It has been a busy few months for the Chinese tech giant, OnePlus. For one, one of the company’s co-founders – Carl Pei – who was instrumental in shaping the company’s image stepped down to move to newer pastures. Then, the company inaugurated, which is quite possibly, the biggest overhaul OxygenOS has seen in years. The brand also forayed into the fitness category with the launch of the OnePlus Band (review). Clearly, the company has had too many irons in the fire and to top it all off, the brand recently announced its flagship phones for 2021. Dubbed the OnePlus 9 and the OnePlus 9 Pro, the smartphones are among the first wave of Snapdragon 888-powered phones in the country. Now, as is the case with every other OnePlus launch, the handsets have a lot riding on their shoulders, particularly the OnePlus 9 Pro that costs well over Rs 65K. So, in this review, let’s find out if it’s worthy of your bucks.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a pricey proposition, though the device still undercuts the competition and offers a lot of value in return. Those looking for a premium flagship phone under Rs 70K will find plenty to like about OnePlus’ latest entrant.
OnePlus has never shied away from experimenting with the design of its phones and over the years, the company has put forth some resplendent handsets, be it with the sandstone-finish toting OnePlus One, or the Concept One, which could hide its rear camera. That said, OnePlus has somewhat streamlined its design ethos and the company’s devices now adhere to a more mass-market approach. The OnePlus 9 Pro too, follows the same philosophy and therefore, has been constructed using a mix of glass and metal. Now, don’t get me wrong – the phone looks gorgeous, especially in the Morning Mist colourway sent to me for review… which takes me back to winter whenever I glance at its back. I am also a huge fan of the smartphone’s camera cutout and the chrome accents around the sensors that elevate the OnePlus 9 Pro’s aesthetics that much more. The handset’s ergonomics deserve a mention too, and I seldom had to readjust my grip when using the phone as I could comfortably reach the edges of the screen. At the same time, the OnePlus 9 Pro is not going to turn many heads because at the end of the day, it looks like most, if not all premium flagships.
Moving on, the smartphone offers a luxurious in-hand feel, which is further bettered by its chassis which weighs in at just under 200g (197g), thereby ensuring your wrists don’t twirl when using the phone day in and day out. A point to note, the frame for the phone is more rounded off this time around, making the handset easier to grip. The back of the phone does smudge quite a bit, though the company has furnished a tastefully designed, matte grey case with the phone that should keep your OCD at bay. Other than that, you can expect all the usual niceties from a premium OnePlus flagship including the handy alert slider that’ll allow you to switch sound profiles on the fly and IP68 certification, which will keep your mind at ease when using the phone near a pool or in your shower.
That said, unlike some recent flagships, the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t make use of Corning Gorilla Glass Victus and instead, comes layered with Gorilla Glass 5 on the front, and 3D on the back. Consequently, if you abhor protective cases and would like to use your phone without one, the OnePlus 9 Pro might not prove to be as sturdy as, say, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (review).
The OnePlus 9 Pro offers a tactile volume rocker on its left-hand spine, along with a USB Type-C port at the bottom for data transfer and charging. The smartphone also ships with dual stereo speakers, though much to my dismay, dismisses the notion of bringing back the headphone jack akin to the ASUS ROG Phone 5 (first impressions) – a similarly-specced gaming phone with a more radical design. On the whole though, the OnePlus 9 Pro checks a lot of boxes in the design department and I don’t see users weaning off of its aesthetics any time soon.
Time and again, OnePlus has been scrutinised for offering sub-par cameras with its otherwise power-packed phones. In the past, buyers and critics could justify the lack of flagship-tier cameras on OnePlus’ offerings owing to the handset’s relatively inexpensive prices. However, seeing how OnePlus is now positioning its phones in the premium segment, the onus is on the brand to deliver a top-tier, camera-centric phone. Thankfully, it has been a long time coming but the OnePlus 9 Pro is just that – a remarkable camera phone which impresses in most, if not all scenarios.
To do so, the company hasn’t just used newer imaging sensors, but they’ve also partnered with camera-giant Hasselblad to finetune the smartphone’s colour science. The company calls it “natural colour calibration with Hasselblad” which aims to bring more natural-looking colours to the photos shot with the OnePlus 9 Pro. And, it works exactly as advertised as the OnePlus 9 Pro outputted excellently detailed shots with accurate colours from the word go. The camera setup on the phone comprises a 48MP Sony IMX 789 sensor which works alongside a 50MP Sony IMX 766 Ultra-wide angle lens, an 8MP telephoto camera and a 2MP monochrome sensor. For selfies, the device makes use of a 16MP, Sony IMX 471 sensor.
Now, as prefaced previously, the 48MP main sensor on the OnePlus 9 Pro clicks phenomenal photos during the day. In fact, when pitted against the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s shots were on par (if not better) than the Korean giant’s offering. Take this shot of a parking lot for instance and here, you can instantly tell that the image from the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is upping the saturation in the leaves of the trees, as well as the sky. However, the OnePlus 9 Pro rendered the scene as is and at a closer crop, the image is much, much sharper than what I managed to snap with the S21 Ultra 5G. Be it the textures on the white building or the definition around the leaves, the OnePlus 9 Pro has, to everyone’s surprise, clicked a much more appealing photo.
In a similar fashion, the smartphone outputted a more colour-accurate image when compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro (review) too. In this next slider comparing images from the two phones, you’ll notice that while the details are more or less the same in the two shots, the OnePlus 8 Pro ups the contrast to make the composition appear a bit dramatic. The same is evident when you glance at the colour of the leaves or the pink hue of the building in the background.
Moving on, the smartphone’s ultra-wide angle sensor is phenomenal too. In fact, the one on the OnePlus 9 Pro is quite possibly, the best ultra-wide angle sensor I’ve used to date. The company has employed a freeform lens which, owing to its unique curves, corrects the incoming light to reduce distortion around the edges of the frame. In a nutshell, the sensor will be able to correct spherical aberrations like a fish-eye effect more efficiently. In practice, I noticed that the images from the OnePlus 9 Pro’s wide-angle sensor were indeed, more detail-laden and less susceptible to fringing around the edges too. There is a noticeable colour temperature disparity when switching from the main lens to the wide-angle shooter but, despite that, I think OnePlus deserves a pat on the back here.
Unfortunately, the smartphone’s telephoto sensor is still rough around the edges (no pun intended) and the 3.3x optical zoom renders the subject a tad too soft for my liking. Moreover, under less than ideal conditions, you’ll notice a lot of noise in the images too. Thankfully, the macros snapped by the ultra-wide angle lens look beautiful and I’m positive that with moderately steady hands and a little patience, you will be able to get some phenomenal close-ups of flowers, etc. In terms of low-light photography, the OnePlus 9 Pro managed to impress me yet again. Images taken with the Nightscape feature enabled mitigated lens flaring to a certain degree, and outputted a brighter, more detailed scene. The selfie camera did a serviceable job too and while it put forth images with bountiful details, my complexion was a bit off. But, rest assured, the front-shooter will suffice for all your Instagram and Snapchat needs.
Biometrics and Audio
The OnePlus 9 Pro ships with an in-display fingerprint sensor that works like a charm and the unit offered excellent accuracy during my time with the phone. That said, the fingerprint sensor’s point of contact on the screen has been positioned a bit too low for my liking. Thankfully, the same was mitigated by the company’s excellent facial unlock tech which got me into my home screen instantaneously.
As for audio, the OnePlus 9 Pro offers a good set of stereo speakers that will suffice for consuming content on the go. The pair gets adequately loud and the audio output has good depth to it as well. You’ll also get Qualcomm’s WCD9385 DAC with the phone, much like the one which debuted with the OnePlus 8 Pro and Snapdragon 865 platform. During my testing, I could comfortably play 24-bit FLACs on the OnePlus 9 Pro, so no complaints here either.
OnePlus has been revamping the displays backing its phones bit by bit and last year, the company offered a gorgeous 6.7-inch AMOLED display with QHD+ resolution and 120Hz refresh rate technology. Well, this year, the company is launching the OnePlus 9 Pro with a 6.7-inch, QHD+ AMOLED display that refreshes at 120Hz. Confused? Well, here’s the kicker – the screen backing this year’s model is built using LTPO technology that allows the smartphone to ‘smartly’ variate the display refresh rate to better the battery life. In fact, per OnePlus, the panel onboard the 9 Pro can cut down the screen’s power consumption by up to 50 percent, making it much more battery-efficient compared to traditional LTPS screens. It also allows the phone to drop its refresh rate all the way down to 1Hz for static content (viewing photos or reading text), and dial it up to 24Hz for movies and 120Hz for scrolling through the UI and gaming. The display is curved on either side as well, which can do wonders for a phone’s aesthetics albeit usually makes the smartphone more susceptible to accidental touches too. That’s primarily why I prefer using phones with a flat screen but credit where credit’s due, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s display didn’t pick up any ghost touches during my time with it.
That’s not all, as the screen is also HDR 10+ certified, offers native 10-bit colour depth and has a peak-brightness of 1,300nits. Unsurprisingly, these compelling specs translate into a fantastic experience for the user and I revelled watching my favourite shows and movies on the phone, thanks to the panel’s excellent colours and wide viewing angles. What’s more, the display’s smooth refresh rate makes scrubbing through daunting PDFs a fun chore too.
That said, I found the animation of the text appearing in the settings menu (when you search for something) and even the animation for pulling up the multitasking tray to be a bit jittery. I did reach out to fellow industry professionals and inquired whether they were facing the same issue and so far, it seems like the problem is isolated to my unit only. I’ll update you on the same once I have more information to share so for now, let’s talk about the phone’s performance.
OnePlus made a name for itself by offering high-performance phones for a fraction of the price of an iPhone, or the latest Galaxy S-series flagship. To that note, the company’s OnePlus 9 Pro adheres to the same philosophy and is among the first phones in the country to ship with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor, which works alongside up to 12GB of LPDDR5 memory and up to 256GB of built-in, non-expandable, UFS 3.1 storage. Naturally, apps and games fly on the phone and I never ran into any performance-related issues with the device.
As for gaming, I could comfortably push games like Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact at the highest preset on the phone. And, should you want to play anything else, I am positive that the handset will be able to run it at the best possible settings too, owing to its superb hardware. What’s more, the smartphone dissipates heat well and at no point during my review period did I notice the phone get too warm to the touch. Correspondingly, my gaming experience on the phone was downright excellent as the games launched quickly, ran smoothly and the device offered a comfortable in-hand grip, along with a relatively spacious and accommodating display.
Software and Battery Life
As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, OnePlus recently introduced a massive visual overhaul to OxygenOS. For the most part, the company hasn’t deterred away from offering a near-stock Android experience albeit the menus look quite different now. That said, OxygenOS still retains the number one spot on my list as it is among the handful of custom skins to offer excellent customisation features from the word go. So, be it stylising your phone with a shiny new third-party icon pack, or revamping the clock style for your always-on display, the OnePlus 9 Pro can do it all. OnePlus also offers a slew of nifty tweaks including a secret vault to safe-keep your nefarious world-domination plans, as well as a fantastic reading mode that turns the display black and white so as to reduce the strain on the eyes.
OxygenOS has always played an integral role in swaying prospective buyers over to OnePlus’ doorsteps. While the new UI comes across as a tad polarising, I still rate it highly as it offers slick animations, useful features and most importantly, isn’t marred by any intrusive ads either. Unfortunately, that’s more than I can say about the phone’s battery life and notwithstanding the capacious 4,500mAh cell, the OnePlus 9 Pro struggled to see me through the end of a heavy workday. Now, bear in mind that I had the display resolution set to Full HD+ and despite that, I was barely netting five hours of screen on time with the phone.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is the company’s most ambitious smartphone yet and unsurprisingly, is quite pricey too. The handset starts at Rs 64,999 for the 8GB/128GB variant, with the 12GB RAM model with 256GB of storage costing a buck shy of Rs 70K. It goes without saying that OnePlus’ pricing for its latest phones will not sit well with some potential buyers. After all, the company built its clout in the country by offering VFM flagships to budget-conscience buyers.
Well, while I am not denying that the OnePlus 9 Pro is a pricey proposition, I do believe that the smartphone justifies its price. In fact, one look at the competition, the likes of which include the Samsung Galaxy S21 and the S21 Plus, you’ll notice that the OnePlus 9 Pro offers a higher-resolution display, a faster processor and much faster wired and wireless charging. Lest I forget, the company has made tremendous strides in the camera department too and the OnePlus 9 Pro clicks just as good (if not better) photos akin to the Samsung Galaxy S21 duo too. Despite that, the base variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro still costs thousands of bucks less than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus.
Obviously, buyers in the market for a phone with a serviceable camera and a Snapdragon 888 processor need not look any further than the OnePlus 9, or the ASUS ROG Phone 5. However, bear in mind that you will be missing out on an IP rating, as well as wireless charging, among other things. All things considered, OnePlus is sailing into uncharted waters with the launch of the OnePlus 9 Pro. While I cannot comment on the phone’s success in the Indian market as of yet, I can recommend it to prospective buyers who have a budget of Rs 65-70K. For the price, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a good option and is only held back by its sub-par battery life. Other than that, the smartphone excels in every department and correspondingly, gets a green light from me.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Stunning 120Hz AMOLED display
- Uber-fast wired charging
- Excellent performance
- Good cameras
- Sub-par battery life
- The telephoto lens could do with some tweaks