There are several battlegrounds at play in the mobile space these days. Size, Screens, battery, specs and sound. But without spending ridiculous amounts of money you’re unlikely to get really good results from all of the above… or are you?

Landing — price-wise — somewhere in the lower range of high-end devices, the OnePlus 9 is a solid offering that’s a bit too good to be a mid-range device but doesn’t tick all the boxes as a top-end device either. But it will tick a lot of boxes for a huge number of users starting with the bang for buck offer.

We’ve seen some beastly phones lately that cost $1,200, $1,500, $2,000 and up but will you use them to their potential? Probably not, so a device like the OnePlus 9 that lands at just under $1,100 in Australia is a welcome change providing it delivers.

To explore how the OnePlus 9 goes in daily life, it’s been my primary device for just shy of two months. It’s been a good, but not perfect experience and that’s okay because even phones worth a lot more have yet to deliver perfection.

What’s inside?

Relating to the earlier comment about consumers not using phones to their full potential, specs are becoming less and less relevant to daily use cases. But for the sake of argument, the specs are for the larger part; the same as the OnePlus 9 Pro. The major difference is mobile connectivity with no mm-wave (doesn’t really matter in Australia right now) and only 15W wireless charging.

The OnePlus 9 is a flat, 6.55-inch display with a 120Hz refresh on FHD+ screen and powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 mobile processor with 5G connectivity and a 4,500mAh battery. While that battery should give you all-day power, if you are caught short, the wired Warp Charge has the capability to fill your battery in about half an hour which is still amazing to me.

A point of difference to the top players (Samsung and Apple) with the OnePlus 9 series of devices is that you get their latest and greatest charger in the box. It is not an optional extra to purchase if you want Warp charging.

You’ll have the latest version of Android in front of you with Oxygen OS version 11.2.77 and — at the time of publishing — the May security patch. In the past, I’ve made no secret of the fact I prefer a stock Android experience and the OnePlus 9, as was the case with the OnePlus 9 Pro, delivers that extremely well. It also delivers all of the connectivity you can expect of a device including Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC and USB-C for charging.

The look and feel aren’t quite premium and that’s fine

Much of the design elements of the OnePlus 9 Pro are here in the OnePlus 9, but there’s a little bit of polish missing. The feel of the device is, while not bad, compared to the Pro it just feels a bit cheaper. To be very specific: cheaper not cheap because there are phones in the same price bracket that carry the same material choices.

It’s lighter (primarily polycarbonate plastic), the backing of the device isn’t as solid and the screen doesn’t have quite the same wow factor as the Pro. Despite these differences, it feels like a device that does everything it should and a bit more. It maintains the look that OnePlus users expect. Perhaps though, at first glance, you could mistake it for a cheaper device.

The daily use case

When you consider just how powerful mobile phones are these days, anything mid-range or up that doesn’t perform is a failure. OnePlus have not failed here, the phone with it’s cut down, stock software is a delight to use daily. It’s been a really pleasant surprise to have a cheaper device, deliver a near-identical experience to the larger budget option.

One thing that did take a little adjustment to is the placement of the fingerprint sensor. On the screen, it’s very low which doesn’t make it a natural place for your thumb to fall when taking the device out of your pocket. This is saved by two factors, one is the speed that the fingerprint sensor works, the other is face unlock. The face unlock — although it does “miss” occasionally — is generally fast and reliable, often unlocking the device before I get my thumb to the screen.

The 120hz refresh on the screen is a flat rate, not a “smart” refresh that adapts to your use. This does affect the battery life a little bit, but the FHD+ screen running at high refresh is great for streaming media and general daily use. It’s easy on your eyes and media is so smooth, even fast-moving images like motorsport are no challenge.

The camera delivers a simple, point and shoot set-up with plenty of options for manual controls also. The modes cover everything you could want from time-lapse, panorama through to portrait, nightscape and Pro mode. The results, partly as a result of the partnership with Hasselblad, are very good and just as consistent. There’s excellent colour reproduction, particularly for outdoor shots and skin tones are natural.

It’s worth quickly mentioning battery life since it’s pretty acceptable. If you have a big day on the phone and are heading out at night, you’ll need a top-up. The wired warp charging is insanely quick so that won’t really present any hassles for users.

A bit more on the camera

The primary 48MP camera is the same as the OnePlus 9 Pro, as is the ultrawide lens. There’s a monochrome lens (which helps with light balance and other areas) but doesn’t have the telephoto lens the Pro does. What you’ll get is an easy to use camera, with no massive bells and whistles that delivers consistent photographic results.

There was an issue with the OnePlus 9 Pro camera that was not present on the 9. Specifically, the overheating issues that caused the camera to shut down, or in extreme cases the phone to reboot. Now that’s great news, but the fact that the shutter and preview lag is still there is frustrating.

The best way to describe what happens is:

  • You take a photo, immediately tap preview and think you’ve got a great shot
  • A moment later the shot you think you’ve caught changes and you’ve missed the moment

What seems to be happening is that the preview is based purely on essentially a screenshot, then when the Hasselblad software has done its magic, you see the processed image a few moments later. This is pretty frustrating, particularly if you’re shooting a fast-moving target like elite athletes or small children. For the most part, you can adjust to it and most of the time, capture what you expect to with your photos.

Conclusion

There are a couple of frustrations with the OnePlus 9 that we’ve covered. The camera preview lag is a bit strange, as is the decision to drop telephoto and keep the black and white sensor for photos. The results you’ll get from the camera are really good and have improved with recent software updates, potentially further with future updates.

It’s a cheaper device than the OnePlus 9 Pro and side by side, you can see as well as feel the difference. That’s not a bad thing, this feels like a device that OnePlus needed to make to combat the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and they’ve done a good job of it.

At the end of the day, the battery life is good, the performance is more than acceptable and the screen makes this a really nice phone to use on a daily basis. The software is clean, giving users a stock experience with smooth and fast operation daily. The fast charging is more than enough to overcome any battery shortfall at the end of the day. It’s nearly all sunshine, rainbows and unicorns.

If you’re keen you can pick one up from several of the importers online such as Expansys and Kogan. Expect to pay around $950 plus shipping which, is probably about $150 too much to sell well in Australia, but it will get some sales.

Removing the camera, it’s an identical daily experience (albeit a slightly smaller footprint) to the OnePlus 9 Pro. So saving a chunk of money, if you’re not a heavy camera user, this phone is deceptively good value while being frustratingly close to excellence.

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Luke

“This is pretty frustrating, particularly if you’re shooting a fast-moving target like elite athletes or small children”

Often confused with each other given the speed at which small children can disappear when you turn your back!

Steve

Any update on whether the OP 9 can make calls over LTE? I’ve owned previous OP devices most recently the OP 7 that kick back to 3G when calling as VOLTE wasn’t supported for the device (Telstra, Optus)

Richard

Yep, VoLTE is still a problem for the 9/9 Pro. I was actually just coming back to this article to see if the author mentioned that. I guess most people mightn’t notice unless the fallback 3G network was down.

Steve

That’s a shame. Unfortunately 3G reception is pretty sketchy where I live so that was a deal breaker for my old OP7. Disappointing to hear it’s still the case

Richard

The 9 also offers 15W wireless charging that is Qi compatible. The Pro can do faster wireless charging but only with their charger (not in the box).

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