The Redmi 9A costs a buck under a Benjamin, and it makes plenty of compromises to hit that price point. This is a basic barebones smartphone. It is primarily designed to entice folks upgrading from feature phones which cost maybe $20 less than this device. Despite the low price, Xiaomi has managed to check a lot of boxes – big screen, big battery, headphone jack, and reasonably decent cameras.
This is an Android phone that works for the basic call, text, browsing, and social media apps and has a large battery which will last two days with moderate to light use. Xiaomi’s MIUI 12 has some great features and the company has a decent track record of software updates.
So what’s included in the Redmi 9A box?
Inside the box are the phone, paperwork, SIM ejector tool, 10W charging brick, and a micro-USB cable. For some strange reason, Xiaomi has omitted a case in the box which is a surprise. Also, the decision to go the micro-USB route seems a bit strange when the entire industry is migrating to USB-C. Last but not least there is no factory installed film screen protector on the phone either. Seems like some serious corners were cut to achieve the psychological price barrier of under $100.
Let’s take a closer look at the overall design
Overall the 9A feels a light phone despite being fairly large indicating good weight distribution. The ridged texture on the plastic back provides a good amount of grip. Despite the textured back fingerprints are clearly visible. The matte finish line including the camera module and the branding provides a slight design flourish to an otherwise clean look.
Bezels are quite a bit larger compared to most other smartphones but we need to keep in mind the price point here. There is a teardrop cutout for the front selfie camera. Buttons are on the right-hand side and should have been a bit lower for one-handed use. Tactile feedback from the buttons is spot on.
There is a headphone jack on the top left corner and the bottom houses a micro-USB port, speaker grille, and a cutout for the microphone. Micro USB is a telltale sign that they are trying to woo customers who have older devices and haven’t migrated to more modern devices with USB-C ports.
Dual-SIM card, SD card tray slot is towards the top on the left-hand side housing panel. Three colors are going to be available – Blue, Green, and Black. Xiaomi sent us a Sky Blue base version Redmi 9A for review. Xiaomi claims that the P2i nano-coating provides some protection against everyday water spills and splashes which is a bonus in this price range.
Overall this is a good balance of form and function for a smartphone that costs under $100.
Is the display any good for a $99 smartphone?
Redmi 9A has a fairly large 6.5″ HD+ screen with a 720 x 1600 pixel resolution giving it a 269 ppi density. The display however looks washed out even in indoor lighting. Color accuracy is not great either. Tweaking with the color scheme settings didn’t improve things too much either.
MIUI and Xiaomi always have a ton of features and make them available even to their most affordable devices. So even though this is a cheap LCD panel, night reading mode and dark mode are also available in the Display settings menu.
In summary, if the display is important to your needs then it is better to spend a bit more money and look elsewhere.
Performance on the Redmi 9A is adequate for basic daily tasks
The Redmi 9A runs on a MediaTek Helio G25 octa-core processor with 2GB RAM and 32GB eMMC 5.1 Storage. This is a TSMC 12nm FinFET Octa-Core processor with Cortex A53 cores clocked up to 2.0GHz. Storage capacity is expandable via a micro SD card which you will need since base storage is only 32GB.
The Redmi 9A is definitely a downgrade performance-wise compared to its older brother Redmi 8A which had either 3, or 4 GB of RAM and 32 and 64 GB of internal memory.
Using the phone for calls, text, email, browsing, and YouTube I did not notice any significant lag but apps do take a bit longer to open. Start switching between apps and the slight lag becomes noticeable. Now start switching between games and you will notice a significant slowing down of the phone. Graphics-intensive titles like PUBG or Call of Duty are not going to work on this phone. You will though be able to play these games in their Lite versions at low settings. Keep in mind that even for Lite versions at low settings the phone tends to heat up a bit.
The 2GB RAM in the base version is probably the weakest part of what is arguably a lot of smartphone for a buck less than $100! However, there is a version with 3GB RAM which I recommend if you are in the market for a Redmi 9A.
Another shortcut Xiaomi took to get the price down to $99 was to omit a fingerprint sensor. The included face unlock is slow, often taking a second or longer to unlock the phone. And face unlock fails quite often requiring inputting of the PIN or pattern. I ditched it early on and used a numeric code to unlock the phone for this review.
MIUI 12 Software is feature-packed
Our Redmi 9A review unit is running MIUI 12.0.5 Global version on top of Android 10. Android security patch for August 2020 was available as soon as the phone was booted and setup. One great thing about Xiaomi is that they include pretty much every flagship feature even on their budget offerings. There are oodles of customizations available in the settings menu allowing one to set up the phone to your personal liking.
Additionally, all of Google’s Android 10 features are included such as Digital Wellbeing, Dark Mode, and Google Assistant. With each iteration of MIUI, Xiaomi has stripped away at their overly heavy customization skin and have tried to make their devices feel closer to stock Android devices. Swipe left on the home screen and you get the discover feed like on a Pixel device. You can even map the Google Assistant to the power button if you want to.
There is a folder called Tools which includes quite a few useful apps such as Calculator FM Radio, Screen Recorder, Scanner, etc. A few apps and games come pre-installed but you can uninstall all of them if you choose to. So the total amount of bloatware is pretty minimum. One annoyance is that you see ads even after you download apps from the Play Store. This is something plenty of users have been complaining about lately especially on the cheaper Xiaomi devices.
Xiaomi has a decent track record of providing software updates so expect the device to be supported for at least a year or two.
MIUI 12 runs the phone smoothly without any jarring hiccups or intrusions. And if you don’t like something you can hide it away or uninstall it.
So how is the battery life?
One corner Xiaomi did not cut with this phone is the battery. With a whopping 5000 mAh battery onboard this phone will easily last you the full day even with heavy use. Screen on-time is stellar with the phone consistently yielding SoT of 7 to 8 hours. For an average user, this should easily translate to a 2-day use device. An Ultra Power mode setting will allow you to stretch the battery life even longer however it will restrict the phone functionality to a bare minimum.
The idle discharge rate is very low and overnight I saw only a 2% battery drain. This euphoria is however tempered by the atrocious recharging times using the included 10W charger in the box. It takes around 3 hours to fully charge the phone from 0%.
Really Xiaomi should have at least supported 18 W charging with this phone considering the size of the battery. The older Redmi 8A did support 18W charging and, strangely, Xiaomi omitted it this time around.
Redmi 9A audio is basic but functional
A single bottom-firing speaker on the right-hand side of the phone does the job. The speaker is tiny but serviceable and I had no issues using it as a speakerphone for multiple 30 minute plus calls. Music quality on some of the heavy rotation songs was basic. As far as media consumption is concerned, it is best to use headphones or earbuds for better audio quality.
Redmi 9A includes a headphone jack which requires volume set on the high side when paired with good headphones or earbuds for good quality audio output. At low volume setting the output sounds dull on my wired AKG earbuds. Bluetooth pairing with my Enacfire E60 was quick and painless. Audio quality via BT was better than the wired earbuds.
Support for FM radio is a nod to the requirements of the target audience in emerging economy nations. The FM radio app is in the Tools folder.
Are the Cameras any good?
The Redmi 9A sports a single 13MP rear camera sensor and the LED flash is part of the camera module. Front selfie camera is a basic 5MP unit which is another downgrade from the 8MP selfie camera in the previous Redmi 8A.
Pictures from the rear camera are decent for this price point. In daylight, pictures show good detail, and color reproduction is accurate though somewhat undersaturated. The main camera did manage to capture the color of the sky quite consistently. Dynamic range is not that great and, HDR takes a little time to process. Selfies in good lighting conditions are actually a bit better than what I expected considering this is a 5MP camera.
Portrait mode is available in both cameras but edge detection is not the best but it is nice to have this feature at this price point. If you are into taking pictures after sunset just note that no night mode is available. Take a look at some sample photos in our Flickr gallery in the link below.
Both the front and rear cameras are capable of shooting video in [email protected] The cameras focus well in video mode fairly quickly. Microphone performance is adequate and in good lighting, and video quality is good enough for small social medial clips or video calling. There is no image stabilization but that is to be expected considering the price of this smartphone.
Overall, the photo quality on both cameras is pretty good when shooting pictures or video in good lighting conditions. In the dark or indoors, the quality deteriorates at times.
Connectivity was actually good for a non-US device
Xiaomi provided the M2006C3LG version of the Redmi 9A for this review. In the Southern California area on T-Mobile, I got LTE out of the box and the data speeds were comparable or slightly better than my Pixel 4 XL. No VoLTE or Wi-Fi calling was possible on the phone on T-Mobile.
Phone call quality was excellent in either handset or speakerphone mode. I did not have any problems sending texts, downloading apps, watching YouTube videos, or streaming music via Spotify Stations on T-Mobile. My Enacfire E60 earbuds paired seamlessly via Bluetooth 5.0. This is a budget handset so Redmi 9A will not support contactless payments as the NFC module is missing.
So is the Redmi 9A a worthy smartphone for $99?
Using this device with a few others in the last 7 days I could not believe that the retail price of the Redmi 9A is $99! It checks a lot of right boxes in terms of display size, battery life, audio options, MIUI software, and camera performance (in good light). There are a few items where I believe Xiaomi was a little too aggressive in cutting corners namely RAM, charging brick, fingerprint scanner, and front camera.
Keep in mind we had the base 2GB version for our review. Xiaomi is offering a version with the 3GB base RAM for $10 more and that is the one you should get.
Overall though this is a great entry-level smartphone for folks upgrading from old flip phones or feature phones at least in emerging economy nations. For some folks in these geographies, even $99 is a lot of money. Having said that, I do wish that for about $15 more Xiaomi could have included a film screen protector, TPU case, 18 W USB-C charging brick, and 3GB RAM. If that phone was sent to us for review there would be no hesitation in giving it 5 stars.