Monday, December 5, 2022
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Realme 9i hands-on review

Introduction

Say hello to the Realme 9i, the entry-level option in the maker’s new 9 series. It may be the lesser of the 9 Pro and Pro+, but it does share DNA with both devices, and even the GT2 Pro. A quick look at the rear panel with its Stereo Prism Design, as Realme calls it, the 9i looks very good.

The Realme 9i is anything but a straightforward successor to its predecessor. On one hand, it has a smarter design, a much better chipset, and faster charging. But on the other its display is slower, its battery is the same size, and its cameras are unchanged.

The price has remained unchanged – the Realme 9i starts at INR 13,999 for the 4/64GB model and goes up to INR 15,999 for the 6/128GB one, the same as the current-going Realme 8i, so it’s a matter of screen vs chipset with the cameras and battery more or less the same. Well, and the design, which is completely in favor of the newer phone.

The screen in question is a 90Hz unit, down from 120Hz on the 8i, the chipset a respectable Snapdragon 680 on a 6nm node – much better than the Helio G96 sitting on its 12nm. The Realme 9i also has the upper hand in audio, thanks to an added second speaker, which would do wonders for watching video on the device.

Here’s a full overview of the Realme 9i as a package.

Realme 9i specs at a glance:

  • Body: 164.4×75.7×8.4mm, 190g; Glass front (Dragontrail Pro), plastic frame, plastic back.
  • Display: 6.60″ IPS LCD, 90Hz, 480 nits (typ), 1080x2412px resolution, 20.1:9 aspect ratio, 400ppi.
  • Chipset: Qualcomm SM6225 Snapdragon 680 4G (6 nm): Octa-core (4×2.4 GHz Kryo 265 Gold & 4×1.9 GHz Kryo 265 Silver); Adreno 610.
  • Memory: 64GB 4GB RAM, 128GB 4GB RAM, 128GB 6GB RAM; ; microSDXC (dedicated slot).
  • OS/Software: Android 11, Realme UI 2.0.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 50 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/2.76″, 0.64µm, PDAF; Macro: 2 MP, f/2.4; Depth: 2 MP, f/2.4.
  • Front camera: 16 MP, f/2.1, 26mm (wide), 1/3.0″, 1.0µm.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 1080p@30fps; Front camera: 1080p@30fps.
  • Battery: 5000mAh; Fast charging 33W, 100% in 70 min (advertised).
  • Misc: Fingerprint reader (side-mounted); 3.5mm jack.

Judged on its own merit, and not just as a successor to another device, the Realme 9i is a balanced and reasonable package. It’s a good middle size – not small, not too big, just right with its 6.6-inch display. On the other, it packs an ample battery – 5,000mAh, which will ensure long hours of use.

It may have a pair of near-useless 2MP cameras, but the main 50MP serves up 12.5MP images that we loved on the Realme 8i, even at night time.

Unboxing the Realme 9i

The Realme 9i comes with a USB cable, a 33W charger, and a case. That’s the same scope of delivery as the 8i, save for the difference in charger power – 33W vs 18W.

Design and ergonomics

The Realme 9i is all about design. Available in Prism Blue or Prism Black, the 9i features a rear panel that undergoes hours of shaping before it ends up with its light-catching effect. Dubbed an 8-layer optical coating, the rear panel goes through a 5-axis CNC precision machining process. The texture that results from the process features 3000 prism-like line combinations. The coating aims to produce a layered and transparent look.

When hit with light just right, the rear panel shows vertical lines going from the top to the bottom of the device. Our Prism Blue model is especially dazzling.

While the Realme 8i was a pretty phone, especially in the Purple colorway we tested, its glossy rear panel was less enjoyable to touch and look at. The Realme 9i, while still not immune to finger smudging, does a much better job at looking cleaner. It’s also much easier to wipe clean than it would have been with a glossy finish.

The camera module is fitted under a glossy plate, which will attract oils easily, though. The island’s placement also means that the Realme 9i wobbles if you use it on a flat surface (if you’re one of those weirdos).

The Realme 9i is ever so slightly smaller than its predecessor, though you wouldn’t notice a difference side by side – it’s 4g lighter and 0.1mm thinner.

In a vacuum, the Realme 9i is a slim and light device and we found it comfortable to hold and use. The rounded edges don’t dig into your palm as flat sides would.

The display is good. It gets plenty bright and remains legible even under direct sunlight. The colors are punchy and there’s very good contrast. Viewing angles are excellent thanks to the IPS matrix.

A word on refresh rate handling. Realme claims the screen can dynamically refresh, depending on the scenario, between 30Hz-48Hz-50Hz-60Hz ad 90Hz. On Auto the homescreen sits at 60fps and ramps up to 90fps when you begin scrolling. When viewing a video the screen goes down to 30fps, but otherwise, the phone sits at 60fps. It’s the same with refresh rate fixed at 60Hz – only video playback in YouTube drops below 60fps. We didn’t find a discernable difference between Auto and 90Hz mode.

Controls on the Realme 9i are the same as on the 8i – there’s a USB-C on the bottom, flanked by a 3.5mm headphone jack and, in this case, one of two speakers. There’s a volume rocker on the left alongside a tray for two SIMs and a microSD card slot. There’s a fingerprint scanner on the opposite side. We found it to be quite snappy and easy to work with. Unlike the 8i, the 9i has a second speaker, tucked into the earpiece.



Controls on the Realme 9i
Controls on the Realme 9i

Controls on the Realme 9i

The display has a single cutout for the selfie camera.

Hardware

The Realme 9i has a 6.6-inch 1080x2412px IPS LCD of 90Hz refresh rate and a maximum brightness of 480 nits. The display has a 20:9 aspect ratio and is covered by Dragontail Pro Glass.

Realme has kept the 5,000mAh battery of the 8i but added faster 33W charging. The maker promises 995 hours of standby, 48 hours of calling, 20 hours of WhatsApp, or up to 116 hours of music playback. Using the 36% faster 33W Dart Charge, the Realme 9i can go from 0% to 100% in 70 minutes.

The camera setup is highlighted by a 50MP f/1.8 main camera that uses a 1/2.76″ sensor with 0.64µm pre-binned pixels. A 4-to-1 binning method brings the final resolution to 12.5MP. There is a pair of 2MP sensors, one for macro and another for depth. On the opposite side, there’s a 16MP f/2.1 selfie with a 26mm lens.

We have a few camera samples for you on the next page.

Performance

Let’s look at the performance from the 6nm Snapdragon 680 chipset. It’s equipped with an octa-core processor split between four 2.4GHz Cortex-A73 and four 2.4Ghz Cortex-A53 cores. An Adreno 610 GPU takes care of graphics, while there’s 4GB or 6GB of RAM, that can be expanded through Realme’s virtual DRE solution by taking from the storage – either 2GB or 3GB for the 4GB model, or up to 5GB additional RAM for the 6GB model, making potential RAM as high as 11GB.

Realme claims the Snapdragon chip is up to 20% faster on CPU performance and 17% faster on GPU performance than its predecessor. Our testing didn’t really back up those claims; in fact, the 8i turned in better synthetic numbers.

None of our standard set of games managed to reach 90fps.

GeekBench 4.4 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    6913
  • Realme 9i
    6291
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    5464

GeekBench 4.4 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    2690
  • Realme 9i
    1839
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    1783

GeekBench 5 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • Realme 9 Pro+
    2335
  • Realme 9 Pro
    2020
  • Realme 8i
    1886
  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    1719
  • Realme 9i
    1581
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    1372
  • Xiaomi Redmi 10
    1294

GeekBench 5 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • Realme 9 Pro+
    814
  • Realme 9 Pro
    694
  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    560
  • Realme 8i
    539
  • Realme 9i
    384
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    376
  • Xiaomi Redmi 10
    361

AnTuTu 8

Higher is better

  • Realme 9 Pro+
    495096
  • Realme 8i
    293507
  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    242155
  • Realme 9i
    229368
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    185358

3DMark SSE Vulkan 1.0 (offscreen 1440p)

Higher is better

  • Realme 9 Pro
    2773
  • Samsung Galaxy A22 5G
    2257
  • Samsung Galaxy A22
    1383
  • Realme 9i
    1291

Software

The Realme 9i runs on Android 11 with Realme UI 2.0. The second version of Realme’s launcher offers richer customization options, a couple of extra Dark Mode styles, refined floating and mini windows, and enhanced security.

The phone supports fingerprint unlock, and the side-mounted sensor works flawlessly – it’s fast and with high accuracy. You can also set up face unlock for an even speedier unlock – though this is not as secure.

RealmeUI
RealmeUI
RealmeUI
RealmeUI

RealmeUI

The launcher has no-nonsense homescreens, a simplistic and now cleaner notification/toggles area, and an easy-to-use task switcher. An App drawer is available, too, and it is as clutter-free as one could hope for. You can opt out of the app drawer if you prefer.

Realme UI supports different icon packs, so if you are not happy with the default one, you can opt for material style, pebbles, or you can even fully customize them by your liking. Thanks to Realme UI 2.0, you can also change the system colors, the notification drawer icons, even the system font.

There is a Theme Store, too, so you can spice things up even more.

Dark Mode is available, too, and it’s been enhanced with Realme UI 2.0 with support for three different dark styles – black, dark gray or light gray. It can be manual or scheduled. You can also opt to force it on third-party apps, though this doesn’t always end well.

Customizability
Customizability
Customizability
Customizability

Customizability

Similar to the recent Galaxies, the Realme UI offers a Smart Sidebar on the edge of the screen – you can customize the actions and app shortcuts that appear there.

Display options
Display options
Display options
Display options

Display options

The multimedia apps such as Photos, Music, and Videos – are provided by Realme. There is also a redesigned File Manager and even a Phone Manager app. This completes the non-Google app list.

Realme hasn’t provided a time frame for the Android 12 update for the 9i.

Camera

Like its predecessor, the Realme 9i has three snappers on its back – a primary 50MP camera with a wide-angle lens, a 2MP macro shooter, and a 2MP monochrome depth sensor. There is also a 16MP selfie camera within the screen’s round hole.

The Realme 9i’s primary camera utilizes a 50MP Samsung ISOCELL S5KJN1 1/2.76″ sensor with Tetracell filter and 0.64µm pixels (same as on Redmi 10). The sensor is coupled with an f/1.8 lens and supports PDAF. Night Mode is available on this camera.

The macro camera has 2MP GalaxyCore GC02M1 sensor with 1.75µm pixels and f/2.4 aperture but lacks autofocus.

Finally, there is a 2MP OmniVision OV02B1 monochrome depth sensor.

The camera app is the familiar Oppo/Realme one with a few tweaks for the latest version. There are fewer menus – most of the modes are now on the main rolodex, which is good. The Macro camera is still in the More section listed as Ultra Macro mode, though.

The app offers AI Scene Enhancement (also known as Chroma Boost or Dazzle Color) – it’s like an advanced HDR mode, which may stack several images to offer even further improvements in the dynamic range. Still, the most prominent “improvement” is the higher color saturation.

In the Expert mode, you get to tweak exposure (ISO in the 100-6400 range and shutter speed in the 1/8000s-32s range, white balance (by light temperature, but no presets), manual focus (in arbitrary 0 to 1 units with 0 being close focus and 1 being infinity) and exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/6EV increments).

Camera app
Camera app
Camera app
Camera app

Camera app

Here are a few camera samples in the regular HDR Auto mode, the AI Scene Enhancement mode, as well as in the ExtraHD 108MP and 50MP modes. We’ll reserve our full judgment for the review, but seeing how the Realme 9i has the same camera setup as the 8i, you can just go and read our review of that phone.

Realme 9i camera HDR - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP
Realme 9i camera HDR - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP
Realme 9i camera HDR - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP

Realme 9i camera HDR – 12MP, 12MP, 50MP

Realme 9i samples AI Scene Enhancement - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP
Realme 9i samples AI Scene Enhancement - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP
Realme 9i samples AI Scene Enhancement - 12MP, 12MP, 50MP

Realme 9i samples AI Scene Enhancement – 12MP, 12MP, 50MP

Realme 9i camera - Extra HD 108MP
Realme 9i camera - Extra HD 108MP

Realme 9i camera – Extra HD 108MP

Wrap-up

So that’s it. We’ve had our brief little hands-on with the Realme 9i, and it felt a lot like a Realme 8i with a slower screen, worse-performing chipset, but nicer build and feel in the hand.

What’s more important is that if you’re in the market for a phone at this price, you have some good alternatives, even from Realme’s itself. The 8i is still on sale and it’s the same price as the 9i, which might push many towards that phone – 120Hz over 90Hz alone might make the difference.

It’s not all bad, of course. The Prism design really is nice to look at and lovely to touch. And with a discount or two, the Realme 9i could easily become a great deal.

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