Over the years, OnePlus has been aiming at the flagship end of the market, hoping to gain a foothold in that exclusive smartphone tier. But do these latest improvements—and particularly those in the camera—put OnePlus in a position to challenge Samsung’s Galaxy S21 or Apple’s iPhone 12? Let’s dive in and take a look.
There are four different phone configurations for the OnePlus 9, each with its own color and combination of specifications. The lowest-end model comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and costs $729. The top-end configuration (which is the model that I review here) costs $1,069, and features 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. As such, the OnePlus 9 Pro hits basically the same price point as the Samsung Galaxy S21+ 5G (go. pcworld.com/215g), and it costs just a bit more than last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro (go.pcworld. com/on8p).
Here are the OnePlus 9 Pro’s key specs:
OS: OxygenOS 11
Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED, 1440x3216 resolution, 1-120Hz refresh rate
Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB LPDDR5
Storage: 256GB UFS3.1
Battery: 4500 mAh, Warp Charge 65T (10V/6.5A)
Cameras: Main: 48MP, f/1.8 aperture, Sony IMX789 sensor, OIS/EIS Ultra-wide: 50MP, f/2.2, Sony IMX766 Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4 Monochrome: 2MP
Front: 16MP, f/2.4, Sony IMX471, EIS
CAMERA: MINOR IMPROVEMENTS
In early March, OnePlus announced a partnership with Hasselblad, a boutique professional camera manufacturer that’s been operating for more than 80 years. The goal: to improve the camera systems in its phones dramatically over the course of three years. The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro are the first phones to emerge from this partnership, and they receive prominent Hasselblad branding inside the camera module. But does having Hasselblad involved actually improve the camera experience? Let’s first touch on how the companies work together.
Hasselblad has a long history of making high-end camera gear, including world-famous lenses. The lens systems in today’s smartphones are very complicated, and if there’s any company that could help out in this department, I’m fully confident it’s Hasselblad, especially given its track record in refining glass. OnePlus claims only 1 percent edge distortion on its ultrawide camera, while most smartphone lenses rate at 10 to 20 percent. In practical terms, this means photos taken with the OnePlus ultrawide camera should be sharper around the edges and should suffer less extreme warping.
This holds true in my testing, and in fact edge distortion is the area of biggest improvement in the OnePlus camera system. In side-byside comparisons, the 8 Pro’s images look smeared around the edges compared to the 9 Pro’s, exhibiting plenty of chromatic aberration. This shows up in the 8 Pro’s images as purple outlines around dark edges, and is a surefire marker of poorer lens quality. There’s always some bending and wrapping of the light in such small lenses, but Hasselblad definitely refined the system in the 9 Pro.
The next area of focus for the Hasselblad and OnePlus partnership was in the camera’s color science. In simple terms, this is a camera’s unique approach for capturing accurate and pleasing colors. Every camera—including every smartphone camera—boasts its own color science, which blends the quest for color accuracy with the maker’s subjective preferences.
Achieving ideal color science is easier said than done. The camera must balance color coming from different light sources, determine how that color affects objects in frame, and then make decisions about how all this information will affect colors in the final image. Improving color science isn’t as easy as simply “being more accurate.” Rather, it involves a lot of software tuning, an area where Google has excelled in its Pixel phones but OnePlus has traditionally fallen short.
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