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iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Which phone wins?

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

An iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9 face-off figures to be tighter than previous match-ups involving phones from Apple and upstart phone maker OnePlus. While OnePlus phones have traditionally delivered premium features for a lower price than comparable flagships, they've often come up short in the camera department, allowing the iPhone to cruise to victory.

The OnePlus 9 is different. OnePlus teamed up with lens specialist Hasselblad to improve the mobile photography on its smartphones, and you can see the effects in improved colors from the images captured by the OnePlus 9. Add that leap forward in photography to the other OnePlus features like fast charging, fast refreshing displays and top performance among Android phones, and you've got a very formidable contender for the title of best phone.

But the iPhone 13 is impressive in its own right, especially with its more powerful A15 processor and bigger battery. Apple also looked to improve the cameras across all iPhone 13 models, so it will be interesting to see if the iPhone 13 can continue to enjoy an edge in mobile photography.

Here's how the iPhone 13 and OnePlus 9 compare across the categories that matter to most phone shoppers.

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Specs

iPhone 13OnePlus 9
Screen size6.1 inches (2532 x 1170)6.55 inches (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate60Hz120Hz
CPUA15 BionicSnapdragon 88
RAMUnknown8GB, 12GB
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB128GB
Rear cameras12MP main (f/1.6); 12MP ultrawide (f/2.4)48MP main (f/1.8); 50MP ultrawide (f/2.2); 2MP monochrome
Front camera12MP (f/2.2)16MP (f/2.4)
Battery sizeUnknown4,500 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)10:3310:51
Size5.8 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches6.3 x 2.9 x 0.32 inches

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Price and availability

The OnePlus 9 is the cheaper of the two devices, though not by as much as OnePlus phones used to be when compared to Apple's iPhones. The iPhone 13 debuts at the same $799 starting price as the iPhone 12, only now you get 128GB of storage in that base model. Apple used to start things off with 64GB so that's a big improvement. You can also get 256GB and 512GB versions of the iPhone 13 for $899 and $1,099 respectively.

At $729, the OnePlus 9 is $70 cheaper than the iPhone 13. That price gets you a 128GB phone; a promised 256GB model never materialized in the U.S. 

The iPhone 13 is the easier phone to come by in the U.S., as it's offered by every major carrier, several discount wireless services and Apple itself. The only wireless carrier to offer the OnePlus 9 is T-Mobile, though you can find the phone at OnePlus as well as retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon. The iPhone's greater availability eats into the OnePlus 9's modest price advantage.

Winner: OnePlus 9

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Design

On the surface, there's not much separating the looks of the iPhone 13 and OnePlus 9. Both phones have glass backs and house their rear cameras in the upper left corner — the OnePlus 9 in a vertical line of lenses arranged in a rectangular box, the iPhone 13 with diagonal lenses in a square. Available colors on the iPhone 13 — pink, blue, black, white and red — look a little brighter than the Astral Black and Winter Mist options on the OnePlus 9.

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus phone also has a harder time fending off fingerprints, which is surprising, given that the glossy glass/matte black film combo on my Astral Black model was designed to resist smudges.

Essentially, though, these phones look the same. Neither one has a headphone jack, and there's no microSD slot for expanding storage.

The devil's in the details, however, and the iPhone 13 build is just a little bit more durable than what the OnePlus 9 has to offer. For starters, the iPhone 13 has a Ceramic Shield display that's more resistant to scratches. Its IP68 water resistance rating means it can survive a plunge into 6 meters of water. There's no IP rating at all on the OnePlus 9 — that feature is only found on some Pro models.

Some users will balk at the fact that the iPhone 13 continues to sport a notch, while the OnePlus 9 only has a punch-hole cutout for its front camera interrupting the flow of the display. Still, the notch on the iPhone 13 is 20% smaller than before, and if it wasn't a deal-killer previously, you're unlikely to be bothered by it now.

Winner: iPhone 13

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Displays

Apple joined other flagship phone makers by offering what's rapidly becoming a default feature on top-end phones — a dynamically refreshing display. Unfortunately, that's only true of the iPhone 13 Pro models. The standard iPhone 13 (and the less expensive iPhone 13 mini) still has a fixed 60Hz refresh rate. 

In contrast, the OnePlus 9 offers a variable refresh rate that can scale up to 120Hz when needed. That means smoother scrolling on web pages and less chance of stutter in graphics on games that support fast refresh rates. It certainly makes for a better overall experience, and iPhone 13 users can be forgiven if they feel a little short-changed.

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

That said, the iPhone 13's 6.1-inch display is just a bit brighter at 795 nits than the 696-nit 6.55-inch panel on the OnePlus 9. Colors look more vibrant on the iPhone 13, too. I watched the Ghostbusters: Afterlife trailer on both phones and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man's deceptively fluffy white skin looks just a little bit cleaner on the iPhone 13. The faded Ghostbuster logo still had a more pleasing shade of red, even though I was watching the trailer on the OnePlus 9's Vivid setting.

In general, the iPhone 13's display is more pleasing to look at, even if the OnePlus 9 offers slightly more space. But the faster refresh rate makes the OnePlus model the phone to pick in this category.

Winner: OnePlus 9

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Cameras

Call this the battle of improved camera phones. As noted at the outset, OnePlus teamed up with Hasselblad to improve its camera quality, with the changes in the 9 series of phones focusing on color calibration. it certainly paid off with the OnePlus 9, whose 48MP main and 50MP ultrawide shooters are the best cameras I've seen yet from OnePlus.

But Apple didn't rest on its laurels with the best camera phone honors it earned with the iPhone 12. The iPhone 13 uses a larger sensor for its main camera, letting in 47% more light than last year's model. The result should be better pictures when the lights are low. The ultrawide lens on the iPhone 13 now captures more of the scene as well.

I started my face-off with a picture of a fruit bowl, and while there's nothing wrong with the OnePlus 9's effort, the iPhone 13 clearly takes the better shot. The overall scene, which wasn't very well lit, is brighter in the iPhone's rendition, and that means more details like the patterns on the apple skin. The lime green bowl is also sharper and more focused in the iPhone's photo.

The OnePlus 9 holds its own when we test out the portrait mode on both cameras. The iPhone 13 clearly has the brighter colors and does a better job with the background blur. But I prefer the perspective of the OnePlus 9 photo — it crops in closer for an actual portrait. And the colors aren't too shabby here, either, as OnePlus manages to capture the different tones and streaks in my daughter's hair color.

You'd also credit the OnePlus 9 for taking a decent shot with its Nightscape mode. You can see the different colored apples quite clearly, and even with the amped up lighting effects, there are still visible shadows on the concrete wall in the background. However, Apple's Night mode is simply better. Colors are richer and not as washed, and the background details stand out more.

Just to ramp up the difficulty, I turned off the lone overhead light in my backyard, providing the only light on that scene. Shooting in total darkness, the OnePlus 9 struggled to separate the apples from the shadows — no great shame considering the conditions. But the iPhone still managed to capture a little bit of color. The photo's not great — it's pretty fuzzy and grainy — but everything's visible despite the lack of any artificial light. It proves to me that when the lights are low, the iPhone 13 camera is the one you want.

Moving to the front cameras, I tried out the OnePlus 9's 16MP shooter against the 12MP TrueDepth camera on the iPhone 13. There's not a lot of difference between the shots, though I do think my skin looks a little warmer and more natural in the iPhone's effort. Still, the OnePlus phone produced an acceptable self-portrait.

As much as the OnePlus 9 cameras have improved over past OnePlus phones — and it's not overstating it to emphasize that these are the best cameras OnePlus had ever offered — the iPhone is still the superior option for people who value mobile photography.

Winner: iPhone 13

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Performance

It's not close here. The OnePlus 9 uses Snapdragon's 888 system-on-chip and produced the best results we had seen on an Android phone when we tested it this past spring. But processing power is a moving target — the iPhone 13 tops the OnePlus 9 with the new A15 Bionic. Snapdragon 888-powered Android phones already struggled to match the performance of A14-powered iPhones on speed tests, and the A15 merely widens that gap.

On Geekbench 5, which measures general performance, the iPhone 13 produced a multicore score of 4,129, compared to 3,618 for the OnePlus 9. In our real world test, where we have Adobe Premiere Rush transcode a 4K video, the OnePlus 9 completed the task in a little more than 1 minute. It takes the iPhone 13 a fraction less than 26 seconds to handle the same clip.

The iPhone's walkover includes 5G performance. Apple's phone boasts some of the widest 5G compatibility you'll find in a mobile device — certainly U.S. customers will have no trouble connecting to the 5G networks of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The OnePlus 9 works on  those networks, too, but there's a caveat in the case of Verizon 5G. You'll only be able to access Verizon's nationwide 5G coverage via the OnePlus 9 and not the much faster Ultra Wideband network that's now available in 87 U.S. cities. If you want faster Verizon 5G, you need to pay up for the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro. That's a forced upgrade iPhone 13 users don't have to make.

Winner: iPhone 13

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Battery life and charging

Things even up a little for an iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9 battery comparison, at least when it comes to longevity. To test phone battery life, we have each handset we review surf the web over cellular until it runs out of power. It's a demanding task, but both the iPhone 13 and OnePlus 9 are up to the task.

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Thanks to a larger battery over previous iPhones — Apple hasn't said how much bigger — the iPhone 13 was able to hold for 10 hours and 33 minutes, a big improvement over the iPhone 12's time on our test. The OnePlus 9 and its 4,500 mAh battery did even better, though, lasting for 10 hours, and 51 minutes. It also achieved that result with its screen set to a 120Hz refresh rate, which tends to drain power faster, so that's especially impressive, even if it fell short of the 11-hour standard needed to reach our best phone battery life list.

While the OnePlus 9 finished just ahead of the iPhone 13 in our battery test, the gap widens considerably when it's time to charge the phones. OnePlus equips its phones with OnePlus WarpCharge 65T technology, enabling sustained speedy charging. After 30 minutes of charging, our fully drained OnePlus 9 was back up to 98% of its battery capacity. The iPhone 13, hindered by a more pedestrian 20W maximum charge speed, only reached 51% after half-an-hour.

The phones are on equal footing if you charge them wirelessly, with both capped at 15W speeds. But otherwise, this is a category the OnePlus 9 dominates.

Winner: OnePlus 9

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Software and special features

What you think of the software for either of these phones depends where you fall on the iOS vs. Android debate. Myself, I'm more comfortable working with Apple's software, and I happen to thin the iOS 15 update that ships on the iPhone 13 delivers some welcome enhancements and app updates. That said, I've always appreciated OnePlus' OxygenOS for usually adding worthwhile enhancements to Android. In the case of the OnePlus 9, that's Android 11.

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Where the iPhone gets the edge is with Apple's software update policy. The minute updates become available, you can download them to your iPhone and support goes for years — a minimum of four years, though there are devices that came out in 2015 that can run iOS 15. Android updates roll out eventually to OnePlus phones, and you're only promised two major updates. Android 12, which is just trickling out, will knock off one of those.

The end result? If you prefer to hold on to your phone as long as possible — and these days, more people are — the iPhone is simply better supported.

Winner: iPhone 13

iPhone 13 vs. OnePlus 9: Verdict

In the end, the iPhone 13 pulls away from the OnePlus 9. While the iPhone 13 certainly is the better camera phone option, the improvements in the OnePlus 9 keep that phone's cameras in the conversation.

iPhone 13OnePlus 9
Price and availability (10 points)78
Design (10 points)86
Display (15 points)1314
Camera (20 points)2018
Performance (20 points)2016
Battery life and charging (15 points)1214
Software and special features (10 points)98
Overall (100 points)8984

Instead, the iPhone 13 exerts its dominance in other areas — namely design and performance. Apple's phone is undoubtedly more durable, thanks to its IP68 rating, and there's not messing with the A15 Bionic processor inside the new iPhone. The fact that 5G support is more substantive on the iPhone doesn't hurt either.

The OnePlus' strong battery life and faster charging are certainly valuable features, and you'll get a fast-refreshing display with the OnePlus 9 — something you have to pay up for with Apple's phones. Overall, though, the iPhone 13 is a more complete device.

Philip Michaels
Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics and old movies. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.