OnePlus 9 Pro Review: Standing out from the crowd

OnePlus was once viewed as a plucky upstart that took on the established names of the industry with handsets that packed most of what top tier smartphones offered at half the price.

Times have changed and OnePlus as a company has changed with it, writes Krishan Sharma.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the company’s most expensive phone yet, but it’s also the first OnePlus device to genuinely challenge the best of what the industry has to offer.

Design: Minimalist flair

The OnePlus 9 Pro boasts a sleek minimalist design that looks and feels premium. It comes in three striking colourways – silver, green or black. I reviewed the silver variant which elegantly transitions from a mirror finish to a frosted silver and it looks really nice though it’s proven to be a fingerprint magnet and on the slippery side, making a case a necessity. The other two colours use a matte finish which should be less prone to picking up smudges.

The OnePlus 9 Pro uses a curved display keeping the viewing experience virtually bezel free and the screen doesn’t run as far into the sides of the phone as some other flagships, making accidental touches a non issue.

It’s worth noting that OnePlus is sticking with Gorilla Glass 5 for both the front and back of the phone, so you’re not exactly getting the latest in shatter resistance. Although as I found out in my Galaxy Z Fold 2 review, Corning’s Victus glass isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

OnePlus has trimmed down the camera bump on the 9 Pro which, in an era of enormous camera modules, is a welcome change. The company has finally moved away from the centre-mounted vertical pill shape camera housing and is now positioned in the top left corner which I prefer as it means the lens is less likely to get smudged from where your fingers naturally rest while using the phone.

There are thoughtful design touches throughout such as how OnePlus’ signature alert slider that enables you to quickly mute your phone has been given a rougher metal texture so your thumb can easily grip it.

The OnePlus 9 Pro looks great from all angles although I do wish the company had gone with an under display selfie camera instead of the standard punch hole cut-out to help it stand out even more.

OnePlus 9 Pro black

Display: Big and beautiful

For the past few years, OnePlus has been equipping their handsets with some of the best panels in the industry and the 9 Pro is no different. Packing a pin sharp 6.7-inch QHD+ (3216×1440) OLED display running at an 120Hz adaptive refresh rate as well as HDR support with a claimed peak brightness of 1300nits.

This means that, irrespective of whether you’re viewing content in direct sunlight or in a pitch black room, the viewing experience is simply superb. That said, the auto brightness is a little too dim in most scenarios forcing me to make manual adjustments so I could comfortably see the screen.

The 120Hz adaptive refresh rate means you’ll enjoy a smoother on-screen image for playing games and scrolling through your social media feeds while also dropping down to low as 1Hz when viewing more static content such as reading an eBook to help conserve battery.

It’s worth noting that although there are a growing library of games on Android that support 120Hz refresh rate, OnePlus has only whitelisted a handful of games to run at a maximum of 90Hz on the handset.

While this includes heavy hitters such as Fortnite and PUB G Mobile, the vast majority of games won’t run beyond 60Hz and there are no titles that will run above 90Hz on the handset at least at the time of writing. Hopefully OnePlus will allow more games to run at their maximum refresh rate in the near future as the handset has the potential to be an excellent gaming phone (more on this in the performance section).

OnePlus has also incorporated features normally found on dedicated gaming phones such as an increased touch sampling rate to 360Hz for added responsiveness when playing touchscreen games. Admittedly the reduction in touchscreen latency is something only the most ardent mobile gamers will notice and appreciate but it’s there nonetheless.

The upgraded haptics is one of the first things I noticed about the phone and is up there with the iPhone 12. Each vibration feels so much finer than before and it makes the scrolling, typing and gaming experience a more satisfying experience.

Battery life: Average runtime with class-leading charging speeds

The OnePlus 9 Pro isn’t an endurance champ by any means, but it should see you through a day of typical use. With the display cranked to the maximum resolution and adaptive refresh rate set to 120Hz, screen on time averaged around five hours. On most days it had very little charge left in the tank by the evening, making daily charging necessary.

I found dropping the resolution of the display down to FHD+ (2340×1080) resulted in negligible battery gains so recommend leaving it at QHD+.

Thankfully, the OnePlus 9 Pro charges so darn fast that I was rarely inconvenienced. With support for a whopping 65W charging and the requisite charger included in the box, I was able to charge the phone from dead flat to full in just 30 minutes. Better yet, using OnePlus’ new wireless charger (sold separately) I was able to do the same in just 45 minutes which is unheard of.

While other companies such as Apple and Samsung are packing their phones with slow charging standards and excluding the charger from the box, it’s refreshing to see companies like OnePlus continuing to push the envelope and show just how meaningful fast charging speeds can be. I found that it completely eradicated any sense of battery anxiety since it is so quick to top up the phone within a matter of minutes.

OnePlus achieved the charging speeds without adding more heat to the phone and potentially reducing the long-term life of the battery by packing the handset with two batteries that work as one in addition to better internal cooling. OnePlus claims this approach keeps the temperature at the same level as the OnePlus 8 Pro while providing twice the charging speeds. The result is a phone that rarely becomes too hot even while doing something taxing such as gaming for an extended period of time.

OnePlus 9 Pro back and front

Software and performance: Leaves nothing to be desired

OnePlus has always prided itself on providing top-tier smartphone performance and the 9 Pro is no different. Packing a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset with either 8GB or 12GB of RAM, the handset chews through anything I throw at it without so much as a stutter or slow down.

Whether I was editing documents, messaging on Slack, listening to YTMusic, editing video in Adobe Rush or hopping into a Call of Duty: Mobile match, nothing made the OnePlus 9 Pro slow down.

Putting the 9 Pro through its paces using Geekbench, it surpassed the results achieved by other Android flagships such as the Samsung’s S21 Ultra and only fell a few points short of the most powerful Android handset on the market, Asus’ ROG Phone 5. This is an impressive feat when you consider that the ROG Phone is bigger and bulkier and uses an active fan whereas OnePlus uses passive cooling to dissipate heat and sustain performance.

It means that unlike other handsets, the OnePlus 9 Pro won’t throttle performance when performing demanding tasks for an extended period of time be it gaming or video editing and the back of the phone won’t become uncomfortably warm.

This is due to the use of a unique passive cooling solution OnePlus calls ‘Cool Play’ which introduces larger materials in the handset’s thermal systems including thicker graphite sheets, larger copper foil and a larger vapour chamber. It all works together to divert heat generated from playing games into the frame where it can be dissipated from the phone’s panes of glass.

A large part why OnePlus’ phones feel so fast and smooth to use is due to the lengths the company goes to optimise its software. While past iterations of the company’s own Oxygen OS delivered on the performance front, it was guilty of being too utilitarian. However, the latest version of Oxygen OS running on Android 11 changes all that.

The aspects that make Oxygen OS a fan favourite including the close to stock Android experience with no manufacturer bloatware and the ability to customise nearly everything about the user interface are all still there.

This time around the look and feel of the OS has been redesigned with one-handed usage of a large display in mind. Many of the built-in apps and settings screens are designed with controls, tabs and buttons in the middle and lower portions of the screen to make them easier to reach one-handed. The new design is elegant and easy to use with a bit more flair than what we’ve been accustomed to seeing from OnePlus in the past.

OnePlus has also added some meaningful features of its own without bogging down the overall user-experience, all while keeping the interface clean.

Some of my favourites include how the display automatically turns monochrome when reading an eBook, ability to install two copies of social-media apps for different accounts and the always on display that slickly presents the number of times you’ve unlocked your phone over the course of the day. I also like how more apps now remain open in the background which means that there’s less chance of an app having to reopen when you switch to them.

OnePlus 9 Pro camera

Camera: Up there with the best

OnePlus built up a lot of hype for the cameras on the 9 Pro with the company partnering up with iconic camera brand Hasselblad to improve how pictures are processed and presented. OnePlus also collaborated with Sony on the new IMX789 sensor for the main rear camera and the IMX766 sensor for the ultrawide.

I was initially a little underwhelmed with the OnePlus 9 Pro camera, however, the two software updates that dropped shortly after launch improved results significantly. The main areas of improvement are how natural colours look and the dynamic range. OnePlus cameras in the past have been susceptible of overexposing scenes and faces as well as colours that didn’t get close enough to the real thing but that has been addressed here at least as far as the primary 48MP main shooter and 50MP ultrawide camera goes.

I’ve been impressed with how the OnePlus 9 Pro can produce great results even when you’re using its automatic mode though more seasoned shutterbugs will want to dip into the well featured ‘pro mode’ for even better results.

On most other smartphones, the ultra-wide image distorts around the edges of shots. However, the freeform lens on the OnePlus 9 Pro corrects the perspective before the image hits the sensor, removing barrel distortion entirely. This worked really well in my testing but it’s not the type of feature that will impress unless you’re looking out for it.

In short, the primary and ultrawide cameras are up there with the Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

The 3.3x telephoto zoom while decent is the weakest aspect of the camera experience with the results not looking as sharp or accurate as the 2.5x zoom of the iPhone 12 Pro Max and no match for the 10x optical zoom of the Galaxy S21 Ultra. I also found the zoom control dial on the 9 Pro annoyingly finicky and getting an exact figure dialed in is a test of patience.

The macro camera duties on the OnePlus 9 Pro are smartly handled by the ultra-wide camera as with the previous two generation Pro models. Admittedly, the closest focusing distance of the ultra-wide lens isn’t as low as some of the dedicated macro cameras on other models. However, the sheer difference in image quality and level of detail that you get from this camera compared to the 2 and 5-megapixel macro cameras you get on some other smartphones is staggering.

OnePlus dedicated night mode ‘Nightscape’ is top notch although the nice new big sensors on the 9 Pro means I rarely needed to use it unless I was shooting in near pitch black conditions.

The front facing camera, although decent, is another area where it falls short of the premium competition, with video resolution limited to just 1080p/60 and lacking autofocus.

The video recording capabilities on the main shooters is top class and compares favourably to Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra in terms of output quality, dynamic range and stabilisation. The 9 Pro can also shoot in 4K at 120fps with both the main wide camera and the ultrawide which is something no other smartphone on the market offers. However, electronic stabilisation is switched off in this mode so you will need to use a tripod or gimbal to get some usable footage.

Where can I buy the OnePlus 9 Pro in Australia?

Australians looking to buy a OnePlus 9 Pro will have to import one from overseas as the handset isn’t officially sold here. Prices start at $US969 for the 128GB/8GB RAM variant which after shipping, taxes and current exchange rates, will set you back $1400.

Note that the US model supports all the relevant 5G bands in Australia and also has an official IP68 rating, but lacks support for dual-SIM card slot (single-SIM only). Australians interested in dual-SIM functionality should consider the European variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro.

Compare SIM-only phone plans

As the OnePlus 9 Pro is only available to buy outright from overseas retailers, you’ll need to choose a SIM-only phone plan to go with your device. Whether you want a basic and super cheap phone plan, or you’re looking for a phone plan with lots of data, whether that’s prepaid or postpaid — there are plenty of options to choose from.

Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Try using our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data each month, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. If you want to compare a larger range of offers from other providers, use our phone plan comparison tool. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Final thoughts

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a near perfect Android phone and a viable alternative to pricier rivals such as Samsung’s Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max. While longtime OnePlus fans might bemoan the company’s shift towards more expensive prices, the fact is that the 9 Pro still offers plenty of bang for your dollar.

It practically matches the performance crown of the Asus ROG Phone 5 while also remaining as sleek and minimalist in appearance as the S21 Ultra. It also offers the fastest wired and wireless charging speeds and the best software experience on Android with Oxygen OS.

If you can stomach the hassle of importing one, the OnePlus 9 Pro won’t leave you disappointed.

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