OnePlus 9 Review: Thanks to Hasselblad, OnePlus gets to finally show its true colours

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The new OnePlus 9 sees the start of a three-year partnership with Swedish camera aficionados Hasselblad, and it is already showing signs of promise.

OnePlus 9 rear view

Released at the same time as the OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus now have two phones which aim to improve bump up the reputation the Chinese phone maker has in the world of mobile photography.

Despite OnePlus phones coming equipped with very decent cameras over the last couple of years, OnePlus has struggled to convince a wide audience that it can compete with rival models, such as the Samsung Galaxy Ultra models, the iPhone, or Huawei phones (when they were still relevant).

Is the OnePlus 9 and its bigger brother going to be able to change this? Well, read my review to find out – and also look at the photos to make your own mind up – because these are what may swing it.

The OnePlus 9 is the successor to the OnePlus 8T and OnePlus 8, each released in 2020. Like those models, the OnePlus 9 comes with 5G as standard, making it essentially come down to your choice of colour, RAM, and storage.

  • The model reviewed here, supplied by OnePlus for the purpose of a review, is the Winter Mist variant that comes with 12GB+256GB and a retail price of £729. The other colours are Astral Black and Arctic Sky, each costing £629 for 8GB+128GB. OnePlus has not seen this review before publishing and had no input in its editorial content.

Design & Build

The tail end of 2020 saw a bit of a turning point where the race to increase pricing with every new release finally started to slow. It seems the industry perhaps could see things were getting out of control, and the pandemic having changed people’s priorities (if you’re not going out so much, why buy a fancy new smartphone?).

While the OnePlus 9 is up in price on last year’s models, the increase is fairly modest. There are also quite a number of improvements to the phone in terms of specification, although the rear of the phone is now a mix of plastic (frame) and glass (rear) that shows some costs have been cut to avoid an even bigger price hike.

In my opinion, the phone looks every bit as premium as any other flagship, but with the shiny finish (a move away from the matte finishes used on earlier models) and the camera protruding beyond the rear glass, you’re going to want to use the supplied case, buy another official OnePlus case (you can see the Sandstone Black case in some photos here), or one of the many third-party cases already filling up the Amazon store.

The rest of the phone design is pretty standard OnePlus, with the volume keys on the left-hand side, the same switch to toggle the ringer settings on the right, a power button, in-glass fingerprint sensor, USB-C port, and stereo audio (consisting of a down firing speaker and a front-facing second speaker by the earpiece). There’s no 3.5mm headphone port.

Besides the Hasselblad branding in the camera array, the rest of the back is reserved for a OnePlus logo and the usual product ID code and company information.

At 8.7mm thick and weighing in at 192g, the phone isn’t as svelte as some smartphones now on sale – but it’s certainly very pocketable and won’t weigh you down.

Screen

The OnePlus 9 comes with a large, non-curved, 6.55-inch AMOLED display, with a FHD+ (1080×2400 pixel) resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, and Corning Gorilla Glass protection. A factory fitted screen protector is included, which is quite thick but didn’t impact on the screen responsiveness.

At the top-left hand side is a small cut-out for a 16-megapixel selfie camera.

Camera

When OnePlus announced it was collaborating with Hasselblad, there were some sighs of disappointment, with a belief that it would be nothing but a cynical branding exercise, an accusation once levelled at Huawei when it partnered up with Leica.

In Huawei’s case, it took a few years to really make big changes – starting with the P9 and improving year on year until we got to the P40 last year (and the P50 looming on the horizon for later this year). Huawei’s loss is OnePlus’ gain, given Huawei is no longer a viable consideration for most people, due to the loss of Google services access.

OnePlus has signed a £150m deal that will last for at least three years, so is likely following a similar path as Huawei. The company has admitted that in the first instance, Hasselblad has been responsible primarily for tuning the colour accuracy and a few other fairly innocuous features. There’s a Hasselblad shutter sound, and an orange shutter button, which are each just modifications of the standard OnePlus camera interface.

Opinions have so far have divided going by the earliest reviews, with some people claiming the collaboration to be nothing more than a gimmick, at least for now, but those opinions are often held by people who have always been knocking OnePlus for its photographic ability.

I have actually found OnePlus phones to be pretty decent in the camera department, and many issues have been fixed as time goes on through updates. Now that’s not necessarily a glowing endorsement, given you’d hope for things to be right from day one, but some reviewers have perhaps judged things on an early, perhaps rushed, review of a phone that may have had very early software installed.

Or perhaps I have lower standards, which is doubtful. I think a key issue with comparing with other devices is you can forget to judge things in their own right. Is the OnePlus going to be the absolute best camera? Perhaps not, for now at least, but are the photos still considered to be of a high quality when looked at independently? I would say yes.

Don’t get too close

A bigger problem, which can’t be fixed in software, is the loss of a telephoto camera on the non-Pro series models. This happened with the OnePlus 8 and continued through to the 8T, and now the 9.

While the primary 48-megapixel camera is the same as on last year’s flagship Oppo Find X2 Pro and the OnePlus 8 Pro, accompanied by a brand-new Sony ultra-wide sensor for the OnePlus 9 series, the third camera here is a rather pointless 2-megapixel monochrome camera for depth detection.

2-megapixel cameras should not be a thing in 2021, any more than in 2020 or perhaps the last four or five years.

If you want to zoom in on a subject, you’re limited to cropping from the main camera and that’s basically good for 2x, or losing definition rapidly up to its 10x limit. Forget about taking close-up shots of the moon with this phone – although that’s not to say you couldn’t be inventive like in the photo below, where OnePlus set up a shot to recreate a Moonbow effect as part of a campaign that will give you the chance to win a OnePlus 9 series phone!

Picture: A rare Moonbow phenomenon, recreated by OnePlus for the OnePlus 9 Series launch.

Clearly if you need a higher level of zoom, the OnePlus 9 Pro is the model to go for.

Returning to the ultra-wide camera camera, the Sony IMX766 image sensor is kitted out with a Freeform Lens that aims to reduce the distortion that normally accompanies ultra-wide images. It lessens the fish-eye effect, and is all done optically, rather than in post.

It’s a 50-megapixel resolution, and it captures a lot of light so you can use the Nightscape mode effectively with this or the primary camera and get similar, impressive, results. You can’t zoom when taking photos in low-light at all.

In terms of colour accuracy, the phone is definitely more natural than before – but I am not sure it really makes a huge difference, and in some cases might actually hinder things. I’m sure a lot of people prefer the overly saturated look of many images (the same reasons TV makers ramp up the colour on demo modes for use on retail floors) and I found myself adjusting the colour profile back to a more vivid mode at times.

It’s all down to personal preference, and you have a large range of profiles you can select on the phone – along with access to all the common features like panoramic mode, portrait, time-lapse, slow motion etc.

The most important thing is that you can just fire up the camera and take a photo with confidence, and I had no trouble doing this. The camera interface is very easy to use, and very quick to process images. Even night shots didn’t require long exposure times.

I did find the HDR mode could leave artefacts when stitching together multiple shots taken at different exposure levels (where things had moved between shots), a function that is improved on the Pro where the primary camera can take three different exposure shots simultaneously. However, you can adjust the settings to turn HDR off if this is going to be a problem on a particular photo.

You can select a high-res mode that turns off the pixel binning and saves an image at full-resolution, if you want more detail, but this will require very good lighting to work effectively. Likewise, you can save RAW images if you want to use the Professional mode that allows you to adjust every parameter manually.

When using the selfie camera, a green light is shown to the right-hand side of the camera – just like when using a webcam. It looks like there’s a dedicated LED for this purpose, but it is of course just a green dot showing on the AMOLED display itself. It’s a nice touch.

Photo Samples

The zoom capabilities of the OnePlus 9 are somewhat hampered by the lack of a dedicated telephoto camera. Here’s an example of the 10x zoom. Click for a full-screen view, but prepare yourself first… it isn’t pretty!

The Realme 8 Pro introduced a new tilt-shift mode and it also makes an appearance on the OnePlus 9 too, albeit with a little less control. It’s a fun feature to play with, in moderation.

Tilt-shift OnePlus 9

On the video side, the OnePlus 9 will record at up to 8K resolution with 30 frames per second, 4K or 1080p at 60 frames per second, and with HDR at 4K or 1080p and 30 frames per second.

The front camera offers 30 or 60fps at 1080p only.

Video sample

Performance & Battery

AnTuTu (v9) score: 753316

If there’s one thing that is a definite step-up from last year’s OnePlus 8 and 8T, it’s the performance from Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chip with Adreno 660 GPU. And it’s great to see there’s no difference between the chipset used on the 9 as the 9 Pro, as is now common on some other phone ranges with Pro and non-Pro models.

There’s the same LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage options, and both phones come with a 4,500mAh battery with support for OnePlus’ new 65T wired-charging, that gets the battery from 0% to 100% in under 30 minutes. It’s insanely fast, and with the lower-resolution display the OnePlus 9 is the model that is going to last longest between those quick charges.

Geekbench 5: 1118 single core, 3545 multi-core

Th OnePlus 9 Pro gets 50W wireless charging also, but the OnePlus 9 makes do with a modest 15W charging speed if you want to do so wirelessly. Still fast enough to be useful for quick top-up here and there on a pad or stand, if not necessarily giving the phone a full charge from near-empty.

The OnePlus 9 ships with Android 11 out of the box, and still runs OxygenOS (there were some reports suggesting a change to Oppo’s ColorOS, but these turned out to be for the Chinese models only). Since the introduction of Android 11, the UI has become a little more like Samsung’s One UI – which is no bad thing.

There are many similarities between Oppo’s ColorOS and Realme’s Realme UI (not surprising given the same parent company) and perhaps things will all merge in the future, but I don’t think it will make a huge difference – especially if OnePlus is still able to make little tweaks here and there through themes.

The OnePlus has some features not present on other BBK Electronics sub-brands, and one feature is the ability to combine a Wi-Fi connection with a mobile data connection to speed up file transfers on Google Drive, the Play Store or downloading firmware updates.

Wi-Fi is nice and fast, with Wi-Fi 6 connectivity going up to just under 2Gbps, more than enough for the fastest Internet connections, or to transfer files between devices, accessing a NAS etc.

Everything about the OnePlus 9 is fast, and game performance is boosted with two game modes; the top being the crazy Fnatic mode that disables all unnecessary tasks to maximise CPU and GPU speed. Not that the phone is ever slow to begin with, but it’s a good way to ensure you won’t be interrupted by incoming messages or calls.

Under full load, AnTuTu (see above) did cause the phone to rise in temperature by eight degrees to a peak of 37.5 degrees celsius, but this is still very respectable and should keep thermal throttling to a minimum on heavy gaming sessions.

With the great screen and audio, it might not be marketed as a gaming device, but it’s definitely up there with any of the dedicated gaming-centric phones being sold right now.

Final thoughts

As a keen photographer I can see the Pro being the model I’d likely choose of the two, on account of the lack of a telephoto camera, but with the Pro starting at £829, there’s a £200 premium to get this. For a lot of people a 2x zoom will be perfectly sufficient.

The most important consideration is that while the screen might be a fraction smaller, and lack the curved edges (some will see that is a plus, but I’ve actually grown to quite like curved displays), the Pro screen will put the battery under more pressure. It might have a variable refresh rate (where the OnePlus 9 is set at 60 or 120Hz at all times), but it’s unlikely to make up for the extra screen brightness and processor load to drive those extra pixels.

By including a highly respectable image sensor from last year’s flagship model, alongside the same ultra-wide camera that is on the Pro, plus the same chipset, RAM, storage options, battery, and wired charging speed, the OnePlus 9 really isn’t as much of a compromise as you might initially think.

It’s always easy to upsell yourself, and I am sure many people will go for the Pro on this basis alone, but the OnePlus 9 isn’t the model for people who can’t afford to buy the Pro, it’s a phone that arguably has an even greater market appeal because it represents better value, with so few compromises.

Key Specifications

OnePlus 9
Size/Weight160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm / 192g
Screen6.55-inch AMOLED
FHD+ 1080×2400 pixels
120Hz refresh rate
20:9 aspect ratio
In-display fingerprint sensor
AudioDual stereo speakers
Noise cancellation
Dolby Atmos
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 888 (5nm)
Adreno 660 GPU
RAM8GB or 12GB LPDDR5
OSAndroid 11 – OxygenOS
Storage128GB or 256GB UFS3.1
Camera (front)Punch-hole 16MP Sony IMX471 Fixed Focus (f/2.4)
Camera (rear)Primary: Sony IMX689 48MP f/1.8
Ultra-wide: Sony IMX766 50MP f/2.2
Mono: 2-megapixels
Dual LED flash
Video: 8K/30, 4K/60 1080p/60 with EIS
ConnectivityDual band Wi-Fi 6 2×2 MIMO
5G with VoLTE, ViLTE and VoWiFi
Bluetooth 5.2 + aptX & aptX HD, LDAC, AAC
NFC
USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
Battery4,500mAh
65T Warp Charge (10V/6.5A)
15W Qi Wireless Charging
OtherDual-SIM
Alert Slider
OnePlus 65W charger in box
Pre-applied screen protector
Clear protective case

Pricing and Availability

The OnePlus 9 is available in the following colours: Winter Mist (12+256GB), Astral Black (8+256GB), and Arctic Sky (8+256GB)

The phone is available on pre-order now, with customers receiving free OnePlus Buds Z if ordering between now and April 26th at 0900.

  • OnePlus 9 8GB RAM/128GB storage: £629
  • OnePlus 9 12GB RAM/256GB storage: £729
More information
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OnePlus 9

£629/£729
8.8

Features

9.0/10

Performance

9.5/10

Camera

8.0/10

Value

8.5/10

Pros

  • Smaller sibling has equal performance as Pro model in almost every department
  • Camera experience won't disappoint
  • Incredible fast-charging capability, now with wireless charging too
  • 5G and extra-fast Wi-Fi 6 support for future proofing

Cons

  • Lack of telephoto camera does limit overall flexibility of camera
  • Wireless charging not as fast as the Pro
  • Hasselblad tuning is fairly minimal on the first generation

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