Positives

Speedy fast charging
Great display
Improved cameras
Solid software
Top-tier performance

Negatives

So-so battery life
Cheap feeling design
T-Mobile exclusive IP68 rating
Poor camera zoom
Mixed 5G support

Rating
Battery
Display
Camera
Performance
Software
Design
Audio
Value
Bottom Line

The OnePlus 9 is a more comprehensive affordable flagship package than ever before. However, there are some familiar caveats necessary to keep the price down and it may not be the best value proposition on the market right now. Even so, this is definitely a phone that should be on your shortlist if you want amazing specs and a near-premium experience without breaking the bank.

9
by OnePlus

The OnePlus 9 is a more comprehensive affordable flagship package than ever before. However, there are some familiar caveats necessary to keep the price down and it may not be the best value proposition on the market right now. Even so, this is definitely a phone that should be on your shortlist if you want amazing specs and a near-premium experience without breaking the bank.

The OnePlus 9 has a lot to live up to this year. It’s the value option for fans, in lieu of the OnePlus 9 Pro — the most expensive OnePlus handset to date. At the same time, it also has to fend off increasingly competitive affordable flagship models from the likes of Apple and Samsung.

To buff up its flagship credentials, OnePlus has teamed up with premium camera brand Hasselblad to dial in the camera’s color profile. Historically, cameras have been a weak point for OnePlus smartphones, particularly at launch. With a usual assortment of other high-end hardware onboard, the OnePlus 9 sounds like the phone that fans have been waiting for. Let’s find out if that’s the case in this OnePlus 9 review.

$729 .00
OnePlus 9
Buy it Now
OnePlus 9 Buy it Now
$729 .00
About this OnePlus 9 review: I tested the OnePlus 9 over a period of five days. It was running Oxygen OS 11.2.1.1 on the February 2021 security patch. The review unit was provided by OnePlus for the purposes of this review

What you need to know about the OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 review above

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • OnePlus 9 (8GB/128GB): $729/£629/€699/Rs. 49,999
  • OnePlus 9 (12GB/256GB): $829/£729/€799/Rs. 54,999

The OnePlus 9 is the more affordable sibling to this year’s OnePlus 9 Pro. While the phone costs $20 more than last year’s OnePlus 8, it’s still charged with upholding the brand’s more traditional value for money proposition. With Qualcomm’s top-tier Snapdragon 888 processor on board, a high-end display, cutting-edge charging tech, and a new camera setup tweaked in partnership with Hasselblad, it’s undoubtedly a high-end package.

See also: Everything you need to know about OnePlus

But OnePlus has, of course, cut a few corners to keep the handset a little more budget-friendly. Compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro, there’s no IP water and dust resistance rating, no telephoto camera, a lower resolution display, and no blazing fast wireless charging in the OnePlus 9. Still, those aren’t terrible trade-offs to save $240.

The OnePlus 9 is available in North America, Europe, India, Hong Kong, and China. The handset comes in three colorways: Arctic Sky, Astral Black, and Winter Mist.


Design: It’s all about appearances

OnePlus 9 review back

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Gorilla Glass 5 (front and back), fiberglass-reinforced polymer (frame)
  • 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm
  • 192g
  • In-display fingerprint sensor
  • Alert slider
  • T-Mobile exclusive IP68 rating
  • Stereo speakers
  • Winter Mist, Arctic Sky, Astral Black color options

The OnePlus 9 sports a new look but it won’t feel too alien for OnePlus fans. While the rear camera housing — complete with Hasselblad branding — is new, the phone still includes OnePlus design staples. This includes the physical alert slider, a punch-hole selfie camera, and stereo speakers — the latter of which are reasonable for a tune but lack bass frequency below 120Hz.

The OnePlus 9 sports a new look but keeps a few design staples.

The design is a little thicker than last year’s OnePlus 8 and the flat display doesn’t have the thinnest bezels around. But the real letdown is the back and frame. There’s Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the back but it has the feel of quite cheap plastic. It’s also a bit of a fingerprint magnet. The poor feel in the hand definitely detracts from an otherwise solid design.

Likewise, there’s no IP rating for water and dust resistance, unlike the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro. That is unless you buy the handset from T-Mobile in the US, in which case you’ll receive an IP68 rating. The handset does include an in-display fingerprint reader that’s snappy enough, although it might be placed a little low in the display for some. There’s also face unlock technology should you prefer, although this is only based on the selfie camera rather than any dedicated hardware. That means it’s distinctly less secure than other hardware-based alternatives.

The OnePlus 9 certainly looks the part, but the small details give away the fact that this is not quite a premium-tier smartphone.


Display: Don’t fix what isn’t broken

OnePlus 9 review never settle

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • 6.55-inch AMOLED display with punch-hole
  • 2,400 x 1,080 resolution
  • 402 PPI
  • 20:9 aspect ratio, 120Hz refresh rate

The OnePlus 9 offers the same flat AMOLED display as the OnePlus 8T, which we highly rated. There’s an FHD+ resolution, claims of 1,100 nits of peak brightness, HDR10+ certification, and a 120Hz refresh rate. The display is silky smooth scrolling through apps, although the phone switches down to 60Hz automatically based on some apps that don’t support faster display refresh rates, such as YouTube. You can also lock the phone to 60Hz to help save battery life if you wish.

OnePlus has built a reputation for great-looking displays in the past few years and I certainly don’t have any complaints about the look of this panel. Video playback and still images look great and I personally think that an FHD+ resolution is crisp enough for pretty much everything even with this display size. Although obviously, a QHD+ option wouldn’t hurt.

The OnePlus 9's display is a winner at this price.

Colors are vibrant but not oversaturated, the display is bright enough for outdoor viewing and HDR content, and the color temperature looks spot on. If you like tweaking the look of your phone’s display, OnePlus includes Wide Gamut, sRGB, and DCI-P3 color space presets, as well as a color temperature toggle. My only complaint is that the display’s auto-brightness feature is sometimes conservatively dim compared to other phones, particularly when indoors. This is likely designed to save battery life but I occasionally found myself overriding the auto-brightness setting to avoid reflections.

It may lack the fancy QHD+, curved, LTPO-backed panel found on the OnePlus 9 Pro, but the OnePlus 9’s display is still a winner at this price.


Performance: Leading the pack

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Adreno 680
  • 8GB/12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB/256GB storage

As you’d expect from a phone packing in the latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 and a 120Hz display, day-to-day performance with the OnePlus 9 feels faster than ever. Apps are super snappy to open, scrolling through web pages looks great and is highly responsive, and the handset will handle anything you throw at it including intensive 3D gaming. Even though there’s no microSD card slot, the 128GB and 256GB storage options should have most users covered for years worth of pictures and videos.

Running through a few benchmarks, the OnePlus 9 places right at the top of the pack compared to the majority of its Android rivals. It regularly edged out the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro, both of which feature the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. However, some benchmarks results were a little inconsistent, hinting that the phone may not sustain its peak performance for longer sessions.

The above being said, the OnePlus 9 aggressively downclocks its processing capabilities at low battery levels in order to extend the screen on time. This happens regardless of whether you enable the battery-saving feature. Performance doesn’t scale back far enough to cause noticeable stuttering with basic apps, but it’s something to consider if you’re a high-performance gamer or a power user who demands peak performance from their phone at all times.

Turning to networking, there’s no 5G mmWave support here. The OnePlus 9 supports a decent selection of sub-6GHz 5G bands, although these vary a bit from region to region. The China and India variants support significantly fewer 5G bands than their European and North American equivalents. Even though India isn’t set to receive 5G until next year, it’s definitely something to think about with regards to future-proofing or if you want to make the most of fast data while roaming. US 5G support was a little messy at launch, as the phone fully supported T-Mobile’s 5G network and was later confirmed to be supported by Verizon. So far, there’s no official word on AT&T, however. This situation may change later, although obviously, the phone will never support mmWave bands.

With Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 on board, transferring files over the air is super fast. For fans of wireless audio, the OnePlus 9 supports Qualcomm aptX, aptX HD, Sony’s LDAC, and AAC Bluetooth audio codecs.


Battery: Fortunately fast to charge

OnePlus 9 review Warp Charge 65T

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • 4,500mAh
  • Warp Charge 65T
  • 15W Qi wireless charging (North America and Europe only)

Performance throttling at low battery levels and dim auto-brightness hints that OnePlus is concerned about maximizing screen-on time with the OnePlus 9. That’s a fair concern too, as the handset definitely isn’t as solid here as the 4,500mAh battery capacity would suggest. I’m a moderate user and made it through a full day of photography, video watching, and web browsing. I certainly wouldn’t call the battery life bad, but the OnePlus 9 couldn’t quite take me into a second day of use.

Running demanding apps like benchmarks and 3D games eats away at the battery in big chunks, so heavy gamers might even struggle to make it through a full day. Dropping the display down to 60Hz improves things considerably, but that’s not a great trade-off to have to make.

Fortunately, the handset is fast to charge. OnePlus’ Warp Charge 65T provides up to 65W of power to the OnePlus 9, achieving a full charge in just under 29 minutes in my test. The battery stays within reasonable temperatures, peaking at 36.6°C on a cool day. Although I am a little worried the battery might hit 40°C on a warmer day, which would negatively impact battery life even further in the long term. The OnePlus 9 also plays nicely with USB Power Delivery chargers, taking in 25W of power that will still charge up the phone in a little over an hour and a half.

Charging tech is definitely one of the OnePlus 9's greatest strengths.

The Warp Charge 65T charger in the box also supports USB Power Delivery and its Programmable Power Supply variant and can supply up to 45W of power to compatible laptops and other smartphones. It’s a very good charger for all your other USB-C devices, so kudos to OnePlus here.

The OnePlus 9 also supports Qi wireless charging at up to 15W depending on the capabilities of the charging pad. It’s a nice and often needed touch for keeping the handset topped up throughout the day. Reverse wireless charging is also handy for topping up low-power wireless gadgets like compatible earbuds. Unfortunately, both types of wireless charging are only available to buyers in North America or Europe.

Overall, charging tech is definitely one of the OnePlus 9’s greatest strengths.


Camera: Great wide-angle, awful zoom

OnePlus 9 review cameras

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • 48MP EIS (f/1.8, 1.12μm, 1/1.43-inch)
  • 50MP ultra-wide ( f/2.2, 1/1.56-inch)
  • 2MP monochrome camera
  • Front: 16MP EIS fixed focus (f/2.4, 1.0μm)
  • Video: 8K at 30fps, 4K at 30/60fps

OnePlus has never quite nailed its camera experience on day one but this year’s much-touted partnership with Hasselblad seems to have made a difference. With a 48MP main Sony IMX689 sensor, 50MP wide-angle Sony IMX766 camera (same as the OnePlus 9 Pro and Oppo Find X3 Pro), and 2MP monochrome sensor, the OnePlus 9 can take some seriously good-looking snaps in certain circumstances.

See also: The best camera phones you can get

Looking at a quick selection of snaps, colors and details are generally very good and definitely a step up from previous OnePlus phones. That said, the phone still tends to underexposure landscape shots, the HDR effect is still a little inconsistent, and focusing at close range is an issue without using the macro/wide-angle lens.

Nightscape on Nightscape off Nightscape on
Nightscape off
Wide-angle Nightscape on Wide-angle Nightscape off Wide-angle Nightscape on
Wide-angle Nightscape off

Low light looks pretty great also, with very good exposure given the circumstances. Although you can often make out blurry edges from long exposure and multi-frame stitching. Details aren’t as strong as in daylight snaps but the Nightscape mode pitches in and overall results are very good.

Pictures look great but close-up shots rely on the wide-angle camera for focus.

It’s unfortunate that OnePlus didn’t see fit to use the same sensor for both the main and wide-angle sensors. There’s a subtle but noticeable difference in colors, exposure, and detail when switching between the two cameras. See the examples below:

Wide-angle camera Main camera Wide-angle camera
Main camera
Wide-angle camera Main camera Wide-angle camera
Main camera

At just 2MP, the monochrome camera is very low resolution. Instead of direct capture, it pitches in to help out the main camera take black and white pictures. The results look pleasing, although it’s not clear how much of a difference the monochrome camera really makes to the mode.

The OnePlus 9 doesn’t feature a telephoto camera. This might not be a problem if you mostly prefer wide-angle images. However, the zoom quality is so poor for a digital zoom at anything beyond 2x that the absence of dedicated hardware is keenly felt. At 3x and beyond, images appear blurry, lack detail, and are frankly mostly terrible.

Zoom pictures at 4x look particularly broken. I consistently noticed color artifacts, smudging, and lens distortion in this mode, hinting at a direct crop from the sensor’s 48MP rather than pixel-binned 12MP output. OnePlus may be able to fix its zoom processing with a software patch, but who knows when or if that will happen. It’s a shame because this issue ruins the camera’s versatility and makes it much harder to recommend.

Thankfully selfie pictures look much better, both indoor and outdoor. Skin textures and tones are better than most cameras and OnePlus doesn’t slap on too much softening or smoothening. I quite like the look of OnePlus’ bokeh effect, which is soft and produces a natural fade. Although it clearly has its limitations when depth mapping stray strands of hair and you can’t adjust the level of blur. The selfie camera fairs much worse in low light, resulting in very noisy, dark images.

Video quality follows a similar pattern. Daylight capture looks very good from both cameras, which you can switch in and out of dynamically. It’s just a shame you can’t use the excellent Super Steady option with the wide-angle camera. Low light video performance is underexposed but still reasonable from the main camera. Sadly the wide-angle camera is too dark to use once the lights go down.

The OnePlus 9 can take some seriously good-looking snaps

Finally, the OnePlus 9 camera app has everything you need to customize the look of your photos. There’s a selection of filters, high-res shooting mode, timers, and a pro photography option with RAW support. Everything is where you want it to be, although I have no idea when anyone would really use the tilt-shift feature. Sadly, pro video is absent so there’s less control for the more serious videographer.

Overall I’m quite impressed with the improvements to OnePlus’ camera setup. Although as you can see, it’s still not faultless. You can check out the full-resolution camera samples in this Google Drive folder.


Software: Simple yet sophisticated

OnePlus 9 review default apps

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority
  • Android 11
  • Oxygen OS 11
  • Two years of OS updates, three years of security support

Oxygen OS 11 has proven to be OnePlus’ most contentious Android skin to date. Fans of the series haven’t been too happy with the departure from a stock-like approach to Android. Whether you like or dislike the UI overhaul, there’s no denying that OnePlus is cramming more of its own vision into its latest smartphone software.

Read more: Android 11 on OnePlus: Hands-on with all the new OxygenOS 11 features

Thankfully there’s not a lot of “bloatware” out of the box. You’ll find the usual set of Google and OnePlus apps to cater to the basic smartphone experience. You’ll also receive a Play Store notification until you download Google Pay, Google News, Google Podcasts, and Google One. Netflix and YouTube Music are also pre-installed and, irritatingly, these two apps can only be disabled rather than uninstalled.

Oxygen OS 11 is more heavily saturated with flamboyant animations than stock Android, including its own take on fronts, icons, and colors. The designers seem particularly fond of the repetitive tone that chimes for virtually every touch action. Thankfully you can disable this in the Settings.

OnePlus’ other custom software features are reasonably well thought out. Zen Mode features three new themes and a new group feature if you need help putting your phone down for a while. Skin options and the always-on display are highly customizable with a selection of colors, layouts, and more. There are so many options here to help make the phone your own, almost too many. On top of that, there are dark and reading mode options that do exactly what you’d expect of them.

OnePlus 9 review Zen Mode

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Oxygen OS 11 is definitely not “stock Android” but who wants a barebones experience these days? Even Google’s Pixel isn’t stock AOSP. OnePlus is moving beyond hardware to carve out its smartphone identity with software as well. Oxygen OS 11 might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s still a functional and fairly unintrusive take on the Android operating system.

The final point to consider is ongoing support. OnePlus has been one of the fastest to update its phones to the latest version of Android in recent years. The company has previously promised two years of Android OS and three years of security updates for its new smartphones. That’s a year less than Google and Samsung now promises for their latest smartphones.


OnePlus 9 specs

 OnePlus 9OnePlus 9 Pro
Display6.55-inch flat AMOLED
20:9 aspect ratio
2,400 x 1,080 at 402ppi
120Hz refresh rate (static)
6.7-inch curved LTPO AMOLED
20.1:9 aspect ratio
3,216 x 1,440 at 525ppi
120Hz refresh rate (adaptive)
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 888Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAMMin: 8GB LPDDR5
Max: 12GB LPDDR5
Min: 8GB LPDDR5
Max: 12GB LPDDR5
StorageMin: 128GB UFS 3.1
Max: 256GB UFS 3.1
No external storage support
Min: 128GB UFS 3.1
Max: 256GB UFS 3.1
No external storage support
Power4,500mAh battery

Warp Charge 65T
65W charger in box

15W Qi-compatible wireless charging
(Wireless only in NA/Europe)
4,500mAh battery

Warp Charge 65T
65W charger in box

Warp Charge 50 Wireless
10V/6.5A, 20V/3.25A
Output: 50W (with prop. charging stand)
PortsUSB-C 3.1 Gen 1
No 3.5mm headphone jack
No microSD card slot
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
No 3.5mm headphone jack
No microSD card slot
Connectivity5G support
Wi-Fi 6 support
2x2 MIMO
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
NFC support
Bluetooth 5.2
5G support
Wi-Fi 6 support
2x2 MIMO
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
NFC support
Bluetooth 5.2
CamerasRear:
1) 48MP main (Sony IMX689)
1/1.43-inch sensor
1.12μm/46MP or 2.24μm/12MP
ƒ/1.8, EIS

2) 50MP ultra-wide (Sony IMX766)
1/1.56-inch sensor
ƒ/2.2

3) 2MP monochrome

Front:
- 16MP single (Sony IMX471)
1.0μm with EIS
ƒ/2.4, fixed focus
Rear:
1) 48MP main (Sony IMX789)
1/1.43-inch sensor
1.12μm/46MP or 2.24μm/12MP
ƒ/1.8, EIS, OIS

2) 50MP ultra-wide (Sony IMX766)
1/1.56-inch sensor
ƒ/2.2

3) 8MP telephoto
1.0μm, ƒ/2.4

4) 2MP monochrome

Front:
- 16MP single (Sony IMX471)
1.0μm with EIS
ƒ/2.4, fixed focus
Video8K at 30fps
4K at 30 or 60fps
Super slo-mo at 720p/480fps or 1080p/240fps
Time lapse at 1080p/30fps or 4k/30fps
8K at 30fps
4K at 30, 60, or 120fps
Super slo-mo at 720p/480fps or 1080p/240fps
Time lapse at 1080p/30fps or 4k/30fps
AudioBluetooth 5.2
aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC
Dual stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos
Bluetooth 5.2
aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC
Dual stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos
SecurityNo IP rating against water/dust
In-display fingerprint sensor
Face unlock (insecure)
IP68-rated
In-display fingerprint sensor
Face unlock (insecure)
SoftwareAndroid 11
Oxygen OS 11
Android 11
Oxygen OS 11
Dimensions and weightNA/Europe:
160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm
192g

India/China:
160 x 73.9 x 8.1mm
183g
Global:
163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
197g
ColorsWinter Mist, Arctic Sky, Astral
Black
Morning Mist, Pine Green, Stellar
Black

Value and competition

OnePlus 9 Value for money
The OnePlus 9 builds on generations of solid performance with an improved camera setup, wireless charging, and an assortment of other high-end technologies. It's not a cheap phone but still represents value for money.

At $20 more than the great OnePlus 8 but $20 less than the middling OnePlus 8T, the OnePlus 9 seems like a shoo-in for a great value pick. However, 2021 already has some stellar budget-friendly high-end smartphones to choose from that offer equally compelling value for money.

Related: The best Android phones you can buy

Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is the mainstream alternative and it’s just a fraction more expensive at $799. That marginal extra cash nets you an IP68 dust and water resistance rating, a dedicated telephoto camera, and the option of mmWave 5G in some regions. Some of the phone’s hardware may not be brand new, but Samsung offers a slightly more well-rounded package for just $70 more.

Likewise, the €749 (~$894) Xiaomi Mi 11 offers competitive specs and performance, with a well-built design and solid battery life. Again it’s just a little more than the OnePlus 9’s €699 European pricetag. More than ever, picking the OnePlus 9 boils down to whether the phone has the right balance of features rather than being outright better value dollar-for-dollar than any other phone on the market.

That said, the OnePlus 9 is an even better deal in the UK. Starting at just £629, the phone is £140 cheaper than Samsung’s flagship, which certainly helps to make up for the specification gap.


OnePlus 9 review: The verdict

OnePlus logo

Credit: Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Having spent a fair bit of time with the OnePlus 8, I can happily say that the OnePlus 9 is definitely an improvement on an already great formula. There’s the same killer performance onboard, with fewer gimmicks and more genuinely useful features. Wireless charging, an improved camera system, and solid software are all very welcome additions, especially at this price.

Unfortunately, this extra hardware has seen OnePlus’ prices creep up once again. Even the more affordable OnePlus 9 can’t claim to be the ultimate budget buy, priced as it is just $70 shy of Samsung’s Galaxy S21. With so-so battery life, poor camera zoom, and no IP rating, I’d be more tempted to spend my money with Samsung this year.

The OnePlus 9 is the brand's most comprehensive affordable flagship, but you still can't have it all at this price.

As such, the OnePlus 9 is most likely to appeal to brand enthusiasts first and foremost. It sports the same design, Hasselbrand branding, and other tagline features like a 120Hz display and ultra-fast charging as the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro. It’s as close as you can get without spending 9 Pro money, although fans will have to accept the compromises to the camera setup and build materials in exchange for the more affordable price.

True to form, the OnePlus 9 means serious business in the hardware department. But once you get your hands on the phone, it’s clearly still a little rough around the edges. Even so, at $729 this is definitely a handset that should be on your shortlist if you want amazing specs and a near-premium experience without breaking the bank.

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