realme has just launched its new realme 9 Pro series in Malaysia, with two mid-tier models that each make their own compromises at slightly different price points. I’ve had my hands on the higher-end 9 Pro+ variant for a couple of weeks now, and I’m torn about where to place it in terms of value.
A slight upgrade from last year’s realme 8 Pro, the AMOLED display receives a high-refresh rate treatment and the main camera now has optical image stabilisation (OIS), though the megapixel count went down from 108MP to 50MP — the vanilla 9 Pro has a 64MP camera but with no OIS.
Interestingly, while the base model uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chip, realme opted to go for a MediaTek processor for the Plus variant. The storage maxes out at 256GB with no expandability, which should accommodate most people, but if you really need more storage on your phone, the cheaper 9 Pro has a microSD card slot.
The highlight of this phone is definitely its eye-catching design. The backplate is glossy, covered in glitter, and reflects a glaring amount of light — a description that sounds like a nightmare for minimalists. While I wasn’t a fan at first, I have to admit that I slowly started to admire the interactive aspect of the design.
Its light shift technology allows the phone to temporarily change the blue colour to red and orange, a fun party trick for when you’re outside with other people or just something to fiddle with when you’re bored in the middle of the day.
One thing that’s not fun is the multiple protruding camera bumps on top of an already large camera module. Not only does it leave each individual lens more vulnerable, but using the phone on a table becomes a wobbling agony.
Instead of a side-mounted sensor like the base model, the realme 9 Pro+ sports an under-display fingerprint scanner. On the bottom, you’ll find a USB Type-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a speaker grille, with the earpiece at the top doubling as the other speaker.
The back tapers off at the sides for a more comfortable grip, and there’s no issue of sharp corners. The punch hole cutout is placed out of your view on the top left corner of the AMOLED display.
The realme 9 Pro+ comes with Android 12 right out of the box, so you get the latest features such as choosing the interface’s colour scheme based on your wallpaper. The stereo speakers can get satisfyingly loud, and although they’re not the best-sounding speakers on a smartphone, they should get you through a pinch.
The fingerprint scanner, which doubles as a heart rate monitor, is sometimes a bit slow, though it never fails to unlock. That being said, the sensor is placed ridiculously low for a phone of this size and can be quite irritating for one-handed use.
Overall, daily driving the phone was smooth and pleasant, with only rare occasions of stuttering. On the other hand, the display doesn’t get very bright, making outdoor use less than ideal with the always-on display barely visible, even on a cloudy day.
Its gaming performance is pretty good with titles such as Asphalt 9, and while its benchmark scores are nothing to brag about, they’re still respectable for a device at this price point.
As for the battery life, you wouldn’t expect much from an average-sized 4500mAh battery, but it took me by surprise when it consistently lasted two full days before needing a recharge, even though I opted to turn on the 90Hz refresh rate full-time.
Since high refresh rate isn’t necessary for content watching, I enabled balanced mode and put the phone through a YouTube video loop test with 25% brightness. In the end, the realme 9 Pro+ lasted a little over 15 hours. Charging it from 0% to 100% is remarkably quick with the 60W charger, taking only about 45 minutes.
The realme 9 Pro+ has a triple-camera setup made up of a 50MP main shooter, an 8MP ultrawide, and a 2MP macro lens. Pictures taken with the primary camera are sharp and detailed, but the colours can sometimes be washed out and its a little iffy when trying to focus on a close-up subject.
As with most phones, the AI mode feels more like a gimmick than the convenient tool its boasts itself as, with low-light indoor pictures often ending up with random blurry blobs and ghosting.
Refreshingly, the macro camera has more accurate colours than what you usually see with mid-range macro lenses. The 2MP sensor does leave room for improvement in sharpness, but it does let me get quite close to small objects.
Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G
At RM100 less, the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G comes with the same amount of storage and RAM, but with the bonus of a microSD slot. It also comes with an AMOLED display but has a higher 120Hz refresh rate, has a bigger 108MP main sensor, a bigger 5000mAh battery, and slightly faster 67W charging.
It’s other cameras include an 8MP ultrawide, and a 2MP macro, with a 16MP selfie camera. The phone runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chip and unlike the realme 9 Pro+, it is rated IP53 for dust and splash protection.
Samsung Galaxy M52 5G
The Samsung Galaxy M52 5G also starts at RM1399 but manages to one up realme’s Plus model in various aspects. The larger 6.7-inch AMOLED panel has a 120Hz refresh rate, it runs on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G, and comes with expandable 128GB storage and 8GB of RAM.
The triple-camera array consists of a 64MP main shooter, a 12MP ultrawide, and a 5MP macro. Best of all, it has a crisp 32MP front camera. While it’s charging speed is only 25W, it also has a bigger 5000mAh battery.
The realme 9 Pro+ is an eccentric device with its own personality, but that comes at a slightly higher price for a phone with these specs. The under-display fingerprint scanner’s placement is a daily annoyance and the camera’s quality is hit-and-miss in most situations.
If you’re on a tight budget and specifically want the phone for the colour-shifting design, the regular 9 Pro that starts at RM949 might be a better option, if you don’t mind the lack of AMOLED or the rapid 60W charging.
To be clear, I actually like this phone and think that anyone who purchases it for its aesthetics won’t regret it. The only reason I am not personally recommending it is because I’m a stickler for value, and there are a few options out there that can objectively outperform the phone for the same price.