With every iteration or mid-year update, OnePlus takes a walk on the wild side. On one end, it is striving to better its products constantly and on the other end, risks enraging fans who have just bought a new OnePlus phone and are already feeling outdated. The 9R is exactly that kind of product which is noble in its intention but could also be a victim of cannibalisation. Too close to the 8T that was launched just a few months ago, both in terms of design and specs, the 9R is a struggle to justify, but OnePlus is trying hard to tout it as the more affordable sibling of the 9 series phones with a penchant for gaming. In-depth reviews of the 8T or the 9 should give you a good idea of the nuances, so let’s focus on the differences in the 9R here.
What makes it a gaming specific phone? The processor gets a minor bump from the Snapdragon 865 to the Snapdragon 870 in the 9R and that’s about it. The camera module is a direct lift from the 8T too but it does get a couple of CyberPunk inspired filters in the camera app as tokenism but I have to admit, they are well-judged, especially for nightscape shots. The quad-lenses persist with a 5MP macro and a 2MP monochrome lens, both of which seem excessive given their inadequate performance. The 48MP primary camera takes good daylight shots but as with all OnePlus cameras, the white balance is wildly off in medium to low-light shots. Elsewhere, the hardware even feels the same as the 8T or even the 9, but with a metal frame and the typical OnePlus attention to build quality, it feels quite premium in the hand. The design is boring to say the least though and doesn’t push any boundaries, but then neither do the 9 or the 9 Pro for that matter. Given that this is a gamer-oriented phone though, I would’ve liked to see splashes of colour or a dash of daring design.
OnePlus as usual
Not that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 on the 8T was lethargic but the Snapdragon 870 is a bit snappier and OnePlus has done a good job of keeping the thermals in check too. Playing Call of Duty with Asphalt open in the background for about an hour and the pro-gaming monitor never showed that the temperature never breached the 36 degree mark and the phone never got too hot to continue gameplay or even uncomfortably warm. The 240Hz sampling rate for touch response cannot be felt working its magic but the 120Hz display certainly adds a layer of smoothness and fluidity that enhances the experience. One thing that I did notice though is that despite having stereo speakers that play adequately loud, while gaming, your right palm or fingers are inevitably resting on the bottom speaker grille, muffling its output. For a “gaming specific” phone, perhaps the location of the bottom-firing speaker should have been reconsidered.
Overall though, the 9R is one of the most value-for-money OnePlus phones you can buy if you’re not worried about having a big-name camera brand name splashed across the back. It still takes respectable photos, comes with most of the goodies from the more expensive siblings like 120Hz AMOLED screen, Warp Charge 65 with a charger in the box, the lovely Oxygen OS11, the same front camera as the 9 and 9 Pro and yes, it even gets a 5G band to bag some brownie points. All this for a significantly less sticker price than the OnePlus 9 and the 9 Pro without too much of a compromise can only be a good thing.