Realme 9 5G SE Review: Gaming monster on a budget
More often than not, consumers opting for an affordable smartphone will know that no matter which smartphone they pick, the features will always be a notch below the flagship models. And it makes sense. A smartphone selling in the sub-Rs. 20,000 category cannot have the same features as the one selling for Rs. 30,000. But with the Realme 9 5G SE, the company seems to be breaking these rules and it has packed hardware in this affordable range smartphone which were previously unimaginable.
If we told you that you can get a smartphone with the refresh rate of 144Hz, which not even iPhone 13 Pro Max or Samsung S22 Ultra offer, and that too at a price of Rs. 19,999, you would probably find it hard to believe. Or, if we told you that you could get a smartphone with the Snapdragon 778G SoC in the same price point, you'd have all the reasons in the world to raise an inquisitive eyebrow. In all honesty, we would too. But Realme 9 5G SE comes with both these features together and more.
On paper, Realme 9 5G SE is super impressive when it comes to its performance metrics. But with the devices under the affordable segment, you can never really brush aside the fears of cost-cutting affecting the overall experience of the smartphone. The optimization and overall experience does matter. There's no point in a fast smartphone which cannot sustain battery life or take good photos or lacks a good user interface. So, what about Realme 9 5G SE? Does it manage to carry its impressive spec sheet into real life experience? We used this smartphone for more than 2 weeks to find the answer for you. Read on and check out our review.
Realme 9 5G SE: Design
Realme is known for its unique designs and steering clear from the standard matte finishes. And Realme 9 5G SE follows the tradition.
The smartphone comes in two color variants of Starry Glow and Azure Glow. Both the colors follow the company's Starlight design language which sparkles under light. But it is not glossy (and thankfully, minimizes smudges). The camera panel has an upside down L shape. The camera panel does make it a little wobbly on a flat surface, a minor inconvenience that should be taken care of by a case, which Realme provides in the box. We have seen this exact same design on Realme Q3S which was launched last year. Nonetheless, it still manages to impress. However, if you are someone who prefers a matte finish, this will probably not speak to you.
The smartphone comes with a plastic finish and is slightly on the heavier side but its overall form factor is decent and touch-and-feel of the device is quite premium. The build quality is average and we will recommend using a hard case for the device.
The Realme 9 5G SE has a side mounted fingerprint scanner on the power button on the right side of the display and volume keys on the left side. The volume keys are a little pointed out which can be uncomfortable for regular use and I would have preferred a more ergonomic design. The location of the fingerprint scanner and the power button however, is a delight to use. The slight curve makes sure your thumb never misses its mark.
The front camera has a punch-hole design and is lodged on the left corner, another trademark of the brand. But if you're used to a central selfie camera, it can take a bit of time to get used to. Also, it is a little larger than I would have wanted. Overall, I found the Realme 9 5G SE to be quite pleasant in terms of design.
Realme 9 5G SE: Display
At 6.6-inch, the smartphone is both tall and broad and is a little uncomfortable for single-handed use. However, the size also makes it for a great gaming experience and watching videos. The Realme 9 5G SE does not have an AMOLED display. It comes with an FHD+ LCD display, which offers good viewing angles and decent color production. It does not offer the richness and contrast of an AMOLED display however. If an AMOLED display is your priority, then you can look at Realme 9 Pro 5G or Samsung Galaxy A22, both of which are in the same price range.
Another inconvenience I faced with the smartphone was that in bright sunlight, the screen fades out a little and struggles to make the text and the display entirely visible. The smartphone comes with 600 nits of brightness which is less than what most smartphones offer in the segment. For instance, the Redmi Note 10S has 1100 nits at a starting price of Rs.14,999.
But where the display truly blew me away was its 144Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling rate. The smartphone is extremely fast and unlike anything this segment has to offer. The refresh rate makes everything from scrolling on social media, playing games or moving through apps a very pleasant experience. And if you do not want to keep a permanent 144Hz refresh rate at all times due to fears of battery draining, you can also opt for the automatic adaptive refresh rate which varies in a range from 30Hz-144Hz depending on the situation. Apart from that you can also keep the refresh rate at a standard 60Hz to improve battery life..
Realme 9 5G SE: Performance
Performance is the area where the ‘SE' or the Speed Edition tag comes to life. The smartphone is equipped with the Snapdragon 778G SoC, which has also been seen in iQOO Z5, Samsung Galaxy M52 and Galaxy A52s recently. And similar to all these devices, Realme 9 5G SE also is heavy on performance. It easily handles any app and any game with proficiency and ease. I did not notice any incidents of glitches or app crashes either.
The smartphone has Widevine L1 support and for an LCD panel, the multimedia viewing experience is quite decent. The larger screen and HDR support also adds to the appeal. However, there are no stereo speakers and the audio quality is just above average.
But when it comes to gaming, the Realme 9 5G SE shines like no other. I played quite a few high-end games like Genshin Impact, FIFA Mobile, BGMI, Call of Duty, Asphalt 9 and others and the gaming experience was extremely smooth and it was able to run all the games in high to ultra settings. Even after playing BGMI at ultra settings for more than an hour, I did not face any overheating which would lead to performance issues of FPS drop.
It runs on Realme UI 2.0 which is based on Android 11. I was expecting Realme UI 3.0 on Android 12 out of the box, which was seen in Realme 9 Pro+, however that wasn't the case. There are pre-installed apps which bombard you with notifications but that is quite common with the Realme UI and most apps can be uninstalled or at least disabled so the notifications do not become an issue. But if you want to experience the stock android experience, that will not be possible here and you can check out Motorola Edge 20 Pro, which offers a better UI in the same price range.
On the whole, the performance of Realme 9 5G SE, barring a few issues, is very satisfactory and in day-to-day usage of the smartphone, the flaws are not much noticeable. If you are looking for a smartphone under 20K that can play all your games with ease, there are probably no better options available.
Realme 9 5G SE: Camera
The camera performance on Realme 9 5G SE is above average but it does not stand out. It has a similar triple rear camera setup to Realme 8i with 48MP primary camera, a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. The macro lens and the depth sensor are very average and the shots do not seem either useful or particularly impressive. Redmi Note 8 Pro, a three years old smartphone in comparison, has a better macro camera.
Talking about the 48MP primary camera, it takes crisp and dynamic shots under bright lights. The fast shutter speed was also nice to experience. The color reproduction is a little faded instead of saturated which many smartphones go for. Personally I liked the color reproduction of the smartphone. In low-light conditions, the night mode takes really good images with high clarity and average detailing.
On the front, Realme 9 5G SE provides a 16MP selfie camera, which does smoothen out the skin texture, even when the beautification mode is turned off. However, just like the primary camera, the night selfies are pretty decent on the selfie camera too.
Although personally, I found the primary camera performance to be satisfactory, the lack of ultra-wide lens and average macro lens reduces the diversity of it and overall camera experience is just above average. You can definitely get a better camera focused smartphone in this range. If camera is your priority, you should take a look at Redmi Note 10 Pro Max or iQOO Z3 5G.
Realme 9 5G SE: Battery
The smartphone is backed by a 5,000 mAh battery which easily lasts more than a day on moderate usage. Even on the days I extensively used the smartphone, it had around 20 percent charge left at the end of the day. And even if your charge goes out in the middle of the day, the 30W fast charger takes Realme 9 5G SE from 0-100 in 90 mins.
The battery optimization is also pretty good. I played BGMI for over an hour at ultra settings and only lost about 15% of battery which is more than decent.
Realme 9 5G SE: Verdict
It is clear to see that Realme 9 5G SE emphatically focuses on its speed and performance (it's in the name, after all). And if it is the pure powerful smartphone experience you seek, then this smartphone is a no-brainer, honestly. However, it does feel that while focusing on the performance, Realme did cut corners with some other features. From a just above-average camera performance to lack of AMOLED display, the overall experience of the smartphone i somewhat reduced.
If you are looking for a gaming smartphone or a smartphone which can run some very heavy apps, then this is a really good choice. However, if gaming is not your priority and you are an everyday smartphone user, Realme 9 5G SE is probably a little bit of an overkill and you could easily find other alternatives which focus on either the display or camera as per your requirements.
- 144Hz refresh rate
- Amazing performance
- Battery Life
- Average Macro lens
- No AMOLED display
- Pre-installed apps
Display6.6-inch FHD+ 144Hz LCD
Rear Camera48MP + 2MP + 2MP
Battery5000 mAh, 30W wired charging
OSRealme UI 2.0 on Android 11