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OnePlus 9 Coming March 23: Everything We Know

The next phones from booming niche smartphone company OnePlus, the OnePlus 9 Series, will be announced at 10 a.m. ET on March 23. The phone maker will also work with camera firm Hasselblad to build the camera systems for its next three years’ worth of phones.

“With OnePlus’ top-of-the-line hardware and computational photography and Hasselblad’s rich aesthetic knowledge in traditional photography, I am confident that the OnePlus 9 Series will be a major leap forward in our ability to deliver a premium, flagship camera,” OnePlus CEO Pete Lau said in a press release.

The OnePlus 9 cameras will include a Hasselblad Pro Mode, with new color calibration and a new UI based on Hasselblad’s image-processing software. The companies will work together first on color tuning and sensor calibration, “extending to more dimensions in the future,” OnePlus said. Future OnePlus cameras will have a 140-degree panoramic field of view, and “T-lens technology” for faster focus on the front-facing camera.

The company is investing $150 million in camera development. The underlying story is that while OnePlus phones are known for terrific speed and performance at reasonable prices, their camera image quality has typically fallen behind competitors at Samsung, Apple, and Huawei.

AI-powered cameras will be a priority for 2021, Lau previously said in an interview.

OnePlus is on a roll here in the US right now, with its midrange Nord phones becoming a surprise success at Metro by T-Mobile. Making it at the high end in the US is going to mean going toe-to-toe with Samsung, though, so OnePlus will need every advantage it can get.

You’ll be able to watch the launch event at oneplus.com/launch. This being OnePlus, there will probably also be plenty of teasers and such on its social channels in the days to come.

What Will the OnePlus 9 Be?

OnePlus Hasselblad image

There will be more than one phone in the series, OnePlus confirmed through its press release, although it didn’t make clear whether there would be two or three.

We’re most likely to see two OnePlus 9 models here in the US, the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro. A third, rumored lower-priced model, the OnePlus 9 R, could be primarily for India, but there’s some doubt whether or not that one exists. The phones will appear at T-Mobile, according to my sources, but it’s not clear whether they’ll be picked up by any other carriers. In his December interview, Lau notably called out T-Mobile as a partner but did not mention Verizon.

The OnePlus 9 Pro will probably have a 1440p, 120Hz screen like the OnePlus 8 Pro did; a leak on SlashLeaks shows a 2,400-by-1,080, 6.55-inch 120Hz screen on the OnePlus 9.

When Qualcomm launched the Snapdragon 888, it named OnePlus as a partner, so that will almost certainly be the processor in the OnePlus 9 Pro and OnePlus 9. The company also said it’s using Qualcomm’s new, slightly lower-end Snapdragon 870, though. The Snapdragon 870 may power the OnePlus 9 R. Android Police’s Max Weinbach says the Pro phone will have 12GB of RAM, with the previously mentioned SlashLeak showing the OnePlus 9 as having 8GB.

The OnePlus 9 Pro will certainly have at least 65-watt fast charging, as the OnePlus 8T did. The big question with charging is whether the phones will support Oppo’s newest 125-watt flash charging system, which OnePlus probably has access to but needs to decide whether it fits into their design. I’m also curious to know whether the OnePlus 9 will have wireless charging, something that was kept for the Pro model last year.

The phones will have a new “freeform lens,” which eliminates edge distortion, and will use a custom Sony IMX789 camera sensor with 12-bit RAW color, supporting 4K video at 120fps and 8K video at 30fps. The IMX789 is an as-yet-unreleased Sony product that is rumored to also be the basis of the camera in the upcoming Oppo Find X3 Pro, which is launching on March 11. Oppo and OnePlus are sibling companies, so watching the Find X3 Pro launch may give more clues about the OnePlus 9.

As for the Hasselblad tie-up, color me skeptical for two reasons. The first is that Hasselblad’s previous smartphone collaboration, the Hasselblad True Zoom Camera, was an utter lemon. We rated it much too high, largely because it was the only 10x zoom option in the smartphone world at the time. Heavy, noisy, and glacially slow, it was the opposite of OnePlus’s reputation for speed and a “burdenless” experience. On the other hand, that was five years ago, so maybe it’s learned.

Beyond that, though, I’ve never seen any of these phone/camera brand tie-ups really mean anything. Nokia with Zeiss, Huawei with Leica, Sony with, um, Sony; the names appear on phones, but the phones never seem to have any real relationship to the companies’ professional camera products. This OnePlus-Hasselblad tie-up already appears to be more involved than most, but once again, I have too many memories of the True Zoom Camera.

We’ll learn more later this month when we test the phones.

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