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OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12: A very close battle

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

OnePlus may make Android phones, but with the OnePlus 9, you get the sense that the phone maker had another rival in mind. After all, in many ways, the OnePlus 9 seems geared to take on the iPhone 12.

Cameras have long been one of the big selling points for Apple's phones — so OnePlus made an extra effort to improve the photo-taking capabilities of the OnePlus 9 family. The iPhone 12 can boast leading performance, thanks to the A14 Bionic processor. So is it any wonder OnePlus is trying to erase that advantage by sticking the best Snapdragon system-on-chip into its new phone? And with its display, the OnePlus 9 looks to trump the iPhone 12 in an area where Apple is beginning to fall behind the Android competition.

Add it all up, and any OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 face-off figures to be a pretty close comparison. How close exactly? To find out, we stacked these two phones up against each other to see which one provides more value. (To see how the high-end phones from OnePlus and Apple compare, make sure to check out our OnePlus 9 Pro vs. iPhone 12 Pro comparison.)

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 specs

OnePlus 9iPhone 12
Starting price$729$799
Screen size6.55-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)6.1-inch OLED (2532x1170)
Refresh rate120Hz60Hz
CPUSnapdragon 888A14 Bionic
RAM8GB, 12BGB4GB
Storage128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras48MP main (ƒ/1.8); 50MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 2MP monochrome12MP wide (ƒ/1.6), 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.4)
Front cameras16MP (ƒ/2.4)12MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery size4,500 mAh2,815 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)10:518:25
Size6.3 x 2.9 x 0.32 inches5.78 x 2.81 x 0.29 inches
Weight6.77 ounces5.78 ounces

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 pricing and availability

At $729, the OnePlus 9 is the cheaper of the two phones. The iPhone 12 costs $70 more, and that requires you to buy the phone through a carrier; an unlocked iPhone 12 will run you $829.

Not only can you get the OnePlus 9 for less, you'll also get more storage out of the gate. The base model of the OnePlus 9 ships with 128GB of storage, compared to 64GB on the iPhone. Jumping up to 128GB on the iPhone 12 adds another $50 to the phone's price, while a 256GB iPhone 12 costs nearly as much as the OnePlus 9 Pro base model, assuming you get a carrier-tied iPhone ($949 vs. $969).

You'll find the iPhone 12 available in more places though, as every major carrier sells Apple's phone. Only T-Mobile offers the OnePlus 9 at the moment. You can also buy the phone unlocked at OnePlus itself or through retailers such as Amazon, Best Buy and B&H.

Winner: OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 design

Stack up the OnePlus 9 and the iPhone 12 next to each other, and you're stuck by how much bigger the OnePlus device is. That shouldn't be a surprise since the OnePlus 9's 6.55-inch screen offers nearly half-an-inch more real estate then the 6.1-inch iPhone 12, but the OnePlus handset looms over Apple's phone. It's wider and thicker, too. The end result is I can comfortably use the iPhone 12 one handed, but it's a bit of a strain on the OnePlus 9.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus 9 uses a polycarbonate case, while the iPhone 12 features a glass back bound by an aluminum frame. Even better, the Ceramic Shield display promises improved protection against drops — something we've certainly seen in the online drop tests that have been performed on Apple's form. I also like the fact that the iPhone 12 has gone back to a square-edge design, which makes the phone easier to hold especially compared to the rounded sides of the OnePlus 9.

Speaking of durability, the iPhone 12 tops the OnePlus 9 in another way, with an IP68 water resistance rating. You can drop your iPhone 12 in 20 feet of water, and the phone should be able to withstand any damage, provided you fish it out within a half-hour. There's no such water resistance rating on the OnePlus 9 — you'll have to pay up for the OnePlus 9 Pro to get that feature.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Both the OnePlus 9 and iPhone 12 have prominent camera bumps on their back, located in the upper left corner of either phone. The OnePlus 9's bump is a little bigger to accommodate an extra camera (more on the cameras in a moment). It also juts out a little more, as the OnePlus 9 wobbles noticeably when you lay the phone on its back.

Winner: iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 display

The OnePlus 9's display isn't just bigger than the iPhone 12's — it's also more enjoyable to look at. Credit goes to the phone's fast-refreshing feature, as the OnePlus 9 is capable of refreshing at 120Hz. That's double the iPhone 12's 60Hz refresh rate. 

You have to manually adjust the refresh rate on the OnePlus 9 — only the Pro model adjusts the speed dynamically — but having that faster refreshing display means smoother scrolling and more immersive experiences. Scrolling on the iPhone 12 is noticeably choppier.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus 9 bests the iPhone 12 in other ways, too. It's got a brighter screen — 696 nits to the iPhone 12's 596 nits when measured with a light meter. When adjusting the OnePlus 9's display to its Natural setting, the screen was able to recreate 104.1% of the sRGB color spectrum. The iPhone 12 shows off a little bit more color at 114.5%, but the colors are slightly more accurate on the OnePlus 9. That phone had a Delta-E reading of 0.27, beating out the iPhone 12's 0.29 score. (The closer to zero, the more accurate the colors.)

Winner: OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 cameras

Camera comparisons between OnePlus devices and leading handsets like the iPhone 12 haven't fallen in OnePlus' favor in the past. But OnePlus is doing something about that, teaming up with lens specialist Hasselblad to improve the cameras on its phones. The OnePlus 9 is one of the first phones to reap the benefits, mostly in the form of improvements to color calibration.

Beyond the Hasselblad team-up, the OnePlus 9 features a 48MP main camera augmented by a 50MP ultrawide lens and a dedicated monochrome sensor. That compares to just two cameras on the back of the iPhone 12 — a 12MP main camera and 12MP ultrawide lens.

The first picture I eve shot with the OnePlus didn't fill me with much confidence about its reported color correction skills. The eggs in this photo are a ghostly pale in the OnePlus 9 photo, and even the vegetables look a bit drab. The iPHone 12 doesn't have that problem, with the salsa on the eggs taking on a particularly vivid shade that's missing in the OnePlus 9 shot.

Fortunately, that trouble with color was just a one-off for the OnePlus 9. It handles this bowl of fruit with much greater aplomb, even if the oranges and apples in the foreground lose a little bit of focus. I think the iPhone 12 produces a superior shot, but the OnePlus 9 isn't too far off the mark here.

OnePlus is particularly proud of its ultrawide lens, not just because of the 50MP sensor, but also due to the freeform lens employed by the phone. That's supposed to remove some of the bend you typically see around the edges of ultrawide angle shots.

The cropping on this photo comparison of the Oakland skyline shot from across the San Leandro channel hides some of the distortion around the edge of the iPhone 12's photo, but let me assure you that it's there. That's not a problem with the OnePlus 9 photo. I happen to think the iPhone 12 did a better job with the other details in this shot — the marina water looks more clear and the sky's a deeper blue in the iPhone 12 photo — but the OnePlus 9 certainly makes a credible effort.

Neither phone has a dedicated zoom lens, so we had to rely on digital zoom to get a better look at downtown Oakland from across the water. Here's one instance where I think the OnePlus 9 tops the iPhone 12. Yes, the iPhone 12 continues to provide the richer colors in its photos, but there's less noise and distortion around the buildings in the background of the OnePlus 9 image. It just looks a touch crisper to my eye.

I wasn't thrilled with either night time photo of my backyard garden illuminated only by some overhead LED lighting. Both cameras had a hard time keeping the entire lily in focus, but at least the iPhone 12's effort is better lit. You don't lose details like the surface of the concrete wall like you do in the OnePlus 9 image, and the overhead lights don't flummox the iPhone's camera the way they do the OnePlus 9's.

Either portrait shot taken by these phones would be acceptable to me, though I think the OnePlus 9 captured more detail in my daughter's face, while the iPhone 12 made her skin tone look a bit warmer. I also like the iPhone's blur effect, which comes across as slightly more polished than what the OnePlus 9 is able to do.

But that more or less illustrates my entire experience with the OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 camera face-off. The iPhone 12 produces the better shots overall, but they're not significantly better than the OnePlus 9's efforts. That's a big leap forward for OnePlus 9 compared to past flagship phones.

Winner: iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 performance and 5G

Whenever we compare the iPhone to an Android device, the performance section always feels like a mismatch. After all, Apple's A series processors generally set the pace for mobile devices, and while Qualcomm's Snapdragon's chipsets have close the gap somewhat, Apple continues to lead the pack. That remains the case for this OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 showdown.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

At least, OnePlus can say that it kept things respectable. The Snapdragon 888 is Qualcomm's best-performing system-on-chip, and OnePlus has exploited that to produce some of the best numbers we've recorded for an Android phone. On the Geekbench 5 test for general performance, we recorded a multicore score of 3,618, in the ballpark of slightly better results from the OnePlus 9 Pro and gaming-focused Asus ROG Phone 9. However, the iPhone 12 beats all of those phones with a 3,859 result on Geekbench.

In graphics, too, the iPhone 12 is tops, hitting 39 frames per second in the 3DMark Wild Life Unlimited test. The OnePlus 9 topped at 34.4 fps. We also saw much better performance from the iPhone in our real-world test where Apple's phone was able to transcode a 4K video in Adobe Premiere Rush in just 26 seconds, blowing past the OnePlus 9's time of 1 minute and 2 seconds.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

iPhone 12 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple also enjoys an edge on the 5G front. The iPhone 12 works with an extensive number of 5G bands, including all the flavors of 5G used by the major carriers in the U.S. The OnePlus 9 works with T-Mobile's nationwide network, and Verizon certified the phone for use on its 5G network after the OnePlus 9 launched. AT&T's a no-go, though — you can only use the OnePlus 9 on AT&T LTE.

Winner: iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 battery life and charging

Size doesn't always matter when it comes to a phone's battery life, but the contrasting sizes of the power packs inside the iPhone 12 and OnePlus 9 certainly tell the tale here. The OnePlus 9 features a 4,500 mAh battery — the same size as the one in the more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro — and that helped it last 10 hours and 51 minutes on our battery test. (We have phones surf the web over 5G until they run out of power.) We recorded that time with the OnePlus 9's display refreshing at 120Hz, which generally drains a battery faster.

The iPhone 12 didn't fare nearly as well on our battery test, and we can't help but think its smaller 2,815 mAh battery is to blame. Whatever the reason, the iPhone 12 only held out for 8 hours and 25 minutes in our test, though turning off the 5G modem improved battery performance by two hours.

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple famously doesn't include a charger with the iPhone 12, so you'll have to supply your own, or buy Apple's 20W charger that the company sells separately. That helped us get a drained iPhone 12 to a 57% charge in just 30 minutes. That's a decent result, but it's no match for the WarpCharge 65T technology that recharges the OnePlus 9. After 30 minutes of using that 65W charge, our OnePlus 9 went from 0 to 98%. Better yet, OnePlus' fast charger is included with its phone.

Winner: OnePlus 9

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12 software and special features

Any software comparison between the OnePlus 9 and iPhone 12 comes down to your personal preference in the Android vs. iOS debate, and we'll leave that age-old struggle for another time and place. I will say that I've always appreciated the light hand OnePlus takes with its OxygenOS spin on Android, even if the update scheme leaves something to be desired. 

OnePlus promises two major Android updates for OnePlus 9 owners along with three years of security patches. That means Android 13 will be the last update the OnePlus 9 gets, and by the time that version comes out, the iPhone 12 will be running 16, with two to three more software updates on the way.

The OnePlus 9 has a a fingerprint sensor underneath its display, and it works fairly reliably in my experience. iPhones have gone without a fingerprint sensor since the iPhone X, and it's sorely missed now that we're wearing masks all the time, making face unlocking more of a hassle than it used to be. That said, Apple's Face ID is the best face-unlocking technology in mobile, and it's secure enough to use for mobile payments — something you can't do with a OnePlus 9.

Winner: iPhone 12

OnePlus 9 vs. iPhone 12: Outlook

The iPhone 12 finishes ahead in our face-off, but it's close. Because the OnePlus 9 cameras are the best that OnePlus has included on a smartphone, the gap between its entry-level flagship and Apple's comparable model has narrowed significantly. Really, it's the iPhone 12's superior performance that keeps it ahead of the OnePlus 9.

OnePlus 9iPhone 12
Price and availability (10 points)97
Design (10 points)79
Display (15 points)1311
Cameras (20 points)1618
Performance and 5G (20 points)1519
Battery life and charging (15 points)1411
Software and special features (10 points)89
Overall (100 points)8284

But Apple shouldn't rest on its laurels. The OnePlus 9 has better battery life and faster charging. It's got a fast refreshing display, too, something the iPhone 12 — or any iPhone at this point — simply doesn't offer. Some more camera improvements to OnePlus handsets, and the iPhone could soon have company at the top of the best phones list.