To lead the ranks this time around, OnePlus launched their flagship, the OnePlus 9 in March 2021 along with its premium version, the OnePlus 9 Pro. The rollout was not followed by a worldwide sale, as the product was made available in different regions at different times over the last two months. In Singapore, OnePlus began accepting pre-orders through their official partners Shopee from 22nd May onwards, at SG$1,199 (SG$1,159 after discount) for the OnePlus 9 with a 12GB + 256GB config. The more enhanced OnePlus 9 Pro is yet to go on sale in the country, through authorised channels at least – It is available on e-commerce site Lazada and Moby for SG$1,299 (8GB + 256GB) and SG$1,599 (12GB + 256 GB) with Global ROMs.
The 9 is available only in Astral Black with a 12GB + 256GB combination, and we hope OnePlus introduces Arctic Sky and Winter Mist in the region as well. The Winter Mist shade carries a striking resemblance to iPhone 12’s Purple. The 9 Pro Global version comes in colours, besides black, that you would associate with the ultra-luxe; Pine Green and Morning Mist. There is no info around the official sales channels opening up for the 9 Pro yet.
In A Nutshell
This 9-series duo seem to have inherited their looks from the OnePlus 8T, carrying a punch-hole front camera on a flat screen, and a camera module on the glass rear which differs in design but not in size or shape. OnePlus makes a big move in the smartphone camera domain by partnering up with the Swedish camera maker, Hasselblad. Looking to co-develop the next generation of mobile phone cameras, the two companies have entered into a 3-year deal.
What do the phones have in common, and what’s different?
Starting with the similarities, OnePlus goes with Qualcomm’s most powerful chip yet, the Snapdragon 888 which has a 5G X60 Modem and an Adreno 660 graphic unit. The battery holds two 2250mAh cells, clubbed into a powerhouse which allows WARP Charging at 65W and wireless charging at 50W. The RAM uses LPDDR5 technology, which is an upgrade from the LPDDR4 tech used in 8T and for storage, uses the same UFS 3.1 2-LANE. Both models come with 5G Dual-SIM and Dual-Standby, which will come in handy with 5G standalone networks currently being setup in Singapore. The front camera uses a 16MP, Sony IMX471 lens which records 1080p videos at 30fps and has timelapse as well.
Setting the two apart primarily is the camera module, with the 9 Pro brandishing a quad camera while the 9 has a triple camera. The missing lens in the 9, is the 8MP telephoto sensor which helps in zooming images and videos. The 9 Pro may feel a bit bulky to those who haven’t used a 6.7” screen phone before, but still manages to weigh just under 200g. OnePlus 9 weighs 183g with its 6.55” screen. The size-difference is owed to the different displays being used, and the 9 Pro’s display features LTPO, a piece of technology which enables adaptive refresh rates.
The 9 series has an In-Display Optical Fingerprint Sensor, and also has the face unlock feature. Besides the common Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Ambient Light Sensor and Proximity Sensor, OnePlus has added a Flick-Detect Sensor which senses flickering lights while using the camera, and alters the refresh rate accordingly to prevent banding effects in photos or videos. While this is common in both phones, only the 9 Pro grabs the Front RGB Sensor from the 8 Pro, which enables an environment-matching white-balance feature called Comfort Tone, identical to Apple’s True Tone or Google’s Ambient EQ.
The captivating Dolby Atmos surround-sound technology, which has been provided in previous OnePlus phones as well, is available through dual stereo speakers. Here are the items you will find in the box: Handset, Warp Charge 65 Power Adapter, Warp Charge Type-C to Type-C Cable, Quick Start Guide, Welcome Letter, Safety Information and Warranty Card, LOGO Sticker, Case, Screen Protector and SIM Tray Ejector.
Design & Display
The design template used for this series is the same as 8T, with the punch-hole camera to the top-corner of the screen, and a glass back panel with a rectangular camera module. Although, to be fair, 8T was the first model to use it. The looks of these two phones are a tad shy of being impressive, with OnePlus choosing to be conservative rather than go in for adventurous changes to the designs. Besides the differences in size, the 9 and 9 Pro feel quite similar to their predecessors in terms of handling. With markings on the measuring scales at 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm (HxWxT), the 9 Pro shadows (literally!) its smaller counterpart by 32mm in height and 6mm in thickness.
The Astral Black of OnePlus 9 has a matte finish underneath a glossy Corning, on which fingerprints are not too visible, thanks to the encompassing black. The Stellar Black of the 9 Pro, however, is a matte finish covered by a frosted glass which mimics the sandstone feel of the very first OnePlus. Of the shades unavailable in the region, Pine Green (9 Pro) looks to be the most sophisticated, again with a double-layer matte finish.
The display on both phones do not entirely match, with the 9 Pro going for a subtly-curved 6.7” AMOLED with LTPO, clocking a max refresh rate of 120Hz, while the OnePlus 9 has a flat 6.55” without LTPO. Both the screens (as well the backs) are protected by Corning Gorilla Glass. The refresh rate is variable to the usage of the displays, but disappoints gamers as the frequency maxes out at 90Hz for most games and they do not support ones which require more. The HDR performance is excellent especially with the 9 Pro, as it covers the entire Display-3P colour space, being a 10-bit display. The OnePlus 9 has an 8-bit display which sometimes mixes the colours in HDR content. The fingerprint sensor is set a bit low on the screen, and will take some getting used to.
Software & Performance
Its only fitting for the OnePlus’s flagship series to go with Qualcomm’s, as the Snapdragon 888 is by far the best chipset the market has to offer. The eight-core processor has a lot to offer over the next best, claiming to deliver 35% faster graphics rendering and 25% higher performance with improved power efficiency. The Kyro 680 CPU and Adreno 660 GPU are supported by an X60 5G Modem which can deliver peak download speeds of 7.5 Gbps and uploads at 3 Gbps. The 5nm manufacturing process makes the chip more compact, and is able to clock up speeds of up to 2.84 GHz.
Among the other phones running on the Snapdragon 888, only the ASUS Rog Phone 5 ups the OnePlus pair in performance. Although, the Rog Phone 5 was designed as a gaming phone and has a camera not half as good as the OnePlus’s. GeekBench has the CPU performance marked below the ASUS Rog Phone 5, Huawei Mate 40 Pro and the iPhone 12. The GFX benchmarking platform provides a similar picture for the graphics. AnTuTu 8 has the 9 only second to an enhanced mode run on the Rog Phone 5, while the 9 Pro comes in behind all other modes of the Rog.
OnePlus introduces a Cool Play feature to manage the heat generated during gaming, and it works by dissipating it through the phones’ glass panes. Although heating is still prominent, the feature does manage to spread out the heat throughout the surface and leaves no single hot-spot to be felt. No negative feedback on the performance is worthy of being called a complaint, so you do not have anything lacking in terms of performance.
The OxygenOS 11 is fast, reliable and carries out functions quite effortlessly. Based on the Android 11, the software allows the phone to be highly customizable. Like the MIUI 12, OxygenOS 11 has a quick-access screen called ‘OnePlus Shelf’, a pull-down drawer which can be customized to carrying your frequently-used apps and widgets. To access the Shelf, swipe down at any point on the screen, and for the notification bar, you will have to swipe down from the very top. The OS has options on changing fonts, settings for the Ambient Display, as well system icons, wallpapers and accent colours.
OnePlus has partnered up with Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad under a 3-year contract in an effort to outdo other smartphone (and perhaps its own) cameras. The 9 and 9 Pro’s cameras inch closer, albeit slowly, to standards set by professional cameras with a 48MP primary camera and a 50MP ultra-wide camera, both Sony lenses. The camera modules have a 2MP Monochrome sensor, while an 8MP Telephoto sensor is only available on the Pro. Lately, phone manufacturers do not seem to have an option of not having a jut-out camera module and the 9 series is no exception. The triple-camera brands a Hasselblad Logo to the side of the array, while the quad-camera has it at the bottom. The reflective logo around the setup makes for a good click by itself. The front snappers are 16MP lenses.
The Hasselblad influence is immediately made apparent by a new Camera UI, with its sunset orange shutter button, resembling those of Hasselblad cameras. It is also going with the Scandinavian brand’s shutter sound. The camera app also has changes made to its Pro mode interface, with OnePlus now opting to go for adjustment dials in place of the rotating wheel from its previous versions which was not convenient to operate. The UI does not rotate while shooting in landscape mode even if auto-rotate is enabled, so toggling the settings under Pro mode becomes a disoriented affair.
In comparison to the Pro, the OnePlus 9 misses out on the Telephoto lens and Optical Image Stabilization, so zooming and steadiness in the images can only be achieved digitally. Even before enabling Nightscape, the low-light photography will leave you impressed. With it enabled, the shots capture a good amount of detail, colour and exposure but zoom is not available on both phones. The 50MP Ultra-Wide is a good upgrade from the 48MP one used in the 8 Pro, and performs quite well even in low-light. In Standard mode, the primary lens shoots decent images in 12MP, but does not live up to the Hasselblad hype. Portrait mode is far superior in the Pro since it zooms 2x by default, and the 9 can only do that digitally without a telephoto lens. But don’t let the comparison throw you off, as the 9 Pro is a premium version and the 9 by itself gives ‘Gram-able portrait shots with low distortion and a decent blur.
The Selfie camera is the same one used since the OnePlus 7 Pro. The reliable Sony IMX471 lens provides a dynamic range, and the portrait mode does not let you down. Video Recording is available at 1080p/60fps, but switch over to the rear and you will have 8K recording at 30fps with the main camera. 4K video is available at up to 120fps, and 1080p in 30 and 60fps. EIS is only available in 30 and 60fps modes. Slow motion is available at 1080p/240fps and 720p/480fps, and there is also a Super Stable mode which uses the ultra-wide camera and then stabilizes the footage by cropping it into perspective. The 3-HDR feature (rebranding of Dynamic Video) captures three exposures for every frame and combines them for a dynamic range.
Overall, we expected a bit more from the Hasselblad tie-up, perhaps with 10-bit recording, adjustable blur for portraits and Pro mode for video recording. The colour science is also a bit of a let-down, which Hasselblad claims to have expertise in. The camera is good to go on both phones and will not leave you dissatisfied as a non-professional user, but still has some catching up to do with the competition.
To achieve heightened charging speeds, OnePlus uses dual-cell technology. The 4500mAh battery actually contains two 2250mAh cells which can be simultaneously charged at WARP speeds by the 65T charger, which is an improvement from the previous 65W adapter. OnePlus 9 takes 29 mins from 0% to 100% while the Pro takes 32 mins. Despite the charging speeds, the battery life wouldn’t be considered a selling point, as the Snapdragon 888 and video playback drain the battery moderately quick. Depending on the usage, the battery should last for a day, but the phone may run out of juice on days you spend outside shooting a lot of images and videos.
Who are these phones for?
OnePlus maybe on the cusp of something big here, owing to their collaboration with Hasselblad. It is not just a question of adding Hasselblad parts to a smartphone, but an elaborate effort to work together and bring in the next big thing in smartphone camera. Although they did not hit the ground running, we can expect good things from the next model, maybe a 9T?
Here’s why you should buy either of the phones:
- They’re one of the few phones with this kind of firepower, with the best alternatives being a gaming-inspired ASUS Rog Phone 5 or a Huawei Mate 40 Pro which does not have 8K recording.
- You can utilize a device which raises the bar in overall performance levels, since other phones fare better in certain functions while sacrificing the 360° experience.
- If you like simple yet elegant and classic designs, the 9 and 9 Pro will hold a much better stance compared to its competitors.
Here’s why you shouldn’t:
- The Hasselblad tie-up isn’t running on all cylinders yet, and if the camera is a deal breaker for you, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a much better (although more expensive) option. The front camera is also an outdated one.
- The other OnePlus phones that they succeed are not too dissimilar in terms of performance and design, and the brand would do well by bringing about a few drastic improvements.
- If you are someone who is always on-the-go, the battery life may disappoint you and you will have to additionally opt for car chargers or portable ones.
We still wait to see if the remaining colours and configs available for the Global versions will be released in Singapore. The rear camera setup holds state-of-the-art hardware, and we hope the software and performance attempt to live up to it soon, at least with a few minor updates. The starting price of SG$1,199 for the 12GB+256GB is a bit steep compared to what the 8GB+128GB would cost (presumably in the SG$999 – SG$1,049 range).
These two phones are definitely not made for hard-core enthusiasts, and this may well be a strategy used by the brand to capture a large part of the market who do not dive too deep into the technical info before purchasing a smartphone. The 9 and 9 Pro have a classic OnePlus design and feel, and are virtually at par with its competitors on the whole. The 9 series can be classified as a good buy, and the Chinese manufacturer also carries a reputation of their phones being long-lasting. All in all, they are dependable, high-level performers which will cater to the mass market and hold good on their flagship status.