Redmi Note 9 review: Good, just not great
Xiaomi’s crowd favorite Redmi Note series has cemented its place as a budget smartphone leader, but with the Note 9 Pro and the Note 9 Pro Max seeing price hikes on account of the GST hikes and the falling rupee, Xiaomi’s Note portfolio had a gaping void that needed a new entry-level champion. That’s the Redmi Note 9 for you, a phone that brings up the rear of the portfolio with capable hardware 48MP quad cameras and a capacious battery setup. The price of admission, which earlier was a sweet sub-10,000 price point, is now Rs 11,999, so the question is – does the Redmi Note 9 do what Xiaomi’s known to do best – deliver insane value for your money? I spent the last week with the phone to find out.
Design wise, you’re getting a very familiar looking package on the Note 9, one that inherits the design aesthetic of the Note 9 Pro series but feels decidedly less premium in the hand with the use of plastic on the rear panel. You don’t get a side-mounted fingerprint scanner - instead it finds its way below the square shaped camera module on the rear, and I often found myself tapping the camera module in the first few days. The Xiaomi staple of an infrared emitter for TV/set-top-box control remains, as does a USB Type-C port for charging. It’s a design that will hold up to use, even if it does feel like some corners have been cut to meet a price point.
Now, the Note 9 is rather light for a phone with a 5020mAh battery (which goes to explain the choice of plastic for the rear panel somewhat), and that battery is the real winner on this device, and that’s not even accounting for the fact that it can save the day for other gadgets with the 9W reverse charging through the USB Type-C port. The battery lasts well into the 1.5-day mark, even with moderately heavy usage, and when it does run out, 18W fast charging with the included 22.5W charger will fast-charge the device to 30 percent in 30 minutes and up to 60 percent in an hour. Wait, what? 18W charging on a 22.5W charger? Turns out the phone is software capped at 18W charging, pending some further field testing, and Xiaomi will unlock the faster 22.5W charging speeds via an over-the-air update in the future.
Around the front is a 6.53-inch full HD+ display with a punch hole selfie camera on the top left corner and Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. The display is bright and crisp, with punchy colors and decent, if not great, outdoor visibility. Bonus at this price point is Widevine L1 support, which means you can stream Prime Video and Netflix at full HD resolution. Under the hood is a MediaTek Helio G85 chipset with either 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, 4GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, or 6GB of RAM with 128GB of storage. Performance is perfectly acceptable for day-to-day use, and you can run PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9 without any issues, even bumping up the graphics to high without too much of a drop in framerate or performance. Bear in mind, while you can push this device, it does run warm occasionally and slows downs if you have too many apps running in the background.
With its quad-camera setup comprising a 48MP primary shooter, an 8MP ultra-wide-angle, a 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth sensor (plus a 13MP selfie shooter in front), the Note 9 uses AI smarts to auto-detect the best settings for the scene. In general, daylight shots on the main camera are rich in colors and details, if a little over sharpened, while some of the details are lost on the wide-angle as you take in more of the scene. Macros and portrait images came out well, with good background separation and edge detection. I found the Document mode especially handy since my go-to-app (CamScanner) has recently fallen of the Indian government.
Note 9 image samples:
Low light images take a bit of a hit, almost expectedly so for a phone at this price point, and you see a fair bit of digital noise close up. Night mode does little to help low-light performance. Video, at 1080p/30 frames per second, was usable in good light.
Software on Xiaomi phones is getting to be a bit predictable. While MIUI 11/Android 10 offers a good amount of customization options and a dedicated gaming mode, the pre-installed bloatware, lockscreen ads and notification spam take the shine off the overall user experience. It becomes handily apparent that to deliver these compelling low prices, you (the customer) have to “become the product”.
And so it is with the Redmi Note 9, which at Rs. 11,999 gives you excellent battery life, a good display and passable performance at a somewhat-increased-but-still-good-value price. The higher spec variants, including the 6GB/128GB variant I reviewed, compete with the far superior base variant of the Redmi Note 9 Pro, which not only offers a better Snapdragon 720G chip, but better cameras and a slicker finish. Folks looking elsewhere in the sub-15,000 bracket could also consider the Realme 6 or the newly launched Realme 6i – the competition has gotten seriously good in the space, and the Redmi Notes are no longer default recommendations.
Redmi Note 9
Pros: Excellent battery life, vivid, sharp display, decent camera performance in good light
Cons: Bloatware everywhere, average low-light camera performance, intense competition, average design
Price: Rs 11,999 for 4GB/64GB, Rs 13,499 for 4GB/128GB and Rs 14,999 for 6GB/128GB in Arctic White, Aqua Green and Pebble Grey
Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar