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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - Xiaomi's another smartphone brand that is playing it, well, smart, by bringing affordable devices into the market. And even though it's 'just' Xiaomi's sub-brand, Redmi is at par with its parent - which is an important factor today in the wildly-competitive budget segment.
And so now comes along Redmi's Note 9 series, and we're here to take a look at the Note 9S, another device that's big but small on the pocket.
Redmi's Note 8 series last year had seven devices; for the Note 9, they have five (one for the Indian market). And though the Redmi 8T wasn't among those officially launched in the UAE last year, we can compare the Note 9S with it:
TALE OF THE TAPE
The biggest change is on the screen size. And good call on eliminating the 32GB version (most of us wouldn't require that much or, more accurately, less, of storage, right?).
Not much in there; you don't get any type of headset out of the box, though that charger could come in really handy.
As with the wild race of having smartphones with true full-screen experiences, the Note 9S has a 6.67 display that's thin on bezels and which houses a punch-hole front camera at the centre. The card tray's on the left, the volume rocker and power button are on the right, and the 3.5mm audio and USB-C ports are below. It is a bit heavy and is not among the slimmest, so it's a garden-variety experience of holding it in your hands.
The power button is also where the fingerprint scanner is, and the device also has a face unlock feature, both of which fires up the device at a fairly fast pace.
Right behind is its quad-camera system; though very noticeable given its thickness, you can solve this with a protective casing. Luckily for us, the device comes with one in the box.
Both front and rear are protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5, and I particularly like the glossy finish on the latter. There are three colour options available - Interstellar Grey, Aurora Blue and Glacier White. We do have the blue one, but given what we've seen, we reckon that white variant has an even cleaner finish (and won't make all your fingerprint smudges that obvious).
As always, devices under the Xiaomi umbrella come with MIUI, and the version we have here is based on Android 10. There is no app tray nor the need to swipe from below to show all your apps. Instead, we have a simple interface that just requires you to swipe from the sides: To the left takes you to your apps, while to the right, as usual, takes you to Google Assistant.
Swiping from below from any home-level screen will take you to the Google app, while doing so from above will bring down the notifications and control panels.
You'll also get those oh-so-familiar virtual buttons below to go back, return to the home screen and view recent apps. If you want those gestures - swiping from below or from edges to go to the home screen, see recent apps and navigate - you can go to settings and activate full screen display. There is also Quick Ball, which, when activated, gives you access to a number of customisable shortcuts (similar to the iPhone's AssistiveTouch).
Right inside, meanwhile, is a Snapdragon 720G chip, a mid-range processor that is optimised for gaming, which is good news for those looking for a high-performance device. On the memory side, you'll get both configurations here in the UAE: A RAM/storage combo of either 4GB/64GB or 6GB/128GB. The former might not be enough for you, particularly its storage, so you have a fairly good idea of which one to get should you decide to do so - hey, it's only a few dirhams more, anyway.
There are some expensive phones with only two cameras. Which makes this sub-Dh900 device interesting given it has four of them.
The snapper system on the Note 9S is made up of a team of 48MP wide, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro and 2MP depth - the standard combination we see nowadays in quad-camera phones. Let's see what it can do.
Thanks to those watermarks, we don't have to point each one out. But anyway, there is no noticeable difference between using the regular photo mode and 48MP mode; as with the rule with sensors, the higher it is, the less quality is sacrificed when you edit photos.
Another difference is that with the 48MP mode, you can zoom in further:
Which exposes a weakness: Even at close range, the camera is unable to come up with sharper, smoother detail when you zoom in.
On this next set, the one on top used normal mode, while the one below used night mode:
I appreciate the fact that the colours are accurate. However, if you notice the maki rolls on the platter on the right, they're a bit mushed up.
Here's a summary: the Note 9S' camera system is, indeed, a pleasant surprise. I like the way it processes colours and how it gives a natural feel - no overexposure - but the caveat here is that when the lights go down, you will get grain in the results.
Even the 16MP front camera belts out natural-looking images - but if you're not a fan of smoothening faces, even the tiniest bit, it could ruffle you. It's not overwhelming, but still there.
The Note 9S has a 5020mAh battery in it, which Redmi claims is enough to last up to 16 hours of 'continuous navigation', which we assume is another term for your usual daily mixed-use. That's not even 24 hours, but during our run the device had enough life until noontime the following day, which will require you to schedule that midday charging session.
Meanwhile, in our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the device lost 12 per cent. That's still a decent result given where it's being positioned.
Charging, meanwhile, will take a while. The device comes with an 18W charger, but don't expect it to be that fast. And in a departure from our usual way of describing things in this section, we've switched to a table to make it clearer how far devices charge up in 15-minute intervals until it maxed out:
An hour and 39 minutes is equivalent to 99 minutes; putting that into perspective, the Note 9S practically needs a minute for each percentage point. Quite long, but that 72 per cent within an hour is fair enough.
For the budget-conscious and those who want a rather complete spec set, indeed. The Redmi Note 9S is another great example that you can actually bring down flagship specs (hello, quad camera) to the most enticing of price points. And not only bring it down - make it actually work well.
It'll be interesting, then, to find out what the next Redmi Note series will bring (10, we reckon, for obvious reasons). But that won't come until this time next year expectedly; if Redmi takes the critiques from the Note 9 and still manages to keep it at this price point, imagine how that would pan out.
GOODIES: Crisp and large screen, battery holds up well, budget-friendly
GOOFIES: Takes a while to fully charge, a bit heavy, camera gets muffled in low light
EDITOR RATING: A quad-camera phone that ticks all the essential boxes and below Dh1,000? That's quite impressive. A little more tweaks to the goofies, however, will be highly appreciated. 4.0/5
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