by the appearance of their back panels, because they are all practically the same face from the front. Although this also applies to many smartphones from other manufacturers. I am leading to the fact that today it is unlikely that anyone will immediately distinguish realme 9i from other smartphones of the manufacturer by the design of the front panel, be it some realme 6/7/8 and others.
Of course, more sophisticated and expensive devices may differ in thinner frames or a slightly neater look of the front camera, but in general it’s the same. The new 9i received the usual composition: the front camera is cut into the upper left corner of the display, the frames around the screen are not the thinnest, and besides, they are asymmetrical, if we talk about the upper and lower margins – they are wider than the sides, and especially the lower.
The back panel is much more interesting in terms of design, but then again, we’ve seen it before in one form or another. First of all, it is worth noting that before us is a solid gloss, which may look nice, but in reality it is extremely impractical. Of course, the level of practicality depends on the specific color to a certain extent however, the coating itself will be the same in any of the available ones.
Unexpectedly, the camera block looks quite stylish and resembles the block from flagship and sub-flagship smartphones in design. For a budget device, such a feature can be clearly attributed to the category of pleasant, which cannot be said about flagships, which lose their individuality because of it. The shape is a narrow rectangle with rounded corners, with a kind of mirror coating that shimmers in the light.
When developing the visual design of the back of the smartphone, designers were inspired by the interaction of light and prisms. According to the manufacturer, the pattern consists of 3,000 lines that have been carefully processed to form a three-dimensional prism texture that creates a dynamic effect of light and shadow when illuminated. This effect is best seen in the light, although to me it looks more like a vertical pixelation effect.
Realme 9i comes in two colors: Prism Black, like my sample, and Prism Blue. As I mentioned, both versions have a glossy finish on the back and, in theory, the lighter blue version will be a bit more practical than the black one. Moreover, the blue color uses a different 8-layer optical coating process that provides maximum transparency and multi-layering. So, perhaps, blue will look even more impressive in real life.
During use, the smartphone actively gets dirty, and the back is not only covered with lines and prints, but also collects a lot of dust and small lint, and it is not so easy to clean them. Fortunately, the frame around the perimeter of the case already has a practical matte finish. Although the frame and the back of the smartphone are made of plastic, which is predictable. AGC Dragontrail Pro tempered glass covers the front panel.
It is not known whether there is any oleophobic coating on the front glass, because a protective film is pasted over it. But the film is of good quality and has some kind of oleophobic layer on it. The body of the device is not protected from dust and moisture, which is not at all surprising, considering its price tag. However, it is well assembled: the buttons practically do not wobble, and nothing is loose. However, when you press on the back in some places, you can notice how it bends a little.
Location of elements
In the front, in the upper left corner, there is a front-facing camera, in the center there is a slot for a conversational speaker (also acting as auxiliary multimedia) and a window with light and proximity sensors to the right of it. There is no LED message indicator.
On the right sidewall, in a shallow recess, there is a power key combined with a fingerprint scanner. On the left are two separate volume control keys and a full slot for two nanoSIM cards and a microSD memory card.
AT the top there is only the second auxiliary microphone for noise reduction, and the rest of the elements are located at the bottom: the main multimedia speaker, a USB Type-C port, the main microphone and a 3.5 mm audio jack.
At the back, in the upper left corner, there is a slightly protruding camera block with an additional border, where there are a total of three camera modules, a flash and other inscriptions. At the bottom, there is a silver realme logo and faint service markings opposite it.
realme 9i is not distinguished by particularly compact body dimensions, because the diagonal of its screen is 6.6″, in addition, mind the not the thinnest frames. As a result, we get a body with dimensions of 164.4×75.7×8.4 mm and a weight of 190 g and this is one of the biggest realme smartphones in general. For comparison, the smartphone turned out even bigger than the latest realme flagships GT2 and GT2 Pro, not to mention last year’s models, but everything has its price: big display – big dimensions.
It will not be possible to use it confidently and comfortably with one hand. You will have to pick up the smartphone often to reach the elements at the top of the screen, but as an option, you can enable one-handed control mode. It’s here, and the entire user interface can be shrunk down significantly and placed on the left or right side of the screen, depending on which hand you’re holding the smartphone with. When used on the go, this mode helps a lot, and in fact, all risks of accidentally dropping the device are minimized.
But what there are absolutely no problems with is the location of the control elements. The power button with the fingerprint scanner is located exactly where the thumb of the right hand or the index finger of the left hand rests in a normal grip. The same can be said about the location of the split volume control keys. The finger is right between them and there is no difficulty in moving it a little higher or lower, depending on the need to increase or decrease the volume accordingly.
Display of realme 9i
The smartphone display has a diagonal of 6.6″, the matrix is made using IPS LCD technology, and the resolution is FHD+ or 2412×1080 pixels. The aspect ratio is normal for modern smartphones – 20:9, the pixel density is about 401 ppi. Realme offers typical brightness of 480 nits, and other features of the display include dynamic refresh rate of 90 Hz and sampling frequency (touch reading) of 180 Hz.
If we evaluate this display as a whole, then it clearly will not disappoint potential realme 9i buyers. Large, with fairly saturated colors and a relatively good contrast level for an IPS panel. The level of maximum brightness is quite sufficient for normal, comfortable use on the street on a sunny day, but it is obvious that direct sunlight should be avoided on the screen.
Viewing angles with vertical and horizontal deviations are quite wide and without any color distortions. But if you look at the image from a diagonal angle, then, of course, there is the traditional fading of dark tones for such panels. Moreover, this happens even at a minimal deviation from the usual viewing angle, but at least the color temperature of the screen does not change in any way.
The color rendering of the display by default is rather restrained, but within reasonable limits. Personally, I had no desire to make the picture more saturated, or, on the contrary, more calm. Although even if you wanted to, there are simply no such standard tools in the display settings. The user can only adjust the color temperature of the screen with the appropriate slider, but no more.
The refresh rate of the screen, as already mentioned, is 90 Hz, but it is dynamic. There are 5 levels in total: 30, 48, 50, 60 and 90 Hz. The higher it is, the smoother the image, but the battery consumption increases slightly. You can choose a constant 60 or 90 Hz, and the smartphone can switch to low values (30, 48, 50 Hz) only in automatic mode and only in those situations where the standard or increased refresh rate will not be needed.
Such situations include viewing photos or videos, for example. In fact, the shell, many built-in and some third-party programs are mostly displayed at a frequency of 60 Hz, if the automatic mode is selected in the settings. This was done in order to save battery power, however, if you set the forced 90 Hz, all the same programs will be displayed already at the maximum frequency.
However, the fact that the predecessor of the new product, last year’s realme 8i, had a display with a refresh rate of 120 Hz looks a little strange. Although the difference is not as significant as between 60 and 90 Hz, but anyway. On the other hand, this will have a positive effect on the autonomy of the device. But you can praise the touch reading frequency of 180 Hz, since this is an important indicator for fans of mobile games.
There is a light/dark system theme in the settings, with fairly advanced options. In addition to the ability to automatically switch themes, you can set the effect of dark mode on wallpapers, icons and contrast, as well as change the general style: saturated (black), medium (dark gray) and faded (gray). There is also an eye protection mode with a choice of working conditions: always, on schedule or from evening to morning.
In addition, in the screen settings, there is an auto-rotate switch and a selection of the screen auto-off time from 15 seconds to 30 minutes. There is also a color temperature adjustment slider, OSIE visual effect (increasing image saturation in supported programs), selection of font size and display scale, as well as refresh rate and a separate menu called ‘display on screen’.
The latter, in turn, contains options for displaying or hiding the cutout of the front camera in applications, which will be needed, for example, for settings in full-screen applications. In particular, you can remove the black bar in games if the camera window does not cover the interface. There is also a forced full-screen mode for non-optimized programs, which themselves do not support extended screens, although I personally have not come across such for a long, long time.
Read also: Realme 8 review: Modern mid-range classic
Performance of realme 9i
The realme 9i is powered by the Qualcomm SM6225 Snapdragon 680 4G chipset, which was announced in the fall of 2021. That is, the platform is fresh, made according to the 6-nm technological process and includes 8 processor cores, divided into two clusters. Here, 4 Kryo 265 Gold cores work with a maximum clock frequency of up to 2.4 GHz, and the remaining 4 cores, already Kryo 265 Silver, with a maximum clock frequency of up to 1.9 GHz. The well-known Adreno 610, which we previously met, is used as a graphics accelerator in Snapdragon 665 and 662.
The new system-on-a-chip is slightly different from the previously mentioned platforms and, as before, belongs to the mid-level segment. The main thing is it’s a more energy-efficient and up-to-date 6-nm technological process and slightly different cores with an increased clock frequency. In practice, this chip shows average results in synthetic tests, which are much higher than those shown by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 and the Snapdragon 662, which is almost a complete copy of the 665.
As for the throttling test, I ran it three times on the realme 9i in different modes to understand where it would perform best in terms of performance and stability. So, in 15 minutes of the test, the performance of the CPU decreased by a maximum of 15% in the normal mode, by 12% in the productive mode, and by 16% when running through the game hub. That is, to achieve the best performance, the productive mode, which is activated in the battery settings, is better suited.
RAM can be 4 or 6 GB of LPDDR4X type, depending on the modification. I tested the 4 GB version, and I can’t say that it’s enough for everything. Programs often restart when switching between them through the recent task manager, so if it is important to you to minimize such cases, you should look at the option with 6 GB of RAM. Moreover, this happens not only with complex resource-intensive programs, such as games, but also with simple undemanding ones.
Although there is a technology for virtual RAM expansion (Dynamic RAM Expansion) into storage memory, if there is excessive free space in it, but even with the expansion up to 3 GB enabled, the situation practically does not change. But what is noteworthy, if in the version with 4 GB of RAM you can expand the RAM by another 3 GB, then for the version with 6 GB of memory – by 5 GB, despite the fact that the smartphone even with the basic amount of RAM can be equipped with a 128 GB storage.
By the way, let’s mention the storage devices. There are three modifications in total. but permanent memory can be only 64 GB or 128 GB. That is, there are the following options: 6/64 GB, 4/128 GB and 6/128 GB. As you might have guessed, I have the average one during testing, where 107.22 GB are available to the user out of 128 GB. It’s nice that the storage can be expanded by installing a microSD memory card up to 1 TB in the smartphone, and you don’t have to choose between a second SIM card and expanded storage, since the microSD slot is dedicated.
The situation with the type of memory is such that it may differ depending on the region of delivery and the modification, which is sometimes found among smartphones of other manufacturers. So, in the Vietnamese market, for example, realme 9i is sold only in the top configuration with 6/128 GB and with a UFS 2.2 type drive, but in the Indian market, apparently, all versions are equipped with a UFS 2.1 type drive. The difference in speed may not be small, but it is nonetheless. It is still unclear how it will be in other regions and on the global market.
The performance of the smartphone is at an average level. The shell works normally, does not slow down and does not lag. Of course, except for those moments when programs are updated through the Play Market. But sometimes some apps leave the smartphone hanging for 15-20 seconds. Forced reboot does not work, and most often a simple screen off/on helps, but I have encountered such a problem several times. Most likely, this nuance is related to early software and will be fixed with updates.
If we talk about the gaming performance of the smartphone, then realme 9i is not particularly impressive in this part either. The performance level of its iron does not reach the realme 8i with MediaTek Helio G96 and does not allow you to comfortably play resource-intensive projects with good graphics. Again, a downgrade compared to its predecessor. Basically, you should count on low and medium settings, which is confirmed by measurements of the average FPS value. They were captured using the GameBench utility:
- Call of Duty: Mobile – very high, with all effects on (except beams), “Frontline” mode – ~33 FPS; “Battle Royale” – ~23 FPS
- PUBG Mobile – Medium graphics settings with 2x anti-aliasing and shadows – ~25 FPS
- Shadowgun Legends – Medium graphics settings – ~56 FPS
Cameras of realme 9i
The main camera unit of the realme 9i has three modules at once, however, only one can be considered truly full-fledged – the wide-angle. The other two modules here are more for quantity than actual use: one black and white for measuring depth and one for macro photography. Their general characteristics are as follows:
- Wide angle lens: 50 MP, f/1.8, 1/2.76″, 0.64µm, PDAF, 26 m
- Macro lens: 2 MP, f/2.4, 4 cm
- Depth measuring module: 2 MP, f/2.4
By default, the main wide-angle module shoots with a resolution of 12.5 MP, but you can switch to the full resolution of 50 MP in the app. Moreover, a special separate mode called EXTRA HD is available, which saves pictures in an even higher resolution – 108 MP. Which of the modes should a simple user choose?
If we talk about the difference briefly, then the resolution of 50 MP should definitely be forgotten. The difference compared to the normal resolution in the quality of the photo is either not visible at all, or it is higher in the 12.5 MP resolution, surprisingly. And why do you need 50 MP then? In addition, the file size in full resolution is about twice as large, so there is no benefit.
Everything is not so clear with the EXTRA HD mode as well. Compared to the standard, of course, the difference is visible to the naked eye. The pictures come out much sharper, only they have a lot more digital noise, even with perfect lighting during the day outside. So I assume it can be used in some cases, but not on a permanent basis, that’s for sure.
The main camera of the realme 9i takes simply normal pictures for a budget smartphone. During the day, we get shots with the correct color rendition and tolerable sharpness, however, with quite noticeable drops in shadows. That is, dark areas contain a minimum of information, due to which the overall picture does not look very natural. In a room with average lighting, digital noises appear in large quantities in the pictures, and if it is worth shooting at night, then it is best to use the night mode. The results, however, will be mediocre, both in terms of color and detail. However, the picture will be bright – at least something.
The macro camera has a low resolution and a fixed 4 cm focus. This means that there should be approximately the same distance from the eyepiece of the camera to the subject, so that the subject is in focus. In addition, this module is very demanding on lighting, but even with a large amount of light, the pictures are not very good in terms of details, but tolerable in terms of colors.
Video on the main camera can be recorded in a maximum resolution of 1080P at 30 FPS without electronic stabilization. Autofocus does not work very quickly, and when the smartphone is moved sharply, the picture even ‘floats’ a little due to the rolling shutter effect. In short, everything is weak with video shooting. Only useful for personal purposes.
Front camera module has the following characteristics: 16 MP, f/2.1, 1/3.0″, 1.0µm, 26 mm. It also takes average photos: the photos are ‘noisy’ even in good lighting, the colors are somewhat dull and desaturated, but there is some detail. It can also record video in 1080P at 30 FPS and without stabilization – nothing special.
In the camera application, in addition to the standard shooting modes, there are: portrait mode, night mode, professional with manual settings, panoramas, text scanning, the previously mentioned EXTRA HD, as well as slow-motion and fast-motion videos. Of course, there is HDR and recognition of shooting scenes using AI with subsequent frame processing.
The fingerprint scanner is a classic capacitive type. It is successfully located on the right side of the smartphone and is combined with the power button. It works just fine: unlocking is almost instantaneous and error-free if you place your finger exactly on the pad. Although, now it is generally difficult to find a smartphone where a scanner of this type would not work well.
In the settings, you can choose what the fingerprint will be used for, set up a quick launch of a hidden application when a certain finger is applied, and choose a trigger method: a strong physical press or a light touch of the pad.
Unlocking by facial recognition is also available, implemented through the front camera. It also works very quickly and almost without errors, especially in good lighting. In complete darkness, of course, it won’t work by default, but there is a light compensation function where the display will illuminate the face to unlock in any conditions.
Among other options, in addition to auto-setting the screen brightness, you can also choose what face unlock will be used for, enable unlocking only with open eyes, and choose to display the lock screen or go straight to the desktop.
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Battery life of realme 9i
The battery in the realme 9i has a capacity of 5000 mAh, and this is quite a good indicator that was transferred to the novelty from its predecessor. Although the performance of the new platform has hardly increased, the technological process reduced to 6 nm had a favorable effect on the overall operating time of the device. Especially considering its large display with an increased refresh rate of up to 90 Hz.
On average, a smartphone is more than enough for a whole day of work, if we talk about active use. At a 90Hz refresh rate, I averaged 26-30 hours on the 9i with a total of 9-10 hours of active screen time. This is also confirmed by the PCMark Work 3.0 autonomy test, where the device lasted 8 hours and 53 minutes at maximum screen brightness and at 90 Hz.
In my opinion, these are excellent results overall. It is unlikely that the novelty will disappoint anyone in terms of battery life. More frugal users can easily count on one and a half or two days of work without recharging, and the rest of the smartphone will last for at least a full daylight day of a wide variety of activities. So, autonomy is a plus.
According to the manufacturer, the smartphone charges 36% faster than its predecessor. And this is not surprising, because the novelty supports 33 W charging instead of 18 W realme 8i. In addition, the corresponding adapter is included. So, it takes a little more than an hour to charge a smartphone from 10% to 100% using the included power adapter and cable:
- 00:00 — 10%
- 00:10 — 28%
- 00:20 — 44%
- 00:30 — 59%
- 00:40 — 73%
- 00:50 — 88%
- 01:00 — 96%
- 01:06 — 100%
Of course, this is far from the record for realme smartphones, as some models even from the middle segment support 50W and 65W fast charging. But as for, first of all, an inexpensive smartphone, this is already something. In general, there is nothing to complain about here, especially given the very good autonomy of the 9i.
Sound and communication
The next feature of realme 9i is sound. Despite the low price tag of the smartphone, the manufacturer provided it with stereo sound. That is, the conversational speaker in front performs the role of a second multimedia. But before evaluating the sound of the device as a whole, it is worth remembering that the speaker performs its main role perfectly: the interlocutor can be heard well, the volume is more than sufficient.
Paired with the bottom multimedia speaker, we get full stereo sound, which is already better than it would be with one speaker from the bottom. However, you should not expect any special quality or extraordinary volume from these speakers. Although the stereo effect is felt, it cannot be fully felt due to the narrow frequency range. Compared to more expensive smartphones, here by default the sound is kind of… vague or something.
But keep in mind that by default the ‘smart’ preset is active in the Real Sound technology parameters. To tell the truth, the speakers don’t sound very good with it. Of course, it all depends on specific musical preferences, but I would recommend trying other presets: movies, games, music. For example, I ended up liking the gaming one better – because of better volume and clarity, so don’t ignore these profiles.
In wireless headphones, the sound is quite ordinary, and all available profiles simply become unavailable, but judging by the pop-up message – only temporarily. There is hope that with updates they will be activated for Bluetooth devices as well. When connecting wired headphones, the situation changes exactly to the opposite. An advanced setting of Real HD Sound appears – a joint technology of Dirac Research AB and realme.
There are the same profiles (smart, movies, game and music), but they have a stronger impact on the sound. Moreover, if you choose the last one, a seven-band graphic equalizer appears, where, in addition to the user setting, there are also other presets. And this is a completely different matter, since you can adjust the sound to suit yourself and get really, really good sound from a budget device. However, currently only with wired headphones.
The smartphone works in 4G networks and supports 5th generation networks, which was clear from the prefix in the name of the chipset – Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 4G. There is also a Wi-Fi 5 module on board with support for two bands, Bluetooth 5.0 (A2DP, LE) and GPS (A-GPS, GLONASS, GALILEO, BDS). Importantly, NFC was not forgotten either, but its availability directly depends on the delivery region. At least the global version of the smartphone definitely has it.
Software and OS
Unfortunately, the new product works not on the latest software, but on Android 11 with the realme UI 2.0 branded shell. I would like to see the current version of both the shell itself and the operating system, but apparently they decided that it is not yet time. I can’t add anything new about the shell – everything was described in other reviews. This is a traditional realme UI with extensive means of customizing the appearance and no less extensive functionality. Fast, convenient, but at this stage there are hangs in applications, as mentioned earlier. The rest can be seen in the screenshots in the gallery below.
In general, I don’t fully understand the company’s approach to realme 9i positioning, because less than six months have passed since the release of realme 8i. The predecessor did not have time to become obsolete, and we are offered another novelty. And a novelty that has not changed much. Judge for yourself: a different design, a different chipset, stereo speakers and fast charging appeared. But the set of cameras, for example, is the same. They probably shoot the same way. Performance is even simpler, and strange things have happened with the screen refresh rate, and now the smartphone has 90 Hz instead of 120 Hz. At least fresh versions of the software could be brought in… but no.
There is a suspicion that it was created to compete with the new Xiaomi smartphones. In terms of parameters, the smartphone is really very similar to the new Redmi Note 11. However, if you abstract from this, then the budget smartphone itself turned out to be quite good. Among its main advantages, I can single out a high-quality display, a very cool autonomy paired with fast 33 W charging, as well as stereo sound. Few smartphones for $200 can boast such a set. But realme 9i is not about fixing bugs, but rather an alternative option for those who are ready to sacrifice performance for better autonomy.
Prices in stores
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