The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition, as its name suggests, is a more powerful version of the Realme 9 5G. While these smartphones might look similar at first, there are little differences in their design and some major changes in their hardware. That's not all, the Realme 9 5G Speed Edition also commands a higher price over the regular version. So, is it worth the premium, or would you be better off with an alternative at this price? I put it to the test to find out.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition price in India
The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition, or SE as we'll refer to it for the rest of this review, starts at Rs. 19,999 in India for the base variant with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The other variant with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at Rs. 22,999. The Realme 9 5G SE is available in Starry Glow and Azure Glow colours and I had the former for this review.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition design
The Realme 9 5G SE looks very similar to the Realme 9 5G (Review), which I recently reviewed. The only way to distinguish these two smartphones is from the back, since the camera modules are different. The Realme 9 5G SE has a rectangular triple-camera module that protrudes slightly. Just like the Realme 9 5G, this phone is made out of plastic and has the power button on the right side while the volume buttons are on the left. Realme has integrated a fingerprint scanner into the power button which makes it easy to unlock the phone.
The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition in the Starry Glow finish managed to hide fingerprints quite well
The display of the Realme 9 5G SE measures 6.6 inches and has a camera hole in the top-left corner. It has thin bezels at the top and the sides while the chin is slightly larger. The Realme 9 5G SE is marginally taller and wider than the Realme 9 5G and weighs 199g, which is noticeable in the hand.
On the bottom, the Realme 9 5G SE has a 3.5mm headphone jack, primary microphone, USB Type-C port, and speaker. The top of the frame only has the secondary microphone. Realme has curved the frame and the edges of the back panel which makes this phone comfortable to hold. The back panel of the Starry Glow variant has a colour-shifting pattern in hues of orange, yellow, and purple when seen under light. This hides fingerprints quite well.
Realme 9 5G SE specifications and software
The Realme 9 5G SE has completely different internals compared to the Realme 9 5G. For starters, the bigger 6.6-inch display sports a full-HD+ resolution, 144Hz peak refresh rate, and 240Hz touch sampling rate. The adaptive refresh rate can scale between 30Hz and 144Hz depending on what you are doing on the device. This panel has a peak brightness of 600 nits which was adequate when using the phone outdoors, under sunlight.
Powering the Realme 9 5G SE is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G SoC. This 5G-enabled SoC offers very good performance as can also be found in the Motorola Edge 20 (Review). The Realme 9 5G SE has a 5,000mAh battery and supports 30W fast charging. Realme also bundles a 30W charger in the box.
The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition's display has a hole for the selfie camera
Other connectivity options with the Realme 9 5G SE include Bluetooth 5.2, dual-band Wi-Fi, five satellite navigation systems, and support for 5G. It also offers dual-4G VoLTE. The Realme 9 5G SE has two Nano-SIM slots and a dedicated microSD slot for storage expansion that accepts cards of upto 1TB.
You get Realme UI 2.0 running on top of Android 11, along with the March 2022 Android security patch. I found the interface (UI) to be easy to use, and options I needed in the Settings app were only a quick search away. Other software features are similar to those offered on the Realme 9 5G.
Unfortunately, the Realme 9 5G SE suffers from the same bloatware situation as its sibling. My unit had nearly fifteen preinstalled apps, in addition to the usual ones from Google. Some Realme apps pushed notifications regularly which felt spammy. You can uninstall most of these apps to declutter the phone.
Realme UI also features Game Space which groups all your installed games in one place, and a Game Assistant which can automatically mute incoming calls and notifications when you're gaming. You can tweak touch and swipe sensitivity for each game. I'll talk about performance in the next section
Realme 9 5G SE performance and battery life
The Realme 9 5G SE offered good performance with day-to-day use. My review unit had 8GB of RAM and multitasking was a breeze. Realme also offers a RAM expansion feature, and 3GB of storage is allotted as virtual RAM by default. It can be extended up to 5GB on this variant, but I didn't fiddle with it. The Snapdragon 778G helped even heavy games load acceptably quickly, which should keep gamers happy.
You get Realme UI 2.0 on top of Android 11
The display of the Realme 9 5G SE had decent viewing angles and the colour profile was set to Vivid by default. I was able to tweak the colour temperature of the panel to my liking. Colours weren't as punchy as you'd get from an AMOLED panel but the high 144Hz refresh rate helps this phone stand out among the competition. The refresh rate is set to ‘Auto Select' by default which switches between different values based on the content being viewed. It was 90Hz when simply browsing through the phone's UI, but in certain apps such as Photos, the refresh rate went up to 144Hz. Alternatively you can lock it at 144Hz, but at the cost of battery life. The Realme 9 5G SE has a single bottom-firing speaker which is adequately loud, but a stereo setup would have sweetened the deal.
I found the side-mounted fingerprint scanner quite responsive and it never failed at authentication during the review period. Face recognition was also quick at unlocking the device.
The Realme 9 5G SE managed to score well in our benchmarks tests. In AnTuTu, it achieved 541,547 points, while scoring 12,115 points in PCMark Work 3.0. In the GFXBench T-Rex and Car Chase graphics tests, it scored 115fps and 28fps respectively. These scores were in the same range as those of the Motorola Edge 20, which uses the exact same SoC.
You can run most popular games on the Realme 9 5G SE without any issues. I played Call of Duty: Mobile which defaulted to ‘Very High' graphics and ‘High' frame rate settings. I bumped up the frame rate setting to ‘Very High' and could still play without any issues. I played for about 23 minutes which resulted in an eight percent drop in the battery level, which is slightly high. The phone wasn't too warm after that period. Those looking for a smartphone for gaming can consider the Realme 9 5G SE.
The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition sports a triple camera setup at the back
Coming to battery life, the 5,000mAh unit lasted for about a day and a half with my usage. If you are a casual user, you might be able to go longer before needing to charge this phone. In our HD video loop test the Realme 9 5G SE managed to go on for 21 hours and 51 minutes. Realme supplies a 30W charger in the box which was capable of charging the phone to 47 percent in 30 minutes and up to 85 percent in an hour.
Realme 9 5G SE cameras
The Realme 9 5G SE sports a triple camera setup at the back consisting of a 48-megapixel primary camera with an f/1.8 aperture, a B&W portrait camera, and a macro camera. For selfies, it has a 16-megapixel front-facing shooter. These specifications are similar to what the Realme 9 5G has. An ultra-wide angle camera is missing which would have helped make this device more versatile.
Daytime camera performance was good, and the phone managed to capture decent dynamic range. Objects at a distance had weak detail which was evident on magnifying photos. The AI toggle boosts the contrast in photos, which looks good on the phone's display, but is overdone when examined more closely.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition daylight camera sample without and with AI enhancements (tap for full-size images)
Close-up shots were detailed and the edges of objects were well defined. Colours were accurate and so was the background blur, as long as I maintained a suitable distance from the object. Portrait shots had good edge detection and this phone managed good separation from the background. I could also set the level of blur before taking a shot. The macro camera didn't offer very good quality.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition closeup, portrait, and macro camera samples (tap for full-size images)
Low-light photos had good colours but were missing detail in darker areas. While examining them closely, I found some artefacting. Using Night mode made a noticeable difference, and images came out brighter with better detail in the shadows. It takes a couple of seconds to finish taking a shot, during which you need to be perfectly still to avoid blurring.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition low-light and Night mode camera samples (tap for full-size images)
Selfies taken with the Realme 9 5G SE were good in daylight as well as in low-light conditions. These were saved at the full 16-megapixel resolution and had good detail. Portrait selfies had decent edge detection.
Realme 9 5G Speed Edition daylight and low-light selfie camera sample (tap for full-size image)
Video recording maxes out at 4K for the primary camera and 1080p for the selfie camera. The camera app tries its best to stabilise footage, which resulted in some warping in some parts of clips while walking around. Panning while staying still was smooth. Low-light footage was strictly average.
The Realme 9 5G Speed Edition is definitely more appealing than the standard Realme 9 5G (Review) but there's a considerable price difference. This model packs in a powerful SoC, very high refresh rate display, and big 5,000mAh battery. It also supports 30W fast charging, which is convenient.
In my opinion, the base variant of the Realme 9 5G SE, which is priced at Rs. 19,999, is the one to get. This variant does not have many direct competitors and offers the maximum bang for your buck if you're looking for good performance.
If you are considering the higher variant for the additional RAM, the iQoo Z5 (Review) would be a better option. It uses the same Snapdragon 778G SoC, but also has stereo speakers and faster 44W charging, for only a small bump in cost. On the other hand, if camera performance is a priority you could consider spending a little extra for the Realme 9 Pro+ 5G (Review).