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OnePlus 9 review: A mighty fine Black Friday deal

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
629
inc VAT

Just five months from the launch of the OnePlus 8T, should you have waited for the OnePlus 9 instead?

Pros 
Serious uptick in performance
Colour-accurate screen
Cons 
Better options for less money
Battery life drop
Hasselblad partnership disappoints
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Black Friday deal: OnePlus 9 drops to lowest-ever price

It wouldn't be Black Friday without a handful of smartphone deals, and this OnePlus 9 bargain is one of the best. Dropping to just £449 for a limited time, OnePlus' flagship is a more worthy recommendation than it was when we initially reviewed it at £629 earlier in the year.
Amazon
Was: £596
Now: £449

OnePlus’ grasp on the mid-range continues to tighten, with the firm predictably updating its flagship-killing smartphones every six months or so with slightly tweaked internals and a handful of added features.

READ NEXT: Best mid-range smartphone

This formulaic release schedule continues in 2021. Fresh off the assembly line, the brand-new OnePlus 9 now compliments the affordable OnePlus Nord N10 5G, but with the dust barely settling on the (frankly rather excellent) OnePlus 8T, all this new stuff better be worth the added cost.

OnePlus 9 review: What you need to know

With a noticeable increase in price this time around, though, OnePlus is now dipping its toes into the high-end, and that’s a fight it might not win.

Starting with the positives, the OnePlus 9 is equipped with the usual selection of flagship trappings, including the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor (a first for OnePlus), with up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. Its 6.55in Full HD screen also has a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz, and it runs Android 11 as soon as you first switch it on.

However, with no IP-rated waterproofing, a pared-down design and a somewhat bland camera offering (despite the Hasselblad team-up), the OnePlus 9 finds itself in a very precarious situation.

OnePlus 9 review: Price and competition

As for the price, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Starting at £629 for the model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, the OnePlus 9 is £80 more expensive than the OnePlus 8T, which launched just five months ago. There’s also a variant with 12GB of RAM and double the storage, which costs an extra £100.

Competition is fierce. The Galaxy S20 FE is a solid mid-range pick, which now only costs £600 (or thereabouts), and the iPhone 12 mini is no slouch either, although it costs slightly more at £699. The Pixel 5 is exceedingly well-priced, too, at just £599.

OnePlus 9 review: Design and key features

It certainly doesn’t help that the OnePlus 9 feels a little less premium than its rivals. 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 looks and feels quite cheap – perhaps closer in appearance to a budget Moto than a £600 handset – and the shiny reflective rear panel is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, too. The OnePlus 9 comes in three new colours; “Winter Mist”, “Arctic Sky” and “Astral Black” – the latter of which is exclusive to the 12GB model. I was sent the “Winter Mist” OnePlus 9 for review.

Still, there are a few positives to be found here. OnePlus remains the only manufacturer to include a three-position do-not-disturb slider on the right edge of the handset, which always comes in handy, and the slim camera housing looks quite neat, too. The fingerprint reader, which is embedded in the bottom portion of the screen, also works well.

What I can’t tolerate, however, is charging £600+ for a handset without any official IP-rated waterproofing. In this day and age, consumers ought to know that their new phone should survive an accidental dunk in the bath every so often. It also doesn’t have space for a microSD card, although this can be excused slightly since it already comes with at least 128GB of storage.

OnePlus 9 review: Display

Thankfully, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the OnePlus 9’s display. That’s pretty much a given, of course, since OnePlus has been knocking it out the park with its smartphone screens for a number of launches now, but it’s nice to see that the OnePlus 9’s 6.55in FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080) AMOLED display doesn’t deviate from the norm.

Brightness peaks at a sunlight-friendly 744cd/m² in auto mode, and contrast is up to snuff, too, with our calibrator measuring an effectively perfect Infinity:1. In the phone’s sRGB mode, the screen delivers 96.6% of the sRGB colour space, with a total coverage of 98.1% and a near-perfect average Delta E of 0.72. Even the pickiest of eyes won’t be able to tell the difference between the colours displayed on screen and those intended.

Before we continue, it’s worth mentioning that the OnePlus 9’s display also supports a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz. The app has to support it, of course, but this adds an extra layer of fluidity to multi-tasking and social media scrolling, as well as giving you the option of high-frame-rate gaming in titles such as Shadowgun Legends, Alto’s Odyssey and Arena of Valor.

OnePlus 9 review: Performance and battery life

The good news continues in the performance stakes. The OnePlus 9 uses the newer Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, which is manufactured using a more efficient 5nm fabrication process, and promises higher levels of sustained performance compared to the last-gen Snapdragon 865. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, the OnePlus 9 also comes with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM.

READ NEXT: Best phone battery life

This isn’t the first 888-fitted phone I’ve reviewed, and the OnePlus 9’s performance benchmarks aren’t anything out of the ordinary, either. In the Geekbench 5 single- and multi-core CPU tests, the OnePlus 9’s performance is improved by up to 28%. It’s the fastest phone among its peers, although the iPhone 12 mini’s A14 Bionic chipset edges it slightly.

The OnePlus 9’s gaming figures paint a similar picture. In the GFXBench Manhattan 3 off-screen benchmark, the OnePlus 9 recorded an average frame rate of 157, with 67fps in the trickier Car Chase test. Clearly, gaming performance is as good as can be.

Battery life, on the other hand, has seen a bit of a nosedive. Where the OnePlus 8T lasted a staggering 26hrs 30mins in our looped video playback test, the OnePlus 9’s score has dropped to 21hrs 53mins under the same conditions. That’s still a solid battery score, of course, but it’s nowhere near as impressive as what we saw on the OnePlus 8T just five months ago.

When battery levels do fall flat, though, the OnePlus 9’s wired USB-C charging supports up to 65W, so it should go from zero to full in just 29 minutes. It also has 15W wireless charging, if you happen to have a Qi wireless charging lying about.

OnePlus 9 review: Cameras

The camera section of this review is where things start to get a bit interesting. Announcing a three-year partnership with long-standing camera firm Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 is the first in a new line of OnePlus phones with Hasselblad branding. We should expect some big changes on both the hardware and software front in future releases as well.

READ NEXT: Best phone camera

With this first phone, however, the upgrades are slightly more subtle. According to OnePlus, Hasselblad has focused its efforts on colour correction, along with slight changes to the camera app’s “Pro” mode, as well as adding the “iconic Hasselblad shutter sound” when you take a picture. Those are OnePlus’ words, not mine.

Hardware-wise, we’re looking at a 48MP (f/1.8) Sony IMX689 main camera, which works alongside a 50MP (f/2.2) IMX766 ultra-wide unit and a somewhat forgettable 2MP monochrome sensor. Place the specs next to each other, and you’ll notice that the regular model lacks the 3.3x telephoto zoom sensor of the OnePlus 9 Pro, too, which is a shame.

If the end result is a good-looking image, then that’s not much of a problem, but in this instance, the results are pretty unspectacular. I certainly wasn’t blown away by the OnePlus 9’s colour capture, which in most cases looked overly blue, sometimes with a slight magenta tinge thrown in for good measure as well. It doesn’t help that there’s very little fine detail, too, looking almost cartoonish compared to the mighty Pixel 5’s images of the Royal Naval College from the opposite side of the Thames:

The OnePlus 9’s portrait mode could also be improved, which had a tendency to smooth out faces, and it didn’t add much in the way of background blur, either. The wide-angle camera is pretty good, though, capturing much more detail than the Pixel 5, without any optical fringing in the corners of the frame.

The software isn’t user friendly, either, with the camera’s high-res mode tucked away in the app’s settings, rather than in the quick-select radial menu located underneath the viewfinder. Equally frustrating is when you try to select the frame rate and resolution when filming video, which greys out certain settings when you select a new option, without any prior warning of what works with what.

On that note, I didn’t have any issues with the OnePlus 9’s video. You can capture footage up to 8K resolution – albeit without stabilisation and only at 30fps – but the 4K, 60fps recording works wonders, with plenty of detail and rock-solid stabilisation, even during quick camera pans.

OnePlus 9 review: Verdict

You might be familiar with OnePlus as a brand with a trusted heritage of launching well-priced flagship alternatives, but the OnePlus 9’s new starting price is too high for my tastes - especially when you consider the long list of terrific handsets you could buy for less instead.

There’s a good chance I would have made an exception if it did manage to outdo the rest but tally up the scores and the OnePlus 9 is middling at best. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’re better off getting a Pixel 5 or Galaxy S20 FE instead, or perhaps waiting until the OnePlus 9 is predictably superseded in less than six months from now.

OnePlus 9 specifications
ProcessorOcta-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (1x2.84GHz, 3x2.42Ghz, 4x1.8GHz)
RAM12GB
Screen size6.55in
Screen resolution2,400 x 1,080
Pixel density402ppi
Screen typeAMOLED
Screen refresh rate120Hz
Front camera16MP (f/2.4)
Rear camera48MP (f/1.8), 50MP (f/2.2) wide, 2MP mono
FlashDual LED
Dust and water resistanceNo
3.5mm headphone jackNo
Wireless chargingYes
USB connection typeUSB-C
Storage options128GB; 256GB
Memory card slot (supplied)No
Wi-Fi802.11ax
Bluetooth5.2
NFCYes
Cellular data5G, 4G
Dual SIMYes
Dimensions (WDH)163 x 74 x 8.7mm
Weight197g
Operating systemAndroid 11
Battery size4,500mAh

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