What the iPhone Could Learn From the OnePlus 9

It's all about usability

Key Takeaways

  • The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro are the best-made OnePlus Phones yet.
  • OnePlus has partnered with Hasselblad for its camera, but there’s not much in this first collaboration.
  • The most significant difference between the iPhone and the OnePlus is the software.
The OnePlus 9Pro camera.
OnePlus

OnePlus’s new 9 Pro smartphone is good enough to be a credible alternative to the Samsung Galaxy or the iPhone. The problem is, it’s not any cheaper.

The OnePlus is broadly similar to the iPhone and the Galaxy, with an OLED screen, Qi charging, the latest processor, and equivalent storage options. If you compare the specs, then on paper, the OnePlus and the Galaxy look very similar.

But there’s one standout feature: a collaboration with iconic Swedish camera maker Hasselblad.

"OnePlus' connection to Hasselblad is a massive boost to the OnePlus 9 Pro being a credible contender against any phone, including the iPhone 13," event photographer Orlando Sydney told Lifewire via email.

"Hasselblad is synonymous with quality and performance for photo imaging. The iPhone 13—as good as it is—will lose on specification and image quality if Hasselblad had control over the specifications."

OnePlus

The OnePlus schtick always has been that it’s a cheaper alternative to the high-end phones from Android and Samsung while still offering much of the same in terms of features. The two 9s are still very capable, but the price has crept up to the same range as the top-of-the-line Apple and Samsung handsets.

According to reviews, the new OnePlus flagship models are also a lot better made than previous models. The 9, then, is not just a budget option anymore. It is now in direct competition.

Closeup of the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro.
OnePlus

There are two new handsets: the 9 and the 9 Pro. Both of these run Android, and the significant advantage over Samsung phones is that this is a plainer, more stock version of Android, rather than Samsung’s heavily tweaked version.

Software-wise, OnePlus doesn’t compare to the iPhone. You can’t switch from one to the other and bring your purchased apps with you, for example. Plus, iOS and Android are significantly different in the way they work and how they feel.

This lock-in is a big advantage for Apple because it discourages switching. So, is the OnePlus 9’s hardware good enough to tempt iPhone users?

The Camera

The big news in the OnePlus 9 Pro is the "Hasselblad" camera. This is the first fruit of a partnership between OnePlus and the iconic Swedish camera maker.

A 48 megapixel primary camera can capture 12-bit RAW images and shoot 4K video at 120 frames per second with its Sony-made sensor. A dedicated 2 megapixel black and white camera adds its data to the primary camera for better B&W photos.

Then there’s a 50 megapixel ultra-wide camera and a 3.3x telephoto. But what, if anything, does Hasselblad have to do with this? Hardware-wise, not much.

Hasselblad’s contribution is in the software and the sensor calibration. The result is more natural-looking colors, compared to the TV-showroom-style over-saturation of most other Android phones. 

And yet, despite all these impressive specs and collaborations, the camera doesn’t impress. Or rather, it’s just fine. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn says that it can over-process images and that the optical zoom is "weak." 

The iPhone’s camera might not be the most impressive in terms of megapixels and other specs, but it produces some of the best phone images around. 

The Screen

The best part of the OnePlus 9 and 9 Plus might be the screen. It’s OLED. It reaches from edge to edge with a cute curve that really makes it seem like an infinity pool.

Instead of an iPhone-style notch, it has a circular cutout. This punch-hole camera is on the top right, where it’s less intrusive than the Galaxy’s central hole.

The screen is a real one-up on the iPhone 12. It runs at a 120Hz refresh rate—double the iPhone—and can slow itself down to just 1Hz for ultra-low power consumption when nothing is moving on the screen. This is the technology used by the Apple Watch to enable its always-on display.

A closeup of the OnePlus 9 screen.
OnePlus

It also has a higher resolution than the iPhone. "Even though both the phones come with 6.7 inches display," Harriet Chan, marketing director at CocoFinder, told Lifewire via email. "The OnePlus 9 pro has the best resolution of 3,216×1,440 pixels."

The iPhone 12 and 12 Pro both have a 2,532-by-1,170 resolution. That’s quite a difference, but in most cases, will be hard to notice. 

What Could the iPhone 13 Take From the OnePlus 9?

The smartphone world is so mature that any changes tend to be minor improvements rather than significant new features. That said, the iPhone 13 could do with a variable refresh rate for its display, which would enable smoother scrolling and an always-on option. 

The next iPhone also could benefit from having both FaceID and a fingerprint reader. That’s not just handy for mask wearers. It’s also sometimes more convenient or more secure to use TouchID. 

But the feature I’d really love to see on the iPhone 13 is a small one. OnePlus phones have a neat, three-way ringer switch. This lets you quickly select not only ringer or mute, but also to toggle vibration alerts. This would require a complete redesign of the current, highly-intuitive iPhone mute switch, though, so I doubt we’ll see it.

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