OnePlus 9R review: OnePlus 8T, take two

With OnePlus maturing as a brand, there’s been a sharp increase in the sheer number of phones that the brand offers. It started off with the addition of the Pro series in 2019, but the family grew even larger with the introduction of the OnePlus Nord series. Now, joining an increasingly cluttered line-up, we have the OnePlus 9R.

The OnePlus 9R is, for all practical purposes, a OnePlus 8T redux. Like its spiritual predecessor, the phone is designed to bridge the gap between mid-rangers and the increasingly premium OnePlus flagships. While the specs list and design have received some tweaks, the OnePlus 9R also offers comparable performance to the OnePlus 8T. The biggest change, however, is that the phone is exclusive to India and China, the former of which is one of the most important markets for the country for market growth.

OnePlus may be going back to roots with a value flagship for the 2021 era, but it’s far from the only option out there. Can a redo of a 2020 flagship make a dent against competition that is raring to go in India’s hotly contested smartphone market? That’s what we aim to find out in Android Authority‘s OnePlus 9R review.


Rs39999
.00
OnePlus 9R


Buy it Now


OnePlus 9R

Buy it Now



Rs39999
.00

About this OnePlus 9R review: I used the OnePlus 9R for seven days running Oxygen OS 11.2.LE28DA. The OnePlus 9R unit was provided to Android Authority by OnePlus India for this review.

What you need to know about the OnePlus 9R

OnePlus 9R in hand showing back

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority
  • OnePlus 9R (8GB/128GB): Rs. 39,999 (~$537)
  • OnePlus 9R (12GB/256GB): Rs. 43,999 (~$591)

The OnePlus 9R is an India- and China-exclusive value flagship from OnePlus. Available in two colors — Carbon Black and Lake Blue — the phone is going up against major competition like the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and Xiaomi’s Mi 10T series.

See also: Everything you need to know about OnePlus

The raison d’être of the OnePlus 9R is simple. With flagship components getting more expensive and OnePlus aiming up north for a slice of the premium flagship category with the standard OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, it needs something to slot in the value segment. While the Nord does that swimmingly in the sub-Rs. 30,000 (~$400), the sub Rs. 40,000 (~$537) market has been reignited and OnePlus has no real option available in the price band.

The OnePlus 9R released in India on April 14, 2021. It’s available to buy from OnePlus, Amazon, and other retailers.

How’s the design of the OnePlus 9R?

OnePlus 9R next to oneplus 9 pro

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While 2020 was spent experimenting with new design ideas, 2021 is all about consolidation for OnePlus. The OnePlus 9R lives up to this ethos by adopting a silhouette that is nearly identical to the rest of the OnePlus 9 series, with some concessions.

Take the back panel, for example. Going from the OnePlus 9 Pro to the OnePlus 9R (pictured above), you can see that the two phones are very clearly part of the same family. From the shape of the camera module to the general styling and in-hand feel. The obvious misses are embellishments like the chrome camera rings and the Hasselblad logo, but there’s also a general downgrade in quality.

OnePlus 9R in hand focus on camera

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The OnePlus 9R simply doesn’t feel quite as premium as the higher-end phones in OnePlus’ lineup. Sure, it’s got Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, but the finish isn’t quite as luxe as on the OnePlus 9 Pro. It takes a bit more visual flair than a chamfered edge around the camera module to really stand out. This is a “budget” OnePlus flagship and it feels like it.

This is a budget OnePlus flagship and it feels it.

That said, it’s not all doom and gloom. The OnePlus 9R retains a metal mid-frame and the buttons are built to high tolerance levels. It’s also got the trademark alert slider. The phone even includes well-balanced stereo speakers. No complaints there.

OnePlus 9R in hand showing app drawer

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Flipping the phone over, the display is practically the same as on the OnePlus 8T. Thankfully, the OnePlus 8T had a fantastic display, and that continues to be the case here.

The OnePlus 9R sports a 6.55-inch Super AMOLED panel with a refresh rate that goes all the way to 120Hz. With the calibration set to Natural the colors are close to perfect, and multimedia content looks absolutely stunning. Peak brightness levels reach as high as 1100 nits, and HDR content truly shines.

While auto-brightness control on OnePlus phones still tends to be a bit finicky, the display kicked into high brightness mode when exposed to the blazing summer sun here in Delhi, and the screen remained perfectly legible.

Related: A history of OnePlus’ entire lineup so far

I liked how fast the fingerprint scanner performed. I rarely, if ever, came across issues with unlocking the phone. Meanwhile, OnePlus does not claim any form of water resistance. This is a bit of a shame considering much more affordable phones like the Xiaomi Mi 10i have now started including some form of an IP rating.

Overall, while corners have definitely been cut to hit the price point, I feel the OnePlus 9R is still a decent showing, all things considered. I’m not a huge fan of the thicker bezels around the screen, and the finish doesn’t feel as premium, but there’s little doubt that it is a well-built phone, if a bit utilitarian.

How powerful is the OnePlus 9R?

OnePlus 9R review specs

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Coming over to performance, there’s not much to complain about here either. It’s not got the fastest chipset on the block. That honor goes to the Snapdragon 888-toting OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro duo. However, the Snapdragon 870 certainly isn’t a slouch either. The chipset is essentially a revamped and overclocked version of last year’s Snapdragon 865 Plus with the clock speed bumped up to 3.20GHz.

Snapdragon SoC guide: All of Qualcomm’s smartphone processors explained

It comes as no surprise that day-to-day performance is superlative. You wouldn’t expect anything else from a chipset with equivalent specs to the default SoC until just a few months ago. Mated to the generally fluid Oxygen OS, you are unlikely to run into any performance issues.

Gaming, too, is unlikely to be an issue. 3D titles like Call of Duty: Mobile ran just fine with the graphics cranked up. I did run into a few issues with Genshin Impact which showcased severe frame drops at the highest settings with the frame rate set to 60fps. Things got a bit better at 30fps, but it wasn’t a buttery smooth experience. Of note, the phone gets very noticeably warm when playing taxing games.

OnePlus 9R red cable club

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Coming to Oxygen OS, there’s nothing exceptionally unique to the OnePlus 9R. What’s there is very good and OnePlus has truly nailed the balance between feature overload and maintaining a clean look. However, there remain long-standing bugs like delayed notifications or the proclivity to aggressively clear out apps from the RAM.

Since the OnePlus 9R is an India- and China-exclusive device, it bears mentioning that there are somewhat pushy banners for OnePlus services. For example, you’ll be greeted by a persistent notification for the Red Cable Club in the Settings app. Meanwhile, the Gallery app nudges you towards the company’s cloud storage solution ever so often.

The OnePlus 9R delivers competitive performance, but look elsewhere if robust 5G connectivity is a priority.

Finally, if you are concerned about connectivity, the phone packs in all the latest wireless standards, including 5G. However, with support for just a single band, I really wouldn’t recommend anyone buy a OnePlus 9R if support for 5G is a major concern. The reality is that 5G won’t be widely available in India for at least another year, and even then only in small pockets at best. For a whole lot of users, that’s time enough for them to consider buying a new phone. However, if you intend to hold on to your phone for a few years, you might want to look up alternative options.

There’s also the small matter of platform updates. OnePlus is still committing to only two major updates, and security patches for three years. That’s not bad, but Samsung has upped the ante by committing to three years of version upgrades and four years of security patches for the majority of its upper-end devices.

How’s the battery life?

The OnePlus 9R’s 4,500mAh battery isn’t the largest in the business, and battery life is good but not exceptional. Getting a full day of normal use is the bare minimum you expect from a device in this category, and you get that. However, add in a bit of gaming and you’ll see the battery life plummet pretty quick. I got around five to six hours of screen on time on average. For most users, you’ll only need to top off the phone at the end of the day.

Related: The best phone charging accessories

The star of the show is, of course, the ludicrously fast 65W charging. Yes, there are faster charging standards around but it doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s magical to see how quickly the charging indicator ticks up. I clocked a full charge from zero to 100% at about 40 minutes. This makes the less-than-stellar battery life a bit more palatable. There is no wireless charging, but that’s not a huge miss for the price.

How good is the OnePlus 9R camera?

OnePlus 9R review camera module

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

While the OnePlus 9 Pro set a new benchmark for OnePlus cameras, the same can’t be said for the OnePlus 9R. It packs the same camera setup as the OnePlus 8T, including the IMX586 sensor on the primary shooter. This is paired with a 16MP wide-angle camera, as well as 5MP and 2MP shooters for capturing macro shots and depth information, respectively.

OnePlus 9R outdoor standard
OnePlus 9R camera sample outdoor bright lighe

The primary camera benefits from all the tuning and enhancement done for the OnePlus 8T. However, it is far from the best in class. In bright sunlight, the camera seems to be pushing colors a bit too hard, and HDR performance is found lacking. While the main camera did an okay job at taming highlights, the blues and greens were boosted unnaturally high. Meanwhile, there are tell-tale signs of oversharpening to make the image pop.

OnePlus 9R camera sample

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Indoors, the OnePlus 9R is capable of taking some decent images though it has a tendency to underexpose shots. Images end up looking a bit dull and the phone doesn’t capture underlying detail all that well. As always, dynamic range continues to be a pain point with OnePlus phones.

OnePlus 9R camera sample primary lens
OnePlus 9R camera sample indoor wide angle

The lackluster dynamic range is particularly noticeable indoors where the camera doesn’t do much to bring out details in darker areas. It’s not a bad shot, but it can’t hold a candle to the superlative imaging experiences offered by the likes of the Xiaomi Mi 11 series and the Samsung S20 FE. Overall, the OnePlus 9R has a perfectly serviceable primary camera, but it can’t hang with the best.

Unfortunately, this extends to the ultra-wide sensor as well. The camera tends to crush darker areas and there’s not much detail, especially once you crop in.

OnePlus 9R Macro

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The macro camera does the trick for what it is. A 5MP sensor isn’t going to get you particularly detailed images, but I was able to get up and close with objects and get some usable shots. You’ll definitely need ample sunlight as the camera fails spectacularly the moment light dips. This is a constant pain point with dedicated macro cameras, and I wish more manufacturers would switch to using the ultra-wide sensor as a macro camera instead — something OnePlus already does for its premium flagships.

Also read: The best camera phones you can get

Coming over to selfies, I wasn’t particularly impressed. HDR performance dips again, and images tend to be a bit washed out. Close-up detail doesn’t stand out either. As for video, the OnePlus 9R can shoot all the way to 4K at 60fps and the video quality is good enough. There’s ample contrast and detail with videos looking vibrant albeit a bit short on dynamic range.

You can take a peep at full resolution OnePlus 9R camera samples by clicking through the link.

Specs

  OnePlus 9R
Display 6.55-inch AMOLED
20:9 aspect ratio
2,400 x 1,080 at 402ppi
120Hz refresh rate (static)
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 870
RAM Min: 8GB
Max: 12GB
Storage Min: 128GB UFS 3.1
Max: 256GB UFS 3.1
No external storage support
Power 4,500mAh battery

Warp Charge 65
65W charger in box

Ports USB-C 3.1 Gen 1
No 3.5mm headphone jack
Connectivity 5G support
2×2 MIMO
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ax
NFC support
Bluetooth 5.1
Cameras Rear:
1) 48MP main (Sony IMX586)
.8μm/48MP or 1.6μm/12MP
ƒ/1.7, OIS and EIS

2) 16MP ultra-wide
ƒ/2.2
123-degree field-of-view

3) 5MP macro

4) 2MP monochrome

Front:
16MP single (Sony IMX471)
1.0μm with EIS
ƒ/2.4, fixed focus

Video 4K at 30 or 60fps
Super slo-mo at 720p/480fps or 1080p/240fps
Time lapse at 1080p/30fps or 4K/30fps
Audio Bluetooth 5.1
aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, AAC
Dual stereo speakers
Dolby Atmos
Security No IP rating against water/dust
In-display fingerprint sensor
Face unlock (insecure)
Software Android 11
Oxygen OS 11
Dimensions and weight 161 x 74.1 x 8.4mm
189g
Colors Carbon Black, Lake Blue

Value and competition

OnePlus 9R
The OnePlus 9R marks a return to OnePlus’ roots as an affordable flagship with plenty of raw power, fast 65W charging, and an attractive 120Hz display.

There’s no doubt that the OnePlus 9R offers a lot of value — at least for a specific audience.

The phone delivers competitive performance, rapid proprietary fast charging, and a clean and fluid software experience, all at a competitive price point. Unfortunately for OnePlus, the competition does it better.

Take, for example, last year’s Xiaomi Mi 10T. The phone packs a Snapdragon 865 chipset that has practically the same performance, a significantly better 64MP camera, and even a larger 5,000mAh battery. Available for as low as Rs. 32,999 (~$443), the phone drastically undercuts the OnePlus 9R making it a no-brainer.

Related: The best smartphones in India under 40,000 rupees

Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G offers similar performance, a drastically better camera setup, an IP68 rating, and wider 5G support for a little more money.

There’s also the Vivo X60 that packs the same chipset, but delivers much better camera tuning making it a better option for photographers on the go. It helps that the Vivo X60 looks more premium as well. The phone starts at Rs. 37,990 (~$510).

Another option that you could consider is the OnePlus 8T which is practically identical to the OnePlus 9R. The phone recently got a small price drop which brings it more or less in line with the OnePlus 9R. The phone can be had for Rs. 38,999 (~$517). Do keep in mind that OnePlus only offers two platform updates and spending that extra Rs. 1000 (~$13) to “upgrade” to the 9R should provide longer support.

OnePlus 9R review: Verdict

OnePlus 9R top down view showing back of phone

Credit: Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The OnePlus 9R is a curious phone that makes me question the need for the regular OnePlus 9 in India. On paper, the 9R delivers much of the same at a significantly lower price than the OnePlus 9.

Standouts include a reasonably well-built, good-looking design, as well as an excellent display, fast charging, and more than enough raw power. However, all of this doesn’t compensate for the lackluster imaging when the competition easily surpasses it.

The OnePlus 9R is an enticing alternative to the vanilla OnePlus 9, but there are stronger options from rival brands.

To say that I’m conflicted in my opinion of the OnePlus 9R would be an understatement. Within the OnePlus ecosystem, the 9R is a flat-out winner against the OnePlus 9 simply because the latter doesn’t provide enough reasons to fork out the extra Rs. 10,000 (~$135). Meanwhile, from a broader market perspective, the OnePlus 9R has ample competition that outpaces it.

I have no qualms recommending the OnePlus 9R if you want a direct upgrade from older OnePlus phones and don’t want to break the bank. But for most other buyers, it would be prudent to look at the numerous alternatives that leapfrog the OnePlus 9R.

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