Realme adheres to one primary strategy: bombarding the budget segment with tons of phones. Sure, it gives buyers plenty of options to choose from, but not without added confusion. That is the case with Realme’s 9 series, which has already seen six handsets in just a couple of months (all closely priced), including the newly launched Realme 9 — a 4G-only variant of its 5G sibling. Without the 5G tax, Realme is able to beef up several other aspects of the phone, from display quality to the charging speed. However, these improvements don’t necessarily stand up to other phones from Xiaomi, Samsung, and even from Realme itself.
The Realme 9 4G is a mixed bag of mostly good things, but it doesn’t stand a chance against the competition as a complete package.
- Storage: 128GB UFS 2.2, dedicated microSD card slot
- CPU: Snapdragon 680 with Adreno 610
- Memory: 6/8GB
- Operating System: Android 12 with Realme UI 3.0
- Battery: 5000mAh, 33W Dart charger included
- Ports: USB Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack
- Display (Size, Resolution): 6.4-inch OLED, 2400 x 1080, 20:9, 90Hz
- Camera (Front): 16MP
- Cameras (Rear): 108MP Samsung HM6 sensor, f/1.75 (main); 8MP, f/2.2, 119.9º (UW); 2MP (macro)
- Price: Starting ₹17,999 (~$235)
- Connectivity: 4G, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1
- Others: In-display fingerprint reader
- Dimensions: 160.2 x 73.3 x 7.99mm
- Colors: Yellow, white, black
- Weight: 178g
- The 90Hz OLED screen looks good
- Comes preloaded with Android 12
- Decent performance
- The in-display fingerprint reader works well
- Excellent battery life Good daylight shots
- Realme UI comes with a lot of bloatware
- Lowlight camera performance is bad
- No stereo speakers
- No NFC
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The Realme 9 4G has the same outer shell as the Realme 9 Pro, down to the port layout and the camera island. However, it has a plastic back instead of glass. I’m not too concerned about Realme’s choice of material since the phone feels solid with great fit and finish, and more importantly, plastic helps keep the weight in check despite a sizeable battery.
A really nice-looking OLED screen takes up most of the front, but there’s still a noticeable chin bezel. The screen has a 1080p resolution and can refresh at 90Hz. It is as good as the pricier Realme 9 Pro+ we reviewed a few weeks back, with pleasant colors and wide viewing angles, leaving little to complain about. A perk of having an OLED screen is that you get an in-display fingerprint reader — it’s optical and works flawlessly.
I do wish Realme had gone for a stereo speaker pair to up the entertainment quotient instead of a single bottom-firing setup. The audio output is on the shrill side, and the speaker starts to rattle a bit if you play music at max volume. If it helps, the phone gets a 3.5mm headphone jack and a dedicated microSD card slot — both of which are rare these days.
One little oddity here is that you need to hold down the power key and the volume up key to see the power menu like recent iPhones and Samsung devices (which map the button to Bixby by default). While it’s no big deal for occasional phone restarts, it defeats the purpose of a shortcut if you regularly access the power menu to control your smart home devices.
In a typical bright yellow box from Realme, you get the phone, a USB-A to USB-C cable, a 33W fast charger, a clear case, and some documents.
Software, performance, and battery life
It is common for most phones in this range to launch with older Android versions, but Realme is thankfully bucking that trend. The 9 4G comes running Realme UI 3.0 on top of Android 12 (the Realme 9 5G gets Android 11), and the company also proactively released the April patch last week. It was wonderful seeing several Google apps picking up accent colors for their interface (not the app icons) from the wallpaper as part of Material You’s dynamic theming engine.
While it’s refreshing to see brands adopting one of the best features of Android 12, the whole colorful vibe doesn’t quite mask the problems with the software. First of all, the phone comes packed with bloatware, like Moj and Josh (Indian TikTok clones), requiring you to devote time to uninstall or disable them manually. The Realme 9 also had a ton of performance issues at launch, most of which have been addressed with the April update, but a few still remain. For instance, the phone hangs for a few seconds when making system-wide changes like the dark mode or focus mode, making the phone feel sluggish, even though momentarily.
The performance hitches are most likely thanks to the Snapdragon 680 processor we saw on the Realme 9i, which had a pretty disappointing performance. However, owing to better software optimization on the Realme 9, this SoC is now livable, with your usual social media and entertainment services and switching between apps working without a hiccup.
The problem comes when you push the CPU and the GPU to their limit with games like Call of Duty and Asphalt 9. The frame rate varies quite a bit in both games, and Asphalt 9 doesn’t even support anything over 30fps. While this didn’t kill the gaming experience, the Realme 9 is not a gaming phone and is good enough only for occasional sessions. After an hour-long stress test, the Realme 9 didn’t get uncomfortably warm, which says much about the phone’s ability to tolerate harsh Indian summers.
Battery management on the phone is slightly on the aggressive side with app notifications. On certain occasions, some non-essential notifications (like app alerts and promotions) arrived a couple of minutes after the app sent them out. This wasn’t an issue with more time-sensitive updates, including messages, emails, and reminders.
The Realme 9 could afford to lighten up on the battery management since the 5000mAh cell offers excellent battery life. I found it pretty hard 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% of battery to spare after a day of light to medium use with 4-5 hours of screen on time. The in-box 33W charger takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to juice up the battery, which is as fast as it gets for phones in this price bracket.
The camera situation on the Realme 9 is a bit peculiar. The main sensor has a 108MP resolution, but the Snapdragon 680 only supports a maximum of 64MP resolution. Realme is yet to clarify how it managed to do that. There is a 108MP mode in the camera app, but the shots don’t look any more detailed than the normal 12MP mode. So for this review, we’ll focus on the resulting binned shots that most people will see.
As it’s with budget phones, the primary camera on the Realme 9 takes some nice-looking photos in daylight with colors closer to what you really see. The images don’t have an artificially vivid, oversaturated look, which may not please some users. The phone gets the skin tones right and has a decent dynamic range, capturing quite a bit of detail in shadowed areas, but it sometimes finds it hard to get a consistent white balance under challenging light.
The images from the main camera also look a tad blurry and soft along the edges upon closer inspection, no matter how good the ambient light is. This problem is aggravated indoors and under low light, where the phone struggles even to lock the focus. If you usually tend to snap and go, you may want to check the photo once before moving on. With a little extra capturing time when using the night mode, the camera gets the focus right, but that can lead to blurry shots.
The accompanying 8MP ultrawide camera takes unusable photos. The shots have a watercolor effect and little to no detail is preserved in the process, but it’s fine for outdoor shots and distant landscapes. As for the 16MP selfie camera, the photos taken from it have a bit muted tone, but they at least don’t look overprocessed unless you’ve enabled its various beautification features.
Should you buy it?
Maybe. Compared to its 5G sibling, the Realme 9 4G adds a nice OLED panel, an in-display fingerprint reader, Android 12, and a faster 33W charger. These are some solid reasons to get the 4G model, especially considering it costs just ₹500 (~$7) more and 5G connectivity is nowhere near fruition in India. However, all the other aspects of the phone are holding it back. The lack of a stereo speaker pair already puts it behind the competition, and Realme’s decision to use a middling processor (when its own 9 Pro uses a beefier chip for the same price) doesn’t seem right.
While giving buyers a lot of options makes sense, Realme has to draw the line somewhere. In the current state, there are multiple phones from the company in the sub-₹20,000 segment, and the Realme 9 4G is probably the most confused of them all. It’s neither fully meant for entertainment (without stereo speakers) nor is it good for gaming (thanks to the processor), and above all, the low-light camera performance is among the weakest on any phone of this price.
So, who is this phone for then? If you want a no-nonsense phone with the latest software that can handle your basic social media and work apps, go for the Realme 9 4G without a second thought. But if you often find yourself listening to music on the speaker or playing heavy games, you’ve got plenty of other options from Xiaomi, Samsung, and even Realme from which to choose.
Buy it if…
- You don’t keep your phone for more than two years.
- Your needs are basic — calling, messaging, managing emails, social media, et al.
Don’t buy it if…
- You take a lot of photos at night.
- You’re fond of mobile gaming.
Q: How does the Realme 9 4G compare to the Realme 9 Pro?
The Realme 9 Pro has a slight edge with its Snapdragon 695 processor, which is much better than the SD680 on the Realme 9 4G. It also takes noticeably better photos across different lighting conditions — not too 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. Given both phones cost the same in India, the 9 Pro makes for a better all-rounder package.
Q: How does the Realme 9 4G compare to the Samsung Galaxy M33?
The Galaxy M33 also comes running Android 12 out of the box, and considering Samsung’s recent track record with software releases, the Galaxy phone should be supported for longer. The handset has a 120Hz LCD and houses a beefier 6000mAh battery, which should be enough for two days of use. Samsung has used its in-house Exynos 1280 chip, which proved its mettle in our Galaxy A53 review.
Q: How does the Realme 9 4G compare to the Redmi Note 11 Pro?
The Redmi Note 11 Pro is perhaps the most packed phone of them all. It gets 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 ships with Android 11 (though with MIUI 13), which is a major step down from Realme’s newer software.
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