Review: Xiaomi Redmi Note 9
With people buying fewer and fewer flagship phones, mid-range and budget models are becoming more and more important. On sale you can currently get a Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 for around £130, so that puts it firmly into the budget category. And it turns out you’re getting a pretty decent smartphone.
Let’s start with the design, the first thing you’ll notice when you open up the box. First impressions from the front are, it looks like a 2020 smartphone. It’s very big, about 6.5 inches, and it’s all screen except for a tiny little hole punch camera in the top left corner. The bezels around the screen are quite small, with the one at the bottom being a bit thicker than the rest. From the front, it looks good. When you turn it around you’re met with (in my case) a blue gradient colour design, and a quad-camera setup with a fingerprint scanner underneath. The back of the phone looks good too. Nothing about the way this phone looks instantly screams ‘budget’ at you, but when you actually pick it up that changes.
The side rails of the phone are made from plastic, and the back is made from a material that feels like plastic, but I can’t quite tell. This is where you realise what you’re holding is, in fact, a £150 phone. The materials they’ve decided to use do feel quite cheap under your fingers. The phone itself is quite heavy though, thanks mainly to a huge 5020mAh battery, and that does somehow go some way in making up for the cheap-feeling materials. I’m not sure what it is, but if a smartphone is heavier than usual, for some reason it feels a bit better made? I have no idea what the psychology behind that is, maybe it’s only me, but either way the weight makes the Redmi Note 9 feel better than it should.
Now let’s talk about the screen. It’s a large 1080p LCD screen that I honestly wasn’t expecting very much from at all. But I’m pleased to say, it’s really not bad at all. It’s very colourful and gets quite bright. My favourite thing about it is its size. There are flaws though. As it’s an LCD the viewing angles aren’t great, and the area around the hole punch is less bright, as if the colour is bleeding from the screen into the hole. It’s much more obvious on a white background. But all in all for a phone in this price range I was pleasantly surprised by the screen.
The performance of the phone leaves a little bit to be desired. Other phones in this price range which I’ve used using Qualcomm processors feel a little bit quicker on the performance front. The Redmi Note 9 uses a Helio G85 chip and 3 or 4GB of RAM. The chip itself is fine for most everyday tasks. Surfing social media, browsing the web, even some light gaming, are all within its capabilities. But if you multitask a lot on your phone, or use intensive apps like some games, this phone will struggle. Storage won’t ever be an issue though, the Redmi Note 9 comes with either 64GB or 128GB, and that can be expanded using a microSD. The speakers are similar to the performance, in the sense that they do work as speakers and get the job done, but they’re really not anything special at all. They don’t sound particularly good, or get particularly loud, and there’s only one on the bottom of the phone which makes it very easy to block out the sound. But if you aren’t happy with the speakers on the Note 9, then you’ll be very happy to hear that it has an actual, honest to god, 3.5mm headphone jack! In 2020!
When using the Redmi Note 9 within its performance limits, the experience is a good one, thanks to a vastly improved Mi UI 11 running on top of Android 10. Icons and animations all look good and are snappy. Everything is easy to use and intuitive. But please, please, stop filling these budget phones with completely useless bloatware. Nobody wants the games ‘Bubble Story’ or ‘Balloon Shooter With Friends’ on their phone, I promise. And yeah, fair enough, maybe some people do want eBay on it, but I’m quite capable of going to the Play Store and installing it myself. Getting a brand new phone out of the box and having to painstakingly go through all these apps I do not want and deleting each one of them is so boring, and it hurts the experience.
Now let’s talk about the main selling point for this budget phone – its cameras. There are four of them, which on a phone this price is a great addition. There’s a 48MP main camera, an 8MP ultrawide camera, a 2MP macro camera, and a depth sensor. The main camera is surprisingly good. It’s obviously not as good as the cameras you’ll find in flagship phones, but it’s much closer to that quality than I was expecting. Pictures it takes in the 12MP pixel binning mode look quite good. The colours look great, opting for more of a vibrant and colourful look than some other smartphone cameras, and as long as there’s a lot of light detail in bright areas, it’s impressive. In darker areas a bit of detail is lost, but with a phone of this price that’s to be expected. The main camera is also surprisingly good in low light. With the night mode switched on it manages to keep a lot of detail and the photos it captures look really good.
Unfortunately there is no telephoto camera, so you’re stuck with digital zoom, which I wouldn’t recommend you ever use. Zoomed in pictures on this phone don’t look good. The ultrawide camera is fun to use, but because of a low-quality 8MP camera the pictures it takes are soft and lack detail. The macro camera is fun and looks alright, but you’re probably gonna use it once and never touch it again, so that’s fine. The depth sensor makes portrait mode genuinely really good, which was a nice surprise. Again, with these cameras it’s important to remember that they’re attached to a phone which costs less than £200. They’re obviously not the best cameras you’ll find on a smartphone, but at this price they’re definitely up there.
If you’re on a very strict budget the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is a great phone. The big 1080p screen, decent camera setup, and massive battery do a good job of almost tricking you into thinking you’re using a more expensive phone. There are a few things that could do with slight improvement like performance and quality of materials, but on a phone that costs less than £200 they are very minor complaints. If value for money is something that’s important to you when buying a smartphone, you can’t get much better than the Redmi Note 9.