OnePlus 9 Review: The Flame for OnePlus Fan Moths
Last year, OnePlus went from being a flagship killer brand to a proper flagship brand. The company launched the OnePlus 8 with a price tag which definitely put the smartphone in the premium segment and took away OnePlus’ flagship killing rights. It is now that time of the year again, and OnePlus has launched the successor of the OnePlus 8, the OnePlus 9. The smartphone along with the OnePlus 9 Pro has arrived and both of them follow a very premium price and spec equation. While the Pro variant may have the more powerful specs, it is the comparatively more affordable price tag of the OnePlus 9 that could make it the flame for all OnePlus fan moths to follow.
Oh Hasselblad, Wow, Hasselblad…
In terms of camera specs, the OnePlus 9 brings a triple camera arrangement on the back. It consists of a 48-megapixel Sony IMX 689 sensor with EIS and f/1.8 aperture, and the same 50-megapixel ultra-wide Sony IMX 766 camera with f/2.2 aperture seen on the Pro version and a 2-megapixel monochrome sensor. But wait why are we talking of cameras right off? Well, because they have been perhaps the most highlighted aspect of the OnePlus 9.
There is a new partnership on the OnePlus block and this one has to do with tech instead of design and looks, unlike a number of partnerships the brand has had in the past. OnePlus has joined hands with one of the most legendary names in the camera space (pun intended), the Hasselblad. The OnePlus 9 series is the first of what is expected to be many in the future to come with a Hasselblad branding (it is a three-year partnership). As of now, the Hasselblad bit on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro has more to do with the software than with the camera sensor hardware (that’s mostly from Sony). OnePlus has incorporated Hasselblad’s color calibration technology called Natural Color Calibration on the phone. The software tweak aims to offer truer, more natural-looking colors in photographs taken by the OnePlus 9.
…where art thou, Hasselbad?
Now, OnePlus has generally produced pictures that have been on a slightly saturated side of the color spectrum. The warm tones look warmer and the color often seems slightly artificial as compared to reality. So when we heard that OnePlus has worked with Hasselblad and is bringing color calibration technology on the phone, we had high hopes. Unfortunately, those hopes and dreams were not quite realized. The images taken with the smartphone were anything but close to the real settings when it comes to colors. In the best OnePlus tradition, the phone reproduced color that was more vibrant and deeply contrasted than the natural settings. Yes, the rich contrast and the deep colors make the result more pleasing but the natural color that the brand promised does not really come through. At first, we blamed it on the Fluid AMOLED display but even when you look at results on a PC or another device, the difference in color reproduction will hit you right away.
We were also a little bothered by the fact that the Hasselblad effect was nowhere to be seen in the camera UI as such. The phone has a Pro mode which the brand claims is Hasselblad Pro mode but the UI does not say so. It seems similar to the basic Pro mode that you see on an OnePlus. We are not saying the Hasselblad work is not there but perhaps highlighting it more would have helped. Apart from the Hasselblad branding on the back, there literally is no way of knowing if the phones have any relation with Hasselblad at all unless one opts for the option to have a “Shot OnePlus x Hasselblad” watermark on pictures taken by the phone.
Good cameras overall!
Apart from the color reproduction, the OnePlus 9 performed quite decently in the camera department. The phone managed to capture a great amount of detail in well-lit conditions. The ultra-wide lens worked just as we expected it to. It captured a lot of detail even while capturing a really wide landscape shot which means one could zoom in and crop a landscape shot without ending up with a completely grainy, noisy mess – having a powerful, megapixel-heavy ultrawide sensor is a landscape snapper’s dream.
The low light performance of the OnePlus 9 is a step ahead of the OnePlus 8. Yes, the phone still has the tendency to make low-light, night shots look like they have been captured at twilight but the noise levels are comparatively lower. The Portrait mode on the phone is average at best. You have to be extremely patient for it to deliver a photo that manages to create a perfect blurred-out background with sharp edges. In most cases, the edges of the subject often get blurred in with the background which does not really make for an ideal portrait. Also, the phone has a tendency to dull down the colors a little in portrait mode, which is quite odd considering it generally delivers slightly oversaturated results.
Videos on the OnePlus 9 are on par with the OnePlus 8 in terms of sharpness and smoothness. The lack of OIS will bother those with shaky hands, though. EIS tries to cover up but does not do as fine a job. The absence of OIS is a bit of a letdown, considering OnePlus has been offering OIS even on its mid-segment smartphone, the OnePlus Nord.
On the front, there is a 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture. It has almost become the OnePlus tradition to put a 16-megapixel sensor on the front now (the Nord with its dual front cameras was an honorable exception). The camera does a good job. In fact, the colors produced by the front camera seem comparatively more natural and the details produced in well-lit conditions are good enough for the results to make it to any of your social media platforms.
Premium looks as usual
When it comes to design language, OnePlus has often kept it very clean. The brand brings the element of outstanding with its limited-edition smartphones but other than that, OnePlus smartphones follow a very clean, premium design language. That is the case with the OnePlus 9 as well. The smartphone has a very premium, luxurious look to it. We received the Winter Mist color variant which is a very lavender-y/ shiny lilac kind of color.
OnePlus 9 comes with a glossy glass back which is a smudge and scratch magnet. It is the sort of material that you would want to keep locked under a cover the moment you pull it out of the box. There is a rectangular-ish camera unit on the top left side of the back with a subtle Hasselblad branding on it and a OnePlus logo sits right in the middle of the back. The back curves out on the edges and sits very comfortably in hand. It is a little slippery and a moist hand plus that glossy back would be an open invitation to some bad falls if you are not careful. But if you keep it in a cover, it should be safe enough.
On the front, there is an exceptionally beautiful tall display. The display on the OnePlus 9 does not extend to the sides as it does on the Pro variant, but we did not really mind that. It is circumference-d by really thin bezels and a punch hole sits on the top left side of the display which houses the front camera. There is a metal finished frame that bridges the display and the back. It is bare on the top and carries the dual SIM card tray, the USB Type C port, and the stereo speakers on the base. There is a volume rocker on the left while a textured alert slider and a power/lock button sit on the right.
OnePlus has gone premium with its pricing and the OnePlus 9 will reflect just that with its design. We really love the Winter Mist color, the shade gives it a distinct look which when paired with a glossy glass back and gorgeous, the tall display makes the phone the perfect combination of style and edge.
An outstanding display
The OnePlus 9 comes with a 6.55-inch Fluid AMOLED full HD+ display with HDR10+ and 120 Hz refresh rate, and a maximum brightness of over a thousand nits. To call the display beautiful would be an understatement. The vibrant-colored, deep-contrast bearing, the tall display makes content viewing and gaming on the phone a pleasure. The smartphone comes with a 120 Hz refresh rate set as default and to save battery, the phone customizes the refresh rate as per the task the phone is performing at any given point in time. The display is also home to an in-display fingerprint scanner that sits near the base of the display.
The fingerprint scanner is fast and snappy and unlocks the phone every single time but the touch has to be quite a definite one. You cannot unlock it by just brushing your thumb over it. The smartphone also comes with stereo speakers. The audio on the OnePlus 9 is good but we have heard better on smartphones that cost lesser – still, it is always great to get stereo speakers (no 3.5 mm audio jack, though). The phone does not come with an IP rating which is a bit of let down especially considering the price tag.
Smooth, speedy performance…again as usual!
One of the strongest suits of OnePlus smartphones has been performance. The flagship (once flagship killer) devices come with best-in-class processors paired with a massive amount of RAM which basically spell great performance in most smartphone books. OnePlus has followed the exact same mantra for the OnePlus 9. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, making it one of the first devices in the country, to run on the latest flagship processor by Qualcomm. The muscle-y chipset is paired with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. There is an 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage variant too. The storage cannot be expanded, though – another OnePlus tradition.
The OnePlus 9 in short, has all it takes to be a smooth sailor. And the device did not disappoint us. It glided through our daily chores like a hot knife through butter. We jumped from apps to apps, and the phone did not have a problem keeping up. From constant mail fetches to extensive messaging sessions to reckless and aimless social media scrolling, the smartphone handled it all with grace.
The same breezy performance was expected in the gaming department and the OnePlus 9 followed through. Both casual and high-end gaming were a delight on the device. Games like Spearman, Alto’s Odyssey were a treat on that tall, vibrant display and so were high-end and power-hungry games like Asphalt 9 and Call of Duty. Detailed graphics were handled impressively and the phone did not have any hiccups or lags during the games. It also did not heat up when we pushed, which again is a plus point.
Them Warp Charge feels
The OnePlus 9 is powered by a 4,500 mAh battery which can easily last for more than a day – very impressive considering that it comes with a big, bright display with a high refresh rate. The smartphone comes with support for OnePlus’ Warp Charge technology and is paired with a 65 W charger in the box. As per the company’s claims, the phone can get from zero to 100 percent charge in under 30 minutes but our unit took a little more than – which is extremely forgivable (what’s a few minutes here and there when you are living in the ultra-fast Warp Charge ane). Unfortunately, unlike its Pro avatar, the OnePlus 9 does not bring wireless charging to the table, which is a bummer considering the price of the phone, and the fact that international variants of the phone will support wireless charging.
A breath for Oxygen for U(and)I
The OnePlus 9 comes with Android 11 out of the box which is layered with OnePlus’ in-house Oxygen UI. We rarely have had any complaints with OnePlus when it comes to UI. Yes, the brand is a tad more enthusiastic about UI updates than we would like, but it also shows that the brand is working on bettering the software constantly, which is a major plus in our books. In the best OnePlus tradition, the phone comes with a clean yet feature-rich UI that is very enabling and familiar. Yes, it is changing and getting a little more crowded than in the past, but in terms of being clutter-free, it remains one of the best Android skins that we have seen.
Looking for a top of the line flagship right now? This!
With a starting price of Rs 49,999, the OnePlus 9 settles nicely into the premium segment. Yes, it is not as insanely affordable as the OnePlus devices of the past, but the smartphone comes with an exceptional display, stellar performance, and premium design. Indeed, the only other phone with a Snapdragon 888 processor right now is the very gamer-centric Asus ROG Phone 5, which is not really a mainstream phone.
As of now, most of the competition that the OnePlus 9 is likely to face comes from slightly older flagships like the Mi 10i (still formidable) and the Galaxy S20 and S20 Plus. Yes, we did expect a little more from the Hasselblad partnership, but even then, the OnePlus 9 is easily the best option for anyone looking for a top-of-the-line smartphone with a flagship-level chipset. Many might not be used to shelling out such a large amount of money on a OnePlus, but the OnePlus 9 has the potential to change their mind.
- Premium design
- Exceptional display
- Fast charging
- Stellar performance
- No IP rating
- No OIS
- No wireless charging
- No apparent Hasselblad effect
|Build & design|
The OnePlus 9 is not as powerfully specced as the OnePlus 9 Pro, but it still comes with a brilliant display and the most powerful mobile processor around. At its price, the OnePlus 9 is easily the best top-of-the-line flagship for anyone who does not have the bucks to go for the more powerfully specced OnePlus 9 Pro or the Galaxy S21 series.