Last year was a bit of a blip in the OnePlus phone bandwagon. If we may even call it a blip, that is. When it was time for the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro to be succeeded, all that came along was the OnePlus 8T. Very competent phone, absolutely no doubt about it and was a genuine successor as successors should be. Yet, there wasn’t a ‘Pro’ variant. Something that logically succeeded the OnePlus 8 Pro. Now finally, half a year later, we have the complete picture again. The OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro return as a pair, in what is OnePlus’s latest pitch for the Android flagship smartphone space. The positioning remains as simple and complex as before. The OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro are at par on the core specs as far as the performance and the software bit of things are concerned, but there are certain features that the more affordable OnePlus 9 misses along the way. Yet, what it misses out on really is more of a spec sheet comparison, and in the real world, is indeed a really slick package to have.
Explaining The OnePlus 9 Variants
The OnePlus 9 sits one rung below the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro, and above the OnePlus 9R, in the latest OnePlus smartphone pricing stakes. The OnePlus 9 gets two RAM and two storage options. That’s 8GB and 12GB of RAM and your choice between 128GB and 256GB RAM. So, your choices are between the 8GB+128GB configuration that is priced at Rs 49,999 and the 12GB+256GB configuration which costs Rs 54,999. Both variants can be had in all three colours—Arctic Sky, Winter Mist and Astral Black. In a way, the OnePlus 9 seriously undercuts the Samsung Galaxy S21 (prices start Rs 69,999), has the newness advantage over the Xiaomi Mi 10 (prices start Rs 49,999) and is definitely better than the Oppo Find X2 (around Rs 57,990) at least on the spec sheet.
OnePlus 9 Design: World Has Evolved From A Love for Glossy Phones To Matte Finishes
The OnePlus 9 design language is a rather interesting mix. The more you look at it, the more you realise that it is still very much holding on to the past to give you a phone design that is typically OnePlus. Yet, there is a lot of newness to it too, a genuine freshening up of the design and a more modern take on what an Android flagship phone should look like. One look at the OnePlus 9, and even if you don’t know the exact identity of the phone, you just know it’s a OnePlus phone. This measures just 8.1mm in thickness, which makes this thinner than its 8.4mm predecessor. This also tips the scales at 183 grams, that’s 5 grams lighter than before. The OnePlus 8T felt great to hold, the OnePlus 9 feels even more so. Its Gorilla Glass at the front and the back, which adds some amount of assuredness too, though not the latest Gorilla Glass Victus.
You can buy the OnePlus 9 in three colour options—that is, Winter Mist, Arctic Sky and Astral Black. The Winter Mist, that you see pictured here, gets what looks like a metallic pattern finish and a the colour is actually a mix of a shade of blue and purple, depending on how light falls on it. This also has the diffused mirror-esque look that Morning Mist on the OnePlus 9 Pro gets, at least the Winter Mist that we have here. Then there is Arctic Sky, which has a matte glass finish at the back—I strongly cling to the opinion that matte finishes do accentuate the colour of the phone better than shiny or glossy finishes, something this blue surely deserves. Last but not least is the Astral Black, which also gets a matte black finish that should do well enough to hide smudges and fingerprints, better than shiny phones. The OnePlus 9 has been built a bit differently compared with the OnePlus 9 Pro. This has what the company calls the fiberglass-reinforced polymer frame which is lighter than a traditional metal frame.
OnePlus 9 Performance: OnePlus 9 And OnePlus 9 Pro Are On The Same Platform, Mostly
The thing is, and this will matter to pretty much everyone considering buying the OnePlus 9, there is no difference between this and the OnePlus 9 Pro in terms of the core specs. That means this also gets the same latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, the 8GB and 12GB RAM options as well as the 128GB and 256GB storage choices. You should be fairly well stocked on the futureproofing aspect even with 8GB RAM, while 12GB gives you that much more bandwidth if you really intend to do heavy multitasking or gaming on the OnePlus 9. That being said, a lot of consumers have often opined that if there is a 12GB option available for a bit more money, why not stretch that extra and get more RAM. Hard to argue with that. What also helps the OnePlus 9 along the way is the really fast UFS 3.1 storage standard, which offers really fast data read and write speeds, all of which translates into really slick app performance. Then there is the TurboBoost 3.0 feature, which uses RAM compression and using the fast storage as virtual RAM to give you more space to leave more apps open in the background. For starters, you anyway have fantastic amounts of performance headroom available, whether it is 8GB RAM or 12GB RAM. But this gives you that layer of certainty that the system knows when to step in, if need be. This is a method we have seen before on Windows PCs too, with varying degrees of success.
OxygenOS remains incredibly intuitive to use, is silky smooth and just looks easy on the eye as well. There is no real visual change compared to last few iterations of OxygenOS, and that is great because this is already the cleanest and best-looking Android customization, this side of pure Android itself. It has been all about subtle tweaks and improvements for a while, and that evolution strategy is working quite well. The fonts, the layout and the generously left white spaces (or black spaces if you are in dark mode) really do put a smile on the face. It has similar niggles that I had also observed with the OnePlus 9 Pro. For instance, when using the Microsoft Edge web browser, tap on the search bar and the Gboard keyboard takes more than a couple of seconds to arrive on the scene. Have not noticed this behavior in other phones. Secondly, in the Gallery app, there is still no option for auto enhance editing—a lot of users prefer that, and it is something that flagship phones do tend to have. Third, when cropping an image using the edit tools in the Gallery, the borders are so thick that you can’t really make a fine adjustment with crops unless you’re really lucky.
OnePlus’s latest quest to make smartphone charging even faster leads is to the combination of Warp Charge 65T, which when you’re using the OnePlus charger, takes this from a fully discharged state to 100% in about 29 minutes. That’s a pretty rapid rate, no matter which way you look at it, for a 4500mAh battery. This is however where the first big change comes in, when compared with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The OnePlus 9 does not get Warp Charge 50 Wireless. Instead, you’ll have the 15W wireless charging available from any Qi wireless chargers.
OnePlus 9 Camera: It Is A Notch Below The OnePlus 9 Pro? No, It Isn’t
On the face of it, things do look somewhat similar between the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro on the photography front. Still, there are enough differences to differentiate the more expensive of the two phones better, and understandably so. The OnePlus 9 also gets a 48-megapixel main camera and a 50-memgapixel ultrawide camera. These are the Sony IMX689 and Sony IMX766 respectively. The OnePlus 9 Pro instead gets the Sony IMX789 and the Sony IMX766 combination. Also, the main camera in the triple camera setup on the OnePlus 9 does not get optical image stabilization (OIS) and instead has just electronic image stabilization (EIS). Inspite of these differences, the larger set of camera features remains very similar across both phones, complete with the Hasselblad inputs—something the OnePlus 9 also proudly shows off on the camera module on the back. So, what’s Hasselblad really doing? First and foremost, you’ll see a Hasselblad Pro Mode in the camera app. If you want to have greater control over how your photos look, this gives you everything you’d expect—ISO, focus, exposure and more manual adjustments. You can shoot in 12-bit RAW too, which is expected to give as much as 64x colour compared to traditional 10-bit RAW images. Then there is Hasselblad’s colour calibration which should make the OnePlus 9 Pro’s photos lean even more towards accuracy and realism.
There may be sensor differences between this and the OnePlus 9 Pro, but there might as well there have been none. Both phones and the camera hardware have very similar positives and shortcomings. And that comes from someone who switched from the OnePlus 9 Pro to the OnePlus 9. The photos that the captures, across lighting conditions, are very similar to what its more expensive sibling manages, albeit that has the additional support from OIS. Photos are very nicely detailed, with the finest of elements in a photo comes through nicely without either being sacrificed by noise reduction or lost out because of too much noise. Focus definitely seems to lock in faster than before, and I really like how both the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro make the clouds look in the sky.
That being said, low light photos still need some work. And it isn’t something that cannot be fixed with software updates to tweak the image processing algorithms and how they handle light as well as reproduce colour. At this time, I did notice that the OnePlus 9’s low light photos do tend to skew the lesser lit areas in a photo to look even darker, while colours aren’t exactly the most accurate at all times. That being said, the hardware is very much in place.
OnePlus 9 Display: Flat Not Curved, But Absolutely Spot On
Much like the OnePlus 8T, the OnePlus 9 also gets a flat display and not a slightly curved one like the OnePlus 9 Pro. It is a 6.5-inch display as before, a Fluid AMOLED with the 2400 x 1080 resolution. There’s the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 which is the new hardware add-on, something the predecessor missed out on. This screen does 120Hz refresh rates and gets through really nice colours. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—my favorite has to be the Display P3 calibration settings, because I like this subdued vibrancy of colours the most. There are definite improvements that are felt as you use it. The brightness switches, irrespective of how subtle or pronounced, now happen much more smoothly. One of the reasons for that are the dual ambient light sensors in the phone. I also prefer to keep Comfort Tone switched on, which basically alters the colours on the screen to match your ambient lighting, to reduce eye strain. More than that, the screen doesn’t look out of place either—you don’t make that jarring transition from warm light around you to a comparatively cool colour tone display.
The Last Word: A Lot Closer To The OnePlus 9 Pro, Where It Matters The Most
The OnePlus 9 is a lot closer to the OnePlus 9, than you may have imagined. For most parts, they are largely the same phone—truest when it comes to under the hood power. It’s a slightly smaller display size, which should appeal to you if you like something more compact. Albeit comparatively. The camera is a triple camera combination instead of a quad camera but it more than gets the job done too. To be honest, the fast wireless charging wouldn’t really be missed by many. Also because the price difference means some sacrifices must be made, but OnePlus hasn’t made any really that impact the usability of the OnePlus 9 and the overall experience that you’d expect from a phone that is very much a solid flagship alternative. The OnePlus 9 is more phone than you’d expect, and that’s always a great start to build with.