I gave up flagship phones thanks to Xiaomi Mi 9 (review). This true contender to Google Pixel 3 (review) came at 2/3 of Pixel’s price. It’s not the best phone from Xiaomi’s lineup but strikes the right balance between the premium feature list and a balanced price. What would you have to sacrifice if you wanted to get a phone at half that price? Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 costs about £136 on Banggood (at the time of the writing) and you would be pressed to deny its flagship looks and a generous list of features. Corners were cut, so let’s talk about that.
Blurring lines between budget and premium
I’m either very out of touch with what’s possible in that budget, or Xiaomi is barely breaking even when it comes to profiting from Xiaomi Redmi Note 9. First impressions match the appearance of the Mi9, the premium feel, and high-quality finish. Certainly, this is not how I envisioned a £140 device.
As far as I’m concerned, they could have dropped the charger. I support Apple’s move to offer complimentary chargers. Other than the cable and the silicone protective case, there is nothing else inside the box. That’s fine.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 has smooth to touch plastic finish. It’s not just cheap plastic. It’s the same highly polished (and extremely slippery in touch) finish, that makes you wonder if the surface of the phone is made out of soap! The front of the phone is dominated by a stunning LCD 6.53-inch display with 1080 x 2340 resolution and a pinhole camera. Back of the phone holds an array of 4 cameras, LED flash and the fingerprint reader. The phone is slightly thicker to fit extended 5020mAh battery, 3.5mm jack and USB-C for charging.
While volume rocker and power buttons are pretty much expected on all phones at this point, the addition of IR blaster is nice and dual SIM support with extra space for a microSD card is even nicer.
Out of the box, there is an update pending to MiUI12. Xiaomi is really good at delivering these on schedule, and if you have not used MiUI based ROM before, it always feels steps ahead of features added to Android releases.
Turn Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 on, and marvel at a vibrant LCD screen that leaves really nice impressions. The screen is bright, full of colour, and made me check twice if this phone is really that inexpensive. Premium treatment doesn’t stop just there.
Dual sim support AND microSD expansion are ideal for anyone running 2nd card for work. MiUI12 comes with Seconds screen option and Dual Apps mode to compliment that. You can separate the work and private life without juggling phones. Face unlock also goes a long way to make the time spent with the phone much pleasant. It’s fast and able to pick up the face even through the mask, although not every time.
5020mAh is an absolute monster lasting me 2 days in daily use or 4-5 days in the use as a spare phone. That extra 2-3mm of thickness is something I would sacrifice any time of day to get that battery on my Mi 9! You would have to be heavily addicted to mobiles to go through this within a day!
What £140 can’t buy
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 isn’t a handout. Some things are carved out to keep the price low. While the lack of 5G support doesn’t bother me, wireless charging would be nice to have. Fortunately, NFC got spared the cut (in my model), so you can use it with Google Pay.
The price we paid for the rather nice display is the lack of “always-on” mode available on AMOLED devices, but notification LED is nowhere to be found. It’s something I would consider a must-have if the screen can’t stay on. To combat that, pick up Xiaomi MiBand 5 (review) to never miss notifications.
But the biggest disappointment was the video sensor. Baited by the 48MP advertised the main shooter, I led myself to believe that Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 would handle 4k and 1080p at 60fps. Unfortunately, the maximum recording resolution stops at 1080@30.
For the most part, the processor feels snappy, things load quickly, but there is a limit to what this device can do. 4K playback is not possible. YouTube doesn’t display the option, and sideloaded videos play like slideshows. 1080p is fine, there is no reason to panic.
Xiaomi’s camera app is pretty cool but for some reason it takes ages to open, access already taken pictures. I had 5-8 sec wait time caused by ? – not sure, but these weren’t pleasant when OpenCamera app was in use. This is not addressed in the 12.0.4 patch, but I hope it will be sorted soon. This leads me to another point: CPU – it’s great for most tasks, but it can have an occasional stutter from time to time.
Lastly, as much as I like MiUI ROMs due to great features and endless customisations, the phone is heavily loaded with preinstalled games and “recommended” features (let’s be honest – ads). All of this can be turned on in settings, apps uninstalled, but the first impressions are ruined. I wish MiUI would take a clean approach.
Camera – or 5 of them
48MP main sensor is the device seller. Pictures taken by Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 in the daylight are full of colour and represent the reality pretty well. Out of all lenses, the wide lens is the weakest one. In reality, each senor produced pictures in that are decent enough for social media, sharing and prints (if you are into that old fashioned thing!).
Low light performance is acceptable thanks to the 48MP sensor, but using any other lens will result in grainy pictures with wide lens pictures looking like garbage in low light situations. Even telephoto (x2) handles this better.
The selfie camera has the tendency to desaturate the image slightly, but it holds its own in low light. The images are good, and build in beautify filter do makes me feel a little bit younger!
It’s a similar story for the video shot by Xiaomi Redmi Note 9. In daylight, the footage looks clear and the colours vivid, but drop the light levels and the grain appears fairly quickly and the image becomes noisy. Unfortunately, despite the 48MP sensor on board, Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is locked to 30 frames per second.
Both microphone and speakers are actually nice. The audio picks up well in videos and conversations while bottom facing speaker isn’t bad. If only there would be an additional one to create a true stereo pair. Let’s face it, if you care about audio, you will get either Sennheiser PXC550 (review) and take the advantage of the build-in 3.5mm jack or Bluetooth.
Thanks to turbo boost, games get the best out of the octa-core processor. It’s enough to keep Minecraft smooth at max render distance, or have a blast at Don’t Starve but more demanding games may hit a performance wall. While certainly impressive, this is still only a 140£ mobile.
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Despite the downsides, £136 is a small price to pay for a great otherwise headset. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It feels premium enough to stand out among other brands at this price point and delivers the quality that is hard to come by at the wallet-friendly price. Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 won’t replace my Mi 9, but my wife already wanted to give a go. It’s time to factory reset it and hand it over to a new happy owner! If you have any comments or questions – let me know in this Reddit thread.