OnePlus 9R Review: A Minor Refresh With a New Coat of Paint
OnePlus built its brand image around “flagship killers”, promising nearly all the features and capabilities of flagship-class phones at half the price or less. These days, flagships are routinely launched at prices north of Rs. 1,00,000, and OnePlus has kept pace. The new OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro were just introduced with starting prices of Rs. 49,999 and Rs. 64,999 respectively, putting them well and truly into the premium tier. Unfortunately, for many people, purchasing power has not risen quite as much. The kind of buyer who felt like they were getting a great deal when, say, the OnePlus 5 launched at Rs. 32,999 in mid-2017, is unlikely to feel the same way about the current generation when it’s time to upgrade.
And so, the company that promised us we’d “never settle” is now asking some of its most loyal fans to do exactly that. The OnePlus 9R is a response to rising prices and an attempt to cater to people who want something fresh and don’t mind a few cut corners, relative to the OnePlus 9 (Review) and OnePlus 9 Pro (Review). Interestingly, while it looks like its siblings, the OnePlus 9R is strikingly similar to the previous-generation OnePlus 8T (Review) on the inside.
So is the OnePlus 9R a good phone at its starting price of Rs. 39,999, or do you have to deal with too many compromises? More interestingly, what does this mean for the more expensive OnePlus 9? Let’s find out.
OnePlus 9R design
From a distance, the OnePlus 9R looks just like its siblings, the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The distinguishing design touch of this generation is the shape and layout of the camera module, and that’s something that is common across all three models. The only thing missing here is a Hasselblad logo – the 9R doesn’t benefit from the high-profile brand association. You might also notice that the 9R has four cameras, just like the 9 Pro, whereas the OnePlus 9 has only three – more on this later.
Another decision that gives the OnePlus 9R an advantage over its more expensive sibling is that the body is made of metal, rather than polycarbonate. This definitely makes the 9R feel more premium, and also illustrates how reusing the design of the OnePlus 8T can be both a good and a bad thing. The front and back are both made of Corning Gorilla Glass. My unit had an adhesive screen protector pre-applied.
You have two colour choices: Lake Blue, which has a smooth, glossy finish, and Carbon Black, which is more of a frosted, matte texture. My Lake Blue review unit was thankfully not too slippery, though it was a bit tough to keep the rear panel free of smudges. The plastic case you get in the box unfortunately has a large “Never Settle” brand slogan across it.
The glass rear panel is curved at the sides, and the camera module doesn’t stick out too much. The large screen has pretty narrow borders and the front camera is embedded in the upper left corner. The 9R is actually pretty easy to use even with one hand. It weighs 189g and is 8.4mm thick.
On the right, you’ll find a small but well-positioned power button and the trademark OnePlus alert slider which lets you quickly silence the phone or disable vibration. The volume buttons are on the left. The top is blank, and the bottom has one speaker, a USB Type-C port, and the dual-Nano-SIM tray.
Cosmetic touches aside, the OnePlus 9R is virtually identical to the OnePlus 8T, down to the layout of the four lenses on the camera module. It has exactly the same dimensions but is one gram heavier. There’s no IP rating Overall, this is a slick, modern-looking phone and potential buyers will like that it doesn’t feel like a “Lite” model.
OnePlus 9R specifications
The biggest difference between the OnePlus 9R and the 8T is that the newer model has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 SoC rather than the previous-gen flagship Snapdragon 865+. Close inspection of their spec sheets shows that the 870 is a minor update that runs a tiny bit faster but also curiously drops Wi-Fi 6E compatibility. This SoC is positioned right below this year’s flagship, the Snapdragon 888, and will likely show up in multiple other “value flagship” phones soon. OnePlus says it has used an elaborate cooling system with multiple temperature sensors to ensure user comfort.
You also get a 6.5-inch full-HD+ Fluid AMOLED screen with a 120Hz maximum refresh rate and HDR10+, which is the same set of specifications as the panels on the OnePlus 8T and OnePlus 9. It has an embedded fingerprint sensor and is made of Gorilla Glass. OnePlus specifies sRGB and DCI-P3 colour gamut support, but doesn’t explicitly claim 100 percent coverage. There’s an always-on display mode, but this doesn’t stay on all the time unless you allow it, which will consume some power.
OnePlus has gone with the same RAM and storage combinations across many recent models. You can choose between 8GB of RAM with 128GB of storage, and 12GB of RAM with 256GB of storage. This is the same fast UFS 3.1 storage standard used for the higher-end models. You also get Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1 with aptX HD and LDAC codec support, NFC, and multiple positioning systems (though NavIC isn’t listed). You get all the sensors that you might be expecting, except for a barometer.
The battery capacity is 4500mAh, which is about standard for this segment. The OnePlus 9R does support 65W fast charging, but the charger that you get in the box is for some reason an old-style brick with a Type-A port, not the Type-C version that ships with the rest of the OnePlus 9 family and even the 8T. There’s no wireless charging.
Other little touches include stereo speakers, Dolby Atmos tuning, a haptic vibration motor, and a 240Hz touch sampling rate.
OnePlus 9R software
We’ve praised OnePlus’s OxygenOS software in the past, and it’s still feature-rich while maintaining a low-key look. This is version 11.1 which runs on Android 11, but I was surprised to see no security patch update beyond February 2021 at the time of review. Samsung’s OneUI has clearly inspired some design elements here, such as the positioning of elements to make one-handed use easier on large screens.
There are lots of customisations under the surface, but nothing too garish. The best part, relative to current trends, is that there’s no advertising on the lock screen and no barrage of spammy notification ads. The only preloaded third-party app is Netflix, which surprisingly can’t be uninstalled. The My Games app has a built-in launcher for “instant games” which don’t need to be installed but are generally not great quality, and there’s an unnecessary feed of somewhat clickbait-y gaming-related articles. You might also see some prompts to try various OnePlus features such as its cloud service and customer loyalty programme.
You get a choice between standard on-screen buttons and gestures for UI navigation. While the gestures are non-standard and take some getting used to, they make one-handed use easier. On the downside, they might override some apps’ own gestures. Swiping down on the homescreen shows an iOS-style panel with cards for various apps and tools. You can enable or disable the app drawer, and customise the appearance of the UI in various ways.
A Hidden Space feature lets you password-protect certain apps. Work Life Balance mode lets you define different notification behaviour based on the time of day, GPS location, and/or nearby Wi-Fi access point names. You can also run two instances of certain apps, launch apps from the lockscreen by swiping on the fingerprint sensor, customise the always-on display, and tweak many more things.
OnePlus 9R performance
It shouldn’t be any surprise that the OnePlus 9R felt snappy in everyday use. The combination of high-end SoC and 120Hz refresh rate makes for a very fluid and responsive user experience. Apps load quickly, transitions are crisp, and the OnePlus 9R does feel like a high-end phone.
The screen is of course bright and sharp. The camera hole is a bit larger than I would have liked, but is not too distracting because of its position and design. Videos look good, with strong contrast and deep blacks. There are a few screen calibration profile options in the settings, and you can choose whether you want saturated vivid colours or more neutral, accurate reproduction. Sound from the bottom speaker and earpiece isn’t perfectly balanced but you still get a decent stereo experience, and the OnePlus 9R can get quite loud without distorting.
Benchmark tests show that the performance of the OnePlus 9R is definitely in flagship territory. It scofred 6,72,556 points in AnTuTu 9, as well as 965 and 3,075 respectively in Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core tests. 3DMark’s Wild Life test managed 4,198 points, and Sling Shot Extreme was maxed out. GFXBench’s T-Rex and Manhattan scenes were capped at 60fps while the Car Chase scene ran at 49fps.
Games do run smoothly and I had no performance or graphics quality issues with Asphalt 9: Legends and Call of Duty Mobile. However I did find that these games were also capped at 60fps with the screen not using its full 120Hz refresh rate capability. I also felt the rear panel as well as the top of the metal frame getting a bit warm after about 10 minutes. The phone didn’t become uncomfortable, but it was noticeable.
The OnePlus 9R ran for 15 hours, 49 minutes in our HD video loop test. It managed to last through a full day of use with the refresh rate set to 120Hz (which often drops to 60Hz when idle to save power). You should be abl to play games or stream movies for a few hours each day without worrying about battery life.
OnePlus claims that you can get up to a 58 percent charge in 15 minutes and fill the battery completely in only 39 minutes. In my own experience this proved to be inaccurate – it took 30 minutes to reach 64 percent and needed around 50 minutes to reach 100 percent, using the bundled charger and without turning the phone on. This is still quite good but not close to what’s promised.
OnePlus 9R cameras
Unlike the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, there’s no Hasselblad branding here, so you don’t get the much-hyped colour science improvements. That said, the OnePlus 8T managed to capture reasonably good photos and videos so I’m expecting much the same here. The primary camera has a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor with an f/1.7 aperture and optical stabilisation. You also get a 16-megapixel wide-angle sensor, a 5-megapixel macro camera, and a 2-megapixel monochrome filter camera, which is of limited use. In this way, having four cameras isn’t necessarily better than the three on the OnePlus 9.
The OxygenOS camera app is easy enough to get used to and most controls are within reach. There aren’t any exotic camera modes to play with beyond Pro, Panorama and Nightscape but there are two Cyberpunk 2077-branded filters, as a continuation of OnePlus’ association with the game.
As for photo quality, you won’t be disappointed considering the price of this phone. Daytime shots were crisp and detailed, with good exposure metering for the most part. Colours are a little on the dull side but this is better than oversaturated and unnatural colour reproduction. The phone is quick to lock focus and you can get some dramatic background blurring in close-ups. Objects at a distance tended to have noticeably weaker detail though. The wide-angle camera captures a very wide field of view but there’s severe perspective distortion so this should be used sparingly.
Portrait mode manages very good results, and on-screen prompts help you with framing and distance. The macro camera is also surprisingly decent when it comes to detail and definition, producing very usable shots.
At night, a lot depends on how much light there is around you. With a little artificial light, you can get some very good results and even Nightscape mode can make a dramatic difference. The wide-angle camera is not of much use at all in the dark, and even though you can use Nightscape mode, it won’t help much. The primary camera can capture good shots and noise is under control, though you lose quality if you magnify them much, and might sometimes end up with motion blur if you don’t stand still.
Daytime selfies turned out okay, with decent skin tone reproduction. Portraits did have decent edge detection but the background blur was not very natural-looking. The 16-megapixel front camera did struggle a bit at night and shots were full of noise.
Video performance was also good in the daytime. You can shoot at up to 4K 60fps and interestingly, 4K wide-angle video is also possible. You can switch between the primary and wide-angle camera in the middle of recordings. At 4K, colours were slightly overblown and footage did have a warmer tone. Stabilisation is decent at 1080p, but you should expect some jerky movements when using the wide-angle camera. Colours and the level of detail are decent overall. At night, stabilisation does cause a juddery effect in video at 1080p as well as 4K. The wide-angle camera is again not as useful, but can work if there’s some ambient light.
The OnePlus 9R is a very slightly warmed-over OnePlus 8T, and a bigger price reduction would have made it a lot more interesting than it is. It looks slick and modern, and it’s easy enough to handle. Performance is great whether you’re gaming or just getting your daily tasks done. OxygenOS continues to work smoothly and the overall usage experience is very good. The cameras are what you’d expect for this price level, battery life is good, and charging is quick.
It’s unfortunate that buyers don’t get anything new or interesting though. OnePlus should be pushing the envelope and delivering newer, better products at each price level, but really what you get for your money is pretty much the same as before. There’s still no IP rating or wireless charging, the additional cameras aren’t adding much value, and frankly, a lot of people would probably find a sub-Rs. 30,000 phone such as the OnePlus Nord just as satisfactory.
This launch shows that OnePlus knows that the 9 and 9 Pro are too expensive for many Indian fans, but it also calls into question whether anyone should buy the OnePlus 9, which doesn’t offer a tonne more in terms of capabilities or user experience. Samsung has just launched the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, Vivo’s X60 series looks competitive, and Xiaomi’s Mi 11 series is coming up as well.
If you’re a OnePlus fan and need an upgrade at this price level, the 9R is a safe bet. If you can wait a little while, I think it might be worth checking out how it stacks up against the competition.
Is OnePlus 9R old wine in a new bottle — or something more? We discussed this on Orbital, the Gadgets 360 podcast. Later (starting at 23:00), we talk about the new OnePlus Watch. Orbital is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts.