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OnePlus 9 Review: A Flagship That Compromises On Flagship Features
OnePlus 9-series brings three new devices- OnePlus 9R, OnePlus 9, and the OnePlus 9 Pro. Now if you add the previously launched Oneplus Nord to the equation, you will see that the brand has very smartly placed one phone at every price bracket to offer more options to the Indian consumers.
- Premium Looks & Good Ergonomics
- Vivid 120Hz AMOLED Display
- Excellent Wide-Angle Camera Performance
- Good Low-light Camera Performance
- Best-in-class 65W Fast-Charging
- Good Sounding Speakers
- Lacks OIS On Main Camera
- Lacks Telephoto Sensor
- No QHD+ Display
- Lacks IP Rating
- Lacks Wireless Charging
- Average Selfie Camera
- Restricted Camera App (No Pro Video Mode, Dated native photo/Video editing app)
Starting with the Nord, all these devices are 5G-enabled, bring cutting-edge hardware, and also promise to deliver on the software front with the OxygenOS custom skin. We have already reviewed the OnePlus Nord and the top-of-the-line OnePlus 9 Pro. While these handsets are not perfect, both proved to be one of the best in their respective price segments.
Today, we are taking a closer look at the vanilla OnePlus 9. Priced at Rs. 49,999 for the base variant, the smartphone tries to find a balance between the two Pro variants- i.e. the OnePlus 8 Pro and the 9 Pro. Should you spend 50K on the OnePlus 9 or settle for last years' Pro variant or the OnePlus 8T? Let's find out.
Design And Display- Looks Like OnePus 9 Pro, feels Like OnePlus 8T
The OnePlus 9 resembles the OnePlus 9 Pro but feels more like the OnePlus 8T. It has the new Hasselblad camera module and some exciting new colors, but the in-hand feel and ergonomics match the older OnePlus 8T. Resultant, the OnePlus 9 offers a better one-hand fit. It's lighter (183g) and easier to manage than its premium sibling, which can be a good reason to consider buying it. However, you must also know about the glaring compromises OnePlus has made before making the decision.
The OnePlus 9 lacks an official IP rating and wireless charging, which is quite disappointing at a premium price. And what's more annoying is the fact that OnePlus seems to be offering these two crucial features on the global OnePlus 9 variants selling outside the Indian market. This makes no sense at all for Indian users to pay a huge premium to buy the Indian variant of the OnePlus 9 that lacks two very important features on a flagship device.
Things get even weirder when you realize that the OnePlus 8 Pro (currently selling at Rs. 54,999) is IP68 water-dust resistant and also offers wireless charging. That said, if you desire these two features on your handset, you must think about considering the OnePlus 8 Pro as it is equally powerful and brings some extra features to the table.
Good Overall Screen But Could Have Been Better At Rs. 50K
The OnePlus 9 flaunts the same 8-bit HDR10-enabled FHD+ AMOLED screen that we have tested on the OnePlus 8T. The 6.55-inch 1080p screen (2400 x 1080 pixels 402 PPI) offers a fluid 120Hz refresh rate and has excellent peak brightness levels. It also excels in color reproduction and offers immersive gameplay and video playback, something we expect from a phone priced at Rs. 50,000.
120Hz Refresh Rate, FHD+ Resolution, Gorilla Glass 5
And while it's an excellent overall screen, it is still a notch down from the OnePlus 9 Pro's QHD+ LTPO OLED panel in terms of crispness and user experience. The curved QHD+ panel on the OnePlus 9 Pro feels much sharper and premium. We are not complaining much because there's a huge price difference between the two phones; however, OnePlus could have done better at 50K price as the OnePlus 9 has been shipped with an older generation screen at an increased price. Moreover, the screen also lacks the latest Corning Gorilla Glass layer and ships with the dated Gorilla Glass 5.
The OnePlus 9's main camera is taken from the OnePlus 8 Pro (minus the stabilized hardware) and has been combined with the new 50MP ultra-wide-angle camera, the one we have tested on the OnePlus 9 Pro. There's no telephoto lens on the OnePlus 9 and surprisingly, this 50K phone lacks a hardware-backed stabilization. Similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9 also gets the 2MP monochrome sensor and Hasselblad's 'Natural Color Calibration'.
Overall, the OnePlus 9's camera hardware is a mix of the OnePlus 8 Pro and the OnePlus 9 Pro, minus the OIS. Before we talk about the camera performance, below are the camera specifications at a glance.
Main Camera: 48MP EIS-enabled Sony IMX689 Sensor, 1/1.43", Pixel Size: 1.12µm, Focal Length: 23mm equivalent, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, 12-bit RAW output
Wide-Angle Camera (Freeform Lens): 50MP Sony IMX766, 1/1.56", Focal Length: 14mm equivalent, Aperture: ƒ/2.2
Monochrome Camera: 2MP Sensor
Front Camera: 16MP Fixed-Focus EIS-enabled Sony IMX471 Sensor, Pixel Size: 1.0 µm, Aperture: ƒ/2.4
Video Recording: Rear Camera- 8K video at 30fps, 4K video at 30/60fps, 1080p video at 30/60 fps, Super Slow Motion: 1080p video at 240 fps, 720p video at 480 fps, Time-Lapse: 1080p at 30fps, 4k at 30 fps, Front Camera- 1080p video at 30 fps, Time-Lapse
Camera Modes & Features: Nightscape, Super Macro, UltraShot HDR, Smart Scene Recognition, Portrait mode, Pro mode, Panorama, Tilt-shift mode, Focus Peaking, Cat/Dog Face Focus, Raw file, Filters, Super Stable, Video Nightscape, Video HDR, Video Portrait, Focus Tracking, Timelapse, Hyperlapse
OnePlus 9 Daylight Camera Performance
Starting with the daylight camera samples, the images mostly come out clean with decent details despite being just 12MP in resolution. The color output is impressive but I noticed unpleasant sharpness to cover up the loss in detail. Also, the camera on the OnePlus 9 tends to favor the greens and yellows in daylight and adds more contrast and saturation. Resultant, the trees and anything in yellow look extra punchy in daylight samples.
The OnePlus 9's camera struggles to get the skin tones right in complex lighting. The camera sometimes added weird hues of red and yellow patches on the face, which seemed like a case of excessive HDR and over-sharpening.
Wide-Angle Lens Output
Similar to its elder sibling, the OnePlus 9 is also an excellent phone for landscape and street photography. The 50MP wide-angle camera captures excellent pictures. The distortion is kept minimal; thanks to the Freeform nature of the lens that reduces the effect at the hardware level. The big camera sensor captures crisp images with plenty of details (12.5-megapixel); however, I could again see over-sharpening with both indoor and outdoor pictures. The wide-angle lens also delivers good pictures in low-light scenarios. This sensor can also shoot macros and results are mostly good.
No OIS and No Telephoto Sensor Is Disappointing
Since there's no dedicated telephoto sensor on the OnePlus 9, the phone uses the 48MP main sensor to capture 2x shots and to achieve 10x digital zoom. The results are mostly average and not something to boast about. Even the 2x images have soft details and fail to impress. Lastly, the 10x digitally zoomed shots are extremely disappointing. Since there's no OIS, the shots mostly come out blurry and lack details.
OnePlus should have offered a dedicated telephoto sensor instead of adding a mostly useless 2MP monochrome camera that adds very little value to the overall camera setup. While the 2MP assists the primary sensor in capturing crisp black & white shots, similar results can be produced by simply adding the monochrome layer from the filters in the gallery app or from any third-party app.
Low-Light Camera And Video Recording
What impressed me most is the low-light output. Even without enabling the night mode, the camera captures impressive low-light shots and with good exposure and realistic colors. The nighttime pictures come out clean, vibrant, and showed good details. Even the wide-angle images look as good as images shot from the primary sensor.
Moving on, the OnePlus 9 is a good video recording device; however, the camera app feels very restrictive. The 4K and 1080p videos look crisp and have plenty of details and a decent dynamic range. Most impressive is the 4k 60fps wide-angle videos from the 50MP sensor. Sadly, there's no OIS and no pro video mode which restricts the phone's usage as a nighttime video recording device.
And lastly, the OnePlus 9 is a pretty average selfie smartphone. The dated 16MP front-facing fixed-focus camera only performs in ample lighting. The lack of autofocus and dedicated night mode makes it a poor nighttime selfie camera.
Hardware And Software Performance
There are no compromises made in the hardware department. Similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9 is also powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC that is offered on the OnePlus 9 Pro. We tested the 12GB + 256GB variant of the handset and did not experience any performance-related issues. The smartphone feels blazingly fast and super responsive irrespective of the number of apps running in the background.
Surprisingly, the OnePlus 9 performed better than its premium sibling in most cases. For instance, we did not face the annoying camera malfunctioning bug and consequent heating issues that haunt our OnePlus 9 Pro unit. The phone has fewer software bugs than the Pro variant. The UI is extremely responsive and less buggy on the OnePlus 9. We received one OxygenOS update and things have been running smoothly so far.
We also haven't come across any app crashes on the OnePlus 9 and the software experience has been very refined in our review duration. It seems the OnePlus 9 is far better optimized than the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Better Thermals Than The OnePlus 9 Pro
The gaming experience has also been smooth so far with the phone heating up only with long gameplay sessions and continuous video playback. The OnePlus 9 has better thermals than its premium sibling, which makes sense as the Adreno 660 GPU only has to push graphics to an FHD+ panel and not on the QHD+ screen. Besides, the in-screen fingerprint scanner is snappy and accurate.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 seems to be more consistent and reliable than the OnePlus 9 Pro in terms of pure performance. It makes better use of the flagship SD888 chipset and the software experience also seems to be more refined on the handset.
Moving on, the OnePlus 9 also performed slightly better than the OnePlus 9 Pro in the battery department. Powered by the same 4,500mAh battery cell, along with 65W fast charging, the phone easily survived a day on a similar usage pattern. The battery drain time is longer with video calling, multimedia streaming, and gameplay as compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The OnePlus 9 Pro's bigger display (despite running at FHD+) seems to be the culprit of slightly inferior battery life. The phone recharges in less than 30 minutes, thanks to the crazy fast 65W fast charger. Once you get used to such fast-charging speeds, there's no turning back.
Similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9 is also one of the best-sounding smartphones in its respective price bracket. The dual-speaker setup aces the audio performance, both with clarity, loudness. The bottom-firing speaker and the earpiece that also doubles up as the secondary speaker produces loud and clear sound with a well pronounced stereo effect. You can enjoy multimedia and gameplay even if you don't have earphones/headphones handy.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the OnePlus 9's X60 5G modem supports two 5G bands in India- N41, 78 (SA and NSA). The phone has a dual-SIM card tray, Type-C Port, Bluetooth 5.2 (aptX & aptX HD & LDAC & AAC), NFC, and Wi-Fi 6 (2.4G/5G). I did not face any call-related connectivity issues on Vodafone 4G network in the Delhi-NCR region.
The OnePlus 9 is a good overall phone but I find it hard to recommend it to anyone looking for a true flagship experience. Yes, it excels in the hardware-software performance but so does every other flagship phone selling at 50K. The OnePlus 9 makes some major compromises which makes it an overall inferior device in its price bracket. The phone lacks an official IP rating.
There's no hardware-backed (OIS) stabilization on this phone and the camera app itself is very restrictive. And if you fancy a QHD+ panel, it's not there on the OnePlus 9. Even the OnePlus 8 Pro seems like a better overall package than the OnePlus 9 at various levels. It has an IP68 rated body, QHD+ display, full-metal design (if it concerns you), and OIS-enabled cameras. And trust me; the only good thing about the OnePlus 9 cameras is the wide-angle lens and not the Hasselblad's camera tuning.
I would have recommended the Vivo X60 Pro but then it also lacks the IP rating at a premium price. What we are left with is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, which I am yet to test; however, it seems like a better overall bargain than the OnePlus 9. In a nutshell, the OnePlus 9 isn't the most ideal flagship at Rs. 50,000. The high price and notable omissions make it harder for us to recommend it to power users who wants a no-compromise flagship smartphone.