There’s no question that the OnePlus 9 Pro is the best phone OnePlus has ever made, but that doesn’t mean it’s the one you should buy. The standardwith its much more appealing price might actually be the right OnePlus for you. But there’s a lot I really like about the 9 Pro, and there are some great reasons to be excited for it.
It looks beautiful, for one thing, with a classy design that I think would appeal as much to shirt and tie-wearing business types as it would to plaid-wearing microbrewery owners. Mix in a powerful processor, a great screen and an immensely fast charging ability and you’ve got yourself a great all-round flagship.
to help bolster its photography skills. It’s a smart move, as OnePlus phones, while good, haven’t been known for their photography prowess. Has that changed? In a word, no.
In addition to its two new phones, OnePlus has also introduced the, which goes up for preorder on April 14.
- Beautiful, classy design
- Vibrant, pin-sharp display
- Masses of processing power
- Exceptionally fast charging
- No expandable storage
- Battery life could be better.
- Cameras don’t hit the high water mark that other features do
There’s no question that the phone can take excellent images in its standard camera mode with its wide, ultrawide and telephoto lenses. It’s great at night, too and can shoot lovely video in up to 8K resolution. But OnePlus has made a big fuss over its Pro mode, and after spending some time with it, I’m not particularly impressed.
Sure, it can take raw images in 12-bit (which in theory offers better dynamic range) but Pro mode doesn’t use all the lenses, and there’s no kind of computational raw features such as we’ve seen from. It’s a great camera all around and certainly a step forward for OnePlus, but both Apple and Samsung have taken bigger steps forward with their cameras recently and the 9 Pro isn’t quite up there with them.
But unless your goal is to get the absolute best of the best in phone cameras then that shouldn’t put you off — the OnePlus 9 Pro is a beautiful phone that ticks almost every box we’d expect of a flagship in 2021.
Better yet, it does this while also slightly undercutting its rivals on price, too. In the US the base model of the phone (with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage) will cost $969, putting it slightly below the $1,099 required for the baseor the $1,199 you’ll have to shell out for the . In the UK it’ll cost £829, which converts to about AU$1,490.
Currently only a premium model with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage is. Costing $1,069, it ships March 26 and includes the OnePlus Buds Z Steven Harrington Edition as a bonus.
If camera skills are your top priority, it’s still worth looking towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra with its amazing zoom abilities. If you’re not entrenched in the Android ecosystem, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers the best camera experience you can find on a phone.
OnePlus 9 Pro or OnePlus 9?
The 9 Pro is joined by a smaller sibling, the OnePlus 9, which has a slightly smaller display with a lower resolution and a small reduction in its camera specs. It too can take great photos though and it’s rocking the same Snapdragon 888 processor so there’s no step down in the performance stakes.
I found battery life to be better in the standard OnePlus 9, it also has 5G connectivity for super fast data speeds, and it comes with a lower price of $829 (£629). The cheaper OnePlus 9 offers a hell of a lot for a more reasonable price and is likely the better option for the majority of people.
An elegant design
The overall design of the 9 Pro isn’t far removed from previous OnePlus phones. The camera unit is in the same spot on the top left, and it’s still made of glass and metal like most top-end phones. But the various tweaks that have been made have gone a long way to creating one of the classiest-looking handsets around. The Morning Mist variant I reviewed blends from a mirrored silver into a frosted gray, which together with the metal edging around the camera units and the shiny Hasselblad logo results in an elegant aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in a fancy bar or in a business meeting.
The glossy surface is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, so expect to give it a good polish before showing it off. It feels comfortable and reassuringly solid to hold and that glossy back is made from toughened, which will hopefully keep it looking good after a tumble or two. That said, the more careless among you should consider a protective case. It’s IP68 rated though, which will keep it safe from spilled drinks, from taking calls in the rain, or even an accidental plunge in the toilet bowl (we’ve all been there, right?).
The power button sits on the right side of the phone and is in easy thumb reach for me (I’m right-handed) with the vibrate/ring toggle slider above it and the volume buttons sitting on the left side. There’s no 3.5mm headphone jack (but we didn’t expect one), so your headphones will connect either via Bluetooth or through the USB-C port on the bottom of the phone.
The Hasselblad camera
The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the shiny Hasselblad logo sitting on the camera unit. Hasselblad, if you’re unfamiliar, is a camera company that is better known for its high-end professional cameras. That bodes well for OnePlus, as its cameras have generally been good but haven’t stood out above the competition.
However, while the OnePlus 9 Pro packs the best camera that OnePlus has put into a phone, it’s not the best camera phone around. You can read my more, along with more example images, but I’ve summarized my findings below if you’re pushed for time before pizza arrives.
The 9 Pro comes with four camera lenses on the back, made up of a 48-megapixel main camera, a 50-megapixel ultra-wide camera, an 8-megapixel telephoto camera (providing 3.3x optical zoom) and a 2-megapixel monochrome camera. The main camera uses a sensor that is physically larger than what you’d find on most phone cameras — the iPhone 12 Pro Max and Galaxy S21 Ultra included. In theory, a larger sensor can capture more light with less noise.
In the standard auto camera mode, I’m generally very impressed with the shots the phone can achieve. It’s great at balancing exposure between bright skies and shadowy foregrounds and images are packed with detail. Colors — thanks to the color calibration from Hasselblad — look excellent.
While there’s little difference in quality between the standard and ultra-wide modes, there is often a noticeable shift in white balance, which can be frustrating. The 8-megapixel telephoto lens provides 3.3x optical zoom which is enough to help you get that bit closer up on your subject and the results are generally good. However if zoom is a priority for you then you should look instead towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra which absolutely blew me away with the quality of its images from its whopping 10x optical zoom.
The OnePlus 9 Pro can take some really gorgeous images and it’s definitely a step forward for OnePlus in the camera game. But rivals like Apple and Samsung have taken even bigger steps forward with their photography recently, and OnePlus is again playing catch-up.
It can shoot video up to a huge 8K resolution, which is arguably a bit of a novelty (as well as bragging rights) as it’s a bit overkill on a phone. Sure, you have a bit of room to crop into your video should you want to, but bear in mind that just one minute of 8K video is a 1GB in size, so it’s probably best to scale it back to 4K for the most part.
Luckily then, 4K footage looks great, with excellent stabilizing and much the same spot-on handling of exposure and color seen in still images. The 16-megapixel front-facing camera captures vibrant and sharp selfies and uses much the same HDR techniques to make sure that your face is well lit and your background isn’t completely over exposed.
Packed with power
The 9 Pro runs the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, and my review model comes with 12GB of RAM, although some regional variants may only have 8GB. Needless to say, it’s stuffed with way more power than you’ll really need. Raw photo editing in Adobe Lightroom and Snapseed was handled with no issues, while demanding gaming in Asphalt 9: Legends was a breeze, even with the graphics settings cranked to high.
Of course that means that it’ll blitz through your everyday essential emailing, WhatsApping, Spotifying and whatnot without breaking a sweat. Navigating around the Android 11 interface is buttery-smooth too, with no stuttering or lag when opening apps or flicking between recently used apps in the multitasking panel.
It runs the latest Android 11 software, over which OnePlus has slapped its Oxygen OS software. I actually like OnePlus’s tweaks. The interface is neat and easy to read and doesn’t preload the phone with a bunch of useless apps that you inevitably either uninstall or hide in a folder somewhere. Longer term, I find that this light touch approach to software skinning means OnePlus phones age quite well and feel zippy and responsive for longer.
My review model came with 256GB of storage, which is the maximum OnePlus offers. The other variant offers 128GB, also a fair amount, but bear in mind the phone does not support expandable storage with microSD cards. Given that the phone can shoot 8K video — and only one minute of 8K video takes up 1GB — I’d hope to see either expandable storage or more generous storage options.
A big, bold display
The 6.7-inch screen has a maximum resolution of 1,440×3,216 pixels, which gives a pixel density of 525 pixels per inch. In more real terms, that means it’s absolutely pin sharp, with fine text being clearly readable and high resolution images look stunning.
Colors are superb, too, being vibrant and punchy but not to the level of looking unnatural or overly saturated. That’s always a fine balance to tread, and I think OnePlus has done well to find a happy medium that will please those of you wanting to enjoy colorful games or videos, while also ensuring that the photographers among you appreciate the realism in your images.
There are various display options which allow you to use a lower resolution (which saves on battery) or to adjust the colors if you don’t like the defaults. Personally, I enjoy the Vivid rather than Natural color profile and for the most part keep the resolution at its max. It also has a 120Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling, but it’s adaptive, meaning that it only uses the higher refresh rate when it’s needed — during gaming, for example — but uses lower refresh rates at other times to be more power efficient overall.
The screen itself is protected by Gorilla Glass 5 (much like the back panel) and comes with a screen protector already installed. Personally, I’d recommend keeping this on, particularly if you tend to keep your phone in the same pocket as your keys — those tiny scratches will all add up over time but a protector just keeps things looking fresh.
Battery life and fast charging
The 9 Pro uses a 4,500-mAh battery which put up a fair fight on some of my early tests. After one hour of streaming full HD video on YouTube with the screen at max brightness, the battery level had dropped from full to 90% remaining and after a second hour had dropped to 79%. By comparison, the base OnePlus 9 dropped to only 88% after two hours of streaming, while the S21 Ultra had dropped to 87%.
The base OnePlus 9 does have a slightly smaller and lower-resolution display however, which as a result is less-demanding of the battery. On our full rundown tests the OnePlus 9 Pro lasted around 15 hours, while both the OnePlus 9 and S21 Ultra achieved around 23 hours. You can help battery life on the Pro by reducing the screen resolution in the settings (I can’t tell the difference in quality, though you may have better eyes than I do) and setting the refresh rate to 60Hz.
Of course, the usual tactics of keeping the screen brightness down and avoiding playing demanding games will go a long way to help in squeezing out every last drop of power. That being said, I expect the phone will be able to put up with a full day of mixed use.
And if you do find yourself needing a quick top-up later in the afternoon then you’ll be pleased to know that it supports 65-watt fast charging, which will take the phone from 1% to full in just 29 minutes. You will need a OnePlus 65W charger to get the best charging speeds (a generic 65-watt charger won’t be quite as fast) but thankfully OnePlus puts one in the box as standard.
It also offers 50-watt wireless charging, which will take the phone from empty to full in 43 minutes. It will need OnePlus’s own wireless charger to do it, but that doesn’t come included.
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