Realme 9 Pro+ Review: A mid-range phone with an ace up its sleeve

Realme 9 Pro+

£349
8.8

Features

8.0/10

Performance

8.5/10

Camera

9.2/10

Value

9.5/10

Pros

  • Flagship camera performance for peanuts
  • Good quality display and stereo audio
  • Plenty of RAM and storage, plus latest build of Android
  • Rapid charging and powerful Dimensity 920 chip with 5G and Wi-Fi 6

Cons

  • Screen has a large bezel at the base
  • 2MP macro camera serves no purpose
  • Plastic rear makes it clear this isn't a premium phone

If you want a great camera over just about everything else, the 9 Pro+ is a cheap entry into high-quality mobile photography. Why pay more?

Not everyone wants to spend a lot of money on a phone, especially as the cost-of-living crisis builds up and is only set to get worse from the start of April. But, everyone wants good value for money.

I loved the GT 2 Pro and would recommend it to anyone, but what if you wanted to have a similar camera experience and were willing to forego some of the other features in order to save a not insignificant amount?

There’s also a cheaper GT 2 to consider as a cheaper alternative (my review of that is coming soon) which still ticks many boxes, but an even cheaper alternative is this; the Realme 9 Pro+.

At £349, or even £299 on promotion (depending on when you read this review), the 9 Pro+ is a considerably cheaper way to get a phone that has the same primary camera from far more expensive alternatives.

This review will look at the various aspects of the hardware to show that it doesn’t compromise as much as you might think. Could it be the choice for budding photographers on a budget?

The Build

The Realme 9 Pro+ is a lot less than the £699 for the flagship GT 2 Pro, so there clearly have to be some areas where costs are cut.

Sunrise Blue offers a bit more sparkle to the otherwise rather plain finish on the rear

The most obvious difference here is an all-plastic casing, with a rear cover (black on the reviewed model I have) that is pretty basic. There is a fancy Sunrise Blue colour-changing version on offer too, which jazzes things up (pictured left), but don’t be under any illusion that the phone feels premium.

Once you put it inside the bundled case, however, you really won’t notice. And if you’re not worried about what other people see in your phone, why worry about what’s on the side of the phone you won’t often see?

It is just 7.99mm thick, and even when cased, it feels nice in the hand and is easily pocketable.

Despite its more basic appearance, the phone still comes with a decent size 6.4-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate and FHD+ resolution, albeit with a larger bezel on the base than the other three sides. It does seem a little lopsided but the screen itself is bright and clear.

There’s also stereo sound with Dolby Atmos certification, as well as an integrated fingerprint sensor in the display. This can also be used to read your heart rate!

Given the more affordable market segment this phone slots into, there’s also a 3.5mm headphone port. It’s unclear why wired headphones are only deemed worthwhile by phone makers on cheaper models, but there you are. If you prefer not to have to carry more things that need charging, you’ll be grateful for this port.

There’s no memory expandability, which has often been available on cheaper phones before this, but you can choose between 128 or 256GB of storage, each of which should suffice for most people, especially with 5G and fast Wi-Fi 6 connectivity making it ideal for streaming content instead. Yes, the phone doesn’t scrimp on connectivity either.

Assuming you use a service like Google Photos to backup your own photos and videos, and don’t store loads of content locally, you should have no trouble working within the confines of the basic 128GB model.

On the RAM side, there’s 6 or 8GB and the phone allows expansion by using internal storage space as virtual memory. You can add up to 5GB more by enabling this.

All things considered, you’re getting a respectable set of features with the 9 Pro+ even if the display isn’t as great as its more expensive siblings.

Camera

The top feature here on this phone is the Sony IMX766, 50-megapixel, camera with OIS.

This is featured on both the more expensive GT 2 and GT 2 Pro models, as well as other top-end phones from OnePlus, Oppo and most recently, Xiaomi (with the Xiaomi 12 and 12X).

It first appeared on the OnePlus 9 series, and the Find X3 Pro, but still remains on this year’s OnePlus 10 Pro and Find X5 Pro – phones that will set you back between £800 and £1100. Let me remind you again; this phone is under £350!

It’s a tried-and-tested sensor, and likely the key reason you might choose this phone over any other budget offering.

The next two cameras on the Realme 9 Pro+ are where the cost-cutting becomes apparent, with a rather average 8-megapixel ultra-wide camera, and a 2-megapixel macro camera.

Just two much

Yes, in 2022, they’re still using a 2-megapixel camera. I wish these would simply go away, or at least get a bump up to 5 or 8-megapixels if they absolutely must still include a macro camera. Sure, this additional camera gives this phone three cameras on the back, but it really brings nothing to the table. 

Nevertheless, the main camera is what this is all about, and it’s a very versatile camera accompanied by a powerful camera application with a myriad of modes (it’s essentially the same camera interface as from Oppo and newer OnePlus phones, even those with Hasselblad branding). This includes a professional mode for manual control, plus the awesome Street Photo mode ideal for taking photos out and about without the risk of ending up with a blurry mess, or missing a moment entirely.

While it may be the same sensor as used on more expensive phones, there is no 10-bit colour mode on the 9 Pro+, and video recording tops out at 4K 30fps, not 60fps. There’s no 8K video recording either, but most users are likely to be happy enough with 1080p, which does come with a choice of 30 or 60fps.

Video recording is nice and steady too, and it can even work in low-light with AI enhancement to brighten things up.

I did however discover that in very low-light, the camera takes a shorter exposure than either the GT 2 or GT 2 Pro, resulting in a darker photo overall. It isn’t clear why Realme has chosen to do this, as it means the pictures aren’t as bright as they clearly can be – as demonstrated by the other phones with the same sensor. I am hoping it’s just in need of a software update to fix.

For now, assume that you won’t get quite the same performance in the dark, but also bear in mind that I am talking really dark – as in so dark, you wouldn’t normally even try to take a photo unless testing it for review purposes.

For everything else, the camera was exemplary, and if you’re not worried missing out on telephoto cameras (not even the GT 2 or GT 2 Pro have telephoto cameras either), or a super high-resolution ultra-wide photo (perhaps remembering when phones had just one camera), you can take good photos with 2x digital zoom, and acceptable ones at 5x.

It tops out at 20x zoom, which is far too ambitious. Work within its limitations and you’ll get along just fine.

For selfies, the phone has a 16-megapixel camera up front that also performs admirably. Selfies are enhanced in low-light, with stacks of detail and fast face tracking, and you can capture video at 1080p 30fps.

Sony’s image sensor is top-quality and the 9 Pro+ is all the better for having it.

Photo Gallery

Performance

AnTuTu v9: 489,124

MediaTek now has a very diverse range of chips, and the Dimensity 920 is a new offering that brings a lot of last year’s flagship performance to more affordable phones.

It allows for the phone to manage high refresh rates, fast 4G/5G and Wi-Fi data speeds (1200Mbps in the case of Wi-Fi 6), give decent computing and graphical processing performance with fast image processing capabilities, as well as being pretty low in power draw, being built on a 6nm process.

On AnTuTu, it benchmarked with a score of 489,124 and the phone chugged along nicely. Compared to almost one million for the new Snapdragon 8 gen 1, you might think this phone is considerably slower, but always remember that the flagship chipsets are often massive overkill for most usage needs.

If you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses, you will have to stump up more for a more powerful phone, but always consider what your actual needs very carefully.

There’s 60W wired-charging support, which when coupled with the 4,500mAh battery makes this a phone that will easily get through any day with ease.

I managed a respectable screen-on-time in excess of six hours, with 5G enabled throughout. Admittedly, I wasn’t heavily into gaming on this phone – but, again, if you are worried that the phone might not be capable in this department, it really can cope fine. You’d be hard pushed to notice the limitations on all but the most hardcore 3D titles, but do you actually play them over more casual ones?

With its thermal cooling system ensuring the phone won’t get too hot and start heavily throttling the performance, as many more powerful chipsets certainly do, you can probably do more with the phone than you’ll actually want to do. That’s useful if your needs change during your time of ownership.

Software wise, the Realme 9 Pro+ comes with Realme UI 3.0, built on Android 12. You can read more about Realme UI if you haven’t used a Realme phone before in one of my other reviews.

Overall

Perhaps the bright colour of the Sunrise Blue finish makes the look of the phone match its performance more fittingly, although I quite like the understated look and feel of the midnight black model.

There’s no difference in price regardless of the colour you choose, and there’s also a green model you might like the look of more.

It’s clear that cost is a going to be a primary factor in deciding to buy this phone over one of the GT 2 series models, and while both of the GT phones will perform better (even the GT 2 has last year’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chip powering it), this phone is seeking an entirely different kind of customer.

The Realme 9 Pro+ has that ace up its sleeve in the form of the top notch camera, making an otherwise run-of-the-mill mid-ranger really stand out and offer something many rivals cannot.

As a decent camera likely ranks high, if not top, on any shortlist these days, the Realme 9 Pro+ delivers perfectly – and yet it still manages to do well in every other category despite its price also. That’s what makes this a great phone.

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