OnePlus 9 review - "Top value flagship smartphone gaming"

If the OnePlus brand stood for anything in its early years it was high performance at a surprisingly low price tag.

With last year's OnePlus 8 Pro and now the OnePlus 9 Pro, those days of affordable gaming grunt seem to have passed. But the OnePlus 9 still offers the tantalising hope of a bargain.

It's not exactly cheap at £629/$729 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or £729 for the 12GB/256GB model. But that's still much less than a modern flagship, and you won't have to compromise on performance.

Design and Specs

Let's break the bad news nice and early - the OnePlus 9 looks and feels cheaper than the OnePlus 8 before it. OnePlus has rolled back to cheaper fiberglass-plastic polymer for the rounded rim, though the front and back are still glass.

There's nothing special about this design either. It looks rather plain and generic, even in the shimmering lilac shade of our Winter Mist model.

Despite the use of plastic, the OnePlus 9 is a fairly chunky phone. It weighs 192g, and it's 8.7mm thick. Still, that's far from gaming smartphone territory - the Black Shark 3 Pro territory is 253g and 10.1mm respectively.

In almost every other way though, the OnePlus 9 impresses. Its 6.55-inch FHD+ AMOLED screen has been taken from the OnePlus 8T, which means a bump up to a 120Hz refresh rate. Which means that as well as being bright, accurate and vibrant, everything moves extremely fluidly. There aren't many games that support a 120Hz refresh rate right now, but in general use the phone feels great.

The OnePlus 9 Pro gets you a bigger, sharper display that's slightly more responsive to your touch, with a 360Hz touch sampling rate rather than the OnePlus 9's 240Hz. But you'll pay for the privilege.

OnePlus has also brought its new Hassleblad partnership to bear on the OnePlus 9, which gives the colour tuning a more naturalistic slant. But we're more impressed by the bolstered hardware - you're getting the same 48MP main sensor as last year's OnePlus 8 Pro and the same 50MP ultrawide as the OnePlus 9 Pro. The latter takes better, richer, more detailed shots overall, but the OnePlus 9 is no slouch.

You also get the same 65W brick in the box as the OnePlus 9 Pro, leading to lightning-fast charging. Wireless charging support isn't as fast, but it's still present. Plenty of phones at this price ditch it altogether.

Gaming experience and performance

The key spec for gamers is the OnePlus 9's Snapdragon 888 chip. Crucially, this gives you exactly the same top level CPU and GPU as the OnePlus 9 Pro.

With the same 8GB or 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM, this thing flew through all of the gaming tests we could throw at it. League of Legends: Wild Rift and PUBG Mobile both performed faultlessly on the highest settings possible.

Benchmark tests do show a slight shortfall compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro. We're not sure why that is, but it could be down to a slightly less extensive cooling system - though this component has still been improved over the OnePlus 8.

It's really nothing to worry about though. The OnePlus 9 is up there with the rest of the Android flagship crew on performance, and for several hundreds of pounds/dollars less.

It feels fast too, and it's not just down to that 120Hz display. As mentioned, OnePlus has paired this with a speedy 240Hz touch sampling rate, which reflects the number of times your touch inputs are scanned in.

Elsewhere, its haptics don't feel quite as nuanced as the OnePlus 9 Pro. But you still get a decent pair of stereo speakers, which is a great thing to have for games.

The OnePlus 9 comes with a 4500 mAh battery, which isn't going to trouble any of the dedicated gaming phones on the market. But it's still bigger than the OnePlus 8's 4300mAh cell. Sure enough, an intensive hour or two of gaming may mean that you'll have to recharge before the day is done, but that speedy 65W charger will get you back on your feet pretty sharpish.

Wrapping up

The OnePlus 9 Pro might be the best Android all-rounder on the market right now, but the OnePlus 9 arguably represents better value.

Gamers get practically the same performance, a fluid 120Hz display, stereo sound, and an extremely fast charger for hundreds of pounds/dollars less. It's a shame the design has taken a backwards step since the OnePlus 8, but everything else represents progress.

Add in rare bells and whistles like a decent camera and wireless charging support, and you have an extremely compelling smartphone package. If you're a gamer with a £600/$700 budget, there really isn't a better option out there.

OnePlus 9 review - "Top value flagship smartphone gaming"

It might not hit the heights of the OnePlus 9 Pro, but the OnePlus 9 offers equivalent performance for considerably less money. The level of compromise mitigation here is really quite remarkable. If you're an avid mobile gamer with £600/$700 to spend on your next phone, it's your best option right now.