Review

Redmi Note 9 Pro review: Go for the Max

Xiaomi has been dominating the smartphone market in India thanks to the massive popularity of its Redmi Note series. The company redefined the budget mid-range segment a few years ago with the Redmi Note 3 and since then, it has always managed to push the boundaries further with every new Redmi Note device.

The Redmi Note 9 Pro comes at a time when Xiaomi is facing increased competition from the likes of Realme and Vivo in the mid-range market. So, is the Redmi Note 9 Pro good enough to help Xiaomi continue with its market domination in India? Read my review below to find out.

Note: I am reviewing the Redmi Note 9 Pro here, but the device is marketed and sold in Europe as the Redmi Note 9S. My review unit had 6GB RAM and 64GB storage space.

Specs

CPU Snapdragon 720G, 2x Gold cores @ 2.3GHz + 6x Silver cores @ 1.8GHz
GPU Adreno 618, 720MHz
Display 6.67 inches, 2400 x 1080 FHD+, 450nit, Gorilla Glass 5
Body 161.9x73.7x7.8mm (6.37x2.90x0.31in), 186g (6.56oz)
Camera 48MP 1/2.25-inch, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro camera, 2MP depth sensor
Video 4K@30fps, 960fps Super slow-mo
Aperture f/1.8 + f/2.0 + f/2.2, Front - F/2.2
Camera features Ultra nightscape mode, AI beauty, Macro video recording,
Storage 128GB UFS 2.1, microSD card slot
RAM 6GB
Battery 5,020mAh, 18W fast charging
Connectivity Dual-SIM 4G LTE, VoLTE, Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm jack
Color Aurora Blue
OS Android 10, MIUI 11
Price Rs 12,999/$180

Design

The Redmi Note 9 Pro features an Aura Balance design which is an evolution of the Aura Prime design debuted by the company on its 2019 phones. The rear has a shiny solid color finish but the way it reflects light creates a very striking effect. At first glance, the rear design of the Redmi Note 9 Pro might look very similar to the Huawei Mate 20 Pro. It has the same squarish camera hump at the rear albeit of a smaller size. The symmetrical design does a good job of hiding the massive camera bump and ensures that the Redmi Note 9 Pro does not wobble much when kept and used on a flat table.

Since the Redmi Note 9 Pro uses a 3D curved glass panel at the rear, it makes the phone easy to hold despite its large size. The front is dominated by the 6.67-inch FHD+ 20:9 Dot Display. This is a massive display by all means and one-handed use is going to be a struggle. The punch-hole housing the 16MP selfie camera is definitely noticeable since its size is pretty big. One can mask it by using a dark wallpaper and dark theme in MIUI 11, but some people are going to find it distracting.

Xiaomi is using Gorilla Glass 5 panels at the front and rear as well as on the camera bump. The frame itself is made of plastic, though the device does make use of a metallic chassis which means it does not have any kind of flex. While the Redmi Note 9 Pro lacks any kind of IP rating, it does feature P2i splash-proof nano-coating.

The bottom of the phone houses the USB-C port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and a bottom-firing speaker. The 2+1 SIM/SD card slot is located on the left edge, while the volume rockers and power button are located on the right edge. A single color notification LED is also hidden inside the earpiece grille. The fingerprint scanner is integrated into the power button. Since the button does not sit flush with the body, one can locate it without looking at the device. I will any day prefer a side-mounted fingerprint scanner over an unreliable and slow in-display fingerprint scanner and the Redmi Note 9 Pro is the perfect example of that. The fingerprint scanner is fast and reliable and works without a fuss.

As for the volume rockers, they are placed a bit too high. I had to adjust my grip every time I wanted to change the volume and struggled to reach the buttons. The top houses a noise-canceling microphone and an extremely handy IR blaster. With the pre-loaded Mi Remote app, one can use the IR blaster to control AC, TV, music system, and other appliances right from their Redmi Note 9 Pro.

Display

You don't get any fancy high refresh rate panel on the Redmi Note 9 Pro. Instead, you get a massive 6.67-inch FHD+ LCD display with 450-nit brightness and a punch-hole in the center. Yes, this is not an OLED panel and it has a refresh rate of 60Hz, but for all intents and purposes, this is a great display.

The brightness levels are sufficient, you are not going to struggle to read content outside in harsh sunlight thanks to the low reflectivity of the panel. The colors, contrast, and viewing angles are all great -- if not excellent -- and there really is no room for complaints here. Since this is not an OLED panel though, you are missing out on a few things -- the colors don't exactly pop as they do on AMOLED displays. The contrast ratio is good but pales in comparison to what an OLED offers. Lastly, there's no Always-On Display mode.

The OLED display used in most budget mid-range smartphone is nothing to write about, and in comparison, I will any day prefer the excellent LCD panel of the Redmi Note 9 Pro. Measuring 6.67-inches though, the display is definitely on the bigger side which might not be to everyone's taste.

Camera

The Redmi Note 9 Pro comes with a versatile quad-camera setup which includes a 48MP Samsung GW2 primary shooter, an 8MP ultra-wide angle camera, a 5MP macro sensor, and a 2MP depth sensor. The device can also record 4K videos at 30fps and super slow-mo videos at 960fps. Xiaomi also includes a super-detailed Pro mode in the camera app which works even in video mode. It also works with the ultra-wide angle sensor and the macro camera. This Pro mode is far better than what you get in some other more expensive flagship smartphones.

Below are some camera samples shot from the Redmi Note 9 Pro. They are a bit limited as I have not been able to go out due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

For an average joe, this is a decent camera by all means. The focusing speed is good and there is nothing really wrong with the colors and contrast. I will recommend one to take photos with the AI mode turned off though as otherwise, it ends up boosting colors a bit too much. The Redmi Note 9 Pro's camera tends to show its weakness in low-light scenarios. Photos come out noisy and they lack details. While the daylight imaging performance of the device is great, it is below par in low-light scenarios. The ultra-wide angle shooter offers a great level of flexibility, but its dynamic range and low-light performance are nothing to talk about. The macro camera is really handy if you love to capture close-up shots of flowers, pets, and other objects. Its quality is definitely a step-up from the Redmi Note 8 Pro and the Poco X2 thanks to the boost in resolution.

It will obviously be wrong to compare the camera performance of the Redmi Note 9 Pro to other more expensive smartphones like the OnePlus 7T or even the Galaxy S10 Lite. Xiaomi has always been known to set benchmarks for the mid-range smartphone segment with its Redmi Note lineup of devices, but in the camera department, the Redmi Note 9 Pro definitely falls a bit short.

Software

Like all other Xiaomi phones, the Redmi Note 9 Pro runs on MIUI 11 that is based on Android 10. MIUI is a very heavy skin and does not resemble anything close to stock Android. On the flip side, it offers plenty of customization options and features that you are unlikely to find in other OEM skins. Heck, you can even customize the screenshot gesture if you want to! There's also a well-implemented Dark mode and navigation gestures that further enhance the experience of using the device.

Xiaomi is slow in rolling out Android updates, but the company does tend to update its MIUI skin regularly with new features and enhancements. It also tends to update its devices for a long time, something that hardly any other Android OEM does for its mid-range device.

My one major gripe with MIUI 11 on the Redmi Note 9 Pro is the number of bloatware it ships with. There are almost a dozen pre-installed apps on the device that can be categorized as bloatware. Thankfully, one can uninstall almost all of them. Another issue with MIUI 11 and its system apps is the sheer amount of notification spam they send. This really ruins the experience of using the Redmi Note 9 Pro for me and in many ways, it serves as a reminder that you are using a budget Android phone.

Performance & Battery Life

With a powerful 8nm Snapdragon 720G chipset, 4/6GB RAM, and up to 128GB UFS 2.1 storage, the Redmi Note 9 Pro performs without any signs of lag or stutter. Mid-range Android smartphones have come a long way and their performance in day-to-day tasks is now more than good enough.

The Redmi Note 9 Pro's excellent performance can also be attributed to Xiaomi optimizing MIUI. Despite being a very heavy and intrusive skin, MIUI 11 on the Redmi Note 9 Pro does not skip a frame or bogs down when running games like PUBG or Call of Duty: Mobile. The GPU is also powerful enough to play PUBG on High graphical settings. Plus, the combination of the 8nm chip and the massive 5,020mAh battery makes the Redmi Note 9 Pro an ideal smartphone for extended PUBG gaming sessions.

The base variant of the Redmi Note 9 Pro ships with 4GB RAM and 64GB storage. However, it is the 6GB RAM variant that you should be eyeing. While 4GB RAM is going to be enough for casual users, it will pose a problem sooner than later, so it is better to spend the extra money and go for the 6GB RAM version outright. I had the latter version and did not face any issues while multitasking with heavy apps and games open and running in the background.

As for battery life, the Redmi Note 9 Pro is in a league of its own. When you combine a massive 5,020mAh battery with an efficient 8nm chipset, you are bound to see some amazing battery life numbers and the Redmi Note 9 Pro does not disappoint. I was able to make the phone last through two days of heavy use without any issues whatsoever. This included plenty of browsing, an hour of PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile, an hour or two of voice calls, streaming music on Spotify for a couple of hours, and more each day.

One issue I do have with the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max is with its charging speeds. The phone ships with an 18W fast charger that in this day and age takes ages to charge it from 0-100%. Coming from the Galaxy S20+ which took just over an hour to go from zero to full, the Redmi Note 9 Pro's slow charging speeds were frustrating to stay the least. The massive battery does mean that you can get through a day of heavy use with around 40% battery in the tank, but even then, Xiaomi should have considered including a faster charging option on the Redmi Note 9 Pro. The company will launch the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max in India which supports and ships with a faster 33W charger.

Conclusion

The Redmi Note 9 Pro is priced at Rs 12,999 ($180) in India. At that price point, the device offers so many features in an excellent package that it is hard to find faults in it. Perhaps my two major gripes with the Redmi Note 9 Pro are its weak low-light camera performance the extremely long charging times. In almost every other aspect though, this device performs admirably and you are going to be hard-pressed to find faults with it.

If the average camera performance the slow charging speeds are a deal-breaker for you, Xiaomi has a solution -- the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max. This is essentially the same device as the Redmi Note 9 Pro, but it comes with an improved primary 64MP camera that offers better low-light performance, a higher resolution selfie camera, and 33W fast charging support. Considering there is a very minor price difference between the two (Rs 2000/$28), buying the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max makes more sense than the Redmi Note 9 Pro.

 

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