Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T Review: Glimpses of potential

Xiaomi’s 9-series of smartphones seem to be far and many. But among them all, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is its latest attempt. It features more recent internals, a simple design and a handy feature-set. Priced at Dh999, it is competing in a fierce market. But what makes it stand out from the others?

Design and build quality

The easiest way to describe the Redmi Note 9T is that it is simple. In the hand, it feels lightweight at 199 g and 9.1 mm thick. This is thanks to the smartphone’s poly-carbonate back. We have seen many manufacturer’s opt for a glossy plastic build for their smartphones however those tend to emphasise their cheap quality. Here, the plastic is not reminiscent of that, especially thanks to its texture. This provides a good grip, both for smaller and larger hands.

The textured back offers a great feedback when using the smartphone

On the back, you also find the smartphone’s triple-camera setup. We will expand on this in a later section, however aside from this camera ring and bump, there is nothing else here. On the left edge of the smartphone, you find a dual-SIM tray that can also house a microSD card simultaneously. In an era when high-end smartphone manufacturers are making sacrifices here, Xiaomi’s offering is commendable. You also find a rubber seal at the edge of tray here. While the smartphone is not officially IP certified, this will provide some resistance. For example, I often tend to spray my smartphone with sanitiser in these times of pandemic and if you are someone like that, the phone should do just fine.

Having the ability to expand storage and house two nano-SIM cards simultaneously with 5G is impressive

The top edge houses part of the dual-stereo speaker setup, an IR blaster as well as the second microphone on the smartphone. On the right is the volume and power button. They feel robust without much give, and we are a fan of the indented power button. This doubles as the smartphone’s fingerprint sensor, which is accurate, quick and highly convenient to use. Your right hand’s thumb sits exactly where it is positioned and if you are a lefty, your left hand’s index finger will fall there naturally.

The side mounted fingerprint scanner on the Redmi Note 9T is comfortable

On the bottom, you find the most I/O and connectivity. There is a second, more powerful speaker to complete the stereo experience, a Type-C USB port for charging, the primary microphone and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. With the headphone jack, you find support for FM radio as well as wired connectivity. This is nice to see, especially considering the smartphone also has a good stereo speaker experience.

Display and multimedia

Xiaomi has gone for a 6.53-inch IPS LCD 1,080 x 2,340 resolution display on the Redmi Note 9T. It has a 19.5:9 aspect ratio with an 84 per-cent screen-to-body ratio and a 450 nit brightness. The flat panel exhibits decent viewing angles but it is a weak point for the smartphone. Colours are noticeably muted with a lack of pop unless you use the smartphone at full brightness.

We wish the display on the smartphone was better

Typical to an IPS display, viewing angles on the Redmi Note 9T are not bad. But the biggest omission is the lack of a high-refresh rate. Usually, we either see brands opt for a 60Hz AMOLED panel or a 90Hz IPS LCD panel at this price tag. With the Redmi Note 9T, to 60Hz IPS LCD seems like a double whammy. We understand that this sacrifice may have been to accommodate features such as 5G but this is a risky move.

Understandably, watching content on the display is not going to be the best. Given the smartphone’s hole-punch style screen, videos and TV shows look immersive. However, you are always reminded of the poor quality colours. To be fair to Xiaomi, it does bundle a way to adjust colours depending on preference. In our case, we stuck to the ‘Auto’ colour scheme which adjusts tones based on your current lighting. This is useful but does not make a huge difference.

The second part of the stereo speaker experience is found on the top edge of the smartphone

Even removing the pre-installed screen protector does not change much about the display. If anything, it makes it exhibit a slight blue hue, which is easily adjusted using the aforementioned display settings. Given the stereo speakers on the Redmi Note 9T, the underwhelming display experience is a shame. The stereo speakers do not have the same depth as high-end smartphones however sound much fuller than your typical budget smartphones. Audio is not tinny and we would definitely appreciate more companies bundling an experience like this on their budget smartphones.

Performance and gaming

Inside the Redmi Note 9T, you find the MediaTek Dimensity 800U octa-core processor. It is clocked at 2.4GHz coming alongside the MaliG57 MC3 GPU. For those familiar with benchmark scores, the phone posts 295,995 on AnTuTu and a 598 single-core alongside a 1,783 multi-core score on Geekbench 5. These numbers are a good indication of the smartphone’s performance which we think is average at best. But for those wanting 5G performance, the Redmi Note 9T delivers it on the tightest budget.

Benchmark scores from Redmi Note 9T are not the most inspiring

While benchmarks usually tell you only half the story, the Redmi Note 9T’s real world performance puts those scores in perspective. While we would not call the smartphone’s performance laggy, it is far from smooth. One reason for this is the lack of a high-refresh rate display, as addressed earlier. Typically, these mask discrepancies in performance however it is sadly not the case here. Elements in the user interface seem inconsistent with phone not giving you a user experience you look forward to.

Gaming at medium settings yields a 60 FPS experience

A high refresh rate display also helps with gaming performance. However, even without it, the Redmi Note 9T is equipped to do a good job, which is much better than the smartphone’s general performance. You will not be able to run games at their highest settings, with medium to high being the cap-off for most titles. We tested Call of Duty: Mobile on the smartphone, which delivered a consistent 57-61 FPS experience on medium graphics and maximum FPS. This is good for anyone looking to enjoy a game in this manner. Moreover, the smartphone remained extremely cool even after longer 20-25 minute sessions so you will not have to worry about thermal efficiency.

RAM management with multiple applications is poor

Alongside this processing power, the Redmi Note 9T comes with 128GB of UFS 2.2 storage and 4GB of RAM. While its storage can of course be expanded, 4GB of RAM quickly becomes a bottleneck during a number of scenarios. Multitasking with a few applications is possible however, do not expect more than 5 medium to heavy applications to stay in memory simultaneously. The power does however support experiences like split-screen and floating windows though. Surprisingly, this works fairly smoothly especially with the large display on the smartphone.

User experience and software

The aforementioned smooth experience is partly thanks to MIUI 12. On the Redmi Note 9T, it comes on top of Android 10, which is not the latest. Furthermore, there is a steep learning curve when getting used to Xiaomi’s user interface. For many, this will be a deal-breaker. A lot of its pre-installed applications can be uninstalled however the general user interface remains obtrusive.

Getting used to MIUI 12 and its user interface could prove to be difficult

One way you can customise this is via Themes. Personally, we did not delve into this too much however it does result in some visual changes. Speaking of visual changes though, one that MIUI needs to get right is when switching between the Light and Dark mode in its user interface. The software seems to apply a system-wide dark mode, which makes a lot of an application’s elements seem out of place. There are also other recurring issues, such as only being able to clear a notification by swiping right and not left.

There were no overbearing adverstisements when using the Redmi Note 9T, something we see a lot of MIUI users complain about

Lastly, the process of installing an application is also difficult. By default, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T is programmed check every application’s security threat via the pre-installed Security app, even when installed from the Google Play Store. When installing many applications at once, having the security scanner pop up every time is unnecessary. Plus, every instance of this also displays an advertisement. Thankfully, this can be disabled in the settings but the Security application cannot be uninstalled. Aside from that one instance of seen an advertisement, we did not face any others.

Camera performance

Alongside its underwhelming multimedia capabilities, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T offers a mediocre camera experience. You find a triple-camera setup here, comprised of a 48MP f/1.8 wide, a 2MP f/2.4 macro and a 2MP f/2.4 depth sensor. In reality, the only usable lens for all scenarios is the primary one. The macro lens is useful for close-up situations but only when there is enough light around.

The camera experience on the Redmi Note 9T is not impressive

Combined with the slow shutter speed and less than ideal dynamic range production, there are better camera smartphones available at this price. Oddly, we found the lens to flare a bit more than usual when taking photos against the sun, which could be a hardware issue. Not having any form of an ultra-wide angle lens either puts the Redmi Note 9T at a disadvantage especially in 2021. We think having one, even though it may not be the best quality is better than not having one at all. In low-light situations, the experience varies. Most often, there is noise in the picture and sometimes, even visual disturbances. You cannot expect a consistent experience with the camera on the Redmi Note 9T. Using night mode reduces this but in some situations, the photo becomes darker and loses detail.

For a picture or two, the camera here is ideal. However, we would not recommend this camera for anything more. Its slower shutter speed means it struggles to capture moving objects. And its 4K 30FPS is useful however does not offer much. You will be able to take occasional videos but we would refrain from suggesting you to use the Redmi Note 9T here.

Battery life

One stand-out area for the Redmi Note 9T is its battery life. You find a large 5,000mAh cell here, which supports 18W wired charging. Unlike flagship brands, a 22.5W charger is bundled with the smartphone’s packaging which is great.

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