Realme 9 Pro+ review: Pro camera phone at a bargain price

The hallmark of the Realme 9 Pro+ is its 50MP optically stabilized Sony IMX766 sensor. A setup like this is not new. You also get it in the OnePlus Nord 2. But while OnePlus will charge you almost Rs 30,000, Realme sells it for less than Rs 25,000 which makes the Realme 9 Pro+ the cheapest phone to have such a thing at the time of writing.

There is also no catch in it, as one would normally expect from such a proposal. At least on paper. Superfluous names aside, the Realme 9 Pro+ is actually a “pro” phone from every perceivable angle. It looks sharp, has a fast AMOLED screen, plenty of power under its sleek and light chassis, the latest Android software and fast charging. Plus, you get stereo speakers, headphone jack, good haptics engine, heart rate sensor, Wi-Fi 6, and 5G.

The Realme 9 Pro+ ticks so many boxes, it’s hard to believe it costs so little. Let’s find out how good a package is, for real.

Design, display Realme 9 Pro+

The Realme 9 Pro+ has a glass back. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The 9 Pro+ is brilliant. That’s the first thing you’ll notice about it. It’s not garish or anything, but the look of it can be a bit polarizing. The back is glass which is nice – gives the phone a nice premium touch, although Realme doesn’t mention the type. A layer of sparkle under the glass accentuates the depth. One of the variants of the phone, called “Sunrise Blue”, has photosensitive material and changes from light blue to red when exposed to UV light. It’s a bit like the Vivo V23 Pro, but bolder. You can also get it in non-color-changing green, without having to give up all the shimmer. The phone is also available in black for those looking for something understated.

Read also | Vivo V23 Pro 5G review: steals the show

One thing to note about Realme phones is that even though it releases phones on the fly, almost every two weeks now, it manages to bring something new and interesting to the market every time. There are some familiar elements, sure, but you’ll still be surprised by the brand’s creative choices. Some work, some don’t. The 9 Pro+ design works, for the most part. There is one other thing to note about these phones. Despite packing so much material, inside they are very thin and light. The 9 Pro+ is also very thin and light at around 8mm and 182g. As phones get bigger and bigger, it’s nice to see a phone that’s obviously big on screen size but also comfortable to use, even with one hand.

Realme 9 Pro+ review
The screen is beautiful and simple. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Speaking of the screen, it’s a 6.4-inch 1080p Super AMOLED with a 90Hz refresh rate, Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection, and a cutout at one end. This is probably one of the most annoying aspects of this phone, at least on paper, with no brightness levels or HDR support. It’s nice and simple, and it works, but phones like the Xiaomi 11i give you more powerful displays for the same price. The 9 Pro+ does have a trick up its sleeve though, which is that the phone’s in-display fingerprint scanner doubles as a heart rate monitor. The feature is in “beta” at the time of writing and all data is stored locally on the device itself. You can’t sync it with third-party or proprietary fitness apps yet.

Realme 9 Pro+ performance, battery life and cameras

Realme 9 Pro+ review
The phone’s in-screen fingerprint reader doubles as a heart rate monitor. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Realme phones, in general, tend to exploit more of the available hardware. The 9 Pro+ is a good example. It has the same 6nm MediaTek Dimensity 920 chip as the Xiaomi 11i and yet it scores “visibly” higher in the benchmarks. In our tests, the Realme 9 Pro+ hit 5,08,916 in AnTuTu (vs. 4,36,002 in 11i Hypercharge), 11,934 in PCMark (vs. 10,949), 808 in single-core Geekbench (vs. 737), 2,249 in multi-core ( vs. 2,197) and 2,871 in Geekbench 5 Compute (vs. 2,669). The numbers, in fact, are on par with the Snapdragon 778G-powered Realme GT Master Edition, meaning the 9 Pro+ is a very capable phone and slightly better than its peers like the Xiaomi 11i in terms of performance. Plus, it’s not throttled at all, giving you good “sustained” performance as evidenced by our multiple CPU throttling tests. The phone never got too hot in our tests.

Read also | Xiaomi 11i Hypercharge 5G review: Should you be excited?

For average users, this means the phone can rip everything from basic day-to-day tasks to even demanding games (with average graphics) without any issues. Battery life is also decent (although there are certainly more durable phones at this price). The 4,500mAh battery inside the 9 Pro+ lasted 14 hours and 54 minutes in our video loop test, which is a respectable figure. Most users will be able to enjoy a day of use. You also get 60W fast charging and the included charger can charge the phone from 0-100% in around 50-55 minutes.

Realme 9 Pro+ review
You get Android 12. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

You get up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage. This is not expandable. Dual SIM and five 5G bands are supported. The phone contains two speakers which become nice and loud. The haptic feedback is also very good. A headphone jack is available.

The 9 Pro+ runs Realme UI 3.0 based on Android 12. This version is still a “luxury” in this price segment, so it’s nice to see Realme breaking some stereotypes. Whether or not you agree with his take on Android is another story. You see, Realme has heavily customized the software, which is always good, but in doing so many core Android 12 features have been haphazardly changed or removed from the window altogether. There’s no direct support for widgets, for example. The same goes for Google’s Material You theme. Choosing a widget or a theme shouldn’t be so complicated. The bloatware situation has not improved either. For what it’s worth, the software is well optimized and there was no lag or stutter, either when navigating home screens or opening and closing apps. Realme has confirmed that it will deliver two major OS updates and three years of security updates for the 9 Pro+, which is pretty generous.

Realme 9 Pro+ review
Realme 9 Pro+ comes with a triple camera setup. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

When it comes to the phone’s main USP, the cameras, well, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the specs. The Realme 9 Pro+ comes with a triple-camera setup on the back with a 50MP Sony IMX766 main sensor behind an f/1.8 lens with OIS, an 8MP ultra-wide angle and another 2MP macro shooter. On the front, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera.

Right off the bat, we’re not impressed with Realme’s color science. Franky is everywhere. Too boosted, too unnatural sometimes. Its subject isolation chops in portrait mode also need a bit of work. For what it’s worth, the only brands that do well are the ones that have been doing it for a while. Realme will eventually get there too, and we think it’s on the right track.

Realme 9 Pro+ review
You get up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Now the good bits. The 9 Pro+ is the best camera phone under Rs 25,000, today. There’s no two ways about it. This primary sensor shows great promise, and OIS gives it the firepower to make the most of tricky, low-light situations. That means the 9 Pro+ can pull more detail, more sharpness, and more color out of a scene like this better than any other competing phone in its class without any noticeable noise or smoothing. There are a few measurement issues here and there (these also exist during the day) but the results, overall, are so pleasing that you won’t mind. Videos shot (up to [email protected]) with the sensor are a mixed bag with generally positive footage although there is room for improvement.

Ultra-wide and macro, unsurprisingly, pale in comparison to the main sensor. Still, the output is decent for the price. We have seen worse.

Realme 9 Pro+ | Should I buy?

The Realme 9 Pro+ price in India starts at Rs 24,999 for a version with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. The phone also comes with 8GB/128GB for Rs 26,999 and 8GB/256GB for Rs 28,999, respectively.

We have absolutely no doubt in saying that the 9 Pro+ is the new low-light camera champ under Rs 25,000. But it’s no one-trick pony. It has a lot going for it, especially on the performance side. It also has a nice scree and well-optimized software. Battery life is adequate and the design, while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, is sleek and premium.

The 9 Pro+ isn’t perfect, but at its low price its imperfections are easy to overlook because on the other side is a phone full of potential. We can’t wait to see what Realme has in store for us next.

Benefits The inconvenients
Premium glass design Screen can’t do HDR
Quick and smooth display No micro-SD card slot
Excellent performance Cameras need a little tweaking
The main camera is fantastic in low light
Android 12
Decent battery life
Quick charge
Powerful speakers, good haptics
Great value

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