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OnePlus 9 Pro Review: OnePlus' Best But Not THE Best
OnePlus has come a long way in the last seven years. From being a start-up brand with a vision to design 'Flagship Killers' the company is now producing one of the best flagships to give the most premium smartphones a run for their money. However, the journey hasn't always been a smooth ride for OnePlus. The OP devices have always been criticized for their average camera performance. Being someone who has tested almost every OnePlus device, I can say that the brand has always struggled to match the camera capabilities of flagships from Samsung, Apple, Huawei, and even Vivo, another brand from the house o BBK Electronics.
- Striking Design
- Premium Build Quality
- IP68 Water-Dust Resistant
- Excellent 120Hz QHD+ Display
- Good Wide-angle Camera
- Impressive Low-Light Camera Performance
- 65W Fast-Charging & 50W Wireless Charging Support
- Software Bugs
- Some Inconsistencies in Camera Output
- Heating Issues
- Camera App Feels Restricted
The latest OnePlus 9-series smartphones promise to put an end to the debate. In addition to packing all the cutting-edge hardware and latest software, the optics have been refined by the well-known camera manufacturer Hasselblad. The OnePlus 9-series handsets are the first set of devices under the three-year partnership with the Swedish camera expert.
I spent some time with the OnePlus 9 Pro to test its revamped camera setup and the overall performance as a daily driver. Here's our OnePlus 9 Pro review.
OnePlus 9 Pro Design- Screams Premium From Every Corner
There are no second thoughts that OnePlus makes good-looking phones. Be it the quality of material, finish or the overall look and feel, the OnePlus phones look as good as the most premium flagship smartphones from Samsung and Apple. The new devices come in some beautiful colors and finishes. I have been using the ‘Morning Mist' color variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro, and it looks very elegant; however, the glossy back panel is a fingerprint magnet. But I am sure you aren't going to use this device without a case, so those smudges shouldn't be a big concern. OnePlus also bundles a pretty decent opaque silicon case in the box with the Pro variant.
The handset is also available in Pine Green and a very distinctive frosted matte finish ‘Stellar Black' color version. I think it looks simply amazing and is the best-looking OnePlus 9 Pro variant. Overall, you must check out all three colors before making a purchase. Pictures just won't do justice to the real-world feel of the new OnePlus devices.
Ergonomics & Handling (163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm, 197g)
Shifting from the gigantic Galaxy S21 Ultra to the OnePlus 9 Pro was sheer relief. And most importantly, the OnePlus 9 Pro seems to have slightly better ergonomics than its predecessor. It is narrower and shorter than the OnePlus 8 Pro and feels more comfortable for one-hand use. I could easily manage the phone for camera usage, dialer, scrolling, UI navigation without any major handling issues. Although the Vivo X-series phones ace the ergonomics, OnePlus has also hit a sweet spot with the OnePlus 9 Pro.
A big reason for better ergonomics is less pronounced curves on the display as compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro. The 3D curved back panel and rounded corners also add to the comfortable one-hand usage of the device. The in-screen fingerprint scanner is positioned at a convenient spot and is extremely snappy and accurate. Last but not the least, the signature OnePlus button placement and the incredible feedback are a joyous experience and speak volume of the top-class design craftsmanship followed by the brand.
Durability Standards- Dated Gorilla Glass & IP68 Water-Dust Resistance
The phone feels rock-solid in hands, thanks to the aluminum frame and glass construction. Both the front and the back panel feature the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 to prevent any form of damage. It's a bit of a letdown as I expected the latest Gorilla Glass- Victus on the new OnePlus devices, at least on the Pro version. Nevertheless, a good quality case should suffice to prevent any unwanted damages. Moving on, the OnePlus 9 Pro is an IP68 water-dust resistant device. You can take pictures even if it's pouring and can even take a dip in the pool for some awesome underwater shots.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 Pro ticks almost all boxes of a well-designed phone. It looks and feels premium, has a sturdy and durable body, and also improves on ergonomics.
Best Smartphone Display At Its Price?
Let's deduce the display specifications first. The 9 Pro flaunts a 6.7-inch, 10-bit, 3216 x 1440 resolution screen with a fluid 120Hz refresh rate. It's an LTPO (Low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) OLED panel, a display technology that promises better battery life without compromising on the resolution and the refresh rate. Samsung's latest Galaxy S21 range also uses the LTPO panels for reducing battery consumption. The QHD+ AMOLED screen supports the popular trio- HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG standards and also gets the MEMC (Motion smoothening) technology. Does the latest display tech translate into good performance? Let's find out.
Buttery Smooth User Experience & Good Haptics
The AMOLED panel is a joy to use, thanks to the fluid 120Hz refresh rate. Whether it's navigating throughout the UI with gestures, scrolling up/down, or simply browsing the app drawer, everything feels buttery smooth. The phone has a variable refresh rate which means the fluidity depends upon the type of content being seen on the display. OnePlus claims that the refresh rate drops to as low as 1Hz if the screen is being idle. That sounds impressive and would be a reason for the good battery life of the handset. Also, the refresh rate keeps fluctuating between 60Hz, 90Hz, and 120Hz as per the content you are viewing on the screen.
A major contributor to a good screen user experience is the phone's haptics. The OnePlus 9 Pro produces subtle and accurate vibrations that make UI navigation and typing feel great. Try changing the screen brightness via the slider in the quick settings panel and you would be greeted with some great haptics feedback. In comparison, the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers more powerful and tighter vibration feedback that feels ever so slightly better than the haptics feedback on the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Immersive Visuals- HDR10+, MEMC, Color Spaces
Coming on to the visuals, the OnePlus 9 Pro's QHD+ AMOLED panel produces rich colors, deep blacks and has excellent viewing angles. Consuming multimedia content, especially the HDR10+ content on OTT apps and playing games like COD Mobile and Asphalt 9 is sheer joy on the OnePlus 9 Pro. I streamed some episodes of the visually stunning ‘Tales from the loop' on the Amazon Prime. The 4K HDR series looked super immersive on the QHD+ panel.
The display settings allow you to choose between three color profiles- Vivid, Natural, and Advanced. I found the sRGB to be offering the most realistic color output. The AMOLED wide-gamut color space simply makes everything high on contrast and vivid. I have also enabled the ‘Vibrant Color Effect Pro' and ‘Ultra-high video resolution' to derive the most out of this stunning QHD+ panel.
MEMC Enabled (Motion Estimation and Motion Compensation)
Lastly, you can also enable MEMC (Motion Smoothening) if you don't mind that soap opera effect. Even if you are not fond of it, try watching something with MEMC enabled just to experience how the frame interpolation (Motion interpolation by generating immediate frames) brings a noticeable difference in the content streaming quality. The OnePlus 9 Pro's display also excels in outdoor visibility. I could easily read text, check my Insta feed, and tweet without any visibility issues even during a sunny day in the Delhi-NCR region.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 Pro brings the best-in-class display at its price-point. It's even better what Samsung is offering with the Galaxy S21+. But things might change with the upcoming Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. Touted as the ‘Super Phone' the Mi 11 Ultra flaunts an HDR10+ Dolby Vision-enabled 120Hz panel which sounds phenomenal. If Xiaomi comes up with aggressive pricing for its flagship phone, the OnePlus 9 Pro will be in a lot of trouble.
OnePlus 9 Pro Camera- More Of A Hassle Than Hasselblad at Play
I am always excited to test cameras, especially on the OnePlus phones since it's funny how the brand always manages to spoil things with the camera experience despite all the marketing hype before the launches. This year around, the stakes are even higher. OnePlus has roped in the camera expert Hasselblad to fine-tune their devices' cameras. And it's no shame taking help from an expert because setting the right optics isn't a joke. And, you need some serious backend tech to deliver good results that can be appreciated by users and avid photographers.
That said, I took the OnePlus 9 Pro on a spin to evaluate the much-hyped Hasselblad powered quad-camera setup. Before we talk about the camera results- here's a quick camera spec overview of the OnePlus 9 Pro.
OnePlus 9 Pro Camera Specifications
Main Camera: 48MP OIS-enabled Sony IMX789 Sensor, 1/1.43", Pixel Size: 1.12µm, Focal Length: 23mm equivalent, Aperture: ƒ/1.8, 12-bit RAW output
Wide-Angle Camera (Freeform Lens): 50MP Sony IMX766, 1/1.56", Focal Length: 14mm equivalent, Aperture: ƒ/2.2
Telephoto Camera: 8MP OIS-enabled Sensor, 3.3x magnification, Pixel Size: 1.0µm, Aperture: ƒ/2.4
Monochrome Camera: 2MP Sensor
Front Camera: 16MP Fixed-Focus EIS-enabled Sony IMX471 Sensor, Pixel Size: 1.0 µm, Aperture: ƒ/2.4
Video Recording: Rear Camera- 8K video at 30fps, 4K video at 30/60/120 fps, 1080p video at 30/60 fps
Super Slow Motion: 1080p video at 240 fps, 720p video at 480 fps, Time-Lapse: 1080p at 30fps, 4k at 30fps, Front Camera- 1080p video at 30fps, Time-Lapse
Camera Modes: Nightscape, Super Macro, UltraShot HDR, Smart Scene Recognition, Portrait mode, Pro mode, Panorama, Tilt-shift mode, Focus Peaking, Raw file, Filters, Super Stable, Video Nightscape, Video HDR, Video Portrait, Focus Tracking, Timelapse, Hyperlapse
- OnePlus 9 Pro has snappy autofocus, which works effectively both while taking pictures and recording videos.
- The phone captures excellent daylight shots that show good details and impressive dynamic range.
- The skin tones look more natural as compared to the previous OnePlus devices and rival flagships. It seems Hasselblad's fine-tuning is helping here.
- The portraits show plenty of details, and the bokeh looks natural, but not always.
- The 3.3x shots also come out clean but lose colors, and the overall results look a bit muted.
- The OnePlus 9 Pro's 50MP wide-angle camera captures excellent pictures. The Freeform lens helps reduce the distortion effect at the hardware level; however, the difference is only visible when you zoom in on the images. Still, the overall output is better than the competition. The camera sensor is also big enough to capture crisp images with plenty of details.
- The ultra-wide sensor also shoots macros and does a good job but once again, the color tuning seems off on macros. OnePlus 9 Pro seems to perform better in the low-light scenarios than in the daylight. Even the standard mode captures impressive details and delivers results that supersede night mode shots on some rivals. The night pictures have plenty of resolved details and vibrant colors.
- There's a new ‘Tilt Shift' mode that allows you to keep a certain part of the frame in pin-sharp focus and blurs the background. It can help you deliver some amazing pictures.
- You can also shoot 12-bit RAW images that give you more freehand at post-processing
- The OnePlus 9 Pro shoots impressive 4k 30/60fps videos from the primary and ultra-wide sensor. Videos have a good dynamic range, pleasing color tones, and impressive details.
- While the primary sensor captures excellent daylight shots, the overall detailing is still a no match for higher resolution sensors, per se 108MP cameras.
- Noise is a big problem with the OnePlus 9 Pro's camera output. Even the daylight images show noise traces.
- The color tuning isn't consistent. Sometimes the images show very realistic and natural color tones, and there are times when the shots have excessive saturation, even higher than what Samsung phones are known for. It also happens with the contrast levels that keep fluctuating within the same lighting scenarios. And I am talking about the JPEGs, wherein all the Hasselblad tuning has gone in.
- I also noticed a cranked up sharpness in daylight and low-light shots, which leads to unwanted noise in the pictures.
- The EIS isn't made available for 120fps videos so make sure you have a tripod handy for recording smooth and steady videos.
- The 8K 30fps video is highly unimpressive and looks quite blurry. It seems less detailed than even the 4K footage.
- The front-facing camera cannot shoot 4K videos, lacks a night mode, and also does not let you control the blur effect while taking portraits.
OnePlus 9 Pro Camera’s Limitations
- OnePlus devices won't let you capture portraits in the full-screen aspect ratio. The portrait mode is fixed to deliver pictures only in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. There are instances where a full-screen aspect ratio makes for stunning composition and if you are carrying a OnePlus phone, you just miss it because of the basic camera limitation.
- There are no special effects, filters, or Studio lighting sort of effects in the camera app to let you experiment with portraits. You can only add filters or change basic picture settings in the native photo-editing app. I hardly think there's any other brand that's offering such a basic camera app to frame portraits.
- Moving on, you cannot even alter the bokeh in real-time or after taking a shot. Most smartphones let you have full control of the portrait's output and just make the OnePlus phones feel very restricted.
- While it's good to have sophisticated video modes such as Video Nightscape, Super Stable video, Video Portrait, you can't use any of them together. OnePlus should have at least enabled the super steady mode for the nightscape video to offer stable low-light video footages. Also, the super steady video only works for 30fps on both 4k and 1080p videos.
- There's no Pro mode for videos and the one for pictures only works with the main camera, which means you can't shoot RAW with the exciting 50MP wide-angle sensor.
- The camera lacks far-field zoom, something easily available in this respective price-point.
OnePlus 9 Hardware Performance
The OnePlus 9 Pro uses the latest flagship chipset from Qualcomm- Snapdragon 888 SoC. Built on the 5nm fabrication process, the 5G-enabled chipset has X60 5G modem and uses the Adreno 660 GPU to handle graphics on the QHD+ panel. The SoC has been paired with 12GB LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage. It is the current top-of-the-line hardware on offer and ensures smooth performance for most of the part. It does not happen always because the OnePlus 9 Pro seems to lack the optimization of a true flagship smartphone.
I used the device as my daily driver for over two weeks and noticed various inconsistencies. While the performance is top-notch (Antutu-640152), maintaining it seems to be a problem for the handset. There are severe heating issues, especially when you are using the camera and Google Maps. The cameras stop working if the device notices any serious heat signatures. What's surprising is the fact that the alerts started coming in within 10-minutes of the phone's usage in outdoor conditions. I had to wait for the device to cool down so that I can start taking camera samples again, forget about 4K video recording.
The phone also got warm while playing games but thankfully, the games didn't stop working. And thanks to the wonderful QHD+ panel with 240Hz touch sampling rate and some features like Hypertouch, the popular games with complex 3D graphics look wonderful on the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Lack Of Quality Check Or Optimization?
Overall, OnePlus could have done a lot better with the OnePlus 9 Pro's cutting-edge internals. After all, what good flagship hardware is if you cannot use it to its fullest potential. The OnePlus 9 Pro is like a race car with a disclaimer- Have fun driving it till the engine doesn't heat up! After that, it's constant warnings and alerts to take a pause and let the device recover from its sad state. I wish I had a ‘Senzu Bean' to offer to this powerful device every time it succumbed to a typical regular outdoor usage in Delhi NCR's heat.
Just to put things in context, I used two other flagship devices (Galaxy S21 Ultra and the Vivo X60 Pro) simultaneously and did not experience any such heating issues in the same temperature and usage pattern. Even the mid-range phones- Redmi Note 10 Pro Max, Oneplus' very own Nord haven't given such alerts on similar usage and in the same environment.
Audio Performance & Connectivity
The OnePlus 9 Pro features one of the best-sounding speakers on the flagship phones. The stereo speaker setup (Bottom-firing speaker + Earpiece) produces a loud and clear sound. There's a noticeable stereo effect in the audio, backed by Dolby Atmos, which makes the overall sound quality immersive. You can enjoy watching movies, music streaming, and even gameplay if you don't have earphones handy. For wireless music streaming, the OnePlus 9 Pro has support for aptX & aptX HD & LDAC & AAC codecs.
As far as the connectivity is concerned, the OnePlus' official website mentions that the smartphone's X60 5G modem supports two 5G bands in India- N41, 78, both for SA and NSA. The phone has a dual-SIM card tray, Type-C Port, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and Wi-Fi (2.4G/5G). I did not face any phone-dependent connectivity-related issues during my review duration. The call drops were only due to the pathetic Airtel network services in the Delhi NCR region.
OnePlus 9 pro Software Performance- Needs Some Refinements
My OnePlus 9 Pro came running a rather buggier Oxygen OS 11 version. Various apps including WhatsApp, Instagram, native apps such as the camera kept crashing. Gallery app behaved abruptly with a mass selection of pictures, and I also faced some issues with the phone's pocket mode. It stayed on even when nothing was blocking the ambient sensor. Besides, the Always-on mode and the lock screen also had some issues. At one instance, the lock screen started showing the detailed WhatsApp chats despite disabling the ‘Hide notifications' toggle in the settings menu.
Intuitive & Feature Rich
Thankfully, the latest Oxygen OS 184.108.40.206LE15DA OTA update has improved most of the issues on the handset; however, the intense heating issues with the camera usage persist and need to be taken care of on priority. These bugs aside, the Oxygen OS runs smoothly on the OnePlus 9 Pro. It is visually very appealing and is filled to the brim with customization features. The UI is designed to ease the one-hand usage on the massive display, something which is very thoughtful and should be followed by other OEMs for their respective custom Android Skins.
OnePlus 9 Pro Battery Life- 65W Wired & 50W Wireless Charging
The OnePlus 9 Pro's battery life isn't mind-blowing but gets the job done. I have had a satisfactory experience throughout the review duration. The 4,500 mAh battery managed to give a day's backup with a mixed usage involving some gaming, wireless music streaming, video calling, camera usage, and other day-to-day phone use. The QHD+ resolution with 120Hz takes a toll on the battery life, something you need to take into account if you want the battery to last longer.
Thanks to Oppo, the OnePlus 9 Pro supports 65W wired charging that can refuel the battery from flat to 100% in about 32 minutes, which is insane. The phone also supports wireless charging and you experience the industry-leading 50W wireless charging via the OnePlus' 50W Warp charger. The newly announced wireless charger can refuel the phone's battery from flat to 100% in less than 50 minutes, which is very impressive for a wireless charger.
Last but not the least, the OnePlus 9 Pro also supports reverse wireless charging (up to 5W), slow but workable. The feature comes extremely handy if you don't have a charger handy and want to refuel your Qi-enabled TWS earphones or a smartwatch.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is the company's best smartphone to date but is it the best flagship out there? No. It is only the best alternative to the most premium Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhones. And that's not a bad deal. You can save thousands and experience similar performance at various levels. The smartphone excels in the display department and has a design that's at par with the most premium flagship phones in the market.
The Oxygen OS continues to impress us with its ease of use and customization options but it's not free of issues. The software is quite buggy and will take some time to mature on the new flagship phone. I hope the future OTA updates resolve the issues we faced on the new flagship.
Moving on to the biggest highlight, the Hasselblad cameras, they are a mixed bag and failed to meet our expectations. I was hoping for some dramatic changes with the new partnership but the results are pretty okayish and are something you would expect from any phone at this price. Importantly, the OnePlus cameras continue to feel restricted. The lack of basic features in the camera app makes the OnePlus 9 Pro not so user-friendly for someone who would consider buying a photography-centric smartphone.
As far as other performance parameters are concerned, the phone is very powerful but seems to lack optimization. It almost feels like the OnePlus 9 Pro is not able to make the best out of its cutting-edge hardware. The constant heat alerts while using power-hungry apps demand some urgent attention from the brand. The audio and connectivity performance is top-class. The battery lasting capacity is also good and the fast charging is the icing on the cake.
In a nutshell, OnePlus still needs to overcome various obstacles to deliver a phone that's not just an alternative but a true flagship phone for the power users.