OnePlus 9R review: R is for recycling old ideas

OnePlus 9R review
(Image: © Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: The OnePlus 9R takes the chassis from the 8T and adds a new camera housing at the back. You're getting the exact same hardware here, including a vivid 120Hz AMOLED display, top-notch hardware, 65W fast charging, reliable cameras, and a bloat-free interface. If you're in the market for a new value flagship and don't mind the limited 5G, this is the one to get.

Pros

  • +

    Standout performance

  • +

    Sublime 120Hz AMOLED display

  • +

    Reliable cameras

  • +

    65W fast charging

  • +

    Bloat-free software

Cons

  • -

    Limited 5G connectivity

  • -

    Just two guaranteed updates

  • -

    No IP rating

  • -

    No wireless charging

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With the OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus has shown that it can deliver an all-round package that measures up to the best Android phones in the market today. The OnePlus 9 takes that same formula but at a more accessible price point.

Then we have the OnePlus 9R. The phone is positioned as the value option in the OnePlus 9 lineup, slotting in at ₹10,000 ($135) less than the OnePlus 9. But in reality, the OnePlus 9R is just a rebranded OnePlus 8T with a new design for the rear camera housing.

Of course, this isn't the first time OnePlus did this. The OnePlus 7 was effectively the same phone as the OnePlus 6T, but with new camera modules and an upgraded chipset. It's no surprise, then, that the OnePlus 9R is limited to India and China. OnePlus isn't launching the phone in other markets because it also understands that the 9R doesn't offer anything substantially different to the 8T.

So why is OnePlus even launching the 9R? With the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro costing a hefty premium in India, OnePlus needed a lower-cost option in the OnePlus 9 series, so it decided to rebrand the 8T. The OnePlus 9R is going on sale for ₹39,999 ($545) in India, or ₹3,000 ($40) less than the 8T. In return, you don't get the new Warp Charge 65 charger that works over USB PD but a more straightforward option that's limited to 10V/6.5A.

So should you buy the OnePlus 9R in India? Let's find out.

About this review

I'm writing this review after using the OnePlus 9R for four days on Airtel's 4G network in Hyderabad, India. The unit was running OxygenOS 11.2.LE28DA out of the box, and did not receive any updates during the testing window.

OnePlus 9R: Price and global availability

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The OnePlus 9R is going on sale from April 14 in India, and will be available in two variants: an 8GB/128GB model that retails at ₹39,999 ($545), and a 12GB/256GB version for ₹43,999 ($600). The phone is limited to India and China, and won't be making its way to other markets.

You'll be able to pick up the OnePlus 9R in Carbon Black and Lake Blue color options. OnePlus is incentivizing the launch by offering a ₹2,000 ($28) discount for SBI customers, and if you're using an American Express card, you can get ₹4,399 if you pick up the 12GB model.

OnePlus 9R: Design and display

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The OnePlus 9R has the same design aesthetic as the rest of the OnePlus 9 series. That includes the new camera housing that prominently highlights the primary and wide-angle lenses, with the macro and monochrome modules sitting underneath. The key difference is the omission of the Hasselblad logo — that particular partnership is limited to the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro.

The OnePlus 9R borrows the flat display from the 8T and the camera housing from OnePlus 9.

The highlight here is obviously the flat display. The OnePlus 9 Pro has a dual-curved panel, but the regular OnePlus 9 has a flat display, and the 9R takes after it. That said, I didn't have any issues with the curved panel on the OnePlus 9 Pro; the curvature isn't anywhere as extreme as the OnePlus 8 Pro, and I didn't feel the need to put a case on the device.

It has been interesting to see how the camera housing has evolved on OnePlus phones over the last 12 months. The OnePlus 8 series had the oblong camera housing that jutted out quite a bit from the body, and the Nord retained the same design but changed the positioning to the left.

Then we got the flatter and wider rectangular housing on the 8T — it's almost as if OnePlus took a rolling pin to the OnePlus 8 Pro's camera island and flattened it — and I liked the changes. For one thing, the phone wasn't as wobbly, and the dual-column layout made the 8T feel just that little bit more elegant.

OnePlus is retaining that rectangular housing this year — the modules are even located in the exact same position — but it is encasing the lenses in rings, like the OnePlus 9 series. However, the design on the OnePlus 9R doesn't feel nearly as premium as its costlier siblings — the two primary modules are clustered together, and it just ends up looking busy.

The modules within the island look drab without the chrome accents, and while OnePlus was undoubtedly trying to maintain visual consistency between all three models in the OnePlus 9 series, it has failed to pull that off with the 9R.

Like the OnePlus 8T, the 9R has a glass back with a metal mid-frame. The back is protected by a layer of Gorilla Glass 5, as is the front. The phone has the same subtle curves at the back where the glass panel meets the mid-frame, and it has a great in-hand feel. The 9R has the exact same dimensions as the 8T, and coming in at 189g, it doesn't feel bulky in day-to-day use.

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

As for the display, the OnePlus 9R offers the same AMOLED panel as the 8T. There's no difference between the two phones in this particular area, and that's a good thing because I liked the panel on the 8T quite a bit. I ended up using the 8T over the 8 Pro at the end of last year because of the flat display, and you're getting the same display with the 9R.

If you want a flat display with 120Hz refresh, you will love what the OnePlus 9R has to offer.

Now for some numbers: the OnePlus 9R has a 6.55-inch display with an FHD+ (2400 x 1080) resolution, and the refresh rate goes up to 120Hz. The 120Hz mode is enabled out of the box, so you'll immediately feel a difference if you're making the switch from an older phone with a 60Hz refresh.

You can change the refresh rate between 60Hz and 120Hz, and there are plenty of customization options available for the panel itself. You get to change the screen calibration between Vivid and Natural color modes, and there's also an Advanced option that lets you switch between AMOLED Wide Gamut, sRGB, and DCI-P3. Then there's the ability to manually tweak the white balance of the panel itself.

OnePlus also includes a Vibrant Color Effect that automatically optimizes video colors, but the phone misses out on AI video upscaling — available on the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro — and motion smoothing (MEMC), a feature that's limited to the 9 Pro.

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The panel itself on the OnePlus 9R is fantastic, with excellent colors and contrast levels. It goes up to 1100nits for HDR10+ content, and I didn't have any issues whatsoever with brightness levels — the screen gets sufficiently bright outdoors and dims automatically at night.

You get the same stereo configuration as the 8T, and that makes streaming videos or playing games that much more enjoyable on the 9R. I finally started streaming YouTube videos on my phone (I previously only did so on my TV), and the stereo speakers make a big difference. The phone doesn't have the loudest speakers I've used — that honor belongs to the Mi 11 — but it gets loud and doesn't distort even with the volume turned up.

The display is one of the best attributes of the OnePlus 9R. It has vibrant colors, 120Hz refresh rate makes it enjoyable to read content on the phone, and stereo sound is great for playing games or videos.

OnePlus 9R: Performance and battery

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

The only major addition on the OnePlus 9R is the Snapdragon 870 chipset. Much like the phone itself, the chipset is a rebranded version of last year's flagship, the Snapdragon 865. Qualcomm took the higher-binned Snapdragon 865+, increased the clocks by up to 3.20GHz (from 3.09GHz) and is selling it in 2021 as the Snapdragon 870.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
SpecsOnePlus 9R
SoftwareOxygenOS 11 (Android 11)
Display6.55-inch (2400x1080) 120Hz AMOLED
Chipset3.20GHz Snapdragon 870
RAM8GB/12GB
Storage128GB/256GB
Rear Camera 148MP ƒ/1.7 (primary)
Rear Camera 216MP ƒ/2.2 (wide-angle)
Rear Camera 35MP ƒ/2.4 (macro)
Rear Camera 42MP ƒ/2.4 (monochrome)
Front Camera16MP ƒ/2.4
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, BT5.1, NFC
Battery4500mAh | 65W
SecurityIn-screen fingerprint
ColorsCarbon Black, Lake Blue
Dimensions160.7 x 74.1 x 8.4mm
Weight189g

Other than that, the Snapdragon 870 is identical to the Snapdragon 865 and 865+. It makes sense for Qualcomm to do this; the Snapdragon 865+ didn't find many takers, and the platform itself still has plenty of power to offer in 2021. The 870 features a Cortex A77 prime core that now goes up to 3.20GHz, and it's joined by three A77 cores at 2.42GHz and four Cortex A55 derivatives at 1.80GHz. Other than the prime core, the frequencies for the rest of the cores are identical to the standard Snapdragon 865.

The Adreno 650 GPU is also clocked higher at 670MHz, versus 587MHz on the Snapdragon 865. Basically, the Snapdragon 870 is an overclocked Snapdragon 865 for 2021, and it delivers superlative performance. I did not see any slowdowns on the OnePlus 9R, and the chipset handled everything I threw at it with ease.

I didn't notice any difference between the 9R and 8T in terms of performance, and even in synthetic tests the variance is around 3 to 5%. So you're not really gaining much here, but it's good to know that the phone will continue to deliver standout performance for several years to come.

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Elsewhere, you'll find Wi-Fi 6 connectivity with 2x2 MIMO, Bluetooth 5.1, AptX HD and LDAC audio codecs, and NFC. I didn't face any problems with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, and calls also went through just fine. Both Airtel and Jio now offer Wi-Fi calling as standard, and the phone has the feature enabled out of the box. Just slot in a compatible SIM and you should be able to make calls over Wi-Fi.

As for security, the OnePlus 9R features the same in-screen fingerprint sensor as the 8T. It is fast and reliable in daily use, and there's also a face unlock feature. The face unlock mode isn't as secure as the fingerprint reader, but it is faster. The OnePlus 9R doesn't have an IP rating, but it is waterproof — just like the 8T. But because there's no official claim for water resistance, you're better off not using the phone near a pool.

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Just like the OnePlus 8T, the 9R misses out on wireless charging. With even the OnePlus 9 not offering the feature in India — even though the global models sold in EU North America have 15W Qi charging — it was too much to expect that the more affordable version would pick up wireless charging.

But what you do get is 65W wired charging, and it is just as great to use on the 9R as the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The 4500mAh battery and 39-minute charging time with 65W fast charging are identical to that of the 8T, and in my limited usage, I got a day's worth of battery from a full charge.

An interesting addition last year with the 8T is the Warp Charge 65 charger that pulled double duty as a 45W USB PD charger. That made the bundled wall plug much more versatile, and I routinely use it for charging other phones. But with the OnePlus 9R, you miss out on USB PD charging; the charging only does 65W for OnePlus devices.

Having used the phone for just four days, I'm not ready to pass full judgement on the battery life, but it seems to be on par with the 8T. The OnePlus 9 Pro fares particularly poorly in this regard, but it doesn't look like those issues are plaguing the 9R. I'll update the post with my findings in a week's time, so if you are looking to pick up the 9R, check back shortly.

OnePlus 9R: 5G connectivity

OnePlus 9R review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

Now, while the OnePlus 9R is technically a 5G phone, it has just one 5G band in India: N78. The N78 bands covers spectrum in the range of 3.3 - 3.8GHz, and that is in line with the Indian government's initial 5G auction, which is set to offer spectrum in the 3.3 - 3.6GHz frequencies.

The OnePlus 9R is a 5G phone in name only — it has just one 5G band in India.

However, Airtel recently conducted 5G trials using the 1800MHz band, so it is entirely possible the carrier will pick up some spectrum within this frequency. Similarly, Jio is eyeing the 700MHz band for 5G coverage. For the OnePlus 9R to work effectively in these frequencies, it needs bands N3, 28, and 29. Sadly, it doesn't have them.

This is a poor showing for OnePlus, because once 5G service does roll out in India, the phone will be limited in its usability. Because there's still uncertainty around what bands the carriers will end up using, most manufacturers like Xiaomi, Samsung, and OPPO are hedging their bets and including a wide selection of 5G bands.

For context, Xiaomi's Mi 10T Pro costs the same as the 9R but has ten 5G bands in India: N1, 3, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 41, 77, 78. Similarly, the Reno 5 Pro 5G has 5G bands N1, 3, 7, 28, 38, 40, 41, 77, 78. More 5G bands lead to a more complex RF front-end design and additional antennae, and these modules aren't exactly affordable. So OnePlus took the easy way out and limited the 5G bands on the 9R to save some cash.

So while OnePlus will inevitably tout the fact that the 9R is a 5G-enabled phone, I wouldn't recommend it if you're in the market for a device that will have full compatibility with India's 5G networks once they go live. OnePlus has been particularly stingy around offering 5G bands on its devices in India — even the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro have just two bands (N77, 78) — and this needs to change. The OnePlus 9R that will be sold in China has 5G bands N1, 3, 41, 78, and 79, so once again it is just the Indian model that is being shortchanged.

OnePlus 9R: Cameras