[First cut] OnePlus 9R: Flagship killing potential

An old school OnePlus

by: - Last updated on: April 8th, 2021
Key Takeaways
  • OnePlus launched a new variant in its OnePlus flagship series this year. Along with the “regular” OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, it brought in the OnePlus 9R.
  • At its starting price of Rs 39,999, the OnePlus9R is easily the most affordable of the OnePlus 9 series.
  • The OnePlus 9R loses out on the Hasselblad tie-up in the camera department but comes with a Snapdragon 870 chip and 5G support.
  • At its price, the OnePlus 9R is the most affordable OnePlus flagship to be launched since the OnePlus 7T in 2019.

OnePlus recently introduced the OnePlus 9 series in India. And along with the usual Pro and plain variants, this year OnePlus added yet another 9 to the mix and another alphabetic suffix to the series. We generally see a T variant OnePlus of the newly introduced series but that comes in the latter half of the year. But this year, OnePlus launched a new variant, the OnePlus 9R right alongside the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro. And while it had flagship credentials, it was priced and specced rather differently from its siblings, and was indeed the most affordable OnePlus flagship since the OnePlus 7T way back in 2019. While the smartphone was launched alongside the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro, it was only recently that we managed to get our hands on the device. Here are our first impressions:

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The R-Rated Pea from the OnePlus 9 Pod

The OnePlus 9, the OnePlus 9 Pro, and the OnePlus 9R are basically peas of the same pod, the OnePlus 9 pod. And this commonality reflects in their design language. Much like the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, the OnePlus 9R will also fulfill all your premium desires. Keep the three OnePlus 9s next to each other and they would look more like triplets born minutes apart rather than just ordinary siblings, which we think is a major plus design-wise. If you can tell of a smartphone’s lineage by just looking at it, the brand has got the looks of the smartphone sorted. The 9 and 9R are particularly close, given they both have similar sizes and do not have the curved display of the 9 Pro.

The OnePlus 9 and the 9R have got more than just looks in common. Putting phones on a table with their face-up, you might not even be able to tell them apart as they both come with seemingly the exact same display. Like the OnePlus 9, the 9R also brings a tall, extremely thin bezel-ed, punch hole display on the front. We have seen some beautiful smartphone displays from OnePlus this year and the 9R is right up there with some of the best ones.

Hitting the right design notes

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Flip the phone around and the 9 series feels are generously carried forward. The 9R brings a shiny, glossy glass back to the table. We received the Lake Blue color variant which is basically a glossy light blue color. The smartphone’s back is flame to all the fingerprint and smudge moths out there. You hold it once and you will spend an eternity trying to get rid of the prints and dust. That said, OnePlus follows a lovely tradition of packing in a case with their smartphones. They might be flimsy and might not be able to save your smartphone from getting cracked if they take a bad fall but will manage to keep fingerprints, smudges, and scratches at bay and would give you a window to find a sturdier case in the meantime.

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The phone has a raised, rectangular-ish camera unit on the top left side of the back and a OnePlus logo sits right in the middle of it. To be honest, we are not the biggest fans of the whole ‘bulgy rectangular camera unit’ scene in general but it is the trendiest design element in the smartphone world at the moment and we just have to make our peace with it. The camera unit on the OnePlus 9R is particularly crowded. There are four sensors and dual-LED flash in that unit. While two of these cameras take up the most space in the camera unit, the other two are comparatively small.

The OnePlus 9R is a lot like the other OnePlus 9 series smartphones but the slightly affordable price tag does rob it of some premium features like the Hasselblad pairing which is why the branding is also missing from the camera unit of the 9R.

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The back of the phone curves out on the side which means the phone will sit comfortably in your palm irrespective of its large-ish size (It is about 160.7 mm tall). The curved outsides meet the metal-finish frame in the middle. The frame is bare at the top and houses the dual SIM card tray, USB Type C port, and stereo speakers. The volume rockers reside on the left side while the textured alert slider (a OnePlus design trademark) and a power/lock button sit on the right.

Overall, the OnePlus 9R embodies the OnePlus 9 series essence brilliantly. The phone looks like it is part of the series and does so while retaining the premium spirit, even though it comes with a relatively affordable price tag. OnePlus has been pushing the phone as a gaming phone but that does not reflect in the design language of the device. We would have liked to see a bit of that gaming oomph right away but on the outside, it simply looks like a OnePlus 9 series phone which we think is more than good enough.

Some similar specs…

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It is not just broad design parameters that the OnePlus 9R shares with other OnePlus 9 series smartphones, the OnePlus 9R also shares a few innards with them, especially the OnePlus 9. The two phones have similar displays – a 6.55-inch Fluid AMOLED full HD+, always-on display with a 120 Hz refresh rate. The two displays are also protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 which means they have some shielding against drops and scratches.

The displays also house an in-display scanner in both phones and come with the exact same battery numbers. They both have a 4,500 mAh battery which comes with OnePlus’ trademark Warp Charge support with a 65 W fast charger in the box. This means you will be able to charge your phone from zero to 100 percent in 39 minutes as per the company’s claims which we have often found to be true – mind you, the official figure for the OnePlus 9 was 29 minutes, so there might be some slight difference between the two, albeit not a massive one. Speaking of all things same, the OnePlus 9R also runs on Android 11 topped with OnePlus’ OxygenOS 11 like the rest of the OnePlus 9 series phones and also comes with 5G support.

The 9R also brings a 16-megapixel selfie camera which is very OnePlus-like along with stereo speakers.

…and some different ones

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But not all specs are the same. The OnePlus 9R may be a series 9 phone but it has its own personality.

The brand is pushing the phone as a gaming phone and while OnePlus is famous for pairing number series smartphones with top-of-the-line processors, the OnePlus 9R actually does not come with one. While both the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro enjoy Qualcomm’s most powerful chipset, the Snapdragon 888, the 9R is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 processor. It is paired with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. There is an 8GB/ 128 GB variant of the phone as well.

We have seen the 870G chipset on Vivo X60 Pro previously and it might not be THE most powerful processor out there but it is definitely amongst them. OnePlus has coupled this very powerful processor with features customized for a better gaming experience. For instance, the phone comes with a 240 Hz touch sample rate which allows you to use as many as five fingers simultaneously while playing. It also has a Temperature Centre and a Pro Gaming Mode all of which should translate into a great gaming experience. Plus the fact the phone comes with that bright, Fluid AMOLED display with a high refresh rate and stereo speakers only make it more apt for gaming. Simply put, by the looks of its specs and features, gamers are unlikely to have any complaints about the device.

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Last but not the least, the primary camera on the 9R. The phone brings a quad-camera set up as opposed to the three cameras that the OnePlus 9 offers. That said, the OnePlus 9 has different sensors and an overall higher megapixel count. The 9R brings a combination of a 48-megapixel wide main sensor with f/1.7 aperture, PDAF, and OIS (something the OnePlus 9 surprisingly lacks), a 16-megapixel ultrawide sensor with f/2.2 aperture, a 5-megapixel macro sensor, and a 2-megapixel depth sensor. There is no Hasselblad involvement on this device, although we do not see that as a massive minus point right now. the cameras on the OnePlus 9 were good but did not do as well as we expected from it, even with all that Hasselblad color calibration hype. There is also no wireless charging and dust and water resistance, as seen in the OnePlus 9 Pro.

A bridge between premium and affordable

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OnePlus has very cleverly filled the gap between its affordable smartphone, the OnePlus Nord, and its more premium offerings, the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro with the OnePlus 9R. With its price of Rs. 39,999 for the 8 GB /128 GB and 43,999 for the 12 GB/ 256 variant, the OnePlus 9R actually tries to cover the lost flagship killing ground that OnePlus once used to boss.

Not only is the OnePlus 9R a potential flagship killer that can very easily replace your premium smartphones (as long as you do not fuss over water resistance and wireless charging), but it actually does not have a lot of competition in this price band. The only other smartphone that comes with a Snapdragon 870 processor in India at the time of writing is the Vivo X60 Pro which at Rs 49,990, is more in the OnePlus 9 category and is more of a camera oriented device (it has a Zeiss tie-up, remember!).

Just how well the 9R performs and if it actually lives up to its flagship killing potential will be revealed in our detailed review but by the looks of the phone and its spec sheet, we think adding the OnePlus 9R could well bridge the gap between the premium and the affordable. And indeed between the “newer” OnePlus and the old one. A flagship killer could be back in OnePlus town.

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