After an impressive run in 2021 and becoming the second-largest smartphone brand in India, overtaking Korean giant Samsung, Realme started its journey in 2022 with the launch of a new budget phone, the Realme 9i.

The Realme 9i, as the name suggests, is the successor to last year’s Realme 8i. However, it comes with some interesting changes like the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 chipset, a 90Hz display LCD, and more, including a major design overhaul.

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But is it really an upgrade over the 8i, or is it the same wine in a new glass? Let us find out in our review of the Realme 9i so you can make the right buying decision.

Design

For a budget device, the Realme 9i looks pretty stunning for the price, especially in the blue color, and is a big step up from its predecessor. However, my biggest criticism of the 8i’s design was the camera layout, which generally gave the impression that the device had a quad camera.

However, with the Realme 9i, the company has addressed this issue and updated the camera layout. All in all, the design with the subtle stripes on the back is very appealing and a real eye-catcher.

As for the button layout, the power button is located on the right side, while the volume rocker and SIM card holder are placed on the left. The bottom grille houses a 3.5 mm headphone jack, a Type-C charging port, and a speaker grille, while the top remains mostly empty.

The power button also serves as a fingerprint scanner that works flawlessly and unlocks the device in no time every time.

Like most devices under Rs 20,000, the Realme 9i is made entirely of polycarbonate, but is that a big deal? No! Because the device feels good in the hand and is quite well-made for the price. At 190 grams, it’s a bit lighter than the Realme 8i, and that’s a good thing because the 8i was a bit too heavy for my taste (kudos to Realme for listening to customer feedback).

Display

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The Realme 9i features a large 6.6-inch LCD display with a screen-to-body ratio of 90.8% and a touch sampling rate of 180 Hz. Furthermore, there is a selfie camera with a punch hole in the upper left corner of the display.

As for the quality of the display, it seems to be more of a downgrade than an upgrade over the Realme 8i. Do not get me wrong; the panel is pretty decent for the price with good color reproduction, and the 480 nits peak brightness ensures that you will not have any problems using the device outdoors.

But while the Realme 8i came with a 120 Hz display, the 9i has a 90 Hz display, and the difference is quite noticeable in day-to-day use. However, if you are looking for a device for media consumption, the Realme 9i will meet your needs. Realme claims that the device can intelligently switch between 30 Hz, 60 Hz, and 90 Hz, but I quickly changed the setting to 90 Hz because switching between refresh rates was not smooth and was easily noticeable.

What else? The display is Widevine L1 certified, and I had no trouble watching the latest movies and TV shows in full HD resolution on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Performance

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Under the hood, the Realme 9i is powered by the new 6nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 chipset coupled with 4/6GB LPDDR4X RAM and 64/128GB UFS 2.1 memory.

In the time I spent with the device, I felt that the chip optimization was not yet there, and I experienced occasional lags and issues navigating through the UI. Startup times for apps were also not the fastest.

The situation improved when I enabled the High-Performance mode in the settings, but I still feel that Realme needs to work a bit more on optimizing the Snapdragon 680 chipset to get the best performance.

And the sad news continues because the device did not meet my expectations in terms of gaming. I tried a few games on the Realme 9i, including BGMI, COD Mobile, and Subway Surfers, but the experience was underwhelming.

BGMI maxed out at HD and medium graphics settings, resulting in playtime of only 30 FPS. Even last year’s Realme 8i with the Mediatek Helio G96 did better and delivered 40 FPS. Still, the device stayed cool for the most part, and I did not experience any issues with thermal throttling.

Software

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Like the Realme 8i, the Realme 9i runs on Realme UI 2.0, which is based on Android 11 and is packed with bloatware. But again, most of it can be easily uninstalled. I would have liked the Realme UI 3.0 to be based on the latest Android version since Android 12 has been available for some time.

The software experience was just like all other Realme devices on the market, feature-rich, and AD-free for the most part. I said “for the most part” because I saw some ADS in the weather app on the device, but disabling the “Get Recommendations” option in the settings solved the problem, so no complaints there.

As I mentioned in the performance section, the software still needs improvement in terms of performance, as it’s not the smoothest right now.

The Virtual RAM expansion feature is still here, and Realme claims that you can expand the RAM up to 5 GB with the virtual Ram function. Apart from that, we did not feel that the virtual RAM feature made a big difference, but we had the 6GB RAM variant with us, and the feature might be helpful for users of the 4GB RAM variant.

Battery Life and Charging

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The Realme 9i makes up for all lost points in performance with its battery life. Phenomenal is the perfect word to describe the device’s battery life. The device with its 5000 mAH battery consistently delivers 9-10 hours of Screen On Time, which is outstanding. You can easily use the device for two days without worrying about battery life. The 6nm manufacturing process of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 seems to have helped here.

If you read our review of the Realme 8i, you’ll notice that we were not happy with the included 18W charger as it took hours to charge the device, but Realme has fixed that this time around. In addition, you get a 33W fast charger in the box that can charge the device from 5-100% relatively quickly.

Camera

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The Realme 9i has a triple rear-view camera in the following configuration:

  • 50MP primary lens with F/1.8 aperture
  • 2MP macro lens with F/2.4 aperture
  • 2MP B/W lens with F/2.4 aperture

The similarities to the Realme 8i continue here; the 9i has a similar camera setup to the 8i. However, like most other devices with a high megapixel count, the primary shooter captures images at 16 MP by default. However, there is a special 50 MP mode that allows you to capture full-resolution images.

Coming back to the camera quality: The device performs quite well in good daylight and renders colors mostly correctly. However, there were a few scenarios where the camera struggled with color reproduction.

The dedicated 50 MP mode was decent and slightly improved the image’s detail, but it still did not make much difference to the final image.

The camera also performed decently indoors and in low-light conditions but struggled in certain situations. For example, in highly low-light conditions, the images are a bit grainy, and there is a slight loss of detail.

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We really missed an ultra-wide-angle lens, as it gives the user more flexibility and is actually helpful. The other two cameras on the Realme 8i are simply disappointing. You have to get very close to the subject to use the 2MP macro lens, and the images are still not good enough due to the resolution. The B&W lens was also average at best.

With the 16 MP selfie camera (pun intended), the selfies turned out pretty good, with good color reproduction and details.

All in all, the cameras on the 9i are decent and not something that will blow you away.

Speaker and Connectivity

While the Realme 8i only had a single speaker on the bottom, this device has a stereo speaker setup that worked great during my time with the device, which is undoubtedly a plus. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 is a 4G chipset, but that’s not a dealbreaker considering that 5G is far from mainstream in India.

The device supports both WiFi bands, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. We tested the device on both, and it performed exactly as we expected. We have a 100 Mbps plan, and the device consistently delivered those speeds. In addition, the device also supports carrier aggregation, and it worked as expected.

Related: Realme 9i 5G Review – Sacrifices Must Be Made

Verdict

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So should you buy the Realme 9i? The phone is available for Rs 13,999 for the 4+64GB variant and Rs. 15,999 for the 6+128GB variant. And for that price, it’s a bit hard for me to recommend, especially considering the competition.

The device seems to be a downgrade from its predecessor – the Realme 8i, in terms of performance and display. Yes, it has its own positive features like the good design and build quality, but that’s about it; there’s nothing unique about the Realme 9i.

The competition comprises of devices like the Redmi Note 10S and Redmi Note 10T 5G, that seem like a much better value proposition. Then there is the recently introduced Micromax In Note 2, which is equipped with the Mediatek G95 chipset and an AMOLED display. Beyond that, you can also get the POCO X3 if you spend a bit more money.

All in all, the Realme 9i is a decent offer if you are interested in a Realme device, but I wished for a bit more.

Buy Realme 9i

Pros
  • Good build and design
  • Excellent battery life
  • Good color reproduction
  • Great speaker quality
Cons
  • Downgrade in predecessor
  • Bloatware
  • Performance needs more optimization
Review Overview
Build & Design
Display
Performance
Software
Price
SUMMARY

Realme's first budget smartphone of 2022 is the Realme 9i which is a successor to last year's Realme 8i but doesn't bring in too many changes as an upgrade. How does it fare? Find out in our Realme 9i review.

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