At $729, the OnePlus 9 is noticeably more expensive than older OnePlus phones. But it also packs the kind of specs you’d see in a $1,000 flagship phone. So, what do you say to a phone that costs less than a flagship but runs like one? I think you say, “Yes, Please.”
The OnePlus 9 Pro is good enough to be great, but it also starts at $969, which is pretty expensive. At $729, the OnePlus 9 lops $240 off the price and manages to eke out most of the same features and performance of the Pro model. What do you lose for your saved dollars? Good question.
Table of Contents
- (Wired) Power for Days
- Cosmic Power, Itty Bitty Living Space
- Killer Performance and OK Battery
- Second Best Cameras from the Fourth Best Company
Despite not being the “Pro” model, the OnePlus 9 comes with some Flagship-like specs, from processor to RAM and Storage.
- Display: 6.5-inch 2400 x 1080 120Hz AMOLED
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- RAM: 8GB, 12GB (reviewed)
- Storage: 128GB, 256GB (reviewed)
- Rear Cameras: 48MP Sony IMX689 main, 50MP Sony IMX766 ultra-wide, 2MP monochrome
- Front camera: 16MP Sony IMX471
- Ports: USB-C
- Headphone Jack: No
- Battery: 4,500mAh with 65-watt Warp Charge
- Biometrics: In-display fingerprint reader
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.2; NFC
- 5G Compatibility: N1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 25, 28, 38, 40, 41, 48, 66, 71, 77, 78
- Ingress Protection: IP68 (T-Mobile Model Only, Not Reviewed)
- Android Version: Android 11, January 2021 Security Update (at the time of writing)
- Colors: Winter Mist, Astral Black (reviewed)
- Price as Reviewed: $729, $829 (reviewed)
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, that looks awfully familiar,” then I assume you’ve read our OnePlus 9 Pro review. Check it: You get the same processor, the same RAM, the same storage, and the same Android version for hundreds of dollars less. Yes, OnePlus did make some cuts, and the company mainly chose the best places to make them.
The big losses are charging options and camera, and we’ll get to the camera later. Just like the 9 Pro, this phone does 65-watt wired charging. That’s stupid fast. But what you don’t get is the 9 Pro’s 50-watt-wireless charging. Nope, you’ll have to settle for 15-watt wireless charging. But who cares? It’s wireless charging. That thing you use when you’re sitting at a desk or sleeping. If you care that much about a really fast charge, use the cable.
One thing worth noting is, I have the OnePlus 8 Pro’s 30-watt wireless charging stand. It works with the OnePlus 9 but at slower speeds. And it seems to kick into red-blinking protection mode more easily. That means on multiple occasions, I’ve woken up to a phone with a 30% battery despite leaving it on the wireless charger all night. I don’t seem to have that issue with standard wireless charging pucks, though.
Another area OnePlus cut corners on is water resistance. If you buy the phone anywhere besides T-Mobile, OnePlus doesn’t provide an IP rating. T-Mobile’s OnePlus 9 phones get an IP68 rating. It’s the same hardware, so presumably, other phones are just as resistant—but no guarantees.
The display is another area that takes a step down, but it’s worse on paper than in reality.
Until the start of this review, I used the OnePlus 8 Pro as my daily driver, and the biggest shock to moving to the OnePlus 9 is how much smaller it feels. Technically speaking, it’s only a little shorter and a little narrower than the 8 Pro, but it makes a huge difference.
With the OnePlus 8 Pro, I always felt like I couldn’t use my phone one-handed for quick texts or selecting notifications. It’s just a bit too unwieldy, and I couldn’t reach the corners of the smartphone. But the OnePlus 9 is perfect. It feels right in my average-sized man-hands.
And maybe that’s because of the flat screen. Yes, unlike the OnePlus 8 Pro and 9 Pro, this isn’t a curved screen. And that’s practically a reason to go with this smartphone because flat displays are better. Curved screens make no sense, and that’s a hill I’d die on.
It is technically a step down in resolution compared to the Pro models at “just” 1080p. But if I’m honest, I don’t really notice. Sure, if I place my 8 Pro next to the 9, start 4K videos, and play “spot the difference,” I can identify that the 8 Pro’s resolution is nicer. But at this size, you’re not missing out on much. To my surprise, I was even able to use the same hole-punch camera-friendly wallpaper with no changes.
Like the 8 Pro, you get a 120Hz refresh rate, which is ridiculously smooth. Swiping notifications and web pages on a 120Hz display is like gliding across a freshly cleaned floor in your socks. You don’t want to go back walking on carpet or 60 Hz displays once you’ve experienced it. You won’t get the 9 Pro’s fancy super-adjusting refresh rate, but that just saves on battery life, and because the OnePlus 9 uses a smaller screen and lower resolution, it probably doesn’t matter. Oh, and just like the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9 has an optional “Comfort Tone” feature that you should turn on. It subtly shifts the colors based on your local environment, and it really does make a difference you can see.
But the next thing I should mention is what I didn’t notice–any appreciably downgrade when moving from the OnePlus 8 Pro to the standard 9. It moves quickly and without a single stutter from app to app, task to task—pretty much like the OnePlus 8 Pro. Despite being the “non-Pro” model, I never once felt the frustration of a slow phone. It makes for an odd sort of compliment, but moving from the OnePlus 8 Pro to the OnePlus 9 is underwhelming because both run so smoothly. It’s not surprising when you think about it though, the OnePlus 9 has the same processor, the same RAM, and the same speedy storage as the 9 Pro.
But just think about that for a moment; you’re paying less for a “not Pro” device and getting “Pro performance.” You’re also getting the same fingerprint reader placement, which is absurdly low. It works, but it requires adjusting how you grip your phone to use it, and I don’t understand why OnePlus decided to stick it there.
The rest of the OnePlus 9 is pretty generic. If you’ve seen one slab smartphone, you’ve seen nearly all of them. You do get the excellent Alert Slider which lets you switch between silent, vibrate, and ringtones. Every phone should have the Alert Slider.
I have the Astral Black version with a glossy finish—thanks, I hate it. You should be able to see your face in this finish, but five seconds after taking the phone out of the box, you’ll find it completely covered in dust and fingerprint smudges. And it’s slippier than a wet bar of soap. Put a case on as soon as possible. Sooner, if possible.
I’m half tempted to just copy and paste our OnePlus 9 Pro review for this section. Android screams on this processor, and OnePlus does a great job of resisting the temptation to give it a complete makeover. (Looking at you, Samsung.) You’ll find a few tweaks on Oxygen OS, but they’re actually helpful, which is downright shocking.
I won’t spend much time here, because everything we said in our OnePlus 9 Pro review applies here. The thing you need to know is, you’ll get through a day just fine on a single charge. You probably won’t make it two full days. I work and play hard and end most days at about 40% charge.
But if I’m ever worried, I just plug it into the WARP charger for 10-20 minutes and I know it’ll be good to go. With 65-watt charging, shorter battery life doesn’t seem like a big deal.
I can’t tell you about battery life while on a 5G network because OnePlus has a convoluted approach to 5G. The OnePlus 9 works on T-Mobile’s 5G network. It will soon work with Verizon’s 5G network, but that’s still rolling out. And it doesn’t work on AT&T’s 5G network at all, and it doesn’t seem it ever will. I’m on AT&T’s towers, and I have 5G service in my area, but as far as the OnePlus 9 is concerned, I only have 4G. The same goes for every other OnePlus phone, and that’s a shame.
Finally, we’re getting to the big differentiator between the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro. The cameras. It may not matter that the 9 has slower charging, or a lower-resolution display, or official IP ratings only through T-mobile. But smartphone cameras are a big deal.
And here’s where things get confusing. The OnePlus 9 has the same Ultra-Wide lens as the 9 Pro but a lower-grade main lens. It has no telephoto lens, no Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) in any of the lenses, and no laser focus. But you get the 2-megapixel monochrome lens, which is frustrating for reasons I’ll get into later.
In theory, all the comparable lenses are better than the 8 Pro, but that has OIS and a telephoto lens, so it’s a half upgrade and a half downgrade. But camera hardware is only half the story. OnePlus partnered with Hasselblad to fine-tune its software and color profiles, and that work went into the OnePlus 9.
So, how does that all shake out? Sometimes, the 9 takes better photos than the 8 Pro; sometimes, you can’t tell the difference at all. It’s never as good as the 9 Pro. So, you’re getting the second-best cameras available from the company that’s still not quite on the same playing field as Samsung, Apple, or Google.
But that doesn’t mean the OnePlus 9’s photos are terrible. With the Hasselblad partnership, OnePlus promised photos that look natural and not oversaturated. For the most part, that’s very true, and in good lighting, you can take some beautiful shots if you line things up right. And, if you like to retouch photos, starting with more natural colors is a benefit. Of course, if you want the most control, you always shoot in Pro mode and turn on the RAW capture option.
As long as you have plenty of light, you can get really good photos without much effort. But once the sun sets, that story changes. Good night shots require a steady hand, and OIS makes a world of difference. The OnePlus 9 doesn’t have OIS, so low-lighting photos suffer for it, and the software just doesn’t hold up to Google’s amazing AI magic. If you don’t have any source of lighting to help out, you probably shouldn’t bother taking the picture.
In our OnePlus 9 Pro review, we mentioned the telephoto lens isn’t anything special, and it’ll take a few attempts to get a good shot. That’s still better than the OnePlus 9. It doesn’t have a telephoto lens, so any zoomed-in picture is really a crop. Don’t bother; it’ll never turn out good. I can’t understand why OnePlus chose to keep the useless 2-megapixel monochrome lens and drop the telephoto. One is a pointless lens, the other at least has some limited benefit. Overall, you’ll get the best photos from the Ultra-Wide lens, but the main camera does the job, too.
Do you want to know what the OnePlus 9 phone really is? A good deal. For $240 less than the Pro, you get a phone every bit as powerful and speedy, and you’ll even get the same fast wired charging. You’ll miss out on fast wireless charging, a bigger and higher resolution screen with fancy technology, but that feels worth the price. It’s worth mentioning that for $100 more, you can get a OnePlus 9 with 12 GBs of RAM and 256 GBs of storage, and frankly that’s the model you should buy.
The only real deal breaker might be the cameras. If you want the absolute best cameras on the market, then OnePlus isn’t for you. But if you can settle for good enough, the 9 is probably just that—good enough. If you want a little more reliability, then maybe step up to the 9 Pro.
But look at it this way, I’m coming from the 8 Pro, which has a higher resolution screen, faster wireless charging, and fingerprint sensor in a location that makes sense. But I prefer the OnePlus 9 as my daily driver. The cameras are good enough, and the rest feels like I’m rocking a $1,000 flagship phone.
And all considered, that means the price is right.
Here’s What We Like
- Top Tier specs for less than top tier money
- Flat screen!
- Super fast wired charging
And What We Don't
- No OIS or laser focus
- No telephoto lens
- Fingerprint magnet