ReviewOnePlus 9 Review

OnePlus 9 Review

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An elegant alternative to expensive flagships
The OnePlus 9 delivers flagship performance and an excellent wide-angle camera, with fast charging and virtually no bloatware.
An efficient, no-nonsense Android phone, the OnePlus 9 (starting at $729.99) takes many things we liked about the OnePlus 8T and puts them on the most modern Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform. The resulting package delivers a fast and smooth Android experience, broad network compatibility (though it lacks the fastest form of Verizon’s 5G), and a very capable camera. We do miss optical zoom here, and the impressive cameras on the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the Apple iPhone 12 are enough to place them a bit ahead of the OnePlus 9 in our rankings. But if you’re less of a photo hound, you’ll find a lot to love in the streamlined design and elegant software.
OnePlus now has four models in its most recent US generation: the flagship OnePlus 9 Pro (starting at $969.99), which has an even better camera and a new, revolutionary display; the mid-price OnePlus 9 reviewed here; the $299.99 OnePlus Nord N10 5G; and the $179.99 OnePlus Nord N100. They all have OnePlus’s speedy software philosophy in common, but their very different features make them easy to tell apart.
At 6.3 by 2.9 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and 6.77 ounces, the 9 isn’t noticeably narrower or lighter than the 9 Pro. But it’s much heavier, and noticeably larger, than the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the iPhone 12 (and, of course, the diminutive iPhone 12 mini). It feels like a solid glass brick in your hand.
The glass back comes in two colors, black and a shimmery lavender, and both attract fingerprints. Our test unit came with a textured black sandstone case designed to feel like the iconic back of the OnePlus One.
The model sold by T-Mobile is rated IP68 for water and dust resistance; the version sold directly by OnePlus (and presumably by other retailers) is not.
There’s no headphone jack or adapter, and OnePlus’s own (very good) USB-C headphones were out of stock at the time of this writing, so if you want USB-C headphones, you’ll need third-party ones. You can also cut the cord with OnePlus’s wireless earbuds, the OnePlus Buds and the OnePlus Buds Z. If you’re buying third-party wireless earbuds, look for ones that support Qualcomm’s aptX HD codec, as it provides the best audio experience on OnePlus phones. Or you can fall back on the rich stereo speakers, which have a surprising amount of mid-bass for a smartphone. With a maximum volume of 98dB, they’re loud enough to fill a room.
OnePlus says the 9’s 6.55-inch, 2,400-by-1,080-pixel display is the same as the OnePlus 8T’s, with a 120Hz refresh rate. DisplayMate Labs hasn’t tested the 9’s display, so we looked at its tests of the 8T to understand how this screen differs from those of the 9 Pro and other competing phones.
For one thing, the display is extremely color-accurate. In Natural mode, which is designed for color accuracy, the 8T display never shows a color error more than 0.9 Just Noticeable Color Difference units, better than the Galaxy S20 Ultra (1.3JNCD) and considerably better than the iPhone 12 Pro Max (2.2JNCD). The 8T’s Vivid mode is indeed vivid; it pumps up reds in a way that a lot of people like even though it isn’t technically accurate.
On brightness, the 8T lacks the powerful sunlight-readable Auto Brightness mode on the 8 Pro and 9 Pro, but it’s brighter in sunlight than the iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPhone 12 Pro Max. In manual brightness, its Vivid screen mode beats the Galaxy S20 series but doesn’t come up to the most recent Pro phones or the iPhone 12.
Assuming the 9’s display is indeed the same as the 8T’s—and we’re willing to take OnePlus’s word for it—it’s exactly what you’d expect given its price: up to date and accurate, but not as bright as some more expensive models. As it’s better than any phone display that’s more than a year old, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
You can manually kick the 120Hz display down to 60Hz to save battery, and the system automatically does that when you aren’t scrolling or looking at 120Hz content. If you really care about saving power, consider the 9 Pro, which has an even more advanced display that rolls all the way down to 1Hz.
OnePlus, Apple, and Samsung all take the same approach with their high-end and step-down models: The less expensive phones have the same base processors and same basic performance stats as the flagships. The differences exist around features such as display, camera, and radios.
This means the 9 is a great phone for gaming, and our benchmark results bear that out. Like the 9 Pro, the 9 has a base model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and you can pay an additional $100 to get one with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The comparable 9 and 9 Pro models showed identical benchmark scores, with single-core scores around 1,125 and multi-core scores around 3,700. That means the 9 shows a 24% increase on single-core results and a 12% increase on multi-core results over the 8 Pro. None of these phones achieves CPU bragging rights over the iPhone 12, though, which managed 1596 SC and 4049 MC with its Apple A14 processor.
The Snapdragon 888 boosts graphics performance, too. On the GFXBench Car Chase offscreen benchmark test, the 9 scored around 70fps, with 37fps onscreen in WQHD mode and 58fps onscreen in HD mode. That’s a major jump up from the 8 Pro, which scored 51fps offscreen and either 26 or 45fps onscreen depending on screen resolution.
See How We Test Phones
OnePlus’s Oxygen OS extensions add just a few nice touches on top of basic Android 11: some more elegant font options, an always-on display option, and a Zen mode to temporarily disable every function except making calls and taking photos. OnePlus guarantees upgrades to at least Android 13, along with bimonthly security updates for three years.
The 9 Pro has additional cooling that helps it maintain high performance over long periods of time; the 9 does not. Using a processor stress-test app, CPU Throttling Test, we saw the 9 Pro (like the Galaxy S21) slowly decline in performance with time, while the 9 stepped itself down sharply by about 20% at 8 minutes of heavy use. It settled at about 81% of performance to the 9 Pro and Galaxy S21’s final result of 87–88% after 15 minutes.
With plenty of RAM and some new RAM optimization software, the 9 had no problem flipping among a half-dozen apps, including notable RAM hog Genshin Impact. The 9 isn’t a “gaming phone” like the Asus ROG Phone 5; it lacks a dedicated gaming phone’s special vibration motors, super-low touch latency, active cooling attachments, and powerful speakers. With the same screen as the 8T, the 9 has 240Hz touch sampling rather than the 9 Pro’s 360Hz or the ROG Phone 5’s 300Hz. But the ROG and OnePlus 9 Pro both cost more.
If you want the best gaming performance in the sub-$900 price range regardless of operating system, the Apple iPhone 12 is the way to go. New games often come to iOS first, and iOS prioritizes touch inputs in a way that makes gaming feel more responsive, even on a 60Hz screen. But if you’re looking to game for around $700 on Android, the 9 has the performance chops.
We were pleasantly surprised by the 9’s performance on our battery tests, which run a YouTube video over Wi-Fi. With the screen at full brightness, the 9 lasted for 11 hours, 36 minutes of playback time. At 100%, that outpaced the 9 Pro (9:40) and Galaxy S21 (10:20) but not the 8T (12:35). Running the same test with the screen at 75% brightness, the 9 eked out 14 hours, 12 minutes of battery life.
Our battery test might not have shown the 9 Pro in its best light, though. One of its major new features is the ability to ramp display refresh rates down to 1Hz when you’re looking at static content such as menu screens or news articles, something that wouldn’t show up in our rundown test. OnePlus tends to have relatively efficient software, too, which means it uses relatively little battery power in standby mode, compared to Samsung phones. So it’s possible that in real-world conditions, the 9 Pro might be able to last much longer between charges. Regardless, these are great numbers for the 9.
The phone comes with a Warp Charge 65T charger and a USB-C cable. Together, they recharge the 4,500mAh battery in a flash: 23% charge in 6 minutes and a full charge in 36 minutes, similar to the 9 Pro. Recent Samsung phones generally take about an hour to reach a full charge. If you use a third-party charger, the 9 supports up to 18-watt charging.
Unlike the 8, the 9 can be charged wirelessly, though it isn’t the 9 Pro’s awe-inspiring super-speed wireless charging. The 9 uses 15-watt Qi, which, in our tests, took the battery up to 24% in 20 minutes and to 100% in 100 minutes. That isn’t quite a “flash” charge, but it’s still a step forward for OnePlus.
The OnePlus 9 is certified for T-Mobile and Verizon, but it works best on T-Mobile for now. The phone lacks high-band, millimeter-wave 5G, which doesn’t play a major role in T-Mobile’s network but which Verizon has heavily promoted over the past two years. In this price range, the Apple iPhone 12 and Verizon’s version of the Samsung Galaxy S21 support mmWave. The OnePlus 9 (like the iPhone 12 and Galaxy S21) does have C-band, the fast new form of 5G that Verizon plans to launch early next year. The phone isn’t certified for AT&T; with an AT&T SIM in, it became 4G-only and lost Wi-Fi calling.
The 9 is also a single-SIM device, eschewing eSIM or any options for a second connection.
The 9 uses the same Qualcomm X60 modem that’s in the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and the 9 Pro. We tested the phone on T-Mobile against the 9 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra in 86 rounds of tests under various network conditions, using Ookla Speedtest. (Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by PCMag’s publisher, Ziff Davis.) The 9 doesn’t win against the two more expensive phones, but it holds its own, especially given its lower cost. The 9 showed the best signal reception 22 times; the other phones took the top spot in 29 instances each.
In tests in an area with mmWave, the two mmWave-supporting phones did better, but not by much. T-Mobile’s mmWave in New York doesn’t have a lot of heft to it, unlike Verizon’s.
In our tests in a weak-signal area, the 9 dropped connections less often than the 9 Pro and worked as well as the Galaxy S21. The Galaxy S21 performed a little better than the OnePlus phones in a longer stretch of tests across a wider range of conditions, including some with mid-band 5G. The three phones turned in equivalent performances on standalone 5G.
The features of Qualcomm’s state-of-the-art 888 chipset and X60 modem include Wi-Fi 6 (not 6E), Bluetooth 5.2, and NFC.
Cameras have long been the Achilles’ heel of OnePlus’s more affordable phones. That just changed. The 9’s camera holds its own against the Galaxy S21’s and takes superior ultra-wide photos, though it lacks any optical zoom.
The primary lens comes in at 48MP with an f/1.8 aperture. It supports quad binning for crisp 12MP shots. There’s also an ultra-wide 50MP lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and a 2MP monochrome camera for black-and-white photos.
OnePlus worked closely with Hasselblad to improve the color science on the 9 series, producing the best color we’ve seen on a OnePlus phone to date. Reds and blues are slightly oversaturated while greens and yellows are muted. It’s a perfect recipe for gorgeous photos.
The primary lens takes solid shots in all lighting scenarios. Our daylight test photos were crisp with excellent dynamic range. Low-light photos are a win as well, though we noticed minor blurring and a loss of fine detail in a few of our shots.
The ultra-wide lens is the same one you’ll find on the more expensive 9 Pro. That means it has the same Freeform lens array, which reduces distortion. Like the primary lens, the ultra-wide lens takes excellent photos in all lighting scenarios. In good light, they’re comparable with shots you’ll get with the primary lens. Where the lens really shines, however, is in low light. Our low-light shots were crisp and had very little loss of background detail and almost no distortion.
The monochrome lens works with the primary lens to boost black-and-white photos. Our monochrome test shots were rich with excellent detail and depth of field.
The only thing missing is zoom. The UI has a “2x zoom” button, but it’s just cropping the 48-megapixel main camera. That makes “zoom” photos dimmer and noisier than on a phone with an actual telephoto lens, such as the Galaxy S21 or the 9 Pro.
On the front, a 16MP shooter peeks from behind the hole-punch display. In good light, it takes a fine selfie with excellent depth of field. Low-light photos also look good, though we noticed a little blurring in the background and some edge noise. Portrait mode worked perfectly in our test; even with the image at full size on a large monitor, we didn’t notice any of the object mapping issues we often see in Portrait mode shots.
In addition to improving the color science on the 9, Hasselblad also helped update the camera app. The changes aren’t drastic, and are mostly found in the Pro mode. Smartphone shutterbugs can manually adjust ISO, exposure time, white balance, and focus. There’s also an option to take 12-bit RAW photos for improved dynamic range and color options in post-processing apps such as Adobe Lightroom or Capture 1.
For the most part, the camera app is easy to use. Scene detection automatically improves settings to get the best photo. Nightscape, OnePlus’s night mode, works quickly, and other settings are easy to access. There’s one exception: We found the new Tilt Shift mode to be wonky, confusing, and not very functional.
The $730 OnePlus 9 goes up most notably against the Samsung Galaxy S21, which is $700 at Amazon and Best Buy, and the $800 Apple iPhone 12. Just being in that rarefied company is a win for OnePlus. On T-Mobile, at least, the 9 outpaces any current Google Pixel, LG, or Motorola phone thanks to its use of the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset and OnePlus’s typically lovely software.
The Galaxy S21 still noses ahead of the OnePlus 9, because the Galaxy S21 has a zoom camera with a 3x lens rather than OnePlus’s 2x digital trickery. That’s a real advantage. If you prefer OnePlus’s fast-and-smooth software experience to Samsung’s reputation for manufacturer and carrier bloatware, though, the OnePlus 9 is a very fine phone for the price.
The OnePlus 9 delivers flagship performance and an excellent wide-angle camera, with fast charging and virtually no bloatware.

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