At this stage in the Realme story, we pretty much know what to expect from the brand: solid, unspectacular, good value smartphones, and quite a lot of them. The Realme 9 is one of the latest to arrive, and it offers some appealing features for the very reasonable price of £249 in the UK.
It's interesting to compare the phone we're reviewing here directly with the Realme 9 5G – which, as the name suggests, adds 5G. The standard Realme 9 sticks with 4G, although it does have a faster wired charging rate and an OLED rather than an LCD screen. It seems that Realme is trying to cover as many bases as possible.
Even just within the current Realme range, the Realme 9 risks getting lost in the noise, and that's before you've weighed it against other smartphones around this price point, like the Oppo A74 5G and the Samsung Galaxy A33 5G. It's a tough section of the market to carve out space in and you could argue that the Realme 9 doesn't quite do enough.
While it lacks 5G, it does have a bright, crisp OLED screen running at a 90Hz refresh rate, and notably good battery life – this is a phone that will stretch to two days between charges if you're careful with it. It also has a rear camera that's better than you might expect at this price point, one that's actually capable of taking shots at night (not always a given when you're spending this amount of money on a phone).
On the downside, as well as missing out on 5G you don't get waterproofing or wireless charging. The internal specs are nothing to write home about, and while this doesn't make the phone particularly laggy and sluggish, you'll get better performance across a longer time frame from something more expensive.
Keep a close eye on the pricing of the Realme 9, because if you can get a good deal on it then it might be worth investing in. In general, though, we'd like to see a few more features that we could get excited about.
Realme 9 price and availability
- UK price of £249
- Availability looks limited
- No US/Aus availability
Realme has stated that the Realme 9 will go on sale in the UK for the very reasonable price of £249, although availability might be an issue... at the time of writing we can't find it for sale anywhere in the UK, including Realme's own UK site, so watch this space for updates. As is normal for Realme, the phone isn't going on sale in the US or Australia.
Realme 9 design
- Standard smartphone looks
- Rippled effect on the back
- Room for a headphone jack
There are no real surprises or innovations in the design of the Realme 9 – and nothing to particularly put you off the phone either. In terms of its aesthetics, it's about as standard as a smartphone gets in 2022, with the thin bezels around the display, the punch hole notch in the corner of the screen, the gently rounded edges and corners, and the rear camera module stuck on the back up in the top left corner. There's also a fingerprint sensor embedded in the display for easier unlocking.
And we say the camera is just stuck on, we do mean stuck on: there's no finesse in the way that the rear camera module has been attached to the plastic back of the Realme 9. It would've been nice to see Realme do something a bit more subtle or tasteful here, but it's not a complete disaster. There's nothing in the design of the Realme 9 that would catch your eye in a shop window or particularly put you off buying the handset, though the back of the phone does have a reasonably interesting ripple effect that catches the light quite nicely. Black, white and gold (the one we had) are the color choices.
If you're wondering if the handset is going to fit in your pocket, its dimensions are 160.2 mm x 73.3 mm x 8 mm (that's 6.3 inches x 2.89 inches x 0.31 inches) and it weighs 178 grams (or 0.39 lbs). It feels comfortable and solid in the hand, and it's not a phone you're going to easily drop. One bonus worth mentioning: there's a thin protective layer on top of the screen that's already in place when you take the smartphone out of its box, though the phone itself isn't waterproof or dustproof.
As you look at the phone from the front, the volume keys are down the right-hand side of the handset, with the power key on the left. At the bottom, Realme has found space for a headphone jack, and there's a USB-C port for charging and data transfer. In the box and there's both a USB-C to USB-A charging cable and a power adapter – that latter inclusion is something of a rarity these days, though you get a European-style two-pin plug rather than the standard 3-pin one for the UK. A simple plastic case is also included.
Realme 9 display
- 6.4-inch Super AMOLED
- 90Hz refresh rate
- High brightness level
The screen on this phone is a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED panel that runs at a resolution of 1080 x 2400 pixels and a refresh rate of 90Hz. Ramp it up to the maximum brightness and it's actually a decent screen: crisp, vibrant and sharp. In the display settings on the phone, you can pick between a Vivid (P3), Natural and Pro mode, and adjust the screen temperature using a separate slider.
During our time with the Realme 9, we watched some videos, browsed the web, flicked through photos, checked social media, navigated around using maps, played some games, and did all the other tasks that you generally do on a smartphone. The screen stood up very well in each case. We'd say it's one of the highlights of the phone.
If you're being particularly picky you might say that the display could be bigger, but that's really down to personal preference. The OLED technology deployed here works really well, and we don't think anyone who picks up the Realme 9 as their next smartphone is going to be disappointed with the display.
Realme 9 camera
- Decent shots a lot of the time
- 108MP main camera sensor
- No optical zoom available
The Realme 9 comes equipped with a triple-lens 108MP wide + 8MP ultrawide + 2MP macro camera. The most noticeable part of that is the 108MP main camera lens. That's up to flagship levels in terms of megapixel count, though of course photo and video quality aren't all about the number of megapixels. On the front of the phone is a 16MP selfie camera that isn't particularly notable. Video recording tops out at 1080p and 30fps.
In use, the rear camera is capable of producing some very good shots. Pictures come out sharp and detailed, with well-balanced colors that are only occasionally oversaturated by default. The HDR processing works well to keep the lighter and the darker parts of images visible.
The Realme 9 rear camera also performs pretty well in low light conditions – not quite as well as the cameras on top-level flagship phones, but still well enough to get usable photos. There's a dedicated night mode in the camera that helps bring out more details and reduce the noise in darker images, as well as a pro mode that gives you more control over ISO, white balance and so on.
Considering the price you're paying for the phone, the camera quality is fine really – a lot of the time you're going to get perfectly decent shots, and there are lots of modes and settings to play around with. A more expensive phone will get you a camera that does better at night and has optical zoom, but the Realme 9 does okay.
Realme 9 camera samples
Realme 9 performance and specs
- Average performance
- Runs all your apps and games
- No 5G connectivity
Invest in the Realme 9 and the specs you get in return are a Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. That isn't quite scraping the barrel in terms of specs for running an Android smartphone, but in terms of raw speed, this is a long way behind the premium phones on the market. The Realme 9 racks up Geekbench 5 scores of 381 (single-core), 1566 (multi-core), and 431 (OpenCL), so you can see that it's by no means a powerhouse of a smartphone.
That said, you're going to be able to run everything you need to run on the Realme 9, including high-end games (even if loading times might be significantly slower than they are on something like the Samsung Galaxy S22). There's none of the lag and delay that you get on cheaper phones than the Realme 9, and everything hums along reasonably well – you just might notice a bit of a performance drop if you open up dozens of browser tabs, or perhaps after a year or two of use.
Unlike other handsets in the Realme 9 series, this standard edition of the phone comes without 5G. While that might not be a dealbreaker, what with 4G speeds being perfectly respectable, it does feel a bit odd to have phones launching without 5G technology at this stage. We'd prefer to see it included, especially as these next-gen networks roll out in more and more parts of the world.
Realme 9 software
- Android 12 on board
- Realme UI 3.0 is adequate
- Lots of settings
The Realme 9 runs Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0 on top of it. Realme UI is a relatively intuitive and straightforward operating system, though we have to confess to preferring the standard, clean stock Android most of all – this is more about personal taste, though, and your mileage may vary.
There's a bit of bloatware here, including apps for Amazon and Booking.com, but it's easy enough to get rid of them. Realme provides its own apps for setting alarms, viewing photos, managing files and so on, but it's easy to switch to the superior Google equivalents, and in general, everything feels uncluttered.
As tends to be the case with Android phones from China, there's an extensive Settings screen with bonus features you won't find in Android: features like a Smart Sidebar, floating windows, and a quick launch panel. How useful these features are is debatable, but they're there if you need them.
Realme 9 battery life
- 5,000mAh capacity battery
- Up to two days of use
- 33W wired charging
Battery life is no doubt one of the highlights of the overall Realme 9 package: the 5,000mAh capacity battery fitted here is good for two days if you don't use it all that often. Most days you'll make it comfortably from morning to evening and still have plenty of juice left before you go to bed. More time between battery charges is one of the benefits of a lower-spec processor and the absence of 5G.
In our standard one-hour video streaming test, the battery level dropped by just 5%, indicating an impressive overall video playback time of 20 hours. That was with the display brightness ramped up to the max though, and the volume set reasonably low, so you'd be able to get even more time if you dimmed the screen and used headphones.
As you might expect from a phone at this price point, there's no wireless charging on the Realme 9. In terms of wired charging over USB-C, the 33W charging should be enough to power up the phone from 0% to 100% in as little as 75 minutes, so you won't have to wait around long for it to charge up.
Should you buy the Realme 9?
Buy it if...
You like a decent screen
The screen is one of the best features on offer with the Realme 9, with a brightness and a refresh rate that you don't often get when shopping at the budget end of the market.
You don't have much to spend
This is a phone that's absolutely going to appeal to those who don't have that much to spend, and that's fine – you get a reasonable level of specs considering the price.
Battery life is a priority
The Realme 9 is capable of lasting for two days under some circumstances, and that's worth a lot to a lot of people. It's one of the most appealing features about the phone.
Don't buy it if...
5G is essential for you
Some Realme 9 variants come with 5G, but this standard one doesn't: if you absolutely need 5G, get one of the other models, but check the other differences in the specs too.
You need rapid performance
While the Realme 9 isn't exactly slow, it's not super rapid either, and if you're a serious multitasker or want the highest frame rates on your games then it's one to avoid.
You've got plenty to spend
The Realme 9 offers decent value for money, but stepping up the price ladder a little bit will get you a better phone, particularly when it comes to camera options and 5G.
First reviewed: June 2022
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