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OnePlus 9 review: a good, well-priced top-spec smartphone

The OnePlus 9 offers the same top-performance, slick experience and long battery life as the firm’s best phone but with a few corners cut to slice £200 off the price.

The £629 handset looks almost identical to its more expensive sibling, the £829 OnePlus 9 Pro. It has a marginally smaller screen that is flat rather than curved at the sides, and the edge of the phone is plastic not metal, but the rest is in effect a copy – which is a good thing.

The back of the phone is curved for a better grip. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 6.55in OLED screen is bright, colourful and good-looking, with its 120Hz refresh rate keeping animations and scrolling super smooth. The screen has an FHD+ resolution, making it slightly less crisp than the QHD+ display on the 9 Pro, but it is in line with competitors from Samsung and others.

Specifications

  • Main screen: 6.55in FHD+ OLED (402ppi) 120Hz

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

  • RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: Oxygen OS 11.2 based on Android 11

  • Camera: Triple rear: 48MP wide, 50MP ultra-wide, 2MP monochrome; 16MP front-facing

  • Connectivity: 5G, dual nano sim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 (AAC, aptX/HD, LDAC) and location

  • Water resistance: none

  • Dimensions: 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm

  • Weight: 192g

Rapid, smooth and super-fast charging

OnePlus 9
The phone charges from dead to 100% in only 34 minutes, hitting 50% in 14 minutes with the included 65W adaptor. It also has 15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The OnePlus 9 has the top chip available to Android devices, Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 processor, with at least 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It matches the 9 Pro for speed and smooth experience, making it one of the fastest-feeling phones available.

It also has very good battery life, only needing charging every other night. It lasts just under 47 hours with the screen used for 5.5 hours in various apps, meaning a single charge lasts from 7am on day one until at least 5am on day three.

Sustainability

OnePlus says the battery should last 1,000 full-charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. The battery can be replaced and the smartphone is generally repairable by OnePlus in the UK.

The company offers a trade-in programme for its own phones and models from rivals. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones. OnePlus does not publish environmental impact assessments but did publish a sustainability report in 2019.

Oxygen OS 11.2

OnePlus 9
The in-screen fingerprint scanner is fast and accurate, making it one of the very best available. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 9 ships with the latest version of OnePlus’s Oxygen OS, which is one of the most refined and bloat-free western-oriented versions of Android 11 available. It is fast, slick and easy to use, with a good amount of customisation options that aren’t overwhelming.

OnePlus offers software support for three years from release, including two years of Android version updates and then a further year of security updates bimonthly. Samsung offers four years and Apple offers five for their respective phones, so OnePlus still has work to do.

Camera

oneplus 9
The camera app has simple point-and-shoot and ‘Hasselblad Pro’ modes with manual control. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

On the back of the phone are three Hasselblad-branded cameras, including a 48MP main and 50MP ultra-wide, plus a gimmicky 2MP “monochrome” camera that can be safely ignored.

The 50MP ultrawide camera is the same as equipped to the 9 Pro, making it one of the best available, shooting good images across a range of light levels while supporting Nightscape and other special modes.

The main 48MP camera is different to that fitted to the 9 Pro, lacking a few of the more advanced technologies. However, the captured images are very similar, being generally well-exposed and balanced but a little oversharpened when blown up to full size. Low light performance was solid, if a little more prone to hand shake as the camera lacks optical image stabilisation, while the dedicated Nightscape mode works well. There’s a good macro mode and some fun camera effects to play with alongside the “Hasselblad Pro” mode for extensive manual control similar to a DSLR camera.

There’s no optical zoom, meaning anything magnified beyond 3x with digital zoom lacks detail. The 16MP fixed-focus selfie camera shot some great-looking photos in good lighting but was a little soft on detail when viewed at full size and lacks a dedicated low-light mode. Video captured up to 8K at 30 frames a second was good, too.

Overall, the camera is generally good for the money but a lack of optical zoom and its tendency to oversharpen images is slightly disappointing.

Observations

Oneplus 9
The alert slider on the side of the phone toggles between silent, vibrate and ring. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • Call quality and 5G performance on Three was excellent.

  • The screen is covered in the older Gorilla Glass 5, not the latest significantly more shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus.

  • The phone comes with a pre-installed screen protector and a good clear rubber case in the box.

Price

The OnePlus 9 costs £629 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or £729 with 12GB and 256GB.

For comparison, the OnePlus 9 Pro has an RRP of £829, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra costs £1,149, the Galaxy S21+ costs £949 and the Xiaomi Mi 11 costs £749.

Verdict

The OnePlus 9 has taken the firm somewhat back to its “upstart” roots, offering a top-flight experience for significantly less money than premium smartphone rivals.

But to do so the company has cut corners that it hasn’t resorted to in the past, such as using plastic rather than metal for the phone’s frame, and yet it is still asking for £30 more than last year’s excellent OnePlus 8. It makes the 9 good value but not quite the bargain previous iterations were known for being.

There are still few rivals priced under £650 that offer the combination of speed and slick experience, big screen, solid camera and good software you get with the OnePlus 9. But with only three years of software support, there are phones offering similarly great experiences and better value over the long term from rivals Samsung and others for only a little more.

Pros: super slick, long battery, top performance, good 120Hz screen, good software, speedy charging, fast fingerprint scanner, alert slider, good camera, lower cost.

Cons: only three years of software support, camera can oversharpen images, no optical zoom, screen glass not the toughest available, no water-resistance rating, plastic frame.

Oneplus 9
The selfie camera pokes through a small hole in the top left of the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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