Redmi Note 9 Review: A Note For The Not-So-Heavy Users
If there’s one product line that best defines Xiaomi, at least in my opinion, it has to be the Redmi Note series of phones. First launched in 2014, the Redmi Note 4G not only revolutionized the budget smartphone segment but also redefined our expectations from budget smartphones to such an extent that it eroded the thin line between entitlement and critique for many.
The Redmi Note 9, pretty much every sense, is a quintessential Note phone that aims at bringing a reliable smartphone experience for those who don’t see worth spending a fortune on a smartphone.
Although similar, the Redmi Note 9 is very different from its predecessors in that it breaks the INR 9,999 pricing streak that Xiaomi had maintained from the first Note that it launched in India in 2014 to the Note 8 that it launched in 2019.
For a company that has maintained aggressive pricing for the longest time, this increase in price should indicate at least one thing – smartphones won’t be as cheap as they used to be. The increase in GST rates and the supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are just a couple of reasons why the pricing of smartphones has increased across the spectrum.
Coming back to the Redmi Note 9, is the phone worth its asking price of INR 11,999? Well, let’s find out in our full review of it!
Redmi Note 9 Review: Build & Design
The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The design of the Redmi Note 9 is very similar to that of the Redmi Note 9 Pro’s but the material and finish are different. While the front is still covered with the Gorilla Glass 5, the same glass only protects the lens at the back since the back is made of polycarbonate. Redmi has made use of what it calls the Aura Design and the Aura White colour we had looked rather graceful.
Although it might seem otherwise, the Redmi Note 9’s gradient finish doesn’t change with the light.
Sitting in the centre at the back is a quad-camera setup below which rests a fingerprint sensor. The fingerprint sensor works really well but it, unfortunately, can’t be used to access the notification tray.
The volume rocker sits on the right side, a notch above the power button. I’d personally have preferred the volume rocker to be on the left for easy access. Sitting on the bottom side is a USB Type-C port, a speaker grille, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. And yes, the Redmi Note 9 retains the IR blaster which sits at the top of the phone.
The phone also boasts of a hydrophobic P2i coating which will help it absorb the damage that rain or accidental splashes could cause otherwise.
Redmi Note 9 Review: Display
The Redmi 9 has a roomy 6.53-inch FullHD+ display that is rather good. Since we’re past the time of waterdrop notches, the Redmi 9 too has a hole-punch camera. Although, unlike the Redmi Note 9 Pro, the hole sits to the left of the display. While this may depend on your personal preference, I prefer this placement as it’s easier to overlook while you’re gaming or watching videos in landscape.
The display gets sufficiently bright and it shouldn’t be very difficult to view in bright outdoors. Although, one tiny problem I had with the display is that I found the auto-brightness feature acted a bit wonky at times which then called for manual tinkering.
The phone is Widevine L1 certified which means you’ll be able to stream in Full HD on streaming services such as Netflix, Hotstar, and Amazon Prime Video.
There’s no higher-refresh-rate here but given its starting price, it’s something we didn’t expect to see in the first place. So, if that’s something you’d really like to have, I’d suggest you check the Realme 6i.
Redmi Note 9 Review: Performance
The Redmi 9, as far as I can remember, is the second device to make use of a MediaTek chipset, the Redmi Note 8 Pro with its Helio G90T being the first one. So how does the Redmi Note 9 perform with the Helio G85 SoC? I was content with how the chip performed in day-to-day tasks. Redmi seems to have done a really good job in optimizing MIUI and browsing through the UI is a pleasant experience.
But the real improvement that Redmi claims the Helio G85 brings, over the Snapdragon 665 used in the Redmi Note 8, is GPU performance. It is because of this that the Redmi 9 is able to support the High + HD setting on popular battle royal game PUBG. But at the highest setting, the phone does stutter and the gaming experience isn’t quite great. Switching to Smooth + Ultra offered a much better overall gaming experience. I tried a couple of other games such as CoD and Asphalt 9 and the performance was fine (at low graphic settings). Heat management is pretty good too with the phone never getting too warm to hold.
If you’re looking to buy a phone specifically for gaming, I’d suggest you splurge a bit more and take a look at phones such as the Redmi Note 9 Pro or the Realme 6i that offer better gaming performance.
The Redmi 9 makes use of a single bottom-firing speaker that is nothing to write home about. You’d be much better off using wired earphones thanks to the 3.5mm headphone jack that’s present on the phone. Call quality was good and I didn’t face any major issues during my use of the phone. There’s support for VoWiFi and dual 4G VoLTE.
Lastly, the haptic motor on the Redmi 9 is one of the better ones in this price segment. While the phone doesn’t make use of a Z-axis vibration motor that the Redmi Note 9 Pro uses, it still offers relatively tight feedback.
Redmi Note 9 Review: Battery & Charging
The battery endurance of the Redmi 9 is definitely one of the phone’s strong points. The Redmi Note 9 boasts of a 5,020mAh battery that will easily last a day’s worth of use for most users. With more than an hour of intensive gaming and several hours of audio and video streaming, I could easily achieve SoT numbers of 5.5-6 hours. If you’re a light user, expect these numbers to go further.
When it comes charging, things are a bit confusing here. Redmi bundles a 22.5W fast charger with the phone but the phone, at the time of writing, the phone’s charging speed is capped at 18W. Redmi says they’re working on bringing support for 22.5W charging with a future OTA update.
As it stands at the moment, the 18W charger takes a sweet time to completely charge the phone. In my usage, it took the phone about 45 minutes to reach 50% from 15% and a total of about 2.5 hours to reach 100%. This number is definitely on the higher side but it’s good to know that the phone at least won’t die on you anytime soon.
Redmi Note 9 Review: Camera
The Redmi Note 9 makes use of a quad-camera setup at the back that consists of a primary 48MP f/1.79 Samsung ISOCELL GM1 sensor, an 8MP f/2.2 ultrawide sensor, a 2MP macro lens and a 2MP depth sensor. The front shooter is a 13MP sensor.
The photos taken with the primary sensor are good but they tend to produce saturated colours which isn’t necessarily bad. But if you’re not a fan of saturated output, you may not like what you see here. Dynamic range is too decent and it’s nothing that’ll blow you (or the highlights) off. Although, in terms of details I was left wanting for more.
Night performance of the primary is good with respect to the price of the phone. Although images have plenty of noise, the dynamic range is pretty decent and the phone does a good job of not blowing off light sources.
The ultrawide sensor is substandard and it’s not every time that the sensor clicks an image that’s social-media worthy. Compared to the primary sensor, there’s much less detail, dynamic range is worse, and the colour science is different too. While this can be said about most ultrawide sensors in this price segment, the Redmi Note 9’s sensor performed a tad worse than we expected it to. Also, there’s no support for night mode and hence the images taken at night with the ultrawide sensor are washed out and you’ll be hard-pressed to find details.
The portraits taken on the Redmi Note 9 were rather good though with the phone doing a really good job with edge detection. In most cases, it does a good job of separating the subject from the background and this works well with objects too. Only in certain complex images the phone falters in highlighting the edges.
Selfies taken with the phone were pleasant and I’d recommend switching off AI Selfies if you want a detailed shot of your face.
Check full-sized samples here.
Unfortunately, if you’re someone who shoots a lot of videos it’ll be hard to recommend the Note 9 to you. Due to limitations of the processor, the Redmi Note 9 only shoots 1080p videos at 30 frames per second which is a massive drop from the Redmi Note 8 that could shoot 4K at 30 frames per second. Even the 1080p videos are quite okay and they definitely don’t look as good as some other phones we’ve tested in this price segment.
SEE ALSO: Realme 6 Review: A Shot Out Of The Park
Redmi Note 9 Review: Software
If you’ve ever used a Redmi or a Mi phone, you’ll be pretty much at home with the Redmi Note 9. The phone runs on MIUI 11 out of the box which is based on Android 10. Unfortunately, there’s no official word on when the phone will receive the MIUI 12 update that’s already rolling out to a bunch of other Redmi phones such as the Redmi K20 pro and the Redmi Note 8 Pro.
Running on MIUI, the phone has all the pros and cons of other phones that make use of the same software. If you’re a tinkerer, there’s a lot to do in MIUI 11 and there’s a stomach-full of features, some of which are rather useful too. Game Turbo (which gives quick access to messaging apps and settings), Clear Speaker (which cleans speaker holes off dust), and Video Toolbox (which plays audio on video streaming applications even when the screen is off).
But like other MIUI phones, the Redmi Note 9 comes with bloatware and the system applications still send spam notifications. Although you can disable them, it’s not the best experience. And MIUI, compared to other UIs out there, still feels cluttered.
Redmi Note 9 Review: Final Verdict
The increased starting price of the Redmi Note 9 might make it seem that it doesn’t offer as much value for money as its predecessors. Although, what we need to take into account is that the pricing factor is something that has affected the industry on the whole and not just the Redmi Note 9 in vacuum. In fact, the price hikes have now rendered the Redmi Note 8 – at a starting price of INR 12,499 – even more expensive than its successor
Even for the starting price of INR 11,999, the Redmi Note 9 offers a good smartphone experience with its large display, its attractive design, reliable day-to-day performance and stellar battery life. The camera is good too but don’t expect it to fare well when compared with phones that cost a 1,000 or 2,000 more. Hence, if the camera, and even the gaming performance, are absolutely critical for you, I’d suggest you shell out a bit more money for the Realme 6 or the Redmi Note 9 Pro.
Image Credits: Prasham Parikh | Mashable India