OnePlus 9 Series Preview

Posted on March 23, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Mobile, Android with 18 Comments

Today, OnePlus unveiled the OnePlus 9 series, which includes the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The marquee new feature? Dramatically better photography.


When you think about a smartphone camera system, it’s possible that only the hardware comes to mind: The number or types of lenses, perhaps, or the various capabilities that those lenses provide. But the word system is, I think, important and correct because a smartphone camera system is about more than just the hardware. It’s about the software that works in tandem with that hardware, creating optimized shots without any interaction from the user. And, for professional users, the manual controls that they require.

To date, OnePlus has worked aggressively on behalf of its users in the design of numerous aspects of the overall experience, from performance and efficiency to build quality and value. But its approach to photography, a key differentiator for other smartphone flagships, has been disappointing. OnePlus has paid lip service to what its competitors were doing by adding lenses, but the results have been inconsistent, a fact I attribute more to the lack of optimized software as I do to some of the bizarre hardware choices. Whatever the reason, each OnePlus camera system wasn’t really a system. They were just collections of hardware and software pieces that didn’t seem particularly well-suited for each other or their users.

With the OnePlus 9 Series, OnePlus seeks to put a stop to this misfortune and is finally putting its full weight behind the photographic performance of its camera systems. It has teamed with Hasselblad, famous for supplying NASA with the cameras that took the first photographs from the Moon, to dramatically enhance camera hardware and software that it puts in its smartphones. OnePlus and Hasselblad both claim that, in doing so, they are creating the best-ever smartphone camera experience.

I’m excited to test that claim, but let’s get real here: OnePlus doesn’t have to beat the best camera systems offered by companies like Huawei, Samsung, Google, and Apple (and yes, I put them in that order on purpose). It just needs a foot in the game. In the past, its camera systems were an Achilles Heel for OnePlus, the one thing—aside from some strange component choices on a model-by-model basis—that kept this firm from making a dent in the universe. It’s always been so close.

Looking at the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, I see two premium, flagship-class handsets with the high-end set of specifications that we’ve come to expect from this company. Both are based around the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor with Adreno 660 graphics, 5G networking, 8 or 12 GB of RAM, and 128 or 256 GB of super-fast UFS 3.1 two-lane storage. Both have large 4,500 mAh batteries, both support Warp Charge 65T charging, and the 9 Pro supports 50-watt Wireless Charging (15-watts in the 9). Both include a 65-watt USB-charger in the box and, yes, it is strong enough to charge a laptop.

Given my experiences with several previous OnePlus models, the displays should be stunning. The OnePlus 9 features a 6.55-inch 2400 x 1080 (402 ppi) Fluid AMOLED display with Corning Gorilla Glass protection, a 20:9 aspect ratio, and a 120 Hz refresh rate. The OnePlus 9 Pro ups things a bit with a 6.7-inch 3216 X 1440 (525 ppi) Fluid AMOLED with LTPO display with Corning Gorilla Glass protection, a 20.1:9 aspect ratio, and a 120 Hz refresh rate.

But it is, of course, the camera systems that we’re wondering about the most. Both look solid and seem to map roughly the capability differences we see between the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro lines.

The OnePlus 9 features three camera lenses: A 48 MP main lens with an ƒ/1,8 aperture, a 50 MP ultra-wide lens with an ƒ/2,2 aperture, and a 2 MP monochrome lens.

The OnePlus 9 Pro features four camera lenses: The same three lenses noted above plus an 8 MP telephoto lens with optical image stabilization (OIS) and an ƒ/2,4 aperture.

These lenses are what OnePlus calls top-shelf components and they feature dramatically bigger sensors than any previous OnePlus handsets, but as the firm noted during its announcement, they’re also bigger than the sensors on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The result could—should—be the dramatic improvement in quality that OnePlus claims, with less noise, more accurate color, and better clarity.

Both feature dual LED flashes and multi-lens autofocus, and both can shoot 8K video at 30 fps or 4K video at up to 60 fps (120 fps on the Pro). Both also feature the same single-lens front-facing camera, a 16 MP unit with an ƒ/2,4 aperture, a fixed focus, and electronic image stabilization (EIS).

From a software perspective, the OnePlus/Hasselblad partnership promises color accuracy for pro users plus all the computational photography bells and whistles that we normies require. They’ve reduced the edge distortion in the ultra-wide lens from the 10-20 percent seen on other smartphones to just 1-2 percent.

The sample shots that OnePlus showed during its launch event are, in a word, stunning. I recommend watching the video replay. And I cannot wait to test these smartphones.

OnePlus is promising its customers that the OnePlus 9 Series will give them their “best shot” when it comes to smartphone photography. We’ll see about that. But for now, the OnePlus 9 Series is what I’ll call OnePlus’s best shot to win customers, end the complaints, and put its otherwise excellent flagships on the same hallowed ground as the best that Apple and Samsung have to offer.

Tagged with ,

Join the discussion!


Don't have a login but want to join the conversation? Become a Thurrott Premium or Basic User to participate

Comments (18)

18 responses to “OnePlus 9 Series Preview”

  1. beatnixxx

    What I find a little disappointing is the original goal of OnePlus seems to have mostly gone by the wayside. For the prices they're charging, they *should* have a premium camera experience. What made them special at one time was delivering premium/near-premium features at a lower entry price ( I know they have the Nord line which more or less has taken over that directive).

    "Premium priced phone comes with premium feature set" is just not that interesting to me as a consumer these days. I mean, it had better for those prices.

  2. truerock2

    If you want to see a photo that will blow your mind, look at photos created with a

    Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 Body.

    Or, if you just want photos that are much better than any cell phone, go spend a few hundred bucks on any digital camera from a top camera manufacturer.

    Pictures taken with cell phones are distorted by wide angle lenses and look like garbage.

    • hellcatm

      In reply to truerock2: I don't understand why some people insist on coming into a conversation with a comment that means nothing to the topic at hand. Your comment is like me saying "you want to drive a fast car, drive a Bugatti Veyron" and the blog post is about a Camaro. What you're saying is valid but not to this article. We can care less if a Canon RF is better than a camera phone when it comes to this article. Now if the article was about a Nikon camera, then your comment would be valid. Not here though, this is about a PHONE camera.

      • Paul Thurrott

        Exactly. I'm going to codify this type of thing into our user terms. This is just hijacking a conversion with irrelevant commentary.
  3. hellcatm

    I'm reading a lot of comments that are bashing OnePlus. They're trying and I commend them for it. They may not sell a ton of these, but if they start making phones that are as good as the top phones on the market now and they're cheaper, they may catch on. Look at Hyundai, they were a crappy car company back in the day and now they're one of the popular ones. Instead of bashing them, be happy that they're trying.

    • Paul Thurrott

      To be fair, OnePlus was never a Hyundai. It was more like Lexus: It's products were great from the start and they undercut the market leaders by a wide margin.
  4. ghostrider

    ...and the crowd say; meh. Look, OnePlus have been trying to up their game (and prices) with every generation to try and play with the big boys at the top. Yes, the hardware is nice, and Android is very mature now, but I think it's public perception that matters. iPhone owners will always buy iPhones, and the same is often true of Samsung owners too (buying Samsung phones that is!) - OnePlus still have a mountain to climb in that respect. Even Google tried, and gave up trying to compete at the top!

  5. dcdevito

    Ho hum, same ol OnePlus.

  6. brettscoast

    They look extremely promising, look forward to your reviews on these new smartphones.

  7. DBSync

    Lets be realistic. They will not sell that many of these phones.

  8. rosyna

    The OnePlus 9 series uses the same Sony sensors used by other smartphones. The “Hasselblad” brand was licensed from DJI (yes, the drone maker) and OnePlus just markets it as having a “better” default color profile (as opposed to the normal default of extreme oversaturation with the default “Vivid” profile on other Android phones*).

    *Originally designed to hide the “natural” color reproduction flaws on low quality phone displays, but it now sticks around even on high quality displays due to nostalgia.

    • gartenspartan

      In reply to rosyna:

      If you actually read up on this phone, you'll find out it's using a custom made sensor not currently found on any other device, the Sony IMX789.

    • Paul Thurrott

      This is not correct. This is not a marketing exercise, it's an actual partnership that has already resulted in important photographic advances for OnePlus customers. We'll see where the quality lands, but it's already clear that it's on the upswing.
  9. truerock2

    It's amazing what you can accomplish with a billion slaves working for $0.25 an hour...

    who all want to move to the United States

    • hellcatm

      In reply to truerock2: Yes and most companies do this. apple has had people commit suicide because of this. What's your point?

      I know I'm picking on you. I'm in a mood. Maybe I shouldn't be commenting on things today.

  10. peterc

    Well trawling through the Oneplus 9 images reviewers have uploaded already it seems like the camera for both the OP9 and OP9 pro are looking great.

    Paul, I cant wait to see image comparisons you may do between your existing pixel and other handsets in comparison to your review model. Its interesting to see the images compared between the OP7T, 8T and the new 9 that XDA have uploaded.

    UK pricing is pretty good at £629 for the OP9 (8GB/128GB) and £829 OP9 pro (8GB/128GB). Im very tempted by the Pro's RAW options etc but the std OP9 is maybe my sweet spot...

    Anyway, im looking forward to your review and image samples and comparisons too.

  11. Sir_Timbit

    The price keeps going up, but you still only get two years of major OS updates. IIRC Samsung bumped that up to three years, and they lowered their prices on the S21 range.

  12. beckerrt

    Nope. Early reviews seem to indicate OnePlus didn't quite live up to its own hype.

  13. Mcgillivray

    Best cameras.. Until next year. Or until another company next month announces their cameras are the best.

    When I got into performance racing - I remember in 2013 something I bought was claimed to be 27% faster than the previous year's model. Then in 2014 that new model was 13% faster. in 2015 is was 31% faster - and so on and so on...

    I then realized it's negligible. They'd started selling the product in 2007. So by this time, even 50%faster was literally fractions of a second. And with every competing company's products also being announced as faster than previous years...

    I guess I just can't get excited about all these new cameras (which is what they should be marketed as - cameras with phone and computer capabilities if people really care about image quality so much) when my iPhone 12 photos look like my iPhone 11 photos which look like my iPhone XS photos which look like my Samsung S8 photos which look like my Lumia 950XL photos and on and on and on.

    Sorry, just ranting, I've had a rough few weeks in quarantine and can only take photos of my cat inside LOL

  14. t-b.c

    If you watch the Launch event, you can skip the customer testimonial section and go right to the address. It starts at 6:45. They also announce a watch. Paul, are you going to review the One+ Watch too?

  15. simard57

    what is the sweet spot for phone size? I have a 7T and quite pleased with the size but cannot imagine going bigger. Is the Pro too big (for normal sized hands)?

    wasn't there another OnePlus 9 in the family that was announced as well - between the Nord and the 8 series?