After a prolonged hype campaign, OnePlus has finally revealed its flagship phone for 2021: the OnePlus 9 Pro. This is OnePlus’ most expensive phone yet, but the company also believes it’s the first OnePlus device to truly stand as a full flagship — not a flagship killer.
OnePlus has doubled down on the technology in the OnePlus 9 Pro in order to make it a solid competitor with the industry’s elite. This includes OnePlus’ most ambitious camera system yet in a partnership with high-end camera maker Hasselblad. Is this new partnership the missing ingredient in OnePlus’s recipe for smartphone success? Find out in the Android Authority OnePlus 9 Pro review.
Update, March 2021: This review has been updated with a video review of the OnePlus 9 Pro and details regarding Verizon 5G certification.
What you need to know about the OnePlus 9 Pro
- OnePlus 9 Pro (8GB/128GB): $969/£829/€899/Rs. 64,999
- OnePlus 9 Pro (12GB/256GB): $1,069/£929/€999/Rs. 69,999
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a “full package premium device,” says OnePlus, thanks to the company’s investment in camera technology and its commitment to offering a phone that has the best display, software, and price on the market. I’ve had dozens of interviews with OnePlus over the years, and after listening to them this time, I can honestly say the company’s employees truly believe in the OnePlus 9 Pro’s flagship potential.
Thanks to an increase in pricing — a continued trend for OnePlus — the phone now plays in the exact same premium space as the Samsung Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 families. In fact, OnePlus made no secret that it is targeting these premium devices with the OnePlus 9 Pro. It’s no longer interested in playing the affordable flagship space with its Pro devices — it wants to go head-to-head with the big boys. After all, the vanilla OnePlus 9 is there for those that want a more traditional bang for your buck-style OnePlus phone.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is going head-to-head with the big boys.
The OnePlus 9 Pro marks a return to form of sorts. OnePlus has mostly stuck to a consistent release cadence over the last few years with its numbered series arriving in the spring and a follow-up “T” model appearing later in the fall. Additionally, there’s generally an affordable model, such as this year’s OnePlus 9, which is joined by a more expensive and higher-end “Pro” variant. There was no OnePlus 8T Pro last fall, just the underwhelming OnePlus 8T. As such, it’s been a full year since the company offered a true premiere phone.
See also: Everything you need to know OnePlus
The OnePlus 9 Pro is sold in two memory configurations: 8GB RAM with 128GB storage, or 12GB RAM with 256GB storage for $100 more. OnePlus is offering the phone in three colorways, though availability will depend on the market. In the US, the colors are Morning Mist and Pine Green, while the Stellar Black model will be offered alongside the others in global markets.
Speaking of markets, OnePlus will sell the phone in select countries around the globe. It’ll reach the US and Canada in North America, most European countries, along with China and India.
Those are the basics. Let’s dive into the specifics, shall we?
Design: Back to basics
- Gorilla Glass 5 (front and back), aluminum (frame)
- 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
- In-display fingerprint reader
- Stereo speakers, Dolby Atmos
- Morning Mist, Pine Green, Stellar Black
I’ve generally been a fan of OnePlus’ minimalist design ethos, though I feel like the company lost its way in recent years. The OnePlus 3, 5, and 6 series’ were simple and cohesive, but the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 8 families were a bit too much for my tastes. The 9 Pro sees OnePlus returning to its roots in the best way possible.
OnePlus phones history: The company’s entire lineup so far
“Burdenless design” is OnePlus’ marketing speak for the 9 Pro’s handsome looks. Two 3D curved glass panels, both Gorilla Glass 5, sandwich a thin aluminum frame. The curves are gentle and the glass mates perfectly with the metal along the seams. It makes for an incredibly comfortable hand feel. I’d have preferred to see the latest Gorilla Glass Victus standard here. Considering OnePlus’ intention of taking on the very best, it’d have been fair to expect the same glass as the similarly priced Galaxy S21 Plus.
The frame itself is 2.2mm thick along the side rails and it widens to nearly the full 8.7mm thickness at the top and bottom ends. Silky smooth glass means the OnePlus 9 Pro is crazy slippery. I strongly suggest you use a case to protect the phone. OnePlus has its own selection of excellent first-party cases, but there are plenty of other options too.
The Morning Mist colorway I have is gorgeous. It transitions from near black at the bottom edge to near white at the top edge with a mirrored finish that rivals the stunning Oppo Find X3 Pro‘s good looks. I really like it. Thank goodness OnePlus kept the camera module design in check. The module is still sizable, but it doesn’t jut out from the rear glass as much as, say, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra‘s camera module does. Moreover, the lens arrangement is tasteful and simple in just the right ways.
The OnePlus 9 Pro's design sees the brand returning to its roots in the best way possible.
OnePlus carried over many of the phone’s other design elements from previous generations. For example, the alert slider is present and accounted for. This switch makes it easy to adjust from silent to vibrate to ringer on. The screen lock/power button is just below the switch on the right edge of the phone. You’ll find the volume toggle gracing the left edge. Both these buttons have excellent travel and feedback. A USB-C port is centered on the bottom edge and is flanked by the SIM card tray on the left and the downward-firing speaker on the right. There’s no expandable storage and no headphone jack.
As far as sound is concerned, the earpiece works together with the bottom-mounted speaker to produce a stereo effect. Sound coming from these two speakers is a bit imbalanced, with more volume punching out from the downward-firing speaker. This is common for this kind of speaker arrangement. Due to its placement, I found it was easy to muffle the sound by accidentally covering the bottom speaker when held horizontally, but it’s fine otherwise. The audio itself was a touch thin, too. I had trouble hearing bass lines in music, for example, and explosions didn’t come across as boomy as I’d have liked. Dolby Atmos is on board for wired audio though and you’ll get a better overall experience through a good pair of headphones.
The in-display fingerprint reader is positioned far too low on the phone’s face; it’s right up against the bottom edge. This makes it sometimes awkward to reach. While I wish it reader were a little higher up on the display, it’s a breeze to train and use. It’s seriously quick and accurate when unlocking the phone. Standard camera-based face unlock is also available as well, though I found the in-display fingerprint reader to be faster and more reliable.
Last, let’s cover off a few quick extras. The haptics on the OnePlus 9 Pro are quite good. Whatever magic OnePlus worked with the haptic motor, the feel of the vibrations is much more fine-tuned than what’s available on previous OnePlus phones. The OnePlus 9 Pro also has an IP68 rating globally. That’s what we expect from a premium flagship.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is simple and seamless almost to a fault. A few small tweaks and it could have been perfect, but what’s here is OnePlus at its best.
Display: All that you need
- 6.7-inch LTPO AMOLED with punch-hole
- 3,216 x 1,440 resolution
- 20.1:9 aspect ratio, 120Hz refresh rate
OnePlus packed the 9 Pro’s “Fluid Display 2.0” with tech. To start, the 6.7-inch panel relies on LTPO AMOLED lighting. This allows for more efficient performance due to lower temperatures. The screen puts out 1,300 nits peak brightness, supports HDR10+, and features a micro-curve along the edges with enhanced protection against accidental touches. Let’s address this last point first. The curve is absolutely reduced when compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro and 8 Pro, which makes it much better for typing and rejecting accidental touches.
Then there’s the speed. The LTPO tech allows the display to range from a 1Hz refresh rate up to 120Hz, depending on what content you’re looking at. This allows the screen to scale power usage even further. OnePlus claims its variable refresh rate screen draws half as much power as a full-time 120Hz panel. You can also lock the refresh rate at the standard 60Hz if you want. The 60Hz setting is static, or non-variable. It’s most obviously visible when scrolling up and down in apps such as Twitter or YouTube. The scroll stutters some rather than flowing smoothly like it does with the 120Hz setting.
In addition to the high refresh rate, the screen includes a 360Hz response rate, which OnePlus is calling Hyper Touch. It basically means the phone is that much better for gaming, and OnePlus scored four titles to support the top response rate at launch, including PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty: Mobile.
How does it all look? Fantastic. The device is set to 120Hz at Full HD+ resolution out of the box and it really impresses. It’s incredibly smooth when scrolling or panning around websites or other content. Your eyes won’t notice that the phone isn’t taking advantage of its full Quad HD+ resolution. It’s very clean and crisp. Brightness is excellent, colors are on point, and the display’s temperature is set accurately. With the resolution dialed up to the full QHD+ resolution and maximum frame rate, it simply stuns, albeit at a significant hit to battery life.
I tested some high-res Netflix content and several games and came away impressed. Compared to the already excellent displays found on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and Xiaomi Mi 11, the OnePlus 9 Pro can absolutely hold its own.
Last, you have lots of control over the behavior of the screen in the software. In addition to blue light filters, you can set color effects, motion graphics smoothing for gaming, reading mode, dark mode, as well as the ambient or always-on display settings.
The OnePlus 9 Pro display delivers everything we’ve come to expect from modern Android flagships and then some.
Performance: Geared for greatness
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- Adreno 660
- 8GB/12GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 128GB/256GB storage
OnePlus made sure the 9 Pro has all the power you need no matter how you intend to use the phone. Whether you’re a social media maven, a YouTube fanatic, or a gaming guru, the OnePlus 9 Pro delivers the goods.
With a Snapdragon 888 processor on board, and either 8GB or 12GB of RAM, you’re set to handle everything and anything your daily use could throw at the phone. Even with the screen performance maxed out, the phone sailed through everyday tasks with ease. I didn’t encounter any stuttering or lagging. Multitasking didn’t drag on performance, nor did some heavy-duty streaming. The OnePlus 9 Pro performs like a champion.
The phone handled benchmarks as expected, which is to say it handily beat most other phones on the market. The only devices to best the OnePlus 9 Pro in a few runs were other phones with the same processor. In most instances though, the 9 Pro was on par with any other Snapdragon 888-powered flagship. We ran our custom Speed Test G benchmark and the phone scored well on the timed test a one minute 15 seconds. To put that in perspective, the Xiaomi Mi 11 nabbed 1:12 and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra took 1:21. The OnePlus 9 Pro lands right where it should.
How does that translate to gaming? We’ve already mentioned the 360Hz touch response rate, but the phone has other gaming-centric tech built in to appease mobile players. Cool Play is OnePlus’ heat management system. The 9 Pro has an enlarged vapor chamber, thicker graphite sheets, and a larger copper foil to help keep the temperature down during gameplay. Then there’s Pro Gaming Mode, which blocks notifications from apps, calls, and other distractions so you can play uninterrupted. I tested Asphalt 9 and tried my hand at Fortnite (which I really suck at) and came away impressed with the performance. Frame rates were excellent, the action was smooth, and the responsiveness of the phone was top-notch. The OnePlus 9 Pro can hang with even the best gaming phones out there.
The OnePlus 9 Pro performs like a champion.
Then there’s the 5G story, which is a bit more mixed. OnePlus claims the 9 Pro ships with more 5G bands than nearly any other phone in the market. That may be true, but its support for 5G in North America is uneven.
For example, at launch the phone fully supported T-Mobile’s 5G network — but not AT&T or Verizon. As far as AT&T is concerned, “AT&T users will only have 4G LTE service for unlocked versions” of the phone. Thankfully, Verizon confirmed that the OnePlus 9 Pro passed certification a few days prior to its on-sale date. The North American version of the OnePlus 9 Pro technically has the bands in place to deliver the fastest mmWave 5G speeds (if you live in a connected area), but unless you’re on T-Mobile or Verizon the situation is less than perfect at launch.
Battery: Better be careful
- Warp Charge 65T
- Warp Charge 50W Wireless
- Reverse wireless charging
OnePlus claims it nailed battery life with the 9 Pro, but I beg to differ. The company carried over the battery setup from the OnePlus 8T, which means there are two 2,250mAh cells inside the phone making for a total of 4,500mAh. That’s a good-sized total battery size for this class of phone. No complaints there. Out of the box, the phone is set to the dynamic 120Hz mode at Full HD+ resolution. We mostly tested the 9 Pro in this default state but also checked the static 60Hz frame rate to be thorough.
With the stock configuration, the phone gets through a whole day, but barely. That’s with regular use: texting, social networking, browsing, maybe some photography. Gaming with the phone causes a serious strain on the battery. It feels like you can watch the phone drop 5% at a time in just a few moments, and if you game for 30 minutes or more, there’s no way the phone is making it past dinner. That’s not great. Moreover, if you turn on the always-on display, you should prepare yourself for a dip in battery longevity.
OnePlus tries to solve the 9 Pro's battery shortcomings with raw charging speed.
If you dial the frame rate back to the static 60Hz setting, then the phone suddenly lasts a good day and a half. That’s good news if you’re concerned about battery life. In other words, the phone can make it well past a day, but you have to adjust it to make that a reality. Still, I wish battery life at the out-of-the-box setting were better.
OnePlus attempts to make up for the battery’s shortcomings with raw charging speed. To start, the phone supports Warp Charge 65T and ships with a 65T charger in the box. OnePlus says the phone can charge from 0% to 75% in 20 minutes and 0% to 100% in 29 minutes. I found those numbers to be completely accurate. Connecting the phone to the charger for mere minutes translates to a huge boost in battery life.
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This impressive charging performance also translates to wireless charging. The phone supports Warp Charge 50 Wireless, which is 50W charging when on the OnePlus-made wireless charger. Using the optional charging stand (sold separately) sees the phone power up from 0% to 70% in 30 minutes and from dead to full in 50 minutes. Again, our numbers match OnePlus’ claims. That’s ridiculous. That’s only if you’ve got the OnePlus wireless charger, though, as regular chargers will default to a maximum of 15W.
Whether you’re using OnePlus’ proprietary wired or wireless connection, if your OnePlus 9 Pro is nearly dead when you get home from work, charging it for just a little bit while you make dinner or get ready to go out will be enough to get you through the rest of the evening. That said, I do wish the phone managed to get to bedtime consistently without a midday power up.
Last, there’s reverse wireless charging on board which caps at 5W. That’s slow, but on par with other devices that offer the feature and enough to quickly charge up a pair of true wireless earbuds or other accessories.
Camera: A definite improvement
- 48MP OIS EIS ( f/1.8, 1.12μm)
- 50MP ultra-wide ( f/2.2)
- 8MP telephoto (f/2.4, 1.0μm)
- 2MP monochrome sensor
- Front: 16MP (f/2.4)
- Video: 8K at 30fps, 4K at 120fps
The OnePlus 9 Pro’s camera is all about the Hasselblad partnership. There’s no question OnePlus is using both the Hasselblad name and the software to up its own photography game. Does that make the 9 Pro a winner?
See also: The best camera phones you can get
According to OnePlus, the Hasselblad collaboration is a multi-year project that goes a lot deeper than just slapping a logo onto the back of the phone. During this first year of the agreement, the two companies are working together on a software level. This will eventually also reach a hardware level in two to three years’ time, says OnePlus. For now, the OnePlus 9 Pro makes use of Hasselblad’s natural color calibration to create true-to-life colors when shooting via the main lens. Calibration is applied at the sensor level with Hasselblad’s image processing software. The camera app also mimics Hasselblad’s trademark camera “click” sound, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The main sensor is a custom-built Sony IMX789. It captures images that are clean thanks to the on-chip lens, 12-bit RAW capability, and DOL-HDR. Photos are binned down by a factor of four to 12MP, but you can opt for the full 48MP resolution if you wish. I was very pleased with the photos that came from the main lens. Colors look rich, warm, and accurate, focus was sharp and crisp, and exposure was generally spot-on. I saw trace amounts of over-sharpening in low-light shots, but nothing to be overly concerned with. HDR performance could also have been a bit better.
OnePlus went extra wide with the ultra-wide lens, which relies on a Sony IMX766 sensor, mirroring the Oppo Find X3 Pro. This 50MP camera puts a freeform lens to use with what OnePlus calls a “series of unique curves” to straighten out incoming light. The result? Ultra-wide shots that are 99% free of edge distortion. OnePlus wasn’t lying. The ultra-wide shots I took were generally free of the distorted look that’s common to such shots. I kind of like the distortion of ultra-wide cameras sometimes, but there’s no denying how impressive the results are. More importantly, the color does a good job matching that of the main sensor, even if it’s not perfect.
Thank goodness OnePlus got with the program and decided to offer a competitive telephoto lens in the 9 Pro’s camera system. It’s no periscope-aided beast, but at least it handles basic 3.3x optical zoom and up to 30x digital zoom. I wish it captured more than 8MP, but the 3.3x optical zoom performance is quite good. The 30x zoom, meanwhile, is near worthless, but that’s hardly a surprise. The OnePlus 9 Pro also has a 2MP monochrome camera to enhance black and white photos shot from the main shooter.
As for portrait mode, you can see from the two samples below that there’s solid separation between the subject and the background. I especially like the softer effect in the second photo.