Last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro was a departure for the company. It marked a more expensive, more premium phone than previous OP (OnePlus) models. The 9 Pro is an expansion of this philosophy, packing better cameras and more high-end features than ever before. To put it simply: This is the best phone OnePlus has ever built.
For fans of OnePlus, the 9 Pro is sure to be a hit. It’s big, beautiful, and fast, with excellent cameras and a gorgeous display. It also has the fastest charging I’ve ever used—both wired and wireless. With the included charger, it can hit 65 watts with a cable. It can also hit a staggering 50 watts wirelessly—faster than most other phones can do with a cable (by a large measure).
So yeah, there’s a lot to love about this phone.
Table of Contents
- Power for Days
- But It’s a Big Boi
- Performance Is Killer and Oxygen OS Rocks (But Battery Life Is Just OK)
- The Cameras Are the Best Ever in a OnePlus Phone (But Still Not the Best in General)
Power for Days
OnePlus has never shied away from packing its phones with some of the best guts you can get at the time, so it’s no surprise that the 9 Pro is filled to the brim with top-tier innards.
- Display: 6.7-inch 3216×1440 120Hz AMOLED
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- RAM: 8GB, 12GB (reviewed)
- Storage: 128GB, 256GB (reviewed)
- Rear Cameras: 48MP Sony IMX789 main, 50MP Sony IMX766 ultra-wide, 8MP Telephone, 2MP monochrome
- Front camera: 16MP Sony IMX471
- Ports: USB-C
- Headphone Jack: No
- Battery: 4,500mAh with 65-watt Warp Charge and 50-watt Warp Charge Wireless (wireless charger not included)
- Biometrics: In-display fingerprint reader
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2×2 MIMO; Bluetooth 5.2; NFC
- 5G Compatibility: N1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 25, 28, 38, 40, 41, 48, 66, 71, 77, 78
- Ingress Protection: IP68
- Android Version: Android 11, January 2021 Security Update (at the time of writing)
- Colors: Pine Green, Morning Mist (reviewed)
- Price as Reviewed: $969, $1,069 (reviewed)
Not too shabby, huh? As I said earlier, it’s big, beautiful, and fast. While there are technically two versions of the phone, only the high-end version is available at the time of writing. The lower-end model drops the RAM from 12GB to 8GB and storage from 256GB to 128GB for a $100 price difference, which is honestly not worth the downgrade in my mind. If you’re already spending almost $1,000 on a phone, might as well go for the extra $100 to get the extra RAM and more storage—both of these things will go a long way in increasing the lifespan of the device.
And to go along with these powerful innards is equally as powerful charging. Last year’s OnePlus 8 Pro included 30-watt Warp Charge (both wired and wireless), while the slightly upgraded 8T introduced the blisteringly fast Warp Charge 65 wired charging. The 9 Pro does one better on both fronts with its new charging options.
To put that into perspective, most other phones (at least in the United States) can’t even come close to hitting 50-watt charging with a cable. But the OnePlus 9 Pro can do it wirelessly. Of course, that will come at a cost—you have to buy the proprietary Warp Charge Wireless Charger and provide your own brick. You can use the one that comes with the phone if you only plan to charge the phone wirelessly, but if you want the best of both worlds, you’ll need to pony up the money for an extra 65w charger. With the charger and brick, that’s easily an extra $100 on top of an already expensive phone.
All that is to say one thing: Warp Charge is freakin’ cool. I’m glad the Warp Charge 65 brick comes in the box because when you need to charge the phone quickly, you already have what you need. Warp Charge Wireless, however, is much more of a novelty in my mind. It simply isn’t worth the extra $70 just for the charger when it doesn’t offer a significant benefit … other than scratching that “I really like cool stuff” itch. For my money, I’d rather use the wired Warp Charge offering when I need a quick boost and stick with a more affordable and much slower wireless option for overnight charging. But I can respect either choice.
And with that, let’s talk about everything else.
But It’s a Big Boi
Do I even need to tell you that this phone is, well, it’s pretty big? That’s pretty much a given for a modern phone with “Pro” in the name at this point, right? With a 6.7-inch display, the 9 Pro is a big boi, and at 197 grams, it’s a hefty one, too. If you like big heavy phones, then you’ll love the OP9 Pro. As a bonus, if you never need to bludgeon someone to death (in self-defense, of course), it would probably be a great tool for the job.
You know what goes along with a having a big phone? A big display. And the 9 Pro makes the most of it with an absolutely beautiful AMOLED panel that clocks a 120Hz refresh rate. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a phone with a 120Hz refresh rate before, but once you do, it’s hard to go back to 60Hz. It’s just fluid and nice to use—anything lower looks choppy in comparison.
That said, if you want to save a little battery life, you can drop it down to 60Hz. But really, I don’t find the impact on battery life to be that dramatic, because the 9 Pro uses a dynamic display that will shift between 1Hz and 120Hz, depending on what you’re doing.
Beyond the silky smooth refresh rate, you’ll also appreciate the 9 Pro’s excellent color accuracy. But hey—that’s what you should expect from a modern flagship phone, right? Right. Once again, DisplayMate has given the 9 Pro an “A+” rating, stating that it’s “visually indistinguishable from perfect.” At this point, I feel like that’s getting an A in gym class for high-end phones, though—they just need to show up and they’re good to go.
Another cool thing that the 9 Pro does is automatically adjust the display tones according to the environment and lighting. This feature is called Comfort Tone and can be enabled in Settings—it’s not on by default, but it should be (and I recommend enabling it). It’s not a dramatic shift, mind you, it just subtly changes the colors to better suit the conditions of the environment. I really like this feature.
While most of us can agree that higher refresh rates and excellent color accuracy are both good things, the edges of the display are a bit more polarizing—because they’re curved. I’ll level with you: I am not a fan of curved displays. I find that I accidentally tap or swipe curved edges more often than flat screens, and it just annoys the hell out of me. This hasn’t been as dramatic on the 9 Pro as many other curved-edge displays I’ve used, but given the choice, I’ll still take a flat display every time.
That said, I do love how modern a curved display looks—the OnePlus 9 Pro’s svelte edges make my flat-screened Pixel 5 look ancient in comparison. I dig that.
Before we move on to the rest of the phone, let’s take a moment to talk about the in-display fingerprint sensor. In-display fingerprint sensors are fine, I guess, but I still maintain that they’re a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They’re generally slower than external sensors, and they can be awkward to use. The 9 Pro’s sensor is also weirdly low—it’s almost at the very bottom of the display. I haven’t had any issues with it so far (aside from having to readjust my thumb almost every time I unlock the phone because I’m not used to a sensor that low). While I would take a rear-mounted sensor over the in-display sensor, this one has been fine.
As for the rest of the body and frame, it’s a pretty standard affair here. The only notable thing for anyone who has never used an OnePlus phone is the alert slider, which allows you to quickly go from ring to vibrate to silent with the flick of a switch. I absolutely adore this feature and will never understand why more manufacturers don’t steal it.
Oh, and the finish. My review unit is Morning Mist, and it’s basically a mirror. A silver, fingerprint- collecting mirror. You’re going to want a case on this one if for no other reason than your sanity.
Performance Is Killer and Oxygen OS Rocks (But Battery Life Is Just OK)
Look, I don’t think there’s any reason to beat a dead horse to death (again) here: The phone is fast. Like, stupid-fast. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 paired with 12GB of RAM should be more than enough for basically anyone. Everyone. Both.
But that is to be expected from a modern smartphone, right? I’ve been saying it for years, but specs simply don’t matter anymore—especially in the flagship space. Now it’s all about the experience. You know, the software.
And when it comes down to it, Oxygen OS is where it’s at. I’m an Android purist at heart, but I refuse to hide my love affair with Oxygen OS. It’s easily as good as stock Android. In some ways, it’s even better. Seriously, it’s so good.
There are a lot of little quality of life enhancements in Oxygen that make it great. The ability to one-hand the Settings menu because the menus start halfway down the screen, for example (something clearly stolen from Samsung’s One UI). Or the option to enable/disable certain UI elements in the status bar without the need for a third-party app. The aforementioned Comfort Tone mode. Or the ability to set a custom font. There’s a lot to love about Oxygen OS.
But!—you knew it was coming didn’t you?—it’s not perfect. Memory management can be absolutely overbearing and kill background tasks prematurely. This thing has 12GB of RAM, so there’s no need for that sort of nonsense. OnePlus almost certainly does this in the name of battery life, but it’s more annoying than helpful. Do not like.
Speaking of, the battery life on this phone is interesting—despite the aggressive memory management, it still doesn’t get what I’d call stellar battery life. It’s enough to get me through a day, sure, but it’s not great by any means. What’s more, it seems to be inconsistent. Even with the same kind of usage, one day will kill the battery, while another won’t have as severe an impact. I guess it’s a good thing it can charge stupid-fast, huh?
Overall, though, I have a lot of love for Oxygen OS. It feels enough like stock Android to be familiar, with lots of little tweaks throughout that make over a (mostly) great experience.
The Cameras Are the Best Ever in an OnePlus Phone (But Still Not the Best in General)
This is always the last part of a phone review I write because it’s easily the most complex. I don’t consider myself a photographer by any means, and I try to judge camera performance through a “regular people” lens. But at the same time, I have to look at the full package, how OnePlus sells the features, and how people will likely use the camera. It’s a lot.
To sum it up with a nice little bow, the 9 Pro has the best cameras ever in an OnePlus phone, almost certainly thanks to the company’s partnership with iconic camera maker Hasselblad. OnePlus has improved its camera systems every year, but I guess it required a little help to push the cameras over the top in the 9 Pro. It seems to have worked.
But they’re still not quite as good as what you’ll get on a top-end iPhone, Galaxy, or even a Pixel in some cases. That doesn’t mean it can’t produce very good photos, because it absolutely can. You’ll likely never scoff at the results or think “wow, I should’ve gotten an S21 instead.” Because even though it’s not quite as good as some of its competitors, the differences are marginal, and only the pickiest of users will likely notice it. Also, compared to an iPhone 12 Pro Max or Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the OnePlus 9 Pro is more affordable, which also has to be considered.
Top left: Ultra-wide; Top right: Telephoto; Bottom left: Main Camera; Bottom right: Telephoto in low light (note how grainy it is). Click for full size.
And with that, let’s get a little more granular.
The OnePlus 9 Pro has three (well, four, but we’ll get to that in a second) cameras: a 48MP main sensor, 50MP ultra-wide, and 8MP telephoto. The fourth is a 2MP monochrome sensor, which is supposed to make black and white pictures better. Seems silly to me.
When it comes to color accuracy, that’s something OP talked up a lot with this phone, because it has been an issue for OnePlus phones for, well, as long as I can remember. But this time around, I feel like nailed it … at least mostly. In good lighting, the colors are about as accurate as I’ve ever seen from a smartphone—at least from what my eyes can see anyway.
That said, it leans a little on the cool side, favoring blues. This is even more prevalent in low light, where the camera compensates by trying to sharpen the image. This also leads to some noise in shadows and other dark areas, though it’s still passable. Again, only the pickiest of users will end up seeing this as an issue.
Both: Main Camera. Click for full size.
This is all in auto mode, of course. I figure this is where most users will spend their time, but more advanced users will probably also want to explore Pro mode. This mode has been totally redesigned to offer some of Hasselblad’s features—a first for a smartphone. Users who want to shoot in Pro mode will get all the goods they’re used to here: ISO, exposure, focus, white balance, and all that other stuff. Pro mode can also shoot in 12-bit RAW if that’s your thing.
I’d be lying if I said most of this stuff wasn’t lost on me. I can appreciate the extra control in a smartphone app, but honestly, if I’m going to spend that much time tweaking settings, I’d rather just use my DSLR. To me, smartphone cameras are meant to be fast—the one you always have on you to grab a shot at a moment’s notice.
As such, you’ll also want to take advantage of the phone’s ultra-wide and telephoto lenses. I’m generally not a huge fan of ultra-wide cameras and find them much less useful than telephoto, but I’m happy to see both on the 9 Pro.
Top two: indoors, moderate light (main camera); Bottom left: outdoors, dusk, low light (main camera); Bottom right: portrait mode (main camera). Click for full size.
The ultra-wide does a good job of capturing images that are sharper and clearer at the edges than other smartphones. OnePlus claims the Freeform Lens is designed in a way that it brings edge distortion down to 1% (compared to 10-20% on other phones), and I’m inclined to believe it. While the main shooter is at least on par with most other phones much of the time, the ultra-wide is a winner here. It still has some of the same blue hue tendencies of the main camera, but otherwise, it’s pretty solid.
The telephoto is pretty hit and miss. In some situations, it’s great. But in low lighting and other less-than-perfect environments, it’s very grainy. While I find telephoto lenses to be more utilitarian than ultra-wides, that utility goes out the window if the overall result is poor. With the 9 Pro’s telephoto lens, you might have to take a handful of shots to get a good one, which is something I never experienced with the main or ultra-wide lenses.
So, at the end of it all, I feel weird about the OnePlus 9 Pro. I feel like it’s a marginal upgrade from the 8 Pro—in other words, if you have an 8 Pro and are considering the upgrade, don’t. It’s not enough of an improvement to justify the cost. If you’re using a 7 series or older, however, it’s might be a better investment.
The cameras are a marked improvement from previous OnePlus phones, but still not truly competitive with the latest Galaxy, iPhone, or Pixel devices. It can get some really great shots, but it also might take two or three tries to grab the one you want. Sometimes you don’t have that kind of time. Still, I don’t want to sound like the cameras are bad because that’s not the case. They’re (mostly) great cameras in their own right.
The fast -wired charging speed is great, especially because the battery life can be a little finicky. The 50w wireless charging, though, is a much tougher sale. Not only do you need to buy a $70 charger and possibly another power brick to get the top speed, but the usefulness of wireless charging this fast is arguable at best. It’s neat, but that’s it.
Overall, the 9 Pro is a very good phone. It’s the best OnePlus phone to date (though I still have a soft spot for the 7 Pro), and it has a price tag to match. When the 8T and 8 Pro are $600 and $700 respectively, you have to really ask yourself if the nicer cameras are worth the extra $300-$400. And to me, that’s a tough sell.
Here’s What We Like
- Crazy fast
- Big, beautiful display
- The best cameras ever in a OnePlus phone
- Stupid-fast charging (wired and wireless)
And What We Don't
- The telephoto lens isn't great
- Battery life is hit and miss
- Fast wireless charger is a costly add-on