Realme adheres to one primary strategy: to bombard the budget segment with tons of phones. Sure, it gives buyers plenty of options to choose from, but not without added confusion. This is the case with the Realme 9 series, which has already seen six handsets in just a few months (all closely priced), including the newly launched Realme 9 – a 4G-only variant of its 5G siblings. Without the 5G charge, Realme is able to increase several other aspects of the phone, from screen quality to charging speed. However, these improvements do not necessarily stand up to other phones from Xiaomi, Samsung and even from Realme itself.
Realme 9 4G is a mix of mostly good stuff, but it does not stand a chance against the competition as a complete package.
- Storage: 128 GB UFS 2.2, dedicated microSD card slot
- CPU: Snapdragon 680 with Adreno 610
- Memory: 6/8 GB
- Operating system: Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0
- Battery: 5000mAh, 33W Dart charger included
- Ports: USB Type-C, 3.5 mm audio jack
- Screen (size, resolution): 6.4 “OLED, 2400 x 1080, 20: 9, 90Hz
- Camera (front): 16 MP
- Cameras (rear): 108 MP Samsung HM6 sensor, f / 1.75 (main); 8MP, f / 2.2, 119.9º (UW); 2 MP (macro)
- Price: From 17999 INR (~ 235 USD)
- Connection: 4G, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1
- Others: In-display fingerprint reader
- Dimensions: 160.2 x 73.3 x 7.99 mm
- Colors: Yellow, white, black
- Weight: 178 g
- The 90Hz OLED screen looks great
- Comes preloaded with Android 12
- Decent performance
- The on-screen fingerprint reader works well
- Excellent battery life Good daylight images
- Realme UI comes with a lot of bloatware
- The low light camera is bad
- No stereo speakers
- No NFC
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Realme 9 4G has the same outer shell as Realme 9 Pro, down to the port layout and camera island. However, it has a plastic backing instead of glass. I’m not so worried about Realme’s choice of material, as the phone feels solid with good fit and finish, and more importantly, plastic helps keep the weight in check despite a substantial battery.
A really nice OLED screen fills most of the front, but there is still a noticeable chin frame. The screen has a resolution of 1080p and can be updated at 90Hz. It is just as good as the more expensive Realme 9 Pro +, which we reviewed a few weeks ago, with pleasant colors and wide viewing angles that leave little to complain about. One advantage of having an OLED screen is that you get a fingerprint reader on the screen – it is optical and works flawlessly.
I wish Realme had gone for a stereo speaker pair to increase the entertainment quotient instead of a single bottom-up setup. The audio output is to the shrill side and the speaker starts to rattle a bit if you play music at max volume. If that helps, the phone gets a 3.5mm headphone jack and a dedicated microSD card slot – both of which are rare these days.
A little weirdness here is that you have to hold down the power key and volume key to see the power menu as newer iPhones and Samsung devices (which link the button to Bixby by default). While it’s not a big deal for occasional phone restarts, defeating the purpose of a shortcut menu to control your smart home devices regularly defeats the purpose.
In a typical bright yellow box from Realme you get the phone, a USB-A to USB-C cable, a 33W quick charger, a transparent case and some documents.
Software, performance and battery life
It’s common for most phones in this series to launch with older Android versions, but Fortunately, Realme counteracts this trend. 9 4G comes running with Realme UI 3.0 on top of Android 12 (Realme 9 5G gets Android 11), and the company also proactively released the April patch last week. It was wonderful to see more Google apps capture accent colors for their interface (not the app icons) from the wallpaper as part of Material You’s dynamic theme engine.
While it’s refreshing to see brands take on one of the best features of Android 12, the whole colorful vibe doesn’t quite mask the issues with the software. First of all, the phone comes packed with bloatware, like Moj and Josh (Indian TikTok clones), which requires you to spend time uninstalling or disabling them manually. Realme 9 also had a host of performance issues at launch, most of which have been resolved with the April update, but a few are still left. For example, the phone hangs for a few seconds when you make system-wide changes such as dark mode or focus mode, which makes the phone feel sluggish even for a moment.
The performance issues are most likely thanks to the Snapdragon 680 processor we saw on the Realme 9i, which had a pretty disappointing performance. But due to better software optimization on Realme 9, this SoC is now to live with, with your usual social media and entertainment services and switching between apps that work smoothly.
The problem comes when you push the CPU and GPU to their limits with games like Call of Duty and Asphalt 9. The frame rate varies a lot in both games, and Asphalt 9 does not even support anything above 30fps. While this did not kill the gaming experience, the Realme 9 is not a gaming phone and is only good enough for occasional sessions. After an hour of stress testing, the Realme 9 did not get uncomfortably hot, which says a lot about the phone’s ability to withstand harsh Indian summers.
Battery management on the phone is a bit on the aggressive side with app notifications. On some occasions, some non-essential messages (such as app alerts and promotions) arrived a few minutes after the app sent them out. This was not an issue with more time-sensitive updates, including messages, emails, and reminders.
Realme 9 could afford to facilitate battery management, as the 5000mAh cell offers excellent battery life. I found it quite difficult to kill the battery in a full day with my typical use and had to use a battery drain app for one of my charging tests. I routinely ended my day with 40% battery left over after a day of light to medium use with 4-5 hours of screen on time. The built-in 33W charger takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to charge the battery, which is just as fast as it gets for phones in this price range.
The camera situation on Realme 9 is a bit peculiar. The main sensor has a resolution of 108 MP, but the Snapdragon 680 only supports a maximum of 64 MP resolution. Realme has not yet clarified how it managed to do so. There is a 108MP mode in the camera app, but the images do not look more detailed than the normal 12MP mode. So for this review, we will focus on the resulting inscribed images that most people will see.
As is the case with budget phones, the primary camera on the Realme 9 takes some great looking daylight images with colors closer to what you really see. The images do not have an artificially vivid, supersaturated appearance, which may not please some users. The phone gets the right skin tones and has a decent dynamic range that captures a lot of details in shady areas, but it sometimes has a hard time getting a uniform white balance under challenging light.
The images from the main camera also look a bit blurry and soft along the edges on closer inspection, no matter how good the ambient light is. This problem is exacerbated indoors and in low light, where the phone itself struggles to lock focus. If you usually have a tendency to snap and walk, you may want to check the image once before moving on. With a little extra shooting time when using night mode, the camera gets the right focus, but it can lead to blurred images.
The included 8MP ultra-wide camera takes useless pictures. The footage has a watercolor effect and little or no detail is preserved in the process, but it is fine for outdoor photos and distant landscapes. As for the 16MP selfie camera, the photos taken from it have a slightly muted tone, but at least they do not look overtreated unless you have enabled its various beautification features.
Are you going to buy it?
Maybe. Compared to its 5G siblings, the Realme 9 4G adds a nice OLED panel, a fingerprint reader on the screen, Android 12 and a faster 33W charger. These are some solid reasons to get the 4G model, especially considering that it costs only 500 INR (~ $ 7) more and 5G connectivity is nowhere near being implemented in India. But all the other aspects of the phone hold it back. The lack of a stereo speaker pair already puts it behind the competition, and Realme’s decision to use a mid-range processor (when its own 9 Pro uses a more powerful chip for the same price) does not really work.
While it makes sense for buyers to get a lot of options, Realme has to draw the line somewhere. In the current state, there are several phones from the company in the segment below ₹ 20,000 and Realme 9 4G is probably the most confused of them all. It’s not entirely intended for entertainment (without stereo speakers) nor is it good for gaming (thanks to the processor), and above all, the camera’s low light performance is among the weakest on any phone at this price.
So who is this phone for? If you want a no-nonsense phone with the latest software that can handle your basic social media and work apps, go for Realme 9 4G without any other thought. But if you often find yourself listening to music on the speaker or playing heavy games, you have plenty of other options from Xiaomi, Samsung and even Realme to choose from.
Buy it if …
You do not store your phone for more than two years.
Your needs are basic – calls, messaging, email management, social media, et al.
Do not buy it if …
You take a lot of pictures at night.
You love mobile games.
Question: How is Realme 9 4G compared to Realme 9 Pro?
Realme 9 Pro has a small edge with its Snapdragon 695 processor, which is much better than SD680 on Realme 9 4G. It also takes noticeably better pictures across different lighting conditions – not so far from how the Realme 9 Pro + performs. However, the Pro model has a 120Hz LCD panel (and a side-mounted fingerprint reader), which may not look as good as an OLED. Since both phones cost the same in India, the 9 Pro offers a better all-round package.
Q: How is Realme 9 4G compared to Samsung Galaxy M33?
The Galaxy M33 also comes running with Android 12 out of the box, and given Samsung’s latest track record with software releases, the Galaxy phone should be supported for longer. The handset has a 120Hz LCD and holds a more powerful 6000mAh battery, which should be enough for two days of use. Samsung has used its internal Exynos 1280 chip, which proved its ability in our Galaxy A53 review.
Q: How does Realme 9 4G compare to Redmi Note 11 Pro?
The Redmi Note 11 Pro is perhaps the most packed phone of them all. It gives you a 120Hz OLED, stereo speakers, faster 67W charging, a 108MP camera and even an IP53 rating for the same ₹ 17,999 starting price. However, the phone still comes with Android 11 (though with MIUI 13), which is a big step down from Realme’s newer software.
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