Most of us don't buy electronics the same way a typical consumer does. We're enthusiasts who like to read websites that bring news and commentary about the products that interest us and a list of something like the best Android phones include offerings from companies like Google and OnePlus in addition to Samsung.
But if you walk into a retail store that sells phones, you'll quickly notice a lack of diverse products that we all know are really great. Instead, everyone is either buying an iPhone or a Samsung phone. That's fine because both companies make great products that appeal to people for more reasons than just the name.
But every one of the companies that aren't in that elite tier when it comes to sales, like OnePlus or Xiaomi, would love to be there. What "holds them back" in the west is a weird market where making the best product isn't enough to sell the most. For OnePlus, the OnePlus 9 Pro could help bring about that change.
I'm not saying it will, or that I even think OnePlus is suddenly going to sell even half as many phones as Samsung. I'm just saying that this year's launch has almost every ingredient to make it happen.
The most important of those ingredients is evident when you look at the most recent models and compare them. This probably isn't what you would expect to hear from me if you know me just a little bit, but OnePlus and Samsung both make the best phone for me right now — the OnePlus 8 and the Galaxy S21.
The two are both very well made and beautiful to look at, but more importantly, they work exactly the way you expect an expensive phone to operate. The interface is smooth and lag-free, the display is gorgeous, all of my apps work as intended, and I think they offer the best value when it comes to features versus price. I'm using the S21, but the only reason I picked it over the OP 8 was that Google Fi was being squirrely the night I tried to activate a new phone and the Galaxy was the one that ended up working. (For what it's worth, the OP 8 works fine too. Google was just being Google that night.)
I think you would love either phone, but there are some differences that favor Samsung. Device-wise, that would be the camera, but there isn't really anything else that Samsung does better than OnePlus here even with newer hardware inside. The other difference — and one that keeps OnePlus from sliding into some sort of top-tier phone makers club — is marketing. Especially retailer marketing.
There is a reason why you won't notice a OnePlus phone in a carrier store and there's not much OnePlus can do about it — carriers would rather sell you a Samsung phone (we'll leave Apple out of the discussion from now on). OnePlus does make a Verizon 5G model and a T-Mobile 5G model, and technically the unlocked model should work on AT&T, but it doesn't. You might walk in knowing what you want, but a large chunk of the phone-buying public wants to hear the sales pitch when it comes to buying a phone in-person.
Carriers are confident that you'll walk out the door as a happy customer if you buy a new Galaxy because Samsung can 1) make enough phones, 2) sell them to carriers at the right price, and 3) has an existing reputation for making high-quality phones that people love. A happy customer is a returning customer. And a lot of weight needs to be placed on Samsung's marketing, which pounds home the fact that it makes great products that you should walk into that carrier store and buy.
OnePlus can't offer those same three things in the same way Samsung does. We know that OnePlus makes great phones because OnePlus places emphasis on a type of community-based grassroots marketing approach and we're Android phone enthusiasts. We read the reviews. We read Reddit. We know OnePlus makes really good stuff. Your neighbor, who probably isn't a phone enthusiast, doesn't know any of this. They may have seen someone say it on the internet, but it doesn't carry the same weight as seeing your favorite phone reviewer give a stamp of approval or seeing online forums filled with happy users.
This is what OnePlus needs to address if it ever wants to get on the A-list and now would be a smart time to do it. The OnePlus 9 Pro is an expensive Android phone with what appears to be a great camera and should stand tall against anything that Samsung can pit against it. It has a few things that Samsung can't offer, like super-fast wireless charging, too. As a bonus, the BBK Group probably could build as many of them as it could sell if it wanted to, and OnePlus isn't in any danger of being canceled by the U.S. Government.
In case you didn't know, BBK is the "parent" company of Oppo, Vivo, OnePlus, Realme, and other smaller brands we never talk about. The company sold 21% of all smartphones in Q4 2020, which is more than Apple and the same number that Samsung sold during the same period.
It just seems that OnePlus, along with its parent BBK, doesn't want to make the company a household brand. In China, BBK was able to outpace Xiaomi to the top because it invested in its own retail shops while Xiaomi depended on online sales. But the focus was on the Oppo brand, with OnePlus being the high-profile "luxury" brand that you bought online. The same sort of marketing is what makes the same phones wildly popular in India, too. This makes sense because OnePlus is actually a subsidiary of Oppo, which is a subsidiary of BBK. For OnePlus to survive, Oppo and BBK must thrive.
It seems that the whole "chain of command" would rather focus on making budget phones like the Nord series for the western market instead of wanting a phone like the OnePlus 9 Pro on a sign in the carrier store's front window. It's not because the phones aren't good enough, because they are. If OnePlus, Oppo, BBK, or whoever has the final say wanted to challenge Samsung when it comes to sales, right now would be the best time to do it.
If you've not tried a OnePlus phone in the past few years, now would be a good time for you to do it, too.
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