Realme is a brand that requires very little introduction but the Realme 6i, recently sent by the company for review, might. Representing the most budget-friendly entry in a new range of 6-series Realme handsets, the Realme 6i is a device that holds its own against others in the sub-$200 category. But it also brings a number of caveats with it.
Those drawbacks extend across the range of features and aspects of this particular smartphone. Rather than simply including a comparatively terrible camera, for example, Realme includes a standout snapper that doesn't quite perform under all circumstances. The same holds true for the Realme 6i in terms of the display, design, audio, and effectively every other characteristic.
None of that means this Android 10 smartphone is any less worthy of consideration. In terms of performance and usability, in part thanks to a new Realme-specific OS skin, this device stands out from the pack. The Realme 6i was more than capable of running any app I threw its way throughout my review. That includes some fairly intensive games.
But that's not all that makes the Realme 6i a worthy contender among the more affordable Android devices on the market. This is one Chinese smartphone that's well-deserving of a closer look.
Realme 6i hardware is hefty but sleek
Compared to the rest of the 6-series, the most noteworthy design elements of the Realme 6i are both its familiarity and the lack of an in-display fingerprint scanner. That's not really too surprising since this is the most budget-friendly of the lot. And it isn't necessarily a bad thing either. The rear-mounted fingerprint sensor is a tried-and-true piece of hardware that won't suffer the glitches sometimes seen with in-panel readers.
Setting that aside, Realme opted to build its Realme 6i with a curved rear panel made of plastics to complement its frame. The company sells its handset in a vertically-lined Green Tea or White Milk. The stylings are attributed to Japanese industrial designer Naota Fukasawa and definitely stand out in the crowded affordable segment.
Continuing with the rear panel, the cameras are aligned vertically this time around too, with an offset flash to the right. My review unit for the Realme 6i was Green Tea colored.
The 6.5-inch screen takes up most of the front panel, accented by protruding buttons on both the left and right-hand edge. A speaker grille sits embedded in the top, tilted halfway between the edge and front panel. That, combined with the smooth curves at the front and edges, lends to a smooth in-hand feel.
Of course, there's plenty of weight to this handset as well. The exact weight isn't specified by Realme but it's definitely heavier than most modern flagships and many of its contemporary budget or mid-range counterparts. That weight only increases when the included slim-fit protective case is installed. But that doesn't add too much bulk, so the Realme 6i maintains its sleek feel.
The smoothness of the bottom-firing speaker grille, USB-C port, and 3.5mm headphone jack helps keep a more premium feel too.
With regard to the build quality, Realme has ensured that each of the device's buttons clicks through satisfactorily with no wiggle. There's no jostling the plugs either. The Realme 6i simply feels like a well-made piece of hardware. That carries over to usability since the fingerprint scanner is snappy and placed where it's easy to reach — as are the buttons.
The sole caveat is that the lip on the included protective case isn't raised quite enough to protect the rear-facing cameras. But that can be alleviated by buying an aftermarket case.
The display here is somewhat disappointing in 2020
Realme equipped its 6i with a 6.5-inch "mini-drop" display panel, delivering an 89.8-percent screen-to-body ratio and an aspect ratio of 20:9. That's not the highest resolution at 720 x 1600 pixels but it's more than serviceable. At no point in my review of the Realme 6i did I feel as though the screen wasn't a high enough resolution.
Touches on the screen were, similarly, responsive. No lag was present in any action taken. Although the temperature can be adjusted to lean more blue or red — or, via Eye Care mode in settings, blue light can be killed almost entirely — when used indoors, colors pop naturally too. Overall, it's a great screen that takes up most of the front of the device, with very little by way of bezels.
As a result, using the Realme 6i was mostly a great experience despite not packing in an AMOLED panel. But it isn't quite so good at all times. I noticed issues immediately upon taking this handset outdoors. Under overcast sunlight, it quickly became apparent that auto-brightness wasn't going to be enough. In fact, auto-brightness automatically tuned all the way up as soon as I went outdoors.
Under direct sunlight, the screen became almost unusably dim. I turned the brightness all the way up, and that didn't actually seem to help anything. So I ultimately left the screen brightness maxed out for the rest of my review. That's a disappointment in 2020 and one of the few areas where Realme 6i, as compared to other devices under review, simply fell short.
Battery life is great but charging feels slow with the Realme 6i
In terms of battery life, Realme 6i is an impressive device. But that didn't translate well the first time I went to charge it back up. That's despite Realme including 18W fast charging.
The battery refilled at a rate of just over one percent per minute until it hit just over 50-percent. Then things slowed dramatically. The first 17-percent took just 15 minutes to recharge. 32-percent took 30-minutes to fill up. But, for the final 5-percent, the Realme 6i charged up a single percent in around 7-minutes.
As a result of the rapid decrease in speed, it took just over 2-hours to fill the 5,000mAh battery entirely. And that's significantly longer than it takes to recharge some competing devices with similarly-sized batteries.
Fortunately, that battery is also well-managed here via Android 10. Throughout my review of the Realme 6i, I kept the display at 100-percent brightness. I didn't turn on any extra battery saving features either, even when the battery dropped below 15-percent. As we'll discuss momentarily, connections weren't great here, to top that off. So the smartphone was constantly looking for a data signal for the duration.
Likely because of the budget-minded hardware in use here, the display's maximum brightness, and the fact that it was in "Smart Performance Mode" out-of-the-box, Realme 6i really stretches things out. I saw an overall device-on time of 27 hours and 43 minutes.
Now, that on its own isn't impressive. But only 12 hours and 32 minutes of that were spent on standby and 6-hours of straight standby only dropped the battery by a percent or two.
I spent 5 hours and 11 minutes of the screen-on time on what I'd term 'light use'. That's tasks like calls — via Duo– messages, checking email, and web browsing. The camera was in use for right around 30-minutes and so was the flashlight. I used the Realme 6i for an hour of gaming during the battery test. Audio streaming took place over 3.5-hours of the battery run-down and video streaming in the top available resolution went for an hour longer still.
Overall, the Realme 6i delivered a respectable 15 hours 11 minutes of screen-on time. It's almost certain that more could have been had with battery savings, Dark Mode, auto-brightness, and "No Performance Improvement" mode activated.
Performance, on the other hand, is on point
As hinted above, the performance of the Realme 6i throughout my review from the device's Helio G80 processor was on-point. That is to say that I never experienced any deal-breaking lag or latency, even while installing a large number of apps during initial setup or playing some of the Google Play Stores more intensive titles such as Into The Dead 2.
That experience is, at least in terms of gaming, enhanced by the fact that Game Space is included here, just as it is with Realme's OPPO sister-branded devices. That optimizes gameplay, as does the above-mentioned "Smart Performance Mode" in the battery segment of Settings. "High Performance Mode," makes things even better but doesn't really seem to be a requirement and drains the battery noticeably faster.
None of that is to say users will gain a flagship experience. Textures and other graphics details are not quite at their best. Apps tend to load up a bit more slowly and high-intensity apps such as those associated with video or photo editing don't perform tasks quite as well or as quickly as they could. Loading times for levels within games are extended.
The resolution of high-end games and apps is, of course, not the best either.
But none of that is unexpected. This just isn't a flagship device. Realme built its Realme 6i to fit neatly into the end of the market where pricing and shortcuts take precedence over performance, quality, and style. In short, that typically means focusing efforts on some device characteristics over others.
Comparatively speaking, though, the Realme 6i does not disappoint. Unlike some competitors in the budget-end of the market, Realme 6i feels like a modern Android 10 experience through-and-through. Performance is not an area where Realme took any shortcuts.
Realme promises big on the cameras but doesn't quite deliver with its budget-friendly 6i
Yet another area where Realme 6i didn't quite live up to its marketing under review is its 48-megapixel AI-driven quad-cameras. That's not to say they were a complete disappointment because, in conditions most photos will be shot under, it really isn't. But as soon as the lights began to dim, significant issues began to show.
In fact, the quality of shots with the Realme 6i seemed directly tied to just how much light is available. Even in lower-light conditions indoors — in flat lighting, where most cameras would perform well — pixelation was immediately apparent. Those only worsened as lighting did, as shown in the shot taken of shoes in a moderately shaded closet in our sample gallery via Flickr.
Now, there weren't any major artifacts visible in photos or videos with the Realme 6i. Pixelation was the primary complaint. But even the included "Night" mode did absolutely nothing to alleviate that. In fact, Night mode was outright bad. That includes under lighting that many competitors would not have required a dedicated mode to capture acceptable shots in.
Close-up shots fall short too. Only in "Ultra Macro" mode can the Realme 6i snap captures at closer than a half-foot or so. Ultra Macro falls short in that it really only works great at between a few inches to its minimum distance of 4cm — with 4cm distance shots providing the best quality.
Conversely, under good lighting, the cameras here do seem to perform well, even zoomed in and with shots taken in-hand. I snapped one shot, for instance, of some hair blowing in the wind while both myself and the subject were moving. The cameras caught the intended subject without blur exactly as one might hope. Color accuracy is great. Both autofocus and auto-HDR happen in a snap too.
The cameras are, aside from the above-mentioned caveats, great. Unlike the screen, those can almost certainly be improved via a software update as well. So there's a real chance that Realme could improve matters where the device falls short.
Connectivity here is solid, but not in the US
Connectivity is going to be one area where I was unable to accurately gauge performance in my review of the Realme 6i. This handset does ship with a Dual SIM configuration, with two SIM cards slottable into the flush-mounted drawer — and additional space for storage expansion via microSD card. My SIM card, operating via T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular towers on Google Fi did allow for messaging and calls. But data use was out of the question.
In spite of showing a connection to Edge networks, the use of data and MMS messages simply didn't follow. This phone wouldn't send MMS, apps couldn't be downloaded, and other actions couldn't be performed unless I was on Wi-Fi.
That connection was solid with this handset and messaging was quick, without error. Calls went through clearly, without a hitch. So it shouldn't be too surprising if data networking works well too. But I simply couldn't test that in the US on my carrier.
Bluetooth connections, similarly, were solid throughout my test. I didn't notice any drops or interference that wouldn't have also been present on my daily driver — a flagship Samsung handset.
The final caveat to connectivity with the Realme 6i is the lack of NFC support. Without that technology onboard, there's no tap-to-pay. That's not a dealbreaker but it is definitely worth considering for those who use associated payment methods.
The new Realme 6i OS is consistent if a little bloated
Realme built atop Android 10 and stepped away from OPPO's ColorOS with the Realme 6i. Instead, the device runs a new OS overlay called 'realme UI'. Specifically, that's version 1.0 of the OS. Of course, there are a plethora of similarities between the previously-used OPPO skin and realme UI.
During my review of the Realme 6i, that was most obvious via the inclusion of software such as Game Space. But other features such as App Cloner, HeyTap Cloud, Game Center, Theme Store, and more met that expectation too. All of the functionality of Android 10, including Android 10's Digital Wellbeing features, is present as well.
The company packed in all of the expected apps. From phone and file managers to a video and music player, audio recorder, compass, calculator, calendar, FM Radio, and Google apps, everything's accounted for. Realme has baked dedicated app and game market apps into the OS as well. That's on top of partner apps such as the Opera browser, Webnovel, Trip.com, Agoda, and more. This is, summarily, a very bloated operating system.
Fortunately, the company has also spent quite a bit of time optimizing everything. There's really no lag or latency despite all of the customization options and additional software. Many of those extra apps can be removed, to top things off. So users aren't trapped with those. That is undoubtedly a bit better than the bloatware found on some other smartphones from other OEMs — including some much more expensive handsets.
Overall, Realme did an exceptional job with its new Android skin. While it isn't as clean as stock Android, it is consistent with gestures, layout, and navigation of the underlying OS. It functions well and doesn't include so many unremovable extras as to become annoying. There are plenty of theme options as well, so users can set things up with an aesthetic they like, beyond what many manufacturers include.
All of that should only improve over time.
Audio quality is as good as might be expected in the budget end
The quality of the audio is just one other area where the Realme 6i seems to fall short. A single, bottom-firing speaker is used here and that's clear, with great balance aside from a total lack of any real bass punch. The bezel-mounted earpiece is clear as well and calls' audio comes through as expected either via that or speakerphone.
But that may not actually be the case since no smartphone really delivers brilliant sound. Now, Realme not only includes solid Bluetooth for audio but also a 3.5mm headphone jack. That more than makes up for the comparatively lackluster sound from the speaker. On that front, audio is consistent with expectations up into the mid-range and with some gadgets in the upper-tier of Android devices.
Making that just a little better still, there is a toggle in the Sound & Vibration menu that allows headphones to be used in Monitor mode. Namely, that lets external audio bleed through, whether for a "karaoke experience" as the feature defines or as a way to maintain situational awareness.
Just above that setting, Realme incorporated an equalizer that seems to work very well, dubbed "Real Sound Technology."
Realme put Real Sound together in collaboration with Dirac Research AB. As its name implies, the feature improves matters significantly for real HD audio with plenty of EQ options. It's a nice touch that makes the audio experience here far better than might otherwise be expected.
Realme 6i delivers a good experience with every expected caveat
Despite all of the caveats listed above, my time with the Realme 6i in review proved one thing beyond any doubt. What Realme has built here is a smartphone that goes above and beyond the usual shortcomings of budget Android. And it accomplishes that without simply sticking to a stock or Android One variant of the OS.
The caveats are, of course, still present. The camera doesn't shoot well once lighting dwindles. Display quality is high but isn't exactly usable under the brightest lighting. Realme built this smartphone in a way that makes it heavier than others despite being comprised almost exclusively of plastics. It offset that by including a larger-than-average battery coupled with high-efficiency hardware. The battery lasts for days.
However, the Realme 6i does better than the overwhelming majority of its budget counterparts. On the camera front, as long as there's adequate lighting, it's going to perform brilliantly. On performance for everything from the processor to the fingerprint scanner and display sensitivity or responsiveness, there were no hangups to speak of.
All of that comes together as a handset that's well worth considering for any user. Or at least for any user residing where this device actually works properly in terms of networking.