We just gave the Samsung Galaxy S21 our “Most Wanted” price, but OnePlus started selling a worthy competitor this week: OnePlus 9. Both phones are quite similar in size, hardware and price, with their own pros and cons, so decide between the two can be a little difficult. But we are here to help and will guide you through the nuances and differences of this post.
On the surface, the two phones could not be more alike. Both have the latest high-end Qualcomm processor, Snapdragon 888, and they start with 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. The screens are both OLEDs and have a refresh rate of 120Hz, although the S21 screen is only 6.2 inches, while the OnePlus’ is 6.55. While both support Wi-Fi 6, OnePlus saved some money on Bluetooth by going for version 5.0 over 5.2. It is a bummer due to improved sound flow improvements for earplugs. Neither the phone has headphone jack nor expandable storage, unfortunately, and both are single-SIM phones in the US.
Samsung Galaxy S21.
Things differ a bit in the battery and charging department. OnePlus 9s 4500 mAh battery is charged up to 65 W with the included brick, which provides full charge in less than an hour. The S21 has to settle for a 4000 mAh power supply that is charged at a maximum of 25W. If you charge overnight anyway, this should not bother you too much, but extreme fast charging is always great to have in case you need to refill shortly before you go out – and unlike Samsung, OnePlus provides a charging stone in the box.
Unlike Samsung, the OnePlus has an excellent alert slider over the on / off button, which allows you to switch between silent, vibrate and dial without having to unlock your phone. You also get to choose between an extremely well-made matt plastic back with a metal frame on the S21 and a glass back with a metal-limited plastic frame on the OnePlus 9.
|OnePlus 9||Samsung Galaxy S21|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 888||Snapdragon 888|
|RAM||8 / 12GB (LPDDR5)||8 GB (LPDDR5)|
|Storage||128/256 GB (UFS3.1)||128/256 GB (UFS3.1)|
|Show||6.55-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz||6.2-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz|
|Battery charging||4500mAh, 65W Warp Charge, 15W Qi wireless, reverse wireless charging||4000mAh, 25W fast charge, 15W Qi wireless, reverse wireless charging|
|Rear cameras||48MP primary, 50MP ultra-wide, 2MP monochrome||64MP telephoto, 12MP wide, 12MP ultra wide|
|Connection||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, 5G sub-6||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, NFC, 5G sub-6|
|Colors||Astral Black, Artic Sky, Winter Mist||Phantom Violet, Phantom Gray, Phantom White, Phantom Pink|
|Dimensions||160 x 74.2 x 8.7 mm||151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9 mm|
|Weight||192g||171g (for US mmWave model)|
|Software||OxygenOS 11 / Android 11||One user interface 3.1 / Android 11|
|Price||$ 730 (8/128 GB), $ 830 (12/256 GB)||$ 800 (128 GB), $ 850 (256 GB)|
OnePlus phones have historically been pretty mediocre in the camera department, but thanks to the company’s new partnership with Hasselblad, the tide is turning a bit. In our review, we noticed that OnePlus’ image processing is still not entirely to our liking with sharp edges and aggressive smoothing of details, and the camera also suffers from blur and questionable white balance in low light. Things have gotten a lot better, though, and the new OnePlus flagship is almost on par with Samsung’s image processing. The inclusion of an ultra-wide “freeform lens” is good for macro images, although we are confused about the decision to add a largely useless 2MP monochrome sensor.
Meanwhile, our biggest grip on the Galaxy S21 camera is Samsung’s tendency to oversaturate colors and texture devastating mud in low light situations, but overall the camera is still more reliable and versatile than the OnePlus 9 thanks to a better range of lenses (wide, ultra-wide , tele). You can read more about it in our full Galaxy S21 review.
Both phones come with Android 11 at launch, and both have their own software issues to contend with. While Samsung’s software has become incredibly good over the years, the company has some annoying default settings that you may want to change as soon as you get the device. Samsung also has a bad habit of pushing ads into your alerts, which are difficult to disable. Once you have everything set up the way you want it, it should go smoothly and you will find almost everything you can ask for and more. The manufacturer has also become incredibly good at software updates over the years and promises up to three years of software updates and four years of security updates – currently the only (mainstream) Android manufacturer to do so.
Things are a little different for OnePlus. We used to praise the company for its great, almost pixel-like experience with relatively fast updates, but over the years, OnePlus has fallen short of release plans, and the software has become buggy, with Android Auto and system navigation crashing on our review unit. For the most part, the experience is smooth, though, and there are some thoughtful additions to Android like scrolling screenshots, screen gestures, parallel apps (to run two instances of the same app with different accounts next to each other) and more.
If you rely on background apps a lot, both phones will not necessarily make you happy out of the box – Samsung and OnePlus are incredibly aggressive when it comes to killing background activities. You need to bypass the restrictions by unlocking apps in the system settings of one of the phones, and even then some apps will still have issues.
Although the Galaxy S21 is slightly more expensive than the OnePlus 9 ($ 800 versus $ 730), the Samsung phone will be able to serve you well for a longer period of time thanks to the comprehensive software update policy, if you plan to keep it for years to come. And despite OnePlus ‘Hasselblad collaboration, Samsung’s camera games are still spot-on and often superior to OnePlus’. All in all, it makes the Galaxy S21 the better choice for most people, although the OnePlus 9 can still entice you with its lower price up front, the excellent 65W quick-charge chip in the box and some unique features such as the notification slider and the ad-free interface. You are not going to go wrong with any of the phones, so make sure you choose the one that best suits your preferences.
Left: OnePlus 9. Right: Samsung Galaxy S21.