It's 2022 and nearly every smartphone launched outside the budget segment has support for 5G, despite there still being no sign of 5G networks in India yet. Realme has been pushing plenty of 5G phones for over a year now, but oddly, it's latest offering, the Realme 9i, is a 4G-only model. It's an entry-level offering in the brand new Realme 9 series, and will soon be accompanied by the upcoming Realme 9 Pro and Realme 9 Pro+. While a 4G-only phone could still be relevant if it delivers 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 as your next purchase, or does the competition offer better value? I put the Realme 9i to the test to find out.
Realme 9i price in India
The Realme 9i is available with 4GB of RAM and 64GB 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 colours, Prism Black and Prism Blue. I had the higher-end configuration in Prism Blue for this review.
Realme 9i design
Realme's latest launch in India, the Realme 9i has a new ‘Stereo Prism' design. It sports a 6.6-inch display with thin bezels on the top and sides, while the chin is thicker. You get a cutout in the top left corner of the screen for the selfie camera. The phone has a plastic frame with the power button on the right and the volume buttons on the left. A capacitive fingerprint scanner is integrated into the power button which makes it convenient to unlock the smartphone. The sides and corners are rounded, so the frame does not dig into your palms when you hold this phone.
The Realme 9i packs in a 5,000mAh battery
The Realme 9i has a USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, speaker, and primary microphone at the bottom. The top only has the secondary microphone. The earpiece doubles up as the second speaker for stereo sound. The SIM tray is on the left and supports two Nano-SIM cards as well as 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 packs a triple camera setup. The camera module looks similar to the one on the Realme GT Neo 2 (Review). The back panel has a pattern which is visible only 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 are viewing. This panel is however a step down considering the Realme 8i (Review)'s screen has a 120Hz refresh rate. The Realme 9i is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 SoC. Realme has implemented its DRE (Dynamic RAM Expansion) feature which allocates up to 5GB of storage to be used as RAM, but only available on the higher storage variant.
The Realme 9i is a 4G smartphone offering dual VoLTE. Since 5G networks haven't rolled out in India yet, the lack of support shouldn't really deter you from considering this phone. This phone also has support for Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi, and four GPS standards.
The Realme 9i has a 90Hz refresh rate display with a hole punch
The Relame 9i runs Realme UI 2.0 based on Android 11. My unit of the 9i was running the January 2022 Android security patch. The UI was easy to use and I did not have any issues finding my way around. I found the phone to have a large number of preinstalled apps, some of which did push spammy notifications after being launched. Thankfully, you can uninstall most of them. You can customise the colour mode of the display and even set it to 60Hz. There are different features that can be triggered using gestures, if enabled. Realme has also added a Game Mode that allows you to mute incoming calls and notifications for interruption-free gaming.
Realme 9i performance and battery life
The Realme 9i offered good performance and did not show any signs of slowing down with my use during the review period. I found the display's brightness to be adequate most of the time, but I had to shield it from direct sunlight in order to see content clearly when outdoors. The 90Hz refresh rate made scrolling appear very smooth. The speakers aren't balanced, and the bottom-firing one sounded louder. With 8GB of RAM in my review unit, multitasking was a breeze. Realme had enabled the DRE feature by default, which bumped the usable RAM capacity up to 11GB. While using the phone, I never needed more than a single attempt to unlock it using the fingerprint scanner, and face recognition was also reliable.
In the AnTuTu, the Realme 9i managed to score 280,907 points. It scored 383 points and 1554 points respectively in Geekbench 5's single-core and multi-core tests. In PCMark's Work 3.0 test, it managed 8101 points. Graphics benchmark GFXBench's T-Rex and Car Chase scenes ran at 36fps and 7.2fps respectively. These scores were slightly lower than those of the Realme 8i, which is powered by the MediaTek Helio G96 SoC.
The Realme 9i has a triple camera setup.
To test the Realme 9i's gaming performance, I played Battlegrounds Mobile India (BGMI), which defaulted to the ‘Smooth' graphics and ‘Medium' frame rate. It was playable at these settings without any lag. After playing the game for about 21 minutes, the phone was slightly warm to the touch. I also noticed a four percent drop in the battery level.
The Realme 9i is very power-efficient, and lasted me about two days on a full charge. Idle battery drain was also very low. In our HD video loop test, it managed to run for 22 hours and 42 minutes. Wguke the Realme 8i had 18W fast charging support, the Realme 9i supports 33W fast charging. The supplied 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 won't need to charge the Realme 9i very often.
Realme 9i cameras
The Realme 9i sports a triple camera setup consisting of a 50-megapixel primary camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera, and a 2-megapixel black-and-white camera. 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 focus and set the exposure right.
Photos taken with the primary camera were pixel-binned to 12.5-megapixels by default. Daylight photos had average dynamic range and appeared good as is, but magnifying revealed poorer detail especially in the shadows. When shooting photos in bright environments, the phone enabled HDR automatically and managed exposure well. An ultra-wide-angle camera would have improved the setup, but sadly, that feature is missing.
Realme 9i daylight photo sample (tap to see full size)
Close-up photos were crisp 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 taken with the Realme 9i had decent detail but the output wasn't of a high resolution.
Realme 9i close-up photo sample (tap to see full size)
Realme 9i portrait sample (tap to see full size)
Low-light photos taken with the Realme 9i appeared hazy and objects at a distance were barely recognisable. Objects in the shadows also appeared grainy. With Night mode there was a slight improvement in details in the shadows.
Realme 9i low-light camera sample (tap to see full size)
Realme 9i Night mode sample (tap to see full size)
Selfies taken with the Realme 9i in daylight were decent. The Portrait mode created good separation from the background. Low-light selfies were strictly average.
Realme 9i daylight portrait selfie
Video recording topped out at 1080p for the primary as well as the selfie camera. There is no stabilisation, which meant that footage was shaky. Low-light footage was slightly grainy too.
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 lacks. This new model offers stereo speakers and faster 33W charging, which are upgrades over its predecessor. However, the 90Hz refresh rate is a downgrade compared to the 120Hz display on the Realme 8i (Review).
The Realme 9i's camera performance is also sub-par which makes it all the more difficult to recommend the higher priced 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 are looking for a future-proof smartphone with 5G connectivity, you could consider the Moto G51 (Review) or the Redmi Note 11T 5G (Review) instead.