Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Effortless affordability

There are currently more contenders than ever vying to become the biggest name in smartphones, and few are hungrier for the title than Chinese manufacturer Realme.

With a regularly refreshed lineup of affordable handsets, Realme has quickly established itself over the past few years as a player to keep an eye on in the budget and mid-range spaces.

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Its latest entry, the Realme 9 Pro Plus, sits at the top of its ‘mid’ range of phones, and it represents a definite statement of intent to the competition. With flagship specifications at a not-so-flagship price, the question isn’t whether or not it’s good value, but if it represents better value than its mid-priced rivals.

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Realme 9 Pro Plus review: What you need to know

The good news starts early, since the Realme 9 Pro Plus has plenty of stuff to help it stand apart. To begin with, it offers fast charging at particularly high speeds, claiming to be able to charge to 100% from empty in only 45 minutes. It has the same 50MP camera sensor as last year’s Oppo Find X3 Pro, too, which at launch cost more than three times as much.

It also benefits from a large 6.4in 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED display, a 5,000mAh battery and a Mediatek Dimensity 920 processor, along with 5G connectivity and 8GB of RAM.

Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Price and competition

In the UK, the Realme 9 Pro Plus costs £349 and comes in either Midnight Black, Aurora Green or Sunrise Blue.

Samsung’s upcoming A33 5G and A53 5G sit on either side of the Realme 9 Pro Plus’ price, at £329 and £399 respectively. We’re yet to review these handsets, but they’re already shaping up to be a pair of well-priced alternatives.

What we have reviewed, however, is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, which at £240 is the affordable handset to beat. The display refreshes at a smoother 120Hz, it comes with an excellent camera system and offers slightly faster 67W charging.

The Nokia X10 (£230) and Poco M4 Pro 5G (£249) are also strong contenders. However, neither of these handsets are as well-rounded as the phones I’ve listed above: the former is lacking when it comes to performance and the latter only has an IPS display.

Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Design and key features

Creating a unique-looking smartphone isn’t easy. The world is well-worn into familiar grooves when it comes to the humble handset – the public expects glass and metal rectangles and, for the most part, that’s what it gets.

Not that the Realme 9 Pro Plus deviates significantly in this regard, but I do appreciate the attempt to deliver something a bit different through the use of a color-changing reflective rear panel. I received the Aurora Green model which, as you can see in the images throughout this review, looks quite nice in the areas where it catches the light.

At 8mm thick and weighing 182g, the Realme 9 Pro Plus is nicely sized for one-handed use, and the build quality feels quite robust, too. It doesn’t have an official IP rating, but at least the screen is protected from scratches and scrapes with a layer of Gorilla Glass 5.

Another big bonus is the inclusion of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom edge, as well as the under-screen fingerprint sensor. During my testing, I found this to be mostly reliable at recognizing my digits, although it sometimes failed to register whenever my finger wasn’t completely clean.

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Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Display

Even for the price, the Realme 9 Pro Plus’ Super AMOLED screen is an absolute delight.

At an FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080) resolution, it’s sharp enough for the size, and since it refreshes at 90Hz, it adds a layer of fluidity not offered by your typical 60Hz panel. Though some of the competition – such as the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G – offer 120Hz for the same price, the Realme’s screen proved to be sufficiently fast for speedy social scrolling and high frame rate mobile gaming.

Since this is an AMOLED panel, the Realme 9 Pro Plus provides a deep, inky-looking black level, with effectively perfect contrast to boot. The phone has four display profiles to choose from, but color purists will want to enable the ‘natural’ mode – calibrated to the sRGB color space, this setting reached an average Delta E of 1.08, which is pretty much all you can possibly ask for .

The only slight niggle is that the phone’s screen only goes up to around 400cd/m2 of brightness, which is fine enough for most uses, but you might struggle to see things clearly in bright sunlight. It also doesn’t support HDR playback.

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Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Performance and battery life

Snapdragon has had a long run at the top of the mobile chipset hierarchy, with little in the way of competition to challenge Qualcomm’s dominance. Its closest competitor, Mediatek, holds nothing near the same market share, though it has made noticeable gains in popularity in recent years, and for good reason.

The Dimensity 920 5G, which you’ll find inside the Realme 9 Pro Plus, is one of MediaTek’s newest chipsets, and as you’ll soon find out, is both faster and more power efficient than its Qualcomm counterparts.

In general use, the Realme 9 Pro Plus absolutely flies and I couldn’t really find a task that could trip it up. From browsing the web to playing games, this is a handset that can handle most Android-based tasks without so much as a whimper.

This anecdotal evidence is backed up by the phone’s Geekbench 5 scores. Achieving 687 in single-core processing and 2,290 in the multi-core test, the Realme 9 Pro Plus outperforms all of its rivals, with only the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G coming anywhere close.

Gaming performance is also unbeatable for the price. With an average frame rate of 57fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 on-screen benchmark, the Realme 9 Pro Plus stretches out even more of a lead.

However, as with all phones at this price, you won’t be able to take full advantage of the screen’s high refresh rate if you’re efficiently playing high fidelity titles. I had to scale back the graphics settings to minimum in PUBG Mobile, for instance, in order to achieve a frame rate above 60fps – and even then it fluctuated quite a bit.

As for battery life, things get even better. This is every bit a two-day smartphone, with the Realme 9 Pro Plus reaching 25hrs 17mins in our in-house video playback test. With a score like that, it definitely gets a top ten spot in our phone battery life hierarchy.

When the time does (eventually) come to recharge, the included 60W fast charger can take the Realme from zero to 100% in just over 40mins. This potent combination of a long-lasting battery life and super-fast charging is a bit of a game changer, honestly.

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Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Cameras

Among the many bold claims to its name, there are few parts of the Realme 9 Pro Plus that have received quite as much coverage as its camera. The phone’s primary 50MP unit is a Sony IMX766 case, which is the same sensor included in the pricier Oppo Find X3 Pro.

By default, this captures images at a pixel-binned 12.5MP resolution (although you can take full-res images if you wish), with an aperture of f/1.8 and optical image stabilization. An 8MP ultra-wide camera sits just underneath, with a 2MP macro sensor and 16MP selfie camera rounding things out.

The phone’s camera app is easy to use, allowing you to cycle between the various shooting modes with simple swipes up and down the screen. Granular settings, such as stabilization and aspect ratio toggles, are located inside the hamburger menu in the top-right corner.

As for general image quality, the 50MP main camera is frankly astonishing. Pictures are captured with an abundance of detail without looking like they’ve been artificially over-sharpened, with lots of color and a wide dynamic range with plenty of warmth.

Realme skews more on colors and contrast than outright realism, but this makes for pleasing photos in most situations. The general achilles heel of mid-range smartphones is mostly banished here, too – images taken in low-light look good for the most part and are certainly attractive enough to be shared or printed out.

It’s a bit of a shame, however, that this performance doesn’t translate over to the ultra-wide sensor. Though captured images aren’t the worst I’ve encountered, they lack the resolution, dynamic range and detail needed to really stand out.

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Realme 9 Pro Plus review: Verdict

Despite this, the Realme 9 Pro Plus remains an unquestionable triumph. Going well beyond its plethora of slick contenders in all the key metrics, there was no doubt that the Realme 9 Pro Plus would instantly earn a recommendation as I closed out this review.

With unbeatable performance, staggering stamina, fast charging, a great screen and a class-leading camera system, the Realme 9 Pro Plus is an exceptionally well-rounded handset and it’s one that will take quite some beating in the months to come.

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