Raise your hand if you have heard about the Realme 9i, the latest mid-range device from the BBK Electronics offshoot. It is, ideally, part of the new 9 series from the manufacturer. It may not be packed with high-end specs like its expensive siblings (the 9 Pro and Pro+), but it does share some elements about the duo. It is an attractive phone as a package, with an even prettier backplate that Realme refers to Stereo Prism Design. You have to see it in person to appreciate its terrific looks, to say the least.

To note, the 9i succeeds the 8i, and the design changes aren’t that far off from each other. However, it has a better and modern chipset, namely the Snapdragon 680 in place of the Helio G96 in the 8i. The phone has also been equipped with dual speakers, which is a rarity for phones under its price range. This is good, at least for me, for blasting YouTube videos without the need of plugging in earphones (yes, the device has a headphone socket, but it does not ship with earphones).

Specs overview

Weight: 190g


Screen: 6.6”, 90 Hz, FHD+

Chip: S680, Adreno 610 GPU

Memory: 6/128 GB

Software: Android 11, Realme UI 2.0

Main camera: Main at 50 MP, macro at 2 MP, depth sensor at 2 MP

Selfie: 16 MP

Battery: 5000 mAh, 33W charging

Security: fingerprint reader at the power button

Looking at these specs, several things can be noted. First, the phone has a personality of its own. The 50 MP is a nice touch for a phone that costs around KES 22K. Its screen size is also perfect; it is not small, nor is it huge. The screen also houses a selfie snapper on the top left side, which is just how things are done in modern phone design. The battery is also huge at 5000 mAh, and it fills up plenty fast with the 33W charging brick. Full charge takes a little over an hour.

Back to the camera, I don’t know why phone maker keep adding a macro sensor to the rear assembly. They are mostly useless, and very few people use them. Nevertheless, the 50 MP main sensor is terrific for the price, and churns out good-looking 12.5MP images.

In the box

There isn’t much in the box: you get the phone, charging brick and a USB Type C cable for charging, a case and a bunch of literature and warranty materials.

The hardware

The phone comes in two colours: Prims Black and Prism Blue. We have the black one in the house, and it looks gorgeous. The back panel, as said before, allows it to showcase a light-catching effect, which is kind of cool. Simply put, it just needs to be hit by light at the right angles, and then you would see vertical lines traversing from its top to the bottom. I didn’t get the chance to see the blue model, but I am certain in demonstrates the effect better than the review unit on my side.

Another thing to note is that the rear panel is not immune to fingerprint smudges. This is where the case comes in because it will hide all the smudges while protecting your phone at the same time. The disadvantage is that you will not be able to enjoy its dazzling colours, but that is something that a lot of people might not care about.

The camera island is also unique. The system is fitted under a glossy module. The plate is on the left corner at the back, so the phone will wobble when placed on a table. Again, this is something that the included case fixes.

Turning to the front, the screen is very good for the price, it gets very bright and can be used on a brightly lit day with ease. Colour production is more than adequate, and contrast is also good. Viewing angles, for those who care, are also above average.

The screen can also refresh up to 90 Hz. Out of the box, it is set at 60 Hz, so we advise that you change it to 90 because the extra smoothness is worthwhile.

Brightness maxes out at 480 nits.

The bottom side of the phone has a USB C socket and a headphone opening. One of the speakers is also situated here. The volume buttons are on the left, just below the dual-SIM and micro-SD tray. The fingerprint reader is part of the power button on the right-hand side.

Other hardware details have been mentioned in the spec sheet above, so you can refer to them in case you need additional details.

Speed

The Realme 9i is a speedy phone, and I have not encountered any performance issues while using it. This is a period when smartphone chipsets have advanced, and you do not need the very best silicon in your phone to have a smooth experience. This is the major reason why it is always advised you get midrange phones, because the segment has gotten so much better, and offer nearly the same features you would get in a phone double their price.

The Realme 9i, in this case, packs the Snapdragon 680 chipset. This is the same processor that is found in the Redmi Note 11S.

The silicon is an octa one, meaning it has four 2.4GHz Cortex-A73 and four 2.4Ghz Cortex-A53 cores. The Adreno 610 does the graphical weightlifting.

The units sold here pack 6 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. The virtual RAM solution is also present, so RAM can be boosted up to 11 GB by adding 5 GB more.

Generally speaking, the phone will complete tasks promptly. Apps load faster, the camera shutter speed is good, and you can play some demanding titles before the phone slows down.

The memory option is also attractive because with 128 GB, there is no need for a microSD card, unless you have a lot off offline files.

Software

I am going to say it outrightly: Realme UI looks pretty much like ColorOS found in OPPO phones. This is not a bad thing: ColorOS, and by extension, Realme UI, is feature-packed, speedy and good to look at.

Here are some few things I have noted though (because this is my first Realme):

  • The included launcher is very simple and clean, with a straightforward notification and toggles area
  • App switching is straightforward too
  • If you want to use an app drawer, it is here
  • You can use different icon packs
  • You can change system colours and fonts
  • A theme store is included
  • Dark mode is available. You can pick from black, dark grey or light grey
  • There is a smart sidebar on the edge of the display that can be customized with multiple app shortcuts
  • Realme provides some in-house apps, including Photos, Music and Video apps.
  • There is no Android 12 here. Rather, you are stuck with Android 11, and Realme has not issued any update roadmap
  • There is no Google Discover page on the left side (this is my biggest gripe with the software).

Camera

All the camera specs have been mentioned above, so you can refer to them in case you have forgotten about them.

Circling back to OPPO again, the Realme 9i camera interface looks pretty much the same like what you find in ColorOS. Again, this is not a bad thing.

You can access menus such as AI scene enhancement, an expert mode and many others.

However, if you are like me, then you use what the camera software offers, unchanged.

I only switched to night mode during evening shots, and nothing more.

Below are some sample images for your judgement.

Summary

On the whole, the Realme 9i is a chill and cool phone that will appeal to a lot of people.

It performs admirably, has a nice camera with that 50 MP sensor, good software and is a well-put together.

Oh, the screen is bright enough and zippy at 90 Hz.

And how can I not mention the 33W charging brick that tops up the phone in an hour or so?

The phone compares to the Redmi Note 11S in many ways. I have it too, so keep lurking around for its review soon.


So at KES 22k, should you buy it? The answer is a resounding yes.

Enjoy.


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Kenn Abuya is a friend of technology, with bias in enterprise and mobile tech. Share your thoughts, tips and hate mail at [email protected]