OnePlus 9 Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Should you settle?

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You know when OnePlus announced the Hasselblad partnership, I expected it to be exclusive to the OnePlus 9 Pro (review). So, it came as a pleasant surprise that it also extends to the OnePlus 9. But, what wasn’t very pleasant, was the price bump. Starting a little shy of Rs 50,000, the OnePlus 9 is more expensive than the OnePlus 8T (review) preceding it and the OnePlus 9R launched alongside it. To add to that, it is in splitting distance of last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro’s asking price. So yeah, there’s no escaping the fact that to justify the higher price tag the OnePlus 9 has to be a very good phone. And get this, we haven’t even started talking about phones from the competition yet. 

Anyway, who should buy the OnePlus 9, if at all, is the question I will try to answer in this review.

Design

So, the OnePlus 9 is slimmer, narrower, and lighter than the OnePlus 8T. It feels great in the hand and equally premium as the OnePlus 9 Pro. But, there are a few things about the phone’s design that you need to note. It has a plastic frame, despite using a glass back and front. Plus, you don’t get IP certification or wireless charging either. All of these are legit downgrades from the OnePlus 9 Pro that you need to worry about. And, considering you get at least 15W wireless charging in the US, this is definitely a letdown.

As for this Winter Mist colourway, I find it incredibly reflective and it attracts fingerprints like bees to a hive. The OnePlus 8T’s matte finish rear and the colourway was way better, in my opinion. Now, when you look at the triple camera stack on the rear with the Hasselblad branding, the module juts out slightly, which makes the phone wobble on a table. But, I like how uniform the design ID is compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro. It is all very homogenous now. 

The rest of the design includes the ever-so-awesome Alert Slider. And, you have a Type-C port and the card slot at the bottom. 

Display

The display on the OnePlus 9 is a 6.5-inch Fluid AMOLED flat panel with FHD+ resolution. It can also go up to 1100 nits peak brightness in HDR mode. It is a pretty bright display even in HBM mode. In regular everyday usage, the brightness levels are very similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro. Plus you get support for HDR video playback including HDR 10+ support as well. But, you don’t get a QHD+ panel nor adaptive refresh rate technology that you get with the LTPO panel on the OnePlus 9 Pro. 

But, that’s actually a good thing. Confused? OnePlus hasn’t optimised the adaptive refresh rate experience on the OnePlus 9 Pro properly yet. And, OnePlus did tell us in the briefing that was the most difficult implementation for them on the OnePlus 9 Pro. Therefore, you see some stutters while scrolling in certain sections of the UI on the OnePlus 9 Pro, which are not there on the OnePlus 9. This happens because the software takes a bit to register the refresh rate switch that’s happening on the fly on the OnePlus 9 Pro. Because of this the OnePlus 9 also feels smoother. 

The display also has the in-display optical scanner, which is placed very low but unlocks very fast. And, the haptic feedback that you get is slightly above average. 

Camera

Like I mentioned, the OnePlus 9 has the same Hasselblad branding. You get the one generation older 48MP Sony IMX689 sensor from the OnePlus 8 Pro, which has the same specs as the IMX789, with a 1/1.43-inch sensor and a 1.12-micron pixel size. The attached lens has the same f/1.8 focal length too. But yes, there is no OIS and that I just can’t wrap my head around. Anyway, you get the same great 50MP ultra-wide angle camera with the Freeform lens. The final lens is a Monochrome 2MP depth camera.

I ran a quick side by side camera test against the OnePlus 9 Pro and here’s what I found.

  • I was taken aback by the fact that most of my daylight comparison looked extremely identical to the OnePlus 9 Pro. It offered the same, sharp details, and mostly similar colour accuracy as well. 
  • However, there were some colour science inconsistencies. For example, in this picture of the chair, the OnePlus 9 has cranked up the Blues. Also, when you are shooting portraits, the face tones are entirely altered. Talking about the portrait mode, these massive sensors paired with wide aperture lenses create such gorgeous and creamy bokehs that I don’t see the need for a dedicated portrait mode that has actually botched the object blur on the rear. 
  • The dynamic range performance was near identical too with a good control over the highlights but the shadows being crushed. The iPhone 12 series and the Samsung Galaxy S21 series are better at dynamic range though.
  • Ultrawide shots are as detailed and colour consistent as the OnePlus 9 Pro. Making it the cheapest phone with the best ultrawide angle camera. 
  • Similar to the botched facial tones in Portrait mode, the OnePlus 9 struggles with selfies as well. Doesn’t matter if it is a regular selfie or HDR. While I am not a fan of OnePlus 9 Pro’s selfies, the OnePlus 9 is seemingly worse.  
  • By default the OnePlus 9 Pro has an edge with videography. You get 4K 120fps recording and HDR video recording up to 4K60FPS with Auto-HDR video. Looking at the 4K 30fps sample, they are near identical in quality and colours. In 4K 60fps video, we can see that the OnePlus 9 Pro benefits from the HDR video recording capability. Plus, the optical image stabilisation captures your steps but it is far smoother and more natural looking with no jerks when we pan. 
  • The front camera video looks similar on both the phones with just facial tones being more natural on the OnePlus 9 Pro. Furthermore, ultra-wide angle video captured using the phones look identical. 
  • Moving on, owing to the lack of OIS and laser autofocus, I had a tough time focussing and getting a crisp low light shot from the OnePlus 9. You can see that the OnePlus 9 is softer in comparison. The OnePlus 9 Pro is sharper and better at low light performance. And, it better be considering it is far more expensive and uses a newer sensor too. However, Nightscape Ultrawide shots in low light are very similar with both the folks offering the same level of fidelity.

It is commendable that OnePlus has managed to match the level of camera performance on the OnePlus 9 series. And, for its asking price, the OnePlus 9 actually delivers good looking pictures from the main camera and the ultrawide. But, HDR video recording is limited and low light shots are not as detailed. Plus face tones are definitely not as natural as the OnePlus 9 Pro, whether it is in selfies or portraits. The OnePlus 9 Pro is a superior camera system overall but if you can live with the shortcomings of the OnePlus 9, then the cameras won’t disappoint. 

Performance and Software

The OnePlus 9 has the same Snapdragon 888 SoC coupled with 8/12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128/256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Interestingly, I got better benchmark scores than the OnePlus 9 Pro. Plus, the CPU throttling is lower and the performance is more stable as well. And, surprisingly, I even got a much higher score on Tauceti’s FPS runs. Plus, the phone didn’t heat up as much as the OnePlus 9 Pro. Or, refuse to capture pictures when I was out shooting in the Indian summer sun. I have to say this, the performance of the OnePlus 9 was actually slightly better than the OnePlus 9 Pro in my testing.

As for the speakers, you get a stereo setup. It is fairly loud and clean, but it doesn’t sound as full as the OnePlus 9 Pro. The audio performance through Bluetooth earphones was fine too. 

Oxygen OS 11 based on Android 11 continues to be the reason why many folks flock to OnePlus phones. The customisation options are pretty awesome and the design of the UI is absolutely slick. But, Samsung’s OneUI is actually pretty good too now. And more importantly, lately Samsung has been more forthcoming and proactive about Software updates and Security patches. OnePlus has been lagging on that front, which is a huge drawback if you ask me. OnePlus needs to fix that soon. 

Battery Life

The OnePlus 9 has the same 4500mAh battery with the super fast 65W charger in the box. I got very similar battery life as the OnePlus 9 Pro, which is around 5 hours of SoT, meaning it should last you a full day on battery. Plus the charging takes about 30 minutes from 0 to 100, which is insane. But yes, I did miss the support for wireless charging considering the OnePlus 9 Pro’s wireless charging is so damn good.  

Network performance

Similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro, you get support for only two bands of 5G: n41 and n78. But, there’s no 5G in our country yet, so I can’t really test it either. But yeah, whether it is future proof or not, we can only say for sure when the 5G bands to be operational in India are finalised. OnePlus tells me, they think these bands are enough for India. Moving on to the 4G performance, it was stable and responsive with support for Carrier Aggregation. The call quality through the earpiece was pretty good too. 

Should You Buy the OnePlus 9?

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the OnePlus 9. It is a good phone no doubt and if someone does end up buying the OnePlus 9 they are unlikely to be disappointed with it. For example, I like the new upgraded ultra-wide angle camera but if you want the IMX689 goodness along with an additional telephoto, the OnePlus 8 Pro is only a few thousands away. The vivo X60 Pro also seems impressive with its Gimbal Tech. If it is the power of Snapdragon 888 that you are craving for, then a phone like the ASUS ROG Phone 5 makes way more sense.

 

And, if I had to pick a phone around Rs 50,000, I’d go for the OnePlus 8 Pro which is a better buy according to me with its curved QHD panel, IP rating and wireless charging support. Evidently, the OnePlus 9 just falls in some sort of no man’s land. 

So, I hope you guys liked our review. Do let us know in the comments section below what you thought about it.

OnePlus 9

Rs 49,990
8.3

Design and Build

8.0/10

Performance

9.4/10

Display Quality

7.8/10

Camera Quality

7.0/10

Software

9.1/10

Battery Performance

6.9/10

Audio Performance

7.7/10

Day-to-day Usage

10.0/10

Network Performance

9.2/10

Value-for-Money

7.5/10

What Is Good?

  • Good ultrawide camera results
  • Super fast charging speeds
  • Great performance

What Is Bad?

  • No wireless charging
  • Slightly expensive

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When Ershad is not killing dinosaur-sized mosquitoes with a vengeance using a make-believe shotgun, he writes/edits for Gear by MySmartPrice. He is also our resident karaoke star. Don't encourage him to sing.