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Is OnePlus 9 a good choice? Not 100%

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OnePlus continues to hold a tight grip on the mid-range, with the company updating flagship-killing smartphones about every six months with slightly modified internals and a few additional features.

In 2021, this pattern of releases will continue. The brand new OnePlus 9 is now available. It will be paired with the affordable OnePlus Nord N105G. However, there are still many things that can be done to improve the OnePlus 8T’s performance.

OnePlus 9 Review: What You Need to Know

OnePlus has noticed an increase in the price of its products this time, but it is not winning the battle for high-end.

The OnePlus 9 has the usual array of flagship trappings. It includes the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, a first for OnePlus, with up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. The 6.55in Full HD screen has a maximum refresh rate 120Hz and runs Android 11.

Despite the Hasselblad partnership, the OnePlus 9 is in a precarious position with its lack of IP-rated waterproofing, a simple design, and a bland camera offering.

Price and Competition

The OnePlus 9 starts at 629 for the 8GB RAM model and 128GB internal storage. This is 80 more than the OnePlus 8T which was launched five months ago. A variant with 12GB RAM and double storage is also available, but it costs an additional 100.

The competition is fierce. The Galaxy S20 FE, a solid mid-range choice, is now available at 600 or thereabouts. The iPhone 12 mini is also available, but it is slightly more expensive at 699. At just 599, the Pixel 5 is a very affordable model.

Design and Key Features

The OnePlus 9 is certainly not a less premium product than its competitors. Despite what OnePlus’ marketing materials would have you believe, the OnePlus 9’s “fibreglass-reinforced polymer frame” is simply an alternative way of saying “plastic”, and it lacks the sleek aluminium finish of its beefier sibling, the OnePlus 9 Pro.

It feels cheap and looks very cheap. Perhaps closer to a budget Moto than a 600 phone. The shiny reflective rear panel attracts fingerprints. The OnePlus 9 is available in three new colours: “Winter Mist”, Arctic Sky, and “AstralBlack” – which are only available on the 12GB model. For review, I received the “Winter Mist OnePlus 9”.

There are still some positives. OnePlus is the only manufacturer that has a three-position do not disturb slider at the right edge. This feature is always useful and the sleek camera housing looks great. The fingerprint reader is also embedded in the bottom of the screen and works well.

However, I cannot tolerate the fact that they charge 600+ for a phone without official IP-rated waterproofing. Consumers should be aware that their phone must survive accidental dips in the bathtub. Although it doesn’t have enough storage for a microSD, this can be somewhat overlooked as the phone already has at least 128GB.

Display

Thankfully, the OnePlus 9’s display is flawless. This is a known fact since OnePlus has been launching great smartphones screens for a few launches. However, it’s nice that the OnePlus 9’s 6.55in FHD+ (2.400 x 1.080) AMOLED display doesn’t depart from the norm.

Brightness is at its highest in sunlight-friendly mode (744cd/m2), while contrast is excellent, with our calibrator measuring an Infinity:1. The screen’s sRGB mode delivers 96.6% coverage and an average Delta E value of 0.72. The screen will not distinguish between the intended colours and the ones displayed. Even the most discerning eyes will not be able to see the difference.

It’s important to mention that the OnePlus 9’s display supports a maximum refresh rate 120Hz. It is required by the app to support it. However, this adds fluidity to multitasking and social media scrolling as well as allowing you to play high-frame rate games such as Shadowgun Legends and Alto’s Odyssey.

Performance and Battery Life

Performance is still a positive thing. The OnePlus 9 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor. It is more efficient and offers higher sustained performance than the Snapdragon 865. Depending on your budget, the OnePlus 9 comes with either 8GB and 12GB RAM.

I haven’t reviewed every 888-fitted phone, and the OnePlus 9’s performance benchmarks don’t seem to be out of the norm. The OnePlus 9’s performance in single- and multicore CPU tests by Geekbench 5 is up to 28%. Although it is the fastest phone of its peers, the iPhone 12 mini’s Apple A14 Bionic chipset edged it slightly.

The gaming figures for the OnePlus 9 are similar. The OnePlus 9’s gaming performance was similar in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 offscreen benchmark. It recorded an average frame rate (157) and 67fps during the more difficult Car Chase test. Gaming performance is clearly as good as it can be.

However, battery life has taken a dip. The OnePlus 9 scored 21 hours 53 minutes under the same conditions, while the OnePlus 8T lasted a remarkable 26hrs 30mins. It’s still a good battery score but not as impressive as the OnePlus 8T’s five-month ago.

The OnePlus 9’s USB-C wired charging support supports up to 65W. This means that it can go from 0 to full in as little as 29 minutes. If you have Qi wireless charging, it also supports 15W wireless charging.

Cameras

This review’s camera section is where things get interesting. The OnePlus 9 is the first of a new line OnePlus phones featuring Hasselblad branding. It has been announced that a three-year partnership will be established with Hasselblad, a long-standing camera company. Future releases will see significant changes in both the software and hardware fronts.

The upgrades to this phone are however slightly subtler. According to OnePlus Hasselblad’s efforts have been focused on colour correction. This includes slight changes to the camera app’s “Pro” mode and adding the Hasselblad shutter sound when taking a photo. Those are OnePlus’ words and not mine.

Hardware-wise, the main camera is a 48MP (f/1.8), Sony IMX689 Sony camera. It works alongside a 50MP IMX766 ultra wide unit and a 2MP monochrome sensor. If you compare the specs, you will notice that the regular model does not have the 3.3x telephoto zoom sensor from the OnePlus 9 Pro. This is a shame.

If the final result is good looking, that’s no problem. But in this case, the results are quite unspectacular. The OnePlus 9’s color capture was not impressive to me. It looked almost too blue in most cases, with a little magenta tinge occasionally. The OnePlus 9’s colour capture is also lacking in fine detail. It looks almost cartoonish when compared to Pixel 5’s photos of the Royal Naval College on the other side of the Thames.

The portrait mode of the OnePlus 9 could be improved. It had a tendency not to blur backgrounds and smoothen out faces. Although the wide-angle camera captures more detail than the Pixel 5 without optical blurring in the corners, it is still quite good.

It’s not user-friendly either. The high-resolution mode of the camera is located in the app’s settings and not in the quick-select menu under the viewfinder. It is also frustrating when you attempt to set the resolution and frame rate for filming video. The app greys out certain settings as you choose a new option without giving you any warning.

I had no issues with the video quality of my OnePlus 9! Although you can capture footage at 8K resolution, but without stabilisation and only at 30-fps, the 4K 60fps recording is amazing. It has plenty of detail and rock solid stabilisation even during quick pans.

Verdict

You may be familiar with OnePlus, a brand that has a long history of launching high-priced flagship options. However, the OnePlus 9’s starting price is excessive for me. This is especially true when you consider all the great handsets you can buy for much less.

Although there is a chance that it would outdo all the rest, the overall score of the OnePlus 9 is mediocre at best. It’s clear that the Pixel 5 and Galaxy S20 FE are better options. Or, you could wait until the OnePlus 9 is predicted to be obsolete in less than six months.

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