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The fan-favourite just about has the edge

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OnePlus smartphones aren’t as easy to recommend as they used to be, and the OnePlus 9 is no different. There are a few compromises when compared to its more expensive sibling — the frame is polycarbonate, the primary camera doesn’t have OIS, there’s no telephoto sensor or IP68 certification, and it doesn’t offer the same 50W wireless charging.

In spite of these omissions, it is still a good phone and it offers much better value for money than the OnePlus 9 Pro. However, can it hold its own against Samsung’s more affordable flagship, the Galaxy S20 FE (Fan Edition)? Well, let’s find out.

Specs

  OnePlus 9 5G Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
Chipset Snapdragon 888 Snapdragon 865
RAM 8/12GB (LPDDR5) 6GB (LPDDR5)
Storage 128/256GB (UFS3.1) 128GB
Display 6.55-inch OLED 2400×1080 (20:9), 120Hz 6.5-inch OLED 2400×1080 (20:9), 120Hz
Battery & Charging 4,500mAh, 65W Warp Charge, 15W Qi wireless (only present on the US variant) 4,500mAh, 25W fast charge, wireless charging, reverse wireless charging
Rear cameras 48MP primary, 50MP ultrawide, 2MP monochrome 12MP primary, 12MP ultrawide, 8MP telephoto
Front cameras 16MP 32MP
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, 5G sub-6GHz (dual SIM internationally) Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, hybrid dual SIM
Headphone jack No No
Colors Astral Black, Artic Sky, Winter Mist Cloud White, Cloud Red, Cloud Navy, Cloud Lavender, Cloud Orange, Cloud Mint
Dimensions 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm 159.8 x 74.5 x 8.4mm
Weight 192g 190g
Software OxygenOS 11 / Android 11 OneUI 3.1 / Android 11
Price 8/128GB: $729, £629, ₹49,999
12/256GB: £729, ₹54,999
6/128GB: $699, ₹47,999

Hardware and performance

The OnePlus 9 offers newer hardware and is powered by the Snapdragon 888, the most powerful chip you can get on an Android smartphone right now. The chipset is accompanied by a generous 8 or 12GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage. In terms of raw power, you can expect the OnePlus 9 to just about top its rival. However, the S20 FE with its Snapdragon 865 and 6GB of RAM is no slouch either, and you’ll be hard-pressed to notice any major differences in day-to-day usage.

The S20 FE surely takes the lead in the design and build department as it gets the more important aspects right. Instead of opting for a polycarbonate frame and a glass back, like the OnePlus 9, it has an aluminum frame and a plastic back. Although glass feels more premium to hold, the plastic on the S20 FE doesn’t feel cheap in any way, and it has a nice matte finish that will resist fingerprints well. It also has the bonus of being IP68 certified so it should survive a dunk in the pool.

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No matter which phone you choose, you’ll get a very good display — they both have 6.5-inch OLED panels with a 120Hz refresh rate. The stereo speakers found on both devices make for an immersive media experience, too.

Both phones have 4,500mAh batteries and should last you a day, but the OnePlus 9, with its 65W fast charging, will undoubtedly charge faster. The S20 FE has only a 25W brick. Wireless charging is supported by both phones (excluding non-US variants of the OnePlus 9) but reverse wireless charging is available only on the S20 FE.

Both phones boast exclusive features. The OnePlus 9 has the convenience of an alert slider, which makes switching between ringer modes a breeze. The S20 FE 5G, on the other hand, has support for a microSD card and Samsung Pay (with MST), which will let you make payments at terminals that don’t support NFC.

The cameras

OnePlus has talked a lot about its partnership with Hasselblad, but the cameras aren’t as great as they’d have us believe. Sure, they deliver more accurate colors than before, and the ultrawide lens is one of the best on any phone, but the setup doesn’t really trump the S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12. The S20 FE has a decent set of cameras and has the added benefit of a telephoto lens that allows for better portraits and 3x optical zoom. OIS on the primary sensor is also a plus, helping with blur-free images and better low-light performance.

First: OnePlus 9, Second: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

If we look at some camera samples, it’s evident that OnePlus delivers more natural-looking colors, offers slightly better dynamic range, and captures more detail. The S20 FE takes good images, too — albeit with a different style — and the saturated colors aren’t necessarily a drawback. The support for OIS on the primary sensor and the telephoto sensor also works heavily in its favor.

The software experience

The OnePlus 9 runs OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11 out of the box. The experience is still pretty good — it’s snappy and has many features we wish Android would adopt. However, OnePlus is no longer at the top of its game. There are a few annoying issues like delayed notifications and occasional system navigation crashes that haven’t been fixed for a while, and the company’s update performance has only worsened over time.

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OnePlus promises only a couple of major Android updates and even then, the frequency gets worse as each phone gets older. With the sort of premium that OnePlus now charges, this just doesn’t cut it anymore. Samsung has really aced this department recently and has promised not only three major Android updates but also four years of security updates for the S20 FE. The Korean company is also pretty quick in delivering these updates nowadays, sometimes beating Google to the punch with monthly security patches. While One UI is among the best skins out there, it does have its cons — duplicate apps, system ads, and Samsung still pushing Bixby (it’s time to let it die).

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One UI on the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

Since the S20 FE was announced with Android 10 it will only be updated as far as Android 13 (like the OnePlus 9). However, keep in mind that it’s likely that Samsung will do a better job of delivering updates, especially critical security patches later in the phone’s lifespan.

The all-important pricing

The OnePlus 9 is priced at $729, whereas the S20 FE regularly retails for as low as $599. Despite having a lower price tag, the S20 FE still manages to hold its own against the OnePlus 9. Sure, it doesn’t have the latest processor or insanely quick charging, but it offers a lot of extras that make it a worthy competitor. Some of these extras include IP68 certification, reverse wireless charging, a telephoto sensor, Samsung Pay with MST, and four years of security updates. If you ask us, it gives you far more bang for your buck and is therefore worth picking over its rival.

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The OnePlus 9 is a good phone and it offers one of the fastest Android experiences out there, but the company’s flagships aren’t as attractive as they used to be. They no longer entice us with attractive prices or segment-first features — the company’s recent hardware decisions have also been questionable. With the software support deteriorating more and more with each passing month, it leads us to believe that OnePlus is settling for less, and it no longer offers class-leading phones that are easy to recommend over competitors.

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