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Realme 9 4G review: Do you actually need 5G right now?

Ben Johnston
8 Jun 2022
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
249
inc VAT

The Realme 9 4G makes a strong argument for holding off on 5G

Pros 
Outstanding battery life
Decent camera array
Super AMOLED display for less
Cons 
No 5G support
Underwhelming performance
No IP rating
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The Realme 9 4G is one of a pair of new handsets from the prolific Chinese manufacturer, with both costing the same price. While there are several differences between the two phones, the main distinction is pretty obvious: this model is 4G only and its counterpart is the one that supports 5G.

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The limited connectivity is undoubtedly a mark against the Realme 9 4G, especially when handsets such as the Xiaomi Poco M4 Pro 5G show that 5G support is feasible at this price.

However, it shouldn’t be discounted completely. In fact, if you’re happy to forgo 5G and aren’t fussed about mobile gaming, the Realme 9 4G offers a whole lot of phone for not a lot of money.

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Realme 9 4G review: What you need to know

Realme’s business model veers closely to throwing spaghetti at a wall to see what sticks, with the 9 4G being one of a number of affordable handsets released this year. It slots into the Realme lineup somewhere between the more premium 9 Pro Plus and ultra-budget models like the C31 and C35.

Rather than using the Mediatek chipset employed by the 9 Pro Plus or the Unisoc processors used by cheaper models, the 9 4G is powered by an octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 processor, with clock speeds of up to 2.4GHz. Backing this up is an embedded Adreno 610 GPU, with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

While the internals are decent enough, the big-ticket items are the 90Hz Super AMOLED screen, the large 5,000mAh battery and the triple camera array on the back. The latter comprises one heavy-duty 108MP snapper, an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP number for macro shots.

Realme 9 4G review: Price and competition

The most obvious point of comparison is the Realme 9 5G, with both models launching at the same time for £249. Aside from 5G connectivity, the Realme 9 5G uses a slightly superior processor, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695 5G, which delivers speedier performance in both day-to-day tasks and gaming.

It also has a slightly bigger screen at 6.6in, complete with a 120Hz refresh rate. That being said, this is only an IPS panel, as opposed to the Super AMOLED panel employed on the 4G model. Battery life also doesn’t quite measure up to the 4G, and the use of an 18W charger instead of the 33W offered here means it won’t charge as quickly once depleted.

Outside of Realme’s stable, that same £249 will get you the Xiaomi Poco M4 Pro 5G. While the M4 has a few areas in which it outstrips the Realme 9 4G – there’s 5G support, performance is generally nippier and the screen is 120Hz – its camera array is weaker and the battery life, though good for the price, isn’t close to the Realme 9 4G.

For just a little more money, you could go for our current favourite mid-range phone, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G, which at the time of writing costs £299. On top of a slick, 90Hz AMOLED display, the Nord CE 2 offers strong performance and stamina that almost reaches the heights of the Realme 9 4G. The camera array isn’t quite as impressive, but the Nord CE 2 is a solid all-rounder that effectively covers all the bases.

READ NEXT: These are the best mid-range phones right now

Realme 9 4G review: Design and key features

Realme has a habit of making budget phones that look like flagships and the 9 4G is no different. The 6.4in display is surrounded by slightly chunky bezels, particularly on the bottom, with a hole punch notch in the top-left housing the selfie camera. The corners are all nicely rounded, and the raised camera module on the rear is discreet enough not to detract from the overall aesthetic.

The plastic chassis does betray a hint of cost-cutting, which looks elegant enough, but feels noticeably cheap. Especially attractive here is the selection of colours that the Realme 9 4G comes in: in addition to the standard Meteor Black, you can choose between Stargaze White and the Sunburst Gold I received for review, both of which incorporate a colour-changing reflective panel that really stands out from the competition.

The Realme 9 4G supports both face and fingerprint unlocking, with the latter using an optical in-display sensor. Other quality of life features see the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom, next to the USB-C charging port, as well as a dual-SIM slot and space for a microSD card on the side.

Weighing 178g and measuring 8mm thick, the Realme 9 4G is easy enough to use one-handed, while still feeling nice and sturdy. The only real mark against the design is the lack of an IP rating, meaning that it doesn’t have any protection against water or dust ingress.

Realme 9 4G review: Display

The display is something of a marvel at this price, comprising a 6.4in Super AMOLED panel with an FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080) resolution, covered with Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. It also has a smooth 90Hz refresh rate, so scrolling and jumping between apps feels suitably fluid.

All the hallmarks of a decent AMOLED are present here, with a deep, inky black level and a contrast that is as close to perfect as it gets. The display doesn’t offer eye-melting brightness, topping out at around 417cd/m2, but it still holds its own, even in direct sunlight.

There are three colour modes to choose from; Vivid, Natural and Pro, with the latter offering two sub-categories of Cinematic and Brilliant. While Vivid certainly makes for richer colours and the Cinematic Pro setting promises more faithful colour reproduction for movie watching, purists will want to opt for the Natural mode, as it proved the most accurate in our tests – covering 94% of the sRGB gamut with a volume of 97.5%. The Delta E (colour variance) averaged at 1.51, which is pretty good at this price.

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Realme 9 4G review: Performance and battery life

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 680 may not be the speediest on the market but it proved decent enough for everyday use during testing. It’s made up of four Kryo 265 Gold cores running at up to 2.4GHz and four 1.9GHz Kryo 265 Silver cores. Backing this up is 8GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable storage.

The Realme 9 4G runs Android 12 with Realme’s own UI 3 layered over the top. While it doesn’t do anything particularly interesting compared to other Android operating systems, the layout is clean and simple, with enough personalisation options to make it your own.

The Geekbench 5 scores are acceptable enough, but there’s a lot to be said about the competition. In the multi-core test, for instance, the Realme 9 4G sits pretty much neck and neck with the £200 Nokia G50, which isn’t a strong look. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is the clear winner here – provided you’re happy to pay the extra £50.

With general scrolling and app usage, however, you’re unlikely to notice any sluggish behaviour. Social media apps such as YouTube and Spotify will run without a hitch, but if you’re the type to have over a dozen apps running at once, you may find the Realme 9 4G struggling slightly, with the odd micropause when scrolling or opening a fresh app.

Less excusable is the lacklustre GPU performance. As the graph below shows, the Realme 9 4G sits level with the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11, which uses the same Adreno 610 GPU, but otherwise falls some way behind the rest of the competition.

I was able to complete a PUBG Mobile match without any disastrous frame rate dips but if you prefer higher consistent performance, then the Realme 9 5G is a much safer bet. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G once again shines in this department, too.

By far the Realme 9 4G’s most impressive feature is its frankly gobsmacking battery life. As you can see in the graph below, it lasted over 28 hours in our continuous video playback test, dwarfing the competition by quite a margin. In terms of practical use, this should easily see you through two days on a single charge, and maybe into the third day as well.

At the time of writing, this result slots the Realme 9 4G into third place in our best phone battery life rankings, trailing just behind the (now discontinued) Samsung Galaxy M31 and the Sony Xperia 10 III. The good news doesn’t stop when the battery dies either, with the provided 33W fast charger juicing the Realme 9 4G back up to 100% in a little over an hour.

Realme 9 4G review: Cameras

While some budget-related cracks began to show with the performance, the cameras bring things back on track. On the front, you’ve got a single 16MP (f/2.5) selfie camera, but the back is where things get interesting, consisting of 108MP (f/1.75) main camera, 8MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens and 2MP (f/2.4) macro shooter.

The main camera is naturally the star of the show, producing vibrant, detailed images in decent light. Colour pops with just the right amount of saturation and rich contrast adds a pleasing sense of depth. It’s worth noting that, as standard, the main camera doesn't shoot 108MP images. Instead, it uses “pixel binning” to compress the image by combining nine pixels into one, producing 12MP images. If you want to unleash the full potential of this camera, you can easily select the 108MP mode in the scroll bar.

Compared with a similar shot from the Realme 9 5G’s 50MP camera, it’s immediately clear that the extra detail and saturation benefits the overall picture.

Conversely, the Realme 9 4G seemed to struggle to retain the detail in zoomed-in shots more than the 5G did. The vibrancy of the full image is completely washed out here, with a lot of noise cluttering up the leaves. The 5G still suffers from minor overexposure but image clarity is superior.

The Realme 4G handles low-light shots fairly well with its night mode. Overall brightness is boosted without losing the small details in the brickwork and tree foliage, and the sky doesn’t suffer from excessive visual noise, either. Though there is some slight lens flare, it’s compensated for relatively well.

The macro lens is decent enough for what it is, maintaining the same vibrancy produced by the main camera – even if it does veer dangerously close to oversaturation – but the image isn’t detailed enough to fully justify including the lens.

The same could be said for the 8MP ultra-wide, which sacrifices detail to achieve a 120-degree field of view. It’s fine if you absolutely need that extra space, but nine times out of ten you’ll be better just taking a few steps back and using the main lens instead.

Portrait mode works well enough on both the rear and selfie cameras, adding a decent level of artificial background blur with mostly sharp outlines around the subject. It struggled a bit with focusing on fine hair, but this is minor enough that it doesn’t affect the overall image.

Video capture is capped at 1080p at 30fps. Footage is merely electronically stabilised, so it can look a bit juddery during quick pans, and there’s not a huge amount of detail either.

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Realme 9 4G review: Verdict

Despite the Realme 9 4G’s lacklustre performance, the rest of the package goes a long way to make up for these shortcomings. The AMOLED display is sharp and suitably slick, the main camera is astonishing for the price and the battery life is very nearly unbeatable.

Sure, there are some handsets that are better suited to mobile gaming, with some that support 5G, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a phone that offers quite as many positives as the Realme 9 4G squeezes in for this price.

Buy now from Realme


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