OnePlus 9 full review
It’s really no surprise to literally anyone that OnePlus has launched the 9 series of smartphones. While we don’t get the cheaper 9R in the UK, the regular model has a lot to offer with a partnership with Hasselblad promising to finally offer the top-tier camera experience the firm has never quite nailed.
Is it more than a logo on the back and a shutter sound? And has OnePlus done enough elsewhere to stand out from the crowd? Find out in our full OnePlus 9 review.
Design & Build
The OnePlus 9 looks fairly similar to the OnePlus 8T, which moved the camera module from the middle to the corner. I’ve always quite liked the central position in its various forms, partly as it was simply different to key rivals like Samsung and Apple.
So, the 9 series looks more like rivals, although the camera module is camouflaged by being the same colour as the rest of the back. While this does a good job of hiding the fairly large camera module, I’m quite surprised OnePlus didn’t do the opposite and draw more attention to it.
Considering the Hasselblad collaboration is a major part of this launch, I’m shocked the Hasselblad logo is so hard to see in a small silver font.
Back to colour and I’m not particularly a fan of this Winter Mist purple option with its ‘gradient refraction effect’ where it’s more mirrored at the bottom. That’s obviously a personal thing but, while the phone also comes in Arctic Sky and Astral Black, you can’t have all of them in all the storage and memory SKUs.
In the UK, only Winter Mist comes in 12/256GB which is frustrating. As the consumer, I don’t want my choice of model to dictate the colour. It’s a similar story with the 9 Pro where the Pine Green (my favourite of them all by a mile) is tied to the top tier capacity but elsewhere it’s black or the shiny, shiny Morning Mist.
On the plus side, the 3D Gorilla Glass on the back feels nice in the hand but the phone keeps getting chunkier, now at 8.7mm thick and 192g which is a noticeable difference to the comparatively svelte OnePlus 8 at 8mm and 180g.
And, like others, the camera bump means the phone rocks from corner to corner on a flat surface (how I use my phones quite a lot) like a table with one short leg.
I do wish OnePlus would have stuck with its more traditional method of a frosted matte finish to avoid the smudgy mess and help with grip. Of course, putting a case on avoids many of these problems, and there is a clear silicone case in the box, but you might not want to revert to this as a solution.
The phone continues to lack a headphone or any kind of IP waterproof rating. A few years ago, this was fairly acceptable to keep costs down but when much cheaper phones have both it becomes more of a con.
The fact, as per rumours, that the regular 9 has a ‘fiberglass-reinforced polymer’ frame is the least of the problems here. Still, I remain a huge fan of the Alert Slider.
OnePlus has seemingly found its preferred screen size with the 9 sticking at 6.55in and, like the 8T, the phone has a Fluid AMOLED panel featuring HDR10+ and a 120Hz refresh rate. The resolution also remains at Full HD+ (1080x2400).
If you are trying to decide between this and the Pro, its sibling has a larger 6.7in display with a Quad HD resolution, 3D curved glass and higher brightness at a quoted peak of 1300 nits. It also has an adaptive refresh rate able to go down to 1Hz to save power.
That’s a nice set of extras, but the regular OnePlus 9 display will be plenty for a lot of people. Some may even prefer the smaller size and flat panel.
It’s perfectly crisp, bright (quoted maximum of 1100 nits) and offers great contrast and colour. There are various features you can play around with such as Vibrant Color Effect and Comfort tone which uses the phones two ambient light sensors to automatically make the screen as comfortable to view as possible based on your environment.
It works well but not to be confused with Vision comfort in the quick settings which is more of your typically night time mode to reduce blue light. There's also a reading mode, too.
The other thing to mention here is that the fingerprint scanner is once again embedded into the display and works very well. After a week of using the OnePlus 9, I think it only failed to work first time twice.
Specs & Performance
This is an area you needn’t worry about. Flagship phones like this have been exceptionally powerful for many years and that’s no different with the OnePlus 9 thanks to its competent components.
As you might imagine, OnePlus has opted for the latest top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and the phone has either 8- or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM (the same as the Pro) and speedy UFS3.1 storage is 128- or 256GB.
And, in case you’re wondering, OnePlus hasn’t suddenly decided to add a microSD card slot.
As mentioned earlier, the problem here is that the 12/256GB option (tested here) only comes in the purple Winter Mist model which sucks if you want this top spec but don’t like the colour.
Purple or not, there’s no complaints about performance here with a phenomenally smooth and responsive experience. Really, the only sign of lag I could notice was processing the odd photo after I’d taken it.
As you can see in the benchmark scores below, the OnePlus 9 is a top-performer.
For many smartphone users, the cameras are make or break. And it’s long been the case that OnePlus has done a reasonable job here but remained a little way off the competition. With the Hasselblad Camera for Mobile collaboration, OnePlus thinks it’s finally nailed it on the 9 series with a ‘giant leap forward’.
Apart from cosmetic elements like an orange button and Hasselblad’s feather shutter sound, the major point is that Natural Color Calibration with Hasselblad promises to “bring more perceptually accurate and natural-looking colors.”
Software is one thing, hardware is another and the OnePlus 9 centres around a 48Mp main camera. A Sony IMX689 with an aperture of f/1.8. Note that the Pro has a larger, custom IMX789 sensor with largely similar specs otherwise, though it does have OIS.
Both phones have the same 50Mp (IMX766) ultra-wide camera with a ‘Freeform’ lens to avoid the fish-eye distortion you typically get. The Pro has a telephoto camera in addition so that would be one reason to splash out on it.
While there might be three cameras on the back of the phone, you can only directly use the main two. The 2Mp monochrome sensor is there to help provide extra detail when you take black and white images.
In testing, the OnePlus 9 camera performance is a mixed bag. There’s certainly good detail to be had from both main cameras and the ultrawide does a good job of reducing distortion. The portrait mode is also impressive, even managing to cope with dog fur, and if you like to shoot in black and white then this is a good phone for that.
However, it’s ironic that the biggest issue is related to colour consistency when OnePlus says months were spent fine-tuning things with Hasselblad. I’ve pulled out some examples from the gallery to illustrate.
Not only is there a noticeable difference between the main camera and the ultrawide, the colour even changes when you use the zoom mode – which is just cropping on the main sensor since there is no telephoto here. You’ll also see in the gallery the same issue when I took some photos of the sky at sunset.
And this isn’t an issue with just the 9 as my colleague Dom found the same thing with the OnePlus 9 Pro, even with its dedicated telephoto lens.
Outdoors I didn’t find the lack of OIS to be an issue – for photos or videos (now up to 8K at 30fps) – even with the dog pulling at me on one arm while I took photos with the other. Inside, though, it would likely help to get better results as the 9 often struggled to focus. If you’re shooting in very low light then the Nightscape mode does a decent job of giving you a usable image.
A smaller issue is that using HDR, which most people will by default, can look a little over the top and also results in more noise in images. Although, I didn't find the noise issue to be as bad the 9 Pro which has more easily noticeable artefacts.
The main camera is pixel-binned to 12Mp but you can shoot in the full 48Mp if you like - although there’s no major advantage unless you plan to crop in on shots.
It’s a little hidden away in the top settings bar, but you’ll also find a ‘super macro’ option. With no dedicated macro lens, this uses the ultrawide camera cropped in to get closer to objects. If you forget, the main camera is ok but simply can’t get as close. Even when not getting super close to objects the camera has quite a strong vignette of focus which you may or may not want.
The 16Mp front camera – punch-holed in the top corner of the display – is about average for phones at the moment. That is to say, it’s pretty decent and offers good quality along with a portrait mode that often works well.
The bottom line is that other phones are still better in this critical area, whether you spend more on an iPhone or Galaxy, or go with something cheaper like a Pixel. Even the Pixel 4a 5G has a similar dual-camera setup, but with better software processing.
Battery Life & Charging
I’ve not really got much to complain about here either, perhaps only that the Pro gets much faster wireless charging but there must be some differences and that one makes sense. It’s still the first time the regular or T models have been given wireless charging.
Apart from 15W wireless instead of 50W - I was sort of expecting it to match the 30W of the 8 Pro - the OnePlus 9 has the same fast wired charging with Warp Charge 65T, which is included in the box and can also be used to charge devices like tablets and laptops at 45W.
OnePlus promises a day of usage with a 15-minute charge and the ability to reach full in less than 30.
Well, in my test the OnePlus 9 hit a whopping 54% in the first 15 minutes and didn’t quite get to 100% in 30 but it’s still one of the best results we’ve ever seen at 95%.
The battery itself is 4500mAh and I’ve found the phone comfortably lasts two days even at the weekend with heavier usage. And that’s using it at 120Hz and includes running benchmarks.
Oxygen OS might be further from stock Android than the earlier days, but I still really like it and prefer it to the vast majority of other skins out there. This is version 11.2 based on Android 11
It first arrived on the OnPlus 8T with improvements like new animations, playback controls in the notification bar and always-on screen options. Some of which was better late than never.
Not much has changed here with OnePlus touting a moving second hand on the lockscreen clock as a big deal.
If you’re a regular OnePlus user then you’ll feel right at home, while new users will find everything laid out intuitively. It’s a stylish and slick OS with plenty of additional features and the ability to customise things to your liking.
That might just be something simple like the accent colour or deep diving into the advanced screen settings to get the look as you like it down to the colour temperature.
Apart from some names that too similar, like Comfort tone and Vision comfort mentioned earlier, the only thing I really had to get used to was having the Google Discover screen to the left of the main home screen and swiping down to fetch the OnePlus Shelf.
Price & Availability
The OnePlus 9 is a fair bit more expensive than the OnePlus 8T, which started at £549.
You’ll now need to splash out £629/US$729 for the cheaper model and £729 (not available in the US) if you want the higher memory and storage configuration.
The phone is now available in the US and arrives in the UK on 26 April. You can order the phone now from OnePlus or Amazon worldwide. In the UK you'll also be able to get it from Three and John Lewis once sales start officially, while check out T-Mobile or Verizon in the US.
While the price has gone up, the OnePlus 9 remains cheaper than some key rivals such as the Apple iPhone 12, Samsung Galaxy S21 and Xiaomi Mi 11 at £799, £769 and £749 respectively. The Google Pixel 5 is a little more affordable at £599.
That’s not to say there aren’t cheaper phones available with similar specs and features. The impressive Redmi Note 10 Pro has a 120Hz AMOLED display and a 108Mp camera for under $300 and the Realme 8 Pro looks like it will have a similar spec sheet for around the same price.
With the Redmi you even get an IP53 rating but do have to sacrifice things like wireless charging and 5G.
There's a lot to like about the OnePlus 9 with its stunning 120Hz AMOLED display and powerful components for starters. Still at a reasonable price, even if it is more than its predecessor.
It also has wireless charging and when using wired, Warp Charge 65T can almost hit 100% in less than 30-minutes.
A few years ago we'd be falling over ourselves at these kinds of specs and features but they are largely the standard now and can often be found on mid-range phones.
What's more important here is what the OnePlus 9 is missing or has issues with.
Small things like no headphone jack or an IP rating might be forgivable if the phone hadn't taken a step back on the design front with its chunkier size and divisive finish, which is still tied to the RAM and storage configurations taking away consumer choice.
Worst of all, though, is that a collaboration with Hasselblad headlining with colour accuracy hasn't worked out. The main issue with the 9 (and Pro) is exactly that, inconsistent colours.
It might seem a little nit-picky but we have to be at this level in 2021 and the fact is, phones both more expensive and cheaper are better in this critical area.
If rivals still don't appeal then you might be best off getting a OnePlus 8T at a now-reduced price.
OnePlus 9: Specs
- Android 11 with Oxygen OS 11
- 6.55in Full HD+ (1080x2400) Fluid AMOLED, 20:9, 120Hz, HDR10+
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 octa-core processor
- 8/12GB RAM (LPDDR5)
- 128/256GB internal storage (UFS 3.1)
- 48Mp main, f/1.8, EIS
- 50Mp ultrawide, f/2.2
- 2Mp monochrome
- Video up to 8K at 30fps
- 16Mp selfie camera, f/2.4
- Fingerprint scanner (in-screen)
- 11ax dual-band Wi-Fi 6
- Bluetooth 5.2
- Dual-nano SIM
- Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
- 4500mAh non-removable battery
- Warp Charge 65T (included)
- 15W Qi wireless charging
- 160.7 x 74.2 x 8.7mm