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OnePlus 9 review

Not a Pro, not an amateur either

OnePlus 9
(Image: © Future)

TechRadar Verdict

The OnePlus 9 aims to fix the most glaring flaw of prior flagships from the company — the cameras, by opting for specialized hardware and software, assisted by Hasselblad. It doesn’t have a telephoto lens or other bells and whistles, which put it in a tough spot against the competition. Thankfully, it wins back many points in aspects such as the performance, screen and charging.

Pros

  • +

    Powerful specifications

  • +

    Vivid and smooth display

  • +

    Fast charging speeds

  • +

Cons

  • -

    Cameras are good, but not great

  • -

    Similar specs found on cheaper devices

  • -

    Ordinary battery life

Two-minute review

The OnePlus 9 brings some camera improvements over the OnePlus 8 Pro while being significantly cheaper than the OnePlus 9 Pro, making it a much easier recommendation than its siblings.

The main talking point is the new partnership with Hasselblad for photography, which brings true-to-life colours and interesting shooting modes that make the OnePlus 9 a fun camera to use. However, it is not perfect, and its prowess is limited to ideal shooting conditions. Enthusiasts will be quick to realize this, but everyone else should have a good time.

Thankfully, other aspects are all quite strong, such as the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 888 chipset, which makes the OnePlus 9 one of the fastest phones you can buy today. Thanks to optimized software and speedy memory, it flies through all heavy tasks including gaming.

The OnePlus 9 is the first attempt to right the ship, and the improvements are noticeable, with better color fidelity and improved low-light performance. The digital zoom has also been improved, while there are some fun new tricks like the macro-simulating close-range effect on the ultra-wide camera. 

As much as the cameras have changed, the rest of the phone hasn’t: the design is virtually the same, from the placement of the buttons to the display to the size, which is nearly identical to that of its immediate predecessor, the OnePlus 8T, and the OnePlus 8 before that. The display hasn’t changed, either, but there’s no complaining about the sharp 6.55-inch Full HD Plus resolution AMOLED display.

Similarly, even the display and speakers are great, leaving little to complain about. AMOLED, 120Hz, in-display fingerprint scanner — it has it all.

As with other OnePlus phones, the OnePlus 9 is amongst the fastest-charging phones around, where a full charge takes just about 30 minutes. The Indian variants don’t have wireless charging though, if that matters to you. The battery life is nothing to celebrate either, but it can last an entire day with some precaution.

Overall, the OnePlus 9 is an easy phone to recommend, especially for someone looking to get a OnePlus and needs all that performance. If not, alternatives such as the OnePlus Nord 2 and the OnePlus 9RT will serve you better.

OnePlus 9 price and availability

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Truls Steinung)

The OnePlus 9 price starts at Rs 49,999 for the 8GB+128GB variant and goes up to Rs 54,999 for the 12GB + 256GB variant. It will be available in colours 一 Winter Mist, Arctic Sky and Astral Black. The device will be available in India starting April 15 via Amazon (opens in new tab), OnePlus.in, and offline stores across India. 

With the pricing set around Rs 50,000, the OnePlus 9 will rival the Apple iPhone 12, Vivo X70 Pro, and Asus ROG Phone 5

Design

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Future)

There’s no getting around it: the OnePlus 9 has a very similar design to its predecessor, the OnePlus 8T, aside from the obviously different camera block. 

It has the same glass-fronted 6.55-inch display and glass back as its predecessor, and the same lock button and signature OnePlus ring/vibrate/silent toggle on the right side and volume rocker button on the left, all of which are in easy reach when you're casually holding the phone. There's also the same USB-C port on the bottom with the speaker to the right, as well as a second speaker out of the earpiece.

There is one difference between the OnePlus 9 and its predecessor: its frame is plastic, not metal. 

Inheriting so much from its predecessor isn’t a bad thing: the OnePlus 9 looks much like other flagships in its more affordable tier, like the standard Samsung S21 – that is, the materials are high-quality, but it lacks some of the flourishes of the priciest phones. To wit, both phones have AMOLED displays, but they’re flat, without the 'waterfall' curved edges of their premium siblings.

The OnePlus 9 does have a glass back, unlike the S21’s plastic (or 'glasstic') back, but not all glass is equal: the former phone’s rear doesn’t have the same density and classy feel as the glass backs of other flagships. Tap the back of the OnePlus 9 and it sounds a bit hollow, like plastic backs. This isn’t a major drawback, just something to keep in mind: affordable flagships are made with affordable-flagship materials.

Display

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Future)

As previously mentioned, the OnePlus 9 has a 6.55-inch AMOLED display, with a Full HD Plus-resolution (2400 x 1080) screen. It produces sharp, vibrant visuals, much like the display on its predecessor. 

The screen is only broken up by a punch-hole in the top-left corner for the front-facing camera. It has an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which we found only read our print reliably when our finger was upright in relation to the phone – don’t be surprised if you have to unlock the phone via face or passcode every so often.

The display has a 120Hz refresh rate, which in practice means a much smoother visual experience when you're browsing apps or scrolling your social feeds. Games that support up to 120fps should also benefit from this feature.

The OnePlus 9 does miss out on a pair of features that are exclusive to the OnePlus 9 Pro. One of these is low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO), a backplate to the display that enables the phone to dynamically set the refresh rate based on what you're doing, dialing it down for low-intensity activities like browsing photos to save battery (a feature first seen in Samsung phones).

The other, Hypertouch, reduces the latency of touch controls by 25-30ms, conceivably improving performance in competitive online games like PUBG; if you're playing on the OnePlus 9 you'll have to rely on your reactions rather than software.

Camera

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus 9 has a triple rear camera setup, though you’ll probably only realize that you’re using two of them. The 48MP main camera and 50MP ultra-wide camera are what you’ll use most, while the 2MP monochrome sensor helps with low-light photography, and with black-and-white photos if you set the correct filter.

The big news in the cameras department is OnePlus’ three-year partnership with noted camera brand Hasselblad, with the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro cameras bearing the first fruits of this collaboration. It may be a year (or more) before Hasselblad lenses end up in the company’s phones, though, and its big contribution this time around is in the area of color calibration. As with most tweaks, this is mostly apparent in side-by-side tests, with images showing more vibrant and true-to-life colors.

While we found the color reproduction to be slightly less precise than in images taken on last year's iPhone 12 Pro – still the high-water mark for phone photography in 2021 – the OnePlus 9 unquestionably takes better photos than its predecessors. In side-by-side comparisons (below), the color range is not just more true-to-life, the camera captures more detail in surface textures and shadows. 

This improved color reproduction is evident in images taken with both rear cameras, the 48MP main and 50MP ultra-wide. The latter camera also packs an extra surprise: a specialty macro mode that captures up-close photos that are easily better than those shot on other phones with designated macro lenses, including the OnePlus 8T. It also comes with a freeforming lens, which OnePlus claims corrects barrel distortion – the warping at the sides of images from some ultra-wide cameras – down to 1%, and it appears to work, as we didn’t notice any distortion.

There's also another cute photo mode: tilt-shift, which allows you to keep the center strip of the scene of subject in focus and blur the rest. It's a neat trick, even if it doesn't have too many applications.

There’s also a 16MP front-facing camera that shoots admirable photos, with good color and sharp detail, although these have weirdly narrow dimensions. Portrait selfies are pretty spectacular though, especially given that there's only one camera pointing out of the display.

That’s not all from Hasselblad – the phone’s Pro Mode has been customized to resemble the screen on Hasselblad cameras (even up to the yellow shutter button), and a shutter sound has been added that simulates the sound of a 'proper' camera. There aren’t just cosmetic effects though: the Pro Mode has more controls, allowing you to manually adjust ISO, white balance, shutter speed, focus, and more, although tinkering with them one at a time takes a little bit of finagling. Better still, you can save images in the 12-bit raw format for optimum quality and editing flexibility.

The OnePlus 9’s main camera shoots video in 8K 30fps, providing 16x the pixel count of the standard 1080p. The ultra-wide camera can shoot time-lapse videos, and there’s a low-light video option called Nightscape Video 2.0. 

Camera samples

Performance

The OnePlus 9 packs the same top-tier specs as the OnePlus 9 Pro, and aside from an updated chipset, the same RAM and storage options. It’s fast, running games and loading apps without a hitch. 

The OnePlus 9 has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and 8GB or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB or 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, which puts it on par with the Samsung Galaxy S21, at least on paper. 

In performance benchmarks, it certainly holds its own with a Geekbench 5 multi-core average score of 3654 - outperforming nearly every other Android phone on the market. Frustratingly, the OnePlus 9 doesn’t have expandable storage, meaning you’ll have to live with either 128GB or 256GB and rely on the cloud if you run out of room.

The OnePlus 9 runs Android 11, as well as OnePlus’ UI, presenting the usual combination of clean interface and helpful menu features. The OnePlus 9 is a 5G-capable phone, but it doesn’t support mmWave – only mid and sub-6 bands.

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Truls Steinung)

Battery life

The OnePlus 9 has a 4,500mAh battery, which is substantial, and should get you through the day, though there are other flagship phones with larger batteries. 

The OnePlus 9’s real advantage lies in its charging speeds. You get the Warp Charge 65T charger in the box, which will charge the phone to 100% in just under half an hour. 

In our tests, we found much the same results for wired charging. These wildly fast recharging speeds are partially due to the battery's construction, as the 4,500mAh unit is actually split into two roughly 2,250mAh cells that are charged in parallel by the 65W wired charger. 

Should I buy the OnePlus 9?

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Future)

Buy it if…

You want high-end specs at a reasonable price

The OP9 is powered by the Snapdragon 888 with UFS 3.1 storage and LPDDR5 RAM, which are amongst the most powerful specifications.

You’re looking for an easy-to-use camera

With Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 produces accurate images. The camera app is easy to use and customize too.

You don’t want to spend much time charging

The OnePlus 9’s battery fully recharges in about 30 minutes, making it ideal for quick top-ups on the go.

Don’t buy it if…

You want the best cameras

Even with all its abilities, the OnePlus 9 lags behind the competition when it comes to cameras. You can consider the Vivo X70 Pro or the iPhone 12 instead.

You want the best value for money

While the high-end specs are appreciated, there are phones with comparable prices at significantly lower prices now.

You want reliable battery life

While Color OS has helped, the Oxygen OS skin and powerful hardware make the OnePlus 9 less efficient than the rest.

First reviewed: April 2021

Aakash is the engine that keeps TechRadar India running, using his experience and ideas to help consumers get to the right products via reviews, buying guides and explainers. Apart from phones, computers and cameras, he is obsessed with electric vehicles.