OnePlusOnePlus 8TOnePlus 9OnePlus 9 ProOnePlus Nord N10 5Goneplus nord n100OnePlus Nord N200 5Gwhich should you buy

Which OnePlus phone should you buy in 2021?

There was a time when OnePlus’s phone lineup was easy to understand, but as the brand has grown, so have its offerings. Now when you’re thinking about buying a OnePlus device, you’ve got to contend with numbers and letters and descriptors — sometimes all at once (the OnePlus 7T Pro is a phone that exists). But what’s all of it mean, and at the end of the day, which phone should you buy? Let’s get into it.

The Snapdragon 888 controversy

Before we get too far here, we need to touch on the controversy that’s been unfolding around OnePlus in recent weeks.

In early July, OnePlus was caught intentionally limiting the performance of hundreds of popular apps on the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The company promptly fessed up and even defended the practice, saying the Snapdragon 888 chipset both devices run on is “overkill in certain scenarios” and that its throttling app performance is meant to improve battery life. It also said its “testing team makes sure the actual user experience is not negatively affected” when deciding which apps to throttle and to what extent.

That could all very well be true; the Snapdragon 888 is extremely fast by 2021 Android standards, but it’s also a known battery hog and tends to generate a lot of heat under load. I can’t speak to whether OnePlus’s power management is the ideal solution, but it’s not hard to see why people are miffed: the OnePlus 9 Pro costs more than a thousand bucks, ostensibly in no small part because it’s so powerful. That the company was jamming phones with the priciest parts possible then surreptitiously limiting the top-shelf speed those parts allow for (#neversettle) is very uncool.

If that’s all too big a red flag for you, we’re sure not judging. Maybe go for a Samsung phone instead. Otherwise, read on to see our top OnePlus picks.

Premium: $700 and up

OnePlus made a name for itself with surprisingly competent mid-range phones, but its top-shelf offerings have gotten more expensive over the years — to the point where you’re not saving much money buying a high-end OnePlus phone over a Galaxy device or even an iPhone. Still, as they’ve gotten pricier, they’ve also gotten better (for the most part, anyway).

OnePlus 9 Pro

The OnePlus 9 Pro is OnePlus’s top-of-the-line flagship — but our relationship with the phone is a little complicated.

On the one hand, it’s very solid hardware: the 120Hz display in particular is outstanding, and camera performance is some of the best OnePlus has mustered so far (if a bit inconsistent). The company has also pledged three years of software updates and four of security — up there with the best of them in Android land. It’ll stay fully up to date until spring of 2024, and secure until the same time 2025.

But there’s also the controversy we touched on above. Sure, the phone’s got a Snapdragon 888 and 12 gigabytes of RAM — but will you see the entire benefit of all that oomph with OnePlus’s optimizations? As long as you’re okay with that trade-off, it’s a great phone. It’ll run you $1,069 at full price.

OnePlus 9

The OnePlus 9 is OnePlus’s non-Pro flagship this year. That means it’s got some downgrades, including the absence of a telephoto camera, slower wireless charging, and no official water resistance rating in carrier-unlocked models — though considering the version T-Mobile sells is rated, it’s a good bet all models are internally sealed. It also “only” has eight gigs of RAM, but it’s considerably more affordable than the 9 Pro at an MSRP of $730.

It’s got the same update commitment as the OnePlus 9 Pro, but also the same Snapdragon 888 performance-throttling issue. But again, if that doesn’t bother you, it’s still a very good phone — and a better value than the Pro for a lot of buyers. Read our full review here.

Mid-range: $300 to $600

Formerly OnePlus’s whole wheelhouse, the mid-range market seems to be less of a priority for the company lately — there’s a sizable jump in price from a cheap OnePlus phone to an expensive one, without much in between. Still, if you’ve got a little extra money to drop on a phone but not $700 or more, there are a couple of solid picks here.

OnePlus 8T

In our review, we called the OnePlus 8T one of the better phones of last year — and we stand by it. At a regular price of $599 (down from its launch MSRP of $749), it’s got great build quality and a fantastic 120Hz screen, and it squeezes a lot of speed out of its Snapdragon 865 and 12 gigs of RAM. Camera performance isn’t in the same league as OP’s pricier phones, though (to say nothing of competition from the likes of Google, Samsung, and Apple), and it doesn’t have wireless charging.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G

OnePlus’s Nord devices channel classic OP energy: these are surprisingly competent phones with surprisingly low price tags. At $299, the N10 5G sits at the higher end of the Nord line.

For your $300, you’ll get actual all-day battery life (seven or more hours on a charge, based on Ryne’s experience), a perfectly decent 90Hz LCD screen, and good-enough performance (with 5G!) thanks to the Snapdragon 690 chip inside. It’s also guaranteed security updates until January 2024. Build quality is a step down from the 8T, though, and camera performance isn’t great. The N10 is also missing OnePlus’s trademark alert slider.

At this price, you might consider saving up another 50 bucks to get a Pixel 4a or similar — but if you’ve got a strict $300 earmarked for a OnePlus phone, the Nord N10 is a good pick.

Budget: From $180

While it’s true OnePlus’s best phones have been getting more expensive relative to the competition, the company has also started introducing more budget options lately.

OnePlus Nord N200 5G

The Nord N200 5G is one of the least expensive 5G phones on the market at $240. Technically, it’s only a 5G phone on T-Mobile and Google Fi — which should give users on other carriers pause. But it’s still a perfectly functional 4G device on AT&T or Verizon.

Its display is an unexpected highlight: despite the phone’s relatively low MSRP, it’s got an LCD panel that’s both 1080p and 90Hz. Build quality is also very good relative to other phones in this segment. You won’t think you’re using something that cost two or three times as much, but it’s nicer than its price lets on by a considerable margin.

Of course, at a price like this, no phone is perfect. Like other Nord phones, there’s no OnePlus alert slider, and the N200 doesn’t support the company’s bonkers Warp Charge — meaning it’ll take longer than most OP phones to charge. For our full thoughts, check out Ryan’s review.

OnePlus Nord N100

The Nord N100 is the only device on this list AP doesn’t have firsthand experience with, but at $180, it sure seems like a deal. It’s a fairly standard low-cost Android phone, with a Snapdragon 460 chipset and four gigs of RAM. The display is 720p — but it’s 90Hz, which is unprecedented for such an inexpensive device. It’s also got a beefy 5,000 milliamp-hour battery, which, thanks to the aforementioned low-power parts, should last forever.

Being as cheap as it is, this phone definitely won’t take stellar photos or get years and years of software support. But if you just need a phone for a year or two and have about 200 bucks to spend, you could certainly do worse.

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