OnePlus 9 Pro – Design and Features
The OnePlus 9 Pro looks strikingly like an old friend, the Galaxy S20. Its metal frame pulls off the same sort of trick, going thick at the top and bottom while tapering to a thin line along the sides to accommodate the curved edges of the front and back glass. It’s a shape that looks sleek but manages to feel less robust in the hand, and isn’t too hard to hold onto either.This model comes in three colors – Morning Mist, Forest Green, and Stellar Black – with availability depending on the retailer. I tested the Morning Mist version, which has a mirror finish on the back with a cloudy effect toward the top. Honestly, it just makes the phone look kind of dirty, like the upper half is smudged. Fortunately about a third of that smudged area is covered by the elegant camera bump, which feels like it barely protrudes from the back in spite of its two pairs of large and small sensors. It’s a relief after the gigantic camera bumps of its competitors.
OnePlus has kept to a familiar button layout, with power and volume buttons accompanied by the convenient alert slider. The volume buttons sit opposite the power button, making a screenshot as simple as quick squeeze.
Despite positioning a 6.7-inch display front and center, notably the same diagonal as the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s display, the OnePlus 9 Pro is more grip friendly by going taller instead of wider to accommodate that extra large screen.
That screen is one of the stars of the show, as it’s positioned to be about one of the most impressive on a smartphone right now. It’s a hair smaller than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s display, but it’s actually sharper at 3,216 x 1,440 resolution while supporting the same HDR10+ capabilities alongside a 1,300-nit peak brightness that’s plenty for daytime viewing.
OnePlus has used a 10-bit AMOLED panel here with support for an adaptive refresh rate from 1Hz for lower power usage up to 120Hz for extra smooth scrolling and animations. Despite all its packing in, the OnePlus 9 Pro actually manages to trim its weight, coming in at 197 grams, compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 229 grams and iPhone 12 Pro’s 227 grams.
I couldn’t find an area where it seems like OnePlus skimped on features to cut the price here. There are stereo speakers, a USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 port (which could be faster, but could also be a lot slower), an IP68 rating, and a faster-performing, under-display fingerprint scanner. Plus, the OnePlus 9 Pro wins at charging with support for wireless chargers including the Warp Charge 65T and Warp Charge 50 Wireless, breezing past most other phones in terms of charging speed. It also features reverse wireless charging, and even does something neither Apple nor Samsung did with their latest flagships: It includes its high-speed charging brick in the retail box, ensuring customers will be able to enjoy the phone’s high charging speeds.
OnePlus’s support of 5G is a curious matter for now. The OnePlus 9 Pro supports a ton of bands for 5G connectivity from Sub-6 up to mmWave, though at the time of writing has only confirmed full support for T-Mobile’s 5G network. The phone will only support 4G on AT&T’s network, and 5G support for Verizon is pending. This is a little disappointing. The phone even includes the necessary hardware to run on the C-Band, which will be coming first from Verizon and AT&T and should beef up the US 5G network.
OnePlus 9 Pro – Software
The OnePlus 9 Pro comes running Android 11 and features OnePlus’s Oxygen OS 11. I’m pleased to see that OnePlus’s customization of Android continues to be one of the cleanest and simplest I’ve ever used. Software runs smoothly, the settings are well organized, and there’s a good degree of customization available to get things looking to one’s tastes without going with a third-party launcher.
OnePlus does offer a couple notable features of its own, such as Zen Mode, to keep yourself from getting distracted by your phone, and reading mode, which can reduce colors on the screen (also a handy way to be less distracted by your phone). The only thing that made me think, “what’s that doing here?” was a shortcut to Amazon’s Alexa in the Quick Settings menu.
OnePlus 9 Pro – Gaming and performance
Those familiar with the OnePlus brand will find no surprises here – the OnePlus 9 Pro is ready for speed. It features the latest Snapdragon 888 chipset, which helps it keep running its high resolution display at that high refresh rate without any noticeable slowdowns.
The model I tested featured 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM (there is only 8GB in the model with 128GB of storage), which was more than enough to allow for quick task switching. In fact, it was more than enough for me to play Call of Duty Mobile, go on a walk during which I took pictures and recorded video, come home and play around in the settings, take a few more photos, send some texts, see what’s on Netflix, change my background a couple times, and then go back to Call of Duty and pick up right where I’d left off on the replay screen showing the final kill of the game. The only way I could see needing more would be if this phone came with a Samsung DeX-like feature, which it unsurprisingly (and only mildly disappointingly) does not.
The OnePlus 9 Pro certainly proves itself in gaming. Call of Duty Mobile and Sky both run incredibly smoothly and look as good as ever. Call of Duty is able to take advantage of the faster screen refresh rate as well, though Sky couldn’t. While playing, the phone does manage to get a bit warm, but not uncomfortably hot. Having the tall screen also helps provide extra room to see the game while my thumbs are using on-screen controls.
OnePlus has included a special Hyper Touch mode that increases the touch polling rate to 360Hz, letting the screen respond to your actions faster than might be typical. However, it only turns on for select games, which at launch include just PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile, League of Legends: Wild Rift, and Brawl Stars. Truth be told, I’m not sure I could notice much of a difference though. Call of Duty Mobile certainly felt responsive, but so did Sky and just about everything I did on the phone.
OnePlus 9 Pro – Battery Life
At 4,500mAh, the OnePlus 9 Pro has enough juice to get through the day even with the phone taking advantage of its high refresh rate and full resolution. (Though it looks perfectly sharp with a lower resolution if you want to squeeze out some extra battery life.) The bigger feature here is Warp Charge 65T. OnePlus has actually used two 2,250mAh batteries to lower the resistance, letting them charge up faster simultaneously. The speed is incredibly impressive. I took a small gaming break when the battery hit 11%, and in less than ten minutes plugged into the charger it had filled back up to 34%.
In a more comprehensive test, I planned to keep track of the charging on 15-minute intervals but it was too fast. I watched the phone go from 2% at the start of the test up to 32% in just 6 minutes, by the 15-minute mark it had already reached 69% – enough charge for casual use for a whole day – after 20 minutes it was over 80%, and it was done charging within a half hour. And this was with the phone asleep, not powered down. Though not quite as fast, it also supports substantial charging speeds with the wireless Warp Charge stand.
OnePlus 9 Pro Image Samples
OnePlus 9 Pro – Camera
OnePlus was eager to make its cameras stand out more with this year’s models, and a Hasselblad partnership is a big part of that. While that partnership may have played a role in the quality of the new cameras’ capabilities, it’s likely to have a bigger impact in future models where the partnership extends beyond software and colors. That said, OnePlus did a solid job with its cameras this time around anyway.
Here are the cameras the OnePlus 9 Pro is packing:
- 50MP Ultrawide (14mm equivalent) at f/2.2
- 48MP Wide (23mm equivalent) at f/1.8 with quad-binning and OIS
- 8MP 3.3x Telephoto at f/2.4
- 2MP Monochrome
- 16MP Front-facing at f/2.4 with EIS
The OnePlus 9 Pro offers the kind of flexibility in shooting you should expect to see for a phone at this price point. The detail from all three cameras on the back and the selfie camera are nice and crisp, with fine lines like hair and textures really standing out. The color of the images is fairly vibrant but still lifelike. In well lit situations, the three rear cameras also do a good job of matching the colors, so I can capture three different shots and have them actually look like they came from the same camera.
The main camera is certainly a strong point with great color, a wide enough angle to capture a lot in it, above-average performance in darker settings, and a good range for HDR. It also has a really pleasing blur to backgrounds when getting close-up shots without needing to kick in Portrait mode. Serious photographers may also find something to like in the sensor’s ability to capture 12-bit RAW photos. I wouldn’t put the OnePlus’s primary sensor above that of either the iPhone 12 Pro Max or Galaxy S21 Ultra, but the ultra-wide on this phone steps ahead.
The ultra-wide here feels less like an afterthought, especially with the freeform lens that avoids a lot of the fisheye-style distortion. This lens isn’t just hype. The quality on the ultra-wide is still lower than the wide sensor, but it doesn’t feel as dramatic a deprecation to switch between the two sensors here as it does on many other camera systems. This consistency also helps when shooting video, as these are the two sensors used for video at 1080p60 and up.
The video capability is worth mentioning here, as the cameras can record video at up to 8K30 or a staggering 4K120, and for the cinephiles OnePlus also offers 21:9 video in either 4K or Full HD. It’s also a pleasure to see that switching between 8K, 4K, and 1080p doesn’t come with any noticeable crop of the field of view, which I have noticed on other camera systems. All that said, diehard videographers will be sad to see the lack of a Pro Video mode in the camera app.
I’m happy to see the telephoto sensor with its 3.3x optical zoom, though it is the weak link of the three main sensors, and doesn’t stand up to the capabilities of Samsung’s recent zoom offerings by a longshot. Then there’s the monochrome sensor, which supposedly helps add detail for photos from the other sensors, but I can’t see any difference between shots taken with the monochrome sensor uncovered and not.
OnePlus has included a special Super Macro mode that uses the ultra-wide camera to capture extreme close-ups. It’s handy and does what it purports to, but OnePlus has the camera automatically switch to Super Macro mode when it thinks it’s close to a subject. The problem is that it’s not always wanted, like when I’m holding the phone and my finger gets a little too close to the AF sensor. It’s also a bit slow to disengage this mode when pulled away from the subject.
I don’t find any serious faults in the OnePlus’s cameras and think they’re a strong offering for the price. I’d put them above the Galaxy S20’s camera system (with the zoom being a slight exception), which was available for roughly the same price a year ago. But, for those who like to capture far-off subjects, the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s cameras easily justify the extra cost of that phone for the upgrades they bring, particularly when considering what even a meager zoom lens on a DSLR would cost.