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Redmi Note 9 review: the budget champ

On: August 5, 2020

Xiaomi’s Redmi Note series have comprised some of the brand’s most popular phones in India. Known for bringing in typically premium features to the budget segment, the Note range of devices has considerably evolved over the last few years. This year, Xiaomi has launched three phones in its Note 9 line-up, with the Redmi Note 9 Pro and Note 9 Pro Max being higher-end devices.

Also read: Redmi Note 9 Pro Max review: pro performance, max value

The standard Redmi Note 9, which has been launched recently, is the base model in the series, and will appeal to users looking for a capable device on a tighter budget. I’ve used the device extensively over the last couple of weeks, and here’s my review.

Design and display

The Redmi Note 9 features a polycarbonate rear panel, unlike the Note 9 Pro and Pro Max which feature a glass back. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since you don’t need to worry about breaks and cracks. Apart from being sturdier, the plastic material is also less prone to picking up smudges. Xiaomi is bundling a clear protective case inside the box though, in case you want the added protection. I had the Arctic White variant, which features a blue gradient and is quite an unusual colour. The other available colours include Aqua Green and Pebble Grey.

The ports and buttons are quite standard for a Xiaomi phone – Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, dual-SIM card slots with a dedicated microSD card slot and an IR blaster. Unlike the Note 9 Pro devices which feature side-mounted fingerprint sensors integrated into their power buttons, the Redmi Note 9 gets a scanner placed on the rear panel. The scanner is placed higher up on the back panel than I would like, which makes it slightly hard to reach. That said, it’s fast and responsive.

The Redmi Note 9 also features P2i splash-resistance, which extends to its ports, making it capable of surviving accidental splashes and spills.

As for the display, it’s a 6.53-inch LCD panel with full HD+ resolution. It offers 450 nits of brightness and a sunlight mode to improve legibility outdoors. While the screen does get sufficiently bright, it distorts colours to improve visibility under sunlight. For example, I have dark mode enabled for Gmail, and the dark grey background of the app turns a light grey under bright lighting.

The screen is pretty good for a budget phone though, with rich colours and good responsiveness. There’s a punch-hole cutout for the camera in the top left corner, which is far less obtrusive than the centre-aligned camera on the Note 9 Pro phones. There’s a layer of Gorilla Glass 5 for protection, and you also get a screen protector pre-applied which is useful.

Cameras

The Redmi Note 9 features a 48MP primary camera with f/1.79 aperture, 8MP ultra-wide camera, 2MP macro lens and 2MP depth sensor. The front camera is a 13MP unit. Xiaomi phones are known for their good cameras, and the Redmi Note 9 is no different. The primary camera surprised me with its ability to take crisp photos with punchy (if slightly oversaturated) colours, both day and night. There is some loss of detail when zooming in, and the white balance occasionally leans towards the warmer side, but otherwise I don’t have much to complain about.

Indoors in low light, the main camera captures sharp images with accurate colours and minimal noise. For photos taken at night, I noticed that the camera fares better without night mode enabled. The night mode usually results in blurry images, and while it can lighten up the darker areas, it blurs out details a fair bit.

 

Compared to the primary camera, the wide-angle camera was quite a disappointment. Images look hazy and with washed out colours, even in bright daylight. The macro shooter, while it can get pretty close to a subject, results in heavily pixelated images owing to its small 2MP sensor size. I would recommend using the primary camera for close-ups instead. The depth sensor does a fairly good job of edge detection, but for some reason skin tones, especially the lips, look artificially pink.

The selfie camera does a good job in daylight, with natural looking selfies if you have the beauty mode and enhancements turned off. You can also get some realistic looking bokeh in portrait mode, even though it’s software generated.

Software

The Redmi Note 9 runs MIUI 11 based on Android 10. MIUI 11 comes with some key features like a system-wide dark mode, second space to privately store apps and photos, a lite mode, dual apps and Google’s digital wellbeing and parental controls. There’s also a dashboard of sorts that’s accessible by swiping right on the home screen, showng you utility apps, recommended apps, news and much more.

As per usual, there are dozens of Xiaomi’s own apps on the phone, and most of these can’t be uninstalled. Apart from this, there are also around 10 third-party apps pre-installed on the device.

GetApps, which is Xiaomi’s own app store continues to send annoying notifications, and these will need to be turned off manually. GetApps also prompts you to download nearly 900MB worth of apps when you set up your phone. There are other prompts you need to be wary of when setting up the device, such as giving privacy permissions to Mint keyboard (another Xiaomi app) and turning off personalized ads. The whole experience feels a bit intrusive, and can seem a bit much if you’re not aware of how to tweak app permissions.

Performance

While the Note 9 Pro and Pro Max feature Snapdragon 720G processors, the Note 9 is the odd one out with its MediaTek Helio G85 chipset. Xiaomi also opted for a MediaTek processor last year on the Redmi Note 8 Pro, which came with the reliable Helio G90T. The Helio G85 on the Note 9 isn’t as powerful, but is a perfectly capable budget chipset.

There were a few freezes during my usage, and I noticed using some Instagram filters made the camera lag a bit, but apart from that, the Redmi Note 9 has been quite smooth when it comes to daily usage. I had no issues with several apps running in the background, and could easily multi-task when switching between apps from the recents menu.

As for gaming, the phone loads PUBG in HD graphics and a medium frame rate. It gets slightly warm around the camera after gaming for 10-15 minutes, but doesn’t become uncomfortably hot. I noticed a few frame drops and stutters during gameplay, but overall the processor fares decently well for heavy games.

The Redmi Note 9’s 5,020mAh battery is one of the best in this price range. Over a period of two days, I managed to get more than 8 hours of screen on time, and this is with a bit of juice leftover. Granted I wasn’t playing many games during this time, but I used it for a fair bit of browsing, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp, video and voice calls and the camera.

The charger bundled in the box is rated at 22.5W, although at the time of writing this review, the charging speeds are capped at 18W. As per Xiaomi, the full charging speeds will be enabled via an OTA update in the future. In our charging tests, the phone’s battery took 2 hours and 45 minutes to charge completely, but the faster charging rate should improve those speeds a bit.

The competition

At its starting price of Rs 11,999 (going up to Rs 14,999 for the 6GB + 128GB variant), the Redmi Note 9 goes up against the recently launched Realme 6i (first impressions) in India. The Realme 6i trumps the Redmi Note 9 with its more powerful Helio G90T chipset, 90Hz display and 30W fast charging. That said, it features a smaller 4,300mAh battery and the storage maxes out at 64GB.

If you’re looking for a clutter-free interface, the Moto G8 Plus is another option in this price band. It comes with stock Android 10, the reliable Snapdragon 665 processor and 48MP quad cameras. The 4,000mAh battery is a bit of a compromise, but it should still pack in enough juice for an entire day’s worth of usage.

Bottomline

The Redmi Note 9 is another solid Note-series phone from Xiaomi. Despite its flaws, it’s a fairly reliable phone that will serve you well if you want a value for money phone with good battery life and performance. If you can stretch your budget though, I recommend looking at the excellent Redmi Note 9 Pro, which offers a more powerful Snapdragon 720G chipset and sleeker design for a small premium.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

What works:

  • Good performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Primary camera takes good photos
  • Fast charging

What doesn’t:

  • No 90Hz display
  • Wide-angle and macro cameras aren’t great
  • Cluttered software
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Ketaki Bhojnagarwala

Ketaki has over 10 years experience writing on tech, having worked at the Hindu Business Line and 91mobiles earlier. When she's not editing copies or reviewing the latest gadgets, she spends her time binge-watching Netflix and reading fantasy fiction.