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OnePlus 9 review: Competent but lacks fancy bells and whistles of Pro model

The OnePlus 9 Pro (review) is a solid smartphone packed with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles that you expect from a premium smartphone. Though competitively priced, some might find it expensive. For those who do, there is no harm in checking out the Pro model’s younger sibling, the OnePlus 9. Though it cuts some corners on premium features, it brings a motley mix of specifications and features for uncompromised everyday smartphone experience.

Starting with the design, the OnePlus 9 looks almost identical to the Pro model but is more compact. It has a glass cover on the front and back, but the metallic chassis of the Pro model is replaced here by a plastic one. However, the thin and lightweight design and compact form factor compensate for the slightly inferior build. Another apparent change is in the rear camera module, which looks less busy than the one present in the Pro model.

On the front, the OnePlus 9 has a familiar punch-hole display with thin bezels on sides. It is a slightly smaller 6.55-inch AMOLED panel but of a flagship grade with a refresh rate of 120Hz. While the display in the Pro model supports a dynamic refresh rate which variably adjusts the all the way down to 1Hz for extending the on-battery time, the display in the vanilla model operates at either the standard 60Hz or the enhanced 120Hz. Surprisingly, the lack of a dynamic refresh rate here does not compromise on battery efficiency and the OnePlus 9 delivers an on-battery time that is on a par with what you get in the Pro model. However, even if the absence of a dynamic refresh rate does not hinder the user experience, the fullHD+ resolution and lack of value-added display features like motion smoothing do.

Speaking of user experience, the OnePlus 9 ships with the same Android 11-based OxygenOS 11 operating system that powers the Pro model. OnePlus deserves praise for keeping the user interface close to stock Android while integrating value-added features to elevate user experience (customised colour tones, dark mode, night mode, hidden space area, etc). Complementing the user experience is a swift performance, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip, paired with up to 12GB RAM (LPDDR5) and 256GB internal storage (UFS 3.1).

From graphic-intensive games to multimedia editing, there is nothing that the phone could not handle. Moreover, there is a game space with built-in Pro Gaming mode (earlier known as Fnatic mode) for enhanced gaming performance. The OnePlus 9 supports 5G networks, both standalone and non-standalone, and WiFi 6. Though both could not be tested at present, these make for a future-ready smartphone which you might not have to upgrade for connectivity benefits in times to come. The phone also has stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos support.

Like the OnePlus 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9 is powered by a dual-cell battery of a combined 4,500mAh capacity. The phone’s battery seems underpowered, especially when the display is set at a 120Hz refresh rate. Thankfully, the phone ships with a 65W fast wired charger, which replenishes the completely drained battery fully in about 45 minutes. It is a universal charger with USB-C to USB-C cable. Therefore, you can use it to charge laptops, tablets and other devices that support power delivery (PD) charging protocol (charges at 45W).

Coming to imaging, the OnePlus 9 packs the same primary and ultra-wide sensors of the Pro model but lacks the telephoto sensor. Therefore, there is no optical zoom available here. Unfortunately, the stellar macro photography enabled by the ultra-wide sensor in the Pro model is also missing here. Other than these two limitations, there is nothing that seems missing from the package. The phone’s primary sensor takes detailed shots, irrespective of light conditions. It is quick in fixing focus and captures the frame with almost zero shutter lag. It is tuned to capture natural colours, resulting in true-to-life imaging experience. There is a colour symmetry between the primary and the ultra-wide-angle camera, and the latter is as good a performer as the former – at least in daylight conditions. Unlike the conventional ultra-wide-angle sensors, the OnePlus 9 takes flat frames with minimal distortion. Therefore, the frames appear to have been taken from a regular camera with a wide field of view. Like the Pro model, the Hasselblad promise here is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It is limited to the manual mode, which is restricted to the primary camera.

OnePlus 9 review: Verdict
Starting at Rs 49,999, the OnePlus 9 is a competent premium smartphone despite the absence of some premium features of the Pro model. It makes a good upgrade for OnePlus enthusiasts looking for a newer model on budget. For others, there are other Android smartphones in the same segment like the Mi 11X Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G that offer better value for money. That said, the entry-level premium smartphone segment is flourishing but not all phones are equal. Therefore, it’s best that you compare the models thoroughly before making a purchase decision. Business Standard

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