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Realme 9 SE 5G review: budget gamers’ choice

Realme launched its latest  Realme 9 5G and Realme 9 SE 5G in India earlier this month. The SE in the latter’s name stands for Speed Edition, which is a nod to its top-notch spec sheet. The smartphone comes with some of the best hardware in this segment and quite possibly is one of the most powerful offering under Rs 20,000 in India.

Also read: iQOO 9 Pro review: well-designed performance flagship

To wit, the smartphone comes with a 5G connection, a 144Hz display (a first in budget segment), and a Snapdragon 778G SoC. Clearly, speed is not just in the name of the device. I have been using the smartphone for a better part of more than a week now. Let’s find out if the Realme 9 Speed Edition 5G has what it takes to speed past the competition in India.

Realme 9 SE 5G: complete specifications

Specs
Realme 9 SE 5G
Display
6.6-inch FHD+ LCD (144Hz)
Processor Snapdragon 778G
RAM 6GB|8GB
Storage 128GB
OS
Realme UI 2.0 based on Android 11
Rear cameras 48MP + 2MP + 2MP
Front Camera 16MP
Battery 5,000mAh battery
Fast charging 30W fast charge
Dimensions 164.4 x 75.8 x 8.5 mm
Price Rs 19,999 starting price

Design and display

  • 164.4 x 75.8 x 8.5 mm, 199g
  • 6.6-inch FHD+ IPS LCD display, 144Hz refresh rate, WideVine L1 certification, 600 nits, 96% NTSC wide colour gamut, 90.8% screen-to-body ratio
The Realme 9 SE 5G comes with 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD display

The Realme 9 SE 5G comes with a 6.6-inch FHD+ LCD display

In a typical Realme fashion, the 9 SE 5G has a confidence-inspiring heft to it with the scale tipping at 199g despite a complete plastic make. I have said it before and I reiterate, I personally prefer phones that have a reassuring heft to them. However, if you have small hands, it might be a little unwieldy for you and inconvenient to use for a longer duration. The back panel is slightly curved, which adds to the ergonomics and the matte finish lends itself to the grip. Realme is offering the smartphone in Azure Glow and Starry Glow colours. I received the latter which has pearl-ish finish with multicolour gradient, whereas the former has a solid blued colourway.

Realme is offering the 9 SE 5G in Aura Glow and Starry Glow colours

Realme is offering the 9 SE 5G in Aura Glow and Starry Glow colours

The back panel is minimalist with just the Realme logo in the bottom left corner and 48MP Matrix AI camera branding on the camera module. The camera island itself matches the colour of the back panel for continuity and has triple cameras and flash laid out in inverted L shape. When I first looked at the camera module, I was surprised to see that the flash is housed in the last camera perforation instead of its own cutout, which is strange but okay I guess. Realme has embedded the fingerprint scanner in the power button, which works very fast and is accurate as well. There’s face unlock as well, which works equally fast.

Speaking of the buttons, the power button is on the right edge and the physical volume buttons are on the left. Above the volume buttons is the dual nano-SIM tray with a dedicated slot for a microSD card, which means you don’t have to sacrifice the second SIM slot to expand storage. Coming to the I/O ports, the phone has a Type-C port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a speaker grille at the bottom. There’s nothing on the top except for a single noise-cancelling mic.

The Realme 9 SE 5G is the cheapest 144Hz display smartphone yet in India

The Realme 9 SE 5G is the cheapest 144Hz display smartphone yet in India

Coming to the display, the Realme 9 SE 5G is the first 144Hz smartphone from the brand in India as well as the first in the sub-Rs 20,000 bracket to offer such a high refresh rate. To an untrained eye, the jump from 120Hz to 144Hz is not too big of a leap, however, if you have a keen eye you’ll notice the difference. The phone offers the option to set the refresh rate to 144Hz, 90Hz, 60Hz, and Auto. The last one will set the refresh rate to 60Hz, 90Hz, or 144Hz depending on the content displayed. The IPS LCD panel is not the best of the lot since I found the colour accuracy to be sub-par and viewing angles as well as outdoor legibility to be on the lower side.

However, if you intend to use the phone for casual online streaming, social media browsing, it will serve you well. The display comes with support for the Widevine L1 certificate, which means it can play HD content on OTT platforms. On the flip side, it doesn’t support HDR media on Netflix, which is a downside. I watched Vidya Balan-starrer Jalsa on the phone and the experience was decent. Some might find the sound from the mono speaker to be slightly restricting.

Cameras

  • Rear: 48-megapixel primary sensor, 2-megapixel black and white portrait sensor, 2-megapixel macro sensor
  • Front: 16-megapixel sensor
The Realme 9 SE 5G ships with a 48-megapixel triple rear camera setup

The Realme 9 SE 5G ships with a 48-megapixel triple rear camera setup

The Realme 9 SE 5G is equipped with a 48-megapixel AI triple camera setup on the rear. The primary camera is the 48-megapixel unit with f/1.8 aperture, which is backed by a 2-megapixel black and white portrait lens and a 2-megapixel 4cm macro sensor. Both 2-megapixel shooters have an aperture size of f/2.4. On the front, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera with an f/2.1 aperture. The smartphone supports 720p and 1080p recording at 30fps and 60fps as well as 4k recording at 30fps. There are features like ultra steady, AI highlight, bokeh video, and live filters for videos.

The Realme 9 SE 5G comes with a 16-megapixel selfie camera

The Realme 9 SE 5G comes with a 16-megapixel selfie camera

Speaking of features, the camera interface is typical Realme UI affair. There’s a massive shutter button at the bottom and preview and selfie toggles on either side. The viewfinder Rolodex has night, video, photo, portrait, 48MP, and More. Click on More and you can access modes like dual-view video,  slow motion, time-lapse, pro, pano, text scanner, and ultra macro. You’ll find options like flash, AI scene recognition, timer, and settings buttons on the top.

Regular
Regular
Regular
Regular
Regular
1X
2X
5X
10X
Portrait
Closeup
Zoom Closeup

The Realme 9 SE 5G’s imaging prowess is average, to say the least, compared to the 64-megapixel and 108-megapixel camera flaunting phones in this price segment. The daylight pictures are detailed with good dynamic range but fault toward punchier colours due to saturation boost. Moreover, the camera tends to overexpose bright shots. Having said that, the camera clicks passable shots for social media posting and sharing with friends on WhatsApp.

The night shots are nothing to write home about either. In standard mode, the low-light shots come out okay but with skewed colour science. In the dedicated night mode, the camera boosts the exposure considerably but also adds noise. Additionally, there are no details in the shadows and without some source of light, pictures appear over-sharpened and noisy. The BnW portrait sensor does a good job of edge detection and background separation, however, the macro images are a hit and miss depending on the stability of your hands and lighting condition.

As for selfies, the 16-megapixel shooter on the front captures good self-portraits albeit little over-sharpened shots. The portrait mode works well with the selfie camera but at times it falters because of a stray hair or light background.

Performance, software, and battery

  • Snapdragon 778G
  • 6GB + 128GB, 8GB + 128GB
  • Realme UI 2.0 based on Android 11
  • 5,000mAh battery, 30W fast charging

The Realme SE 5G comes powered by the Snapdragon 778G processor, which is one of the popular choices in this price segment. The graphical performance of the handset is handled by Adreno 642L. Realme is offering the smartphone in two variants – 6GB + 128GB and 8GB + 128GB. The dedicated micro-SD card supports up to 1TB of storage. The Realme 9 SE 5G comes with support for the virtual RAM feature, which can borrow up to 5GB RAM from the native storage. I received the 8GB + 128GB model for this review and didn’t have to activate virtual RAM as 8GB is more than enough.

The Realme 9 SE 5G is powered by the Snapdragon 778G SoC and up to 8GB RAM

The Realme 9 SE 5G is powered by the Snapdragon 778G SoC and up to 8GB of RAM

During my stint with the smartphone, as usual, I multitasked heavily while switching between YouTube steaming, Netflix, WhatsApp, Slack, and games like BGMI or Asphalt 9. I am happy to report that the phone didn’t kill any of my apps in the background and always opened background apps on the screen where I left off. As for gaming, I played BGMI and Asphalt 9 on the Realme 9 SE 5G. Asphalt 9 plays smoothly even on the highest settings and in BGMI the phone supports Extreme frame rate and Smooth graphics. I didn’t experience any heating and performance throttling during my time with the phone.

The Realme 9 SE 5G boots the Realme UI 2.0 based on the Android 11 out of the box. Realme has made great strides when it comes to cleaning up the interface and reducing the bloatware but there still are some like SoLoop, Max Takatak, Josh, and more. Thankfully the third-party bloatware can be uninstalled to free up resources. On the bright side, the interface offers tons of customisation options and features like dual-mode audio, smooth scrolling, sleep capsule, smart sidebar, and more.

As for the battery, with my usage case mentioned above in the performance section, I was able to see through a whole day on a full charge but had to plug in before the bed. The 30W fast charging tech can charge the battery from zero to  100 percent in just under one and half hours.

Bottomline

There’s no doubt here that the Realme 9 SE 5G is a solid contender under Rs 20,000. The smartphone offers the smoothest 144Hz display in the segment, power-packed performance, and good battery life. The handset also offers solid graphic performance to mobile gamers. On the flip side, the cameras on the smartphone are mediocre at their best and the audio output is not the best in the class.

If you can stretch your budget by a thousand bucks, you can pick up Xiaomi’s latest, the Redmi Note 11 Pro+. It misses out on the performance aspect because of the Snapdragon 695 SoC. On the bright side, the handset offers an AMOLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, 108-megapixel primary camera, and 67W fast charging,

Be that as it may, if you’re in the market for a powerful smartphone with clean software and decent battery life, you cannot go wrong with the Realme 9 SE 5G.

Pricebaba rating: 7 / 10

What works

  • Smooth 144Hz display
  • Great performance
  • Good battery life
  • Expandable storage and virtual RAM support

What doesn’t

  • Sub-par cameras
  • Bloatware in Realme UI
  • Mono speaker
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Abhiman Biswas

Abhiman has over 8 years of experience in content development. He is a Senior Writer and Social Media Manager at Pricebaba. He covers technology news, feature articles, and tech reviews, apart from managing the official Facebook and Instagram handles. Despite a degree in marketing, his love for latest gadgets and technology steered him towards consumer technology coverage.