If you think you need a 5G handset, the $400 Redmi Note 9T from Xiaomi is the cheapest option.
Xiaomi gives you a lot of phone for $400. You could pay double and end up with something that does nothing more than the Redmi Note 9T.
One paper the phone isn’t promising. It doesn’t look great, it doesn’t feel great and it’s not exciting. The camera is not special. There’s nothing spectacular to see here. No-one would aspire to own a Redmi Note.
Yet there’s nothing wrong either. The phone is far better than a simple comparison list of features matched against other phones would suggest.
Serviceable, affordable Redmi Note 9T
Moreover, the Redmi Note 9T gets the job done and, depending on what else you might have chosen, will leave you with hundreds, even thousands of dollars in your pocket.
This last point is the kicker. Sometimes you need to carry a tool, not a piece of jewellery.
The Redmi Note 9T is a sensible, no-nonsense, low-risk choice. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.
For me, the surprise in a $400 phone from a, for me, unfamiliar brand, was the performance. The processor is fast. I’ve seen low-cost phones stumble and stutter as they struggle to keep up. There wasn’t any hint of that here.
Xiaomi has made compromises to keep the price low, but not in the processor department. When you’re ploughing through work or entertaining yourself you can forget this is a bargain basement phone.
Likewise, the battery is huge by the standard of mid-priced and low-priced phones. The Redmi Note 9T packs 5000mAh. That’s enough to go for a straight 24 hours of normal use, or about two working days if you put your phone down when you’re not busy.
You need a large battery when there’s a big screen. It’s 6.5 inches with 2340 by 1080 pixels. The screen is long and thin, about 163mm by 78mm which makes it sizeable without being unwieldy
While the picture is fine, you’ll see better displays with better colour. The refresh rate is 60Hz, that’s noticeably lower than with upmarket phones, but par for the course with less expensive models.
The screen is bright by any standard and automatically adjusts in sunlight. You’ll be able to see it in most circumstances.
If you want a fancy phone camera, you need to spend more than $400. The Redmi Note 9T comes with three lenses. The main camera is 48 megapixel, which sounds more impressive than the results warrant. It works fine in bright daylight, not so well in low light conditions.
Xiaomi’s camera software gives the impression the hardware is more sophisticated than it is in practice. I found the software hard to use, but that could be because this is a short-term review. Perhaps it gets easier over time.
On the whole, still and video photography is serviceable. It will do, but it won’t win you any prizes or excite your creativity.
Look and feel
Modern phones are slabs of glass and metal or plastic punctuated by camera containing bumps. It’s hard to make one that is outright ugly, but the Redmi Note 9T has a face only a mother could love.
Xiaomi describes the review model as “Nightfall Black” whatever that is supposed to mean. It’s more a dark grey with a moulded, textured plastic case. At 200g it’s heavy, but not too heavy.
Do you even need a 5G handset?
At the time of writing there are pockets of 5G mobile coverage around New Zealand, mainly in city centres.
Both Vodafone and Spark plan to build more sites, but there won’t be widespread coverage for a few years. Unless you have a specific need for 5G now it may pay to wait before buying a new handset.
It’s unlikely you will have that specific need. Carriers promise faster download speeds and lower latency with 5G mobile, but there are few apps that need the extra performance.
For now, there is nothing practical, productive or worthwhile you’ll be able to do on a 5G phone like the Redmi Note 9T that you couldn’t do on a 4G handset. It won’t stream video more smoothly, it won’t mean better Zoom calls.
Redmi Note 9T verdict
It’s unlikely you need a 5G phone. At least not today. That said, if you do, the Redmi Note 9T is by far the best value option. You won’t find a better phone for $400.
It has flaws and compromises, but you’d need to spend three, four, maybe even five times as much to fix them.
Xiaomi phones are not widely distributed in New Zealand. The review model was provided by PB Technology and can be found in that company’s stores.