Realme 9 Pro+ review: The mid-range camera champion

Few brands have seen the sort of meteoric rise up the Indian smartphone charts in the past few years as Realme

author_img Tushar Kanwar Published :  21st February 2022 01:03 PM   |   Published :   |  21st February 2022 01:03 PM
Realme 9 Pro+

Realme 9 Pro+

Few brands have seen the sort of meteoric rise up the Indian smartphone charts in the past few years as Realme, and if you’ve seen the brand portfolio evolve over the past few years as I have, its position at #2 market share will come as no surprise. The Realme 9 Pro+ is the latest addition to the company’s vast and quite frankly somewhat baffling lineup, and it arrives in the battle against the Xiaomi 11i and the Nord CE (and the upcoming Nord CE 2, review out soon) with a few tricks up its sleeve. Does it do enough, though? Let’s find out, in my review of the Realme 9 Pro+.

Going on sale today, the Realme 9 Pro+ 5G arrives in a base 6GB memory/128GB variant at Rs. 24,999, and adding two thousand extra will first get you an added 2GB of memory (8GB, Rs. 26,999) and then double the storage at Rs. 28,999. There’s the Sunrise Blue color I have for review, and a fetching Aurora Green alongside the somewhat subtle Midnight Black. 

If I had to describe the Realme 9 Pro+ in one word, particularly the Sunrise Blue colorway, I’d pick “flashy”, in a heartbeat! It shimmers, it sparkles…and wait till you take it out in bright sunlight. Under direct sunlight, the photochromic rear panel goes from a sky-blue color to a shade of red, almost mimicking the sunrise after which it’s been named. The effect is mesmerizing the first couple of times, but you really have to warm up to the always-on, always-flashy look to pick this color. The glossy rear glass panel is super-fingerprint-prone, which quite literally, takes the shine off the design. Aside from this party trick, the rest of the phone is rather standard Realme fare – a polycarbonate frame sandwiched between two sheets of glass, all packed into a slim 7.99mm profile that feels easier to handle thanks to its low 184g weight. Ports wise, there’s a Hi-res certified headphone jack, and Dolby Atmos-supported speakers, but the compromise comes via a lack of splash protection and a dual-SIM tray that skips the microSD card expansion. 

Around the front, the 9 Pro+ has a 6.4-inch AMOLED panel with Gorilla Glass 5 protection, with a 90Hz refresh rate and a slightly bumped up 360Hz touch sampling rate for increased responsiveness during gaming. It’s a good OLED panel with middling levels of brightness, but let’s talk about that refresh rate – you can select between Auto, High (90Hz) or Standard (60Hz), but that 90Hz refresh rate is really only available when you’re navigating the phone interface, and most other stuff like games and YouTube/PrimeVideo streaming were all locked at 60Hz even if you could have theoretically gone above (gaming) and below (video). Something that needs looking into and followed up with a software update, for sure. Interestingly, above that not-insignificant chin, there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner that can also measure your heart rate (if you enable the experimental feature), which works well for casual use and matches the results I saw alongside on the Apple Watch.

Powering the 9 Pro+ is the new MediaTek Dimensity 920 chip, which is a capable chip for the mid-range with only the faintest bit of stutter when multitasking between heavy apps all at once (on the 8GB variant I tested, expect the memory management to be a bit more aggressive on the entry-level 6GB variant). Gaming performance was decent, running COD Mobile and Asphalt 9 without any major hiccups at medium to high graphics. The vapor chamber-based cooling system did well to keep the chip from heating up even after an hour or more of gameplay, and the phone was generally smooth in everyday use even though I couldn’t help but notice a whole load of bloatware pre-installed with the device. The good news is that unlike a bunch of their peers, Realme has shipped Android 12-based Realme UI 3.0, with all the Material You dynamic theming goodness (it picks the colors of the theme from the wallpaper you choose) combined with Realme UI’s rich personalization settings. The phone also supports the Dynamic RAM Expansion feature, which uses your phone storage as a RAM expansion mechanism, and it’s enabled at 3GB by default. 

The 4500mAh battery on the Realme 9 Pro+ runs rather efficiently, squeezing out close to 7 hours of screen-on time on a usage pattern which involved mostly browsing, social media and some light gaming and shooting camera samples. The bundled 60W SuperDart Charge charger tops the phone up from empty in a little under an hour, with an 80 percent gain in around 30 minutes.

Now, on paper, the 9 Pro+ opts for a camera setup with a 50MP primary shooter, an 8MP ultra-wide and a 2MP macro camera, with selfie duties being handled by the 16MP front-facing camera, but as always, the devil’s in the details. That 50MP sensor is a Sony IMX766, which is typically seen in pricier phones such as the OnePlus 9RT (which borrowed the sensor from the OnePlus 9/9Pro’s ultrawide). Daylight photos from the main camera were clean and tack sharp, with good details and dynamic range and a somewhat aggressive HDR treatment. Ultra-wide photos are usable for most everyday intents and purposes (read:social media), with impressive automatic distortion correction. Macros shot on the phone were passable, but I quite liked the subject separation on portrait shots.  

Instead of padding the 9 Pro+ with another pointless sensor just to make it a ‘quad camera setup’, it’s worth noting that the primary sensor gets optical image stabilization instead, which is a great example of how feature prioritization should go beyond mere lip service in marketing. As a result, low-light photos are greatly benefited, with the shutter remaining open for longer by default, which allowed more light, more detail, correct colors and good exposure. Night mode, of course, helps here as well. 

Realme’s taken a bunch of conflicting priorities that every brand faces at this price point, and prioritized cameras (sensor + OIS) and software, aspects which many smartphones struggle with in this segment. You’re not getting the most aggressive specs in the other departments – there are faster charging devices, devices with faster chips and better displays, but the 9 Pro+ manages to hold its own on these fronts, if not outright shine. If you’re shopping around, the Xiaomi 11i and the new Nord CE 2 are great alternatives. 

Realme 9 Pro+

Pros: Slim design, unique rear panel, good battery life and charging speeds, impressive camera performance, runs the latest Android 12, 3.5mmm headphone jack

Cons: Bloatware, no memory expansion, no splash protection, games capped at 60Hz, thick bottom bezel

Rating: 8/10

Price: Rs. 24,999 onwards

Tushar Kanwar is a tech columnist and commentator, and tweets @2shar