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OnePlus 9 Pro revisited: The good and the bad six months later
Each Spring OnePlus launches a new device that aims to best everything about its previous devices. In 2021, that device was the OnePlus 9 Pro — one of the first phones from the company to sit in the big leagues with Samsung and Apple. In our OnePlus 9 Pro review, we were comfortable calling it the company’s best phone in years.
However, that all happened about six months ago. Since then, we’ve seen plenty of new phones launch while also hearing about some big changes coming down the pipeline for OnePlus as a whole. How does the OnePlus 9 Pro stack up now after the launch excitement is over? Let’s find out in this OnePlus 9 Pro review revisit.
Our original verdict: OnePlus 9 Pro review
We awarded the OnePlus 9 Pro with four and a half stars and gave it our Editor’s Choice award, signifying it as one of the best phones on the market. As one would guess, that kind of pedigree ages well, so there’s still a lot to love about the phone six months later.
Design and display
When you first take the OnePlus 9 Pro out of the box, there’s no mistaking its premium quality. It looks and feels like a $1,000 phone (which is good, because that’s what it is). The edges are smooth and comfortable, the weight is distributed evenly, and the glossy back still has enough texture to prevent you from thinking it’s going to slip right out of your hand.
However, the thing that surprised me the most was how the phone doesn’t feel enormous. The Galaxy Note 20 Ultra feels like a behemoth, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra also feels a tad too big, even though it and the 9 Pro are quite similarly sized. The 9 Pro, though, feels just right. Granted, this is no compact phone, but for me, it felt like it nailed the form factor.
The true wonder of the phone, however, is its display. In our original review, we raved about it. Even today, though, I haven’t seen many phones top it. And I’m saying all this without even discussing the 1,440p resolution mixed with a smooth-as-silk 120Hz refresh rate. When you add those into the equation, this becomes one of the best smartphone displays I’ve ever used.
The only gripe I have with the design of the phone overall is the curved display sides. OnePlus made these quite steep which makes performing the “back” gesture difficult. There were plenty of times during my use of this phone that I swiped in to go back but needed to repeat the gesture because my finger didn’t run the full length of the curve. Hopefully, manufacturers figure out how to really nail curved displays soon — or just stop the trend altogether.
In our original OnePlus 9 Pro review, we said the camera system “outperforms all its predecessors.” Basically, this is the best camera system on any OnePlus phone to date.
Mega shootout: The best camera phones of 2021 so far tested
Six months later, that’s still true. The camera can easily stand up against the big players such as Samsung and Apple (check out the link above to see how competitive it gets). It has the necessary flagship trifecta with solid wide, ultra-wide, and telephoto lenses. It even throws in a monochrome sensor for fun.
During my time with the phone, I took a trip to New York City. Here are some shots I captured there. The images below are unedited but compressed for loading speeds. For the uncompressed images, check this Drive link.
The first thing you’ll likely notice about the shots is the muted colors. This is because OnePlus (and partner Hasselblad) have tried to make the color output of the camera as realistic as possible. While this is great for accuracy, many smartphone users prefer punchy saturated colors in photos. This ultimately comes down to taste, but the important thing to note here is that things haven’t changed over the past six months. Software updates have come in, but the camera still produces the same ultra-realistic colors.
However, OnePlus did bring a new camera feature in since the phone’s launch: XPan mode. You can read all about that (and see some of my example shots) in our article here.
Ultimately, the OnePlus 9 Pro camera is a flagship camera. It doesn’t disappoint. The only problem OnePlus faces here is the fact that it took eight generations of its flagship phones to get to this point. Can it win over people who have already written the brand off as a producer of sub-par cameras? Time will tell.
In 2020, Apple started the new trend of flagship phones coming without chargers in the box. Samsung quickly followed suit (after making fun of Apple for it, of course). OnePlus, though, still offers chargers with all of its phones. In the case of the OnePlus 9 Pro, it’s not just any charger: it’s a 65W monster.
OnePlus says the phone can charge from 0% to 75% in 20 minutes and from 0% to 100% in 29 minutes. Our objective testing backs up that claim, and my personal experience with it matches. With the 65W charger, I could plug the phone in empty, jump in the shower, and come back to a phone that’s at about 50%. Granted, that likely won’t get me through the whole day (see further down this article for more), but it will easily get me to the next time I have access to a wall outlet. For people who travel a lot or do a lot of work from coffee shops, this could be a huge deal.
See also: OnePlus Warp Charge 65 review
What’s more, is that the in-box charger can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. It can charge your tablets, other phones, headphones, and yes, even most laptops. This brings us ever closer to a true one-cable solution.
Interestingly, the OnePlus 9 Pro is only the third OnePlus phone ever to have wireless charging. This just adds further to the convenience of powering up the device, as it will work with all your Qi-compatible charging pads. If you want to be super extra, you can grab the 50W wireless charging stand from OnePlus and get blazing wireless charging speeds. However, I didn’t bother — basic wireless speeds and super-fast wired speeds work fine for me.
Inside the OnePlus 9 Pro is the Snapdragon 888, Qualcomm’s flagship Android mobile processor of the year. To no one’s surprise, the 9 Pro is blazing fast, very smooth, and totally dependable for memory management considering our model pairs that processor with a bonkers 12GB of RAM.
For this OnePlus 9 Pro review revisit, I set aside my daily driver, the Galaxy S21. That phone has the same chipset inside it, but the 9 Pro outperformed it in my subjective opinion. Apps seemed to launch faster, transitions were smoother, and the heat was less of an issue. This comes down to hardware and software optimization and goes to show that just cramming a Snapdragon 888 into a phone isn’t all it takes to make a good flagship.
But what about the throttling controversy? For those of you not in the know, OnePlus found itself in hot water when it came to light that Oxygen OS is purposefully throttling the performance of the Snapdragon 888. Basically, you don’t get the full power of the SD888 when doing things that don’t require that much power, like scrolling through Twitter or writing yourself a note. It does this to conserve battery power.
In my experience using the phone, this didn’t once become a problem for me. Everything worked as I expected and there was no way for me to tell which apps were using the full power of the chip and which ones weren’t. Granted, OnePlus shouldn’t have tried to cover up this controversy. That was definitely a bad move. But if you are concerned about it, I don’t think it’s a big deal. Besides, the company promised to deliver a toggle that will shut the “feature” off in a future Oxygen OS update, so stay tuned for that.
The not so good
There’s still a lot to love about the OnePlus 9 Pro. However, no phone is perfect, and there are actually a few things about the device that haven’t gotten any better with age. Are they deal-breakers, though?
In the previous section, I talked about how great the charging aspects of the OnePlus 9 Pro are. Unfortunately, that fast-charging is a necessity since the battery life of the OnePlus 9 Pro is still not great.
Let me be clear: the battery life of this phone is fine. It got me through an entire day without a problem, even on that day spent in New York City when I was using navigation, music streaming, and NFC payments seemingly non-stop. However, even on days with lighter use, there was no way I could have gotten through a second day. This is a one-day, possibly 1.5-day phone, no matter how you slice it.
The battery life on the OnePlus 9 Pro is not much better than it was six months ago.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t changed much since our original OnePlus 9 Pro review. Despite there being a bunch of software updates since then, the battery life doesn’t seem to have gotten noticeably better. Granted, that doesn’t mean it won’t ever get better, but it’s becoming clear that the phone will likely lack in this department for good.
This is particularly frustrating when you factor in both the size of the dual battery in the phone (4,500mAh) and OnePlus’ history of usually excelling in this area. Is the Snapdragon 888 a battery-hogging beast? Is the fluid display pulling too much juice? Or is Oxygen OS getting too bogged down? Whatever the reason, if long battery life is your top requirement for a smartphone, you might want to look elsewhere.
Software and updates
There have been quite a few software updates for the OnePlus 9 Pro over the past six months. My device was running on Oxygen OS 220.127.116.11 which features the September 2021 Android security patch. In other words, it was up-to-date.
However, Oxygen OS 18.104.22.168 dropped way back in July. That means the OnePlus 9 Pro never got the August 2021 security patch — it jumped right from July to September. This is pretty unacceptable when you consider this article is going live after the device has been out for just six months. It’s one thing for a top-of-the-line flagship to miss a month after over a year on the shelves, but six months? Yeesh.
If that’s not bad enough, we have absolutely no idea what to expect as far as software goes for the OnePlus 9 Pro going forward. We know it will get Oxygen OS 12, based on Android 12, sometime this year. However, when the supposed OnePlus 10 comes out in 2022, it will come with a wholly different operating system that will be a hybrid of Oxygen OS and Oppo’s Color OS. OnePlus isn’t telling us anything about this new OS so we have no idea what it will be like. It could be great. It could be horrible. We don’t know. But either way, it’s also coming to the 9 Pro and will replace the current skin on the phone.
If software stability, frequent updates, and familiarity are important to you, it would be wise to think long and hard before investing in a OnePlus 9 Pro, especially when other brands like Samsung and Google have raised the bar in recent years.
OnePlus was the first company to bring an in-display fingerprint sensor to the United States with the OnePlus 6T. That makes the company a bit of a pioneer in the area. As such, you’d think OnePlus would be way ahead of the game when it comes to the technology.
However, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s fingerprint sensor is only so-so. During my time with it, I found it to be a bit slow. I also found it to fail to recognize my prints way too often for my liking. Granted, if it failed it would work on the second or third try, but this is pretty disappointing for a $1,000 phone.
The thing that irked me the most about it, though, was its placement on the display. OnePlus, Samsung, and other brands with in-display fingerprint tech usually put the sensor up in the middle of the bottom half of the screen. On the OnePlus 9 Pro, however, the sensor is very near the bottom of the display. Not only does this make placing your finger there awkward, but it forced me to unlearn what’s become a years-long habit of instinctively going towards the middle of the bottom half of the screen.
Are these problems big enough to not buy the phone? Absolutely not. However, when you combine them with the other problems listed here, it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as it were.
You might think this is a nitpicky ding. However, we can’t neglect to point out that OnePlus has done a pretty poor job when it comes to the availability of the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Most egregiously, the entry-tier model of the phone — with 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM — never made it to the United States, despite OnePlus heavily suggesting it would. Meanwhile, the Stellar Black colorway (pictured above next to the iPhone 13 Pro Max) — which is entirely matte black and amazing — also never made it to the US and many other countries.
US buyers have only had one storage variant available and a choice between only two colors.
In other words, US buyers have one storage/RAM option (256GB/12GB) and two color choices: Morning Mist (shown elsewhere in this article) and Pine Green. Not exactly a wealth of options.
Obviously, the ongoing global chip shortage could be partially or even mostly to blame here. Still, OnePlus could have been more upfront about the lack of the entry tier model and could also have done better to bring the Stellar Black colorway to the US.
In a spot of good news, though, the phone is currently very easy to find for much lower prices than its $1,069 list price. Of course, that doesn’t help if you wanted the 128GB model or the Stellar Black colorway.
OnePlus 9 Pro review revisited: The verdict
In a lot of ways, the OnePlus 9 Pro is still one of the best phones ever from the brand. It offers flagship specs, a killer design, a legitimately great camera, and still comes with a charger in the box — and what a charger it is! Even six months after its debut, it’s a killer phone.
Even when you factor in my complaints about battery life, the fingerprint sensor, and the shoddy availability of the phone, there’s not much to worry about. This phone will likely make a buyer as happy today as they would have been six months ago.
Also read: The best OnePlus phones
The big problem, however, isn’t what’s happened in the past six months — it’s what’s coming in the future. With OnePlus planning to drastically alter its software as it becomes ever closer to its sister brand Oppo, is the OnePlus 9 Pro still a good investment? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question, because I just don’t know.
I’d like to think that OnePlus is going to treat its fans with care and ensure that the unified operating system on the way will be great. However, the company has recently had no problem with wildly revamping what Oxygen OS looks and feels like. Remember when it tried to pre-install Facebook on its phones with Facebook services being unremovable? That’s the kind of thing that concerns me. It’s very possible — maybe even likely — that OnePlus isn’t going to keep fans in mind as it revamps the software.
Is the OnePlus 9 Pro still a good purchase six months later?
This all means that investment now into a OnePlus 9 Pro is an investment into the unknown. Sure, you could just not update to the unified OS when that time comes. But why would you spend $1,000 on a phone to stop getting updates a year after it launches?
The smartest thing to do right now is to wait it out for more details on the software roadmap. If you desperately want a OnePlus 9 Pro, go ahead and get one — you won’t be disappointed, it’s an amazing piece of hardware. Just do it with the understanding that there’s no guarantee what’s around the corner when it comes to its software.