The OnePlus 9 Pro shows that, while OnePlus has been diversifying in recent times it still values the high-end. Indeed, with the OnePlus 9 proving a bit of a disappointment, the OnePlus 9 Pro is, at the start of 2021, the company’s sole competitive representative in an increasingly cramped smartphone market.
As ever, the OnePlus mantra is to stuff all the high-end bits and bobs in, but at a lower price than what the big boys charge. However, at prices that start at £829 and rise even higher depending on the configuration, can the flagship OnePlus phone truly be called a budget alternative any more?
OnePlus 9 Pro review: What you need to know
Compared with the latest phones from Apple and Samsung, the OnePlus 9 Pro still looks pretty attractive. It has a 6.7in AMOLED display, which is on par with the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.
It has the fastest, most capable silicon available – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 – and a similar offering to its main rivals when it comes to cameras, with ultrawide and 3.3x telephoto cameras supplementing the main shooter. There’s also an additional 2MP monochrome camera to play around with but that’s more a novelty than something you’ll use regularly.
Add in super-fast 65W wired charging, 50W wireless charging, IP68 dust and water resistance and 5G capability and the OnePlus 9 Pro looks like the complete package.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Price and Competition
At £829, it undercuts both the S21 Plus and the iPhone 12 Pro Max on price. The only trouble the OnePlus 9 Pro has is that it’s no longer the only “flagship killer” in town these days.
We’re big fans of the Xiaomi Mi 11, for instance, which offers many of the same features, including the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor and a 6.8in display, for £749. It’s worth noting, however, that the OnePlus has a stronger suite of features than the Mi 11, the most significant being a 3.3x optical telephoto zoom.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Design and key features
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a reasonably smart thing but you can say that about most upper-echelon smartphones these days. There’s nothing in particular that stands out about it.
I do prefer the rounded camera rectangle on the rear to the OnePlus 8 Pro’s central traffic light arrangement, as well as the fact that each camera lens is trimmed neatly in chrome. The Hasselblad branding adds a certain je ne sais quoi, too.
However, where the gods of the upgrade give with one hand, they take with the other: I’m not a fan of the new glossy finish, which picks up fingerprints far too readily. The good news is that the black model has a matte finish. If you’re going to buy one, go buy that version.
Despite that niggle, if you keep it free of smudges, the 9 Pro is probably the nicest looking OnePlus phone to date. It’s available in Pine Green with 12GB of RAM and 256GB storage; while the Morning Mist or Stellar Black models come with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage.
There’s plenty else to like here. I’ve always been a fan of the three-position do-not-disturb switch, which allows you to quickly silence the phone or switch it to vibrate-only, without having to fiddle around with the touchscreen. This is situated on the right edge, just above the power button, with the volume rocker on the opposite edge.
Elsewhere, the phone’s sole front camera peeks out from behind a hole-punch notch in the top left corner of the screen at the front. There’s an optical fingerprint reader hiding behind the display at the bottom, too.
You don’t get a microSD card slot or a 3.5mm headphone jack but, other than these annoyances, the OnePlus 9 Pro has everything you’d expect from a flagship smartphone. There’s IP68 dust and water-resistance, NFC for contactless payments, 65W wired charging, 50W wireless charging and reverse charging when you need to top up your true wireless headphones.
Naturally, there’s also 5G support for anyone lucky enough to live near somewhere with a strong 5G signal.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Display
The OnePlus 9 Pro is shorter than its predecessor by a couple of millimetres and this is thanks to a slightly smaller display. Measuring 6.7in across the diagonal compared with 6.78in isn’t a huge change, though, and the resolution remains the same at 3,216 x 1,440 for a pixel density of 525ppi.
As with the OnePlus 8 Pro, you’re getting an AMOLED panel with perfect contrast that runs at a refresh rate of up to 120Hz, adapting automatically to whatever it is you’re doing to save battery. You can drop the display resolution from native to FHD+ (1,080 x 2,340), for the same reason although I didn’t see much difference in stamina between the two modes, so you might as well leave it in 120Hz and native resolution.
And it’s a very decent display as well. Brightness reaches a high of 470cd/m2 in day-to-day use, which is fine but I’d like a bit more for really bright days. It peaks at 763cd/m2 when playing back HDR material and colour accuracy is exceptional.
As ever with OnePlus phones, there’s a multitude of colour modes to pick from, too, ranging from Natural to AMOLED Wide Gamut. I recommend you select sRGB from the Advanced menu, which is the most colour accurate mode for web browsing and general use; or Vivid, which delivers the broadest spectrum of colours – around 83% of the DCI-P3 colour space – when you’re watching HDR video.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Performance
As usual, the latest OnePlus flagship has the very best mobile silicon that Qualcomm has to offer and this time it’s the Snapdragon 888. This is an eight-core SoC, clocked at between 1.8GHz and 2.84GHz, built using a 5nm manufacturing process and it’s accompanied here by an Adreno 660 GPU, X60 5G modem and (in our test handset) 12GB of system RAM and 256GB of storage. The base model has 8GB.
As you’d expect, performance is on a par with the only other Snapdragon 888 phones we’ve seen – the Xiaomi Mi 11 and Asus ROG Phone 5 (the GFXbench test failed to recognise the 120Hz display – the offscreen score is a more reliable guide to performance in this test). It edges in front of the Samsung Galaxy S21 range (tested with the Exynos 2100), but it lags behind the iPhone 12 phones.
However, just like the Xiaomi Mi 11, the OnePlus 9 Pro failed to hit the high notes when it came to battery life. In our video rundown test – where we calibrate the display to a preset brightness and enable flight mode before playing a looped video until the battery dies – the OnePlus 9 Pro lasted 17hrs 18mins, which is, disappointingly, worse than its predecessor, the OnePlus 8 Pro.
It’s also a way behind the OnePlus 9, which reached 21hrs 53mins and the Asus ROG Phone 5, which lasted longer than 23 hours. However, it’s still good enough to last you a full day of moderate use.
In better news, the charging – both wired and wireless – is extremely quick, with a 65W charger included in the box that charges the battery from zero to full in a quoted 28 minutes. If you spend £70 on the OnePlus 50W wireless charger and it’ll top up the battery to full in 43 minutes. It gets hot, though, and so needs fans that audibly spin up when you pop your phone down. Not so great for use on the bedside table.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Cameras
The camera is where OnePlus is hanging its hat with its latest round of phones and its partnership with pro-camera manufacturer Hasselblad is intriguing. This is a three-year deal with the famous Swedish camera firm, and in this first year, the focus is on colour tuning and software, rather than anything radical on the hardware side.
Aside from the Hasselblad branding and a new shutter sound that’s designed to mimic the “iconic Hasselblad” shutter, the OnePlus 9 Pro has an impressive looking lineup of cameras on its rear.
The main camera is a 48MP f/1.8 Sony IMX789 unit with a sensor size of 1/1.43in and a pixel size of 1.12um. On top of that, you’re getting a 50MP (not a typo) f/2.2 ultrawide Sony IMX766 camera, a 3.3x 8MP f/2.4 telephoto, a 16MP f/2.4 Sony IMX471 front camera and a 2MP monochrome camera.
As with most modern smartphones, these cameras all actually output images at lower-than native 16MP resolution by default. If you want the full 48MP or 50MP of the main and ultrawide cameras, you need to switch to the new Hasselblad Pro mode.
This mode is a tweaked version of the previous OnePlus Pro mode. It’s a little easier to use – the video resolution switcher is now accessible from the camera UI and not buried in a menu setting – otherwise, there’s nothing here out of the ordinary, aside from the shutter button, which now is coloured Hasselblad orange. There’s also a new tilt-shift photo mode, although this isn’t anything you couldn’t do with a little creative editing.
The important thing is the images the camera is capable of capturing and, on this front, it’s a mix of the great, the good and the middling. One thing the Hasselblad partnership has definitely ironed out is the colour difference between cameras. This is something OnePlus cameras have suffered with in the past. Now, from shot to shot, and camera to camera, colours are much more consistent.
The new 50MP ultrawide camera is particularly impressive, producing shots packed with detail and good levels of contrast – better than comparison shots I’ve captured with the iPhone 12 Pro Max. And the camera’s “free form” lens keeps distracting distortion to a surprisingly low level, too, although the flipside of this is that you can see stretching occurring at the edges and the corners of images.
And the shots I’ve taken with the main camera on the OnePlus 9 Pro have looked great for the most part. Detail levels, contrast and exposure have been generally excellent – in low light and good. The 3.3x optical zoom gets you nice and close enough to the action without overdoing the magnification and quality is pretty good, too, in this case beating the iPhone 12 Pro Max I’ve compared with here.
However, as there always seems to be with OnePlus phones, there are some small niggles. In some shots, areas of shadow have looked distinctly blue when they should have been grey, while in others, mid-tones have taken on a slight magenta tinge.
An image captured of magnolia blossoms against a blue sky showed some rather odd-looking graininess between the branches that wasn’t present on the rest of the sky – some strange HDR artefact I’m guessing. And while portrait mode isolates the subject nicely, creating pleasing background blur, it smoothes out skin texture just a little too much for me.
Finally, there’s video and this is quite good, too. You have the option to shoot at 8K 30fps, 4K 60fps or 1080p 60fps fully stabilised; or, if you fancy, 4K at 120fps unstabilised. The footage is packed full of detail and, again, stands up well to the iPhone 12 Pro Max in terms of quality. Stabilisation isn’t quite as smooth but you can’t have everything.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera impresses – it’s the best OnePlus has so far produced – but even with Hasselblad’s help, there’s still work to do to match up with the best.
OnePlus 9 Pro review: Verdict
You might, however, not be too fussed about that when what you’re getting here is a top-end phone at less than top-end prices. At a price of £829, the OnePlus 9 Pro once again undercuts its main rivals, delivering flagship features without the four-figure price tag.
Moreover, it doesn’t lag behind on features. From the display to the fast wired and wireless charging, the neat design, fast performance, IP68 rating and decent camera, it delivers everything you need – and would expect – from a flagship phone.
And while there are other phones now doing a similar thing – offering the latest smartphone silicon in a more reasonably priced package, none can quite compete with the package that the OnePlus 9 Pro offers.
OnePlus 9 Pro specifications
vs OnePlus 9
vs Xiaomi Mi 11
|Processor||Octa-core Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 (1×2.84GHz, 3×2.42GHz, 4×1.8GHz)||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (1×2.84GHz, 3×2.42Ghz, 4×1.8GHz)||Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 (1×2.84GHz, 3×2.42GHz, 4×1.8GHz)|
|Screen resolution||1,440 x 3,216||2,400 x 1,080||3,200 x 1,440|
|Screen refresh rate||120Hz||120Hz||120Hz|
|Front camera||16MP, f/2.4||16MP (f/2.4)||20MP|
|Rear camera||48MP, f/1.8; 8MP, f/2.4; 50MP, f/2.2||48MP (f/1.8), 50MP (f/2.2) wide, 2MP mono||108MP (f/1.9), 13MP (f/2.4) wide, 5MP (f/2.4) macro|
|Flash||Dual LED||Dual LED||LED|
|Dust and water resistance||IP68||No||No|
|3.5mm headphone jack||No||No||No|
|Wireless charging||Yes (50W)||Yes||Yes|
|USB connection type||USB-C||USB-C||USB-C|
|Storage options||128GB; 256GB||128GB; 256GB||128GB; 256GB|
|Memory card slot (supplied)||No||No||No|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6||802.11ax||WiFi 6|
|Cellular data||5G||5G, 4G||5G, 4G|
|Dimensions (WDH)||74 x 8.7 x 163mm||163 x 74 x 8.7mm||164 x 75 x 8.1mm|
|Operating system||Android 11 (Oxygen OS 11)||Android 11||Android 10 (MIUI 11)|