Xiaomi has a new smartphone out for 2021. The Redmi Note 9T is launching just a week into this new year. And it is good to know that Redmi Note 9T continues the tradition of providing an excellent price to performance ratio.
So is the newest Note device from Redmi a true jump up from the excellent Redmi Note 8 from last year or not? Let's get the first smartphone review of 2021 rolling to find out.
Redmi Note 9T Unboxing Experience
The box contains an insert at the top with a clear TPU case, SIM tool, and paperwork. I was really hoping that Xiaomi sent me that purple color unit on the box picture for review. Alas, it seems that I will just have to settle for Nightfall Black. Underneath the phone, we have a 22.5W charging brick and a hefty USB-C cable.
Hardware Design is definitely better than I expected
For a big-screen device, the size is comparable to my S20 FE. And just like the Samsung S20FE, the Redmi also has a nicely textured plastic back. The Redmi Note 9T doesn't feel too much like a cheap device. Mostly due to some really good design choices; like the interesting wavy pattern texture on the back plastic cover. The texture provides a good amount of grip when holding the device without a case. Another interesting feature is that the color fades from light to dark across the back cover giving this phone some personality.
Another nice design feature is the circular camera/flash array on the back. It is tastefully done and provides a unique look to this device. And the chrome ring around the camera module provides just the right amount of bling. While this arrangement looks really good it also lends itself to a decent amount of camera bump wobble.
As usual, there is a decent amount of branding information on the bottom of the back cover. I just wish that somehow Xiaomi can get away from this practice because without the branding it would look like a premium mid-ranger for sure.
On the top rail, we get a microphone, IR blaster, and speaker cutout. On the bottom of the frame are a headphone jack, microphone, USB-C charging port, and the bottom speaker. It is quite impressive that a phone in the price segment has fairly loud dual stereo speakers.
On the right-hand side of the phone, we get the volume rocker. And just below it is a well-placed fingerprint scanner in the power button. On the opposite side, we get the dual-SIM / SD card tray slot. Xiaomi even managed to get some splash resistance into this device as evidenced by the silicone seal around the SIM/SD card tray.
The front of the phone sports a 6.53" FHD+ display with a punch hole for the selfie camera in the top left corner. The rest of the front looks clean with uniform top and side bezels. As is the case with budget devices the bottom chin is slightly larger but definitely not egregious.
Ergonomically the Redmi Note 9T doesn't feel heavy to hold in the hand. This is the case despite having a large 5000 mAh battery. As far as color choices go seems like Nightfall Black (my review unit) and Daybreak Purple are the two colors available at launch. For a device that is below $300, the Redmi Note 9T offers a lot of bang for the buck from a hardware design perspective.
How good is that big 6.53" display?
Redmi Note 9T sports a 6.53" Full HD+ display is 1080×2340 pixels. At 395PPI pixel density the 90Hz refresh rate display provides a great viewing experience. And as is normal these days the screen is 19.5:9 aspect ratio. This coupled with an 84% screen to body ratio means there's plenty of screen for videos, games, or general web browsing.
To protect the large screen Xiaomi opted for Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the display panel. While not the latest version it should still help keep the scratches to a minimum. To help further protect the screen, Xiaomi installs an HD film screen protector from the factory.
As far as screen brightness goes I had zero issues with outdoor visibility on bright sunny days out here in Southern California. The 450 nits of brightness on this screen compares well with other phones in this price segment.
Display settings in MIUI 12 allow for further customization. For my review, I used Dark mode and left the Color scheme on Auto. But you can tweak these to your liking in the settings menu. There is a Reading mode available as well to reduce eye strain which comes in handy if you read a lot on your smartphone.
Performance is actually very good
Redmi Note 9T runs on the 7nm MediaTek Dimensity 800U 5G processor. There are 2×2.4 GHz Cortex-A76 & 6×2.0 GHz Cortex-A55 cores paired with a Mali G57 GPU. MediaTek also claims that this is the first dual5G SIM capable processor.
Benchmark testing certainly confirms the processing power bonafides of the Redmi Note 9T. On Geekbench the Single-Core score is 588 and the Multi-Core score is 1760. Open CL score is 1908 and AnTuTu is around 300K. So performance-wise these scores are pretty similar to those of the Snapdragon 765 5G chipset. Paired with 4GB RAM and 128GB UFS 2.2 storage the performance is really snappy in day to day use. Keep in mind that the cheaper 64GB version uses UFS 2.1 storage.
Playing games on this phone is a breeze. You can play games like Call of Duty and PUBG at normal settings without any issues. Simple games like Hill Climb 2 or Subway Surfers won't even tax the processor at all. Another plus is basically little to no heat generation while playing games for long stretches of time. During one prolonged 2-hour gaming session the phone basically did not heat up at all!
Gaming experience is further enhanced by the MIUI Game Turbo setting. Although in this case, I am not sure how much this helps since the chipset is already quite capable. Dual stereo speakers and a headphone jack provide good audio options while gaming or streaming HD video.
My only gripe is the 4GB RAM on this device. Other devices tend to have at least 6GB RAM coupled to processors of this caliber. So you might need a bit of RAM management occasionally. And the main issue is the longevity of the phone with only 4GB RAM onboard. Other than this one grip hardware performance is absolutely excellent on this smartphone.
MIUI 12 Software is still quirky
I reviewed the Poco M3 a few weeks ago. That phone was running MIUI12.0.1 which is the software on this Redmi Note 9T as well. The only difference is that this time around the Android security patch is for November 2020. Other than that the software experience is identical between the Poco M3 and the Redmi Note 9T. Of course, you can always install another launcher or choose from one of the many themes available as well to customize the look/feel of your device.
The rest of the software experience is identical to that of the Poco M3 minus the slight difference in how Redmi Note 9T handles the quick settings menu. And the one gripe I had about ads on the Poco are thankfully missing in this Redmi Note 9T which is a definite bonus.
Battery life is crazy good on the Redmi Note 9T
Battery life on the Redmi Note 9T is excellent for a 5G device. Standby battery drain is also superb thanks to excellent battery management tweaks. I consistently got 6+ hours of screen on time for each charge cycle. So for an average user, this should definitely translate to charging the phone on alternate days. For heavy users, this should mean getting a full day's use without having to worry about topping up during the day.
Of course in a pinch, you can stretch the battery life even further with the usual gamut of battery saver options that MIUI has to offer. These include restricting battery usage on an individual app by app case basis.
When it comes to recharging the Note 9T it is nice that Xiaomi has a 22.5 W charging brick in the box. The Redmi 9T circuitry supports 18W fast charging. However, having a 5000 mAh battery does result in a little over an hour to charge the phone fully.
Dual Stereo Speakers and a Headphone Jack!
It is refreshing to see Xiaomi not skimp on audio quality. A vast majority of devices in this price segment have tinny bottom-firing speakers. So the Dual Stereo speakers on this phone are going to make a lot of customers very happy. Oh, and the audio quality is quite good and the speakers get plenty loud.
Every manufacturer that still includes the 3.5 mm headphone jack needs to be commended. And kudos to Xiaomi for continuing to offer this in 2021. Surprisingly enough, the audio output from the jack is excellent regardless of earbuds. For my testing, I used my MEE Audio X1 and Samsung AKG earbuds. In addition, MIUI provides multiple options to tune the audio output further via equalizer settings in the Sound effects menu.
For those wanting to use wireless earbuds, Bluetooth audio pairing is easy. Audio quality output is quite good via BT and is comparable to the output from the headphone jack. In either case for most new songs, 35-40% audio output is sufficient which is great in my book.
Before I forget let me mention that audio is fine in either handset or speakerphone mode when using the 9T as a phone. Overall from an audio perspective, this phone definitely punches way above its price point.
An ultrawide camera would have been nice
While the camera module looks comparable to a device costing 3X as much as the Redmi Note 9T, the reality is slightly more complicated. The triple camera setup on this device is basically identical to that on the Poco M3. So the main camera is a 48MP 1/2” sensor size, 1.6μm 4-in-1 Super Pixel with f/1.79 using a 6 point AutoFocus. Unfortunately for this new version the ultrawide camera from Note 8 is gone which is a bummer. The remaining two cameras are 2MP f/2.4 for depth sensing and macro shots. On the front, there's a slight bump in specs and we get a 13MP selfie camera with an f/2.25 lens.
Let's discuss the selfie camera results first. Pictures from the selfie camera should be more than adequate for everyday social media use. Portraits via the Selfie camera are actually quite good with fairly accurate edge detection. Color science is also reasonably good but auto exposure is pretty bad and you need to manually select exposure to get good results. A quick tap on the face of the subject solves the exposure problem but nonetheless, it is bothersome that you have to tack on an extra step to get good-looking selfies.
Main camera output in daylight actually surprised me. Despite having the same sensor as the Poco M3, the camera output is definitely way better on the Redmi Note 9T. The better quality image processing engine on the Dimensity 800U results in overall more balanced and pleasing colors. Check out the sample pictures in the Flickr gallery below.
As usual, Xiaomi has packed the camera app with Pro Mode, Panorama, and Portrait mode. The Macro mode is hidden in the settings of the Photo mode so to me it is a tacit admission that it is best to stick to the main camera. Low light photos using Night Mode are actually quite good too just like they were with the Poco M3.
Video from the rear camera ranges from 720p 30FPS to 4K 30FPS. However, the front camera is capped at 1080p at 30fps. Options in video mode include time-lapse, slow-motion, and short video which are tucked away in the More section of the camera app. It is always better to have more options than not so this is a definite bonus in my book.
My main gripe from a camera performance standpoint the giant step back in terms of removal of the ultrawide camera in a phone that has the Note moniker. More and more smartphone makers are including a basic 8MP ultrawide in budget devices so this omission is truly a headscratcher. Overall this is the biggest miss in terms of camera performance on the Redmi Note 9T.
5G Connectivity is excellent for a Global device
Inserting an R15 T-Mobile SIM card upon startup means I got a 5G signal right away. Unfortunately, 5G speeds in my area are pathetic and so the speeds I got on the Redmi Note 9T were poor and identical to results on my Pixel 4a 5G and S20 FE 5G.
As far as calls go, no issues at all in handset or speakerphone mode. The Redmi Note 9T has the stock Google messages app. This results in texting using the RCS chat features out of the box. Since connectivity is great out and about except my house, I had no issues catching up on my subscriptions on YouTube on the go. Same for streaming music on Amazon Music or Spotify while running errands or during daily walks.
Bluetooth connectivity presented no issues for me. And as usual Screen Cast, Mi Share, and Nearby Share are all available and easily accessible through the settings or quick settings menu options. Lastly, Xiaomi is probably one of the last few manufacturers that still includes an IR blaster to control your TV set which is a great little added bonus.
Redmi Note 9T supports contactless sharing and payments via NFC which is great in these Covid-19 times. So from a connectivity standpoint, this smartphone basically checks every box on the list along with nice extras like the IR blaster.
So should you buy the Redmi Note 9T?
Redmi Note 9T is a great-looking device that is chock full of features including some that you sometimes do not find even on flagship smartphones. One big omission, however, is the missing ultrawide camera compared to the Redmi Note 8 series. The other head-scratcher is only including 4GB RAM, it would have been nice if Xiaomi included 6GB RAM to make this device future proof. On the flip side, Xiaomi has stepped up big time by including the dual SIM 5G capable Dimensity 800U chipset.
For the starting price of €229, the Redmi Note 9T provides good performance, a big bold display, great hardware design, and fairly decent camera performance. Xiaomi also included dual stereo speakers, IR blaster, and NFC in this device. I am not sure if the €269 version for the higher storage is as good a value as the base Note 9T since at that price there are other alternatives to consider.
Xiaomi again shows most manufacturers that budget devices do not have to be bland or lack features that are only in flagships. The first device in 2021 from Xiaomi is a solid mid-ranger with excellent performance and should be definitely on your list if you are looking for a dual SIM 5G capable smartphone.