[The Lab] OnePlus 9 Review - Cutting the right Corners?

  1. michaelliao07
    Honeycomb Mar 29, 2021

    michaelliao07 , via OnePlus 8T , Mar 29, 2021 :
    Totally agree....I had the 7T Pro with pop up camera, QHD display, curved screen, 8/256gb all for 53k and that was a deal.


  2. #62
  3. Anklang
    The Lab Reviewer - OnePlus 9 Series Mar 29, 2021

    Stickied Post
    Anklang , Mar 29, 2021 :

    Starting with the OnePlus 1, the brand has maintained its image over the years: high-performance phones, comparatively low prices, clean software, and a mediocre camera. The sub-par cameras have always been that one factor that separated OnePlus phones from the flagship competitors. Surely, OnePlus has stepped up their game and narrowed the distance to the top. Especially, the OnePlus 8 Pro received phenomenal reviews and was compared to phones with much higher launch prices.

    This is why the collaboration with the Swedish high-end camera manufacturer Hasselblad created such hype. OnePlus claimed that the camera capabilities of the OnePlus 9 series are on another level now. Outstanding high-dynamic range, true-to-life colors, and an ultrawide lens with loss-free distortion-correction.

    Sounds amazing? Well, let's see if the OnePlus 9 can live up to its expectations. I tested the features that I find important as a hobby photographer. If there are still open questions, I'm happy to answer them in the comments!

    So let's check out the cameras. On the back of the OnePlus 9, we find

    • a 48MP main camera (23mm f/1.8, 1/1.43" Sony IMX689 sensor),
    • a 50MP ultrawide (14mm, f/2.2, 1/1.56" Sony IMX766 sensor),
    • and a 2MP monochrome camera.
    camera_array Kopie.jpg

    When I saw the specs for the cameras, I was pleasantly surprised. This time, OnePlus decided to equip both the main and ultrawide camera with high-quality 48MP and 50MP sensors, respectively. That means that we don't sacrifice detail when switching to the wider lens - amazing! Also, both the lens and the sensor of the ultrawide camera are identical to the one of the 9 Pro. Only the main camera has a slightly "worse" sensor, and we're missing the telephoto camera. If you ask me, this was a great decision to reduce the cost while maintaining the most important features.

    Monochrome Camera

    The only thing I was very skeptical about was the 2MP monochrome camera that is used to improve black and white shots. Like what can a 2MP sensor possibly add to the detail or dynamic range?

    Let's get this out of the way first. In the following image, I took a regular picture and edited it to black and white by setting the saturation to zero, the other picture was taken with the monochrome filter. I'll let you be the judge first:


    left: monochrome mode, right: regular picture + edit

    If you ask me, there are hardly any differences. In fact, if we were to pixel-peep, the picture taken in monochrome mode looks like it has a slightly smaller dynamic range! I don't want to waste your time here: In my opinion, the negligible differences render the third camera useless. The money would have been more wisely spent on something different.

    Ultrawide Camera

    But now to something more positive - the ultrawide camera is amazing. It has a great dynamic range and is full of detail if you give it enough light. With this camera, you can capture dramatic images, especially landscapes and architectural shots look truly benefit from it. The colors look true-to-life, nothing looks over-saturated or over-sharpened.

    ultrawide Kopie.jpg

    Ultrawide shots were taken from the OnePlus 9 (left) and OnePlus 7 Pro (right)

    If you compare the two images, the OnePlus 9 remains a lot more detail in the dark windows of the buildings and the trees in the background. Also, the overall image quality is much better on the OnePlus 9. Of course, this comparison is pretty unfair, since the 7 Pro is a two-year-old phone. I just want to point out, how far the image quality has become with the ultrawide camera. Regarding distortion in the two images, I can't see any drastic differences.

    Similar to the OnePlus 8 Pro's ultrawide, the OnePlus 9 has a super macro mode that uses the ultrawide. You can get really close to the subject and the image quality is pretty good, too! However, you need some patience to find the right focus point.

    IMG_20210326_233007 1.jpg

    Macro mode using the ultrawide lens

    Main Camera

    In contrast to the ultrawide camera, the main camera's sensor is different from the Pro model. The sensor is slightly smaller and it is missing OIS. Similar to the ultrawide camera, the main camera produces sharp and detailed images when enough light is present. In comparison to previous OnePlus cameras, the colors are more accurate and realistic. In the past, OnePlus phones struggled with white balance. The 9 series addressed this problem with their new color processing and I am quite happy with the results!


    left: OnePlus 9 main camera, right: OnePlus 7 Pro main camera, both cropped

    As you can see, the orange in the building and from the construction workers are over-saturated in the image shot by the 7 Pro. The comparison is supposed to showcase how the white balance changed in the new device.

    While white balance has improved in this model, the cameras struggle with exposure in some cases. Even when I took the same shots back to back, the phone would expose differently each time. I'm confident that this will be fixed in an update. OnePlus has been very consistent in improving the post-processing with updates and I'm sure this time it won't be different! Again, I am quite happy with the image quality of the main camera in good lighting conditions.

    But this camera system still lacks two things to make it an amazing camera system: OIS and laser autofocus. Due to the missing OIS, low light shots suffer from camera shakes and hence nightscape mode can't show its full potential. Also, autofocus is very inconsistent and misses focus occasionally. This will be hopefully fixed with an update.

    Short Summary of other features

    Since the camera review is getting quite long and I don't want to waste your time, here are some of my thoughts regarding some features, that you might find important:

    • Low-light photography: The large sensors really shine, when the sun starts to set. Since a lot of light can be gathered, nightscape is often not needed. Both the ultrawide and the main camera can struggle with exposure in these cases. Also, both cameras don't handle direct light well: lens-flaring can be quite bad.
    • Nightscape: In my opinion, without OIS nightscape is only half as good. You lose a significant amount of detail due to the camera shakes. If well-lit objects such as LED's or lit buildings are in the frame, pictures look good.
    • Portrait mode: This is a hit-or-miss situation. Sometimes, edge detection is really good, sometimes even faces are mistaken for the background. Furthermore, I am not a big fan of the background blur, that comes with the portrait mode. I think portraits on Pixel phones still look more natural.
    • Pro mode: Here, you have complete manual control over the ISO, shutter speed, focus, white balance, and exposure. It is certainly fun to shoot with, but you have to keep in mind that there is no HDR correction. Therefore, in harsh lighting conditions, the dynamic range is much worse than in full auto mode. You can of course shoot in RAW and bring back some detail, but to be honest, I don't see the point in this compared to full auto mode. The following is probably tightly bound to the autofocus issues: Focus-peaking doesn't work too well. Parts of the image that are clearly out of focus are marked orange.
    • Selfie camera: The front-facing camera is quite mediocre. It is fine in most well-lit conditions but becomes significantly softer in darker situations. Also, the dynamic range is not exactly amazing. All in all, it is okay but nothing more.
    • Video: The video both on the ultrawide and main camera looks quite good. EIS does a great job with stabilizing and the transitions look natural in most cases. Rolling-shutter was not too noticeable, even with 4k recording! Slow-motion is only available in 1080p 240fps or 720p 480fps. The video quality is fine, for my taste, however, oversharpened.
    Some more images:

    IMG_20210323_175828.jpg IMG_20210323_180614.jpg IMG_20210323_185142.jpg IMG_20210323_190445.jpg IMG_20210324_231553.jpg IMG_20210325_172427.jpg IMG_20210326_153905.jpg Screenshot_20210324-152845.jpg

    The Hasselblad promise

    The OnePlus 9 Series is the first product that was co-developed with Hasselblad. As it seems, so far Hasselblad's knowledge was used only to improve the color-science. I can definitely see (positive) differences and appreciate that OnePlus addressed their camera issues with this first step. However, there is more to be done to beat the competition. I hope in the future, this collaboration will further improve the image quality, especially in low-light situations. OnePlus now has the potential and undeniably the knowledge to produce truly outstanding smartphone cameras.


    OnePlus has made a big promise to improve the cameras on the OnePlus 9 Series. And surely, we can see major improvements compared to the last iteration. I really appreciate the ultrawide camera. With the large 50MP sensor, the ultrawide is now functioning as a second main camera instead of the occasional dramatic angle shooter.
    Also, the overall quality of the main camera is good in most conditions. Most of my criticism such as bad autofocus and exposure can and will be hopefully fixed with a software update. The missing OIS for photos will be hard to compensate with software.
    It is quite sad to see a useless monochrome camera just for the sake of having three cameras instead of proper image stabilization.
    I hope that in the future OnePlus realizes that not the number of cameras but image quality is relevant for most of their customers.

    In general, I enjoy taking pictures with this camera system. I know that I barely scratched the surface here, so if you still have questions regarding the cameras, feel free to leave a comment!

    Last edited: Mar 29, 2021

  4. KaranRIyer
    KitKat Mar 29, 2021

    KaranRIyer , Mar 29, 2021 :
    Lovely.. excited for the remaining

  5. jlasensiofi
    The Lab Reviewer - OnePlus 9 Series Mar 29, 2021

    KaranRIyer likes this.
  6. hslayal
    Gingerbread Mar 30, 2021

  7. northbay5566
    Ice Cream Sandwich Mar 31, 2021

  8. Scalarius
    Froyo Mar 31, 2021

  9. Anklang
    The Lab Reviewer - OnePlus 9 Series Apr 1, 2021

    Stickied Post
    Anklang , Apr 1, 2021 :
    User Experience Kopie.jpg

    Next to computers, smartphones are probably one of the most frequently used electronic devices nowadays. For this reason, a device should adapt to the user's needs to make the experience as smooth and useful as possible. In my opinion, the user experience is the most important aspect that should be taken into consideration when buying a phone. In the following section, I want to show you the good and not-so-good points that make up its user experience.

    More specifically, I will focus on the following points:
    • Oxygen OS
    • Performance
    • Usability (display, haptic feedback, sound, battery life)
    I will not provide any benchmark scores or anything like that. I don't think that those are really helpful to rate how the device actually behaves during your day-to-day use. Also, since this is a very subjective topic please excuse the lack of images here. I try to provide you with a lot of information that is hard to put into pictures!

    -------------- Oxygen OS --------------

    The phone was shipped with Oxygen OS 11, a light-weight skin that is based on Android 11. Over the last years of smartphone history, Oxygen OS has always been my favorite skin (with Pixel's stock Android very closely behind). It is very clean, close to no bloatware, and it includes practical features and good customization options. This is no different in this iteration. However, the fanbase was divided because of the one-hand-use optimizations that resembled Samsung's One UI. I don't care if this is a copycat version of another skin, as long it works well and adds to the experience.

    The not so good
    Let's start with the (very few) things that could be improved. I will not discuss any obvious pre-release bugs, since I'm sure that they will be fixed when the devices are actually shipped.

    The first thing that I noticed when I set up my device, was that the "Shelf", that OnePlus was so proud of, moved. Even though this change doesn't sound really drastic, it rendered the shelf useless for me: In order to access the shelf, you need to swipe down on your home screen. This means that you can't swipe down to show notifications and quick settings. Instead, OnePlus implemented Google's discover page on the left of the home screen. Not a good trade if you ask me. They should at least give us the option to choose what we want to display in this area.

    Haptic motor settings
    Furthermore, I noticed it is not possible anymore to change the intensity of the haptic motor. It might or might not bother you, but I wanted to enhance the feedback because I think it feels a bit weaker in this device.

    App drawer organization
    Also, I would like to be able to group the apps in the app drawer. As it is now, it can the apps are simply sorted alphabetically. Sure apps are still findable this way, but with 100+ apps the app drawer gets chaotic and confusing. I sometimes notice that I look for an app for way too long.

    Clash with google apps
    As with many other Android phones that are not manufactured by Google, OnePlus created their own gallery app and file manager. This is quite confusing for the user since it is not clear, which app you should use. Also, syncing your files with google drive and google photos is a nuisance, since OnePlus' implementations don't seem to be working well with Google's apps. This has been like this for many years and I have seen no effort from OnePlus' side to improve this, unfortunately.

    The good
    Besides the aforementioned points, my experience with Oxygen OS has been amazing. Due to its light implementation, switching between apps is buttery smooth, you get fast and reliable software- and security updates and can personalize the UI a lot. Here are my two favorite aspects of Oxygen OS 11 (which also applies to some other versions):

    Oxygen OS allows you to set nice color accents to the user interface and even change the icons without the need for a third-party launcher. This keeps the device clean from unnecessary apps while you can get creative making the OnePlus 9 your own. On top of cosmetic changes, Oxygen OS provides tons of possibilities to adapt the phone's behavior to your needs. Digital Wellbeing, Focus Mode, and Zen Mode help you with tracking and reducing your smartphone usage, and Reading Mode, Vision comfort, and Bedtime mode adapt the display's color and saturation based on the user's preferences. There is a lot more to discover, but mentioning all of Oxygen's features goes beyond of the review's scope. I highly encourage you to try it out for yourself if you decide on a OnePlus device of the 9 series.

    Resource management
    The device is extremely good at managing RAM and applications over the course of the day. There's not really much to say about it, but no matter how many apps you have opened, the ones you care about don't need a reload when multitasking and the hardware is chosen accordingly. Even though I got the 12GB RAM version, I am sure the 8GB version will be just as fast. Take a look at my RAM-usage and decide for yourself:


    I know this doesn't sound like a huge deal, but this is the main reason why I stuck with OnePlus for such a long time. It ensures you a fluid user experience over the course of a couple of years with many major android updates. Some mini-stutters are really the only things you will (or will not) notice.

    -------------- Performance --------------

    The performance of a phone can make or break the user experience. A slow and laggy phone is extremely frustrating to use and very likely to be replaced soon. As I value long-lasting smartphones, performance is one of my top priorities. Regarding the brand's history, is no surprise that the OnePlus 9 shines in this category. It is equipped with high-end specs such as Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888, 12GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM, and 256GB UFS3.1 storage. This not only OnePlus' recipe for an extremely fast phone, but for a phone that is going to perform very well for a long time. Coupled with the aforementioned optimizations to Android 11, the OnePlus 9 is nothing less than the fastest phone I have ever had my hands on. Apps open in no time, multitasking is faster then ever, and apps that require access to the internal storage load the content so quickly I forgot that you usually need to wait for this!

    Screenshot_20210401-134947 (1).jpg
    High-end specs for high-end performance

    I'll keep this section short since there is not much to say. This phone is silly fast in every aspect and we can expect it to perform that well until the end of its software support.

    -------------- Usability--------------

    The usability describes, the interaction quality between the user and the device. In terms of a smartphone, this translates to how well content such as audio, video, and basically everything you can do with a smartphone is transported to the user with this device. Let's take a look how I experienced my first week with the OnePlus 9.

    The OnePlus 9 comes with a flat 6.55", 120Hz refresh rate, flat, 1080p AMOLED display. It is HDR10+ certified has a peak brightness of 1100 nits. I consistently enjoyed using the OnePlus 9 for the display.

    Its colors look natural and can be adapted to the user's liking. Also, the color temperature can be adjusted to the environment. It further has great viewing angles, so I couldn't notice any distracting rainbowing from any perspective.

    The flat-screen has a hole-punch in the top-left corner to house the front-facing camera. In my opinion, the best location for a hole-punch, since it is not distracting when you use the phone in landscape mode. The 120Hz refresh rate looks soooo smooth, I literally cannot get enough of scrolling through random content just because it looks so damn smooth. Sadly, it's not an LTPO panel to save some battery life, but since this is the base model I'm not complaining. The adaptive screen in this phone switches between 60 and 120Hz, based on the content that you are currently looking at.

    DSCF1146 (1).jpg
    This screen is amazing! It's hard to explain how smooth this looks, so you have to see for yourself!

    The 1100 nits peak brightness is good enough in most conditions. However, in very bright, direct sunlight it can be challenging to see the content on your phone.

    One negative is that the adaptive screen brightness is a bit slow and sometimes too dark for my personal use. I would love to see improvements in the upcoming software updates. Also, I think that one should be able to choose from different brightness profiles that the screen can adapt to.

    All in all the screen performed really well and there is not much to complain about.

    Sound and haptic feedback
    It is nice to see that the OnePlus 9 has stereo speakers. But even coming from a OnePlus 7 Pro, I am not satisfied with the sound quality this device delivers. The speakers are quite loud, but to me, they start to sound a bit tinny when you are at ~80% of the max volume. I suspect that this is partly due to the plastic frame. The phone's structures are simply not rigid enough to deliver clear and loud sound. Furthermore, the haptic feedback also suffers from the plastic frame. Vibrations don't feel as sharp as with my two-year-old OnePlus 7 Pro and with each "strong" vibration you can hear a very quiet, but noticeable plastic-y clicking sound. Obviously, these problems are not fixed with a case. This is another reason never ever to rely on plastic as the most integral part of the phone. For the sake of stability and perceptible quality differences, I hope that phone manufacturers don't skimp on good build quality in the future.

    Battery and charging
    On my daily use over the last week, battery life was fine overall. I got on average a screen-on-time of 5-6 hours. Not amazing - but good enough to not care about battery life for a day. This could probably be stretched to a 1,5-day phone by setting the screen to 60Hz or using battery savings mode (not recommended IMO, you lose a lot of nice features by doing so). Also, charging is extremely fast: using the 65 watts charger that was included in the box, you can charge your phone from 1-100% in 29 minutes. I was genuinely surprised how fast this actually is and how much of a charge a couple of minutes can do. Also, 15Watt Qi wireless charging is included this time (US and EU version only!). I honestly didn't expect this to be available for the base model, but it sure is nice to have. A wireless charger is not included in the box and must be purchased separately. As I don't own a wireless charger, I couldn't test this out.

    OnePlus 9's battery life.

    Some other things
    • In-display-fingerprint-sensor: As I mentioned in the design part of the review, the optical fingerprint sensor is located on the bottom of the display. It is harder to reach than it was with the 8 Pro but still manageable. Also, it is very quick and reliable. I would prefer Samsung's ultrasonic fingerprint-sensor since there is no need for a bright light which can be unpleasant at night.
    • Buttons and alter slider: The pressure point of the buttons feel a bit softer than I am used to. So far I didn't have any problems with unintentional clicks. But since they are very easy to press right now, I will look out if they get any looser in the future, and give you an update.
    • Camera placement: The cameras are placed in such a way that I often found my index finger resting on the lens, which caused images to become cloudy. This is of course no major problem, a simple indication in the camera app to clean the lens would be sufficient.
    • Wireless connections: Overall, Bluetooth, Wifi, NFC, and LTE worked really well and I don't have any major complaints. One minor complaint is that on rare occasions even though my headphones are connected via Bluetooth, the sound is played through the speakers for a couple of seconds, before switching to the headphones. This also happened with my OnePlus 7 Pro while other devices such as my laptop never had this problem.
    • Water and dust resistance: In contrast to the OnePlus 9 Pro, the base model is not IP68 certified. However, German Telekom and other sources state that the 9 is IP54 rated, which means that the phone is protected against water splashes and large amounts of dust. In the US, T-Mobile even states that their devices are IP68 certified. So, since they are manufactured identically, I guess they are IP68 water and dust resistant?

    To be honest, I was a bit disappointed in the user experience in the beginning. Due to the plastic frame, the phone just didn't feel as well-manufactured as the former base models. I honestly expected the phone to be at least as well built as my 2-year-old OnePlus 7 Pro. Also, I am unimpressed by the dual speaker setup and the haptic feedback - something I really enjoyed on the 7 Pro.

    The rest of my experience was mostly positive: The screen is a joy to look at, Oxygen OS is as snappy as we are used to, and you are still free to personalize the phone in a lot of things. I know that I didn't hold back with criticism, but overall I am actually quite happy with my interaction with the OnePlus 9. The phone did, what it is supposed to do and adds very handy features that we can make use of if we want to! I only think that it wastes some of its potential. So the good user experience could have been an amazing one!

    -------------- Overall Conclusion: Were the right Corners cut? --------------

    The OnePlus 9 is the base model of the OnePlus 9 series. This means that we can expect a phone similar to the OnePlus 9 Pro but with some features omitted to lower the production cost. So, if you've come to this point: First of all, thanks for sticking with me and my review, and second, let's summarize what OnePlus has offered us with the OnePlus 9.

    In comparison to the Pro counterpart, we lack super-fast 50Watts wireless charging, official IP68 water- and dust resistance rating (in general), a QHD+ LTPO AMOLED screen, a noticeable difference in build quality and hence user experience, and some sacrifices in the camera department. In my opinion, most of these decisions were wisely made for the Average Joe, who wants a great smartphone without spending a fortune. The "lower resolution" screen is still amazing, I wouldn't worry about water- and dust resistance, and most of the things, that make up the Pro's footprint are still here, the OnePlus 9 is only an inch behind. It is by no means the perfect smartphone for the price point, but quite competitive. Had OnePlus added OIS in at least the main camera and an aluminum frame, I would argue that the OnePlus 9 is very close to perfection.

    With that being said, I can highly recommend the OnePlus 9 to everyone, who wants an insanely fast smartphone with a good user experience and quite-good-in-most-cases camera that will easily last you 3 years if you take care of it. If I were to rate this phone from 1 (unusable) to 10 (perfect smartphone for the money) I would give the OnePlus 9 a solid 8.

    Thanks for reading my impressions and experiences with the OnePlus 9! I hope that you enjoyed the review and that I could give you some useful information. Thanks again @Crystal Z., @Eric X., @dsmonteiro, and everyone in the team for making this possible. :)

    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021

    superplus, script, Mr. BG and 2 others like this.
  10. Z1568085737225
    Eclair Apr 2, 2021

    Z1568085737225 , Apr 2, 2021 :
    Can someone tell me why all the reviews I see the OnePlus 9 comes with a clear case but I've ordered two OP9 here and neither have a case?

  11. Z1568085737225
    Eclair Apr 2, 2021

    Z1568085737225 , Apr 2, 2021 :
    But yeah I rather they added OIS to main camera rather than the waste of space and money MC sensor.

  12. M1608406163956
    Cupcake Apr 6, 2021 at 8:04 PM

  13. Mr. BG
    Community Hero 2020 Apr 6, 2021 at 10:01 PM

    Mr. BG , Apr 6, 2021 at 10:01 PM :
    Yes, totally ruins it.

    All the Hasselblad hype just to be left with a camera that can't make a decent picture in low light. That's no problem in a $300 phone, but it is in this price class unforgivable, the only phone without OIS.

    I don't care the frame is plastic, it's the same on my N10, it's often the better choice mechanically, it will absorb kinetic energy, metal and glass doesn't, it will break.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2021 at 10:06 PM

    script and TibiTibi like this.
  14. TibiTibi
    Photography Expert Apr 8, 2021 at 11:14 AM

    script and Mr. BG like this.
  15. Bongzerker
    Froyo Apr 9, 2021 at 8:46 AM

  16. Himanshu keshri
    Cupcake Apr 9, 2021 at 4:53 PM