OnePlus 9 review: the flagship tickler?

OnePlus 9 review: the flagship tickler?
OnePlus has slowly, but surely, crept its way into the mainstream. And I mean that both in terms of relative popularity and pricing.

Yeah, not everyone is a die-hard OnePlus fan, but many people have heard about that “1+ phones that are cheaper than usual”.

And while the OnePlus 9 Pro is now pretty much an expensive phone, through and through, the OnePlus 9 still kind of retains that spirit of being “bang for the buck”. The OnePlus 9 starts at $730 and offers a lot of phone for that money.

If you want a solid feel and performance with a great screen, but aren’t after the best camera — the OnePlus 9 is a buy.

Also check out:
OnePlus 9 Pro vs Galaxy S21 Ultra

OnePlus 9
9.0

OnePlus 9


The Good

  • Pretty, functional design, solid build
  • Beautiful screen
  • Fast performance
  • No-nonsense user interface

The Bad

  • Camera was a bit of a letdown
  • Speakers are shrill

OnePlus 9 design and display


The regular OnePlus 9 has a fully flat screen this year — unlike last year when both the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro had curved displays. It’s up to you whether you care about that or not 3 — some people like curved screens, some don’t mind them, others hate them with a passion.

In any case, it’s a 6.5-inch screen with a 20:9 ratio and a resolution of 2400 x 1080. It’s an OLED panel with vivid colors and a 120 Hz refresh rate. With a few color profiles to pick from and extra settings to change the color temperature based on ambient light — OnePlus basically knocked it out of the park here. The screen on the OnePlus 9 is an absolute gem.

As far as the design goes — I am liking it. The phone feels slightly chunky but it’s very comfortable to hold. Its weight distribution makes it balanced and the curved back lets it rest in the palm without issue. The camera bump strikes a balance between familiarity and uniqueness with its two big lenses boldly staring back at you.

And, of course, I can’t forget to mention that hardware mute button — a 3-position slider that cycles between ring, vibrate, and silent. An extremely convenient feature and I still don’t know why no other Android manufacturer puts it on their phone.


While on the topic of vibration — the OnePlus 9 has fantastic haptics. A precise, tick-type vibration that can underline your keystrokes and button presses for a very, very pleasing feedback.

It’s worth noting that the OnePlus 9 has a set of stereo speakers — the familiar bottom driver plus earpiece combo. They get the job done and can get loud, but they sound harsh and lack depth. The OnePlus 9 Pro’s stereo speakers certainly sound much better.


OnePlus 9 camera


OK, but what do these two big cameras do exactly? Well, the main snapper is a 48 MP camera and the one above it is a 50 MP ultra-wide camera. There is no telephoto lens here, sorry, but the software of the OnePlus 9 still has the very flexible zoom controls. It makes use of digital zoom with that high-res 48 MP sensor to “simulate” a telephoto camera, if you will.


The camera UI is fast, responsive, and nicely laid out. There's a full on Manual Mode that gives you access to ISO, shutter speed and manual focus with my favorite feature on board — focus peaking.


OK, how do the photos look? In terms of detail, they are very pleasing. Nice and sharp, without a lot of evidence of software oversharpening ruining the look. The colors are, indeed, pretty close to real life.

But the photos kind of lack a good punch. Most come out with a consistent cold-ish cast and the camera’s dynamic range is not great. You can see the samples look a bit dull and lack some pop, despite there being some colorful subjects in the scenes.


In comparison, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera has a slightly warmer cast and just a bit more dynamic range, and the photos instantly look brighter, deeper, and more cheerful if you will.

Nevertheless, the OnePlus 9 photos are “OK-looking” and leave a distinct midranger aftertaste.

Portrait Mode is pretty good at separating subject from background, as long as it’s not too busy back there. You can use wide-angle view or go in for a 2x zoom to simulate the telephoto effect. Since it’s a digital zoom, facial features will come out a bit too soft, though.

The main camera starts struggling at low light and we ended up getting a lot of soft or blurry photos, as the shutter stayed open for prolonged periods. Portrait Mode shots in the night mostly come out fuzzy.


You can use Nightscape (night mode) to alleviate some of those issues, but it’s still a bit of a hit and miss.

The ultra-wide camera really does look good. It’s calibrated to match the color profile of the main camera and its high-res sensor makes sure that you don’t get softer images when switching to ultra-wide.


But, it’s worth noting that using the ultra-wide camera for video crops in hard, basically negating the ultra-wide effect. Nope, no action footage with this phone.

That aside, the videos look sharp enough, but suffer from the main camera’s drawbacks — a low dynamic range and a cold cast dull up the scene.


OnePlus 9 software and performance


OnePlus phones are known to be lightning-fast and the 9 series does not disappoint. See, OnePlus only does minor reskinning and tweaks to the stock Android, then it stuffs the latest top-tier hardware in its phones. As a result, Oxygen OS (OnePlus’ custom interface) just flies and it’s an absolute joy to use. Especially with the 120 Hz screen of the OnePlus 9.

Currently, it ships with Android 11, and OnePlus promises 2 major Android upgrades and 3 years of security patches (distributed bi-monthly).

Whether you are whizzing through apps, playing the latest games, or taking photos — the OnePlus 9 is fast. I know this sounds like a 90s TV ad, but hey — it is just how happy I am with the phone’s responsiveness.

So, on to the boring stuff — the processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and the OnePlus 9 can come with either 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, or 12 GB of RAM with 256 GB of storage. No microSD slot on board.

Higher is better
OnePlus 9
1127
OnePlus 8
919
Samsung Galaxy S21
1043
Apple iPhone 12
1594

OnePlus 9 battery life


The OnePlus 9 is powered by a meaty 4,500 mAh battery. Yeah, we’ve seen bigger ones, but this cell gets the job done. It can last you through a day of mixed usage without raising your percentage phobia.

But, even if you end up in a tight spot, the new Warp Charge 65T is super-fast and can top up your phone in 30 minutes. No, really — from 0% to 100% in half an hour.

Browsing test 60Hz Higher is better Browsing test 120Hz (hours) Higher is better YouTube video streaming (hours) Higher is better 3D Gaming 60Hz (hours) Higher is better 3D Gaming 120Hz (hours) Higher is better Charging time (minutes) Lower is better
OnePlus 9 11h 45 min
11h 29 min
9h 16 min
9h 6 min
No data
30
OnePlus 8 12h 15 min
No data
9h 37 min
10h 16 min
No data
63
Samsung Galaxy S21 9h 6 min
7h 47 min
7h 36 min
7h 9 min
4h 14 min
70
Apple iPhone 12 12h 33 min
No data
6h 38 min
6h 46 min
No data
118

Pros

  • Pretty, functional design, solid build
  • Beautiful screen
  • Fast performance
  • No-nonsense user interface

Cons

  • Camera was a bit of a letdown
  • Speakers are shrill

PhoneArena Rating:

9.0

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