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OnePlus 9 review

A smaller sibling of some serious stature Tested at £629 / $729

OnePlus 9 review
(Image: © OnePlus)

Our Verdict

Flagship features and a big, clear screen make this mid-priced mobile a good option for your pocket

For

  • Good for gaming
  • Detailed picture performance
  • Decent built-in speakers

Against

  • Screen could be subtler
  • Flat audio performance

Alec Baldwin may be the best known, and arguably most talented, of his siblings but as Trey Parker and Matt Stone once wrote: you know what sucks about being a Baldwin? Nothing! Thankfully for Billy, Daniel, Stephen and the OnePlus 9 smartphone, life always has room for a little brother.

With only two members of the OnePlus 9 family, finding a niche as the more affordable smaller sibling should be no problem at all. The OnePlus 9 is still a big phone and its 6.55-inch display means it can bring some serious scale to your portable viewing.

Not only does the OnePlus 9 have an HDR10+-supporting, 120Hz AMOLED screen, it also has a Hasselblad camera set-up on board too. And it charges so quickly that by the time you remember that you plugged it in, it’s probably full and ready to go.

Granted, there are a few nips and tucks to the specs compared with the OnePlus 9 Pro but, with around a quarter off the Pro's price tag, this Android handset has the tempting promise of a flagship phone at a mid-range price.

Pricing

The OnePlus 9 is priced at £629 for the Astral Black and Arctic Sky versions, which come with 128GB of storage space and 8GB of RAM in the UK and Europe. The Winter Mist OnePlus 9 is £729 and comes with 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM.

In the US, only the Astral Black and Winter Mist finishes are available, but both come with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. The US OnePlus 9 is priced at $729.

Features

OnePlus 9 features

(Image credit: OnePlus)

A phone with a 6.55-inch screen is just about small enough to carry out most of your operations one-handed without fear of dropping it, although swiping from the top and bottom without adjusting your grip makes for some pretty intensive thumb yoga. Laid next to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the standard OnePlus 9 is just 4mm shorter at 160mm long and a little thinner at 8.7mm rather than 9mm, but has the same 74mm width.

Despite its fibreglass polymer frame, the finish still feels premium for a non-metal phone. The three-way sliding switch for the silent, vibrate and ring profiles is a particularly nice touch. Underneath that, there is the power button, on the opposite side is the volume rocker with the USB-C port and SIM tray on the bottom edge. Sadly, there’s no 3.5mm headphone socket.

OnePlus 9 tech specs

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Screen 6.55in AMOLED

Resolution 2400 x 1080 (402ppi)

Rear camera 48MP, 50MP, 2MP

Front camera 16MP

Dolby Atmos Yes

Finishes x3

Dimensions (hwd) 16 x 7.4 x 0.9cm

Weight 192g

For wireless audio, there's Bluetooth 5.2 with aptX and aptX HD included as well as LDAC technology, which allows hi-res audio streaming over Bluetooth at up to 24-bit/96 kHz.

As for that screen, it’s a 2400 x 1080 AMOLED panel with a fixed 120Hz refresh rate and a pixel density of 402ppi. Compared with the 9 Pro (525ppi), it’s a little less sharp and slightly dimmer too, with a peak brightness of 1100nits rather than the 1300nit display on the Pro. On top is a flat piece of Gorilla Glass, under which is a hidden fingerprint reader, though you can also unlock the phone using face recognition.

Those looking to dive into some on-the-go TV and film watching will appreciate the HDR10+ and HDR10 support with plenty of HDR compatibility to be found on Netflix and others. You can play locally stored MKV, MOV, MP4, H.265 (HEVC), AVI and other video file formats. The display proportions offer a maximum possible 20:9 aspect ratio, but while most content is edged by a pair of black bars, premium gaming titles use the whole screen width.

Game Mode Pro is a handy feature of Oxygen OS – an otherwise light skin on top of Android 11. It shuts off notifications from popping up on your screen, restricts background app use to divert as much processing power to your gaming as possible and prioritises your network use for game data. We also like the way it brings quick access to options such as WhatsApp messaging, Instagram and screen recording with a small, pull-down menu at your thumb.

OnePlus 9 features

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The gameplay itself is well handled. The fast refresh rate of the display helps your gaming feel lag-free, both on and off-line. OnePlus has installed its Cool Play vapour cooling system, but even after one round of PUBG Mobile, the handset still feels pretty warm.

Despite that, and the fixed 120Hz rate, the 4500mAh battery takes us well beyond a day of heavy use. Should you need to recharge more regularly, you’ll be pleased to note that the Warp 65T charger included in the box takes just under 30 minutes to fill your phone.

As with the OnePlus 9 Pro, owners of this handset benefit from a Hasselblad-calibrated camera array. Here, it is a three-lens set-up, with a main 48MP camera, a 50MP ultrawide and a monochrome shooter, but no telephoto. There is 12-bit colour depth stills imaging available in Pro Mode for RAW files and you can capture 8K video at 30fps and 4K video at 60fps.

Telephoto aside, the performance of the camera is right up there with that of the 9 Pro's. The optical image stabilisation works a treat for the handheld tracking shots around our test facilities. The results look almost as if they were shot using a camera dolly and there’s the odd jump only with fast pans. The colours are bright and rich, if not quite as real-world accurate as the best smartphones.

As with its bigger brother, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip orchestrates the action with great aplomb. There’s barely a glitch or stutter in our time with the phone and we’d expect it to stay that way with regular updates and fixes to the OS, the UI and third-party apps.

Screen

OnePlus 9 screen

(Image credit: OnePlus)

If you’re expecting the performance of the OnePlus 9 to match that of the OnePlus 9 Pro, think again – that extra spend goes on more than just an aluminium frame and some curved glass. But there is a lot to like about the OnePlus 9’s picture performance.

It’s easy to lose ourselves in the story of The Witcher in HDR on Netflix. It’s a bright and engaging image with a decent degree of punch and no wanting for detail in light and dark areas of the screen. The opening shots across the shaded interior of a barn reveal lots of detail in the shadows without doing much damage to the black depth. Even when the frame becomes split between that darkness and the bright daylight on the faces of the young lovers outside the barn, the overall exposure levels remain well pitched.

We’re just as pleased with how the OnePlus 9 handles SDR. The Display P3 mode brings a good blend between the natural look of the Missouri countryside and the exciting colours of sci-fi space as we watch Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 in Full HD. If you’d rather not get your hands dirty in the settings, pull the colour temperature towards ‘cold’ or use the Natural preset.

As with the OnePlus 9 Pro, though, there’s room for improvement. The very best handsets maintain a slightly inkier black depth and add a bit more of a dynamic HDR feel, while some displays are a touch more careful with shading. It’s most apparent when looking at faces – the skin complexion of the lovers in The Witcher episode, for example, are fairly uniform in their production, when colour and lighting could be handled a little better.

But these performance compromises are in line with the 9 Pro, which also favours dark detail over black depth. The 9 Pro is sharper, a little brighter and the colours go a touch further before starting to look artificial but, given the difference in price, this is to be expected. The OnePlus 9 still makes for some worthy big-screen viewing at this point in the market.

Sound

OnePlus 9 sound

(Image credit: OnePlus)

But while the screen can be classed as ‘good’, the audio performance of the OnePlus 9 is firmly in the average category. It plays your favourite tracks faithfully enough but is never going to thrill you. That doesn’t mean that it’s not without its charms, though.

OnePlus’s ‘Dual stereo speaker’ set-up is fine for listening to music or watching a film without headphones. Dialogue is clear and sound effects are identifiable, while music is balanced and not without a sense of presence. We’d recommend listening without the Dolby Atmos music processing, but both ‘Film’ and ‘Music’ modes come across well.

Listening to Biffy Clyro’s Many Of Horror, the OnePlus 9 conveys that powerful sense of emotion. There’s definition and clarity to the vocals and the squeaky slides up the guitar strings of the intro, even if it’s not the most detailed delivery we’ve heard. The volume on the device doesn’t go particularly high but reaches the top with hardly any distortion.

For headphones listening, it’s best to axe the processing and set the OnePlus 9 to ‘None’ under ‘Style Preference’ in the sound settings. It doesn’t do much to make up for this phone’s underwhelming dynamics but keeps music as rhythmic as possible. We play Blue Monday by New Order and the impact of the electro beats and synth sounds is in line with the OnePlus 9 Pro’s performance. The more expensive model has a better stab at organising the sounds but, paired with a decent set of headphones, there’s still plenty to enjoy here.

But with busier tracks, there’s more of a sense of what could have been, sonically. We hit play on Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden, hoping for a taste of moody grunge. But while all the instruments are there and tonally in balance, Chris Cornell’s voice comes across flat and expressionless. Nor is there a change of gear when the drum fills announce the chorus. Ultimately, this phone plugs the music gap while we’re out and about, but not an awful lot more.

Verdict

There aren’t many smartphones that offer so much screen real estate at this price. The fact that it’s such an involving picture performance is a compelling reason to buy the OnePlus 9.

Our doubts are mostly on the audio side, as some rival phones make music on the go a more exciting affair. If you use a dedicated music player or are looking for a mobile phone primarily for its video performance, then don’t let its sonic drawbacks put you off. Between the high-performing chipset, the lag-free gaming, the Hasselblad camera and the scale and quality of the screen, there are plenty of reasons why the OnePlus 9 is a good idea.

SCORES

  • Screen 4
  • Sound 3
  • Features 5

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