The new OnePlus 9 family is here and this time around, it’s even bigger with an R model joining the vanilla and Pro. Granted, it’s availability is limited, but it may be big in what is quickly becoming the company’s biggest market.
There was a slight price increase but also an exciting partnership with Hasselblad and its $150 million overall investment in its camera R&D. Our early thoughts on the lineup follow.
Camera is better, but not quite up there with the best
We were lucky enough to get the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro early and complete their reviews. The overall camera quality has been improved significantly over last year’s OnePlus 8 series, mostly when it comes to color accuracy and the new 50MP ultrawide camera with free-form lens. Yet, it’s still slightly behind the competition from Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
It’s not to say the Hasselblad partnership is in vain as not too long ago even comparing OnePlus to the big names in the industry would sound ridiculous. However back then the company was aggressively undercutting the competition’s pricing was its camera shortcomings were far easier to forgive. Theses days OnePlus charges a pretty penny for its flagship models, making it much harder to get over the fact that the camera performance just isn’t there yet. On the upside the hardware really is great so perhaps future software updates might improve the quality, as it did with its last two generations.
The value proposition is still there
Despite the lack of great camera performance, the OnePlus 9 series offer great bang for your buck. No matter which of the three you are getting, the impeccable display quality is ensured. The vanilla 9 misses on that LTPO tech but the difference isn’t as big.
Some of the fastest charging around (wireless included on the vanilla and Pro), speedy performance, good build, solid stereo loudspeakers and a solid balance between clean Android feel and added features.
And despite the price hike the 9 and 9 Pro are still somewhat cheaper than their direct rivals in some markets.
Vanilla version in no-man’s land
For a second year in a row, it feels like OnePlus is deliberately handicapping its vanilla offerings. The OnePlus 8 cut too many features and the same goes for the 9 family. Indeed there’s a €180 difference, but it’s not quite a cheap phone and yet it still has a bunch of compromises. There’s no telephoto camera, the main one lacks OIS, you miss on the super fast wireless charging and the plastic frame and downgraded Gorilla Glass protection feel outright insulting at this price point.
We get that OnePlus wants to sell more 9 Pro units but sacrificing the vanilla model to get there may end up hurting it in the long run.
India is the big winner
Those in India will have even fewer reasons to buy the OnePlus 9 since they have the arguably smarter choice – OnePlus 9R. Based on the well-received OnePlus 8T, the 9R may be missing on the Snapdragon 888 chipset, but is otherwise not too far from the vanilla 9.
Asking INR 40,000 (€465), the device has OIS on its main camera, has Gorilla Glass 5, keeps the 120Hz OLED display and runs on the still powerful Snapdragon 870 SoC. We are pretty excited to take that one for a spin when we get the chance.
In short, the OnePlus 9R can do pretty much everything the vanilla 9 can (except for the wireless charging) and is considerably cheaper.
Furthermore, Indian prices are a lot lower than in Europe and the US on both devices. The Pro is around €140 cheaper and the vanilla 9 is priced €150 lower.
The company at a crossroad
OnePlus is trying to reposition itself both in terms of market segments and locations. Previously the company relied on strong sales of phones priced below the competition’s flagships with Europe being one of its strongest markets. Now it’s rearranged its portfolio gradually moving its flagship lineup higher and higher up, while introducing the Nord series to cover the entry level and mid-range.
Ironically this leave its historically strongest segment void as the company clearly feels it’s now good enough to compete with the big names on features and performance rather than having to rely on undercutting their pricing.
Meanwhile there’s a clear attention shift to India and the US at the expense of Europe, which risks its large fanbase on the Old Continent. Will the new fans won elsewhere be enough to offset that? And are the current turbulent times the best to undergo such major transitions or is it just adding more instability to what is already a precarious situation. Only time will tell if we are witnessing a genius move or a major blunder.