Is it just us, or does there seem to be a stream of slightly befuddling smartphone launches? At first, we had the belated arrival of the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, almost a year and a half after the Galaxy S20 FE and just before the Galaxy S21 series arrives. And now it is the turn of the OnePlus 9RT, which went on sale in China in October 2021. With the shadow of the OnePlus 10 Pro’s inevitable launch looming large too. Not that the phones are in any way not up to the mark, but the timing is confusing.
It is all a bit complex, but a closer look suggests OnePlus may have a rationale for this. In all likelihood, OnePlus 9RT 5G will spell the end of the road for the OnePlus 9R, which has been around since March last year. This fits somewhat on the timing front (though hard to ignore it’s been on sale in China for 3 months now). You’ll have to part with ₹42,999 (8GB+ 128GB) and ₹46,999 (12GB+256GB) for the OnePlus 9RT, depending on which variant you want.
Spoiler alert: Buying a OnePlus phone is now as difficult as choosing between banoffee pie and a red velvet cake from the dessert menu, when you have the appetite for just one. The line-up will now look something like this. The OnePlus Nord CE ( ₹22,999 onwards) is the entry point while OnePlus Nord 2 ( ₹27,999 onwards) is a step up. The OnePlus 8T that is still on sale for ₹38,999 sits alongside the OnePlus 9R that is priced ₹39,999 onwards. Then the higher echelons beckon, with the OnePlus 9 ( ₹49,999 onwards) and OnePlus 9 Pro ( ₹64,999 onwards).
The “R” series, now expanded with the RT, gave OnePlus another piece to place in the price band between the Nord 2 and the 9 series. Quite why the 8T is still around remains perplexing, but we’ll discount it for the moment. The positioning OnePlus gives the 9R was that it’s a phone for gamers. With the 9RT, there is the subtle mention that it’s a more affordable flagship Android phone. That widens the appeal.
In fact, there is a distinctive family resemblance with other OnePlus phones. That can be good and disappointing, depending on what you’re expecting. There’s oodles of sophistication. The in-hand feel, and the sculpting isn’t entirely dissimilar from the OnePlus 9 series. In terms of the screen size and dimensions, it sits between the 9 and the 9 Pro. Albeit a notch heavier than the OnePlus 9 Pro, at 198.5 grams. Nano Silver and Hacker Black are two colour options, the latter has that matte-like texture which reminds us of the OnePlus phones of yesteryears.
It has a slightly larger E4 OLED screen — 6.62-inch now compared with 6.55-inch. The resolution (2400 x 1800 pixels), 120Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ support remain constant. There’s Gorilla Glass as well, though OnePlus doesn’t say which generation – the 9R used Gorilla Glass 5. This is definitely a very good display to be looking at. You’ll quite like the controls over how rich the colours look (this is in Settings > Display > Screen colour mode). No complaints about the brightness levels either, even if you are out and about on a sunny day, though reflections do get noticed from time to time.
There are ambient light sensors on the front and the back of the OnePlus 9RT (most phones have this only in the front). The multi-step granular alteration of the display brightness based on ambient lighting, is something OnePlus has had in earlier phones as well. It is appreciable that over time, these transitions particularly when done quickly to match sudden changes in ambient light levels, have smoothened out. You’ll likely not notice any sudden dip in illumination or stutters as the brightness is altered.
Under the hood is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and depending on which variant you pick, up to 12GB RAM. That’s flagship-esque. In a way, because now the talk is about phones coming through with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 mobile platform. Remember, this was put together last year, and at the time, was the latest generation OnePlus could pick. How fair is it now? Pair this with the latest generation Oxygen OS, and we didn’t see any performance issues such as dropped frame rates or heating or inexplicable battery discharge.
The consistency continues with the Warp Charge 65T for the 4500mAh battery – that’s around 15 minutes to charge a completely discharged OnePlus 9RT to as much as 65%. Persist, and it is 100% in less than 30 minutes. That’s when you ensure the phone isn’t kept in a warm room while charging, or carelessly kept with things that would reduce heat dissipation.
Cameras should be filed away as a big upgrade, over the 9R. The main camera is now 50-megapixels instead of 48-megapixels, and larger pixels to go with that. The ultrawide camera is still 16-megapixels, the macro camera is now 5-megapixels. The monochrome camera has been eliminated, though we really won’t ponder much on that development. There is a very visible improvement in the image processing algorithms to go with the improved hardware. Daytime photos are really well detailed and colours are very nicely distinguished. Yet at no point does there seem to be unnatural boosting of the colours or details in the shadows.
For once in a phone’s camera app, we didn’t mind leaving the AI improvements to work their magic with the photos this camera takes, because the results were pleasant. This cannot be said about a lot of other smartphones with aggressive AI ‘improvements’, irrespective of price. The improvements are also very visible in low-light photos.
What we’ll suggest not getting too used to is the Ultra-Res Mode. This is the promise of 108-megapixel photo, but that’s with interpolation done by the algorithms. The details really aren’t a match for the natural 108-megapixel photos that the Xiaomi 11i Hypercharge takes for instance, because the primary camera is meant to do that.
Videos can be recorded up to 4K at 60 frames per second (fps) and OnePlus had integrated something in the AI mode called DOL-HDR. It does make things better in case you are recording a video with the light source looking towards the camera. But there are still some misses along the way. Also, for all videos, there is still some visible judder if you are zooming in, level by level.
Oxygen OS has undergone a significant overhaul. This may just be step one. For longtime users of the previous generation Oxygen OS and how it appeared visually, this is a big change. It will take some getting used to, and not everyone will emerge on the other side as fans. There’s a lot to like about the new update, and equally, a lot that remains to be fixed. Consider this work in progress (the advantages of cleaner menus and better battery optimization are quite apparent), but how big a factor would that be for your next phone purchase?
Theoretically it is a successor, but the OnePlus 9RT is more of an affordable flagship than the OnePlus 9R ever was. There is more power, the design has inspiration from more expensive siblings and the cameras significantly improved. But there’s something else to consider too. Once the OnePlus 10 Pro is launched, the price of the 9 Pro may see a downward correction, which could push the price of the 9 lower still. Would that then be worth that extra expense to buy instead? Only time will tell.