Xiaomi as a brand are known for their affordable handsets that give you more phone for your money.
I’ve been testing its Redmi Note 9S for the last few weeks but before I get into my review, I just want to put a disclaimer upfront. Xiaomi South Africa gifted me the handset, which has no bearing on my experience with the phone.
A quick overview, Xiaomi has a range of smartphones that include the Mi Series, Mi Note Series, Mi Max Series, Mi Mix Series and Redmi Series (phablet). Last year, in 2019, Redmi became a separate sub-brand of entry-level and mid-range devices, which fall under Redmi, Redmi Note and Pro.
I know you’re probably wondering how to pronounce Xiaomi, so here you go (almost everyone I know does not pronounce it correctly):
Okay, back to the review.
INSIDE THE BOX
– Redmi Note 9S
– USB-A to USB-C charging cable
– 22.5W fast-charging plug
– plastic phone cover
– SIM tool
It’s been a while since I reviewed a Xiaomi handset, and was surprised to see that there is no pair of earphones included in the box.
DESIGN AND LOOK
The Redmi Note 9S is a 6.67-inch phablet that is curved on the sides giving it a comfortable grip, and has round corners. It has a DotDisplay with a centre single lens selfie-cam and narrow bezels.
To the left is the dual SIM and memory card slot (3 physical slots); to the right is the volume key and power button that doubles up as a fingerprint sensor; and the bottom houses the charging port, headphone jack and speaker.
On the back is a protruding quad-camera, which along with a slippery back means you want to put the cover on immediately, plus it’s a fingerprint magnet. It has a symmetrical design and the colour I have is ‘interstellar grey’ but with the cover, it doesn’t really matter what colour you get.
Dimensions are 165.75 x 76.68 x 8.8mm and weight is 209g. As a phablet, it is slightly too large for my hands.
The 6.67-inch Gorilla Glass 5 display has a tiny DotDisplay – a first for the Redmi range – and a 91% screen-to-body ratio. Narrow bezels look so much batter and should be the standard in 2020. The display is full HD+ with a screen resolution of 2400×1080 pixels.
The large display, as expected from a phablet, is probably a good thing for those who are spending more time on a phone consuming multimedia content. I appreciated the larger screen for YouTube when tuning into livestreams. It is my preferred method for this kind of content during lockdown, which leaves my laptop free to work.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Redmi Note 9S is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8nm 720G chipset with octa-core processor that features Qualcomm’s 5th-gen AI engine, Adreno 618 graphics processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage that is expandable. The dual SIM slot has a separate SD card slot.
I found the phone to have more than enough power for my daily usage; it was efficient, there was no lagging or app crashes. The Snapdragon 720G chip combined with its price point is hard to beat when you look at competing devices as it is more powerful.
There are two variants in this range, the one I have with 6GB/128GB which is R600 more than the 4GB/64GB variant. More RAM and space is definitely worth the price difference unless you’re on a strict budget or would rather wait for a sale.
The dual SIM plus memory card slot, i.e. three physical slots feels like an underrated feature. I haven’t used a phone like this before. Basically, you don’t have to choose between a SIM and memory card like other handsets on the secondary slot. I put my Rain and FNB SIM into the phone and could toggle based on signal and available data, plus had the memory card slot free.
SOFTWARE AND APPS
The Note 9S runs on Android 10 with its own MIUI 11 overlay. It also comes preloaded with the Google suite of apps, such as YouTube, Gmail, Chrome, Maps, YT Music, Duo, Photos, Podcasts etc. I normally won’t list these but given what is happening with Huawei and the lack of these apps on its 2020 handsets, it is important to know that Xiaomi still offers this. I’ve received queries via Instagram DM about this. You also have access to the Play Store with over 2.9-million apps as of June 2020 (Source: Statista).
Going back to MIUI 11, I’m not a fan of the ads that are pre-loaded on the device. They appear in the games folder, and in apps like Themes, Security, File Manager. There is no central way to disable them all, it has to be done individually per app. Apart from that, it has decent customisation options. I stuck with the Classic theme. I’m too old to change things because it will take weeks to figure out what the icons mean, LOL.
The quad-cameras are a 48MP high-res, 8MP ultra wide (119° field-of-view), 5MP macro and 2MP depth camera. The main 48MP camera is far superior than the standard mode, so this should be used primarily. The regular camera mode appears more “zoomed” in on the screen; I prefer shooting a higher res pic first and crop it after. Here’s an example of the main camera with the HDR on and you can see the colour of the sky is not over-exposed. Sorry I couldn’t upload a 20MB photo so had to reduce the size:
However, I was most excited to try the macro lens that shoots from 2cm, and wow, can we let the results speak for itself. And to state the obvious, the iPhone does not have a macro lens so this is just a demonstration what shooting 2cm away is like:
The nice about going into the Pro camera mode is the ability to specifically choose macro, wide or ultra-wide. When it comes to macro mode on other cameras, you have to wait for it to automatically detect and sometimes your pics aren’t shot in that mode.
The Portrait shot lets you shoot anything, not necessarily a human face only, and you can choose the blur from F1-16. I tested this on a flower in my garden and this is the result:
Lastly, the selfie camera. I don’t take a lot of selfies, but I quite liked the result from the 16MP front-camera, which also does pano selfies for groups, HDR and a bunch of beauty modes that I turned off. It also does 120fps slow-mo selfies if you want to make your Instagram stories all fancy.
Overall, the quad-camera set-up is quite good considering the price of this handset. I love the macro mode, the selfies are good, and the main 48MP shooter is great, with HDR turned on. Pics are not over saturated. Night mode was average.
For those interested in shooting videos, it does 4K at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps and then slow-mo on 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 960fps. You have to go into the Slow Motion section for these, and not from the Video mode for 4K.
Battery capacity is 5020mAh, that is massive and more than many mainstream handsets. My real world testing was good, even the standby time. I accidentally didn’t put it into airplane mode overnight and it lost less than 10% battery. The phone lasts, no matter what. I have dual SIMs inside, shoot pics, watch videos and livestreams etc, so quite intensive than the normal and the battery lasts into the night. You can get two days of moderate use comfortably. The fast charging is great for quick charging when you forget, otherwise you don’t notice overnight.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
The Redmi Note 9S comes in two variants, a base model with 4GB/64GB memory for R4699 and the 6GB/128GB option for R5299. It is available on the Mi Africa website and other retailers like Takealot. They are listed for R4699 and R5299 respectively on the Mi official website.
The Redmi Note 9S is a mid-range device with excellent value. For R5299, the 6GB/128GB is worth putting in the extra R600 instead of the base model. It has a fast Snapdragon chip, cameras have good features, good design, battery life is impressive and access to Google Mobile Services. I was disappointed by the ads on the phone, but you can turn it off, and something worth noting is that there isn’t NFC on the phone. As a phablet, it is quite a large handset, so keep that in mind.
The global pandemic came out of nowhere and I know many people personally who have decided to cut down on smartphone costs by not getting a new phone or looking for a cheaper option. But in South Africa, mid-range has mass appeal and the R5299 gives you more phone for your money.
EDIT: Pricing has been edited from R5999 to R5299 due to a price change.
Welcome to Wired to the Web. My name is Nafisa Akabor and I’m a technology journalist covering business and consumer tech for the last 14 years. I’m passionate about start-ups, smartphones, mobile payments, travel tech and electric cars. ✉️ firstname.lastname@example.org