OnePlus has been making waves since they first stepped onto the smartphone scene.
Delivering fantastic looking devices at a respectable price has managed to build a strong and very loyal following. Yet, even with these fans, it has struggled to make major inroads in the North American market. Now in 2021, they are unleashing their latest OnePlus 9 range of phones, and despite the increased price over last year’s offering, they have managed to deliver a fantastic smartphone that competes with the major players.
OnePlus is no longer the “budget choice” and now feels much more in line with the major flagships, delivering everything a new phone buyer could want. With the blazingly fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, to the 6.7-inch QHD 120Hz display, the OnePlus 9 Pro feels very much like the premium smartphone you have always wanted.
The OnePlus 9 Pro features a huge upgrade in the camera department. OnePlus is placing a strong emphasis on photography with this phone, which includes partnering with legendary camera brand Hasselblad to improve how colours are processed. Although the Hasselblad name feels all about marketing after testing the device, it does show that OnePlus have taken photography seriously, and are making the right moves to deliver a premium smartphone experience that can compete.
Photography-wise, not everyone will love OnePlus, but they have made significant improvements compared to past years. While it does lack in some areas, for people looking for a new phone, the OnePlus 9 Pro does stand toe-to-toe with the latest iPhone 12 or Samsung Galaxy S21, with many of the differences down to personal taste over notably better cameras.
OnePlus have found a look that works and have not strayed far from that concept with this latest offering. If you have owned a smartphone from them in the past 4 years, there are few surprises here. The sleek but simple design feels premium in hand. There is a good weight to it, while having a modern look that taps into what most smartphone makers are focusing on, namely the screen and the camera.
This is not to say that the rest of the phone lacks attention, far from it, the glass front and back feels sleek, with the colour choices of Morning Mist (seen in this review), Forest Green and Stellar Black all giving a unique look that feels very much in line with what OnePlus has done in the past.
On the phone’s metal edges you will find the power button, volume rocker, and the silence slider that makes it easy to silence the OnePlus 9 Pro when you are in a meeting or simply don’t want to be bothered by your phone. This is a feature I love with the OnePlus phones, and feels like one of the few Android makers that implement a simple yet effective hardware solution to mute your phone when needed. As is expected, looking at the bottom of the OnePlus 9 Pro, you will find the speaker grills, the nano Sim tray, and the USB-C charging and data port.
While less prominent compared to past phones, the camera bump on the back of the OnePlus 9 Pro still feels noticeable when not in the case. OnePlus has done a good job making it feel a part of the design, with the Hasselblad logo prominently displayed along with the quad camera setup.
As we have seen in most of the past OnePlus range, the display is one area the brand does not skim on premium features. Offering a 6.7-inch QHD screen with a resolution of 1440 x 3216 – or 525 pixels per inch, this is one of the more beautiful screens on a smartphone. The AMOLED boasts a vibrant look that is not only vivid but true to life in colour reproduction and clarity.
The brightness feels good overall, with the auto brightness mode working in most cases. As with any auto mode, there were situations where it needed to be turned off to get the best viewing experience. The feature never got in the way of using the device and felt overall tuned to get the best viewing experience while not destroying the battery.
As with past Pro models, the screen offers a 120Hz display, making things feel smoother when scrolling or during any media experience. As with other top end Android phones, the screen is adaptive, so will ramp down when doing static viewing, and up while gaming or doing other media heavy applications. This is great for battery optimization, and overall works well to deliver the best experience possible.
Rounding things off, the in-screen fingerprint sensor works well, and was fast enough to not cause any noticeable issues. It still feels a bit slower than alternative methods of unlocking (even by half a second) but for most people it will work without issue and allows for a sleek, full screen experience that we expect from a 2021 smartphone.
OnePlus has been steadily improving their camera game, and with the OnePlus 9 Pro they are looking to give all other makers a run for their money. Now in partnership with Hasselblad, everything about the camera feels improved year over year. While I don’t feel it is the best camera on a smartphone, it is getting pretty close, so you can feel confident when you pick up this phone to record your special memories.
The main rear shooter on the OnePlus 9 Pro is a 48MP Sony IMX789 sensor that feels fantastic overall. They also have a 50MP ultra-wide camera that uses a Sony IMX766 sensor, along with an 8MP telephoto shooter that can shoot at up to 3x optical zoom. The final 2MP monochrome camera is present to allow any black and white photographers to capture much more detailed monochrome images.
The main 48MP shooter feels like it has received much more attention than past cameras, delivering vibrant, true to life images that could rival any other smartphone maker. The images feel remarkably close to what the iPhone delivers, and feels much less processed compared to many other Android offerings. With the OnePlus 9 Pro working even in automatic mode, managing some fantastic images with little to no stress on the part of the user makes the device competitive with other models.
Thankfully, there are plenty of adjustments that can be made should you wish to go down that route, with the camera app feeling robust while easy to use. It has received minor adjustments’ year to year, but the settings are easy, and the results feel good for most situations.
The ultra-wide camera that can be flipped on with the push of a virtual button feels equally good, giving a wide and detail rich image. Also, thanks to distortion-correction technology, even at the edges of the wide photos, you should see little issue with the image, giving much more successful images. In testing, we felt the ‘barrel’ distortion was far less than compared to competing ultra-wide options, and looked overall fantastic for a smartphone offering.
The 8MP telephoto offers an acceptable 3x optical zoom, or a 30X digital zoom that I would suggest avoiding when possible. I will be blunt and say I have found very limited use cases for the telephoto lens on a smartphone, I know many people enjoy it, I am just not one of these people. Thankfully it does the job and does not take away from the other cameras. It is here for those who want it, but thankfully does not get in the way when you just want to snap a photo while enjoying nature or your local neighbourhood.
As it is 2021, there is the option to shoot video at up to 8K/30, and this works as one would expect. This will eat up storage space as if it is going out of style, so be careful to use it sparingly. Thankfully it also offers a range of recording options that are much more useful in today’s media landscape, including 4K at 30, 60 or even 120fps. It even allows for slow-mo video with it allowing 720p at 480fps or even 1080P at 240fps. These feel very in line with all the other flagship smartphone cameras currently available.
The main sensor offers both optical and electronic image stabilization to ensure any video shot feels as smooth as possible. Thanks to the quality of the sensor, you should be very happy with the resulting video should you decide to use your new OnePlus 9 Pro for any videography work.
The OnePlus 9 also has the obligatory selfie camera, offering a 16MP Sony IMX741 sensor with a f/2.4 aperture that delivers satisfactory results. This is far from the best front facing camera we have used, and while not bad, just feels lacking when compared to the other sensors within the phone. It should be more than enough for Instagram or Twitter, but I may avoid trying to print out any of the shots you take.
Performance and Battery
This being 2021, the OnePlus 9 Pro comes with the latest and greatest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 Soc, that delivers fantastic performance and speed for all modern tasks. Paired with the 12GB RAM in our review unit, we never saw the device slowdown or stutter no matter the tasks we threw at it. The OnePlus 9 Pro also features 5G connectivity should your provider support it to deliver faster, more reliable speeds, and ensures it is future proof should network situations change in the future.
With GeekBench giving it a multi-core score of 3650, it looks good compared to other flagship Android phones on the market like the Samsung S21 Ultra. It is no wonder the OnePlus 9 Pro fared so well in all our gaming tests, with it delivering great performance in Fortnite, Call of Duty Mobile, Genshin Impact, and even Mortal Kombat. From fast loading to smooth 120Hz visuals and gameplay, the OnePlus 9 Pro feels like a phone made with gamers in mind. The only phone I have seen that feels more in tune with gaming would be the most recent Asus ROG phone.
Running the latest Android 11 out of the box, the phone feels free from bloat and unnecessary software. The OxygenOS feels close to stock android, while offering a few nice features that are well-thought-out while not overbearing. It feels fast, smooth and overall great to use.
With all that power, it is good the OnePlus 9 Pro has a hefty 4500mAh battery that should last most people though the day. Throughout testing, I never had issue making it to the nightstand before needing to plug the phone in, with it sitting at 15% by around 10PM most days, after starting at 7AM.
Thankfully, even if you should need to top-up the device midway through the day, the 65-watt wired charging makes it easy and painless. If that were not enough, OnePlus also offers 50-watt wireless charging — some of the highest rated of this tech we have tested. It also includes a charger in the box, unlike many other smartphone makers in 2021.
It is without question that OnePlus has taken time to deliver one of the best phones we have seen from the company. It is fast, offers all the features you expect from a flagship, and it finally feels like you are not compromising. The Camera delivers results that are comparable to most other brands, and while the Hasselblad name feels more like a gimmick at present, it does speak of potential moving forward. If you are in the market for a flagship smartphone, you cannot go wrong with the OnePlus 9 Pro.