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Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Review: Not Your Ideal Budget Gaming Smartphone
The Redmi Note line-up by Xiaomi is easily the most popular budget smartphone series in India. The Redmi Note-series smartphones sell like hotcakes because of their sheer value and good all-round performance. The latest smartphone to join the ever-popular Redmi Note line-up is the Redmi Note 9. The smartphone keeps gaming performance in focus and brings some massive upgrades over its predecessor.
- Big Full HD Display
- Corning Gorilla Glass 5 Protection
- Dedicated microSD Card
- Type-C Port
- Camera- Good Daylight Performance
- Long-Lasting Battery
- 22W Fast-Charger In The Box
- IPS LCD Panel lacks Good Brightness And Color Vibrancy
- Underwhelming Gaming Performance
- Charging Is Capped At 18W
- No Major Camera Improvement Over Predecessor
- Unwanted Ads, Spams & Notifications
The launch price is significantly higher this time as the Government of India has increased GST rate from 12 % to 18 %. Even if we take a 6% rise in the GST prices, the Redmi Note 9's launch price should be around Rs. 10,600 but Xiaomi is charging Rs. 11,999 for the base variant that offers 4GB + 64GB. The 4GB + 128GB and 6GB + 128GB storage variants are priced even higher at Rs. 13,499 and Rs. 14,999 respectively. The Redmi Note 9 is going on sale in India today across mi.com, Amazon India, Mi Homes and Mi Studios starting 24th July 2020.
We have spent some time with the Redmi Note 9 to find out if it justifies the price increase. Let's find out.
Design- Looks More Stylish But Lacks That Premium Touch
The Redmi Note 9 brings a major design shift when compared to its predecessor which was built on the design language of the Redmi Note 7-series devices. The new device is built on the Aura Balance Design philosophy which was first introduced with the Redmi Note 9 Pro series. Needless to say, the Redmi Note 9 looks identical to the Redmi Note 9 Pro series devices but the plastic build looks and feels cheaper. Moreover, the Redmi Note 8 was a far more premium looking device, thanks to its glass back panel, sharp edges and premium aesthetics.
The Redmi Note 9, on the other hand, has a 3D curved rear that offers better ergonomics and allows for a better in-hand feel. The device also has a P2i water-resistant coating and the company also mentions that the phone's reinforced corners offer protection against accidental drops. The centrally aligned 48MP quad-camera array also has a fingerprint scanner right beneath it which is fast and accurate. The phone is noticeably bulkier than the Redmi Note 8 because of the bigger screen the massive 5,020mAh battery cell.
The Redmi Note 9 addresses basic requirements by offering a USB Type-C charging port, 3.5mm audio jack, an IR blaster and a dedicated microSD card slot. The single bottom-firing speaker is pretty average. It is not very loud and only gets the basic job done. The Redmi Note 9 will be available in three colour variants, Pebble Grey, Arctic White, and Aqua Green.
Display- 6.53 Full HD Display With Gorilla Glass 5 Protection
The Redmi Note 9 boasts a 6.53-inch IPS LCD panel with a punch hole at the top-left corner for the selfie camera. It is a 19.5:9 aspect ratio panel with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection. The screen serves well for day-to-day operations but fails to deliver a vibrant media playback and gaming experience even though it is Widevine L1 certified. The full-HD+ (1,080 x 2,340 pixels) display has a conventional 60Hz refresh rate which we don't mind at this price but the IPS LCD panel's color reproduction, viewing angles and peak brightness levels are pretty average.
That said, the screen looks just fine indoors but fails to offer a good viewing experience outdoors. The closest rival- Samsung Galaxy M21 flaunts an AMOLED panel with better color reproduction, good viewing angles and deeper blacks for punchier color output. Resultant, videos and games look more immersive on the Galaxy M21 than they appear on the Redmi Note 9. If you want a better screen, the Galaxy M21 is the answer.
Moreover, Realme has also announced the Realme 6i which offers a 90Hz refresh rate IPS LCD panel at a starting price of Rs. 12,999.
Quad-Lens Camera Setup
The Redmi Note 9 features a quad camera array featuring a 48MP primary camera with Samsung ISOCELL Bright GM1 sensor. It is paired with an 8MP wide-angle sensor, 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensors. The budget phone offers LOG video capture, RAW photography, pro video, and a 21:9 movie frame mode for cinematic pictures. A 13MP AI front-facing camera is provided for selfies. For video recording, the Redmi Note 9's video recording capabilities max out at 1080p 30fps.
The Redmi Note 9 captures good pictures in ample lighting. The images show natural-looking colors and decent details. You can enable the Pro color toggle to make the output more vibrant. The AI mode quickly detects the scene and enhances colors, contrast and highlights; however, it also oversharpened the final image output in the process. I would recommend you to disable AI and Pro color mode if you prefer natural-looking images. The 1080p 30fps videos shot in daylight look crisp and show near accurate colors but the output is very shaky as there's no EIS support.
Pleasing Bokeh Effect With Some Efforts
The Redmi Note 9 also allows you to capture decent looking portraits. The dedicated 2MP depth-sensor creates a pleasing bokeh effect if you keep the distance in check while framing a shot. This is because the camera's autofocus is very inconsistent and demands some efforts to get the bokeh right. The smartphone also has a 2MP macro sensor. Its addition is highly debatable because the pictures lack details and colors are highly unnatural.
Low-Light Camera Performance
The Redmi Note 9 can capture well-lit shots if there's a fair amount of light in the frame. You must enable the dedicated night mode to preserve vibrant colors and shadows. Once again the sharpness seems a bit too cranked up to our liking. This is one side-effect of the dedicated night mode that you cannot escape from. And if you disable it, the shots end up looking very noisy. That said, the Redmi Note 9 will come across as a decent low-light shooter if you are a casual photographer and don't spend much time in nitpicking the elements. The front-facing camera and the wide-angle perform a decent job in good light conditions.
Overall, the Redmi Note 9 offers decent camera performance for its price but does it improve over the predecessor? The answer is No.
Good Day-To-day Performance
The Redmi Note 8 worked on the 11nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 665 SoC which offered good day-to-day performance on a budget. The Redmi Note 9 uses a 12nm gaming focussed MediaTek Helio G85 chipset making it the first handset to draw power from the MediaTek's new gaming SoC. The chipset has two Cortex-A75 cores clocked up to 2.0GHz and six Cortex-A55 cores clocked up to 1.8GHz. The core architecture clears that the MTK G85 is essentially an MTK G80 SoC with slightly higher GPU clock speed. This is the reason the Redmi Note 9 is advertised as the budget gaming phone to meet the daily requirements of avid gamers.
With boosted clock speeds and sustained performance, the MTK G85 with ample amount of RAM easily addresses your day-to-day requirements. The phone runs without any performance slowdowns. I have reviewed the Redmi Note 8 and I can say that its successor feels faster and smoother. You can run multiple applications, edit photos, stream music and browse web pages with no lags whatsoever. The Redmi Note comes in two eMMC 5.1 storage variants- 64GB and 128GB but you can add more storage (up to 512GB) via a dedicated microSD card. The phone is powered by LPDDR4X RAM to handle multitasking.
How’s The Gaming Performance?
Xiaomi claims that the graphics performance is boosted by 25% with the Mali-G52 GPU which is clocked up to 1000MHz. However, the gaming performance seemed rather underwhelming on the Redmi Note 9. We played several PUBG and call of Duty sessions on the Redmi Note 9 and experienced hiccups. The PUBG runs at Balanced-Medium settings, which was surprising considering the phone draws power from a gaming-oriented SoC. The MTK G85's HyperEngine suite is quite efficient for dynamic allocation of CPU, GPU, and memory while playing games and performing other GPU-related tasks but it seems that the Redmi Note 9 lacks good optimization.
The smartphone scored 1,380 in 3D Extreme Sling Shot Extreme and Vulkan test with a graphics score of 1,229 and 1,233 respectively. The Redmi Note 9 touched a score of 8,483 in PC Mark Work 2.0 Performance test.
We started with our gaming tests to evaluate the performance. The PUBG ran best at Smooth and Ultra settings on our unit. You tweak the settings to run the game at higher settings and the Redmi Note 9 just couldn't handle it. I could feel the rear panel getting fairly hot with three Evoground sessions. The constant frame drops spoiled the gaming experience. We also noticed similar issues while playing Asphalt 9. It is surprising to see that the Galaxy M21 with the in-house Exynos 9611 delivers better gaming performance than the Redmi Note 9. The gameplay is much smoother and immersive on Samsung's budget device due to better graphics and display performance.
Additionally, we are also testing the Realme 6i with MediaTek G90T chipset. So stay tuned for our review.
MIUI 11.0.2 based on Android 10
The Redmi Note 9 comes running the MIUI 11.0.2 based on Android 10. The feature-rich MIUI 11 also gets its dose of bloatware in the form of the annoying applications such as Get Apps, Osom Rummy, Cleaner app, Zili, Helo (Banned in India), Mi Community (Banned in India) and some unwanted games like Crazy Juicer, Bubble Story, Dust Settle, etc.
You must disable the unwanted personalized ads toggle while setting up the device otherwise the user-experience will be marred by spammy notifications. Even after disabling all those toggles while setting up the device, the Redmi Note 9 showed unwanted ads on the notification panel and the lock screen. I had also disabled the Glance lock screen which is rather annoying than being informative. The controversial Cleaner app is still very much present on the phone. It's better if you just refrain from using the app.
As far as the general software performance is concerned, the UI is smooth and the phone offers several useful features like Reading Mode, Dark Mode, One-handed mode, Quick ball, Smooth Android 10 navigation gestures, Game Turbo (Promises to improve gaming performance but fails miserably), Quick Replies, Second Space, Lite Mode, etc.
Battery Life And Connectivity
The best thing about the Redmi Note 9 is its long-lasting battery life. The phone draws power from a 5,020mAh battery cell which will easily last you a day even with heavy usage. The company is shipping a 22.5W fast-charger in the box but the phone's charging is capped at 18W. What this means is that even though the Redmi Note 9 ships with a big charger, the fast-charging is only limited at 18W. Xiaomi mentions that the handset needs to go under additional lab and field test and will receive a software update which will enable 22.5W charging capabilities. There's no official word on when will this happen.
This is rather surprising because the aforementioned explanation doesn't align with the company's previous claims of intensive product testing. That said, if you were planning to buy the Redmi Note 9 solely on the 22W fast-charging feature, which is highly unlikely, you can wait for the OTA update to roll out. As far as connectivity is concerned, the smartphone supports 4G VoLTE, Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v5.0 and GPS/ A-GPS. The Redmi Note 9 ships with a USB Type-C port that supports 9W reverse charging.
Should You Buy The Redmi Note 9?
Redmi Note 8 was the most popular Android smartphone globally and the new smartphone is designed to replicate that success. Sadly, it failed to impress us with its key selling feature, i.e. the game-centric hardware. The MediaTek G85 simply felt underwhelming. The poor optimization can be one reason but the fact remains unchanged that the gameplay on the Redmi Note 9 is not enjoyable.
Other features like display and camera are in line with the predecessor which means the Redmi Note 9 brings no major generational improvements. Xiaomi's MIUI 11 remains feature-rich and smooth but is marred by bloatware, unwanted ads and spams. The battery life seems to be the only major highlight of the Redmi Note 9. But is it something exclusive to the handset? No, there are smartphones with similar and even better battery life in the same price-point.
Overall, the Redmi Note 9 falls short of expectations. The Galaxy M21, Realme 6 and the company's recently launched Poco M2 Pro are better devices than the Redmi Note 6, especially if you consider the top-end variant that costs Rs. 14,999. You must also check the new Realme 6i. Powered by the MediaTek Helio G90T, the Realme 6i offers a 90Hz display and comes with 30W Flash Charge support. It is launched in two variants - 4GB+64GB for Rs. 12,999 and 6GB+64GB for Rs. 14,999.