Back in the summer of 2019, OnePlus released the OnePlus 7 as an affordable alternative to the fancy OnePlus 7 Pro. It started at a lower price of Rs 33,000 and was essentially a revamped OnePlus 6T with minor changes. The formula worked on Indians and the OnePlus 7 sold like hotcakes. In 2021, OnePlus repeats the same formula with the OnePlus 9R.
It starts at Rs 39,999 and is essentially a OnePlus 8T with minor cosmetic upgrades as well as a “new” chip. It undercuts the vanilla OnePlus 9 by a huge margin and for most smartphone buyers in the sub-Rs 50,000 segment, it makes a lot of sense (at least on paper). It’s future-ready with 5G, is mighty powerful, and has an all-day battery. It is even made of metal and glass, if that concerns you.
Does all that translate into a sensible purchase for an expensive Android phone? I got my answers after spending 10 days with the OnePlus 9R and here are my thoughts.
|Features||OnePlus 9R 5G|
|Price||Starts at Rs 39,999|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 870 5G|
|OS||OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11|
|Display||6.55-inch AMOLED 120Hz with 2400 x 1080 pixels|
|Internal Memory||up to 256GB|
OnePlus plays it safe with smartphone designs, i.e. it gives in to the yearly design trends while trying to appeal to the masses. The OnePlus 9R is no different, especially with its “safe approach” to a design. It is the same slab of glass with a plain-jane design on the rear and a massive display taking up the front. There’s the rectangular camera hump that flaunts the four cameras. Instead of any Hasselblad logo, OnePlus has stuck to listing the sensor details of the main camera.
Whether you get it in black or blue, the OnePlus 9R looks elegant. However, the elegance is borderline boring at times and I wish OnePlus did a variant that went mad with the design – after all, it is supposed to appeal to mobile gamers (check the advertisements). Maybe a OnePlus 9R with a fancy gradient or matte finish, or even RGB lighting may not be a bad idea, right? Hey OnePlus designers, please take this as some food for thought.
The design isn’t exciting for a gaming-focused phone but there’s nothing to complain about the build quality on the 9R. The fit and finish is impeccable for a sub-Rs 50,000 smartphone. All the buttons are tactile and feel as if they are made to last forever. The Alert Slider is useful on the go and the in-display fingerprint sensor is convenient. Do note that OnePlus ships the phone with a screen guard pre-installed as well as a TPU case. There’s also a charging adapter and cable in the box (this is now a bonus in 2021 for an expensive phone).
OnePlus checks all the right boxes with the OnePlus 9R’s display for a sub-Rs 50,000 smartphone. AMOLED technology? Check. High refresh rate? All 120Hz of it, check. In-display fingerprint scanner? Yes, it is here. For boasting among your friends, this display has got everything.
It performs great too in the real world. At 6.5-inches, it is large enough for a fulfilling experience while watching The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, as well as for a few back-to-back Deathmatch matches on Call of Duty: Mobile. The high refresh rate and touch sampling rate make for smoother visuals as well as a highly responsive display. The classic “AMOLED punchiness” is there, i.e., higher contrasts and vibrant colours. Sunlight legibility is good and the viewing angles are wide.
The in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable. In fact, compared to the ultrasonic sensor on the Galaxy S21 Plus, this optical sensor is faster in verification. It does not like wet fingers though. The camera cutout is undesirable, especially when compared to the uninterrupted displays we saw on the OnePlus 7 Pro of 2019. That said, the cornered positioning doesn’t disrupt as much as those centrally-mounted cutouts we see on Samsung and Xiaomi phones.
Over the years, OnePlus has made itself synonymous with no-nonsense performance. Its phones are among the fastest, if not the fastest, Android phones every year. This year, the responsibility of upholding the “fast and smooth” tag relies on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, especially with their Snapdragon 888 chip. The OnePlus 9R with its “technically inferior” Snapdragon 870 is no slouch in the real world.
Despite using a less capable chip, it is difficult to distinguish the OnePlus 9R’s performance from that of its Snapdragon 888-flaunting siblings. Coupled with the well-optimised OxygenOS 11 experience, this is a phone that probably does not know what lags or stutters are. Alright, I am exaggerating it but in my time with the OnePlus 9R, I never felt as if I am losing out on something over my colleagues using the OnePlus 9/OnePlus 9 Pro.
The OnePlus 9R is at home with generic smartphone tasks. Whether you are browsing social media or texting your friend, or watching a YouTube video, the phone holds on to its own – no lags or long pauses. Apps open and perform the way they are expected to. OxygenOS 11 is smooth to navigate around, with intuitive animations and an easy-to-use layout. For generic smartphone tasks, the OnePlus 9R has more than enough power.
Things don’t change when I subject the 9R to mobile gaming. The Snapdragon 870 chip is no slouch when it comes to gaming. I pushed the 9R for hours at a stretch on resource intensive titles such as Call of Duty: Mobile, and Genshin Impact with maxed out graphics settings; the phone delivered satisfactorily on frame rates and graphics quality. Simpler titles such as Candy Crush and Shadow Fight 3 run smoothly.
After 30 minutes of gaming, I noticed the phone heating up, just as it did on the Vivo X60 Pro. The metal frame warms up notably but it never became uncomfortable. The Pro Gaming mode in OxygenOS 11 is a treat – it puts a minimalist notification UI so as to prevent disruption from gaming. Additionally, you can block incoming calls as well as lock the brightness levels of the display – nifty features for mobile gamers.
Unlike previous OnePlus phones I used, OxygenOS 11 on the OnePlus 9R is stable. The minimalist approach to the smartphone experience is tasteful but there are enough customization features to keep users interested. The new AOD options are helpful and don’t drain battery as much as Samsung phones. It lacks system ads, unlike Samsung’s OneUI, but you might often stumble upon reminders to try OnePlus’ Cloud services.
Haptic feedback on the OnePlus 9R is strong. Throughout the UI as well as several third-party apps, the tine yet tasteful vibrations add to the overall experience, making the user experience more immersive. It would have been nicer to see OnePlus figuring out a way to embed its fantastic haptics in games (Honor did the same with the Honor Play in 2018).
Audio quality through the stereo speakers is nice. The volume levels can go high and there’s no noticeable distortion at higher volumes. There’s no headphone jack but wireless audio streaming quality is good, thanks to support for the latest audio codecs from Qualcomm.
The OnePlus 9R supports 5G connectivity, which is something us Indians haven’t got a taste of yet. The phone’s performance in 4G networks, however, is great. Similar to previous OnePlus phones, the 9R was able to latch on to data network and offers good internet speeds in areas where an iPhone SE was struggling. Call quality is great, whether the phone stays connected to VoWiFi or VoLTE. Do note that I used the OnePlus 9R with a Jio connection.
The Hasselblad logo on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro raise expectations in terms of photography performance. In our review of the OnePlus 9 Pro, we saw what the Hasselblad tuned cameras can do. The OnePlus 9R hasn’t got any of the Hasselblad swag. In fact, the numbers on the camera spec sheet of the OnePlus 9R are identical to the OnePlus 8T.
Is that bad? Not necessarily. The OnePlus 9R’s cameras are good by all means and for most casual photography requirements, it is capable enough. The 48-megapixel main camera uses the two-year-old Sony IMX586 sensor and even with a lens aperture of f/1.7, the photos show the sensor’s age. The photos appear soft and lose out on details that a Vivo X60 Pro’s camera can see. The colour science is cooler (i.e. bluish tones) and the photos are often underexposed, especially in cloudy scenes.
On the brighter side, the main camera gets the colours right most of the time. For example, the red packaging box of the OnePlus 9R appears red on the OnePlus 9R’s camera (the Vivo X60 Pro tunes it towards pick while my iPhone SE casts a weird yellow tint). Most of my family and friends preferred the OnePlus’ style of photo tuning, i.e. brighter colours and higher contrasts. OnePlus surely knows what impresses the masses and the 9R’s cameras deliver on that effectively.
The Nightscape mode is helpful under streetlight conditions and is faster when compared to night modes on other phones. The portrait mode goes for muted colour tones in the day but gets the subject separation right.
The 16-megapixel ultra-wide camera offers an interestingly wide field of view but is best left for daylight situations. There’s no noticeable distortion towards the edges and colour profile is closer to that of the main cameras. However, there’s a lack of detail and under challenging light situations, the ultra-wide photos tend to get the “watercolour painting” effect.
The 5-megapixel macro camera redeems its presence on this phone. The colour profile is slightly brighter when compared to the main camera but it returns good-looking macro photos with ample details. Check out some sample photos below.
Thanks to the presence of OIS and EIS, the video shooting performance on the OnePlus 9R is stable (even at 4K 60 fps). The video quality is good, with a colour profile similar to the main camera’s still photo output. The footage mostly goes for boosted colour saturation and higher contrasts, which is opposite of what you see from an iPhone. However, the end result is pleasing to look at. Vloggers looking for a good video shooting smartphone should take note of the OnePlus 9R.
The 16-megapixel front camera delivers good-looking selfies with ample details and saturated colour tones. In fact, it proved to be better at getting the colours right than the main rear camera. The portrait mode separation is decent but the artificial blurring needs some work.
On the whole, the OnePlus 9R cameras perform well. As long as your mobile photography requirements are casual, there’s nothing to dislike about the OnePlus 9R’s cameras – it works for a general user. Photography enthusiasts should look at the Google Pixel 4a and the Vivo X60 Pro.
The 4500mAh battery coupled with the power-efficient OxygenOS 11 experience help the OnePlus 9R make it through a busy office day. In my time with the OnePlus 9R, I used it with two SIM cards and subjected it to a mix of several use cases, i.e., half-day on Wi-Fi and the other half on mobile data, texting, browsing social media, attending video calls, taking regular calls, casual photography, 30 minutes of gaming (on average), and streaming music wirelessly. Even on the roughest days, the OnePlus 9R ended the day with 30 percent juice to spare.
The 65W wired charging solution is a luxury in the WFH situation. In close to 40 minutes, I was able to get a full charge from less than 5 percent battery. A quick 10-minute top-up delivers 25-30 percent of extra stamina. There’s no wireless charging and I assume the target audience of the OnePlus 9R won’t care.
With Android flagships edging closer to the iPhone 12’s price point, the OnePlus 9R is an interesting attempt to keep the “flagship killer territory” alive. For consumers who care about performance, the OnePlus 9R delivers a lot. The Snapdragon 870 chip is as capable as the Snapdragon 888 in the real world, and OnePlus has tuned it in the best of ways to churn out as much performance as it can. Mobile gamers, multitaskers, vloggers – you should try out the OnePlus 9R.
For general users wanting to make the jump to a premium phone, there’s a lot to like in the OnePlus 9R. The 120Hz AMOLED display is enjoyable and so is the all-day battery with a lightning-fast charging solution. The cameras are good enough and the elegant yet understated design should appeal to many. Moreover, the OxygenOS 11 experience imparts an expensive phone feeling.
The OnePlus 9R is certainly not the best phone OnePlus makes but it delivers the expensive smartphone experience at a reasonable price. To sum it up, it is the most sensible expensive phone OnePlus sells right now.