OnePlus 9 review: Super-fast charging, Hasselblad software, 120Hz display

When I buy a phone for my own use, I usually go big since I have hands and pockets that can handle big phones. However, there are definitely people who like a smaller and more pocketable phone, so it’s great to see OnePlus offer the OnePlus 9 that is priced $240 less than the flagship OnePlus 9 Pro.

While there are a few compromises made, in addition to size and battery capacity, in order to offer a less expensive phone, the software developed through the OnePlus/Hasselblad partnership is present on the smaller OnePlus 9. There is no telephoto camera, but the more popular ultra-wide camera is present and very capable.

Also: OnePlus gets serious about mobile photography with Hasselblad partnership: OnePlus 9 launch event on for March 23

I’ve now spent more than a week with both the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro (see that full review). The smaller OnePlus 9 challenges the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 Mini for your pocket.

OnePlus 9 specifications

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • Display: 6.55 inches, 2400 x 1080 pixels resolution (402 ppi), AMOLED 120Hz refresh rate
  • Operating system: Android 11 with OxygenOS
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR5
  • Storage: 128GB/256GB internal storage, UFS 3.1
  • Cameras: Custom Sony 48MP f/1.8 main camera, 50MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera with Freeform lens, and 2MP monochrome camera. 16MP f/2.4 front-facing camera.
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, GPS/Galileo/GLONASS/Beidou, NFC
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, Ultrasonic Fingerprint Sensor, Gyroscope, Electronic Compass, Proximity Sensor, RGB Light Sensor, Laser Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor
  • Battery: 4,500mAh non-removable with Warp Charge 65T wired and 15W wireless charging capability. Reverse wireless charging is also available.
  • Dimensions: 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm and 192g
  • Colors: Winter Mist, Arctic Sky, and Astral Black

Hardware

The display on the OnePlus 9 is the same flat display, called Fluid Display, that we saw on the OnePlus 8T. It supports a refresh rate of 120Hz with a toggle to 60Hz present in the display settings.

The latest generation under-display fingerprint sensor is present and it has worked flawlessly. I used it in combination with the face unlock feature with a speedy and consistent response.

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There are minimal bezels on all four sides with a flat display that so many love ready for action. With the top speaker in a narrow line above the display, I don’t think we will see any smaller bezels until they are all just gone. The front-facing camera is positioned over in the far left corner of the phone.

The volume button is on the left with the power button on the right. The traditional three-way ringer switch is positioned on the right side above the power button. Microphones are positioned at the top and bottom. The USB-C port and SIM card tray are found on the bottom.

On the back of the OnePlus 9, we find three camera lenses and a flashlight. The cameras include a 50MP ultra-wide Sony sensor that is 3.2-times larger than the one on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. A Freeform lens is integrated into the camera system with curves to correct the incoming light so distortion at the edges is down to about 1%. Other smartphones with ultra-wide cameras have edge distortion in the 10% to 20% range.

The ultra-wide camera also helps you capture macro photos and the camera software will automatically switch to this camera when you approach your subject, as close as 4cm. There is a toggle in the camera software to automatically switch to macro mode and this has performed well.

The main 48MP camera is a Sony IMX789 that is custom-built for OnePlus. It supports 12-bit RAW where other phones support 10-bit RAW. The monochrome camera works with the main camera to add detail and layering to your black and white photos.

Reverse wireless charging is new for OnePlus and it’s great to see it in the smaller, less expensive model, too. With a simple toggle on the Quick Controls, you can place another device, headphones, and more on the back of the OnePlus 9 to charge them up. The phone will stop charging other devices if the phone’s battery drops to 15%.

Also: OnePlus 8T hands-on: Is there a place for a T series in the OnePlus lineup?

Warp Charge 65T provides a day’s power in 15 minutes or 1% to 100% in just 29 minutes. Unlike Apple and Samsung, OnePlus includes this charger in the retail package. The OnePlus 9 also supports Qi wireless charging, up to 15W.

The 8GB/128GB OnePlus 9 is available for $729 in Winter Mist and Astral Black. The 12GB/256GB model is available for $829 in Astral Black. Pre-orders start March 26,  with devices available April 2. T-Mobile configurations and pricing information will be available soon.

Software

The OnePlus 9 launches with Android 11 and Oxygen OS 11.2.x. The Feb. 1, 2021 Android security update is present on our review unit, but given the release timing, we will likely see the March security update on retail units. OnePlus has a good track record of timely security updates too.

It was a breath of fresh air to use a OnePlus phone after spending time with Samsung phones as there are no ads, useless bloatware, or other utilities distracting you from a nearly stock Android experience. There are some useful utilities in OxygenOS, such as quick launch, quick gestures, and gaming mode. The gaming mode settings are very cool and help provide an optimal experience for those who play games after work is done.

While the Hasselblad name is on the phone near the cameras, its influence on the OnePlus 9 is limited to software enhancements. A key component of the Hasselblad partnership is natural color calibration. OnePlus and Hasselblad had three of the 12 Hasselblad experts use the OnePlus 9 Pro to provide subjective feedback in order to fine-tune the camera software.

In the Pro Mode (manual) users will see software that resembles the interface on Hasselblad cameras. In addition, the camera capture button is orange and the iconic shutter button sound from Hasselblad cameras is present on the phone.

While I have to spend a lot more time with the camera software, I have enjoyed testing the tilt-shift mode. OnePlus uses software, not lenses, on the OnePlus 9 to provide tilt-shift effects. This mode helps simulate miniature effects and also helps to straighten vertical lines. I have never seen tilt-shift on a phone before and am enjoying the creativity provided by the software.

With the OnePlus 9, you can capture video at 8K, 30fps, or even in 4K at 120fps. Portrait and night mode video are also supported so you can get very creative with this new phone.

Also: OnePlus 8 review: Least expensive 5G phone with flagship specs, minimal compromises

Daily usage experiences

With the hardware gaps filled by OnePlus, we can look to the software and it is more pleasing to use OxygenOS with a near-stock Android experience. There is no bloatware on the phone, we don’t find a host of duplicate apps, and we are not inundated with ads from Samsung on the OnePlus 9.

Cellular reception strength has always been an area where Samsung stood out from the iPhone and some other Android brands. OnePlus was the one contender in this area and remains one of the best when it comes to coverage and speeds. I’ve enjoyed great connectivity with the OnePlus 9 and phone calls sounded crystal clear on both ends of the call. For some reason, I still cannot get the native visual voicemail to function on this review device, but I’m hopeful since it is part of the phone app.

The display on the OnePlus 9 looks great and once you try an Android phone with a high refresh rate then you can’t go back to anything less.

We often see lots of compromises on smaller, less expensive options from the likes of Samsung and Apple, but there are very few here on the OnePlus 9. One big compromise, for Verizon customers, is the lack of mmWave 5G support. There is no telephoto camera, no fast wireless charging, and a display that isn’t quite as advanced as the OnePlus 9 Pro. That said, the OnePlus 9 is an excellent smartphone that starts at just $729.

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