Realme 9 5G review

Elegance and 5G for cheap

Realme 9 5G
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

The Realme 9 5G is a stylish, affordable budget 5G phone that exudes reassuring competence all round. The Poco M4 Pro 5G pips it in a couple of areas, but it’s a dependable pick nonetheless.

Pros

  • +

    Tidy design

  • +

    Competent main camera

  • +

    Relatively clean software

Cons

  • -

    No ultra-wide camera

  • -

    Only 18W charging

  • -

    LCD rather than OLED display

Why you can trust TechRadar Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Two-minute review

The Realme 9 5G slots in neatly below the Realme 9 Pro 5G, with a similar clean design and 5G connectivity at a more affordable price point.

Compromises have been made in the process of squeezing in that 5G connectivity, as illustrated by the presence of a non–5G model available for the same money. You get an LCD display here rather than OLED, albeit a crisp, accurate, and fluid example. 

You also get an 18W charger in place of the 4G model’s 33W equivalent, which means you’ll realistically need to charge it every night. Thankfully, a 5,000mAh cell should provide a full day of juice even for frequent phone fiddlers.

Another trade-off comes with a 50MP camera rather than the 4G model’s 108MP equivalent.You don’t get any form of ultra-wide camera in the 5G model either. Even so, the Realme 9 5G is capable of taking balanced, detailed snaps in good lighting. We like Realme’s natural way with colors, in particular.

Performance isn’t outstanding, but the Realme 9 5G’s Snapdragon 695 chip ensures a relatively pain-free navigation experience. Gamers might wish to look elsewhere, however, as that modest processor comes backed by a limited 4GB of RAM.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Realme’s custom UI is one of the cleaner efforts on the budget market and is arguably more appealing than the MIUI software found on rival Poco and Redmi handsets.

Talking of Poco, the Poco M4 Pro 5G appears to be the most direct rival to the Realme 9 5G. While the two phones share a price, 5G connectivity, and a very similar display, the Poco takes the edge in a couple of meaningful ways.

The Poco gives you an ultra-wide camera, stereo sound, and faster 33W charging. All in all, it feels like a slightly more generous package for your £249.

If you prefer Realme’s understated approach, the Realme 9 5G won’t let you down. But like every new phone at this price, it raises the question of whether 5G is really worth the inevitable compromises that come as part of the budget phone territory.

Realme 9 5G price and availability

  • Prices start at £249 (around $310 / AU$440)
  • Launched May 12, 2022

Released on May 12, 2022, the Realme 9 5G is priced at £249 (around $310 / AU$440) for a solitary model with 128GB of storage.

It’s interesting that there’s also a non–5G version that costs the same amount of money, but with several superior components. Realme is offering a straight choice here between an inferior phone with 5G or a superior phone without it.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

In terms of the phone’s positioning within the wider range, it slots neatly between the £299 Realme 9 Pro 5G and the £199 Realme 9i.

Aside from internal competition, the Realme 9 5G finds a close rival in the identically priced Poco M4 Pro 5G, while the 4G-only Redmi Note 11 Pro costs a similar £259 at the time of writing. 

Realme 9 5G design

  • Tidy all-plastic design
  • Eye-catching pearlescent finish

Unlike some of its budget contemporaries, Realme has maintained a consistent design language across the Realme 9 series.

The Realme 9 5G looks and feels a lot like the Realme 9 Pro 5G and, indeed, the Realme 9 Pro Plus 5G. Holding the latter range-topper side by side with the Realme 9 5G, there’s little to indicate why there’s a £100 difference between them.

This is a solid, well-put-together phone, albeit with a plastic frame and rear. Our model wears the Stargaze White color, which has an appealing pearlescent rainbow sheen to it, as well as a pleasing matte feel.

It wears fingerprints more lightly than many darker models, though they’re still there to see along with the razzle-dazzle effect whenever you tilt the phone.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

This is a bigger phone than the Pro Plus, with dimensions (164.3 x 75.6 x 8.5mm) that match the Realme 9 Pro 5G. We weighed the phone at 192g, which is just the right side of heavy.

Realme has gone with a side-mounted fingerprint sensor stashed within a suitably large and flat power button. This particular system runs like clockwork, but it’s worth noting that the 4G model gives you an ostensibly more advanced in-display solution.

While there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, as usual, the lack of stereo speakers is a bit of a bummer. We don’t expect such a provision at this end of the market, but the Poco M4 Pro 5G has shown that it’s possible, even with 5G as part of the package.

Aside from that glitzy finish, this is a fairly unremarkable, even generic, design. But quality and feel matter more than visual flourish at this end of the market, and the Realme 9 Pro 5G passes that test with flying rainbow colors.

Realme 9 5G display

  • 6.6-inch IPS LCD
  • 1080 x 2412 resolution
  • 120Hz refresh rate

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Here’s where the first and arguably biggest difference lies between the 5G and non–5G versions of the Realme 9. While the 4G model gives you a 6.4-inch Super AMOLED screen (the same as the Pro and Pro Plus), the Realme 9 5G goes with a 6.6-inch LCD.

Both screens have an FHD+ resolution, but while the 4G model has a 90Hz refresh rate, the 5G model goes with 120Hz.

This might be a larger and more responsive screen, but make no mistake: the Realme 9 5G display is a point of compromise. Its blacks aren’t as deep and its colors pop a lot less than on its sibling. Indeed, this screen has more in common with the £149 Realme C35 than with the Realme 9.

Like that budget phone, this is a decent-quality IPS LCD panel, and color accuracy is mostly on point. I measured a maximum brightness of 448 nits and it’ll go a little higher in bright conditions with auto-brightness activated.

Ultimately, though, this panel simply lacks the pop and sheer dynamic range of similarly priced devices with OLED panels.

This is one of the key trade-offs you make with 5G in 2022, and it’s a deal that the likes of the Poco M4 Pro 5G have already made. You really need to examine how much 5G means to you when deciding how best to spend your £250.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Realme 9 5G cameras

  • 50MP main camera
  • 2MP depth and 2MP macro cameras
  • no ultra-wide

The Realme 9 5G comes equipped with a triple camera system in name only. It’s led by a respectable 50MP main (wide) camera, but the 2MP depth and macro sensors are largely there to occupy space and tick boxes.

Focusing on that main 50MP sensor, it appears to be the 1/2.76" Samsung ISOCELL S5KJN1 that can be found in many budget phones. This is the same sensor that you get in the Moto G22, the Realme 9i, and the Realme 8i before it.

As that suggests, it’s nowhere near the level of the Realme 9 Pro Plus 5G’s main sensor. More tellingly, it’s not of the same caliber as the non–5G Realme 9’s 108MP main sensor.

With these caveats out of the way, the Realme 9 5G takes perfectly decent shots in good lighting. There’s a nice natural tone to its shots, even in moderate indoor lighting, but those colors can certainly pop when they need to (such as on food shots).

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

To that end, there’s an optional AI assistant that can be activated with a virtual button press, which tends to pump those colors up a notch. Even then the effects tend to be within acceptable limits, and it served to pep up some of the shots we took on a murky day.

Shots can exhibit signs of overexposure, which is evident when examining the sky and other background elements. But that’s par for the course in cheaper phones.

The Realme 9 5G camera can’t maintain sharpness when taking shots in Night mode, with no OIS, a relatively small sensor, and limited processing power to call upon. But again, the tone is kept quite natural, with none of the fake-looking pumped-up brightness of some budget rivals. Realme’s algorithms are largely on point.

As there’s no telephoto lens, the phone crops in on the main sensor when you tap the 2x button. There are just about enough pixels here to make the results usable within a social media/phone screen viewing context, but you wouldn’t want to blow them up any larger.

More disappointing for some will be the total lack of an ultra-wide provision. The Poco M4 Pro 5G features an 8MP ultra-wide, so it is possible at this price and with the 5G tax factored in. It’s also worth pointing out that the non–5G Realme 9 features an 8MP ultra-wide.

There’s a 16MP camera around the front, which is generally fit for purpose, though it gave my pale skin tone an oddly luminous pink sheen and texture on the aforementioned overcast day.

Camera samples

Realme 9 5G performance and specs

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 processor
  • 4GB RAM and 128GB storage
  • 5G-ready

At the heart of the Realme 9 5G lies a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chip and 4GB of RAM. This is a different set-up from the non–5G model, which gives you a Snapdragon 680 and 8GB of RAM.

The Snapdragon 695 is the same chip that you’ll find in the more expensive Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G and Poco X4 Pro 5G, but it remains a budget 5G chip with a fairly meager feature set. Going back to the camera for a second, the Snapdragon 695 only permits a fairly pathetic 1080p video recording at 30fps.

Average Geekbench 5 scores of 693 single-core and 1,876 multi-core are far from impressive, too. That’s a little faster than last year’s Realme 8 5G in single-core terms, but a little slower when it comes to multi-core.

That said, it does beat the Poco M4 Pro 5G, which scored 572 and 1,567 with its MediaTek Dimensity 810 chip.

This isn’t a phone to buy if you’re a gamer, though. Genshin Impact runs haltingly on its default Low settings. This could well be an issue with the phone’s limited allotment of RAM (just 4GB), as bumping the graphics up to Medium didn’t seem to make the performance noticeably worse, suggesting the GPU isn’t the bottleneck here.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

At any rate, it’s worth remembering that the 4G model gives you 8GB RAM, so might be a better bet for gamers on a budget. As we’ve already said a couple of times, you really need to think long and hard about the actual value you derive from 5G connectivity. Our instinct is that it’s not worth the trade-offs at this end of the market.

With 128GB internal storage, you do at least get the same capacity as the 4G model.

Realme 9 5G software

  • Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0
  • No Google feed

The Realme 9 5G runs on Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0 sitting on top. This is far from the most intrusive custom Android skin on the market and is far easier on the eye than Xiaomi’s MIUI, which you’ll find in Redmi and Poco phones.

Menus are crisp and relatively stock-like, and it’s not jam-packed with duplicate or third-party apps. There’s no divisive (in both senses of the word) split notification pane like in MIUI either.

Interestingly – and rather annoyingly – there’s no Google Feed to the left of the home screen. Even the super-cheap Realme C35 had that, and we found ourselves constantly butting up against the springy animation that pops up when you can scroll no further.

This being Android 12, there’s a neat facility to adjust the color of menu toggles according to your chosen wallpaper, which is a cool addition – especially compared to the many Poco and Redmi phones that are still running Android 11.

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Realme 9 5G battery life

  • 5,000mAh battery
  • 18W charger

The Realme 9 5G is powered by a 5000mAh battery. We’d say that’s large, but it’s pretty much a required inclusion for a modern affordable phone.

What we will say is that it’s as ample here as it is in any Poco, Redmi, or Motorola rival. You could conceivably get through a full two days of light to moderate usage on a single charge, while even heavy users should be able to clear a day with room to spare. Again, that’s nothing special in a sector of the market that goes big on capacity, but it’s a positive nonetheless.

Watching media content will sap the juice a little more here than on a more expensive phone with a more efficient/expensive processor. Running the classic 90-minute TechRadar looping video with the screen brightness set to max sapped 12% of a full charge.

The 5G tax is in evidence when it comes time to recharge. Like last year’s Realme 8 5G, Realme has bundled in an 18W charger, which will take over an hour to get from empty to full.

This is in contrast to the plain Realme 9, which gets a more rapid 33W alternative. As indeed does the Poco M4 Pro 5G, which doesn’t even require that you do without 5G.

Should I buy the Realme 9 5G?

Realme 9 5G

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if...

You like big screens
At 6.6-inches, the Realme 9 5G’s screen is bigger than the non–5G model’s, as well as the range-topping Realme 9 Pro Plus 5G.

5G is a priority for your budget phone
The Realme 9 5G sacrifices a couple of features in the name of 5G connectivity, so if super-fast network speeds are more important to you than speedy charging, a vibrant display, or a comprehensive camera set-up, this could be the budget phone for you.

You like your phones to shimmer
The Realme 9 5G’s Stargaze White finish is certainly eye-catching, with a rainbow shimmer when viewed at an angle.

Don't buy it if...

You want to shoot ultra-wide snaps
There’s no ultra-wide camera on the Realme 9 5G, so you’ll have to take an extra 10 steps back for those epic landscape shots.

You like to charge during the day
With an 18W charger bundled in, the Realme 9 5G isn’t for you if you like to perform a quick middle-of-the-day top-up.

You want the cleanest software possible
While Realme UI 3.0 is far from the worst offender, it’s nowhere near as clean as the near-stock software that you’ll find on rival Motorola and Nokia phones.

Also consider

Image (opens in new tab)

Realme 9 Pro Plus
If you can afford to roll a few more coins over the counter for your new smartphone, the Realme 9 Pro Plus has more impressive specs and an even fancier design.
Read our full Realme 9 Pro Plus review

Image (opens in new tab)

Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G
With a good-looking screen, long-lasting battery and a similar price to the Realme, this is another affordable mobile worth considering.
Check out our Xiaomi Poco X4 Pro 5G review

Image (opens in new tab)

OnePlus Nord CE 2
For just a little bit more than the Realme, you can get the Nord CE 2 with a slender design, fast charging and slick software.
Check out our OnePlus Nord CE 2 review

First reviewed May 2022