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OnePlus 9 Pro review: super slick, rapid charging Android phone

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “OnePlus 9 Pro review: super slick, rapid charging Android phone” was written by Samuel Gibbs Consumer technology editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 24th March 2021 07.00 UTC

OnePlus’s latest 9 Pro Android phone takes the firm’s winning formula of slick speed and adds knowhow from the Swedish renowned camera manufacturer Hasselblad to try to improve things in the photography department.

The £829 phone tops the Chinese brand’s line for 2021 and joins its stablemate Oppo in its pursuit of top dog Samsung.

The 9 Pro is a curved glass and metal sandwich just like its predecessors, but now comes in refined and grown-up colours.

The design is simple and sleek; even the Hasselblad-branded camera lump on the back looks refined.
The design is simple and sleek; even the Hasselblad-branded camera lump on the back looks refined. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The large 6.7in QHD+ OLED screen looks great: bright, crisp and smooth, with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz matching the best of competitors. The sub-200g weight and sub-74mm width make it fairly easy to hold for a big phone, while the in-screen optical fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, so unlocking it is a breeze.

Specifications

  • Main screen: 6.7in QHD+ OLED (525ppi) 120Hz
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
  • RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM
  • Storage: 128 or 256GB
  • Operating system: Oxygen OS 11.2 based on Android 11
  • Camera: Quad rear camera: 48MP wide, 50MP ultra-wide, 8MP telephoto, 2MP monochrome; 16MP front-facing camera
  • Connectivity: 5G, dual nano sim, USB-C, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 (AAC, aptX/HD, LDAC) and location
  • Water resistance: IP68
  • Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
  • Weight: 197g

Top performance and uber-fast charging

OnePlus’s Warp Charge 65T technology will charge the phone from 1% to 100% in just 32 minutes, hitting 50% in 12 minutes with the included adaptor. It also has very fast 50W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging.
OnePlus’s Warp Charge 65T technology will charge the phone from 1% to 100% in just 32 minutes, hitting 50% in 12 minutes with the included adaptor. It also has very fast 50W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The OnePlus 9 Pro has Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 888 processor – which is the top chip available to Android devices – with at least 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. OnePlus is known for its exceptionally fast-feeling phones, and the 9 Pro continues to deliver. Apps are responsive, games fly and everything is smooth.

It also has good battery life. With the screen set to its maximum QHD+ resolution and 120Hz frame rate, the phone lasts about 44 hours with the screen used for more than five hours in various apps. That means the phone lasts from 7am on day one until 3am on day three and so requires charging every other night. That includes two hours on 5G, the rest on wifi, an hour of Disney+ and about 20 photos shot.

Sustainability

OnePlus rates the battery in the 9 Pro for 1,000 full-charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. Longevity is aided by the optimised charging system. The battery can be replaced and the smartphone is generally repairable by OnePlus in the UK.

The company offers a trade-in programme for its own phones and models from rivals. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones. OnePlus does not publish environmental impact assessments but did publish a sustainability report in 2019.

Oxygen OS 11.2

The selfie camera pokes through a small hole in the top left of the screen.
The selfie camera pokes through a small hole in the top left of the screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The 9 Pro ships with the latest version of OnePlus’s Oxygen OS, here based on Android 11.

Oxygen OS is one of the most refined and bloat-free western-orientated versions of Android. It offers a reasonable amount of customisation without being overwhelming, from basics such as the ability to remove unwanted icons from the status bar to changing the visual flourish around the fingerprint scanner when you press your finger on it.

It is fast, slick and easy to use, particularly if you have used either the standard Android experience offered by Google or Nokia’s phones or Samsung devices.

OnePlus offers software support for three years from release, including two years of Android version updates and then a further year of security updates bimonthly. Samsung offers four years and Apple offers five for their respective phones, so OnePlus still has work to do.

Camera

The Hasselblad ‘pro mode’ in the camera app has most of the settings you’d expect from a more advanced camera, including shooting in RAW.
The Hasselblad ‘pro mode’ in the camera app has most of the settings you’d expect from a more advanced camera, including shooting in RAW. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

On the back of the phone are four Hasselblad-branded cameras, including a 48MP main, 50MP ultra-wide, 8MP 3.3x telephoto and a 2MP monochrome camera, the last of which is a gimmick add-on only used for the weak “monochrome” filter.

The main 48MP camera is generally good, shooting well-exposed and balanced photos with a neutral colour balance. It can shoot at the full 48MP size but defaults to 12MP photos, with which I got better results. Low-light performance was pretty good and the dedicated nightscape mode works well in dark scenes. Highly backlit photos could look a bit washed-out, while some images could look over-sharpened and processed when viewed full-size – don’t blow them up to full size and they look great.

The 50MP ultra-wide camera is also one of the better sensors available, shooting good images and supporting nightscape and other modes. The 8MP telephoto camera has a 3.3x zoom, which is fairly good for a phone without a dedicated periscope zoom system such as that found on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It has noticeably poorer low-light performance than the other cameras and cannot use the nightscape mode.

The 16MP fixed-focus selfie camera shot some great-looking photos in good lighting, but was a little soft on detail when blown up to full size. It handled lower-lighting conditions fairly well but lacks any dedicated low-light mode.

The Hasselblad partnership promises more in the future, but for now is limited to optimisation and camera app features.
The Hasselblad partnership promises more in the future, but for now is limited to optimisation and camera app features. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Video can be shot at up to 8K resolution at 30 frames a second, with some interesting features such as Nightscape and portrait modes for video.

OnePlus’s partnership with Hasselblad has added a few things, including more neutral colour balancing compared to previous efforts. But the most obvious addition is a redesigned Hasselblad “Pro” mode, which has a lot of control options for things like ISO, white balance, shutter, focus and other bits. It is fairly complicated and difficult to get better shots than the normal mode but should be useful for those who want to take the time to go beyond simple point-and-shoot.

Overall the camera on the 9 Pro is good, but will not trouble the market leaders. Hopefully more work with Hasselblad can help improve things.

Observations

oneplus 9 pro review
The excellent alert slider on the side of the phone toggles between silent, vibrate and ring. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The phone’s haptic vibrations are nice and sharp, but are not as strong as I would like for some notifications.
  • Call quality and 5G performance on EE was excellent.
  • The screen is covered in the older Gorilla Glass 5, not the latest significantly more shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass Victus

Price

The OnePlus 9 Pro will cost £829 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, or £929 with 12 and 256GB.

For comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra has an RRP of £1,149, the Galaxy S21+ costs £949, Oppo Find X3 Pro costs £1,099, and the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max costs £1,099.

Verdict

The OnePlus 9 Pro is yet another great-performing, well-made smartphone from the Chinese brand.

At £829 it still undercuts the competition on RRP, but not significantly with the frequent discounts for Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series and others available online. Instead, OnePlus is more or less competing on an equal footing. In many respects it delivers, with a great screen, super-slick experience and a good battery life.

Where it falters is with a good but not class-leading camera and in only having three years of software support from release, which is decidedly average and behind the four or more that the likes of Samsung and Apple offer for their phones.

Pros: Slick performance, good software, good battery life, speedy charging, great screen, solid camera, water resistance.

Cons: Only three years of software support, camera can over-sharpen images, screen glass not the toughest available.

The metal sides and curved glass front and back make the 9 Pro feel narrower and easier to grip than similarly-sized rivals.
The metal sides and curved glass front and back make the 9 Pro feel narrower and easier to grip than similarly-sized rivals. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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