The follow-up to the incredible Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T has a lot to prove. Is it the best phone under £200?
- Decent battery life
- Excellent quad camera
- Incredible value for money
- No major improvements on Redmi Note 8T
Every few months, the bar for what makes a good budget smartphone gets raised even higher and Xiaomi is usually the culprit. The £179 Redmi Note 8T inevitably blew us away at the start of the year, with its snazzy design and flagship-chasing features.
Barely five months have passed and I already have its direct sequel, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9, sitting on my lap. With budget champions from Motorola and Realme hitting the shops, does the Redmi Note 9 have what it takes to set the new benchmark for smartphones that cost less than £200?
READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: What you need to know
The Note 9 isn’t the only Redmi phone to launch in the UK this year, as Xiaomi has also released the Redmi Note 9S and Redmi Note 9 Pro. There is also a Redmi Note 9 Pro Max floating around in the international markets but, as far as we know, it won’t be coming to Blighty. The Redmi Note 9 is the smallest and cheapest of the three Redmi phones you can buy in the UK.
It’s available in two configurations, coming with either 3GB of RAM and 64GB of storage or 4GB of RAM and 128GB storage. For this review, Xiaomi has sent us the heftier 4GB/128GB loadout. The Redmi Note 9 runs Xiaomi’s MIUI 11 operating system, which is based on Android 10 and is powered by an Octa-core MediaTek Helio G85 chipset. Like the Redmi Note 8T before it, it has some luxury features that you wouldn’t expect from a budget smartphone, including a quadruple rear camera.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Price and competition
The cheaper Redmi Note 9, with 3GB of RAM and 64GB storage, has launched for the reasonable sum of £179, which is exactly the same price as the Redmi Note 8T we reviewed some months back. That variant isn’t available in the UK yet, but the 4GB/128GB model we’re testing here has been released in the UK with an RRP of £199.
One sub-£200 phone that you might want to consider instead is the Motorola Moto G8. At only £180, it straddles the line between performance and affordability and, for that reason, it’s our favourite budget Moto to date. If you’re willing to spend just that little bit extra, then the £220 Realme 6 delivers sensational performance for a budget phone while, somehow, maintaining exceptional battery life.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Design
Xiaomi’s Redmi Note 8T was a beauty of a budget phone, but I’m less enamoured with the Redmi Note 9. The greyish-blue colour of its plastic chassis is rather dull, although it catches the light nicely at certain angles, and I’m not a fan of the way Xiaomi has placed the fingerprint reader and quad camera into one big rectangular box on the rear.
The camera module isn’t flush with the back either, so it doesn’t rest flush against a flat surface when placed face up. The body itself feels cheap to the touch, and it’s quick to collect greasy fingerprints. That’s less of an issue on the front, where the display is protected by a smooth layer of Gorilla Glass 5.
On that note, the face of the phone has seen an improvement. The bezels surrounding the display are just as slim as those of the Note 8T, if not slimmer, and Xiaomi has done away with the central teardrop notch of the Note 8T. Instead, the selfie camera is embedded inside the upper left corner of the display. It fits in quite well and looks much sleeker than the old notch design but, if you don’t like it, you can always conceal it by activating the black notch-hiding bar using the display settings.
Although the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is bigger than its predecessor, with a 6.53in display to the Note 8T’s 6.3in, it manages to weigh a gram less at 199g. Measuring 162 x 77 x 8.9mm, the phone definitely falls into the larger end of the spectrum, however. When holding the phone in one hand, it’s a serious stretch to reach the upper row of apps with my thumb without first sliding the phone down my palm.
Elsewhere, the design remains much the same. There is a combined dual-SIM and microSD tray on the left edge and, on the right-hand side, you’ll find the power button and volume rocker. The bottom edge houses a 3.5mm audio jack, a lone speaker and a USB-C charging port. Wireless charging isn’t on the cards, though at this price that won’t come as much of a surprise. It does at least support NFC for contactless payments, which is an essential feature in these times.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Display
As I mentioned previously, the Redmi Note 9’s IPS display measures 6.53in across the diagonal and has a 2,340 x 1,080 resolution, giving it a pixel density of 395 pixels per inch. In that regard, it’s not much different to the Note 8T, which has a marginally smaller screen but exactly the same resolution.
There are actually three display modes, or ‘colour schemes’, on the Redmi Note 9: Auto, Saturated and Standard. We tested all three using a professional colour calibrator and found that the Auto and Saturated modes offer the best experience, both covering roughly 93% of the sRGB colour gamut with a gamut volume of around 108%.
Overall colour accuracy is actually slightly better in Saturated mode compared to Auto mode; we recorded average Delta E results of 3.04 and 3.74, respectively, meaning the Saturated setting comes closer to delivering natural colours.
To my eyes, however, the Auto setting – which adjusts colours ‘based on the current lighting’ – is easily the most appealing in terms of colour reproduction. It’s the brightest mode too, producing a maximum luminance of just over 359cd/m². The Standard mode is the worst of the three by far, as it reduces the display’s brightness significantly while simultaneously bathing the screen in a warm candle-like hue.
Provided you stick to the Auto setting, this is a fantastic FHD display with a high contrast ratio of 1,132:1 and strong colour vibrancy that lends plenty of pop to on-screen images, and it’s bright enough to use outdoors without having to squint.
That’s all well and good, but how does it compare to the Redmi Note 8T? Well, the Note 8T we tested had a fantastic display that covered 95.7% of the sRGB gamut with a volume of 96.5%, so colours looked great without being oversaturated. Additionally, it had a higher maximum brightness of 482cd/m2 and a superior 1,517:1 contrast ratio. In short, the Note 8T’s display was better.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Performance and battery life
In raw power terms, the Redmi Note 9 is on par with its predecessor. It’s powered by an Octa-core MediaTek Helio G85 CPU which is backed by 4GB of RAM and achieved similar single-core and multi-core results to the Redmi 8T with its Qualcomm Snapdragon 655.
The Moto G8 – which packs that same 655 chip – scored nigh-on identical results. The true champion here, though, is the Realme 6. Packing a MediaTek G90T CPU, it pulled slightly ahead of every other budget rival in our GeekBench testing, as demonstrated in the chart below.
The gaming capabilities of the Redmi Note 9 are certainly up to scratch. Since it has an FHD display, it won’t be able to hit the same onscreen frame rates as budget phones with lower resolution screens, like the Moto G8, but it’s worth the hit for that extra detail.
I was able to play demanding online Android titles like Call of Duty: Mobile without suffering any notable frame rate drops across consecutive games.It’s also able to run PUBG Mobile pretty cleanly in HD and with the frame rate set to high, but towards the end of one longer match the rear of the phone was getting toasty so I had to drop it down to medium settings. In games like these, the extra-large screen actually gives you an advantage over many players too, because everything’s that little bit easier to see.
Despite the phone’s ample display size and FHD resolution, the Redmi Note 9’s 5,020mAh battery managed to keep it going for 15hrs 44mins in our standardised battery rundown test.
That’s 51 minutes longer than the Redmi Note 8T lasted in the same test, though it still falls well short compared to the battery efficiency of the Moto G8 and Realme 6. The Note 9’s battery life is impressive nonetheless, and on a full charge, it will last you an entire day of moderate usage without needing a top-up.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Camera
As you know by now, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 has a quadruple rear camera. This camera setup may have moved position since the Redmi 8T but its specifications remain much the same: each of the individual cameras has the same megapixel and aperture as they did on the 8T.
The primary snapper is, of course, that 48MP, f/1.8 monster, which is supported by an 8MP, f/2.2 wide-angle lens, a 2MP, f/2.4 depth module for taking bokeh (or blurred background) shots and, finally, a 2MP, f/2.4 macro lens for shooting small objects up close and personal.
That macro snapper is particularly impressive, as you can see from the detail it captured on the rim of a 5p coin and the soft fur of a koala teddy bear.
Due to the constraints of working remotely, I was unable to conduct out our usual office-based camera tests, so I’ve had to make do with snapping some local landmarks, such as the local yard and the houses visible outside my window.
The level of precision achieved by the 48MP module is remarkable, just as it was on the Note 8T. Vegetation and brickwork come out clearly defined, even when shot from a considerable distance, and the colours look vibrant and realistic.
Xiaomi’s camera software is straightforward and shoots in HDR at 12MP by default. You need to switch shooting modes if you would rather capture 48MP images. The ‘Pro’ shooting mode is great fun to play around with, and it’s useful too, allowing you to manually tweak the focus, ISO and shutter speed to your liking.
At the front, Xiaomi has equipped the Redmi Note 9 with a single 13MP (f/2.3) camera which, on paper, sounds like a downgrade from the Note 8T’s 13MP (f/2.0) shooter. It’s good, but it does seem to flatten out detail in an effort to beautify its subjects. I ended up looking a lot less stubbly and lockdown-crazed than I really was, which I suppose was a bonus.
Video shoots in 1080p at 30fps on both the selfie camera and main quad camera. Quality is great for a budget phone and, on the rear snapper, it’s helped along nicely with some effective image stabilisation. Aspiring TikTok stars will be pleased to know that there’s a separate ‘short video’ shooting mode that captures footage in fifteen-second chunks.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 review: Verdict
Whether you buy the £179 model or the £199 version tested here, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 is incredible value for money. It has a large, good-quality FHD display, a fantastic quadruple camera setup and it delivers performance that’s on par with one of its key competitors, the Motorola Moto G8.
Up until this point, we’ve held the Redmi Note 8T up as the pinnacle of budget smartphone technology. In most regards, the Redmi Note 9 is better – or at least as good – as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 8T that came before it. With that said, the Redmi Note 8T’s display was more colour accurate, brighter and had a higher contrast than the Note 9’s. Ultimately, if you have less than £200 to spend and want to get the most from your money, then you’d be equally happy with either phone.
|Xiaomi Redmi Note 9 specifications
|Octa-core MediaTek Helio G85
|2,340 x 1,080
|48MP (f/1.8), 8MP wide (f/2.2), 2MP macro (f/2.4), 2MP depth (f/2.4)
|Dust and water resistance
|3.5mm headphone jack
|USB connection type
|Memory card slot (supplied)
|162 x 77 x 8.9mm
|Android 10 (MIUI 11)