Xiaomi smartphones, especially in the budget range are a mix-and-match of hardware. Hardware is smartly selected from the same parts bin and put together to deliver a smartphone at the price tag you are looking for. But the Redmi 9 Power is a bit different.
It is one of the few smartphones from the superbrand that actually brings you something different. There’s a new Qualcomm Snapdragon 662 chipset that’s paired with 4 GB RAM. It’s currently only available on the recently-announced Moto G9 and the upcoming Nokia 5.4 that is yet to see an India launch. There’s other interesting bits like a dual-speaker setup for better sound, a massive 6000 mAh battery with a 22 W charger in the box.
In short, there are a lot of new bits, and that’s what makes the mixing and matching a bit worrisome. And after a week of use, I had mixed feelings about the Redmi 9 Power, even though it all looks great on paper.
Gone are the days when you could buy a budget Redmi smartphone with a metal body or a glass back at or around Rs 10,000. These days, more manufacturers are dialing back to plastic smartphones that are either wholly made of plastic (save for the display) or go with plastic backs that look like glass. While plastic has an edge when it comes to accidental drops (vs glass), the affordable glass-like stuff we have seen on the backs of most budget smartphones are very susceptible to scratches and have turned out to be proper dust and fingerprint magnets.
Xiaomi took -- what I would call -- a smarter way out. Despite being made of plastic, the Redmi 9 Power does not feel cheap in the rather cute “Blazing Blue” finish. There are fine textured grooves at the back that also add to the grip, which along with the rounded design and curved back, make it easy to handle despite its large form factor.
The matte-painted plastic finish also means that you may never have to wipe the back of your phone, just like the Nokia 2.4 I reviewed earlier. Bringing down costs by using plastic also let Xiaomi include a splash-resistant nano-coating that lets the phone tolerate a few splashes of water.
The fingerprint reader that sits on the side is easy to reach out to and it also doubles up as the power button that unlocks instantly. At the bottom edge sits a USB Type-C port, that will come as a relief to many upgraders because of its reversible nature.
If you look closely at the top edge you will find some additional perforations apart from the regular ones for the 3.5 mm headphone jack, the IR port and the mic. That’s for the secondary speaker, a big add-on that’s rarely found in this price segment. Even though it's not a separate unit (seems like a channeled outlet of the earpiece) like on some other Xiaomi models, it’s still a welcomed feature and works well to deliver a stereo sound when it comes to gaming or watching movies on the large display.
Your average display with some sweet add-ons
Unlike the Nokia 2.4, Redmi gives you a decent display from the Xiaomi parts bin. It’s the same 6.53-inch FHD+ unit we saw on the 9 Prime, but the FHD resolution is a big deal, as the competition only offers HD+ displays in this price segment.
While the sharpness is quite good thanks to its high resolution, the brightness levels do fall a bit short. And that, combined with the rather reflective glass, makes it a bit hard to read in direct sunlight. In short, the display is legible, but you won’t enjoy watching YouTube videos outdoors.
Indoors, things looked bright and vibrant, save for the slightly blue tinge. The colours are a bit saturated, but things are not as bad as they were on the Note 9.
What is a big plus point here is the presence of L1 Widevine support that lets you stream flicks at FHD unlike the SD resolution available on the Nokia 2.4. That, along with the dual-speaker setup and that gigantic 6000 mAh battery, makes the 9 Power a great device for binge-watching entire seasons of Alice in Borderland (or whatever you are into) on a single charge.
Software needs fine-tuning
The 9 Power runs MIUI 12 with Android 10 as the base. Until a recent software update, it was the regular version of MIUI 12 without any optimisations. This means that it was laggy and felt unusable, even to a casual user.
But a recent software update (version MIUI V188.8.131.52.QJQINXM) changed things. Just 231 MB in size, it drastically improved the software experience of the smartphone, going from a laggy mess to fairly smooth. It did this by turning off a lot of animations, transitions and transparency effects part of the usual MIUI 12 user interface that are quite resource-heavy.
But even after this update, things aren’t exactly as smooth as you would expect them to be. There are the usual hiccups from time to time and apps don’t remain in the background for too long, so they restart often. Some of the remaining animations such as swiping up from the bottom to the recents menu and the opening and closing of apps, stutter quite a bit. Launching apps still take a split-second longer than expected, so you will end up waiting for apps to launch.
And since this is MIUI on a budget smartphone, you will also find ads being displayed in the Cleaner app, in-app promotions in the notifications tray and so on.
In short, the 9 Power may feel more entry-level than budget given its non-optimised software. It may be just about enough for a casual user who just fiddles with one app at a time, but power users who juggle between apps will find the software experience lacking.
Good for gaming
While the user experience of MIUI 12 feels lacking, things are quite smooth once you enter an app and start scrolling about, and the same applies to gaming.
Despite sitting at the low end of the budget segment, I was able to play Call of Duty: Mobile smoothly at ‘Medium’ graphics and ‘Medium’ frame rate. Older titles like Asphalt: Xtreme ran at ‘HDPI’ and ‘Better Quality’ at a silky-smooth framerate. Real Racing 3 also ran quite smoothly with a good amount of detail.
The audio quality using third-party headphones was pretty good. The speakers at both ends were quite loud; it’s just that they were not balanced, with the bottom-firing one pumping out most of the audio.
This camera is afraid of the dark
The 48 MP primary shooter shoots decent photographs and it has been in the Xiaomi parts bin since the Note 7. Photos come out sharp and vibrant in daylight, with a decent amount of detail. Colours are a bit saturated, but not too far away from the real thing. The AF system fumbles from time to time, so you will need your subject to be steady to get a clear and detailed shot.
The dynamic range does fall short when shooting photos using the ‘Portrait’ mode. Whether you are using the front or the rear cameras, the backgrounds get blown out when shooting in daylight. It’s best to avoid this mode altogether, unless you are shooting around sunset.
In low light, photos showcase a passable amount of detail but fall short on dynamic range, leading to loss of detail in the shadows. There’s also some abnormal yellowish colouring and plenty of noise when clicking selfies indoors or in areas with less light. A ‘Night’ mode is available for the rear camera, and it definitely delivers better dynamic range and makes the images sharper, but still falls short on texture and detail; so the overall image tends to look a bit flat.
Video recording is limited to 1080p @30 fps or 720p @30 fps and was surprisingly good for a smartphone in this price segment. But the output lacked any stabilisation, leading to shaky footage when panning or walking.
Impressive battery life with slow charging speeds
The big change here is the presence of a Type-C port, that adds a bit of convenience when charging the device. The Type-C port also means faster charging, but don’t get too excited as the size of the battery matters as well. While it’s good to have a large battery on a smartphone, it adds to the weight of the device and will also need a faster charger to get you up and running quickly.
With the 9 Power, you get a 22 W charger in the box. But don’t get too excited, as the charging is limited to 18 W. This is not that bad, considering that the 9 Prime and the Moto E7 Plus get you a 10 W charger in the box, with Nokia 2.4 capping it at shocking 5 W.
This may sound revolutionary for a low-end budget smartphone, but in reality, it took me 3 hours and 15 minutes to charge this mammoth battery.
However, once juiced up, the phone -- like the Energizer bunny -- goes on and on... and on. Despite playing a couple of games, a casual user can easily get a solid two days of battery life. If you game a lot, that figure can come down to little over a day (24 hrs and plenty more), which is not bad by any means.
Should you buy one?
The Xiaomi Redmi 9 Power is the best spec’d smartphone at Rs 10,999 today. And there’s little to complain about when you keep its price tag and the competition in mind. But those big specs don’t necessarily translate into drastically better pictures, a faster charging experience and smooth running software. A software update could possibly fix its software-related issues in the near future, but as of now, I just don’t like what I see.
As it stands, I would only recommend the 9 Power only to those seeking the best possible hardware in this price range. It’s hard to ignore that you get some class-leading features like FHD video streaming support and dual speakers. But these will not be a priority for many, just nice-to-haves. So if you don’t mind the software hiccups. Go for it!
With those extras out of the way, there is not a lot of choice for someone looking for a smartphone at around Rs 10,000.
The Realme Narzo 20 puts up a proper fight with an almost stock serving of Android. It’s powered by a MediaTek G85 chipset that may not be as capable as the 662, but will deliver a smooth overall software experience with its bumped up GPU (not to mention better gaming as well).
Another competitor is the Motorola Moto G9 that’s priced at Rs 10,999. It features the same chipset with a similar hardware, save for a smaller 5000 mAh battery but slightly faster 20 W charging speeds. That, along with the stock Android operating system underneath and the low-res display, does work as an advantage when it comes to software performance.
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