OnePlus 9 review: a well-rounded smartphone to rival the big players

The OnePlus 9 boasts some serious specs as well as speedy performance

OnePlus 9 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The OnePlus 9 is the perfect combination of speed and beauty in a flagship smartphone, with a slightly more accessible price tag. Building on its predecessor with more impressive specs and a much better camera system, OnePlus has knocked it out of the park with this one.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Super fast charging

  • +

    Fluid, smooth 120Hz display

  • +

    Fast performance

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    No MicroSD card slot

  • -

    The glass back is prone to marks

  • -

    Could have a better battery life

OnePlus 9 - key specs

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Dimensions: 160x74.2x8.7mm
Weight: 192g
Screen: 6.55 inches AMOLED (120Hz, HDR10+)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
GPU: Adreno 660
RAM: 8GB/12GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Rear cameras: 48MP, 50MP, 2MP
Front cameras: 16MP
Battery: 4,500 mAh
OS: Android 11 /Oxygen OS 11
5G: Yes

Comfortably earning a spot as one of the best smartphones and one the best gaming phones, the OnePlus 9 demonstrates OnePlus’ commitment to their Never Settle mantra. 

Since 2013, the Chinese company has attempted to produce handsets that will rival the big players in the industry like Apple, Samsung and Huawei. The OnePlus 8 got the closest they've ever been but still didn't quite cut it in comparison. 

One of the most anticipated launches of 2021, the OnePlus 9 is their next attempt at levelling the playing field. It features an upgraded chipset, a bigger battery, 120Hz refresh rate, a new Hasselblad triple camera system as well as some fresh camera modes to go with it. On paper, the OnePlus 9 looks fantastic, so did it live up to its impressive specs? 

I've been putting the OnePlus 9 through its paces to bring you a detailed review of everything from its design, display and camera to its hardware and overall performance. 

OnePlus 9 review: price and availability  

After launching on the 23rd March 2021, the OnePlus 9 became available for pre-order from oneplus.com. You will be able to buy the phone on April 26th 2021 from outlets like Amazon. 

Prices start from $729 in the US and £629 in the UK (about AU$940) for 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. In the UK, you will be able to get the 12GB RAM, 256GB storage version for £729 (about AU$1070). Unfortunately for Aussies, it's unlikely they will be able to buy this smartphone locally as OnePlus rarely brings its phones Down Under. 

OnePlus 9 review: design and display 

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The OnePlus 9 weighs 192g and measures 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm. Thinner than the OnePlus 8, it's more comfortable to hold for most people, also helped by its slightly curved back. Those with small hands may still find it pretty big to use but not impossibly big. The phone comes in three colourways: Astral Black, Winter Mist purple and Arctic Sky blue. I got my hands on the Winter Mist variant, the purple reflective glass on the back of the phone looks sleek and shiny, though is prone to fingerprint marks. 

Completely flat, the front of the phone has slim bezels and an edge-to-edge display that's only interrupted by the front camera which is discreetly tucked into the top corner. On the rear, the three cameras are located in the top left corner. The rectangular notch does poke out a bit, it's annoying if you use it on a flat surface and may get caught sliding in and out of your pocket but it does look the part.

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: Future)

On the right side of the frame is an alert slider to quickly switch between Silent, Vibration and Ring mode. Below that is the usual power button, and the volume controls are on the left. There’s no MicroSD card slot in the OnePlus 9, and it charges through the USB-C port at the bottom of the phone. To unlock the handset, there’s an in-display fingerprint sensor as well as face unlock. I thought both worked almost instantly every time I used them. 

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: Future)

The OnePlus 9 has a stunning 6.55inch FHD+ AMOLED display with a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels at 402 ppi. You’ll quickly notice just how bright the screen is at 1,100 nits, as well as how vivid the colours are. There is an option in the settings menu to tone the colours down to more natural hues if you prefer. 

Like every other recent flagship, the OnePlus 9 has a 120Hz refresh rate giving a completely fluid experience when flicking through web pages or social media. To say that it feels smooth is an understatement, the silky feel can only truly be appreciated in games with frame rates higher than 60fps, like Minecraft. Discovering spots on Google Earth is another way to unlock the potential of the high refresh rate.

In the box with the OnePlus 9, is the Warp Charge 65 adaptor, a USB-C to USB-C cable, the Quick Start Guide, a OnePlus sticker, a clear protective case and a SIM tray ejector. The OnePlus 9 comes with a screen protector pre-applied.

OnePlus 9 review: camera system

OnePlus 9

(Image credit: OnePlus)

 

Having partnered with Swedish camera manufacturer, Hasselblad, the OnePlus 9 takes a big leap up from its predecessor in its camera technology. On the back is a 48MP main camera, a 50MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP monochrome lens, with a Sony IMX766 sensor. On the front is a 16MP selfie camera. With the help of Hasselblad, OnePlus have created their new standard Natural Colour Calibration, making hues in photos appear more realistic. 

In testing this out, it did ring true, with sharp, crisp photos that look bright and accurate in natural light. Plus there's a great balance between light and dark areas. Admittedly, on a gloomy day, colours in the photos could have done with a bit of a boost as they came out looking a little dull, but in natural light the camera really does excel. 

The macro photography was a real-winner on this smartphone, it manages to pick up lots of detail from just 4cm away, giving you professional-looking shots up close. From the front selfie camera, you get excellent, detailed photos that will easily be good enough to use on social media. To see some of the shots I took, scroll through the gallery below. 

There’s no optical zoom here, so you just get the 10x digital zoom which crops the photo inwards. As expected, the 10x zoom doesn’t deliver photos you’ll want to print out and display, but you could just about get away with using the 5x zoom for decent shots.

Portrait, Nightscape and Pro are just a few of the camera modes to choose from. They’ve also added in a new Tilt-Shift mode giving objects a miniature effect, OnePlus claims this will be best used for landscapes or cityscapes. It blurs out parts of the photo and keeps the focus on others. After giving it a go, I thought it did a better job at capturing smaller subjects rather than cityscapes, but it looked good both ways and is definitely worth using.

If you want a decent point and shoot smartphone camera, the OnePlus 9 will bring out the photographer in you, and although not quite on par with the likes of the Apple iPhone 12, it’s not that far off either.

Among the OnePlus 9’s many choices of video resolution, the very highest takes things up a notch with 8K recording at 30fps. You can also choose to shoot video in 4K at 30 or 60fps, 1080p at 240fps, in super slow motion or time-lapse. It also has “3-HDR” improving the dynamic range and giving you a much better view of both the subject and background of the video footage.

OnePlus 9 review: hardware, performance and battery 

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: Future)
OnePlus 9 - Geekbench 5 scores

GeekBench

(Image credit: GeekBench)

[CPU]

Single-Core Score: 1,118

Multi-Core Score: 3,639

[Compute]

OpenCL: 4,603

Vulkan: 3,949

Under the hood, the OnePlus 9 is packed with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip with either 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage- easily rivalling other recent flagship smartphones. I reviewed the 12GB/256GB handset. 

On Geekbench 5, it scored 1,118  in single-core and 3,639 in multi-core, a boost on the OnePlus 8 Pro for sure and achieving similar scores to the Samsung S21 Ultra. I tried to slow it down, by having tons of apps and games open at once, but to no avail. The OnePlus 9 is a smartphone that delivers on speed. 

On top of that, there’s Wifi 6 and 5G connectivity for those who live in an area that supports it. If not, at least the OnePlus 9 will be future-proof and you will have speedy web browsing at home nevertheless. 

Running on the light Android 11 skin, Oxygen OS11, the user interface feels like a comfortable and familiar Android experience, with a few extra features to play with too. The Pro Gaming Mode is a superb example, it blocks out all distractions from other apps, reduces latency, improves app launch speed and increases performance overall. Well worth a go if you are big on mobile gaming. Another feature worth shouting about is the Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers which give you a punchy, rich sound that will be good for gaming, TV and music alike. You rarely hear a smartphone that sounds this good.

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

A 4,500mAh battery is standard when it comes to higher-end phones, but other flagships do go beyond that. Over two hours of video on full brightness, the OnePlus 9’s battery level dropped by 14%, suggesting it would have lasted just over 14 hours from a full charge. But where the OnePlus 9 really blew me away was seeing just how quickly it charges up again. The new Warp Charge 65T adaptor means you get a full charge in just 29 minutes. Hopefully, that’ll mean the end of ever leaving the house with a low battery.  It also supports 15W Qi wireless charging, if you have the right kit for it. 

OnePlus 9 review: verdict 

OnePlus 9 review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Taking a big leap in the camera setup, opting for the highest refresh rate and keeping up to date with the latest chipset gives this smartphone a serious shot at rivalling the likes of Apple, Samsung and Huawei. 

What OnePlus does really well is evolving its handsets based on the critiques of the last. Yet again, they’ve listened to both their users and the marketplace to make some major improvements in their 2021 flagship smartphone. It’s safe to say that I was impressed, there are still a few small niggles to be found like the lack of expandable storage, average battery life and mark-prone glass back but overall it’s an absolute pleasure to use and stunning to look at. 

If you’re after a flagship smartphone with all the best features but want to spend a little less than you would do on the most expensive options, it’s very easy to recommend the OnePlus 9.