This isn't the Redmi Note 8 Pro successor you were expecting it to be
By Jamshed Avari | Updated: 29 May 2020 11:22 IST
The Redmi Note 9 Pro is priced starting at Rs. 12,999 in India
Redmi Note 9 Pro features a 6.67-inch screen and 5020mAh battery
The Snapdragon 720G SoC is a powerful SoC for a phone at this price
Photo and video quality at night was disappointing
The Redmi Note 9 Pro has just been launched in India, and its starting price of Rs. 12,999 is surprisingly low because Xiaomi has made a few very interesting decisions in terms of positioning and features. It isn't easy to stay ahead of the game, and the Redmi Note 9 Pro goes up against the formidable Realme 6 and Samsung M30s. Longtime fans of the series might be surprised at how Xiaomi has actually held back a little with this model, since expectations are always when a new generation of Redmi Note smartphones is announced.
Previous models, most notably the Redmi Note 8 Pro (Review), have been defined by their positioning above the standard Redmi series and the aspirational features they offer. While prices are still very reasonable, Xiaomi has made a habit of delivering things that people will be tempted to spend a little more money on, such large displays, high-capacity batteries, multiple cameras, premium styling, and class-leading specifications.
The tradeoff for that new low price is that the Redmi Note 9 Pro does not offer many of today's most buzzworthy features – a 90Hz display, extremely fast charging, and high-resolution cameras. This phone is more about core specifications and the overall usage experience. In an interesting shuffle, though, some of these features can be found in a new higher-tier device, the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max.
So what's in a name? Does this repositioning mean that the Redmi Note 9 Pro is a disappointment, or can it live up to its illustrious predecessors' standards? Let's find out.
Redmi Note 9 Pro design
By any standard, the Redmi Note 9 Pro is a bulky phone. At 8.8mm thick and 209g in weight, many people will find this device bulky and unwieldy. That's where Xiaomi's new ‘Aura Balance' design philosophy comes in – the company says that weight is distributed perfectly evenly and the exterior design is symmetrical to make usage more comfortable. We found one-handed use difficult but not impossible.
In terms of looks, Xiaomi has gone with three relatively simple colours – Interstellar Black, Glacier White, and Aurora Blue. You won't find any graidents or patterns here, though the appearance is anything but subtle. Our Aurora Blue unit was bright and vibrant, with a very shiny, reflective rear panel. You'll see light play across the surface when using this phone, giving the feeling of depth. Thankfully the rear panel isn't too slippery, but it does pick up fingerprints as soon as you touch it.
Xiaomi has come up with a distinctive new camera bump design which plays into the theme of symmetry. Even the flash is centred below the four camera lenses. This is a nice design touch that will set the Redmi Note 9 series apart and make this phone and its siblings recognisable. The camera module does stick out quite a bit though.
The front and rear of the Redmi Note 9 Pro are both made using Gorilla Glass 5, while the frame is polycarbonate. The most distinctive feature on the front is of course the new embedded selfie camera, which is centred at the top of the screen. It is somewhat distracting, and the screen's backlighting is a little uneven around it. Interestingly, we noted that the picture of the Redmi Note 9 Pro on the cover of its box seems to show a smaller hole and narrow chin than the device actually has. That said, the phone still looks modern and definitely defies expectations for its price category.
The rear is made of Gorilla Glass 5 and is very reflective
The next interesting design touch is the side-mounted fingerprint sensor, which is embedded into the power button. This sits in a slight recess on the right of the phone which lined up fairly well with the thumb of our right hand. You'll find this inconvenient if you're left-handed, and we'd suggest registering multiple fingers so you can unlock this phone whether it's in your hand or lying on a table.
Xiaomi says that this approach was chosen because it's quicker than an in-display sensor and more convenient than having one on the back, plus it doesn't disrupt the design of the rear panel. This is definitely a trend in the budget segment right now, though. We also have to note that the choice of an LCD screen rather than AMOLED plays into how an in-display sensor can be implemented.
The volume buttons are placed awkwardly above the sensor, and aren't easy to reach while on a call. On the left, there's a tray with slots for two Nano-SIMs and a microSD card. Xiaomi's trademark infrared emitter is on the top, and can be used to control several home appliances. There's the usual USB Type-C port, 3.5mm audio socket, and speaker on the bottom. Many people will be happy to note that there is in fact a notification and charging LED hidden in the earpiece.
Xiaomi has done well in terms of design, and the Redmi Note 9 Pro does feel fresh without actually changing too much for a phone in this segment. There's also a P2i coating for splash resistance, though of course no proper waterproofing.
The fingerprint sensor is embedded into the power button on the right
Redmi Note 9 Pro specifications and software
Redmi Note series phones typically have impressive specifications, and Xiaomi has gone with a larger screen and battery than ever before. You get a 6.67-inch full-HD+ (1080x2400-pixel) screen which has a tall aspect ratio to accommodate the front camera. What might surprise many fans who follow current trends, because it is a standard 60Hz panel and doesn't have a 90Hz refresh rate like some other recently launched devices, most notably the Realme 6 (Review).
Xiaomi claims that there aren't many apps that take advantage of a high refresh rate, people can't really tell the difference, it isn't worth the battery life tradeoff, and the Snapdragon 720G SoC isn't powerful enough. We don't necessarily agree with all these points, but we do have to remember that some compromises are to be expected at Rs. 12,999.
The 5020mAh battery is also interesting. Xiaomi claims 29 hours of VoLTE calling and 14 hours of gaming per charge. You get an 18W charger in the box – faster charging is reserved for the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max.
The Snapdragon 720G is a modern SoC with two high-performance 2.3GHz cores and six power-efficient 1.8GHz cores, all manufactured on an 8nm process which is said to result in greater power efficiency and lower heat dissipation. Buyers will note that the Redmi Note 8 Pro's support for Amazon's Alexa alongside Google Assistant has been dropped – Xiaomi tells us that this relied on specific capabilities of the MediaTek processor used for the previous model.
There's an IR emitter on the top, and the speaker, Type-C, and 3.5mm ports on the bottom
Xiaomi has noted that this is the first time we're seeing a 7xx-series Snapdragon processor in a Redmi Note series device at this price. It's a predictable move considering the arms race manufacturers are in, but calls into question Qualcomm's strategy of launching the 7xx-series as a premium tier to offset the downward migration of the 6xx-series.
You can get the Redmi Note 9 Pro with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for Rs. 12,999, or with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage for Rs. 15,999. It's interesting to note that when the Redmi Note 8 Pro had launched six months ago, Xiaomi had highlighted how 6GB of RAM was the minimum amount on offer. The Redmi Note 9 Pro Max will give you 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage at Rs. 14,999, and is also the only option if you want to step up to 8GB. The fact that these two sibling models overlap might cause some confusion in the market.
Other highlights include NavIC support along with standard GPS, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5, and all the standard sensors. Along with the 18W charger and USB Type-C cable, you get only a SIM eject tool and plastic case in the box along with this phone – the blue and white variants will ship with a clear case while the black one will get a smoky translucent one.
MIUI 11 runs on top of Android 10, and our review unit had the February security patch. Sadly, bloatware and promotional content remain parts of Xiaomi's business strategy. The company does say that users can remove and/or disable some of these features but we did see lots of spammy notifications.
There's no app drawer, but you do get some level of UI customisation. Swiping up on the homescreen launches the MI browser which also lets you search for installed apps. This is somewhat convenient but we wish we could reassign this shortcut. There's a Dark Mode, downloadable UI themes, and Google's Digital Wellbeing settings. You can clone apps and store sensitive data in a Second Space for privacy, and type quick replies to messages from within the notification popups for some apps.
The rear camera cluster has an attention-grabbing design
Redmi Note 9 Pro performance and battery life
At this point, with the kind of hardware used at even the low end of the market, there isn't much that can be said about everyday usage. The Redmi Note 9 Pro is more than powerful enough to handle anything from basic calls and messaging all the way up to heavy 3D gaming, with no trouble whatsoever. Multitasking was also smooth and trouble-free. If you're used to a higher display refresh rate you might find that missing, but most people shouldn't really mind – other than the feeling of missing out on something.
Ergonomically, this isn't the easiest phone to use, as we've said. The large screen does work nicely for videos and games, but the size and placement of the camera bump make holding the Redmi Note 9 Pro in landscape while playing games just a little uncomfortable. Holding it up to take long calls could also get fatiguing. The side-mounted fingerprint sensor and face recognition were both quick and effective in our experience.
The screen is reasonably bright and crisp. Colours do look vibrant, and there are some adjustments in the Settings app if you want to play with them. We did find the camera hole a little distracting when watching videos full-screen. Some apps are designed to mask notches at the top of the screen with a black band, and these might need to be updated to account for the size and placement of camera holes like the one on this phone. We weren't very impressed with the speaker though – sound was loud, but harsh and tinny.
As for benchmarks, there were no surprises. The Snapdragon 720G does offer class-leading performance for a budget phone. We saw scores of 279,978 in AnTuTu as well as 568 and 1,761 in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests respectively. 3DMark gave us 3,665 points in its Slingshot Unlimited test, and GFXBench's Manhattan 3.1 and Car Chase game simulations ran at 27fps and 15fps respectively.
PUBG Mobile defaulted to the High quality preset. We played a few rounds for about 20 minutes and found that the Redmi Note 9 Pro did get a little warm, contrary to Xiaomi's claims. The phone never got too uncomfortable but we didn't want to play for too much longer. Graphics were consistently smooth though, and gameplay was enjoyable. Asphalt 9: Legends didn't give us any trouble either.
We were eager to test this phone's battery. With ordinary use, we were very pleased to see the Redmi Note 9 Pro easily lasting through a full day and nearly half of the second day before needing a recharge. During this time we played some games, streamed video, and took lots of photos and videos. Our HD loop video test ran for 16 hours, 2 minutes which is good but not as great as we were expecting, considering that some competitors in this space can boast of scores that cross 20 hours.
The Redmi Note 9 Pro has slots for two Nano-SIMs and a microSD card
Redmi Note 9 Pro cameras
The squared-off camera bump on the rear might also surprise some Redmi Note series fans. The primary shooter has a 48-megapixel resolution and f/1.79 aperture, and uses the new Samsung Isocell GM2 sensor. You don't get a 64-megapixel camera like the one on the Redmi Note 8 Pro or other recent value-segment phones. That's primarily a result of the Redmi Note 9 Pro addressing a lower market tier with its lower prices – you do get a 64-megapixel camera with the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max.
Next to it you'll find an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, which is pretty standard for this price level. The 2-megapixel depth sensor in the lower row is also basic and commonplace. What is interesting is the fact that the macro camera has a 5-megapixel resolution, which should be a nice bump up from the barely-useful 2-megapixel ones we've seen in most phones of late.
Xiaomi boasts of an improved Night Mode, super phase detection autofocus, and a colour profile optimised for Indian tastes. Video can be recorded at 4K 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. 720p slow-mo recording goes up to 960fps. One of this phone's primary target audiences is video content creators, especially TikTok users, so there's a Short Video mode with a 15-second cutoff. You can also shoot video using the macro camera, or save RAW 8-bit footage for external processing.
Redmi Note 9 Pro daytime camera samples (tap to see full size)
The front camera has a 16-megapixel resolution, and once again the Redmi Note 9 Pro Max offers a step up to 32 megapixels. Slow-mo up to 120fps is possible as well. There's AI beautification which is on by default.
The camera app is straightforward for the most part, but there are some quirks. For instance, you have to open a submenu to find the Macro camera icon. There are 0.6x, 1x and 2x zoom selectors right above the shutter button – the first two switch between the wide-angle and standard cameras, but the zoom is all digital. As usual, we had to manually disable Xiaomi's advertising watermark on photos.
Redmi Note 9 Pro daytime camera samples: standard (above) and wide-angle (below) (tap to see full size)
Starting with daytime photos, we found the primary camera to be reasonably good, but it doesn't break any new ground in terms of quality or flexibility. Close-ups looked good and details were clear in foreground subjects. Distant objects were also well represented if there was adequate light and textures weren't too complex. The wide-angle camera isn't too bad, but quality definitely suffers. Despite promising distortion correction, there's still some fairly obvious warping at the sides of frames.
The 5-megapixel macro camera does deliver much higher quality shots than we've seen from most other macro cameras, and the camera app makes it obvious when you're holding the phone at the correct distance to lock focus. Many of our attempts still come out looking dull though, often with washed-out colours and poorly balanced exposures.
Redmi Note 9 Pro daytime macro camera sample (tap to see full size)
Redmi Note 9 Pro daytime portrait mode camera sample (tap to see full size)
At night, we found the Redmi Note 9 Pro's primary camera to be good if there was lots of artificial light around, otherwise details were lost. Low-light landscapes were unimpressive. The wide-angle camera delivered murky results, but we didn't expect too much from it. Night mode was surprisingly ineffective – it did help balance dark scenes with bright lights that would otherwise just be overexposed blotches, but it didn't do anything at all for shots of subjects in the dark, which other phones are capable of improving.
The front camera is fairly good in the daytime as well as at night, but we didn't like the aggressive beautification which made faces look artificial. Details were good in the daytime as well as at night, and portrait shots had nicely blurred backgrounds.
Redmi Note 9 Pro low-light camera samples (tap to see full size)
Video shot at 1080p looked fine, with good stabilisation. Our only complaint was that our test footage was a little overexposed. At 4K, colours went completely out of whack and our sample shots had an overpowering, unnatural red tone. The shimmer effect was pretty bad at night when shooting at 1080p. The same situation was evident at night – 1080p footage was not usable if we were moving, but we managed to capture usable footage if we stood still.
With over 100 million units sold, the Redmi Note 9 Pro has a huge legacy to live up to. For its price, the base variant is an excellent option, and raises the bar in terms of features and performance. However, this phone is more of an upgrade to the Redmi Note 8 (Review) than the Redmi Note 8 Pro (Review), as its name might suggest, and that's going to be a little confusing for buyers.
We like the Redmi Note 9 Pro for its overall style, and it could easily stand next to full-priced flagships from five or six years ago. The specifications are very impressive and we had very few complaints when using this phone for day-to-day tasks as well as general entertainment. The primary camera is a letdown though, especially in low light. We also found this phone a bit too bulky for our liking.
Throughout this review, we've referenced the higher-end Redmi Note 9 Pro Max, because as it turns out, Xiaomi has interleaved the prices of its variants so that the first step up from the base Redmi Note 9 Pro priced at Rs. 12,999 is actually the sibling model. For Rs. 14,999, you get better front and rear cameras, more RAM, and faster charging. The Rs. 15,999 variant of the standard Redmi Note 9 Pro is priced even higher, only for more storage. However, you get the relatively poorer feature set, making this particular variant very hard to recommend. The lineup seems far more convoluted and confusing than it needs to be – and there's now confirmation of a new Redmi Note 9S which might or might not come to India.
While it's hard to see the value in the 6GB+128GB version of the Redmi Note 9 Pro, the 4GB+64GB version has been launched at an incredible price. We hope to see Xiaomi improve things on the camera front through software updates. If that happens, this phone could be very, very hard to beat.
Is Redmi Note 9 Pro the new best phone under Rs. 15,000? We discussed how you can pick the best one, on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.