Design & Build
Like a lot of budget Android phones, the Realme 9i is made from lightweight plastic, but it has a reflective coating. It comes into two colour options, Prism Blue and Prism Black, and the blue option.
The Realme 9i’s lightness (190g) means that most people should be able to comfortably hold and use it in one hand, but it’s by no means a small phone; it’s got a 6.6in display, and is roughly 165mm tall.
The power key on the right-hand side features a fingerprint scanner, which makes for fast and convenient unlocking. This is a feature that’s increasingly common on budget phones, but it’s always a welcome addition.
Type-C USB along with a regular 3.5mm headphone jack sit at the base, next to an external speaker and noise cancelling mic. On the left-hand side sit two volume keys and the combination SIM and microSD card tray. There’s nothing on the top side, save a cavity for another noise microphone.
The earpiece speaker is razor-thin, crammed into the top, and is barely noticeable against the super-thin bezels. Instead of a notch/teardrop at the top for the front-facing camera, there’s a hole punch for the camera set into the top left-hand corner of the display.
Screen & Speakers
The Realme 9i squeezes a 6.6in Full HD+ LCD display into a slim and lightweight body. That would be good going for a budget phone anyway, but, the Realme 9i’s display has another ace up its sleeve in the form of a 90Hz maximum refresh rate.
This chiefly means that game and video content looks as smooth as polished silver, but also mundane things like scrolling through menus just feels a tiny bit smoother with the 90Hz mode turned on.
It’s arguably this feature more than any other that makes you forget that the Realme 9i is a budget device. Brightness is also decent, good enough to punch through the glare of a bright sunny day as I recorded a peak brightness of 556 nits.
Regardless, the Realme 9i’s display, as good as it is, can’t match that of the Redmi Note 11, as no LCD will ever beat an AMOLED in the contrast department. Still, it’s a good enough display, capable of making video content and some mobile games look pretty fantastic.
The external speakers are adequate, not too tinny, but they’re not exactly going to make the room shake, so you’ll probably want to look at getting a Bluetooth speaker and some headphones, too.
Specs & Performance
Performance of the Realme 9i is broadly within expectations for a 2022 budget device – it’ll do the basics very well, and in some cases, performance combined with the 90Hz display will impress. In other areas, it’s quite clearly lacking.
The most obvious example is gaming, which is a mixed experience. Dead Trigger 2 looked great and played extremely well, with the game assistant software telling me I was getting 55-58fps most of the time. On the other hand, the pre-installed beta version of PUBG Mobile, while reasonably stable, shuffled along at 20-25fps. No wonder I died constantly.
The Realme 9i is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 680, the same mid-range eight-core processor which also sits under the hood of the Redmi Note 11 – it’s not surprising then, that benchmarking results are very similar. The GPU scores here aren’t much to get excited about. At a glance, they’re only slightly better than those of the cheaper Realme C31.
As for general phone operations, the Realme 9i is absolutely fine. There’s hardly any lag, zipping through menus and jumping from tab to tab in the browser feels reasonably speedy, and the camera is quick to respond to commands.
Rarely did I have to shut down dormant apps to free up memory. The version I was sent for testing featured 4GB of RAM, so presumably, the 6GB version will let you do more of the same without having to kibosh old processes quite so much.
How well a 4GB phone will last you over the years is another thing – if you can pick up a 6GB version, that’s obviously the one you should go for. This version is nowhere to be seen on the official UK store, but you do get 128GB of storage as standard.
The Realme 9i’s 50Mp main camera can take some very good stills, but, as is often the case with cheap phones, there are some limitations; the autofocus sometimes struggles with fast-moving subjects, and low light shots are generally quite noisy.
The photo of the white spider on the red acer is a good example of the Realme 9i’s ability to lock focus on a gently moving subject. When taking this photo, a light breeze was moving things around a lot, so it’s impressive that the spider is as detailed as it is here. However, as you can see from looking at the leaves in the foreground and background, additional detail is lost.
The main camera is generally speaking better at capturing wide-angle shots. The dedicated macro mode did not, in my experience, capture much more detail than close-ups taken in auto mode, and generally resulted in much darker images, with less natural-looking colours. So just like almost every budget phone, then.
Night shots, in the right circumstances, can be stunning. If there’s plenty of ambient light, even shooting on auto produces acceptable results, but the Night mode long exposures really bring it on home. Look at the photos of the National Theatre building for a good example of the impact Night mode has.
In less positive news, colours tend to be a bit exaggerated and unnatural but this is still pretty good going for a budget phone. A lot of other phones in this category aren’t half as good , just be aware that you’ll probably be taking ten photos, discarding nine, and keeping the one that’s good a lot of the time.
Battery Life & Charging
Battery performance is a real standout feature of the Realme 9i. It delivered well over 12 hours of power in benchmarking tests, even with the higher 90Hz refresh rate turned on.
Anecdotally, I would end most working days with around 60% power left over after taking calls, streaming music to a Bluetooth speaker, and playing idle games on lunchbreaks. This means many users will get two days out of it.
Software & Apps
The Realme 9i runs Android 11 out of the box, with version 2.0 of Realme’s custom UI, the cryptically-named ‘Realme UI’, slapped on top.
Custom interfaces on Android phones can be a pain, because they’re sometimes poorly thought out, and/or aesthetically offensive. Realme UI isn’t either of those things, but it also doesn’t really enhance the stock Android experience in a meaningful way either.
That said, it’s a simple enough user interface to navigate, and while there are a bunch of apps and games pre-installed on the phone, most of them can be uninstalled if you don’t want to use them.
The ones which can’t, like the Compass app, are tiny, and don’t take up much space – so if you don’t use them, you won’t really miss them and with 128GB of storage as standard in the UK it’s not an issue to worry about.
You can, for the most part, customise things to your liking. You can easily change the app icon alignment grid so that everything snaps to a 5×6 grid, stick whatever wallpapers and widgets you like on the home screen, toggle dark mode if you’d rather that the menus were a more nightime-friendly black than white.
Price & Availability
The Realme 9i is available to buy now in the UK, directly from Realme for £199 SIM-free and unlocked. This is for the 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage version.
You can also pick up the same model from Amazon UK, Ebuyer and Laptops Direct, also for £199.
At the time of writing, no UK pricing information for 4/64GB or 6/128GB variants were available, and the Realme 9i won’t be available in the United States or Australia, although you can buy some versions on Amazon US for around $215.
As mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of competition around this price point so check out our chart of the best budget phones to see what else might take your fancy.