Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 Review: Welcome Surprise

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Whatever people tell you (ourselves included at times), Huawei’s ongoing struggles with access to Google apps on newer phones has left a gap in the market. Whether that gap gets filled now that the US presidency has changed remains to be seen, but the two Chinese firms vying for a share of what Huawei has are Oppo and Xiaomi.

As fate would have it, we recently reviewed a phone from each company, with the Oppo A72 proving an impressive newcomer in the mid-range space. As for Xiaomi, we recently spent a couple of weeks with the Redmi Note 9 to see how it fares.

Here’s what that time revealed.

Nice presentation

Xiaomi may not be a common household name here in South Africa, but its reputation is growing. This is evidenced by the fact that it surpassed Apple recently when it comes to smartphone shipments.

As such the firm is being rather aggressive when it comes to its plan for growth, but that’s nothing new for Chinese smartphone makers.

As for the Note 9, it sits near the top of Xiaomi’s mid-range Redmi series, offering a nice mix of components for relatively little outlay.

R3 999 (RRP) to be more precise via the local Xiaomi online store, but it should be noted that the device listed there comes bundled the company’s wireless earbuds. We aren’t going to be factoring them in for this review, however, but it is worth noting for any consumers looking for bundled or sweetened deals.

Open up the packaging of the Redmi Note 9 and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you see. It does not look like Xiaomi has cut any corners here, and the overall package feels premium.

The same goes for the device itself. Yes, it features a plastic back cover, but it is a harder grade than what you might find or similarly priced devices. So far so good then.

Continuing with the packaging, our Midnight Grey review model is nice to look at, but the cover is smudge prone. It does not matter too much though, as you’ll likely be employing the dark flexible protective cover included in the box anyway.

The rest of the Redmi Note 9 is as expected, with a large 6.53″ display present that’s both bright and crisp. It also serves up FullHD+ visuals at a resolution of 2340×1080, and on the whole provides a solid user experience, whether that be browsing online, playing games or watching videos.

There’s a punch hole for the selfie camera too, so this device has a newer design language that has evolved past the screen notch.

A bit of clutter

Powering up the device and things continue to look positive. Running Android 10 with MIUI 12 layered a top of it is quite pleasant, but there are a few issues.

The main one is that there is quite a bit of bloatware on the Redmi Note 9, with a number of Xiaomi-focused applications present. The issue is that many of them are designed with the Chinese market in mind, and consequently, there is no real user base for these apps in SA.

Luckily these can be uninstalled for the most part, but we’d prefer to see more Google apps as the default on this front.

Shifting to silicon, and Xiaomi has gone for a respectable mix here. An octa-core MediaTek Helio G85 is present for example, along with 3GB RAM on the review model and 64GB storage. The in-hand performance is solid, and when compared to the similarly specced Oppo A72, the Redmi Note 9 just shades it.

To that end it did better on the Geekbench 5 single-core with 354 compared to 307, but did lose out on multi-core with 1 237 as opposed to 1 254 on the A72.

It means that the lines between the two are fine here, and if you’re placing a lot of weight on the benchmarking should you be deciding between the two, it’s best that you don’t.

Instead focus on the actual performance, and on that front, the Redmi Note 9 did not leave us wanting.

Two other aspects where the Note 9 really shines is battery life and photography.

Regarding the former, a massive 5 020mAh battery is found, which only needed a recharge after two full days of mixed use in our experience. As such, the more time you can spend using the phone instead of charging it, the better in our books.

Looking at camera performance, and the Note 9 really surprised us with how good it is, particularly while shooting outdoors.

There is a quad camera system employed here, with the 48MP lens being the real showstopper. It is supported by an 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro and 2MP depth sensing lenses, but the 48MP option stands out.

Interestingly, it has to be selected from within the camera app, and is not the native shooting option, but that is likely down to the file sizes it generates, which may be something to note if you plan to use it as your primary camera lens.

Final verdict

There is a lot to like about the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, and for savvy smartphone users on the look out for a great value for money device, it ticks the necessary boxes – big, bright display, large all-day battery and great all-around camera performance.

The only fault we can find is the bloatware, but at R3 999 for the phone, it is not a dealbreaker in the slightest.

If the Redmi Note 9 is a marker for the rest of the new devices that Xiaomi plans to launch in SA, it may well keep that third spot it very recently claimed.


Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.