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OnePlus 9 Review: Everything A Flagship Needs, For Less

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The OnePlus 9 has all the flagship features you need, and it costs well below $1,000.

OnePlus 9
$729
Rating
star star star star star_empty
Pros
  • Good build
  • Not too heavy
  • Really good 120Hz flat display
  • Snappy performance
  • Excellent fingerprint scanner
  • Good pair of stereo speakers
  • Extremely fast charging
  • OxygenOS is still really good
  • Charger is included
Cons
  • Camera performance needs to be improved
  • No OIS on the main camera
  • No microSD card slot
  • Plastic frame

OnePlus supplied us with a review unit of the OnePlus 9, but didn’t have a say in our opinion, nor did they see this review before you. We’ve been using the device for over a week before forming an opinion.

OnePlus announced two flagship smartphones this year as well, that’s something we’re accustomed to. The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro arrived. We’ve recently taken a deep dive into what the OnePlus 9 Pro has to offer, and now we’re here to review the OnePlus 9. Both of these phones are excellent, but the difference in their price tags is quite noticeable. In this review, we’ll try to figure out whether spending less on the OnePlus 9 is a good idea, instead of paying around $1,000 for the “Pro” model.

The OnePlus 9 Pro does come with some additional bells and whistles, as a “Pro” device should, but the OnePlus 9 delivers most of the same things its sibling does. This phone does shine in a number of ways, which is not surprising as it is also positioned as a flagship handset. In fact, the OnePlus 9 is closer to the OnePlus 9 Pro than the OnePlus 8 was to the OnePlus 8 Pro. OnePlus opted not to downgrade the smaller phone in some key areas, which is great for consumers. Having said that, let’s begin, shall we.

Well-balanced design which will suit more users than what the OnePlus 9 Pro offers

The OnePlus 9 does look similar to its sibling, but there are a few key differences. First and foremost, it comes with a flat display, not a curved one. It also has fewer cameras on the back, and its frame is made out of plastic. If we haven’t told you, though, you probably wouldn’t even notice it’s plastic. The frame is colored to resemble metal, and even if you tap on it, you’d think it’s metal. OnePlus did use glass on the back of the device, though.

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AH OnePlus 9 KL image 13

The OnePlus 9 is quite slippery, just like its sibling. What’s interesting is that the phone is wider than the OnePlus 9 Pro, while being slightly shorter. It has the same thickness as its sibling, and it’s lighter at the same time. Now, OnePlus did release two different variants of this phone. The variant that we’ve reviewed is the European one. That model is identical to the one in North America in terms of build, and it’s heavier, wider, and thicker than what is offered in China and India. Why? Well, the difference lies in the wireless charging coil, which is included in our unit, but not in the ones sold in Asia.

The phone feels great in the hand

The OnePlus 9 feels great in the hand, truth be said. The phone is not too heavy, even though the European variant is far from being light. The phone is not easy to use in one hand, though, simply due to its size. You may also feel some hand fatigue if you tend to use your phones with one hand. The phone’s bezels are quite thin, and the display camera hole is here, but chances are you’ll stop noticing it after a short period of time. The phone is quite slippery, so using a case is recommended.

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I, personally, don’t have any major complaints when it comes to the design of the OnePlus 9. It looks rather regular for a 2021 flagship. The plastic frame may bother some of you, but it shouldn’t really. It will probably age just as well as metal should, while it makes the phone a bit lighter. It’s too bad the OnePlus 9 doesn’t offer an official IP rating, though. That is definitely something worth noting. Another thing worth noting is the fact that an official jelly case is included in the box. That’s a regular silicone case that will offer more than enough protection for the device.

The OnePlus 9 features a great fullHD+ AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate

The OnePlus 9 features a 6.55-inch fullHD+ (2400 x 1080) Fluid AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. This display does not offer an adaptive refresh rate, like the OnePlus 9 Pro’s panel, though. In fact, it’s the same hardware panel as the one you’ll find in the OnePlus 8T. That being said, it’s an excellent display, to say the least. This is one of the best fullHD+ panels on the market, and it really shouldn’t be the reason for you not to buy this phone.

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This panel is flat, which is a good thing

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The OnePlus 9’s display is also flat, and that’s something most people seem to prefer. It does support HDR10+ content, and it gets quite bright as well, at 1,100 nits peak brightness. It’s not as bright as the OnePlus 9 Pro display, but the difference will be noticeable only under direct sunlight. And yes, the OnePlus 9’s display is more than bright enough for outdoor use, even in direct sunlight.

The colors are quite vivid

This display offers vivid colors, and deep blacks, as you’d expect out of an OLED panel. The viewing angles on it are great, while the display is more than sharp enough. I’ve been saying this for years, but the difference between good fullHD and QHD panels on phones, in terms of resolution, is not big at all. In fact, the vast majority of you will find a hard time noticing the OnePlus 9 Pro’s display is sharper than the OnePlus 9’s.

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It’s more than sharp enough

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Both displays are more than sharp enough considering their size. So, if you want a flat display, and to save some money, the OnePlus 9 is a great choice. Its lower resolution in comparison to the OnePlus 9 Pro shouldn’t prevent you from getting it. Truth be said, the OnePlus 9 Pro does offer an adaptive refresh rate, but that’s a whole different story.

The OnePlus 9 offers stellar performance, worthy of a flagship

Excellent performance is something we’re used to seeing from OnePlus’ flagships. Well, the OnePlus 9 is no different, it offers stellar performance. In fact, this is probably one of the best smartphones to get when it comes to performance. OnePlus’ animations are great, the company’s software is really well-optimized, while the phone’s internals are top notch. OnePlus didn’t skimp out on the internals here, as it offers the same SoC, RAM, and storage options as on the “Pro” model.

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LPDDR5 RAM & UFS 3.1 flash storage are included

The OnePlus 9 comes with LPDDR5 RAM, UFS 3.1 storage, and it’s fueled by the Snapdragon 888 SoC. That, in combination with the phone’s software, results in great performance, to say the least. Apps open almost instantly, multitasking is no problem at all, and OnePlus even optimized some RAM-related processes in order to boost performance. The phone can now run more apps in the background while not affecting battery life all that much. Web browsing is a breeze, and the same goes for image and video editing. Shooting images is also not a problem… basically anything you’d imagine doing on a daily basis, you can.

This phone is a gaming machine

That actually goes for gaming too. The OnePlus 9 offered excellent gaming performance, and the company’s gaming mode came in useful as well. I didn’t notice any frame drops, lag, or anything of the sort. I’ve played Call of Duty: Mobile, and several other, graphically-intensive games, just to see how will the phone behave. I’m not much of a gamer, but the OnePlus 9 did admirably during that time. The performance is basically identical to what I experienced on the “Pro” model, which is a good thing.

It offers better battery life than the “Pro” model, at least in our testing

The OnePlus 9 comes with a 4,500mAh battery. That battery is the same size as the one on the OnePlus 9 Pro. Based on my testing, the OnePlus 9 does offer slightly better battery life than its sibling. During my use, I was able to get around 6 and a half hours of screen-on-time in a single day. Those numbers varied from one day to the next, of course, but that’s something you can expect, on average. Do note that your usage may differ from mine, significantly, so you may get different numbers.

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I’m not much of a gamer, so I didn’t play a lot of games on the device, other than the ones I had to for testing purposes. I did take a lot of pictures with the phone, some videos, watched plenty of YouTube, some TikTok, browsed the web a lot, processed some images via the phone, did a lot of messaging, and so on. The phone handled all that like a champ, and I’d say its battery life is really good. There are phones out there that offer better battery life, and some of the OnePlus 9’s predecessors did, but this is more than most people need. Even power users will be happy with its battery life.

65W fast wired charging is included here, along with 15W wireless charging

If you, however, end up draining the phone’s battery before the end of the day, well, fast charging is here to help out. The OnePlus 9 supports 65W fast wired charging, just like its sibling. It also comes with a 65W charging brick and cable in the box, as it should be. Using that charger, you can get this thing charged up in half an hour, even if the battery is dead. If you prefer wireless charging, it’s included here as well. You get access to 15W wireless charging. It’s considerably slower than 50W that the “Pro” model offers, but at least it’s included this time around. OnePlus had to differ between the two phones somehow.

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The camera performance is good, but not great

If OnePlus managed to nail the camera performance on the OnePlus 9, it would be really hard to find negatives for this smartphone. Don’t get us wrong, the camera experience is not bad on the device, but it’s not great either. OnePlus did release several updates for the phone since I’ve started using it, and all of them contained quite a few camera improvements. The thing is, even after three stable updates (at the time of writing this review), the camera performance is still not where it should be. The same thing is actually the case with its sibling, the OnePlus 9 Pro, which could use more improvements on the camera side of things.

A touch of Hasselblad

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Both the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro come with the Hasselblad branding on the back. OnePlus actually agreed on a 3-year partnership with Hasselblad, and hyped up the OnePlus 9 series cameras to the moon and back. All that hype managed to get us really excited for the cameras on the two phones, and they are good, but not as good as expected. The thing is, the camera hardware on both phones is really good. The OnePlus 9 Pro comes with a better setup, of course, but the OnePlus 9 is nothing to scoff at, quite the contrary. The phone has really capable sensors, and lenses, and all it needs is some software work in the background to push this camera setup to a whole new level. A rather significant hardware minus for the OnePlus 9 in particular is the fact it doesn’t offer OIS on the main camera. That is something that prevent this camera to do a better job in low light, that’s for sure.

The colors are excellent

During the day, the OnePlus 9 performs as you’d expect. The phone provides really detailed images, that are also sharp at the same time. The colors are excellent here, and the device doesn’t overprocess photos. Hasselblad’s touch is visible when it comes to colors, the photos are true to life. Some white balance issues are visible, though, as highlights do get overblown at times, while parts of some images do turn up a bit muddier than they should. When the light goes away, well, that’s where you’ll notice more problems. Highlights do get a bit overblown in such conditions, while such images could also be a bit sharper. The phone also has some issues with street lights, though that all depends on the image, sometimes it’s an issue, sometimes it’s not. The camera is not consistent enough in such conditions, but that will hopefully improve moving forward.

Ultra-wide camera is really good, but there’s room for improvement

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Images from the ultra-wide camera are also really good. The colors look different in those photos, they’re less vibrant, but still great. OnePlus will probably tune this further with updates, though. Those photos also don’t have almost any warping on the side due to the free form lens that the company is using here. Low-light images from the ultra-wide camera are not spectacular, but they’re good. Such images do have some of the same issues as the main camera, and those are probably software-related. It does have less issues with overblowing highlights, though. The device does a good job when it comes to keeping noise at bay with both cameras.

The OnePlus 9 camera samples (Flickr)

Macro photography is where this phone shines

Macro photography is really good here. The phone uses its 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera to capture macro photos, and it does a great job. That is the same setup as for the OnePlus 9 Pro. You can get really close to your subject, and get really nice details in the progress. This phone is not that good when it comes to automatically switching to the “Super Macro” mode, though. The OnePlus 9 Pro is much better at it, for some reason. More often than not, I had to switch to that mode manually. Luckily, the switch is readily available in the main camera UI.

The OnePlus 9 macro camera samples (Flickr)

Shutter delay is an issue

One problem worth noting separately, when it comes to the OnePlus 9 cameras, is the shutter delay. If you’re shooting a moving object, the phone will seemingly capture it instantly, and show it that way in the small window in the camera UI. When you open the image, however, you’ll get a completely different picture than the one initially shown. That’s because of a tiny shutter delay which has become a real headache for me. I’ve spotted the same issue on the OnePlus 9 Pro. OnePlus really needs to make fixing it a priority.

The speakers are good, and so is the general audio experience

The audio offering on the OnePlus 9 is basically the same to the one the “Pro” model offers. That’s actually a good thing, as the sound coming from this handset is good. The OnePlus 9 has two speakers, one at the bottom, and the other above the display (front-facing). The sound coming from these speakers is good. The phone supports FLAC format, while it comes with Bluetooth 5.2, with both aptX and aptX HD. Sony’s LDAC tech is also included.
These speakers do get quite loud, and the distortion is noticeable only at the very highest of volumes, but barely. The sound is crisp, though there’s not a lot of bass included here. There is some, but not a lot. That’s something that basically all flagship smartphones have in common, though. The lack of bass actually made me miss a more punchy sound on bass guitars in some songs. A 3.5mm headphone jack is also not included, so you’ll either have to use a dongle, or a pair of Bluetooth headphones.

OxygenOS is great in almost every way

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As most of you know, the OnePlus 9 runs OxygenOS skin on top of Android 11. OnePlus didn’t focus that much on adding new features to OxygenOS for this launch, but you’ll be getting all the features you may be used to from OxygenOS 11. What the company did do is improve OxygenOS 11 on the OnePlus 9 series, behind the scenes. The OnePlus 9 has considerably better RAM management compared to previous models, claims the company, up to 25% better. OnePlus optimized RAM management to allow the phone to keep more apps in the memory, and not impact battery life in the process. Is that visible in regular use? Well, no, not really. The phone still does tend to kill off some apps that you use constantly. That may not be a huge problem for you, as apps launch in an instant, but memory management is still not as good as it should be, especially with so much RAM to use.

OxygenOS could benefit from a proper one-hand mode

You’ll still find all the features you love here, such as gestures when the screen is off, to activate certain functions of the phone. The company’s animations in OxygenOS 11 are also top notch, and definitely worth mentioning, as they allow that 120Hz display to shine. OnePlus did a great job of optimizing OxygenOS 11 all the way through for these two smartphones. This skin is also really good for one-hand use, at least in menus, as the one-hand mode is still not available. It is, however, expected to arrive at some point in the future. All in all, there’s not much not to like in OnePlus’ software, as it’s great all the way through.

The OnePlus 9 is a better buy than its sibling, at least for most people

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So, is the OnePlus 9 worth getting over the OnePlus 9 Pro? Its base model is $240 more affordable after all. Well, I’d say yes, definitely. If you don’t need ultra-fast wireless charging, official water resistance, or don’t really care about the differences in the camera department, get this phone. Even with the differences we’ve mentioned, the OnePlus 9 is a great buy. At $729 you’ll be getting a top-notch phone which offers basically everything you’d expect out of a flagship smartphone. It may not have the best camera in the market, but it offers stellar performance, good battery life, great display, and much more.