Are Oxygen OS and Android different
Oneplus 9 (Pro) in the test: Two great smartphones with one major flaw
"Flagship killer": a term that Oneplus coined and which for a long time stood like no other for the approach of the Chinese company to the subject of hardware development. This means high-end hardware that is sold well below the price of many competitors. Even then, some commentators criticized the fact that this - despite the enthusiasm of so many fans - was not a viable business model. And so it happened as it had to happen: at the latest with the Oneplus 8 series from last year, the company has largely adapted to the price level of the competition.
Its successor has recently been available, and one thing quickly becomes clear: there is no return to old strategies. The Oneplus 9 and Oneplus 9 Pro are again at the same price level as the previous year's model. The "flagship killer" has become a completely normal "flagship provider". But of course, the price is not everything with a smartphone. Above all, Oneplus wants to score points with its combination of strong hardware and - compared to some other competitors - lean software. Whether this succeeds is a question that the following test is intended to clarify - and this is common for both new models, as they have numerous similarities.
The first impression is a little astounding. Even if you take into account that smartphone design only offers limited space for original things, the similarities between the new Oneplus devices and some Samsung models are downright striking. But be it as it is - the workmanship is very good, and the look may seem a bit generic, but it's not off-putting either. In addition, a specially designed camera module is supplied on the back, which is one of the least ugly among current smartphones - and that is something.
Anyone who hoped from the names Oneplus 9 and Oneplus 9 Pro that there would be a large and a small model will quickly be disappointed. The difference in size is marginal. Put in concrete figures: the basic model measures 160 x 74.2 x 8.7 mm, the Pro version measures 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7 mm. The weight hardly differs either with 192 vs. 197 grams. The most noticeable difference is that the screen of the Pro version is slightly rounded, while the front of the Oneplus 9 is flat.
There are then again differences to report in the choice of materials. If the frame of the Oneplus 9 Pro is made of metal, the cheaper version uses plastic. Subjectively, however, this difference is hardly noticeable, at most that the slider for loud / vibrate / silent - incidentally still one of the nicer highlights of the Oneplus devices - on the Oneplus 9 is smoother. The back of both, however, is again made of glass, namely hardened Gorilla Glass 5. This also means that the two devices are a real fingerprint magnet, which is particularly noticeable with the metallic look of individual variants.
A look at the specification list reveals the first big difference in the screen: While the 6.7-inch display of the Oneplus 9 Pro offers a resolution of 1,440 x 3,216 pixels, the 6.55-inch panel of the Oneplus 9 has a resolution of 1,080 x 2,040 pixels a little lower. Here, too, you have to honestly say that you hardly see any differences with the naked eye. Only a slightly different rendering of the fonts is noticeable, whereby the author would even give preference to the smaller model - but that is certainly also a question of personal preference. This effect is all the more astonishing, since the Oneplus 9 Pro does not use the full resolution by default, but also "only" uses FHD +. In fact, after a manual change in the settings, it is also a bit slimmer and sharper on the Oneplus 9 Pro.
As far as the display quality is concerned, there is hardly anything to complain about on either device. In terms of quality, they can only be classified marginally among the latest top smartphones from Samsung, for example in terms of the slightly lower maximum brightness - which is still pretty good at 1,200 nits. We also like the fact that both models have a 120 Hz mode and also use this by default for smoother scrolling movements and animations. The Pro version has a slight advantage here again, thanks to an LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxide) OLED, the frequency is flexibly adjusted from 1 to 120 Hz depending on the application scenario, which should help to save electricity.
Another interesting feature is what Oneplus calls "Hyper Touch". The touch sensor is operated at 360 Hz, which should result in a faster response. In practice, however, this no longer shows a really noticeable difference. Since "Hyper Touch" can lead to a slight flicker in return, as the manufacturer warns, it is not activated by default. By the way, the whole thing is intended primarily for games. On the other hand, the feel is once again positive, i.e. the slight vibration feedback when using the device. As usual, this is better coordinated with Oneplus than with many other providers - apart from Apple and Google.
A Snapdragon 888 is used as the processor, which is the chip that will be found in most of the top Android smartphones of the year 2021. This is an eight-core with a Kryo-680 core clocked at 2.84 GHz and three other cores of this type, which "only" run at up to 2.42 GHz. For less demanding tasks, four Kryo 680m cores (maximum 1.8 GHz) are installed. An Adreno 660 is included as the graphics unit. The RAM is also generous in both models with 8 or 12 GB, depending on the storage capacity.
In recent years, Oneplus has built a reputation as a manufacturer of particularly nimble devices. And the Oneplus 9 (Pro) also has little to complain about in this regard; all tasks are done with flying colors. The problem with this is that this statement now also applies, with restrictions (high-end games in particular), to devices with significantly less equipment - such as Google's Pixel 5.The processor can hardly stand out on a modern smartphone, on the contrary, high- End chips are now often at a disadvantage due to their higher power consumption.
Weaknesses in detail
As much as the Oneplus devices are liked in this regard, a small criticism is allowed. The manufacturer is known for changing the timings for scrolling and animations in order to give a somewhat more jagged impression subjectively. Unfortunately, this doesn't always work well, so it is noticeable with both devices that the dynamics in the reaction to scrolling movements are not always correct. The feeling of acceleration that exists on a pixel smartphone, for example, when you move your finger quickly and then release it, is missing here. In addition, the Oneplus devices sometimes scroll a little leisurely, no matter how fast you move your finger. But that too is not consistent across the system. Nevertheless: In this case, of course, these are complaints at a - very - high level.
Please neglect numbers
In benchmarks, the new smartphones deliver - unsurprisingly - the values to be expected for a Snapdragon 888: The performance level in terms of both processor and graphics speed is slightly above that of the current Exynos chip in the S21 Ultra. Differences that, as I said, nobody - and really nobody - will notice in everyday life. Another benchmark is more important: the stress test. In 3DMark's Wildlife Stress Test, the new Oneplus smartphones achieved a fairly modest value of 55.6 percent. In concrete terms, this means that the performance drops significantly after just a few minutes - by an impressive 40 percent. The reason for this are thermal problems, which are also noticeable in the fact that the device gets very warm during the test. At the same time, it should be emphasized that this is not unusual for devices in this category. The S21 Ultra has a "stability score" of 62.8 percent, while mid-range chips are much more economical and therefore more stable. The Pixel 5 with its Snapdragon 765G achieves around 86.9 percent in this benchmark - but is of course generally much slower.
New camera, big promises
It is a point of criticism that has been heard repeatedly in connection with Oneplus smartphones in recent years: While the company can keep up with the competition in many areas - or is even better - the camera is often disappointing. But now everything should be different, the company assured in the run-up to the presentation of the Oneplus 9 series. A partnership with the renowned camera manufacturer Hasselblad is intended to provide the necessary impetus.
Before we go any further, one more important interjection: All the images used in the article are available in their own album on Google Photos in full resolution, so that you can look at the details in peace. There are also some additional recordings and comparisons with the Pixel 5 and Galaxy S21 Ultra.
In view of the experience with other manufacturers, the question quickly arises whether this measure is more than just marketing for a change. The answer to that: yes, but not much. Hasselblad's role in the development of the Oneplus 9 was limited to providing feedback on the color design of the images, which Oneplus then aligned its own algorithms to. In addition, the release button in the camera app is only orange. Above all, however, there is now a large Hasselblad logo emblazoned on the back. That was it already. Anyone who has hoped for a hardware partnership for inexplicable reasons will find themselves - once again - disappointed. At least, Oneplus promises that the cooperation will be greatly expanded in the coming years. That remains to be hoped, after all, the smartphone manufacturer has allegedly invested a proud 150 million dollars in this cooperation.
Not quite the same main camera
But let's get better at what is already there. At first glance, the main camera appears the same in both models: The specification list includes a 48-megapixel sensor (1 / 1.43 inch, f / 1.8) with a 1.12 µm pixel size that operates 2 x 2 binning. The resulting images are again 12 megapixels in size. The term "appears" is decisive here, however, as the Pro model with the IMX789 uses a somewhat newer chip than the cheaper version of the IMX689. The resulting differences fall into a fairly manageable range. In some scenarios the color scheme is slightly different, but that's about it. Interestingly, the smaller model often looks more consistent in this regard.
Another - and quite astonishing - choice of Oneplus has a much greater impact: optical image stabilization is reserved for the Oneplus 9 Pro. With all understanding that you have to differentiate the two models in terms of performance, that's a pretty strange decision. OIS can now also be found in many significantly cheaper devices. That this choice turned out to be extremely retrospective in the test is therefore no surprise - but more on that later. First of all, the good things.
In general, the main camera of both devices is equally appealing. The color scheme is very good - with a slight tendency towards a "warmer" look than, say, Samsung or Google. The image quality is almost always convincing. If you want to criticize something, it is most likely that the photos are brightened too much - and unrealistic - in some cases. And on closer inspection, it is noticeable that the recordings are sharply sharpened, which means that the contours in some scenarios look almost as if they have been traced with a marker. But as I said, the overall impression remains very good. Cat photos are also significantly better than Samsung's Galaxy S21 with its tendency to blur details - and this is known to be the most important of all photo categories.
In principle, this also applies to evening pictures, whereby a similar tip applies here as with Samsung's S21 Ultra: Manual activation of the night mode is almost always the right choice, as you get noticeably more out of the pictures. But then there are really some excellent pictures - for a smartphone - even if they are often unrealistically bright.
But there are also very obvious deficits: In general, the camera of the Oneplus 9 models suffers from various performance problems. This is worst with rapid movements: If you pay close attention here, you will notice that the saved photo does not match the moment the shutter button was pressed, but was taken a few fractions of a second later. Anyone who thinks that this is only the author's imagination: This effect is easy to check, because you can even see how the picture changes when you switch to the gallery view immediately after taking the picture. If you often want to capture moments in life with small children or pets, you will soon get annoyed with the Oneplus 9 (Pro). The autofocus, which is sometimes wrong, is also not particularly inspiring. As expected, the basic model without OIS shows this more often in the evening, which incidentally also does without the laser autofocus of the Pro model.
In terms of video quality, Oneplus promises 8K with 30 frames per second and 120 FPS at 4K. Much more important, however: The resulting recordings are quite impressive, even if they are still on a level below the current top devices from Samsung and Apple. This affects both the balance of brightness and color as well as stabilization. However, these statements only apply to the Pro model, whereas the Oneplus 9 suffers massively from the lack of OIS, which then leads to significantly worse results.
Ultra wide angle camera
The second camera is really the same - and equally good: A 50-megapixel sensor (f / 2.2, 14mm equivalent, 1 / 1.56-inch, 1.0 µm pixel size) ensures excellent ultra-wide-angle shots. The viewing angle is not quite as wide as Samsung's S21 series, but the image quality is really great. In general, the ultra-wide-angle camera of the Oneplus 9 (Pro) is definitely one of the best of its kind at the moment. There are small prints on the Pro model, where the color scheme differs significantly from the main camera.
While the macro camera of the previous year's model was canceled, the manufacturer insists for some inexplicable reason on a 2-megapixel monochrome camera, which should provide both a generally better image quality and depth information for portrait mode. While the former promise is of a dubious nature due to the modest resolution alone, the past few years have also impressively demonstrated that such depth sensors are hardly effective. And the Oneplus 9 (Pro) is almost a key witness in this regard. The portrait mode makes such gross mistakes that other manufacturers have not seen for a long time. The identification of fine edges - i.e. hair or fur - is often completely wrong.
A telephoto camera with an optical magnification of 3.3 (77mm, f / 2.4, OIS, 8 megapixel sensor) is reserved for the Pro model. Of course, this cannot keep up with the periscope camera of an S21 Ultra and its tenfold magnification, but the camera module is also less brutal. The pictures are particularly pleasing at lower magnification levels, but unfortunately the outline effect is even stronger here than with the main camera due to the strong sharpening. And the digital zoom also looks rather crude compared to some other providers. Speaking of which: The Oneplus 9 can of course also enlarge digitally - but we really only advise against it. The results are downright amazingly bad. But that's not surprising either, after all, due to the lack of OIS, it is hardly possible to get reasonably stable recordings with a free hand.
That leaves the front camera (16 megapixels, f / 2.4, 1 / 3.06 inches, 1.0µm, fixed focus), the quality of which is good, but not great either. Some other current smartphones are better suited for selfies, which is not least due to the mentioned weaknesses in portrait mode. At least the rendering of skin looks quite natural and largely dispenses with the cosmetic corrections of many other manufacturers.
The camera app from Oneplus leaves - beyond the mentioned performance deficits - generally a very good overall impression. Of course, the wheel has not really been reinvented in this regard, the structure is reminiscent of other manufacturers - above all Samsung. But at least there is a Pro mode, and the direct integration of Google Lens for object recognition is also useful. The own tilt-shift mode, on the other hand, looks pretty crude and does not differ in quality from the effects of some older smartphone apps. The integration of color filters directly in the camera is also dubious.
What remains is a camera that shows that Oneplus is on the right track. Overall, the recordings are very appealing, but there are still problems with reliability and performance in detail. So you couldn't quite catch up with the competition, but for many users what is offered will be more than sufficient.
Battery strengths and weaknesses
With 4,500 mAh, both models offer an adequate battery in relation to the device size. The resulting runtime is all the more disappointing. The four to five hours of screen-on-time achieved in the test are at the lower end of what current top devices currently offer. The PCMark battery benchmark also delivers a correspondingly low value of 9:38 hours. To be clear: Most should get through the day with it without recharging, nevertheless: The value is below the expected in view of the hardware equipment.
Charging is much more pleasant: the Oneplus 9 (Pro) is fully charged in around half an hour - i.e. from 0 to 100. This is made possible thanks to a new expansion stage of Oneplus' fast charging technology, which benefits from the fact that the devices are precisely not one, but two batteries. These can then be filled in parallel. Up to 65 watts of charging power is achieved - provided, of course, that you use the original charger, which, unlike some competitors, is still included.
The values for wireless charging are no less impressive: With the right charger - but one that can be bought externally here - the Pro model achieves an impressive 50 watts of charging power. Whether you really want that is a completely different question, after all, the downside is that the corresponding wireless charger has to be actively cooled - i.e. has a fan that can of course be heard. The basic version, on the other hand, has to get by with 15 watts for wireless charging, which is easily enough for most areas of application.
There is one thing you have to leave behind the fingerprint sensor of the Oneplus 9 series, which is attached to the display: It is fast, and really fast. There is nothing wrong with the reliability either. At the same time, however, it must be remembered once again that such optical sensors are limited in security, and that should actually somehow play a role in an authorization system. In the specific implementation, it is also annoying that the sensor is attached very far below, which sometimes makes reaching it a bit tedious.
Oneplus is also up to date when it comes to network equipment: Both models support 5G. In the USA there are discussions about the lack of mmWave support for the smaller version, but this is not an issue in Europe for the foreseeable future, after all there are still no suitable networks. And of course you have to realize that 5G is still at the beginning. This will soon become apparent in the test: because even where 5G is available, it is not always the best option. The speed test with deactivated 5G always delivers better results than with active 5G. In other areas, 5G was clearly superior again, but this shows that both device manufacturers and mobile operators still have some work to do in this regard. The dual SIM support is unreservedly pleasing, but you won't find any eSIM support.
Despite all advertising promises, it is always the better choice, even compared to 5G, to be connected to your own WLAN - especially when it comes to faster response times. In this regard, the new smartphones support WLAN6, while the newer WLAN6E with its additional frequencies - but not yet permitted in Europe - does not exist - in contrast to the S21 series. Bluetooth 5.2 is also supported.
Both devices are available in versions with 128 or 256 GB of local storage space, which is also pretty fast thanks to UFS 3.1. On the other hand, you have to do without a micro SD slot. IP68 certification for protection against dust and water is only available for the Pro model. There are still the tonal advantages. The call quality is okay, but the external playback is "okay" at best. The stereo speakers are quite loud, but they also sound extremely tinny. There is no headphone jack on the Oneplus devices.
One of the much-praised strengths of Oneplus is its own OxygenOS - in this case based on Android 11. Last year the manufacturer made a few controversial changes, but all in all OxygenOS remains one of the best Android variants. This is due to the fact that the Android modifications are limited to a few, but mostly really useful areas. Here are a few additional functions, there extended setting options. Compared to the OneUI from Samsung, which is already quite trashed, this is downright relaxing.
This also applies to the software selection: Oneplus takes over many apps from Google - such as the SMS and telephony apps - and thus dispenses with many - and this is the case in the cases mentioned - senseless duplications that are known from other manufacturers. In general, the number of preinstalled apps is pleasantly manageable. Some of what is on the device after setup can also be completely removed later. Strangely enough, this includes a few Oneplus apps that are not in the Play Store at all, so here you have overshot the mark. A few of the pre-installed apps could in turn disappear on future devices. For example, Google Play Movies or Google Photos cannot be completely deleted - which is possible with other devices. And Netflix is also pre-installed. At least after severe public criticism, Oneplus has now decided not to install hidden Facebook services.
A few of the software's solo efforts are of a dubious nature, even with Oneplus: There is a largely meaningless "Never Settle" view that is called up when you swipe down on the home screen. This gathers things like recently used apps, favorite apps or a system dashboard as well as information about the parking position of your own car. A somewhat strange hodgepodge that can be found here at a very central point - via which the much more important notification area can be called up on other devices. All in all, the whole thing looks like a solution to the problem after leaving the area to the left of the first homescreen to Google's Discover view.
On the software side, it all sounds very good overall, but there is one major flaw: the update policy. Oneplus promises two major version leaps for its devices, for comparison: Samsung and Google have three even for significantly cheaper smartphones. Much worse, however, is another point: Even in 2021, Oneplus continues to promise no monthly security updates. The relevant promise is only every two months.
In this price range in particular - and it must be said so clearly - that is simply unacceptable. In addition, Oneplus has generally had problems with the update delivery in the recent past. While companies like Samsung have recently gotten significantly better in this regard, Oneplus looks as if the company is moving backwards. If you want to play seriously in these price categories, the company should urgently invest more resources in software maintenance.
Both Oneplus 9 and Oneplus 9 Pro are already available in Austrian stores and in the A1 range. The price for the Oneplus 9 starts at 699 euros, for the Pro model you have to pay considerably more at 899 euros. The wireless charger costs around 70 euros.
Oneplus makes it difficult: With the Oneplus 9 you basically deliver a really great device for a fair price. Sure: there are certain weaknesses, but every manufacturer has them. Only the lack of optical image stabilization on the main camera really hurts - and almost looks stingy. Nevertheless: If you can live with the weaknesses described, you will find an excellent choice here.
It gets more difficult with the Pro model, and there is a simple reason: The 200 Euro surcharge can hardly be justified for the fairly manageable difference compared to the basic version. In addition, you are entering price ranges in which you are competing directly with better-known companies such as Samsung - which also have better hardware in some areas. On the other hand, the leaner software would speak for Oneplus - if it weren't for the sad update policy. (Andreas Proschofsky, April 5th, 2021)
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