Let’s get a few things clear, I chose OnePlus after a two-year stint with Google Pixel 3, a top of the line 2018 flagship with a world-class camera. Also, all the other phones I’ve owned, be it the Nexus 5x or the Mi A1, have had vanilla Android OS.
Coming from Pixel 3, a $799 flagship, the $729 OnePlus 9 might seem like a downgrade but it does match up in specs
Snapdragon 888 (latest and greatest)
8/12 GB RAM
128/256 GB UFS 3.1 Storage — (fastest in the market)
4500 mAh Battery and 65W Wired charging
6.55 inches 1080p 120Hz Display (one of the best 1080p displays)
The above specifications are strikingly similar to the larger and pricier OnePlus 9 Pro, which is remarkable unto itself.
Let’s dissect the important aspects of this “excellent-on-paper” phone.
OnePlus devices have been synonymous with performance since the beginning. I can put this simply in one sentence — “There is no smartphone faster than this”. Snapdragon 888 and 8 GB RAM provide more than enough fuel to power this beast and you will not be disappointed.
The 120Hz display also plays its part well with lightning-fast touch responses and an overall racy feel.
Then again, Performance is not just about speed, its also about consistency in software.
After 5 years on vanilla Android, I found Oxygen OS to be refreshingly new, yet similar in many ways. With Oxygen OS, you get the simplicity of stock Android but also a few additional features that are actually useful.
With Oxygen OS 11, you get
- A Zen Mode, where your phone basically becomes an un-usable brick for the duration of your choice. i.e. digital detox maximum effort.
- A customizable always-on display that can also track the number of unlocks, making you painfully aware that you use your phone a lot more than you need.
- Detox modes like Focus Mode and Work/Life Balance Modes (pretty similar, one is an Android offering whereas the other is from OnePlus)
- Vision Comfort (glorified Night Light) and Reading Mode to go easy on the eyes.
- Custom fingerprint animations, notification light and accent colours.
- One-hand accessibility improvements in stock apps
- A bunch of really handy gestures that you can customize! (Pretty useful)
But it’s not all roses…
When you choose Oxygen OS, you choose to sacrifice the stability of vanilla Android. App crashes and bugs in the software are a bit too frequent for my liking, and there is also the issue of slipshod update schedules. If you get a OnePlus 9, there is no guarantee that you will get Android 13, and even Android 12 will be painfully late.
Gone are the days of aggressive RAM management issues in OnePlus phones, but you still cannot gather the confidence to own and operate a fully polished piece of software.
When I choose a smartphone, I need to be able to take good photos with minimal effort. I don’t think that is an outrageous expectation.
Although the adverts, the launch event and even the packaging of the 9 Series phones focussed heavily on the Hasselblad name, the camera is the Achilles Heel of this device.
Now don’t get me wrong here, for an average user coming from a mid-range smartphone, the OnePlus 9 may provide a good or even an exceptional camera experience. But for me, coming from a Pixel, albeit a 2 year old one, the OnePlus 9 falls short — way short.
The 48 MP main sensor is identical to the 8Pro and it does a decent job. Then again, in the eagerness to separate the 9 and 9 Pro, OnePlus crippled the cameras of the lower-priced 9 by removing OIS and laser autofocus, and also the telephoto lens!
I don’t zoom in much on my photos, nor do I take many portraits. So, the absence of a telephoto lens is acceptable but the lack of OIS has been a crushing blow to my photography aspirations, with most of my photos of moving objects (one-year-old babies can seldom stay still) turning out blurry. Simply put, to get one good photograph of a gently swaying leaf, I’ll need to take at least 5 photos. Also, I have realized that Nighttime photography is no longer an option with this phone (Pixel was brilliant in this regard).
Strangely enough, the photographs taken with default settings are only 12MP and it is only when you toggle a key in the settings (every time you snap) do you get to snap in 48MP.
Giving credit where it is due, the 50 MP ultrawide camera on this device is excellent and probably the best in the market right now. The colours are great, although a tad oversaturated, and the edge distortions are minimal.
The Pro Mode is where the Hasselblad partnership starts making sense though. You can manually set ISO, Exposure, Shutter Speed, Focus and White Balance, giving rise to some very interesting results.
Videos seem to be fairly good although my testing was severely limited simply due to the lack of anything interesting to shoot in and around my house.
There is also a 2MP monochrome sensor which is simply pointless and adds no visible value to B&W photos.
Although it is a 1080p panel, the display is brilliant with vibrant colours and a 120Hz refresh rate. Watching HDR content on Netflix and playing high-intensity games like Asphalt 9 is an absolute delight!
Similar to every device in this price range, the OnePlus 9 also has made a few cuts in the build to reduce costs. The rails are plastic but the back is glass. Just to be clear, the plastic rails are not even distinguishable under normal circumstances and hence isn’t a dealbreaker. The design itself is pretty standard and can also feel a bit cheap due to its similarity to more affordable phones. The device is ostensibly waterproof but not certified though, so you can safely carry it around on a rainy day but don’t feel adventurous enough to dip it in a pool.
Battery & Charging
With a 4500 mAh battery and 65W Warp Charge, battery backup is something that I don’t need to worry about with the OnePlus 9. The 65W charger is insanely fast and takes less than 45 minutes to charge from zero to full. The device can last a full day with normal usage and three-quarters with heavy usage.
Then again, Intelligent Optimizations by OnePlus has a caveat, “missed notifications”. If you have any trouble with getting notifications from an app, it is probably due to high battery optimizations by the OS. Resolving this is just a matter of changing the settings for the app.
Being a nitpicker, I do bemoan the fact that the Indian version of this device has no wireless charging.
There are also quite a few miscellaneous details that make this device endearing:
- Very loud stereo speakers (listening to music during a shower is no longer an issue)
- Good haptics (an underrated, but fairly important feature)
- Alert Slider! I’m never again choosing a phone without an alert slider. It is quite impressive!
In a vacuum, One Plus 9 is an awesome device with superfast performance, good cameras, an intuitive OS next only to vanilla Android (even surpassing it at times) and seems like a no-brainer choice for anyone — a near-perfect phone with a great display and good battery.
But when you pull it out of the vacuum and compare it with other phones that exist in the price range, a few holes start appearing in the façade. The software is yet to mature, the cameras are way behind current flagships, and the design is generic and forgettable.
For a company that sold us on “Never Settle”, they seem to really want us to settle lately.
If you like this article, be sure to check out my other ones. You may have stumbled upon a treasure trove ;-)