OS: Android 12/ Realme UI 3.0
Display: 6.4-inch 90Hz Super AMOLED
CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 920 5G
Rear cameras: 50MP Sony IMX766 OIS wide (f/1.8), 8MP ultrawide (f/2.3), 2MP macro (f/2.4)
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.5)
Weight: 0.4 pounds
Realme may not have the best track record for developing killer budget smartphones, but it’s taking a turn for the best with the Realme 9 Pro+. Can it be classed as a flagship killer? Not exactly, but for £349, consumers will be saving a hefty chunk of change on a smartphone that can spar with some of the top competition.
The smartphone manufacturer has seen the faults in its previous models and (finally) delivered a 90Hz AMOLED display, a capable MediaTek Dimensity 920 5G processor that brings 5G connectivity to a smartphone well below the £400 mark, along with a sleek new design. The best news, perhaps, is that there are no “Dare To Leap” quotes in sight (we’re looking at you, Realme 8 Pro).
The Realme 9 Pro+ nabs a spot on our list of best budget smartphones, despite it still boasting a noticeable chin on the display and strangely slippery back cover.
Realme 9 Pro+ price and configurations
The Realme 9 Pro+ is the priciest of the budget 9 series lineup, which will set you back £349 with 256GB of storage (our review unit came with 128GB). It will be available from March 4, but those interested can pick it up for £299 from March 4 to March 6. It is available either directly from Realme or from Amazon UK. Realme doesn’t trade in the US, so this is one for those in the UK and Europe for now.
The standard Realme 9 Pro is priced at £299, while the Realme 9i costs £199. Strangely, there are a number of major differences between the Pro+ and the Pro, including a 90Hz Super AMOLED display on the Pro+ versus a 120Hz display on the Pro. You’ll also find a MediaTek Dimensity 920 5G processor, a 4500mAh battery, and a 50MP Sony IMX766 camera with OIS on the Pro+, while the Pro is equipped with a Snapdragon 695 5G chip, a 5,000mAh battery capacity, and a 64MP Nightscape camera — the “+” really does make a difference.
For £50 extra, it’s unusual to see the Pro+ come with a 4,500mAh battery compared to the Pro’s 5,000mAh, and despite being an impressive AMOLED display, some may be drawn to the now standard 120Hz. Still, there are many advantages the Pro+ utilises, and you’d be hard-pressed to find these impressive specs on a smartphone under £350. Compared to the £389 iPhone SE (2020), £399 OnePlus Nord 2, $449 Google Pixel 5a, or £499 TCL 20 Pro 5G, the Realme 9 Pro+ is competitively priced.
Realme 9 Pro+ design
Look, anything is a step up from the Realme 8 Pro’s ugly “dare to leap” branding plastered on the back of the phone, so the Realme 9 Pro+ is already a significant upgrade seeing as it doesn’t have any haphazard motivational quotes. In fact, Realme has gone a step further, and that step has landed it on the catwalk of fashionable smartphones.
Don’t get me wrong, it follows the same generic design principles so that just about anyone can guess “yeah, that’s an Android phone.” For one, much like its predecessors, it sports a flat edge-to-edge display with a hole punch camera on the upper-left corner of the screen, and there’s a camera bump housing three camera lenses — undeniably inspired by the iPhone 13 Pro. But there are a few tweaks to the formula that pushes it beyond the presumed budget aesthetic, and it’s largely thanks to Realme’s new photochromic layer on the back cover.
Using a “three-layer process” on the back cover, the Pro+ creates a nifty shining effect with a vibrant vertical beam that gleams from every angle. It brings a more polished, flagship look to an otherwise budget smartphone, and I’m a fan of the glint. Realme states it’s just like a “mystical wonderland,” but I wouldn’t go that far. That said, what is “mystical” is how slippery the back cover is. While it doesn’t feel slippery, placing it on certain surfaces had the phone slowly shifting by itself until it fell off — and these surfaces were flat. If you’re like me, you often leave your phone in random spots, and I was puzzled to see the Pro+ on the (carpeted) floor when I came back to it. This is something to keep in mind, especially since there isn’t an IP rating. Nobody wants to see a phone hit the floor or land in the sink due to no fault of their own.
All three colour variations of the Realme 9 Pro+ are stylish in their own right, with our review unit coming in a sleek Midnight Black with a hint of navy in the phone’s unique glint. It’s also available in an emerald-like Aurora Green and Sunrise Blue, with the latter being the standout. This particular colour is Realme’s first “Chameleon” smartphone, changing colour from blue to red under sunlight or ultraviolet light. Disappointingly, we couldn’t try this out due to the model we received, but it adds extra bang for your buck if you want to show off a phone that can change colours.
The Realme 9 Pro+ is the company’s slimmest smartphone to date, being 7.99 millimetres thin and weighing a light 0.4 pounds (6.4 ounces).
Realme 9 Pro+ display
The Realme 9 Pro+ sports a 6.4-inch (2400 x 1080) Super AMOLED display, similar to the Realme 8 Pro. However, this time we’re getting a much-needed 90Hz refresh rate, and it makes a super-smooth difference. One feature I found irritating is the chin on the display, which makes it appear like the screen isn’t in full use. Give us more of that high screen-to-body ratio, Realme.
Scrolling through websites and navigating between apps looks sleek and responsive, while also being bright enough for comfortable viewing. However, unlike the OnePlus Nord 2, the Pro+ doesn’t support HDR10+. While its video colour enhancer boasting SDR-to-HDR technology offers vivid colours, images weren’t as crisp when watching shows.
I watched The King’s Man on Disney+, replaying the fight scene with Rasputin that saw him dance with swords a plenty. I was impressed by the dancing antics being caught in full motion on the display, with the phone capturing the ballroom’s warm and polished atmosphere as the two clashed swords. Anyone that likes viewing shows and movies on the move will be happy with what the Pro+’s AMOLED display delivers.
While you can revert to the “Standard” 60Hz refresh rate to conserve battery, the Pro+ still had plenty of juice after spending a day with it at 90Hz. There’s also an “eye comfort” option that reduces blue light, and you can schedule it to turn off and on whenever is convenient.
Realme 9 Pro+ audio
The audio from the Realme 8 Pro disappointed due to the single speaker placed at the bottom of the phone. The Realme 9 Pro+ sports the same design, but adds an audio output at the top. This seems to have made a world of difference, as audio for the Pro+ is decent — whether playing music or talking to people on the phone.
The hype for the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ upcoming album is real, so I ramped up the volume and turned on the band’s new single “Black Summer,” only to immediately turn it down a notch as the speakers were blasting noise. Not in a bad way, as the speakers perfectly captured the return of John Frusciante’s glorious guitar riffs and Anthony Kiedis’ unique baritone voice. Gone are the distortions or tinny highs, just pure funky rock.
I then put on Adele’s “Easy On Me,” with her powerful voice easily coming through the speakers while the piano notes sounded crisp. While the bass wasn’t as powerful as I would want, this is impressive for a budget smartphone. Most prefer to use headphones on their smartphone, however, and the good news is the Realme 9 Pro+ sports a 3.5mm audio jack. That’s a big win in our books.
Realme 9 Pro+ performance
The Realme 9 Pro+ is equipped with a capable MediaTek Dimensity 920 5G processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and runs its own Realme UI 3.0 over Android 12. Don’t expect the blazing fast performance from an iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic or a Snapdragon 888 chip, but for £349, you’re getting fantastic power that’s more than enough for general tasks and gaming.
To put it to the test, I opened a couple of dozen active Google Chrome tabs while watching The King’s Man on Disney+ in a small window. I also slipped between the Chrome tabs and Call of Duty: Mobile to see how fast it could switch between the two. Fortunately, I didn’t notice any hiccups or delays in apps launching, while the 90Hz refresh rate stayed smooth throughout my continuous scrolling and swipes.
In the Geekbench 5 test, the Realme 9 Pro+ delivered a multi-core score of 2,318, which blazes past it’s competition including the Samsung Galaxy A52 (Snapdragon 720G, 1,903) and the TCL 20 Pro 5G (Snapdragon 750G, 1,922). It falls behind the OnePlus Nord 2 (Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI, 2,697), but still beats Google’s latest budget smartphone, the Google Pixel 5a (Qualcomm SM7250 Snapdragon 765G 5G, 1,354).
In the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited test, the Pro+ clocked an overall score of 2,297 with an average frame rate of 13.8 frames per second. That’s impressive when compared to the TCL 20 Pro 5G (6.7 fps) and Galaxy A52 (6.6 fps), but it’s nothing to brag about, either. To put that into context, the Sony Xperia 1 III busted out 34.7 fps.
With this in mind, I took on Call of Duty: Mobile’s team deathmatch mode to see how the phone plays in real-world use. Settings automatically switched to “medium” graphic quality and to “very high” frame rates, which allowed me to easily nab a few headshots and play with smooth frame rates. As a side note, despite it being the slimmest Realme smartphone to date, I was able to handle the phone comfortably without it feeling like I needed to readjust every few minutes. However, for the best handheld gaming experience, check out our best phone accessories.
Overall, the Realme 9 Pro+’s performance goes beyond what you’d expect a budget phone could dish out.
Realme 9 Pro+ battery life and charging
The Realme 9 Pro+ is a smartphone that’s meant to last. With a 4,500 mAh battery capacity and its included 60W SuperDart charger, I was easily able to eke out just under three days worth of moderate usage before juicing it up. Even still, it only took 22 minutes to charge it up to 50%. To put the battery into perspective, the power-hungry £1,599 Sony Xperia Pro-I also uses a 4,500mAh battery, powering a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G and a 4K HDR OLED display. I was left with 20% battery after one day of moderate usage, so you can imagine how much more battery life can be preserved on the less intensive Pro+.
Realme included the same tweaks to its software to make the phone last longer, including an App Quick Freeze feature for when apps are not in use, along with a power saving mode and a super power saving mode. There’s also optimised night charging to avoid overcharging at night, along with smart performance mode that automatically improves performance based on the usage scenario. But you can change it to high performance mode if there’s enough juice in the tank.
In real world testing, I was able to make it through a day after heavy usage and still have 15% left. This included watching YouTube videos and Disney+ shows, playing Call of Duty: Mobile, scrolling through social media, snapping pictures and shooting video, along with phone calls and messaging. Battery is an afterthought.
Realme 9 Pro+ cameras
The Realme 9 Pro+ changed up its camera system this time around, housing a 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 camera with optical image stabilisation (OIS) as its main sensor. That’s seemingly a step down from the Realme Pro 8’s 108MP main shooter, but it’s taken a few tips from the OnePlus Nord 2’s great camera and used the same Sony IMX766 camera.
Altogether, the Pro+ is equipped with a 50MP Sony IMX766 OIS wide with an f/1.8 aperture, an 8MP ultrawide with f/2.3, and a 2MP macro with an f/2.4 aperture. Those last two aren’t any different from the Pro 8, although this time it skipped the 2MP monochrome lens. The three lenses work in tandem on the easy-to-use camera app, where users can switch between lenses to best suit the environment. I’m a fan of the crisp detail produced by the main shooter, offering true colours and great contrast in the snaps I took.
I went on a long walk in a park in Hertfordshire, snapping what I could see at various distances. As you can see, I was able to capture the mucky weather we had that day, but each snap delivered rich detail of the near-miserable-looking log bench, along with the blue sky briefly coming through in the back. The 119-degree ultrawide does a good job of capturing wide angles while still offering clear detail, although the ultrawide’ and macro lens’ colours were a little off when compared to the main sensor.
I also messed about with the “Street Photography Mode,” which allows you to hold down the shutter button to zoom in or out, stylish photos thanks to smart long exposure, and offers a 90s pop filter. It isn’t the mode I would immediately go to, but for those that like trying out different shots, it’s a nice addition.
The cameras also support 4K at 30fps or up to 1080p at 120fps. The videos I shot were average, and aren’t anything to write home about. Although, this is a phone for under £350, so what you’re getting is a great video-capturing experience for a much cheaper price than a majority of flagship smartphones. Finally, there’s also a 16MP front-facing camera capable of capturing a decent amount of detail, right down to the stray strands of facial hair.
Realme 9 Pro+ software
Using Realme UI 3.0 over Android 12, you’ll find a number of ways to personalise the Realme 9 Pro+. This is similar to what the Oppo Find X3 Pro offers, which allows you to change everything from the fingerprint sensor styles to adding live wallpapers including a “realmeow.” That’s exactly what you think it is.
There’s also edge lighting and fancy fingerprint animations. Speaking of, Realme decided to add a heart rate measurement feature to the fingerprint sensor. It’s a nice addition if you need to measure your/someone’s heart rate, but since it's deep in settings, I feel it’s more of a gimmick rather than a standout feature of the device. You’ll make better use out of Google Lens in the camera app.
With a budget phone, there’s bound to be some bloatware taking up space. However, I didn’t find too many already installed on the device when I first started it up. Sure, there’s the Amazon app, along with Booking.com and Realme’s own weather and music apps, but these weren’t a hindrance when compared to other budget smartphones that constantly remind you to update apps you never use (fond memories of the Vivo V19).
As you’ll find in our Android 12 review, we’re fans of Google’s latest OS, and it’s great to see this system already updated as soon as you take the Realme 9 Pro+ out of the box.
Compared to its previous generation, the Realme 9 Pro+ is leap and bounds ahead thanks to much-needed upgrades. With a 90Hz AMOLED display offering fantastic handheld entertainment, a speedy MediaTek processor offering 5G capabilities, and a battery capacity that’s made to last, you’d be hard pressed to find an Android smartphone that can deliver this much for a more affordable price.
While I wouldn’t call it a flagship killer smartphone on the same level as the OnePlus 9 or Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, it still delivers everything many general smartphone users would want — especially since the 50MP Sony IMX766 camera can take some brilliant shots. The Realme 9 Pro+ makes its way onto our best budget smartphones list, but if you have the extra cash to splash, then you’ll find you may not have to pay much more for some of the contenders on our list of best smartphones.