With the OnePlus 9T, OnePlus has the opportunity to have the best phone around. However, it won't be able to manage that without a few key improvements.
The OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro are both fantastic phones, with the Pro becoming our new top pick among the best Android phones. However, the last 'T' series phone — the OnePlus 8T — was disappointing, lacking enough upgrades over the OnePlus 8 to make it worthwhile.
OnePlus' unusual six-month phone cycle gives it the unique chance to get another go at taking the top spot, but it needs to do something special if it wants to overtake Apple and Samsung.
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It won't be until the fall that OnePlus launches the 9T, and there aren't any big leaks to go on just yet. So until we have a clearer idea of what's coming, these are our suggestions for what we want to see, combining fixes to current problems with the 9 series, as well as new or improved features that OnePlus would be smart to include.
Improved Nightscape mode
Thanks to its Hasselblad partnership, OnePlus took a huge leap forward in photo quality with the 9 series, and particularly the 9 Pro. However, there are a few parts of the picture-taking experience that are holding OnePlus back from knocking Apple and Samsung off the top spots on the best camera phones list.
The big one to fix is the inconsistency with Nightscape, OnePlus' low-light photo mode. In some scenarios, such as in our camera face-off with the iPhone 12 Pro and Pixel 4a 5G, the OnePlus 9 Pro produced the best shot. However, it can't manage this all the time, as seen in the comparison with the Google Pixel 5 in our full review.
Taking photos at night or in dark environments is one of the most common use cases for smartphone cameras, so effective night mode software is a must for a flagship phone. The OnePlus 9T could become a top camera phone if OnePlus can tweak Nightscape to deliver good shots on a consistent basis.
Longer battery life
The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro both offer decent battery life, but more would be better. There are a couple of ways that OnePlus could manage this.
Obviously, it could make the 9T's battery larger. OnePlus used the same dual-cell battery in the 8T, 9 and 9 Pro in order to take advantage of the 65W wired fast charging, but at 4,500 mAh, it's not huge given the size of the phones and the quality of their displays and chipsets. Adding a bit more capacity (perhaps 5,000 mAh) while retaining the charging speed would be an obvious upgrade.
Another possibility would be adding the adaptive refresh rate of the OnePlus 9 Pro to the OnePlus 9's smaller display. Adding this adaptive system would allow the phone to consume less power when the display didn't need to use its full 120Hz.
IP rating on all models
An official IP rating gives you peace of mind that your new expensive phone won't end up useless if you drop it in water. Unfortunately, that's something OnePlus hasn't always offered.
The OnePlus 8 Pro, launched last year, was the first OnePlus phone to be officially rated IP68, the typical resistance standard for flagship phones. After skipping the OnePlus 8T, the OnePlus 9 Pro also received official IP68 certification, while the basic OnePlus 9 missed out. While you expect a Pro handset to have more features than the vanilla model, being IP rated is usually standard across a whole phone series.
IP rating is an expensive process, and manufacturers like OnePlus still make their phones waterproof and dustproof even without official ratings. But if OnePlus is serious about making the OnePlus 9T capable of fighting iPhones and Galaxy phones, it needs to offer the same assurances.
A killer price
Considering all the other features we've asked for so far, this one might be the trickiest for OnePlus to manage. The OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro have starting prices of $729 and $969, respectively, which undercut the equivalent iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S21 models by a small amount.
Unfortunately for OnePlus, this year's batch of phones from Apple and Samsung happened to lower the price of their base models compared to last year. If the OnePlus 9T used the OnePlus 8T's price point of $750, it would look like a good deal compared to the $800 iPhone 12 or Galaxy S21.
Adding on extra features is likely to make the 9T cost around the same as Apple and Samsung's phones, if not a touch more. That's not a spot you want to be in when you're a lesser-known brand. That said, an $800-850 price would make the perfect mid-point between the 9 and 9 Pro's price, and offer a higher budget for the other upgrades we want to see.