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(Pocket-lint) - If you're in the market for a phone that acts and performs like a proper flagship phone but don't want to pay top dollar for it, there's a very good chance you've found yourself drawn to the latest Pixel phone from Google. 

The Pixel 6 has great cameras, great battery life, unique design and a powerful processor, all in a phone that doesn't cost anywhere near as much as the ultra premium phones from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Oppo. It's not alone in this space though. This is OnePlus' domain. So how does the Pixel 6 compare to the OnePlus 9, and which should you buy? Read on or watch our video to find out. 

Design 

  • Pixel 6: 158.6 x 74.8 x 8.9mm - 207g
  • OnePlus 9: 160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm - 192g
  • Pixel 6: Corning Gorilla Glass Victus and Aluminium frame - IP68 rating
  • OnePlus 9: Corning Gorilla Glass 5 and Plastic frame - No IP rating
  • Pixel 6: Stormy Black, Kinda Coral, Sorta Seafoam
  • OnePlus 9: Astral Black, Winter Mist, Arctic Sky

Comparing numbers never tells the whole story, but if you look at the measurements of both the Pixel 6 and OnePlus 9 you’ll notice the two phones are very similar in size. Pixel 6 does measure a tiny bit shorter, but is ever so slightly thicker and wider than the OnePlus. In truth though, there’s nothing in it. What makes a bigger difference to how they feel in the hand is the materials used and the shaping of the sides. 

The actual frame on the OnePlus is a bit slimmer and seems to start rounding off sooner, and that makes it feel a bit more compact.

OnePlus’ phone has a glossy plastic frame versus the matte finished aluminium chassis on the Pixel 6. That gives Google’s phone a slightly more robust but also heavier feel. It’s also coated in Gorilla Glass Victus which is Corning’s most durable glass yet, and more durable than the Gorilla Glass 5 on the OnePlus 9.  

What’s more, Google’s phone has an official IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, whereas Oneplus doesn't. Although, the company does say it should survive splashes and minor contact with water. Just not submersion.

There’s also a big difference in camera design because - let’s face it - the camera module on the Pixel 6 is like nothing else on the market. It stretches across the entire back of the phone, meaning there’s no wobble when you place it on its back on a surface. However, it does protrude quite far, and has a habit of scraping out and collecting bits of fluff from the pocket. 

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On the front, both the phones have a flat screen - which we like - because that makes it easier to type on than a curved display. But there is a different approach to the shape and bezels. Google’s gone with a much tighter right-angled corner internally, giving the screen a much squarer look compared to the rounder corners on the OnePlus. Those - like the frame shape - make it look and feel more compact. 

Display 

  • Pixel 6: 6.4-inch AMOLED - full HD 2400 x 1080 - 20:9 ratio
  • OnePlus 9: 6.55-inch AMOLED - full HD 2400 x 1080 - 20:9 ratio
  • Pixel 6: 90Hz adaptive refresh - HDR10+ support
  • OnePlus 9: 120Hz adaptive refresh - HDR10+ support

Look at the two phone screens side by side and it can be quite difficult to see much in the way of clear difference between them in terms of brightness and sharpness. In fact, they’re very similar. Both are the same fulHD+ resolution after all and both have AMOLED based screens. To our eyes, the peak brightness seemed a little brighter on the OnePlus, in fact, overall the screen is brighter, and that helps lift the darker portions or shadows in video. But in truth, there’s really not a lot in it.

How colours look on the displays depends very much on how you set the calibrations. Each has its own option within the menu to adjust the overall appearance. Switch them both to vivid or boosted mode and colours will pop, with OnePlus slightly going a bit more over the top with the over-saturated look. Switch to ‘natural’ mode and colours become a little more muted on both phones, with the two looking quite similar here. 

In their default modes, with Pixel set to Adaptive and OnePlus set to Vivid, they’re very similar. OnePlus has a tendency to slightly over-egg the colours and contrast, but then OnePlus does have a list of more advanced colour options allowing you to do more to tune the screen to your preference. 

OnePlus’ screen has a higher maximum refresh rate at 120Hz, versus 90Hz, and telling the difference is really quite hard. For movie watching and for most games, there’s no benefit. It’s only in the user interface, scrolling through the app drawer or settings menu you might see any difference, and only then if you look very very closely. 

Because it’s such fine margins, we wouldn’t base our purchasing decision on the display, it’s not a significant enough factor to make a huge amount of difference to your experience. 

The software might be though. Pixel 6 comes loaded with the brand new Android 12, complete with the theming, whimsical widgets and privacy features. OnePlus 9 only has Android 12 in beta, and its version of beta doesn’t have all of those features. What’s more, Pixel 6 will get you 5 years of regular, timely security updates. 

Performance and battery

  • Pixel 6: Google Tensor chip - 5nm - Octa-core
  • OnePlus 9: Snapdragon 888 - 5nm - Octa-core
  • Pixel 6: 8GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage
  • OnePlus 9: 8GB/12GB RAM and 128GB/256GB storage
  • Pixel 6: 4614mAh battery - 30W wired charging - 21W wireless (w/ Pixel Stand)
  • OnePlus 9: 4500mAh battery - 65W Warp Charge - 15W wireless

It’s in performance where we were most interested to compare, if only because Google has built its own custom silicon called Tensor for the Pixel 6. It offers flagship performance, but can it really compare to the Snapdragon 888?                                                                                                                                                                

If you benchmark the two, you’ll find the Snapdragon powered OnePlus will score in around 800 points higher in the multi-core score, but in general every day usage you’ll also spot a few minor differences. When it comes to opening up apps, both load games quickly and once loaded they feel similarly quick. 

One thing we noticed once games were loaded, large download files within those games would download quicker on the OnePlus, using the same Wi-Fi network as the Pixel. It would almost always load the games slightly faster too, but we're talking tiny margins and nothing that will make a significant difference in daily experience. 

Once within the game there’s a slight feeling the OnePlus is ever so slightly more reponsive to gestures than the Pixel, likely down to the faster refresh on the screen. But there’s not enough in this really. What we did notice however was the Pixel does tend to get warm down the left side of the phone whenever it’s undertaking power intensive tasks like gaming, or using the camera for a while. 

Even when it comes to battery life there’s no significant difference between the two phones here. Pixel 6’s 4614mAh capacity is slightly larger than the 4500mAh battery in the OnePlus. Depending on usage, and what you do with the phones, the battery life will differ but in our experience they’re very similar. With typical moderate daily usage - with 2-3 hours of screen time - we'd finish most days with both phones somewhere between 40-50 per cent.      

What does make a difference is charge speeds. Pixel 6 maxes out at 30W wired speeds, where OnePlus has more than double that at 65W and can completely fill the phone in about the same amount of time it takes the Pixel to get halfway. If that doesn’t bother you because you’re a night time charger, both have similar adaptive charging tech that will ensure it charges slowly and is filled up by the time your morning alarm goes off. That way the battery should keep in good health for a longer period of time.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Camera 

  • Pixel 6: 50MP primary camera - f/1.9 - PDAF/OIS/LDAF
  • OnePlus 9: 48MP primary - f/1.8 - PDAF
  • Pixel 6: 12MP ultrawide - f/2.2 
  • OnePlus 9: 50MP ultrawide - f/2.2
  • OnePlus 9: 2MP monochrome 

Moving on to cameras, and another area that’s quite interesting to compare, since both have a dual camera system with a primary and ultrawide sensor. Technically OnePlus has three cameras, but the third is a low resolution monochrome sensor and doesn't take photos on its own. It's just there for data.

For the main camera it’s 50-megapixels on the Pixel vs. 48-megapixels on the OnePlus, and on the ultrawide it’s 12-megapixels on the Pixel and 50-megapixels on the ultrawide. But it’s not in pixel count you’ll really see the difference when pointing and shooting. It’s in the image processing. 

What we’ve found when shooting various images indoors and outdoors, using either camera, is that that we generally prefer the results from the Pixel. Shooting plant life we found that OnePlus would often boost the colours too much and give them an unnatural hyper-real look. Pixel’s was a lot more true to life, and had nicer natural depth of field.

Similarly, we found that in some instances when HDR kicked in - shooting landscapes or seascapes - the OnePlus had this habit of over-egging the contrast, particularly in the ultrawide camera, making colours too dark and not doing well at lifting the shadows and midtones. Unlike Pixel, which seem to deal with any situation well. 

It was a similar situation when using the two phone’s night modes. What we noticed when using them was that the Pixel seemed to automatically leave the shutter open for longer, and of course, its image processing is very advanced, and so - on the whole - it takes better low light photos in this mode too.

Again, it lifted the shadows much more to give a better, more balanced look to the photo rather than OnePlus which would often have very dark shadows, giving the photos a much more contrast-heavy look. And - in situations where there was very little actual light to play with - OnePlus struggled to lift it at all. And can often be seen applying something of a green tint to everything, while Pixel’s defaults to a more warm tone. 

Pixel - unsurprisingly also takes the better selfies, whether you’re in daylight or night time. In the day OnePlus would often struggle with exposure, but also leave the skin looking a bit too soft. 

The one thing OnePlus has up its sleeve is a macro mode that lets you get much closer to a small subject than the Pixel will. 

Price

  • Pixel 6 - from £599
  • OnePlus 9 - from £629

If you look at the full recommended retail prices, the OnePlus 9 comes in slightly more expensive than the Pixel 6. In the UK it's £30 more than the Google phone. 

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However, with the Pixel 6 being new and the OnePlus 9 being not-so-new anymore, you'll likely be able to find the OnePlus phone at a lower price, making it a really good deal if you find a discount. 

Conclusion

One the whole, to me there are only two factors that make a big difference to the experience of using these two phones: Design and the cameras. If you want the best results from the camera with the least amount of effort, the Pixel is the way to go. It also has a more durable build and it has Android 12.

However, the OnePlus 9 has its appeal. It definitely feels more compact and comfortable to use in one hand, and it still has that slightly faster/zippy feel from the higher refresh rate screen and generally feels a bit faster to complete tasks like downloading large files and has faster charging. 

Writing by Cam Bunton.