(Cybertech) – It’s safe to say OnePlus has been on something of a journey over the past few years. It lifted itself out of that initial ‘plucky upstart’ role and started to become a real smartphone company.
It’s gone from being a company that launched one or two new phones a year to launching six phones in 2020, with varying specs and at different price tiers. In 2021 that output glut looks set to continue – and it starts with the OnePlus 9.
- Dimensions: 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm / Weight: 192 grams
- Finish options: Winter Mist, Arctic Sky, Astral Black
- 3D Corning Gorilla Glass back
- Dual stereo speakers
Look at the camera housing and you’ll see an evolution of design when you compare the OnePlus 9 to its most recent predecessors: the OnePlus 8T and OnePlus 8. The 9’s two main cameras have very deliberate metallic ring around them, while the camera housing has been designed to colour-match the rest of the phone’s rear panel.
It’s a classy and minimalist look, now with the addition of a Hasselblad logo. Because, yep, OnePlus is all about a camera partnership with this new series.
It’s in the rest of the build where we’ve seen OnePlus move backwards compared to its previous models though. The 9’s frame is made from a similar shiny plastic to what we first saw on the OnePlus Nord. Or, as OnePlus calls it: “fibreglass infused polymer”. Thankfully, the back is covered in Corning Gorilla Glass for protection.
It’s not the slimmest or lightest phone around either, certainly feeling thicker than previous models, but that’s almost certainly down to the move towards a flat screen. Rather than have those curved edges on both sides of the phone, it only has them on one side, so you lose that more sleek effect. Still, the OnePlus 9 feels noticeably chunkier than the 8T – another flat-screened model – which was thicker than the OnePlus 8 before it.
Of course, there are real benefits to having a flatter screen. There’s very little chance you’ll suffer from accidental touches, because it doesn’t curve around the edges, so that makes the phone a bit easier to use.
Our own review unit is the Winter Mist model, which has a light purple colour, with the rear featuring a gradient refraction effect. That means the bottom part of the phone is really glossy and reflective, but the top is more frosted and gradients between these two finishes. We think some people will like it, but we prefer the softer fully frosted look of some of the blue Arctic Sky model. It’s also a bit of a fingerprint magnet, which diminishes the overall finish effect.
There are all the usual OnePlus buttons and ports though. That means the volume rocker is within easy reach on the left side, with the alert slider switch on the right near the power/sleep button. The dual nano SIM tray is on the bottom edge near the USB-C port and the bottom-firing loudspeaker – which joins with a speaker near the earpiece to form stereo sound that’s boosted by Dolby Atmos tech.
- 6.55-inch AMOLED panel
- Full HD+ resolution (2400 x 1080 pixels; 402ppi)
- 120Hz refresh rate
OnePlus has focused on having lightweight and fast software for years. Its latest iteration of Oxygen OS is no different, and the display is primed and ready to take full advantage of that fluidity too.
The AMOLED screen on the front of the OnePlus 9 isn’t quite as sharp as that of the 9 Pro, but with a pixel density over 400 pixels-per-inch it should be sharp enough for most content you’d want to watch.
What’s more, with a refresh rate peak of 120Hz, it can keep up with any fast frame-rate gaming. OnePlus says it has improved the colour accuracy and the automatic brightness adjustment too – the result of adding in two ambient light sensors, while the brightness has more than 8000 different levels to enable smoother adjustment.
Like Apple’s True Tone, there’s a Comfort Tone feature that adjusts the colour temperature of the display to match your environment, which should be handy when reading ebooks on a white screen, making it seem a bit more like a paper surface.
Brightness itself shouldn’t be a problem either. With a peak of up to 1100nits and HDR10+ certification you should find a very attractive, vivid and bright panel. Of course, we need a bit more time to test it thoroughly, but all early indicators are good.
Hardware and performance
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform
- 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage
- 8GB/12GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 4,500mAh battery capacity
- Warp Charge 65W charging
- 15W Qi wireless charging
With a top OnePlus flagship you know one thing for certain: you’ll always get the latest, most powerful mobile processor. That means the Snapdragon 888 platform for the 9 series, along with suitably quick LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage.
What that means in daily use is that, not only will your apps and games load quickly, but any downloads and installs will be fast too. That’s helped further by 5G support, presuming you’re in an area with 5G coverage, for speedy and low-latency connectivity.
All this power needs cooling for efficiency. For the OnePlus 9 there’s something called the OnePlus Cool Play system. Essentially, the manufacturer has made the vapour chambers larger and added more layers of graphite and copper to dissipate heat when you’re powering your most demanding games.
We’ve not yet experienced a OnePlus phone that under-delivers on speed and performance, so we don’t expect the OnePlus 9 will be any different. Our first few days of use have been pretty much plain sailing.
Regarding the battery and it’s really the charging that sells this phone. You may remember OnePlus saying in the past that it didn’t want to use wireless charging until it was as fast and convenient as its fast wired system. Well, for the non-Pro model in the OnePlus 9 family, it turns out it’s forgotten all about that.
The regular OnePlus 9 does have wireless charging, but it’s not blindingly fast. Instead, it uses a fairly standard 15W Qi-compatible wireless charging. That means it’s nowhere near as quick as the new Warp Charge 65T wired charging capability which can keep those 65W speeds pumping for longer and give you a full charge in under 30 minutes.
- Triple camera system with Hasselblad tuning:
- Main: 48-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, Sony IMX689 sensor
- Ultra-wide: 50MP, f/2.2, SonyIMX766 sensor
- Mono: 2MP
- Front-facing camera: 16-megapixel
- Video: 8K30p / 4K120p
OnePlus has listened to its critics over the past few years and says it’s finally delivering a flagship level camera experience. That’s thanks in part to its new collaboration with Hasselblad, to help tune the image processing to strict standards, ensuring your pictures should come out looking great.
It’s not just that tuning that’s changed though. The regular OnePlus 9 features the same main camera sensor found in the OnePlus 8 Pro from 2020, and has the same sensor in the ultra-wide as found in the excellent (and more expensive) Oppo Find X3 Pro.
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Those two are joined by a low-res monochrome sensor for extra light detail, but that’s it. No macro lens or gimmicky chroma filter camera in sight this time.
What’s more, the video recording capability can reach the heights of 8K resolution at 30fps or – perhaps more impressively – can capture 4K up to 120fps, which should enable some fantastically sharp slow-motion video.
Hasselblad’s partnership has led to some other more inconsequential features, like the orange colour of the shutter button, and a leaf shutter sound when you press it. However, where you’ll see the biggest influence is in the ‘Pro’ camera mode.
The user interface has been designed to look like one developed by Hasselblad for some of its cameras. This includes a focus peaking feature that will highlight in-focus areas in orange when you’re using the manual focus.
The OnePlus 9 design may not have wowed us that much, but this company knows its users are all about getting the best performance out of every area of its phones.
So if cutting corners and adding in a plastic frame means being able to stick two flagship cameras on the back, add wireless charging, a capacious battery, and market-leading speed, then we think that’s a compromise worth making.
We can’t quite get out of our heads that the OnePlus 9 is similar to the much cheaper Nord in some respects, and that might still be worth considering, but on the whole – from the spec conscious – this latest OnePlus looks like it will deliver an experience much closer to its Pro-labelled sibling this year.
If you’re all about price then the last-gen affordable OnePlus model is a sensible option.
Writing by Cam Bunton.