Realme 9 Pro+ review: a well-honed camera champion
Starting out as OPPO’s sub-brand, Realme sure has come a long way. Growing exponentially, it’s now offering smartphones from entry-level to near-flagship, and challenging the dominance of the likes of Xiaomi and Samsung. As per a Counterpoint report Realme is the fastest-growing 5G brand year-on-year amongst the five major smartphone OEMs in the country. Much of the success can be attributed to its signature number series which started out as a budget challenger but has, over the years, started to penetrate higher price brackets. Realme 9 Pro series is the company’s latest endeavour in securing the top spot, and a device that doesn’t conform to the affordability mantra that has been a foundation for Realme’s success. The Realme 9 Pro+ is its highest-priced smartphone to date as part of the number series, and with its starting price of Rs 24,999, positioned squarely in the mid-range segment. The device has specs to flaunt too, with a flagship 50MP Sony IMX766 sensor acting as the primary camera and MediaTek’s Dimensity 920 5G heralding the processing capabilities. Does the Realme 9 Pro+ pack in the oomph needed for survival in the packed mid-range market? Let’s find out.
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If it is a supreme camera experience you are looking for in a mid-range smartphone, the Realme 9 Pro+ should be your top choice. Combined with a stellar display and lasting battery life, the device surely merits a second look. However, the less than pleasing facade and persistent bloatware issue bog down the experience somewhat.
Design and display
The Realme 9 Pro+’s design does not appear very flashy. It’s heavy in the hand and the edges are curved, providing a less than favourable grip. By all accounts, the 9 Pro+ is unremarkable from the outside but it has a simplistic appeal with matte-finished rails and a reflective back. The Aurora Green variant I have received looks more like Indigo Blue and has something akin to glitter scattered across that shimmers under bright light. I feel that the Sunrise Blue version, which uses Realme’s Light Shift Design to change colours when placed under sunlight, could potentially be a head-turner. Apart from that, Realme has made the device its thinnest smartphone of the number series with a thickness of just under 8mm. The 9 Pro+ has a triple-camera arrangement, not unlike the Realme 9i (review), with the housing sharply raised from the chassis. Realme is retaining the headphone jack for now and that is present on the bottom alongside the USB C slot and a speaker grille. The earpiece, thankfully, doubles as the second speaker while the power button is present on the right and the volume rockers are on the left. It is safe to say that the Realme 9 Pro+ won’t win a lot of style points, but that might not really be a bad thing from the perspective of those who don’t prefer super flashy phones.
On the display side of things, the phone sports a 6.4-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel with 90Hz refresh rate. It’s a shame that Realme couldn’t increase the refresh rate to 120Hz but to the untrained eye, the difference between the two is minimal. The display on the Realme 9 Pro+ provides an excellent viewing experience, with the panel being nicely colour calibrated and bright, with several customisation options to suit the needs of varied users. You get the usual toggles for eye comfort and dark mode apart from the O1 Ultra Vision Engine which skillfully converts SDR content to HDR. The Vivid, Natural, and Pro Mode colour options are present to add a touch of vibrancy and dynamic range to the visual quality. The brightness levels are very good with absolutely no problems in outdoor sunny conditions. HDR10+ and WideVine L1 certifications are present to enhance OTT content while the bezels surrounding the display are minuscule as is the punch-hole on the top-right.
Realme’s pièce de résistance is its camera and image taking prowess. The company has promised a flagship experience in the optics department and has gone so far as to compare the photos taken by the Realme 9 Pro+ to the likes of Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra (review), a device that costs nearly five times more. I had my doubts initially, after having seen the OPPO Reno7 Pro’s (review) folly during nighttime shots while using the same 50MP IMX766 sensor. However, my testing has revealed that the 9 Pro+ indeed is a photo capturing powerhouse no matter the lighting conditions. The large 1/1.56-inch sensor captures a ton of light while the 2μm pixel size gives a lot of breathing room in terms of details. The focus speeds are super fast and shutter lag is non-existent which translates to clear shots without any shake. OIS has also been implemented on the main sensor which counters and corrects most of the unsteady hand movement while shooting.
I found colours had a tad bit more saturated look than I prefer even with the company’s AI Scene Enhancer turned off. However, the shots did look great and Instagram-worthy, with vibrant colour styles. HDR kicks in automatically and meters the dynamic range in an efficient manner while diminishing shadows in the background. There are several modes for capturing photos such as Street mode which allows you to set the focal length and adjust exposure values manually or Dual-View video that can shoot with both the front and rear cameras simultaneously. There are Realme-branded filters embedded within the camera app to remedy boring-looking shots. The 50MP mode is there for more details but at the expense of dynamic range.
The 8MP ultra-wide shooter is nothing out of the ordinary though. In terms of details and focus, pics shot from it show a bit of oversharpening while adjusting for exposure. The macro shooter is usable but just barely, since it utilises a 2MP sensor, but it does bring in sharp colours when the lighting is appropriate. The portrait mode can put the subject in the foreground without a hitch, although the edge detection around something like hair on my head could still be improved.
Nighttime photography on the device has me quite impressed although there were a few caveats that I personally didn’t like. There’s a bit of oversaturation of colours that sometimes lend the images an artificial look. Highlights of the subject and the shadows are less pronounced while making the pictures more contrasty. However, calibration of the exposure and how well the exposure meter introduces light into the frame did leave me impressed. The details are razor-sharp in assisted lighting and the dedicated night mode helps in areas that are devoid of the latter. Realme also offers a Pro and AI toggle on the bottom left of the viewfinder when in night mode. With the pro mode you are offered a series of manual controls for ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance while on AI the phone adjusts these settings automatically. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the ultra-wide shooter held up its own in low light, something I’ve rarely seen on even flagship phones.
Videos shot from the Realme 9 Pro+ were none too shabby with a maximum resolution of 4K @30fps. Thanks to OIS, there was better stability in the frames and the focus shift was faster than I had expected. AI Highlight can also be used in videos but the resolution is capped at 1080p, and the colours are a little too bright for my taste. On the front, there is a 16MP Sony IMX471 selfie camera that works just fine in good lighting with a touch of overprocessing and fairer skin tones. Overall, I am quite impressed with the optics on the Realme 9 Pro+ and I feel that this is the beginning of a fruitful venture to further improve smartphone cameras in the mid-range category.
Performance and software
Moving on to the performance aspect of the phone, MediaTek has supplied the Dimensity 920 5G SoC for processing needs and I, for one, think there could be some improvements in this regard. However, my words should not be misconstrued to believe that the 9 Pro+ is inadequate while handling an average smartphone user’s day-to-day needs. The device has a very decent score of 505,838 on Antutu and a multi-core score of 2,326 on Geekbench 5, both of which point to ample performance. Even so, with Realme’s history of offering value-for-money hardware, I did expect at least a Dimensity 1200 to grace the 9 Pro+ at this price point. The apparent benefit is visible while playing intensive games and trying to edit and export videos for social media content. Extreme frame rate (60fps) is available on BGMI but it can only be paired with the lowest graphics settings while being bogged down by continuous frame drops after extended usage. However, there was no overheating to report and the CPU maintained a fair bit of its maximum processing capabilities even under sustained load.
The dual speakers on the Realme 9 Pro+ have Dolby Atmos support for a crisp, loud, and rich sound. The headphone jack on the bottom has Hi-Res audio capability for users who have compatible wired earphones/headphones. Realme has employed an optical fingerprint scanner for authentication purposes and it works accurately for the most part while facial recognition could do with a bit of fine-tuning. One of the more useful features that surprised me pleasantly was an integrated heart rate sensor with the optical scanner and its results were quite accurate when compared to my smartwatch. The phone also supports 5G but with no telecom structure to utilise it, for now, the feature remains useless. However, the regular 4G LTE speeds for connectivity and calls are up to scratch along with the earpiece and microphone quality. The haptics on the device are extremely good and the intensity is customisable in the settings menu.
As for the software experience, the device runs RealmeUI 3.0 based on Android 12. Realme has incorporated a more spaced-out design theme to its interface with a colourful look to its icons. There are new Always-on-display customisations and ease of access using floating windows. For the more technologically challenged, there is also a Simple Mode that brings all the utility apps to the forefront and shuts off access to unnecessary apps. Realme Lab has been upgraded to include the above-mentioned Heart Rate sensor settings and also Dual-Mode audio which enables you to listen to the same song both from wired and wireless headphones simultaneously. I do like the intuitive aspects of the RealmeUI but again I wish that the company purges all traces of bloatware from the interface.
Related read: Realme UI 3.0 – what’s new
The battery life of the Realme 9 Pro+ is excellent, to say the least, even with the standard-issue 4,500mAh cell housed inside. In fact, the phone is so long-lasting that I’ve had to charge the device only four times in the week I have had with it. On PCMark’s Battery 3.0 test the device got a score of 16 hours and 33 minutes, which is excellent, especially for a 4,500mAh cell. To top it all off, literally and figuratively, there is the 60W charging that takes less than 30 minutes to completely juice up the battery.
The Realme 9 Pro+ is a great phone to use and there are no two ways about it. Everything from the display to the fabulous cameras to the superb battery life is fine-tuned for the user’s needs. However, nothing is truly perfect and the 9 Pro+ could use a more eye-catching design and perhaps a faster processor to truly be categorised as the best mid-ranger on the market. I will stand by my word though: the Realme 9 Pro+ has the best cameras in the segment, and if that interests you, the phone should be a great buy.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Amazing display
- Excellent cameras
- Great battery life
- Bland design