The OnePlus 9 won our Editors' Choice Award, but with stiff competition. Should you still consider buying it now?
Editor's note, Jan. 12: The OnePlus 10 Pro just released in China, and we're still learning about OnePlus' 2022 phone line. But if you are considering the OnePlus 9, know that even though it's not the highest-performing phone in the lineup, it's still got great specs all round and comes at a price that makes it a solid option for anyone shopping on a budget. And despite a delay in its Android 12 rollout in December, the OnePlus 9 is now receiving OxygenOS 12, which is based on Google's newest operating system. That balance of features and price has earned it a CNET Editors' Choice Award. Our updated review follows.
When I reviewed the OnePlus 9 last year, I said it was one of the best and more affordable phones you can buy. Its excellent performance, superb battery life, decent camera and super fast charging meant it was a better value than its pricier OnePlus 9 Pro sibling. That's why it earned that coveted CNET Editors' Choice Award.
But since then we've seen the launch of phones like the Google Pixel 6, which also earned a glowing review thanks to its great camera, slick Android 12 interface and good overall performance. And at $599, the Pixel 6 is exactly the same price as the OnePlus 9. Undoubtedly the OnePlus 9's biggest competition today, the Pixel is the better choice if you want the neat features of Android 12 and a superior main camera.
Sure, Google's Tensor processor promises improvements to AI, but we haven't seen much of that yet. The OnePlus 9's top-end Qualcomm chip makes it an absolute powerhouse, while its stronger battery life and stellar fast charging makes it excel if power is an issue. That said, The Pixel 6's aluminum and glass design feels markedly more premium than the OnePlus 9's. Plus, the Pixel comes with an IP68 rating for waterproofing -- something not found on the OnePlus 9.
Then there's the newly-launched Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, which also performed well in our review and offers a lot of high-end features at a more reasonable price than the flagship S21. But it still costs $700, making the OnePlus 9 the more economical choice for cash-strapped buyers. And let's not forget the upcoming Galaxy S22, which is expected in February. While it's likely to pack some awesome features, we expect it to cost considerably more than the OnePlus 9, so it's not worth waiting for the launch if cost is a concern.
From its lightning-fast performance to its superb battery, the OnePlus 9 has strong features that make it an excellent everyday phone for 2022. Sure, it might not have some of the more glitzy elements or bleeding-edge mobile tech like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 13 Pro, but its more approachable price tag makes it one of the best midrange handsets to consider.
Here are five reasons why this is the best OnePlus phone to buy right now.
The OnePlus 9 has the same size battery as its 9 Pro sibling, yet I found its battery life to be quite a bit better. Why is that? It's probably all about the screen. At 6.55 inches and 2,400x1,080 pixels, it's slightly smaller and lower resolution than the 9 Pro. That means fewer pixels to light up so there's less of a drain on the battery. On our rundown tests it kept going for an impressive 23 hours, which puts it on par with the S21 Ultra and laughs in the face of the 15 hours the 9 Pro achieved.
And don't worry about that lower resolution -- I honestly can't tell the difference between the two screens, and it's not something you'd notice 99% of the time.
If you do manage to hammer the battery and find yourself running low in the afternoon, the OnePlus 9 has the same 65-watt fast charging as the Pro. It's amazing and shockingly quick -- it can go from empty to full in about 30 minutes. It's great for those occasions when you've forgotten to charge and just need to give it a quick top up before you head out.
Even better is that a 65-watt fast charger comes in the box, so there's no need to scour Amazon to find a third-party one that's compatible. It supports wireless charging too, although it doesn't have the fast 50-watt wireless charging of the 9 Pro. Personally, I don't think that's much of a loss, but it's worth keeping in mind.
I fully expected the OnePlus 9 to have a lower-end processor than the Pro, but no, it's packing the exact same Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, which is an absolute powerhouse. Gaming, photo editing, video streaming -- all handled with zero fuss. In fact, there's nothing I could really throw at it that slowed it down.
It's a pleasure to use for your everyday tasks too, thanks in part to the 120Hz screen refresh rate and the neat and easy-to-use Android 11-based software -- both features you'll also get on the 9 Pro.
I argued with the 9 Pro that its camera is great, but it's not up there with the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12 Pro Max. While the same is true on the OnePlus 9, this phone isn't trying to compete with the absolute elite of the smartphone world, so I can be a lot more forgiving here.
That said, there have been some compromises on the camera from the Pro version. It has no optical zoom, for example, so you'll be using the standard and super-wide lenses, and the main camera has a physically smaller sensor. For most shots you probably won't be able to tell the difference, as it can take some really gorgeous photos with even exposures and plenty of detail. The colors from the OnePlus 9's camera can sometimes look more muted compared to those from the 9 Pro, but there are a variety of built-in color filters to select from if you want to give things a punchier look.
The night mode works well (in the standard zoom, anyway) and selfies from the front camera are sharp and well exposed, too. All in all, it's a great camera for all of your everyday snaps, but if you do want the best images around, you'll need to look further up the range.
I like the 9 Pro's classy design, and the standard OnePlus 9 has much of the same visual appeal. There's the glossy back and metallic edging, the neat camera unit -- and I like the purpley-bluey tones on my review model, too. Its screen doesn't curve nicely at the edges like the Pro and overall it feels more midrange than high-end, but is that really a reason to spend the extra? For me, it's a perfectly good trade-off.
It also doesn't have any official waterproofing, and while OnePlus reckons it can still shrug off a spilled drink or two, it's best to be extra careful next time you're around clumsy friends carrying beer.
It's one of the very few compromises you'll need to consider when debating the OnePlus 9 versus the OnePlus 9 Pro. This thing is cheaper, it's just as powerful, it has a decent camera for most of your daily snaps and it has a battery that puts up more of a fight.
In short, it's a superb do-it-all phone that won't break the bank. That's why I think it's the best OnePlus phone to buy right now.