The new OnePlus 9 family is here and this time it’s even bigger with an R model that blends Vanilla and Pro. Granted, availability is limited, but it can play a huge role in what is rapidly becoming the company’s largest market.
There was a slight increase in price, but also an exciting partnership with Hasselblad and a total investment of $ 150 million in camera research and development. Our early thoughts on constellation follow.
Camera is better, but not at the top of the range
We were lucky enough to receive the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro early on and complete their reviews. The overall quality of the camera has improved significantly over last year’s OnePlus 8 series, especially in terms of color accuracy and the new 50-megapixel ultrawide camera with freeform lens. Still, it is slightly behind the competition from Samsung, Apple and Huawei.
It cannot be said that the Hasselblad partnership is in vain, as not so long ago it would be ridiculous to compare OnePlus to the big names in the industry. Back then, however, the company aggressively undercut its competitors because the camera defects were far easier to forgive. These days, OnePlus is charging a pretty penny for its flagship models, which makes it a lot harder to get over the fact that the camera performance isn’t there yet. On the other hand, the hardware is really great, so future software updates could potentially improve the quality, as was the case with the last two generations.
The value proposition is still there
Despite the lack of great camera performance, the OnePlus 9 series offers great value for money. No matter which of the three you receive, the impeccable display quality is guaranteed. The Vanilla 9 misses this LTPO technology, but the difference isn’t that big.
Some of the fastest charges (wireless included in Vanille and Pro), fast performance, good build quality, solid stereo speakers, and a solid balance between a clean Android feel and extra features.
And despite the price hike, the 9 and 9 Pro are still a bit cheaper than their direct competitors in some markets.
Vanilla version in no man’s land
For the second year in a row, OnePlus appears to be deliberately compromising its vanilla offerings. The OnePlus 8 has too many features and the same goes for the 9 family. While there is a $ 200 difference, it is not a cheap phone and there are a number of tradeoffs. There’s no telephoto camera, the main camera lacks OIS, you miss the super-fast wireless charging, and the plastic frame and downgraded gorilla glass protection feel downright insulting at the price.
We feel like OnePlus is looking to sell more 9 Pro units, but sacrificing the vanilla model to get there can hurt in the long run.
India is the big winner
Those in India will have even fewer reasons to buy the OnePlus 9 as they arguably have the smarter choice – OnePlus 9R. Based on the well-received OnePlus 8T, the 9R may be missing on the Snapdragon 888 chipset, but otherwise not too far from the Vanilla 9.
For INR 40,000 (€ 465), the device has OIS on its main camera, Gorilla Glass 5, retains the 120 Hz OLED display and runs on the still powerful Snapdragon 870 SoC. We’re pretty excited to take this one for a spin if we get the chance.
In short, the OnePlus 9R can do pretty much everything the Vanilla 9 can (with the exception of wireless charging) and is considerably cheaper.
Additionally, Indian prices for all three devices are significantly lower than Europe and the US. The Pro is around 140 euros cheaper and the Vanilla 9 150 euros cheaper.
The company at an intersection
OnePlus is trying to reposition itself in terms of both market segments and locations. Previously, the company relied on strong phone sales that were priced below competitive flagships, with Europe being one of its strongest markets. Now it has reorganized its portfolio, gradually moving its flagship range up and down, while the Nord series has been introduced to cover the entry-level and mid-range range.
Ironically, this invalidates its historically strongest segment as the company clearly believes it is now good enough to rival the big names for features and performance rather than relying on undercutting prices .
In the meantime, attention is shifting significantly to India and the US at the expense of Europe, putting the large fan base on the old continent at risk. Will the new fans who won elsewhere be enough to make up for that? And are the current turbulent times the best to make such major transitions through, or does it just add to instability in an already precarious situation? Only time will tell whether we witness a brilliant move or a great mistake.