There was a time not that long ago that OnePlus phones were a guaranteed excellent value. That's no longer the case as the company has increasingly focused on flagship devices and carrier partnerships, pushing the cost of some devices over $1,000. OnePlus usually releases a T-series phone in the fall, but we didn't get one of those last cycle, probably thanks to the chip shortage. That puts the OP9 in a strange place of being the standard-bearer for the company after almost a year.
The OnePlus 9 launched at $729, and has since dropped to $699. This pricing seemed viable when the phone launched last year, but now it's competing with the Pixel 6. Plus, the OnePlus 9 has actually gotten worse with updates following the Oppo merger. It pains me to say that because OP's software used to be a selling point. If Android 12 is indicative of the software we'll see going forward, it'll be much harder for me to recommend the OnePlus 10.
8/12 GB LPDDR5
6.55-inch OLED 2400x1080 (20:9), 120Hz
4,500mAh, 65W Warp Charge, 15W Qi wireless
48MP primary, 50MP ultrawide, 2MP monochrome, 16MP selfie
Android 12 / Color OS
Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, 5G sub-6GHz (T-Mobile and Verizon)
$729 (8/128GB), $829 (12/256GB)
The 120Hz OLED is bright, crisp, and supports Comfort Tone ambient adjustments.
This phone is at least as fast as anything else you can buy right now.
65W charging has spoiled me for other phones. It's so fast. I'm also happy to see wireless charging on the non-Pro model, even if it's only 15W.
The Hasselblad-approved camera colors are very pleasing and natural.
The three-position alert slider on OnePlus phones is one of its best and most convenient hardware features.
OnePlus has excellent first-party cases, even if they are spendy.
THE NOT SO GOOD
OP's photo processing still blurs fine details, especially in low light.
Color OS on this phone is not a great experience.
FP sensor location
It's just 7mm from the bottom of the panel, whereas the OnePlus 8T sensor starts 26mm from the edge of the panel.
The OnePlus 9 switches to a plastic frame, but this is minor—the back is still glass.
Design, hardware, what's in the box
Physically, the OnePlus 9 is a dead-ringer for the 8T. The two phones are the same size, and the buttons are all in roughly the same places. The camera array is in the same approximate location on the back, but the shape is different yet again. Perhaps the most notable design change, and one that will prove contentious, is the move to a plastic frame. The back panel is still glass, but the edge is plastic composited with fiberglass and treated to look a bit like metal. It doesn't have the cool, unyielding feel of the aluminum frame on the 9 Pro, though. The back of our review unit is "Astral Black," which is glossy on the outside with a matte layer under that. It picks up more fingerprints than the blue and purple matte glass options.
The power button is on the right, and the volume rocker is opposite that. Above the power button, you get the trademark three-position OnePlus notification slider. You can toggle between ring, vibrate, and mute without even waking up the phone. This is still a great feature, and I'm surprised no other Android OEMs have copied it. There's no headphone jack (still), but you do get stereo speakers in the usual downward/earpiece arrangement. If you want wired audio, you'll have to get an adapter (sold separately) and plug it into the USB-C port on the bottom. The unlocked phone I've been reviewing is not IP68 rated, but the version you get from T-Mobile is (we don't believe there are any hardware differences, though).
Occupying almost the entire front of the phone, we've got a 6.55-inch flat OLED screen clocking in at 1080p and 120Hz. The bezels around the screen are ever so close to symmetrical, but not quite. OnePlus went through a phase in recent years characterized by mediocre OLED panels, but that seems to be over now. Like the 8T, the OP9's OLED looks very uniform, even at low brightness. The brightness range isn't as impressive as a high-end Samsung phone, but it's legible outdoors and won't completely blind you in a dark room. It crushes blacks a touch, but even pixel-peepers should be happy with the display. There's a hole-punch for the selfie camera in the upper left corner; it makes the status bar a little taller, but it's not as bad as some phones
The in-display fingerprint sensor feels a little faster than past phones, too. I no longer need to linger with my finger on the sensor so it can decide if I am who I say I am. Just a quick tap, and the phone unlocks. The days of fretting about in-display sensor speed are over, but I do take issue with the location of the sensor in the OnePlus 9. It's just 7mm from the bottom of the panel, which is even a little lower than the favorites row on the home screen. By comparison, the OnePlus 8T sensor starts 26mm from the edge of the panel, and I felt like that one was in the perfect location. OnePlus has usually been near the top of the heap for haptic feedback, and that continues with the OnePlus 9. The vibration is precise and tight, but not as strong as I'd like. It's not as good as Samsung or Google, but OnePlus beats most everyone else.
This phone comes with a 65W Warp Charge plug and a C-to-C cable. The box is bereft of accessories, unless you think the SIM ejector counts (I don't). There is no clear case like you used to get with OnePlus phones, nor is there a 3.5mm adapter. You do get a pre-applied screen protector, though.
Software, performance, and battery
The OnePlus 9 shiped with Oxygen OS 11, which is Android 11 with a few tweaks. It has since gotten an update to Android 12, and boy is there a lot to unpack here. The Oxygen OS we knew is gone, replaced by an unholy amalgamation of Oppo's Color OS with superficial OOS styling. Suffice it to say, we do not like the new software.
We can ignore, for the moment, that OnePlus completely bungled the OS update. Even the working patched OTA is problematic—I just don't like the way it works. There's something off about Chiense Android ROMs if you've been using devices intended for the west. It's hard to put your finger on sometimes, but it feels like every screen has been designed without regard for the rest of the OS. Text is cut off, UI elements stand out in the wrong ways, and the animations are simultaneously superfluous and too fast. This leads to a disjointed, often confusing experience. I also strongly dislike the decision to go back to colored notification icons in the status bar. It looks far too busy.
Numerous features from Oxygen OS did not make the transition to Color OS. For example, you can no longer set the power button to instantly lock the phone, nor can you hide the battery icon while keeping the percentage. There's also no Material You integration. I keep running into these things, and I get a little more sad about the change every time. Do you remember how refreshing Oxygen OS used to be compared to the competition? It felt like OnePlus cared about the experience, but now we're being force-fed a reskinned Color OS.
OnePlus phones are also no longer what I'd call stable. Things were starting to fall apart in Android 11, but the move to Color OS was a special kind of mess. Even basic connectivity features were bugged in the first build. OnePlus/Oppo pulled the update and worked on a patch, which has alleviated most of the worst issues. Android 12 works well enough on a basic level.
A high-refresh screen doesn't do much good if the phone is too slow to render those frames. Say what you will about OP's early growing pains, it never neglected performance, and that remains true today. OnePlus tunes its phones to feel as fast as the chip inside allows -- the UI can look a little inelegant with the sped-up animations, but you won't spend any time waiting on the phone. This phone runs on the Snapdragon 888. If you don't care about features or reliability, the OP9 won't disappoint. I usually see around seven hours of screen time over a day or a day and a half of reasonably intense usage. I see no reason why this phone can't last two days on a charge with lighter usage.
Even if the OP9 had worse battery life, it might still get my seal of approval thanks to the stupid-fast charging. Warp Charge 65T has the same 65W ceiling as last year's phones, but it can maintain higher wattage for longer. The result is a 75% charge in about 20 minutes. I don't even bother plugging the OnePlus 9 in at night because I know a couple of minutes on the charger is enough to get me through the day and then some. The only bummer is that Warp Charge is a proprietary standard, so additional chargers will be spendy. You also don't get wireless Warp on this device, but 15W wireless charging support is still better than the zero watts supported by the OnePlus 8T.
OnePlus is talking up its Hasselblad partnership, and yes, we've heard that before—shades of Huawei's Leica cameras. However, OnePlus claims Hasselblad has done more than slap its branding on the back of the phone. The OnePlus 9 has a new image natural color calibration, which looks great. The images I'm getting from the OnePlus 9 have much more realistic, almost Pixel-accurate colors. There are also some design and UI tweaks to the camera app based on the Hasselblad branding deal, none of which I have strong feelings on. For example, there's a new Pro camera mode, but I think you'll get better results most of the time shooting on auto.
OnePlus' image processing still isn't entirely to my liking, even with the new color profile. The phone over-sharpens edges and smooths over details too aggressively. Fine textures sometimes become little more than a blurry pattern, which makes cropping any of your photos a no-go, and that's more problematic because there's no telephoto camera. The OP9 shooter also suffers from blurriness and questionable white balance in low light.
While the OnePlus 9 didn't get the new primary sensor from the 9 Pro, it does have the higher-resolution ultrawide. It's an IMX766 with a 50MP resolution, and the "freeform lens" reduces distortion at the edges compared to other phones. I've found this sensor is more usable with close-up objects because of the low distortion. It's also used for Super Macro mode shots, and the results are better than any dedicated macro sensor I've ever used—check out this dog nose.
I am a little baffled by OnePlus' continued inclusion of useless auxiliary sensors on its phones. The third camera sensor is monochrome, clocking in at a mere 2MP. The only photo mode that uses this sensor is at the end of the filter list—all the others use filters on the main sensor. It's not discoverable in the slightest. I've taken a few fun shots with it (see above), but it's not good enough to go out of my way. You can just apply black and white filters to regular photos taken with a better camera sensor. I would have preferred a telephoto camera instead of this, even if it bumped the price a little bit.
The biggest issue with the OnePlus 9's cameras is a lack of optical image stabilization (OIS) for any of the sensors. Both the OnePlus 8T and the new OnePlus 9 Pro have OIS, but the OnePlus 9 has to make do with electronic stabilization. I've found this to be good enough when I'm standing still in good light, but the camera constantly warns me about excess shaking when I'm walking.
Should you buy it?
No, and you might be regretting it if you bought one last year. The OnePlus 9 wasn't a bad purchase at launch, but it has been on the decline this last year. There was the issue with blacklisting certain apps from the high-performance CPU cores in a previous update, and that was enough for me to rescind my recommendation. Now, the software is bad in a whole host of other ways. If it had launched in this state, the OnePlus 9 would have been an easy pass, and I'm bummed for people who bought the phone expecting the OnePlus experience of yesteryear.
And let's talk about the elephant in the room: the Google Pixel 6. This phone didn't come out until seven months after the OP9, but it sets a new standard in the mid-range. The Pixel 6 not only has an incredible camera, but the hardware is a step up from past Google phones. With the step back OnePlus' software has taken, the Pixel 6 is now better at everything except charging speed, and it costs the same as the reduced OP9. We can only hope that OnePlus improves in 2022 because it didn't have a good 2021.
Left: OnePlus 9, Right: OnePlus 8T - Note the simpler branding on the OP9.
I don't know that I'm feeling optimistic about OP's changes, though. I'm sure with its carrier partnerships and enhanced backing from Oppo, the operation will make money. They might even sell more phones in 2022 than last year. But these won't be phones you and I like very much. OnePlus used to cater to enthusiasts and tinkerers, but those days are over. OnePlus is going after a larger audience, and we aren't it.
Buy it if...
- You want a phone that feels fast and you don't mind Color OS.
- You always forget to charge your phone until it's too late.
Don't buy it if...
- You take a lot of photos.
- You can buy a Google Pixel 6 in your country.
Where to buy
UPDATE: 2022/01/06 11:30 EST BY RYAN WHITWAM
Revised with Android 12 update
This review was updated to reflect the state of the phone in January 2022 following the Android 12 update.