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OnePlus 9 has its moments in the sun; shines bright [Review]

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International Business Times
08th April, 2021 07:00 IST

OnePlus truly outdid itself with the launch of its 2021 flagships by addressing the biggest pain point, its camera. OnePlus 9 Pro checks the right boxes to be a camera flagship, a big credit goes to Hasselblad, the legendary camera manufacturer with centuries of expertise in its field. For the most part, it seems OnePlus gave the Pro model a special treatment to break the stereotype, which is bound to give a much-needed boost to the brand in the long run. But OnePlus 9 doesn't get treated any lesser, at least in areas where OnePlus has its core strengths.

OnePlus 9 is available in India in two configurations, 8GB+128GB for Rs 49,999 and 12GB+256GB for Rs 54,999. In case you missed it, the OnePlus 9 Pro starts at Rs 64,999 for the base model and Rs 69,999 for the top-shelf variant. In any case, there's a price difference of Rs 15,000 between these models, a point worth remembering while comparing specs between the two flagships. For that much of a difference, there's bound to be some compromises, but OnePlus smartly made the deductions.

Design

OnePlus 9 comes in three color shades, Winter Mist, Arctic Sky and Astral Black. Of the three, the Winter Mist is available only if you pick the Rs 54,999 model, which is the one we got for review. At first glance, OnePlus 9 looks a lot like its elder cousin, the 9 Pro, but there's an ocean of difference between the two. But that similarity works in favour of OnePlus 9 as it gives away a premium impression.

OnePlus 9 is a stunning device, looks great and feels incredible. It is incredibly light and sleek, even compared to the 9 Pro, which we found to be engineered wonderfully to fit right into your palm. OnePlus 9 weighs 183 grams as compared to OnePlus 9 Pro's 197 grams. So the difference is evident. But to shed those extra grams, OnePlus 9 had to undergo some disappointing compromises.

OnePlus uses a plastic frame instead of metal and ditches wireless charging, which ought to hurt consumers if they are pitted against their friends who like to show off their new 9 Pro. But look on the bright side, no one can tell it's plastic as OnePlus has done an excellent job at concealing it metal-like shining panel and when your wrist blesses you for that lightweight design, you can be in self-content.

OnePlus 9 even drops a few sensors from the back camera, but in doing so lost a crucial telephoto lens. More on that later, but that precious Hasselblad branding is intact on that pedestal camera module similar to the 9 Pro.

The rest of the things are where they should be. The signature Alert Slider and power button take the right side, the speaker, USB Type-C and SIM card tray sit at the bottom and the volume controls are on the left. The rear glass cover is curved on the sides, which makes the phone slimmer and easier to hold. Design-wise, OnePlus has nailed it, despite lacking the premium metal chassis. We love how it feels in the hand and that matters more.

Display

OnePlus 9 gets a 6.55-inch AMOLED display same as the 8T. OnePlus reserved its new LTPO OLED screen to the 9 Pro in order to keep that Rs 15,000 price gap worthy. But there are no reasons to complain as the OnePlus 9's flat display has Full HD+ resolution, supports 120Hz refresh rate and is HDR-certified. The punch-hole camera on the top-left corner isn't bothersome.

The display's response to touch is excellent and it is while playing games like CoD Mobile that you feel just how smooth it is. Sliding fingers across the display is so effortless and polished. We jumped from the 9 Pro's ever-so-slightly curved display to the flat one on the 9 and we have no complaints. In fact, the 9's display is less prone to accidental damages. The colours are rich for viewing pleasure, but there are generous screen calibration options to get that perfect display.

The OnePlus 9 can get really bright when necessary, and summers in Bengaluru are brutal and the 9 seemed to have no issue with readability under direct sunlight. The fingerprint scanner is accurate, fast and efficient every single time. 

Performance, UI

OnePlus is synonymous with great performance and the OnePlus 9 lives up to that legacy. OnePlus 9 is easily one of the best performing phones out there and why wouldn't it be, it's got Snapdragon 888 chipset, 12GB RAM (at least on our unit), UFS 3.1 storage, snappy OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11, Bluetooth 5.2, 2×2 MIMO network technology - all of which play a crucial role in the enhanced performance of the phone. We may not notice in day-to-day use, but each of these features has its moment. If performance is what you're looking for in a sleek, light, beautiful body, look no further.

OnePlus 9 also supports 5G, but it's got only two bands for now. We'll live to talk about this in the years to come when 5G becomes a reality in India. Until then, it's a feature that gives the phone its competitive edge over rivals.

We tested the OnePlus 9 as the main driver and it lived well up to our expectations. It can handle its tasks well, be it gaming or streaming your favourite shows. In fact, it can do so with ease, thanks to the new cooling system it has got on board. We tested games like CoD Mobile and Asphalt and the gameplay definitely enhanced on this device with great haptic feedback, response, frame rates. The review unit we got received a couple of software updates during the course of the review and it surely got some marked improvements. If you're an avid gamer on mobile phones, OnePlus 9 is ideal for its asking price. The stereo speakers, paired with earpiece and the Dolby Atmos will give you that extra oomph while playing in a quiet room and even fills up a bedroom while watching your favourite show on Netflix.

That smooth performance is well complemented by the snappy OxygenOS 11, which is our most desired custom ROM on any Android phone. But OnePlus should be on alert as Samsung is really catching up with significant improvements in its software game. The 9 gets 2 major Android upgrades and three years of security patches, which compared to Samsung's minimum four years of security updates is falling slightly short. Despite being a class-leading software, OxygenUI with all of its goodness needs to pull up its socks.

You get all the regular options, except a few 9 Pro-exclusive ones like the HyperTouch, which is only supported through certain games, so it is quite alright.

Battery

It's true that with great power, comes great responsibility. OnePlus 9's performance comes at a cost. If you're a binge-watcher or an avid gamer, chances are the battery will drain faster with the 120Hz refresh rate on an AMOLED Full HD+ panel. But we found it to be better than the 9 Pro's OLED 2K+ display. But on a normal working day, where you don't get to play back-to-back CoD matches with your online friends, things are on the normal side. OnePlus 9 can easily last a whole day with a full charge and still be left with some juice before you turn in for the day. But that's not even the best part. It's that blazing-fast charging that comes to the rescue.

In full honesty, the 65W charger (yes, in the box) is a life-saver and can power up the OnePlus 9 in 30 minutes flat. There was a time when we were amazed by the one-hour charging speed, and 30 minutes is just something else. But at the cost of bridging a generous gap between the 9 and the 9 Pro, OnePlus ditched the inclusion of wireless charging. We know, it is an extra accessory, but seeing how quickly the trends are changing, it would have been nice if OnePlus added wireless charging support to the 9, even if it meant 15W, which for some odd reason the US version gets.

Nevertheless, 30 minutes of plugging the phone into the wall charger is still a good enough score to settle for. And with that, you get a full day's worth of guaranteed power, so there are no complaints.

Camera

Things do get interesting here, so we saved it for the last. OnePlus 9 gets three sensors - a 48MP main camera, 50MP ultra-wide camera and a 2MP monochrome camera. In case you missed above, yes, there's no telephoto lens, which we found rather disappointing. For the main camera, OnePlus chose the Sony IMX689 sensor and if that sounds familiar, it is the same one as the OnePlus 8 Pro. So the only thing extra here is the Hasselblad colour tuning, which is indeed a worthy factor.

Also read: OnePlus 9 Review

The primary lens manages great details, natural colours, improved low-light performance and captures good landscapes. The results, in certain scenarios, close to OnePlus 9 Pro, but the overall performance puts it behind the capable 9 Pro.

The 50MP ultra-wide is the same as the one on the 9 Pro, so we did notice some excellent results. The edges are not distorted, details often lost in ultra-wide are retained to the maximum capability and there's a rich texture in the images too.

Video recording is possible at 8K, which is incredible, especially the autofocus in panning shots with subjects positioned in different layers. A tripod is recommended to shoot long videos as the electronic stabilisation can only do so much, especially indoors and in low-light. During daylight, go with 8K, 4K or even 1080p and you get a good output

The Nightscape shots turn out to be great, with good details. But ultra-wide in Nightscape mode isn't ideal. For macro shots, you need to enable the mode manually and be patient while shooting in low-light conditions. But under good light, the macros can manage crisp details. Mind you, there's no dedicated lens for macro.

But it is worth noting that OnePlus 9 manages to capture good results when not compared against OnePlus 9 Pro, which is definitely our preferred choice if a good camera is a priority. What OnePlus 9 does is it takes the best of both 9 Pro and 8 Pro and uses it to its advantage.

Selfies are quite decent on the OnePlus 9, which is made possible using a 16MP snapper. The sensor manages good portraits and the normal selfies don't look washed out. Low-light selfies are a tough challenge, as details were amiss. Overall, we miss not having the telephoto lens, which kind of takes away that flagship camera feel away from the 9. You're stuck with digital magnification, which we often avoid if you need good, detailed shots.

Camera samples below:

Portrait mode

Photos in different lighting conditions

Ultra-wide & Nightscape comparison shots

Verdict

OnePlus 9 is in no way cool like the OnePlus 9 Pro. It lacks the great cameras seen in the Pro model, support for fast wireless charging, IP68 certification, metal chassis, and a sharper, better display. But that doesn't make the 9 a bad phone, nay, bad flagship. OnePlus 9 is a champion in its own way. It offers unparalleled performance, excellent battery, lightweight design, a 120Hz ultra-smooth display, and a piece of OnePlus 9 Pro's camera - the ultra-wide lens. For all the compromises, OnePlus is asking for Rs 15,000 less for its 9 and that Rs 50K mark is good enough to keep the phone in competition with non-OnePlus rivals.

OnePlus 8 is a good upgrade from the 8 and even 8T, but not so much if you own the premium 8 Pro, for whom the 9 Pro is the logical way forward. The performance is really the key USP for the OnePlus 9 as OnePlus even went on to launch a third, more-affordable model for India, the OnePlus 9R.

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