Hot take: OnePlus 9 series

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The new OnePlus 9 family is here, and this time it’s even bigger with an R model joining the Vanilla and Pro. Granted, it’s availability is limited, but it can be big in what is fast becoming the company’s largest market.

There was a small price increase, but also an exciting partnership with Hasselblad and its total investment of $ 150 million in its R&D camera. Our early thoughts on the lineup follow.

The camera is better, but not quite up there with the best

We were lucky enough to get the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro early and complete their reviews. The overall camera quality has been significantly improved over last year’s OnePlus 8 series, mainly when it comes to color accuracy and the new 50MP ultra-wide camera with free-form lens. Still, it is still a bit behind the competition from Samsung, Apple and Huawei.

This is not to say that the Hasselblad partnership is in vain, as not long ago comparing OnePlus with the big names in the industry would sound ridiculous. But back then, the company aggressively undercut the pricing of the competition as its camera shortcomings were far easier to forgive. These days, OnePlus charges a handsome crown for its flagship models, making it much harder to get over the fact that the camera’s performance just isn’t there yet. On the upside, the hardware is really good, so maybe future software updates can improve the quality, as it did with the last two generations.

The value proposition is still there

Despite the lack of good camera performance, the OnePlus 9 series offers you something for the money. Whichever of the three you get, the impeccable screen quality is guaranteed. Vanilla 9 lacks the LTPO technology, but the difference is not that big.

Hot take: OnePlus 9 series

Some of the fastest charges around (wireless included in Vanilla and Pro), fast performance, good build, solid stereo speakers and a solid balance of pure Android feel and added features.

Hot take: OnePlus 9 series

And despite the price increase, the 9 and 9 Pro are still somewhat cheaper than their direct rivals in some markets.

Vanilla version in no man’s land

For the second year in a row, it feels like OnePlus deliberately handicapped its vanilla offerings. OnePlus 8 cuts too many features, and the same goes for the 9 family. There is actually a difference of € 180, but it is not a cheap phone and yet it still has a lot of compromises. There’s no tele-camera, the main thing lacks OIS, you miss out on the super-fast wireless charging, and the plastic frame and downgraded Gorilla Glass protection feel downright insulting at this price point.

Hot take: OnePlus 9 series

We get that OnePlus wants to sell more 9 Pro units, but sacrificing the vanilla model to get there can end up damaging it in the long run.

India is the big winner

Those in India will have even fewer reasons to buy OnePlus 9 as they undoubtedly have smarter choices – OnePlus 9R. Based on the well-received OnePlus 8T, the 9R may be missing from the Snapdragon 888 chipset, but otherwise it’s not too far from the vanilla 9.

Hot take: OnePlus 9 series

When asking INR 40,000 (€ 465), the device has OIS on the main camera, has Gorilla Glass 5, holds the 120Hz OLED screen and runs on the still powerful Snapdragon 870 SoC. We’re pretty excited to take one for a spin when we get the chance.

In short, the OnePlus 9R can do pretty much everything Vanilla 9 can (apart from wireless charging) and is significantly cheaper.

In addition, Indian prices are much lower than in Europe and the United States on both units. Pro is around € 140 cheaper and vanilla 9 is priced € 150 lower.

The company at an intersection

OnePlus is trying to relocate both in terms of market segments and rankings. Previously, the company was heavily selling phones priced under the flagship of the competition, with Europe being one of the strongest markets. Now it rearranged its portfolio, gradually moving its flagship lineup higher and higher up, while introducing the North Series to cover entry-level and mid-range.

Ironically, this leaves its historically strongest segment invalid, as the company clearly feels that it is now good enough to compete with the big names for features and performance instead of having to rely on undercutting their prices.

Meanwhile, there is a clear shift in attention to India and the United States at the expense of Europe, which risks its large flag base on the old continent. Will the new fans won elsewhere be enough to equalize it? And are the current turbulent times the best to go through such major transitions, or does it just add more instability to what is already an uncertain situation. Only time will tell whether we are witnessing a genius move or a major blunder.

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