Xiaomi Redmi 9 review: Bringing cheap back to budget
Redmi 9 is the new base model in Xiaomi’s budget phone line, but the company offers such extraordinary value across the entire range that this handset finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place: cheap as chips, but not quite cheap enough to justify some of the corners being cut when compared with the competition.
And that’s not just the outside competition, but also rivals within Xiaomi’s own camp: it’s impossible to recommend this phone against the Poco X3 NFC and Redmi Note 9 for anything other than its cheaper price.
It’s currently the second-cheapest mobile phone in our best budget phone round-up (and the cheapest budget Chinese phone), more expensive only than the Moto e6s – and by far the better option. It also trumps Oppo’s more expensive entry-level A5 (2020). But raise your budget by just £40 and you’ll find significantly better value for money.
Design & Build
Redmi 9 is not a bad-looking phone, but it is plastic – and that screams budget. It’s also using a Dot Drop display, while the rest of Xiaomi’s budget line has moved to full-screen displays with punch-hole camera modules. This makes it feel old.
On the plus side, the textured rear surface is so much grippier than those phones with glass behinds, making it a lot more stable both in your hand and when placed down on a flat surface.
The display itself is otherwise nice, with a Full HD+ resolution and a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio, but it’s not capable of the bright and vibrant colours produced by AMOLED panels found higher up Xiaomi’s line. We also found it much dimmer than the advertised 400 nits – in fact, we set the screen to 200 nits for our PCMark battery tests (see how we test phones) and this was pretty much cranked up to the max. We expect that it hits 400 nits only in direct sunlight with its Sunlight display feature.
Xiaomi has also brought down costs by specifying older Gorilla Glass 3, which is much safer than having no protection at all, but we’d prefer to see Gorilla Glass 5 or 6. It feels like a durable handset – helped by the plastic body – though there is no waterproofing. As with all Xiaomi phones a TPU case is found in the box.
At 6.53in the screen is a usable size – but we must point out this is matching the Redmi Note 9, which additionally drops the waterdrop screen notch. Bezels are reasonably slim.
The design is rather plain, but consistent with where you’d usually expect to find certain features. For a budget phone, it’s not uncommon to find the fingerprint sensor on the rear, and here it sits tucked away at the bottom of the central quad-lens camera assembly, so be careful not to leave greasy fingerprints all over the camera.
There are some nice touches, too, including an IR blaster, 3.5mm headphone jack and a SIM slot that does not force you to choose between microSD storage expansion and dual-SIM functionality. This is especially useful when you consider the base model has only 32GB internal storage, though 64GB is also available for an extra £20.
Next to the headphone jack is a single mono speaker, which is functional but will distort at max volume.
Hardware & Performance
One of the key selling points of this phone is its big battery, rated at 5020mAh. That’s in line with Redmi Note 9, and only a touch lower than Xiaomi’s Poco X3 NFC that has some hungrier hardware inside.
In our testing it would easily last a full day and potentially two, but when it comes to refilling the battery it just feels like it takes forever to charge – even with 18W Quick Charge 3.0. It took us 30 minutes to get to 20% with the supplied 10W charger. Of course, that’s largely because it is such a high-capacity battery, but we’ve also been spoiled with much faster charging phones of late. Do note that there’s no wireless charging.
Our real-world observations were not backed by synthetic benchmarks, however. Using the PCMark Work 2.0 battery life test we recorded 8 hours 13 minutes, which is a significant drop from the 14 hours 24 mins of the Poco, and also lower than top budget phones from other brands – the Realme 7, for example, recorded 9 hours 2 mins, and the Pro version 12 hours 5 mins. This is actually one of the lowest scores we’ve seen since we began using the PCMark benchmark.
We also battery test with Geekbench 4, and results here were similarly poor. A result of 6 hours 50 minutes is the lowest we’ve seen from Xiaomi in a long time, and models with Snapdragon processors inside certainly fare better in these tests.
Real-world usage is infinitely more helpful than the benchmarks, and so we wouldn’t dwell on these surprisingly poor results, but it does point to a battery that isn’t as impressive as you might expect from the marketing.
General performance from the ARM Mali-G52 MC2 GPU was similarly unimpressive in our benchmarks, with GFXBench turning in some meagre and borderline unplayable framerates in all but one of its graphics components. Unfortunately, when we tested Redmi Note 9 it failed to run all these benchmarks, but both the Poco X3 NFC and Realme 7 demonstrated notably better performance for gaming.
This doesn’t mean you can’t play games or watch movies on Redmi 9, just that you shouldn’t set your expectations too high. Performance in general can be a bit stuttery and laggy.
We’re rarely excited to find a MediaTek Helio processor inside a phone, since it’s almost always a cost-cutting measure. This G80 is a step down on the Redmi Note 9’s G85, and Realme’s G95. Meanwhile, the Poco has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 732G. Clocked at 2GHz, we didn’t expect to get mind-blowing performance from this octa-core chip, and we didn’t get it either.
Recording 1294 points in Geekbench 5’s multi-core test, Redmi 9 is a touch faster than Redmi Note 9 but performance is otherwise underwhelming when compared with all other competitors in the sub-£200 bracket. For casual daily use it will be perfectly fine, but you won’t be buying this phone for its speed.
Connectivity deserves a mention, largely because it is somehow both impressive and underwhelming at the same time.
NFC (used for mobile payments and quick pairing over Bluetooth with compatible devices) is available only in selected markets, and clearly not this one as it’s nowhere to be found in the settings. Wi-Fi is single-band, and doesn’t stretch to 802.11ac (in the Chinese model you do get dual-band 802.11ac, however). These are no longer standard or acceptable omissions in budget phones.
On the other hand, there’s dual-SIM functionality whereby both SIMs can simultaneously support 4G (but not 5G), and an IR blaster and a 3.5mm headphone jack that are both becoming increasingly rare (probably for good reason). Add in USB-C and a fingerprint sensor, GPS and Bluetooth 5.0, and that’s a decent spec for a cheap phone.
Cameras & Photography
Redmi 9 has a quad-lens rear camera, and on paper that sounds fantastic for such a cheap smartphone. But compare the base specs to some of its closest rivals:
Redmi 9: 13MP wide-angle + 8MP ultra-wide + 5MP macro + 2MP depth
Redmi Note 9: 48MP wide-angle + 8MP ultra-wide + 2MP macro + 2MP depth
Poco X3 NFC: 64MP wide-angle + 13MP ultra-wide + 2MP macro + 2MP depth
Realme 7: 48MP wide-angle + 8MP ultra-wide + 2MP macro + 2MP depth
Even before you consider quality, that headline megapixel figure has taken a huge cut in Redmi 9. While the number of megapixels themselves are rarely important for image quality, it’s worth noting that with its higher megapixel models Xiaomi combines four individual pixels into one super pixel, so the end result is not actually 48- or 64MP but it is much better quality.
We took a variety of test shots, many of which are of flowers, where any issues with colour accuracy is immediately apparent. We found Redmi 9 inconsistent, with saturated yellows, reds and purples, for example, but elsewhere it could produce rather bleak images with flat colours.
In daylight the camera works well as a point and shoot, with particular credit given to the AI mode that can work out the most appropriate preset for your shot if you’d rather not delve into the Pro settings, but it can’t handle low light very well at all.
For the money we were mostly impressed by the level of detail in photos, although the ultra-wide lens has a fixed focus (in common with the 8MP selfie camera), and the macro lens has no autofocus (and is accessible only in Pro mode). Image quality notably degrades toward the outer edges of the shot, regardless of the shooting mode.
Whereas many budget phones only slightly more expensive than Redmi 9 can shoot video in 4K, this phone supports only 720p or 1080p at 30fps, or 720p slo-mo, with no stabilisation.
Although MIUI 12 will be rolled out to Redmi 9, our review sample is currently running MIUI Global 11.0.8 with no update available.
This is Xiaomi’s custom interface that it applies to Android 10. I have used Xiaomi phones for years and I am not only familiar with it, but I actually prefer it to standard Android. Yet some of my colleagues find MIUI confusing and ultimately frustrating, so each to their own.
Once you find your way around the settings – and this has got much easier with recent updates – you’ll find everything you need and more, including some really useful Xiaomi-exclusive apps such as Second Space and Dual Apps. Xiaomi also offers a system-wide Dark mode, and it introduced this long before it came to vanilla Android. There is no Always-on Display on this model, however.
Perhaps what’s putting off my team mates is the fact there is too much more – and while you shouldn’t consider it to be bloatware, these legitimate apps are often Xiaomi-made duplicates of the Google apps you’re more likely to favour. I stick these in a folder and forget about them, uninstalling where possible, but I acknowledge that brushing things under the carpet isn’t for everyone.
To be fair, there are also many more preinstalled apps on this Redmi 9 review sample than I would usually expect to see on a Xiaomi phone, which is almost certainly one of the factors helping to keep that price so low. This is also helped by some unintrusive adverts scattered about, such as at the bottom of the Games folder.
A bunch of games are preinstalled, though many are just app icons and won’t download until you try to open them; there are also Facebook, LinkedIn, Netflix, eBay, AliExpress and other apps. In this instance, it is definitely a step too far.
Where to buy Xiaomi Redmi 9
In the UK you can buy Redmi 9 direct from Xiaomi or via Amazon. There are two models, with the 3GB RAM, 32GB storage model costing £139.99, and the 4GB RAM, 64GB storage model (the one we’d recommend) costing £159.99. That puts it £20 (£40 if you go for the cheaper option) lower than the main competition.
We’ve tested the Carbon Grey option, but the 4GB/64GB Redmi 9 is also available in Sunset Purple and Ocean Green.
It is possible to import Redmi 9 from Chinese distributors such as GearBest and Geekbuying, and you might save some money in doing so. However, do remember that when shipping items from China to the UK you are supposed to pay 20% import duty, and you’ll make life an awful lot easier for yourself if you ensure you are buying a Global rather than Chinese model. (If you do screw up, check out our guide on how to install Google Services on a Chinese Xiaomi phone.)
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If budget is your primary lookout, Redmi 9 is the best cheap phone we’ve found. Considered in isolation it has much to offer, with a big battery and a quad-lens camera the highlights – at least on paper.
In reality, performance and photography are distinctly average, it’s lacking necessities such as NFC (at least in some markets), and the plastic design with a somewhat dull display leaves us wanting.
You also don’t have to look to far to find considerably more value for money with just a small increase to your budget – you needn’t even look outside Xiaomi’s own product line. With notably better cameras, faster performance and higher storage options, Redmi 9 can’t hold a candle to Redmi Note 9 or the Poco X3 NFC.
Xiaomi Redmi 9: Specs
- 6.53in Full HD+ (2340×1080) Dot Drop Display, 19.5:9, 1500:1 contrast, 400 nits brightness, Gorilla Glass 3
- 2GHz MediaTek Helio G80 octa-core processor
- 950MHz ARM Mali-G52 MC2 GPU
- 3GB/4GB LPDDR4X RAM
- 32GB/64GB storage with microSD support
- Primary camera: 13MP, f/2.2 wide-angle + 8MP, f/2.2 ultra-wide + 5MP, f/2.4 macro + 2MP, f/2.4 depth
- Front camera: 8MP, f/2.0, fixed focus
- Video: 1080p/720p @30fps
- AI Face Unlock
- Rear fingerprint sensor
- Dual-SIM (dual-4G) + microSD hybrid SIM tray
- 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n
- Bluetooth 5.0
- NFC in selected markets
- IR blaster
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- 5020mAh battery with 18W fast charge and Quick Charge 3.0 (10W charger supplied)
- Available in Carbon Grey, Sunset Purple and Ocean Green