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OnePlus 9 Pro Review: Excellence In Almost Every Way

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The OnePlus 9 Pro takes its place as one of the best smartphones on the planet.

OnePlus 9 Pro
$969
Rating
star star star star star
Pros
  • Truly excellent display, in every way
  • Stellar performance
  • Incredible fast wired & wireless charging
  • Good build quality
  • Solid stereo speakers & audio performance
  • OxygenOS is as good as ever
  • Tactile buttons
  • Camera bump isn't huge
  • Great fingerprint scanner
  • Charger included (yes, that's a win these days)
Cons
  • Camera performance should be better
  • No microSD card slot
  • Battery life is good, but not great

OnePlus supplied us with a review unit of the OnePlus 9 Pro, but didn’t have a say in our opinion, nor did they see this review before you. We’ve been using the device for over a week before forming an opinion.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the latest premium offering from OnePlus. This handset is supposed to be an improvement over the OnePlus 8 Pro, and it is, in almost every way. The company has been making huge steps towards becoming a premium smartphone brand, and the OnePlus 9 Pro marks yet another step in the right direction. The phone does have its shortcomings, the same as every smartphone, but my experience while using it was great. So, we’re looking at positives, for the most part.

In this review, we’ll try to help you decide whether the OnePlus 9 Pro is worth your hard-earned cash. The phone is not cheap, after all, as it starts at $969, which is $30 more than what the OnePlus 8 Pro cost at launch. Still, there are some notable improvements here, and that Hasselblad branding to go with everything. Does the OnePlus 9 Pro meet our expectations? Well, let’s find out together.

The OnePlus 9 Pro looks great, feels solid in the hand, and it’s not too heavy

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The OnePlus 9 Pro both looks and feels premium. If you’ve used one of the company’s previous flagships, especially the OnePlus 7 Pro or 8 Pro, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. The phone is made out of metal and glass, and it feels quite bulky. Truth be said, it’s not too heavy, it’s in line with today’s flagship smartphones. The phone weighs 197 grams, which means that it’s considerably lighter than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max, which rival it in terms of display size. It’s good that OnePlus managed to keep the weight under 200 grams, as the phone does feel bulky, but not too heavy.

Our model does pick up fingerprints like crazy, but there are options

Having said that, the weight distribution is good. It may not be perfectly balanced, as it has those large camera sensors in the upper portion of its body, but it’s not something you’ll notice while using, nor is it something that’ll bother you. The phone is quite slippery, so that’s something you should note, while you should also be careful as to what variant you get. I’ve reviewed the “Morning Mist” model, and it attracts fingerprints like crazy. This is a glossy variant of the phone, so that’s why. Luckily, you have other options, if that’s something that’ll bother you.

It is quite slippery, as expected

As already mentioned, the phone is quite slippery, so using a case may be a good idea. One does come included in the box, a rubber one, which is quite nice, actually. It’s not too bulky, and yet it does provide enough protection. The camera setup on the back of the phone does look quite good, and doesn’t protrude on the back too much. The phone feels comfortable to hold, and use, though do keep in mind it’s quite large, and not exactly light.

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A display camera hole sits in the top-left corner, and it’s not too distracting. It’s not too big, and chances are you won’t even notice it after a short period of using this phone. The phone does include two stereo speakers, and a Type-C USB port at the bottom. A 3.5mm headphone jack is not included, but it does have an alert slider on the right side, and that’s something OnePlus users are used to. The alert slider is comfortable to use, even though it’s a bit more rigid than the one on the OnePlus 8T. All in all, OnePlus did a good job with the design here, it did exactly what everyone expected. The phone is well built, and it looks exactly like you’d expect a 2021 Android flagship to look.

This is one of the best displays in the market

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The OnePlus 9 Pro features one of the best displays in the business, without a doubt. The phone comes with a 6.7-inch QHD+ (3216 x 1440) AMOLED display. The company refers to this display as “Fluid Display 2.0”, as it’s a step up from the last-gen model. This is an LTPO display, which essentially means it offers an adaptive refresh rate (1-120Hz). That, in theory, should make it much less of a power drain, and enable companies to do more interesting things with ambient displays. This display gets quite bright, up to 1,300 nits, and it does support MEMC, and HDR10+ content. We still don’t know what version of Gorilla Glass is applied on top of it, but it’s well-protected. On top of everything, it’s worth noting this panel is curved, but less curved than the OnePlus 8 Pro’s display.

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The display is vibrant, well-calibrated, and razor-sharp

It sounds great on paper, doesn’t it? Well, it’s great in practice too. This display is vibrant, well-calibrated, and it offers great viewing angles. Blacks are pitch black, and the resolution is more than high enough for everything to be razor-sharp. This panel can easily go head-to-head with the competition, such as the panel included on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. In fact, I’d say it’s in the top three displays on smartphones at this moment. No matter if you’re scrolling the web, reading, or watching some HD content on it, it’ll look great, and will get more than bright enough outdoors as well.

Thanks to its 120Hz refresh rate, scrolling is a joy, and this panel also offers an extremely high touch sampling rate as well, up to 480Hz. The most important thing is calibration when it comes to refresh rates and touch sampling rates, and OnePlus did a great job here. This display is extremely responsive, registers every touch instantly, and it’s really difficult to describe how much I enjoyed using it. It’s great for gaming as well, of course. Compared to the OnePlus 8T, I felt much more at home using this panel, mainly due to the calibration of refresh rate and touch sampling rate. So, all in all, I really don’t have any complaints about this display. I don’t even mind the fact it’s curved, though some of you may have something against that.

The performance is stellar in every way

If you’ve ever used one of OnePlus’ flagships, you’re probably expecting excellent performance. Well, that’s exactly what you’ll get with the OnePlus 9 Pro. OnePlus really didn’t spare any expense when it comes to using the latest and greatest hardware for this phone. The device not only comes with the Snapdragon 888 SoC, but it also packs LPDDR5 RAM, and UFS 3.1 flash storage. OnePlus’ OxygenOS Android skin makes those components work great one with the other, and thus provide excellent performance on our end.

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This phone is great for gaming

The OnePlus 9 Pro is as smooth as a smartphone can get these days, pretty much. I’ve noticed no lag, hiccups, or anything of the sort while using this smartphone. I haven’t even noticed any issues while playing Call Of Duty: Mobile, or several other games I’ve tried out during the review period. Apps open extremely fast, and you can also multitask really fast. If you’re a power user, chances are you’ll like this phone. OnePlus’ smartphones are really good when it comes to aging as well, at least as far as the performance is concerned, so chances are this phone will stay fast for quite some time. All in all, I don’t have any complaints when it comes to performance, though that was to be expected, as the same happened with the company’s previous flagships I’ve used and reviewed.

Call quality is great

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If you’re worried about call quality here, don’t be. Every single person I’ve talked about sounded good on my end, and when asked, they reported the same on their end. This phone comes with a good earpiece, and HD calling is also a possibility. The loudspeaker is also great if you end up needing it while in the call. There’s really nothing to complain about here when it comes to call quality.

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The battery life is good, though not great

After praising the device in the display and performance sections, well, I won’t do the same when it comes to its battery life. Why? Well, it’s a downgrade compared to both the OnePlus 8 Pro and OnePlus 8T. At least that was the case during my use cycle, and with my usage habits. You can always get different results, of course. Just to be transparent, my day starts at 7 AM, and ends around 1 AM the next day. I am a power user, and my phone’s display is usually on between 5 and 7 hours each day, sometimes even longer.

That being said, I really enjoyed pretty much every other OnePlus smartphone I’ve used through the years, when it comes to battery life. The same was the case with the OnePlus 9 Pro, but I didn’t feel as comfortable with its battery life, as I did with the OnePlus 8 Pro’s and 8T’s, for example. This phone was well below 20-percent charge at around 5-5:30 hours of screen-on-time for me, most of time. So, getting to 6 hours of screen-on-time shouldn’t be a problem, but don’t expect much more than that. With the OnePlus 8T, which is the most recent comparison in my memory, getting over 7 hours of screen-on-time was easily possible.

OnePlus could improve battery life further via updates

So, what’s going on here? Shouldn’t the LTPO display and more power-efficient SoC counter the display resolution this phone brings. Well, technically, yeah, it probably should, despite the fact this handset comes with almost the same battery capacity as the OnePlus 8T. The thing is, OnePlus could improve battery life via updates in the near future. That wouldn’t be the first time OnePlus did that. The company is known to drastically improve battery life via updates. So, this handset may get on the same level as the OnePlus 8 Pro and 8T, but at the moment, that’s not the case.

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Charging is blazing fast, both wired & wireless

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When it comes to charging, though, it shines. The OnePlus 9 Pro is equipped with Warp Charge 65T fast charging. Which is essentially the company’s 65W fast wired charging. On top of that, it supports 50W fast wireless charging, with the company’s proprietary charger. So, how fast is this charging, in practice? Well, OnePlus said that its wired charging can fully charge the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro in 29 minutes. Its wireless charging, on the other hand, can fully charge the OnePlus 9 Pro in 43 minutes. During our testing, we got really similar results. I never charged the OnePlus 9 Pro from 0-percent charge, though. Chances are these numbers are spot on, though. Even if you forget to charge your phone, charging it for a short period of time via OnePlus’ chargers will solve the problem. Heating was not an issue either, though the phone did get quite warm afterwards. Not hot, though.

The OnePlus 9 Pro cameras have a lot of potential, but improvements are needed

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OnePlus has been hyping up the OnePlus 9 series camera setups weeks before the launch event, right after it announced its partnership with Hasselblad. The company succeeded in its hype goal, and consumers were expecting excellent results. Did OnePlus succeed? Well, based on the software that is currently running on the phone… I have to say I’m a bit disappointed. It is worth noting that the OnePlus 8 Pro camera setup became great after several updates from the company last year, so it’s quite possible the same will happen with the OnePlus 9 Pro. At the moment, though, I can only talk about what’s going on currently. Do note that I’ve tested these cameras before and after the launch day update. Mostly before, but I did take quite a few shots after it as well. That update did make some significant improvements, so another one like that, and these cameras have the potential to be great.

The camera performance is not as consistent as it should be

The OnePlus 9 Pro has five cameras, four on the back, and one on the front. OnePlus is actually using excellent camera hardware here, and in combination with Hasselblad’s color science, the results should be excellent. Well, the pictures are good, but can’t compete with the best out there, at least not consistently. We do hope that will change, though, as this phone is bursting with camera potential. Having said that, let’s see what you’ll get here.

OnePlus is actually utilizing a custom main camera sensor provided by Sony, the IMX789. That is a great 48-megapixel sensor, that can provide 12-megapixel images with large pixels. It also comes with an f/1.8 aperture 7P lens. For the ultra-wide camera, things are even more interesting. OnePlus is utilizing Sony’s IMX766 sensor with a Freeform Lens. This is a 50-megapixel camera with a 7P lens, and the sensor is also quite large, as you can see.

Sharpness & darker areas are a problem… sometimes

What are the results? Well, if you take a look at the gallery provided below, you’ll see that the phone generally does a good job under good lighting. The pictures end up detailed, and sharp, most of the time. The thing is, the phone is not as consistent as it should be. Sometimes it tends to blur out parts of an image randomly, and it also tends to crush black parts of an image. Therefore, images tend to lack details in the shadows. The colors are good, and yet not oversaturated. A scene that has plenty of red tints in it looks great, to be quite honest. Perhaps this is a touch of Hasselblad that OnePlus has been hyping up so much.

Nightscape does a good job in low light

In low light, the phone does a good job, but once again, not consistently, as it does a great job three out of four times. That is something you’ll notice in the camera samples offered below. You will want to use the Nightscape mode for low-light scenes, though, as such images won’t look especially good in auto mode. In fact, they’ll look pretty bad if you don’t reach for Nightscape. When you fire up Nightscape, the phone manages to get a lot of light into the scene, and generally does a good job balancing an image. Still, on occasion, it will blow up the highlights too much, and blur up the scene. It could also do a better job capturing details in low-light conditions.

Shooting fast-moving subjects is a problem

So, if you’re taking a picture of something that’s moving, your kid, your dog… whatever subject that can’t hold still. Well, when you tap the shutter button, a small preview will appear in the top-right corner (in landscape), but it’s deciving. That preview won’t exactly show you the image you took, as when you tap on it, it’ll show you something else entirely. There’s a tiny shutter delay which is more than enough to mess you up, as you’ll press the shutter button in the wrong time. You can counter this, be tapping it earlier, but… you shouldn’t have to do that, needless to say. This can be fixed with an update as well, but at the moment, it’s an issue.

The ultra-wide camera performance is actually really good

The ultra-wide camera performance is excellent, actually. Images from that camera are a bit less saturated, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The warping on the sides that you’d usually see on ultra-wide cameras is not present here, at least not as much. That’s the benefit of a Freeform Lens. That camera does a really good job in good lighting, while it doesn’t fall apart in low light, not at all. That’s not something we can say for a lot of ultra-wide cameras. Do note that you’ll want to use Nightscape in low light mode as well.

Macro photography is something you’ll love doing with the OnePlus 9 Pro

Macro photography is where the OnePlus 9 Pro shines, well, along with ultra-wide photography. Its ultra-wide camera is used to capture macro photos, and those turned out great in my testing, as you can see in the gallery provided below. You can get quite closer to your subject without the phone losing focus. If you utilize touch to focus, you can get even more control. The colors are also great in such photos. All in all, I enjoyed macro photography the most with this phone.

OnePlus 9 Pro macro camera samples

Video recording is also quite good, though you should stick to 4K

If you shoot a lot of videos on your phones, you’ll be glad to know that the OnePlus 9 Pro does a really good job in that regard. The phone can capture 4K video at up to 120 FPS, while it can also shoot 8K at 30 FPS. You also get access to a really capable slow-motion mode. I’d recommend you to stick with shooting 4K videos, as I enjoyed results from 4K at 60 FPS the most. The footage was excellent. It was well-stabilized, there was no warping present, at least not something that should bother you, while the footage was crisp and clear.

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We’ll also touch upon the front-facing camera for a second. This sensor is quite dated at this point, and it shows. Images taken with the selfie camera are far from impressive, as there are way better solutions for selfies out there. It will do the job, but the colors do end up muted, details are lacking, and shooting selfies in low light is not a great experience. Let’s hope OnePlus will include a better sensor for the selfie camera next time around.

OnePlus 9 Pro camera samples

The audio is good, and chances are you won’t have many complaints

I’m not an audiophile, far from it, but I enjoyed what this phone had to offer in terms of sound. FLAC support is here, while the phone comes with Bluetooth 5.2, with both aptX and aptX HD included. On top of that, Sony’s LDAC tech is included, while the device can handle up to 24-bit/96kHz bitrates. Stereo speakers are also included, and they’re actually quite good, not to mention that Dolby Atmos support is also a part of the package. Sounds good on paper, doesn’t it?

The sound that these speakers (and phone in general) offer is really loud and crisp, even though you won’t get a lot of bass. The speakers can get really loud, and you may notice some distortion at the very highest of volumes. It would be nice to hear more details in bass guitars, though, at least based on what I’ve noticed. Still, that’s not something that regular users will notice or care about. These speakers are really good, and punchy, and tick all the checkboxes, basically. It is worth noting that a 3.5mm headphone jack is not included on the phone, so you’ll either have to utilize a wired connection via a dongle, or connect your headphones via Bluetooth.

OxygenOS is still one of the main reasons to get a OnePlus phone

OxygenOS is usually one of the main reasons people buy OnePlus’ smartphones. When it comes to the OnePlus 9 series, it may be yet again, as it’s better than ever. OnePlus did not bring any new earth-shattering features here, as OxygenOS 11 rolled out to several devices before launching with the OnePlus 9 series. Many of you know what to expect here, for those that don’t, well, let’s talk about it for a bit.

OnePlus did a great job when it comes to optimizing OxygenOS

OxygenOS is OnePlus’ very own skin for Android, in this case, Android 11 comes with OxygenOS 11. OnePlus’ OxygenOS 11 comes with its own set of features, and it has a distinctive design. This skin won’t bog the phone down, quite the contrary, OnePlus did a great job optimizing it yet again, and it’s as fluid as it gets. OxygenOS works in collaboration with powerful specs that the company included here, and it offers a truly smooth experience, through and through.

New features are here to compliment older ones

You’ll get features such as an automatic dark mode setting, which can be activated based on time of day, sunset / sunrise, etc. The company also did some work on the ambient display to take better advantage of the OnePlus 9 Pro’s LTPO display. That is the first OnePlus smartphone with such a display, and its adaptive refresh rate allowed OnePlus to improve the ambient display clock, and the general functionality of the ambient display.

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OxygenOS is also really good for one-handed usage, but it could be better with the addition of one-hand mode. Its menus are similar to those that you’ll find in One UI from Samsung, as most of the content is moved further down to be accessible to you if you’re using your phone with one hand. The OnePlus 9 Pro is a large device, so such features are always appreciated. OnePlus will hopefully bring forward one-handed mode soon as well.

There are a lot of gesture-related features that you can activate

Some older features are making a comeback here, and are just as useful as they were before. You can, for example, enable some gestures here. You can swipe with three fingers across the screen to take a screenshot. Speaking of which, you can take scrolling screenshots, and OnePlus’ image editor is also quite useful. You can enable gestures for writing various letters on the display. For example, you can set your phone’s flashlight to activate with the “O” gesture. When the phone’s display is turned off, you can simply draw an “O” with your finger on it, and your flashlight will activate.

These are only some examples, as OxygenOS is packed with features, mostly older ones, but some new ones are here as well. Most of the work was done under the hood this time around, though. One thing is for sure, OxygenOS is still excellent.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a great phone with a lot of competitors out there

So, many of you are wondering whether the OnePlus 9 Pro is worth getting. Its price tag is almost $1,000, for the base model, which is a lot of money. On top of that, there’s plenty of competition out there. Well, the OnePlus 9 Pro is excellent in almost every way. The cameras could use some work, and they’ll probably get better soon. Even the very first launch day update improved them significantly, so if OnePlus keeps up the pace, it could actually have a great camera system on its hands. That’s something they should have done from the get-go, though, as the camera hardware is great.

With some camera improvements, this phone would be really easy to recommend

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Now, if you do believe that OnePlus will do the same thing as last year, and keep improving the cameras here, well, the OnePlus 9 Pro is extremely easy to recommend, even at its high price tag. If you don’t believe that will happen, well, there are some alternatives out there. Do note that this phone does excel in almost every way, though. It has one of the best displays in the market, the performance is stellar, the battery life is good, while the phone offers one of the most compelling wired and wireless charging offerings in the market. On top of all that, it’s not too heavy, it’s water and dust resistant, and so on. The OnePlus 9 Pro is definitely worth buying, but the choice is up to you. The Galaxy S21 Ultra is a strong competitor, though it’s considerably pricier. Apple also offers some compelling phones close to this price tag, as do several other companies.

Buy the OnePlus 9 Pro