At a Glance
- Excellent battery life
- Comfortable design
- Camera can get some lovely shots
- Stuttering performance at times
- No stabilisation for video
- Slow charging times
An attractive design and comfortable build make the Realme 9 5G a nice phone to use. It’s got long battery life but if 5G isn’t a must then the 4G version and various rivals are better deals.
Realme has introduced its new 9-series range, with several models available at different prices points. The standard Realme 9 comes in both 4G and 5G configurations, albeit with a few different component configurations that make them surprisingly the same price.
I’m testing out the 5G variant here to see just how much you can get for less than £250/US$300.
Design & Build
- Plastic back with Ripple Holograph finish
- Power button with fingerprint sensor
- 3.5mm headphone jack
Budget phones can tend to be a basic in the design stakes. This is beginning to change though, with models like the recent Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G bringing a genuinely pleasing aesthetic to the table.
Now, Realme continues this trend with its new ‘Ripple Holograph’ finish on the back of the Realme 9 5G. It’s a silky looking surface that changes colour as it reflects light. My Stargaze White model has a Pearloid-like basic colour that morphs into an off-blue or even blush-pink hue depending on how you tilt it.
Visually it’s a refreshing change from the shiny plastic that is the norm, but in terms of grip, the Realme 9 5G is just as slippery as most phones on the market today.
Thankfully it’s a reasonably thin device, so you can at least try to hold onto it without hurting your wrist. The 163 x 75 x 8.5mm frame sits nicely in the hand, allowing you easy access to the 6.6in display, although the 191g weight means you might feel the strain after long browsing sessions.
A metal surround is home to the power button that also features a built-in fingerprint sensor on the right flank, with the volume buttons and dual SIM/microSD slot on the left. You’ll find a solitary speaker on the bottom edge, next to the USB-C charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
In the box, there’s an 18W fast charger, USB-C cable as well as a clear silicon case for the phone. Realme also applies a screen protector at the factory, so you’re pretty much good to go as soon as you get the device home. There’s no IP rating on the Realme 9 5G, so be sure to keep it away from the paddling pool this summer.
Screen & Speakers
- 6.6in Full HD+ LCD
- 120Hz refresh rate
- 350 nit maximum brightness
Realme fits a 6.6in LCD panel in the 9 5G, running at a Full HD+ resolution of 2412×1080, with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz.
This can be changed down to 60Hz if you want to save on battery life or you can leave it on the default auto-select mode that varies the refresh rate depending on what you’re doing – i.e., 120Hz for games, 60Hz for reading your messages.
The panel itself takes up the vast majority of the front of the phone, due to its very small bezels that grant it a 90.8% screen-to-body ratio. The only real interruption is in the top left corner where the small punch-hole aperture allows the front-facing camera to see.
Colours are nice and bold, all of which can be adjusted through the various display modes on offer, and the Full HD+ resolution means text and images look sharp and detailed.
Scrolling through the menus in 120Hz mode is pretty smooth, as it is with eBooks and other preloaded content. On social media sites and the web in general it can remain a little jerky, although this is most likely due to the page elements still loading and poorly optimised apps.
For gaming, the GPU copes well with demanding titles like Asphalt 9, rending the detail quickly and clearly. The 240Hz touch sampling rate also made controls responsive, but I did see some frame rate issues at times, causing the game to stutter. I think this was more down to the internet connection rather than the capabilities of the Realme 9 5G though, as other offline games fared better.
The only real downside was the lack of brightness available. I measured the maximum output at 350nits, which isn’t really strong enough to cope with being outdoors on a bright day. With the level set to around 70%, I found the display comfortable to use, less of course when in a dark room, but I couldn’t help feel that it needed a bit more oomph to make it a proper all-rounder.
The single speaker on the lower edge produces a surprising amount of volume. You can easily fill a room with the audio it blares out. High and mid frequencies dominate, as is natural with small thin devices, making it ideal for catching up with a podcast or audiobook while doing the dishes.
For a more balanced sound, you’ll want to connect some headphones either via the 3.5mm headphone jack or by using the Bluetooth 5.1 connection.
Specs & Performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G
- 4/6GB RAM
Realme goes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G processor, which is a pretty decent offering for this level of smartphone. It’s the same one you’ll find in the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G and the Poco X4 Pro 5G, all of which are probably its closest rivals in the marketplace.
This is paired with a slightly disappointing 4GB of RAM on my test model, although in some territories you’ll be able to select a 6GB version. Realme does employ the Dynamic RAM expansion feature, which uses up to 3GB of onboard storage as a kind of ersatz memory, supposedly giving you a bit more performance.
However, with the base model only coming with 64GB of UFS 2.2 space, you might not want or be able to surrender those 3GB. Again, you’ll be able to opt for a 128GB variant depending on where you live, which would make the dynamic RAM expansion a little more tempting.
MicroSD support does alleviate the storage issues though, with the Realme 9 5G happily accepting cards up to a whopping 1TB capacity, so you’ll be able to keep your music, photos and videos on the device without encountering those dreaded warnings that your drive is nearly full.
Opening multiple apps is perfunctory with occasional slowdowns, especially just after you reboot the device. When they’re loaded up, the Realme 9 5G moves apps along at a steady and responsive rate, flicking between them without issue and running the open ones perfectly well. Image heavy apps, such as news feeds, can get a little jagged as you scroll, with the system struggling to quickly load the next part of the page.
I also noticed some strange behaviour in the camera app at times, with the shutter button or focus areas not responding immediately, causing me to miss a shot. These were mostly with low light photography though, which is when the resources are under the most strain trying to compensate against the darkness.
As I mentioned earlier, Asphalt 9 zipped along at a fair clip, and to be fair, for most things, most of the time, the Realme 9 5G is a nice device to use. The fingerprint sensor is also very fast, with the recognition software identifying my print a good amount of the time on the first attempt.
Realme gives the device the kind of connectivity you’d expect at this price point, with Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1, GPS and NFC all on board.
One very strange decision though is that there is also a 4G version of the Realme 9 which is the same price. But that model boasts an AMOLED display rather than the LCD one on the 5G, plus a larger 108Mp main camera, 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage.
The extra cost of 5G means downgrades in other areas so it’s swings and roundabouts when comparing the two.
- 50Mp f/1.8 Ultra HD main camera
- 2Mp f/2.4 B&W Portrait camera
- 2Mp f/2.4 Macro camera
- 16Mp f/2 selfie camera
Realme states proudly that this device has a triple camera configuration, which is technically true. But don’t expect the kind of optics that you’d find on more expensive phones, as aside from the main 50Mp shooter, the other two are rather lowly 2Mp offerings. That’s not to say that you can’t get some decent photos and videos out of this handset.
In good outdoor conditions, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the images that the Realme 9 5G managed to capture. From close-ups of flowers to passing boats, there was a good array of capabilities on show. The focussing could be a little slow at times, which felt more down to the responsiveness of the software to commands rather than the actual lens focussing itself, so I did have to be patient about catching the right moment.
There are zoom options available, but they are only digital and you notice the quality dropping quickly as you move in closer. The images use the now commonplace practice of pixel-binning, so the 50Mp camera captures shots at 12Mp, but if you’re not intending to blow any of these up to make as prints, I think you’ll be happy with the results.
There are a variety of modes available, including portrait, night and ultra-macro, most of which work well. The night mode improved the rather average low-light performance, but it’s best for stationary objects rather than capturing the heart of a party with your friends.
Video tops out at 1080p@30fps, but you’ll only get 60fps if you lower that to 720p. There’s no optical image stabilisation, but you will see an icon that seems to suggest this feature. Instead, this digitally crops the footage in an attempt to remove wobbles. The downside is that this lowers the quality and actually doesn’t do that good a job of stabilising the video.
At 720p/60fps, the footage is smooth and generally keeps its focus, while the 1080p/30fps does suffer more from frame drops. Both struggle to balance light-levels, with a tendency to overexpose.
It’s not bad, but does mean footage can look washed out if conditions aren’t perfect. Again, for many cases, the camera will deliver perfectly decent video for sharing on social media, but if you want to become an amateur auteur then you’ll probably want something a little higher up the food chain.
The front facing camera is a 16Mp f/2 lens that returns some nice images if you’re in well-lit surroundings. Just avoid the various filters that don’t really add much to the party.
Here’s some sample images of what you can do with the Realme 9 5G:
Battery Life & Charging
- 5000mAh battery
- 18W fast charging
- Charger included in the box
A 5000mAh battery means you won’t have to worry too much about straying away from a power source. After a week of using the Realme 9 5G as my daily driver, I always found I had at least 20% left at the end of the day, even after plenty of social media doom-scrolling, using the camera and playing occasional games.
In our standard battery PCMark Work 3.0 benchmark test, the device clocked up a duration of 19 hours and 11 minutes, which is very impressive indeed. If you use your phone lightly, then the Realme 9 5G could easily get you through two days, and maybe even some way into a third.
You won’t find any of the fancy 90- or 120W fast charging that can get you from zero to 100% in about half an hour that we’ve seen on more premium models lately. Using the included 18W charger, a flat battery got back to 30% after 30 minutes, while the full recharge took the best part of two hours.
Software & Apps
- Android 12
- Realme UI 3.0
- Some bloatware
As with most Chinese smartphones, the underlying Android system is overlaid with a bespoke skin. In this case it’s Realme UI 3.0, which is actually quite understated and feels pleasant to use. You do get a few bloatware apps pre-installed, mainly a few games and social media apps, but you can delete these to remove the clutter and claim back some of your onboard storage.
Of course, there are duplicates that are there to tempt you away from Google, but you don’t need to use them.
You’ll find plenty of customisation options, including the way the UI responds to commands (scrolling down on the home page for instance) as well as night mode, various power saving modes, and plenty of other tweaks. It’s not too distant from the vanilla version of Android, with the bonus that Realme 9 5G is already running version 12, and should get at least a couple of major upgrades in its lifetime.
Price & Availability
You can buy the Realme 9 5G for £249 (4/128GB) in the UK, but it won’t be available in the United States or Australia. One alternative worth considering for those territories is the cheaper Realme 9i (a 4G variant with slightly lower specs) which can be bought on Amazon US for around $219.99.
If 5G isn’t that big a deal for you, then there is the Realme 9, which also retails for £249 but boasts a 108Mp main camera, AMOLED display, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. To be honest, unless you’re desperate for 5G, that is a much better deal.
All of these options from Realme put the phones in direct competition with some other good budget devices, such as the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G that has a Full HD+ AMOLED display running at 120Hz, a 108Mp main camera (plus a secondary ultra-wide one) and 67W fast charging for £299.
There’s also the excellent Poco X4 Pro 5G which costs £259/€299 (around US$340) for the 6/128GB variant and £299/€349 is you want 8/256GB, while the OnePlus CE 2 5G is another great bargain in the UK and Europe, where the 8/128GB version is available to buy now from OnePlus or Amazon for £299/€349.
There’s a lot to like about the Realme 9 5G. The design is easy on the eyes, it’s nice to hold in the hand and for general day to day duties most people would find it a worthy companion.
Push the device a bit more and then you’ll notice some stuttering as the small memory allocation comes under pressure. Same with the camera, which can deliver very good photos and acceptable video in well-lit conditions, but struggles to deliver in low-light or when the subjects are moving. Battery life is very impressive though, so you’ll have plenty of time to master the camera.
For around £250 you can’t expect the Earth, and Realme has delivered in most areas where it counts. If you want an affordable phone and it needs to have 5G, then you should check out the Realme 9 5G. Otherwise, the 4G version of the Realme 9 is a better all-round device at the same price.
Realme 9 5G: Specs
- Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0
- 6.6in 2412×1080 FHD+ 120Hz LCD display
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G Octa-Core processor
- Qualcomm Adreno 619 GPU
- 4GB RAM
- 64GB/128GB UFS 2.2 internal storage
- microSD up to 1TB
- 50Mp main camera, f/1.8
- 2Mp black & white lens, f/2.4
- 2Mp Macro lens, f/2.4 aperture
- 16Mp selfie camera, f/2.1
- Fingerprint scanner (on power key)
- Bluetooth 5.1
- Wi-Fi 5
- GPS/APS, Glonass, BeiDou
- Dual SIM
- 5000mAh battery
- 18W Fast Charging
- Stargaze White, Meteor Black
- 164.4 x 75.7 x 8.4mm