OnePlus finally has cameras that measure up to the best that Samsung, Xiaomi, and Google have to offer.
OnePlus made its foray into the high-end category two years ago with the OnePlus 7 Pro. The device went toe-to-toe with the best Android phones, and while OnePlus nailed the hardware side of things, the camera was a letdown.
That was the case last year with the OnePlus 8 Pro as well. OnePlus made huge strides in key areas, delivering a QHD+ AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate, 30W wireless charging, and IP68 dust and water resistance for the first time. But like its predecessor, the 8 Pro just did not measure up to its rivals in terms of the camera side of things.
The OnePlus 8 Pro launched during a period of reorganization for OnePlus. Facing flagging sales, the company turned its focus to the mid-range segment with the introduction of the Nord last year, and the bet seems to have paid off — OnePlus hit one million phones sales in a quarter for the first time in Q3 2020, and an overwhelming majority of that was down to the Nord.
Alongside an entry into the mid-range and budget segments, OnePlus overhauled its internal staffing with veterans from Samsung and HTC to lead key software initiatives, set up a camera lab to fix long-standing deficiencies, and started offering localized software features in OxygenOS. More recently, it promised to invest $150 million into its camera hardware and establish a long-term relationship with camera maker, Hasselblad. In short, the OnePlus of 2021 is unrecognizable to what it was in 2019.
The result of all these efforts is the OnePlus 9 Pro. The phone offers exciting upgrades in just about every area from its predecessor, but what you need to know first and foremost is that the cameras are finally great. A combination of new lenses and a partnership with Hasselblad over color tuning means you get a camera that holds its own against the best that Samsung, Google, Xiaomi, and others have to offer.
But these improvements come at a price. The OnePlus 9 Pro retails for $969, $70 more than what the 8 Pro debuted at last year. It’s more drastic in India, where the 9 Pro comes in at ₹64,999 ($900) — a full 17% increase over the 8 Pro last year. So let’s see what you get for that asking price, and whether you should consider the OnePlus 9 Pro if you’re looking to upgrade to a 2021 flagship.
OnePlus 9 Pro review:
- Price and availability
- Design & display
- Hardware & performance
- Specs comparison: 9 Pro, 9, 9R
- Battery life
- The competition
- Should you buy?
- Update changelog
OnePlus 9 Pro
Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 Pro gets almost everything right. A smaller, more manageable body, stellar cameras, a big, bright, and stunning OLED display, unflappable performance, and subtle improvements to its design. But subpar battery life and 5G quibbles hold it back from perfection.
- Stellar cameras
- Gorgeous design
- 65W wired charging and 50W wireless charging
- Outstanding performance
- Sublime 120Hz AMOLED display
- IP68 dust and water resistance
- Sub-par battery life
- 5G limited to T-Mobile & Verizon in the U.S.
- Software bugs at launch
$1069 at Best Buy
$1069 at Amazon
$1069 at OnePlus
About this review
This review was jointly written by Harish Jonnalagadda and Daniel Bader over the course of ten days.
Harish’s phone was running OxygenOS 11.2.LE15DA out of the box and received a day-one update to 188.8.131.52.LE15DA, and spent his review period on Airtel’s network in Hyderabad, India.
Daniel’s phone was running OxygenoOS 11.2.LE15AA out of the box and received a day-one update to 184.108.40.206.LE15AA, and spent his review on the TELUS network in Toronto, Canada.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Price and availability
The OnePlus 9 Pro went on sale April 2 in North America, UK, Europe, and India. The base model comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and there’s also a 12GB/256GB edition if you need additional storage.
Here’s the breakdown of OnePlus 9 Pro pricing in various parts of the world:
- OnePlus 9 Pro (8GB/128GB): $969 USD / $1,349 CAD / £829 / ₹64,999
- OnePlus 9 Pro (12GB/256GB): $1,069 USD / $1,499 CAD / £929 / ₹69,999
As of the publication date, the $969 OnePlus 9 Pro is not available to purchase. OnePlus has said that it is working on filling inventory for the cheaper model, but there’s no timing as to when it will become available. For now, if you want a OnePlus 9 Pro, you have to buy the more expensive $1069 version.
Unlike previous launches, the OnePlus 9 Pro isn’t much more affordable in India over other global markets. It starts off at ₹64,999 ($900), a full 17% hike from what the 8 Pro debuted at last year. This is in spite of the Indian variant offering 5G connectivity in name only — it has just two Sub-6 bands.
The phone is sold in Morning Mist, Pine Green, and Stellar Black color variants. All three colors will be available in India, UK, and EU, but the Stellar Black color option isn’t making its way to North America.
OnePlus had a lot of issues with availability last year, and we were told that it would not be the case with the OnePlus 9 series. Both the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro should be available in adequate quantities in all color variants and launch markets. OnePlus also mentioned that it will continue to sell the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro until current inventory runs out.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Design and display
The OnePlus 9 Pro looks like a lot of phones out right now, but it comes together in all the right ways. I think, then, it’s more important to compare the phone to OnePlus’s previous devices to see how far the company’s own approach to design has evolved. There’s far more subtlety to the OnePlus line this year, both in terms of color and stand-out accents or highlights that draw your eye.
OnePlus’ design language has evolved in 2021, and the 9 Pro looks downright gorgeous.
The phone’s front is a dead ringer for the OPPO Find X3 Pro, with its left-oriented camera hole and ever-so-curved edges. The Gorilla Glass 5 meets the aluminum frame at a less severe angle than last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro, which cuts down on errant touches on the side of the screen. The phone’s buttons are where you’d expect to find them on a OnePlus phone — power button on the right side flanked by the mainstay alert slider which stays just as useful as ever. The left side holds the volume rocker, which is clicky as ever.
Around back, the Morning Mist model shines back at you, a brilliant mirror finish that shifts subtly between silver and black. (The Pine Green and Stellar Black variants have a matte finish instead, with the latter mimicking the feel of the Sandstone finish of the OnePlus One.) Then there’s that camera stack that you’ve likely seen in a million renders by now. Firstly, it’s located in the top left of the device, a location we saw utilized to great visual effect on the OnePlus 8T last year. Two big camera sensors grab the eye, tightly mobbed by a number of smaller sensors that build the best OnePlus camera experience we’ve seen to date.
The phone is pretty slippery, which makes a case that much more important. The company has fewer first-party options this time around, so you’ll want to invest in one of the best OnePlus 9 Pro cases as soon as possible.
The phone’s SIM card slot is located at the bottom next to the USB-C charging port, and while earlier OnePlus phones offered dual-SIM connectivity in all regions, that’s changing in 2021. The North American version of the 9 Pro has a single-SIM slot, with other global variants getting dual-SIM connectivity.
The OnePlus 9 Pro has a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with a QHD+ (3216 x 1440) resolution. OnePlus calls this Fluid Display 2.0, and the standout addition here is the LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) tech. The tech allows the 9 Pro to dynamically switch the refresh rate based on the content that’s shown on the screen. A key benefit of LTPO? The AOD analog clock now shows a seconds hand, and OnePlus notes this was only possible because of the new tech.
OnePlus isn’t the first to roll out a phone with LTPO tech; Samsung introduced it last year on the Note 20 Ultra, and the S21 Ultra uses the same display tech to dynamically change the refresh rate from 11Hz to 120Hz. But the OnePlus 9 Pro is able to go all the way from 1Hz to 120Hz via the use of a custom controller.
This is one of the best displays you’ll find on any phone today.
The display is one of the best you’ll find on any phone today, offering excellent contrast levels, high brightness, and great viewing angles. The panel itself is curved like last year, but the curvature itself isn’t as extreme, and as the chassis is marginally thicker, it isn’t anywhere as unwieldy to use.
You also get stereo sound here, and like last year, the earpiece doubles up as the secondary speaker. The sound output isn’t as rich as devices that have identical speakers in a true stereo configuration — like the Xiaomi Mi 11 — but it does make a difference when streaming videos or playing games.
On that note, OnePlus has an interesting new feature called Hyper Touch that increases touchscreen polling to 360Hz — it’s usually 240Hz — to decrease input lag. The feature is limited to a select few games like Call of Duty Mobile, League of Legends, PUBG Mobile, and Brawl Stars for now, with more set to be added later.
Unfortunately, the actual touch experience with the OnePlus 9 Pro isn’t always consistent. I (Daniel Bader) and a number of my peers in the industry have experienced edge detection issues while typing on the default Gboard keyboard, specifically when quickly tapping the ?123 button at the bottom left corner to activate the secondary keys. OnePlus has acknowledged the issue, but none of the updates since launch have fixed the problem.
OnePlus finally introduced always-on display (AOD) last year with OxygenOS 11, and the feature itself offers plenty of customization. OnePlus partnered with the Parsons School of Design over the Insight AOD, and it gives you a visual overview of time spent using the phone and number of unlocks over the course of the day.
There’s also Canvas AOD that lets you add your own photos and turn them into a silhouette. This time around, there is no Bitmoji option; OnePlus says the Bitmoji AOD was affecting the performance and heating up the phone too much, so it is no longer available.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Hardware & performance
OnePlus’ core tenet is delivering the best possible performance, and that hasn’t changed in 2021. The OnePlus 9 Pro is powered by Qualcomm’s latest 5nm Snapdragon 888, and it comes with 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage as standard.
|Software||OxygenOS 11, Android 11|
|Display||6.7″ (3216×1440) 120Hz AMOLED|
|Chipset||2.84GHz Snapdragon 888|
|Storage||128GB/256GB UFS 3.1|
|Rear Camera 1||48MP IMX789 ƒ/1.8 (primary)|
|Rear Camera 2||50MP IMX766 ƒ/2.2 (wide-angle)|
|Rear Camera 3||8MP ƒ/2.4 (telephoto)|
|Rear Camera 4||2MP (monochrome)|
|Front Camera||16MP IMX471 ƒ/2.4|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 6, BT 5.2, NFC, AptX HD|
|Battery||4500mAh | 65W, 50W wireless|
|Colors||Morning Mist, Forest Green, Stellar Black|
|Dimensions||163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm|
The Snapdragon 888 is a known quantity at this point, and the chipset delivers exciting performance gains over last year’s Snapdragon 865. That’s down to the new Cortex X1 core that goes up to 2.84GHz, and the chipset also has three Cortex A78 derivatives clocked at 2.42GHz, and four Cortex A55 cores at 1.80GHz.
The Adreno 660 GPU delivers up to 35% better performance in gaming over last year’s Adreno 650. The result is that the OnePlus 9 Pro is an absolute delight to use for everything from scrolling through social media, browsing, and playing the best Android games. The phone handled everything I threw at it without breaking a sweat, and in the ten days I used it I didn’t see any lag or slowdowns whatsoever. This is not a device that will slow down even after a few years’ worth of use.
While the Qualcomm chipset in and of itself delivers massive gains, OnePlus is offering a few features to improve the thermal performance of the device. OnePlus Cool Play is a new addition that shifts the heat dissipation from the metal mid-frame to the glass front and back.
The reasoning is that you’re likely to hold the mid-frame with your fingers when you’re playing a game, so by siphoning the heat from the glass, the frame itself doesn’t get too hot. The device also features a five-layer graphite sheet and a large vapor chamber for sustained gaming performance.
While that sounds great in theory, the OnePlus 9 Pro overheated when I was setting up the phone, and it got to a point where I wasn’t able to launch the camera and the chipset automatically throttled to control the heat. Thankfully, this wasn’t a problem following the initial setup, but the last time I ran into this particular issue was on a Sony Xperia Z five years ago.
One feature that OnePlus absolutely nailed this generation is the haptic engine. The vibration motor on the OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the best I’ve used on any phone, and it delivers granular feedback for gesture navigation and keyboard strikes. Like the OnePlus 8 Pro, the 9 Pro offers IP68 dust and water resistance. While the regular OnePlus 9 misses out on an official IP rating, OnePlus has revealed that the standard version is also waterproof — it just hasn’t been certified. (The T-Mobile variant is IP68 certified, though, and will likely cost a bit more as a result.)
As for connectivity, the OnePlus 9 Pro has Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and the AptX HD and LDAC audio codecs. I didn’t face any issues with Wi-Fi connectivity; the phone consistently delivered bandwidth of over 500Mbit over Wi-Fi 6, and there were no issues with Bluetooth either. Like previous years, some variants come with dual-SIM connectivity as standard, though not the U.S. variants, and the device has Wi-Fi calling as well as VoLTE, with availability varying by carrier and region.
The main issue I have with the phone in terms of the hardware is the location of the fingerprint sensor. The optical module is fast to authenticate and reliable in daily use, but it sits far too low on the screen, making it awkward to access. I mostly relied on the software-based face unlock for authentication, and while it isn’t as secure as the fingerprint sensor, it is incredibly fast.
The OnePlus 9 Pro has the requisite 5G bands for all U.S. carriers, but you’ll only be able to use it on T-Mobile and Verizon.
Another quibble is around 5G connectivity. The OnePlus 9 Pro has Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connectivity in North America, making the device eligible for 5G on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon. It has N1, 2, 3, 7, 25, 28, 41, 66, 71, 78 bands for Sub-6 and N258, 260, 261 over mmWave, but inexplicably, OnePlus is limiting 5G connectivity to two of the three major carriers.
The OnePlus 9 Pro will not work on AT&T’s 5G network even though it has the requisite 5G bands. The phone will be available in both unlocked versions and a T-Mobile carrier edition, but even if you buy the unlocked model, you can only access 5G connectivity on T-Mobile and Verizon, which certified the phone on March 27. MVNOs that use T-Mobile 5G seem to work fine, however — my colleague Hayato Huseman was able to get his OnePlus 9 Pro registered on Google Fi and was able to access 5G connectivity.
This arbitrary limitation for AT&T makes the 9 Pro a difficult sell in the U.S., and I don’t understand why OnePlus decided to intentionally hamper the usability of its latest flagship.
While the 9 Pro has mmWave bands, the current OnePlus 9 variants only offer Sub-6 5G, so for that particular phone to work on Verizon’s mmWave 5G network, OnePlus will have to offer a new SKU — just like it did last year with the OnePlus 8 UW.
In Canada, where Sub-6 5G is proliferating, the OnePlus 9 Pro won’t detect the burgeoning technology at all; it’s not even in the firmware even though the hardware supports it. Other versions of the OnePlus 9 Pro are limited to Sub-6 5G connectivity, with the European model getting bands N1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 77, 78, and the Indian version getting just two: N41, 78. The Indian unit has 5G connectivity in name only, and with mainstream 5G service not slated to kick off for a few years, this is a moot point for now.
OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus 9 & OnePlus 9R Specifications
In addition to the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, there’s a third device dubbed the OnePlus 9R that’s coming to India and China.
I revealed earlier this year that the OnePlus 9R — which was then called the OnePlus 9 Lite internally — will be powered by a Snapdragon 865. That is indeed the case, but the chipset is labeled the Snapdragon 870 following Qualcomm’s rebranding of its 2020 flagship platform.
The OnePlus 9R is an interesting option in the OnePlus 9 series; it has a 6.5-inch 120Hz LCD display and features the same 48MP Sony IMX586 camera as the OnePlus Nord along with a 16MP wide-angle lens, and it has the same 4500mAh battery as the rest of the OnePlus 9 models with 65W wired charging.
The phone has a polymer mid-frame, and it misses out on the Hasselblad branding, likely to save costs. Most of the hardware is identical to the last year’s OnePlus 8, and the phone is available in India for ₹39,999 ($550) for the 8GB/128GB version, ₹5,000 ($70) less than the starting variant of the OnePlus 9.
Here’s the full details on the OnePlus 9 series:
|Operating system||Android 11OxygenOS 11||Android 11OxygenOS 11||Android 11OxygenOS 11|
|Display||6.5-inch 120Hz AMOLED2400x1080 (20:9)Gorilla Glass 5||6.7-inch 120Hz LTPO AMOLED3216x1440 (20.1:9)Dual curved screenGorilla Glass 5||6.5-inch 120Hz Fluid Display2400x1080 (20:9)Gorilla Glass 5|
|Chipset||Snapdragon 8881 x 2.84GHz Cortex X13 x 2.42GHz Cortex A784 x 1.80GHz Cortex A555nm||Snapdragon 8881 x 2.84GHz Cortex X13 x 2.42GHz Cortex A784 x 1.80GHz Cortex A555nm||Snapdragon 8701 x 2.84GHz Cortex A773 x 2.42GHz Cortex A774 x 1.80GHz Cortex A557nm|
|GPU||Adreno 660||Adreno 660||Adreno 650|
|RAM||8GB/12GB LPDDR5||8GB/12GB LPDDR5||8GB/12GB LPDDR4X|
|Storage||128GB/256GB UFS3.1||128GB/256GB UFS3.1||128GB/256GB UFS3.1|
|Rear camera 1||48MP Sony IMX689f/1.8, 1.12um, EIS8K at 30fps, 4K at 60fpsHasselblad Camera for Mobile||48MP Sony IMX789f/1.8, 1.12um, OIS, EIS8K at 30fps, 4K at 120fpsHasselblad Camera for Mobile||48MP Sony IMX586f/1.7, 0.8um, OIS, EIS4K at 60fpsHasselblad Camera for Mobile|
|Rear camera 2||50MP Sony IMX766 (wide-angle)f/2.2, freeform lens4K at 60fps||50MP Sony IMX766 (wide-angle)f/2.2, freeform lens4K at 60fps||16MP (wide-angle)f/2.2, 123-degree field of view|
|Rear camera 3||2MP monochrome camera||8MP telephotof/2.4, 1.0um3x optical zoom||5MP macro lens|
|Rear camera 4||❌||2MP monochrome camera||2MP monochrome|
|Front camera||16MP Sony IMX471f/2.4, 1.0um, EISFixed focus||16MP Sony IMX471f/2.4, 1.0um, EISFixed focus||16MP Sony IMX471f/2.4, 1.0um, EISFixed focus|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2NFC, AptX HD, A-GPS||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2NFC, AptX HD, A-GPS||Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1NFC, AptX HD, A-GPS|
|5G (North America)||Sub-6: N1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 25, 28, 38, 40, 41, 48, 66, 71, 77, 78||Sub-6: N1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 25, 28, 38, 40, 41, 48, 66, 71, 77, 78mmWave: N258, 260, 261||❌|
|5G (Europe)||Sub-6: N1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 78||Sub-6: N1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 20, 28, 38, 40, 41, 66, 77, 78||❌|
|5G (India)||Sub-6: N41, 78||Sub-6: N41, 78||Sub-6: N78|
|Battery||4500mAh (2 x 2250mAh), USB-C 3.165W Warp Charge 65T (10V/6.5A)15W Qi wireless charging (North America/Europe)||4500mAh (2 x 2250mAh), USB-C 3.165W Warp Charge 65T (10V/6.5A)50W Warp Charge 50 Wireless (In: 10V/6.5A, 20V/3.25A; Out: 50W max)||4500mAh (2 x 2250mAh), USB-C 3.165W Warp Charge 65 (10V/6.5A)|
|Audio||USB-CStereo speaker||USB-CStereo speaker||USB-CStereo speaker|
|Security||In-display fingerprint (optical)||In-display fingerprint (optical)||In-display fingerprint (optical)|
|Dimensions||160 x 74.2 x 8.7mm (North America/Europe)160 x 73.9 x 8.1mm (India/China)||163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm||161 x 74.1 x 8.4mm|
|Weight||192g (North America/Europe)183g (India/China)||197g||180g|
|Colors||Winter Mist, Arctic Sky, Astral Black||Morning Mist, Pine Green, Stellar Black||Lake Blue, Carbon Black|
It is obvious why OnePlus is launching the OnePlus 9R alongside the standard and Pro models in India. With its 2021 flagships picking up a sizeable 16% price hike over last year, the company needs a value-focused phone to maintain its momentum in the country.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Battery life
The OnePlus 9 Pro retains the same 4500mAh battery as the OnePlus 8T, and it uses the 65W fast charging standard as well. The phone has a dual-cell system with two 2250mAh batteries, and the 65W charge is directed into two 32.5W streams to simultaneously charge both cells.
The best part about OnePlus’ fast charging tech is that the phone itself doesn’t get hot. The charging circuitry is offloaded to the charger, and that ensures the device doesn’t overheat even with a 65W charge. The charger itself works over the USB-PD standard at up to 45W, so you can use it for charging other phones or accessories. Conversely, you can use other chargers to top up the OnePlus 9 Pro, but the speed will be limited to 18W.
It takes just 29 minutes to fully charge the OnePlus 9 Pro — and 43 minutes wirelessly.
For this generation, OnePlus is making a few tweaks to deliver charge even faster. The phone has 12 sensors to manage heat and control voltages on the fly, and as a result, it can now charge from zero to 75% in just 20 minutes, and a full charge takes just 29 minutes — a full 10 minutes less than the OnePlus 8T. Because of the changes, the charging tech is now called Warp Charge 65T.
Another exciting addition this year is 50W wireless charging. OnePlus introduced 30W wireless charging last year, and the tech is being upgraded to 50W. Thankfully, there’s no integrated cable this time; the wireless charger doesn’t even have a bundled cable, and you’ll need to use the OnePlus 9 Pro’s Warp Charge 65 wall plug or any 65W USB PD charger to power it up — it needs 10V/6.5A or 20V/3.25A.
The wireless charger takes just 43 minutes to fully charge the battery on the 9 Pro, but it has a built-in fan and tends to get pretty loud. There is a bedtime mode option if you prefer leaving the phone on the charger overnight; in this mode, the wireless charger trickle charges the device and the fan is turned down. You can pick up the OnePlus wireless charger for $70, and it charges regularly over the Qi protocol at 15W.
Battery life is strictly average at 120Hz — and if you switch to QHD+, you’ll need to plug in before the day’s out.
It’s good that the phone charges up quickly, because you will be reaching for the charger a lot. Even though the LTPO display is designed to improve battery efficiency, that doesn’t necessarily translate in day-to-day use. The OnePlus 9 Pro has strictly average battery life with the 120Hz option enabled, and if you also switch to QHD+ resolution, you’ll struggle to get a day’s worth of use.
With the resolution set to QHD+ and 120Hz refresh rate enabled, I averaged 3.5 to four hours of screen-on-time over the course of a day. I had AOD enabled throughout, and by the end of the day (around 11pm), battery routinely fell below 20%. The one day I went out and switched to 4G data for six hours or so, I had to plug in before the end of the day.
Battery life is not nearly as good as the OnePlus 8 Pro, 8T, or most 2021 flagships — I consistently got better figures with the Xiaomi Mi 11. Idle drain is also unnaturally high. When left overnight from 12am to 7am with AOD disabled, battery level fell by 8% on average, which is three times as high as other phones I’ve used this year.
Of course, you can extend battery life by turning down the resolution to FHD+, but that defeats the idea of having a phone with a QHD+ display. OnePlus acknowledged that battery life is an issue on the OnePlus 9 Pro, and it is working on a software update that will improve battery life. But there’s no timeline for when the update will be rolled out, so if you’re looking to buy the 9 Pro at launch, know that battery life is far from ideal.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Cameras
While the OnePlus 9 Pro has a bold new design and exciting hardware changes, the biggest upgrade centers around the cameras. The phone features a brand new 48MP f/1.8 Sony IMX789 sensor with larger 1.12-micron pixels and OIS. There’s now a 50MP f/2.2 wide-angle lens with a Sony IMX766, an 8MP f/2.4 telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom, and a 2MP monochrome module. Up front, you’ll find a 16MP fixed-focus Sony IMX471 camera that has been unchanged for the last two years.
With the OnePlus 8 Pro and 8T, it was clear that OnePlus just didn’t have the camera tuning chops to go up against Samsung, Google, Xiaomi, OPPO, and other flagship manufacturers. That’s where Hasselblad comes in; OnePlus invested $150 million in a three-year deal that will involve both companies collaborating on phone cameras, so this is not a one-off partnership.
Hasselblad’s color tuning and upgraded sensors have created one of the best cameras you’ll find today.
For the OnePlus 9 series, Hasselblad provided guidance on color tuning for all imaging modules, shooting modes, and lighting scenarios. While the effort thus far has focused on software, OnePlus has mentioned that the partnership will involve a hardware component as well in the coming years.
The result is a new Hasselblad Camera for Mobile that is the default camera app on the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. You’ll find an orange shutter button for all the photo modes — an homage to Hasselblad — and there’s a new “Shot on OnePlus x Hasselblad” watermark that you can enable in the settings. You can also enable a leaf shutter sound that mimics the sound of Hasselblad cameras.
The camera interface itself has picked up a few tweaks, with orange accent colors scattered throughout, but the basics are still the same as last year: you’ll find all the shooting modes laid out in a ribbon at the bottom, and there are toggles for the timer, flash, macro mode, full-res 48MP mode, beautify effects, and settings.
OnePlus is also offering enticing gains with video recording. The OnePlus 9 Pro can shoot 4K video at up to 120fps, and there’s the ability to shoot 8K footage at 30fps — a first for the company.
Thanks to the upgraded imaging modules and Hasselblad color tuning, the OnePlus 9 Pro takes significantly better photos than its predecessors. Shots in daylight conditions are on par with the best phones available today; you get excellent dynamic range and accurate colors. The 2MP monochrome lens serves as a hardware filter, with the photos taken by the main 48MP camera itself.
The OnePlus 9 Pro particularly shines in low-light conditions, and this is where Hasselblad’s color science has paid real dividends. Photos taken in low-light have plenty of detail, saturated colors, and minimal noise levels. The hallmark of a great camera is that you can take great photos in any lighting condition effortlessly, and the OnePlus 9 Pro finally delivers on this promise.
The device manages to latch on to a subject and take usable shots even in very demanding shooting scenarios. Some photos taken in very limited or no lighting tend to be noisy around the edges, and you can easily fix this with the dedicated Nightscape mode. In this mode, the phone takes a series of photos at various exposure levels and stitches them together, creating a brighter image with low noise levels.
The 50MP wide-angle lens on the OnePlus 9 Pro is the best you’ll find on any phone today. The lens takes the same caliber of photos as the primary 48MP camera, and the resultant shots don’t have any barrel distortion. You can use the dedicated night mode with the wide-angle lens as well, and it can shoot 4K video at up to 60fps.
The wide-angle lens also doubles up as a macro shooter, and unlike dedicated 5MP macro lenses that have become the norm, you actually get detailed shots with the OnePlus 9 Pro. Finally, the phone has a Pro mode that lets you shoot up to 12-bit RAW, and you get the usual set of controls to manually adjust ISO, white balance, exposure, focus, and more.
As for the 8MP telephoto lens, the module itself is identical to last year, and it does a decent enough job at up a zoom factor of 3x; go beyond that and you immediately start seeing artifacts. While the 16MP front camera uses the same lens as the last few generations, Hasselblad’s color tuning has made a real difference here as well, and you get decent selfies in just about any lighting condition.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 Pro has a camera that holds its own against the Galaxy S21 Ultra, Xiaomi Mi 11, and other Android flagships. The Hasselblad collaboration has solved this particular issue for OnePlus, and it will be very interesting to see where this partnership goes in the future.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Software
The software experience continues to be a big part of why OnePlus stands out from its rivals. The company’s focus on a clean interface without any bloatware set the bar for third-party skins, but with OxygenOS 11 last year, OnePlus switched to a design language that was inspired by Samsung’s One UI.
That said, the changes aren’t very obtrusive, and the interface itself is just as fluid as before. OnePlus has done an incredible job optimizing OxygenOS for 120Hz displays; animations feel smooth and there’s no lag or jitter anywhere. That said, there are a few software quirks: memory optimization continues to be aggressive on OxygenOS, and I had to manually disable the feature for apps like Slack and Newton Mail to get notifications.
There are no new features here, but OxygenOS 11 continues to deliver a great overall experience.
The core of OxygenOS is still intact in 2021: customizability. You get a wide variety of customization options, including AOD styles, accent colors, system icons — as well as selecting a third-party icon pack — fonts, and animations for the in-screen fingerprint reader. There’s also a Horizon light feature that’s similar to Edge lighting on Galaxy phones — the feature lights up the sides of the screen for incoming notifications, and is meant to be an alternative to the legacy LED notification light.
Other features include dynamic backgrounds, schedulable dark mode, updates to Zen Mode, and all the additions Google baked into Android 11: Conversations view, one-time permissions, persistent media player in the settings tiles, and smart home controls in the power menu.
If all of that sounds familiar, it’s because the software experience on the OnePlus 9 Pro is identical to the 8T. OnePlus isn’t introducing any new features here, and while the company has changed the name of its game turbo feature from Fnatic Mode to Pro Gaming Mode, I still found references to the former.
As for updates, OnePlus says it will deliver the usual two platform updates and three years of security patches. With Samsung now offering three guaranteed updates not just on its flagships but also mid-range phones like the Galaxy A52, OnePlus really needs to do better here. At a bare minimum, OnePlus needs to deliver three platform updates considering how much the 9 Pro costs, but that isn’t the case.
OnePlus switched to Google’s phone dialer and Android Messages as the default dialer and texting clients last year, and that is the case on the OnePlus 9 Pro as well. The software doesn’t have much in the way of bloatware — the Facebook debacle is still fresh in users’ mind — and the few OnePlus apps and services that are installed out of the box can be easily removed.
OnePlus uses India as the testbed for introducing new software features in OxygenOS, and one of those is Red Cable Club, a loyalty program that offers rewards and gift vouchers to OnePlus owners. You can log into Red Cable Club while setting up the phone, but you’ll still see a push notification prompting you to sign in once you head to the home screen for the first time.
There’s also a new feature called Nearby Charging Stations. OnePlus has installed fast-charging stations at a few airports in India and said it will do so at upcoming launch events and pop-up stores, and these stations use beacons to detect nearby OnePlus phones — if you have the feature enabled. The Nearby Charging Stations toggle is located in the battery sub-menu in the settings, and the feature essentially uses your location in the background and notifies you once your phone is near a charging station.
OnePlus’ fledgling attempts at new features haven’t borne fruit yet.
You will see constant prompts to enable Nearby Charging Stations within OxygenOS, and I don’t really understand why this feature exists. Sure, it is a good idea to set up charging stations at thoroughfare points like airports and launch events, but you can easily spot them; you don’t need to enable a feature that polls your location data at all times to do so. There’s also the fact that the launch of this feature in the middle of a pandemic seems ill-advised at best.
Nearby Charging Stations isn’t the only OnePlus feature that’s bothersome. The default pull-down gesture within OxygenOS doesn’t give you the notification pane, but instead directs you to the OnePlus Shelf, which includes all your widgets and shortcuts. So you’ll have to head into the home screen settings to change the default behavior.
Having used OxygenOS 11 for several months now, my main issue is with two first-party apps: Settings and Gallery. While the primary menu elements within the settings page sit further below on the screen — just like One UI — the design doesn’t extend to the sub-menus. Go into any section and you’ll see that the menu options start at the top of the page, just like older versions of OxygenOS.
OnePlus’ explanation that it switched to the new layout to aid one-handed use doesn’t hold much water. As for Gallery, the tabbed layout is far from intuitive, and OnePlus needs to do more to educate users on the changes. Then again, you don’t see any overt customization outside of a few first-party apps — it’s great to see OxygenOS embracing Google’s communication suite as the default option.
Overall, OxygenOS 11 continues to be one of the best interfaces you’ll find on Android. OnePlus is clearly going after mainstream users with the switch — that’s easy to tell from the features it is introducing — but thus far, its fledgling efforts have been lackluster, to say the least.
OnePlus 9 Pro: The competition
The OnePlus 9 Pro comes out at an interesting time. Like my colleague Jerry Hildenbrand says, this is the company’s opportunity to dip into the mainstream after years of languishing in the margins. While the company launched its first carrier model with T-Mobile, the OnePlus 6T, back in 2018, it’s struggled to capture the attention of the phone-buying public more comfortable with brands like Galaxy and iPhone. While it doesn’t hurt that the 9 Pro is its best phone ever, and supported by T-Mobile again, it’s going up against a Samsung lineup that’s also never been stronger.
The Galaxy S21 Ultra feels like the right competitor for the OnePlus 9 Pro, and likely will be compared a fair bit, but its massive size and weight and resolution-heavy camera aren’t really aiming for the same customer. Instead, I’d say that the OnePlus 9 Pro is a more direct competitor to the Galaxy S21+, an underrated device that, despite limited improvements over the Galaxy S20+, offers an incredible overall experience. The OnePlus 9 Pro actually has a better camera experience than both of this year’s top-end Galaxys, something we didn’t expect to be saying back in early 2021, but here we are.
Another competitor to think about is the OPPO Find X3 Pro, which shares a lot of the same components as the 9 Pro. Its cameras aren’t quite as good, and its ColorOS software is still quite buggy, but I’m a bigger fan of its striking camera design than the 9 Pro. Plus, its microscope lens is a really fun way to kill a bit of time.
Then there’s the Xiaomi Mi 11. Xiaomi’s 2021 flagship won’t be sold in North America, but in Europe and other global markets, it goes head-to-head with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The Mi 11 has a 120Hz AMOLED panel, Snapdragon 888, and standout cameras that measure up to what OnePlus is offering, and the best part is that the Mi 11 costs less than the 9 Pro at €749 ($900). The only downside is that MIUI 12 has a higher learning curve than OxygenOS.
Finally, the OnePlus 9 Pro actually has competition from its own $729 sibling this year. The OnePlus 9 is a fantastic product that improves in every way over its own mediocre predecessor. While its cameras and display don’t come close to reaching the quality of the 9 Pro, it’s a fully-equipped flagship this time around — especially with wireless charging on board. When it comes to the OnePlus 9 vs. OnePlus 9 Pro, it all comes down to whether you want to invest in the additional camera prowess that more expensive phone brings.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if …
You want a OnePlus phone with flagship cameras
The OnePlus 9 Pro finally delivers what OnePlus fans have been asking for several years: a camera that is as good as the best phones available today. The partnership with Hasselblad has paid off for the brand, and the 48MP camera takes truly outstanding photos in any lighting scenario. The 50MP lens is also the best wide-angle shooter you’ll find on a phone.
You want bloat-free software
OxygenOS 11 doesn’t have any bloatware out of the box, and the UI itself is fluid and has plenty of customization features. OnePlus has also done a great job delivering regular updates to its flagships, so if you want a phone with a clean software and fluid UI, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great choice.
You want uncompromising performance
OnePlus knows a thing or two about offering performance-oriented phones, and that’s no different with the 9 Pro. With Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 chipset under the hood, you won’t see any slowdowns for at least a few years, even with the most demanding of games. The phone also has 65W wired and 50W wireless charging, and the latter in particular is a standout addition.
You should not buy this if …
You want reliable battery life
Right now, the OnePlus 9 Pro just doesn’t hold up to its rivals in terms of battery life. The phone barely manages to last a day with QHD+ resolution at 120Hz, and while you can turn down the resolution to FHD+ and get up to a day’s worth of use, the battery life is not indicative of a 2021 flagship. OnePlus says it will roll out an update to fix battery life, but there’s no timeline for the same.
You’re looking for a 5G flagship for use on AT&T or Verizon
Although OnePlus added mmWave bands on the North American variant of the 9 Pro, it doesn’t let you use those bands. The phone only works on T-Mobile 5G in the U.S. — and associated MVNOs that use the carrier’s 5G, like Google Fi — and that’s the case even with the unlocked version. So if you’re looking to buy a 5G phone for use on AT&T or Verizon, you will have to look elsewhere for now.
With the OnePlus 9 Pro debuting at $969, OnePlus needed to nail everything. Thankfully, it has managed to do just that. The Hasselblad collaboration has led to vastly improved cameras, with the 9 Pro outmatching the best that Samsung has to offer in 2021. That alone is a significant achievement when you look at how the OnePlus 8 Pro fared last year.
But what makes the OnePlus 9 Pro truly great is the overall experience. The 120Hz AMOLED display with LTPO tech is one of the best displays on any phone today, the Snapdragon 888 unlocks a new level of performance, and OxygenOS continues to set the bar for third-party interfaces on Android. I’ve used other Snapdragon 888-powered phones with 120Hz panels this year, but somehow the OnePlus 9 Pro just feels that much more fluid.
out of 5
Like any phone today, there are downsides. Battery life out of the box isn’t what you’d expect for a phone in this segment, and while OnePlus has said it will fix this issue, the update may not show up for at a few weeks at the least. Then there’s the 5G conundrum in the U.S. — although the phone has the requisite 5G bands for all carriers, it is limited to T-Mobile.
This is likely because of OnePlus’ partnership with T-Mobile; the company wants a foothold in the U.S., and at this moment it looks like T-Mobile is the only carrier willing to provide it. So OnePlus compromised on 5G connectivity — making the phone a non-starter for customers on AT&T and Verizon — and in return, it gets visibility at T-Mobile. It is set to get 5G connectivity on Verizon at some point, but that may be a few months down the line.
Finally, OnePlus has the onerous task of convincing buyers in India to pay ₹64,999 ($900) for the 9 Pro. The OnePlus 8 Pro launched at ₹54,999 ($760) last year — a substantial discount over other regions — and OnePlus unwittingly set the expectation that its flagships would cost significantly less in the country. With that not being the case in 2021, OnePlus will now have to figure out how to position its phone in a market that generally abhors price hikes.
Overall, though, OnePlus nailed the fundamentals. It’s lighter and more compact than the OnePlus 8 Pro while delivering improved performance, superior cameras, and a better design. And that screen is very good. It’s not quite perfect, but it’s as close to OnePlus has come so far, and that’s a pretty significant milestone.
OnePlus 9 Pro
Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 Pro has everything you’re looking for in a 2021 flagship. The cameras take incredible shots in any lighting condition, the phone has a gorgeous design and offers the latest internal hardware with 65W wired and 50W wireless charging, and you’ll find a clean interface with the promise of regular updates. Battery life and 5G issues aside, this is one of the best phones today.
$1069 at Best Buy
$1069 at Amazon
$1069 at OnePlus
Review Changelog, April 2021
This article was originally published in March, 2021. It was updated in April 2021 with the following changes:
- Clarified 5G compatibility in the U.S. after Verizon certification.
- Added mention about persistent edge detection issues while typing.
- Added a note about lack of availability for the entry-level model.