OnePlus 9E just leaked — but what’s the point?

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How many phones is too many to release? According to a newly tweeted rumor about the OnePlus 9 and its assorted models, OnePlus may be planning to trying to find the answer to that question early next year.

We're expecting OnePlus to release its new flagship sometime in the spring, since OnePlus tends to come out with a new top-of-the-line device every six months or so. That would be the OnePlus 9, with the upstart phone maker coming out with both standard and pro versions, as has been its wont in recent years.

But hold on — phone leaker Max Jambor took to Twitter to declare that a third model will accompany the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro. That would be the OnePlus 9E, which looks to be an entry-level model for anyone who finds the OnePlus 9's regular price to be too high.

Posting a follow-up explanation about the OnePlus 9e, Max Jambor says the idea behind the new model is to take a page out of Samsung's book with its flagship lineup and produce a model for every price point. 

You may recall that earlier this year, Samsung added the Galaxy S20 FE, which delivers most of the features of the regular Galaxy lineup but for $300 less.

The OnePlus 9E would theoretically take a similar approach, debuting at a lower price and trimming a couple features here and there. What those features would be, though, is anyone's guess. 

While we've seen CAD drawings for the OnePlus 9 Pro and OnePlus 9, we know very little about the features for these upcoming phones, other than they're likely to have fast-refreshing displays and support 65W charging.

We've heard rumors of OnePlus coming out with a lower-cost flagship device before. Prior to the OnePlus 8's release, rumors suggested that a OnePlus 8 Lite was in the works. That phone never materialized, unless you want to count the OnePlus Nord.

But why a third OnePlus 9 model?

That's why we're a bit confused by the OnePlus 9E rumors. OnePlus already has a phone that's stripped out some features in exchange for a lower price — the OnePlus Nord. While that particular model never reached the U.S., OnePlus has since announced the OnePlus Nord N10 5G and OnePlus Nord N100, two more low-cost handsets.

Add the three rumored OnePlus 9 models to the mix, and we're looking at a phone lineup with half-a-dozen models. That's a far cry from the days when OnePlus put out just one phone every six months (although you could choose different amounts of RAM and storage).

Should the OnePlus 9E come to pass, the burden will be on OnePlus to clearly differentiate all of its phones and explain how the variously priced models would offer their own unique feature sets. 

If OnePlus can pull that off, consumers will likely welcome the extra choice. No one's really complaining that there are four iPhone 12 models to choose from.

We've got a long way to go before the OnePlus 9E hits the scene, with a potential release date in March for the new OnePlus 9 lineup. Expect to hear a lot of details about the new phones between now and then.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.