The OnePlus 9 is the brand’s latest flagship – along with the OnePlus 9 Pro – from a company that, despite pivoting its phone strategy to compete directly with other premium handsets, has previously fallen short in one area: cameras.
To remedy this shortcoming, OnePlus has teamed with Hasselblad, a renowned camera manufacturer, on a three-year strategy to enhance the photo capabilities of its smartphones.
The OnePlus 9 is the company’s first attempt to right the ship, and the results are impressive, with increased color fidelity and low-light performance. Additionally, the digital zoom has been enhanced, and some new tricks have been included, such as the macro-simulating close-range effect on the ultra-wide camera.
While the cameras have changed, the rest of the phone has remained largely intact: the design is nearly comparable, from the button placement to the display to the size, which is nearly identical to that of its immediate predecessor, the OnePlus 8T, and the OnePlus 8. The display has remained the same as well, but there is no reason to complain about the razor-sharp 6.55-inch AMOLED display with Full HD Plus quality.
The OnePlus 9 is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 processor, and while the 8GB / 128GB or 12GB / 256GB RAM and storage configurations are identical to those of the OnePlus 8, they’re comparable to those of other premium phones in its price bracket (most notably, the Samsung S21).
What the OnePlus 9 does better is charge its 4,500mAh battery exceptionally quickly – from zero to 100 percent in less than a half-hour using the Warp Charge 65T charger.
Finally, the OnePlus 9 delivers excellent performance and battery life for its price point while also improving its photography offering, resulting in a significant value bundle. While the phone does inherit some features from the OnePlus 8T, with its primary flaw corrected, the newest inexpensive flagship makes a compelling case for being the best phone in its price range.
OnePlus 9 at a glance
- Screen size: 6.55-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080; 120Hz)
- CPU: Snapdragon 888
- RAM: 8GB, 12GB
- Storage: 128GB, 256GB
- Rear cameras: 48MP main (f/1.8); 50MP ultrawide (f/2.2); 2MP monochrome
- Front cameras: 16MP (f/2.4)
- Connectivity: 5G, dual nano sim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 (AAC, aptX/HD, LDAC) and location
- Battery size: 4,500 mAh
- Charging speed: 65W, wired; 15W, wireless
- Size: 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.32 inches
- Weight: 6.77 ounces
Between the OnePlus 9 and the Pro model, there is a notable design change. While the latter phone features a curved display — though not as curved as the OnePlus 8 Pro from last year — the OnePlus 9 retains a flat-edge design. To be honest, I prefer the 9’s approach since it makes the 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.32-inch phone simpler to hold and minimizes the possibility of inadvertent screen touches.
Unlike the OnePlus 8, which had a decreasing line of back cameras down the middle of the phone, the OnePlus 9 follows the OnePlus 8T’s example and features a rectangular camera array in the phone’s upper left corner. The camera bump is rather noticeable — so much so that pressing down on the OnePlus 9 causes a slight wobbling.
As is the case with many of OnePlus’s prior flagships, the OnePlus 9 lacks an IP classification for dust and water protection. That is reserved for the T-Mobile-exclusive OnePlus 9 Pro. Additionally, the OnePlus 9 lacks a microSD card port for extending the phone’s storage capacity.
Our review unit arrived in Astral Black, which features a matte-black coating sandwiched between two layers of glossy glass. OnePlus claims that this reduces fingerprint smudges, and while I did notice a smudge or two on my phone, the OnePlus 9 is far from a fingerprint magnet compared to other phones I’ve tested recently.
As with previous OnePlus phones, the OnePlus 9 unlocks through an in-display fingerprint sensor, with a convenient fingerprint outline indicating where to push. The OnePlus 9 occasionally requires a couple of touches to register my fingerprint, however, this may improve as I spend more time with the phone.
It’s preferable to use the OnePlus 9’s facial recognition feature to unlock the phone, albeit this feature is not secure enough to validate mobile payments.
As previously stated, the OnePlus 9 features a 6.55-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of Full HD Plus (2400 x 1080). It offers bright, vibrant colors in the same manner as its predecessor’s display.
Only a punch-hole in the top-left corner for the front-facing camera breaks up the screen. It features an in-screen fingerprint sensor that reads our print correctly only when our finger is upright in respect to the phone.
The display boasts a refresh rate of 120Hz, which results in a significantly smoother visual experience whether accessing apps or navigating through social media feeds. This functionality should also assist games that support up to 120 frames per second.
However, the OnePlus 9 lacks two functions that are specific to the OnePlus 9 Pro. One of these is low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO), a display backplate that enables the phone to automatically adjust the refresh rate based on your activity, toning it down for low-intensity activities like browsing images to conserve power (a feature first seen in Samsung phones). The other, Hypertouch, reduces touch control latency by 25-30ms, potentially enhancing performance in competitive online games like Call of Duty: Mobile or PUBG.
The OnePlus 9 features a triple back camera arrangement, albeit you’ll likely only use two of them. The 48MP primary camera and 50MP ultra-wide camera will be used the most, while the 2MP monochrome sensor aids in low-light shooting and may be used to create black-and-white images if the appropriate filter is used.
The major news in the camera category is OnePlus’ three-year association with renowned camera firm Hasselblad, which began with the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro cameras. However, it may be another year (or more) before Hasselblad lenses make their way into the company’s phones, and the company’s primary contribution this time is in the area of color calibration. As is the case with the majority of modifications, this is most noticeable in side-by-side comparisons, with photographs displaying more brilliant and true-to-life hues.
While we found the color reproduction to be somewhat less precise than on last year’s iPhone 12 Pro – which remains the gold standard for smartphone photography in 2021 – the OnePlus 9 certainly produces better shots than its predecessors.
This increased color reproduction is visible in photographs shot with both the 48MP primary and 50MP ultra-wide back cameras. Additionally, the latter camera features a dedicated macro mode that produces images that are significantly better than those captured by other phones equipped with dedicated macro lenses, including the OnePlus 8T. Additionally, it includes a free-forming lens, which OnePlus claims reduces barrel distortion — the bending of images at the edges caused by some ultra-wide cameras – to less than one percent, and it looks to work, as we noticed no distortion.
Additionally, there is a fun photo feature called tilt-shift, which lets you keep the central strip of the scene in focus while blurring the rest. It’s a neat trick, even if its applications are limited.
Additionally, there is a 16MP front-facing camera that takes admirable photographs with vibrant colors and fine clarity, albeit with an oddly narrow field. However, portrait selfies are quite impressive, especially given that there is only one camera protruding from the display.
That’s not all Hasselblad has contributed – the phone’s Pro Mode has been altered to resemble the screen on Hasselblad cameras (down to the yellow shutter button), and a shutter sound has been added to simulate the sound of a ‘real’ camera. However, the Pro Mode adds additional controls, enabling you to manually alter the ISO, white balance, shutter speed, and focus, among other things, but adjusting them one at a time requires some fiddling. Even better, you may save photographs in 12-bit raw format for the highest possible quality and editing versatility.
The OnePlus 9’s primary camera captures video in 8K at 30 frames per second, offering 16x the pixel density of normal 1080p. The ultra-wide camera is capable of shooting time-lapse videos, and a low-light video mode called Nightscape Video 2.0 is included.
The OnePlus 9 features the same top-tier specifications as the OnePlus 9 Pro, including the same CPU and RAM/storage configurations. It’s quick, smoothly running games and loading apps.
The OnePlus 9 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and features 8GB or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, putting it on par with the Samsung Galaxy S21.
Where you live dictates which type you can purchase, and people in the United States can only get the 8GB RAM model. Both choices are available to residents of the United Kingdom.
With a Geekbench 5 multi-core average score of 3654, it easily outperforms practically every other Android phone on the market.
Regrettably, the OnePlus 9 lacks expandable storage, which means you’ll have to settle with 128GB or 256GB of storage and rely on the cloud if you run out of space.
The OnePlus 9 is powered by Android 11 and OnePlus’ UI, which combines the company’s trademark combination of a clean interface with handy menu options. The OnePlus 9 is a 5G smartphone, although it lacks mmWave capability, opting instead for mid and sub-6 bands.
The OnePlus 9 comes with a 4,500mAh battery, which is quite enormous and should last you the entire day, however, there are larger batteries on other premium phones.
The true advantage of the OnePlus 9 is in its charging speeds. The packaging includes the Warp Charge 65T charger, which OnePlus claims charges the phone to 100 percent in less than 30 minutes and also supports 15W Qi wireless charging.
In our tests, we saw nearly identical results with wired charging. These astoundingly fast charging times are largely owing to the battery’s structure since the 4,500mAh unit is actually divided into two about 2,250mAh cells that are charged in tandem by the 65W cable charger.
It’s a feature that debuted on the OnePlus 8T, which charged from zero to 100 percent in just under 40 minutes using the Warp Charge 65 charger — the OnePlus 9 shaves about ten minutes off that time thanks to upgrades to the power brick, hence the ‘T’ in the Warp Charge 65T designation.
By making a significant upgrade to the camera configuration, going for the highest refresh rate, and staying current with the latest processor, this smartphone has a legitimate shot at competing with Apple, Samsung, and Huawei.
What OnePlus excels at is iterating on its handsets in response to user feedback. Once again, they’ve listened to their users and the industry to make some significant enhancements to their flagship smartphone for 2021. It’s easy to say that I was impressed; there are a few minor problems, like the lack of expandable storage, and the average battery life, but generally, it’s a joy to use and lovely to look at.
If you’re looking for a flagship smartphone with all the best features but don’t want to pay as much as you would on the most pricey alternatives, the OnePlus 9 is an easy recommendation.