OnePlus has been making a name for itself over the years, no longer the scrappy upstart they once were, since shedding the “Flagship Killer” moniker and releasing their own flagships they’ve gone from strength to strength, and last year’s 8 series really brought to the front how ready they were to step up and play with the big kids. Now a year later, how does the 9 series do and was the money they invested in a partnership with legendary camera company Hasselblad worth it?
- Gorgeous Screen
- Well built
- Performant as heck
- Utterly insane charging
- Greatly improved cameras
- Battery life could use some work
- Cameras still need more work
- Software update needs to be better
- Jump to… Spec Sheet
- Jump to… Performance & Use
- Jump to… Camera & Samples
- Jump to… Software
- Jump to… Final Thoughts
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
- 1x Cortex X1 @ 2.84Ghz
- 3x Cortex A78 @ 2.42Ghz
- 4x Cortex A55 @ 1.8Ghz
- Samsung 5nm LPE
- Adreno 660 GPU
- 6.67” AMOLED screen
- 1-120Hz refresh rate
- 1300 nits peak brightness
- 4500mAh battery
- 65w Warp Charge 65T charging
- 50w Warp Charge Wireless charging
- Main camera
- Sony IMX789 48MP
- 1/1.43” sensor size
- 23mm effective focal distance
- Sony IMX766 50MP
- 1/1.56” sensor size
- 14mm effective focal distance
- 3.3x Telephoto
- 77mm effective focal distance
- 2mp monochrome sensor
- Front Camera
- Sony IMX471
- 8/12GB LPDDR5 RAM
- 128/256GB UFS3.1 storage
- Morning Mist, Stellar Black and Pine Green
For a more exhaustive spec sheet go check out the OnePlus 9 Pro page on GSMArena
Performance & Use
I was very excited to finally get my hands on a device toting the Snapdragon 888 device, and I wasn’t disappointed. This thing absolutely screams. This is the first outing for Samsung’s 5nm LPE (Low Power Early) fabrication node, but it’s more impressively the first outing for ARM’s new Cortex X1 CPU core. The Cortex X1 is ARM’s first real shot at a high-performance core, and not worrying so much about power consumption and it is insane.
During my 2 week review period with the 9 Pro, I could not get this thing to stutter or slow down. The only performance issues I had were network-related and it turned out my carrier was having problems that day. Granted I’m not trying to play COD or mine crypto on my phone, but the UI optimisations are stellar, scrolling performance was stunning, and not just because of the 120Hz screen. On the games I did play (Monument Valley, Sparkle, Leos Fortune, Injustice 2) not only did they not skip a beat, the phone barely got warm to the touch apart from well you place the phone on the Warp Charge 65T charger.
Whilst I expected the phone to get warmer on the wireless charger, for obvious reasons, I was actually surprised to see that plugging the phone in via cable got the phone noticeably warmer, thankfully you don’t need to have it plugged in for all that long because due to improvements in the charging algorithm, the same battery size and charge speed on the OnePlus 9 Pro as the 8T, the 9 Pro charges from 0-100% in just 29 minutes, depending on how slow you shower, you could wake up with a dead phone and have a fully charged one by the time you’re dressed, that is ridiculous. That doesn’t really help the fact that the 9 Pro has less impressive battery life than I would have liked. Whilst it’s more than capable of lasting more than a day, I was very easily able to kill it before 6pm on a few days, and I don’t have the most intensive of use cases. I have heard from smarter friends than I that whilst the dual cell battery architecture that the 9 Pro utilises allows for higher charging specs, the conversion of the voltages into something the phone can use is quite a lossy process and therefore will show weaker battery. I don’t know how much credence to put into that seeing as other phones I’ve used with this cell architecture haven’t had this issue, but we shall see.
Camera & Samples
The Camera setup is where the OnePlus 9 Pro starts to get interesting, OnePlus has partnered with legendary Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad to tune the photo processing on the 9 series of phones, and whilst this is just software on the 9 series, in the future of the partnership (OnePlus has committed to spending $150m over the next 3 years of the partnership) they have hinted that much like Huawei and Leica, OnePlus and Hasselblad could be working together on specific changes to camera sensors, which would be incredible to see.
With a 48MP main sensor, a 50MP ultrawide and an 8MP telephoto (plus a 2mp monochrome sensor we won’t talk about) the load out here is pretty impressive, especially that Ultrawide. The custom IMX766 from Sony is one of the first times that a company has tried to put equal emphasis on the main camera and the ultrawide and it is a breath of fresh air. The special “freeform lens” on the ultrawide sensor is also meant to drastically reduce distortions at the edges of wide shots which most phones have to od in software. Whilst most phones have between 10 and 20% of distortion at the edges, the freeform lens on the 9 Pro? Just 1%. How does it work? Surprisingly really well, as I said having equal emphasis put on the main and wide is great because there is a much smaller quality drop off when moving between the two.
“Much smaller quality drop off” means there still is some, and sadly that’s still true here, but not in the way you’d think. Whilst framing wise OnePlus has pretty well managed the alignment, the colour temperature differences between the two sensors are pretty start in the warmer tones, the warmer the tone to more drastic it appears. This has already gotten better with one software update, and I hear another is on the way soon so I look forward to testing that out to see how much better it gets, once again it is not that this is bad, it is that it is an imbalance, you can make the main camera warmer, or you can make the ultrawide cooler, but get the output of each closer to the other.
The Main sensor here is pretty impressive as well, it’s a large sensor at 1/1.43” but not quite as freakishly large as the new Samsung sensors, which brings with it some benefits of not having to do some black magic to help with the razor-thin plane of focus. As stated before this main camera almost always tends to render images cooler than that of the ultrawide, whilst I personally prefer cooler images, I’d rather them be consistent. But the focus is fast and mostly consistent, colours are vibrant without looking comical and sharpening isn’t over the top like we’ve seen in previous OnePlus phones, which is nice to see.
The main camera is where we also get to see the fruits of the Hasselblad co-operation and I’m honestly not quite sure what I think just yet. For the superficial stuff, there is an orange shutter button which is just off of the old red one enough that it makes me feel like something is wrong with the screen, the shutter sound is meant to mimic closely a traditional Hasselblad leaf blade shutter and does a pretty decent job, but if you don’t know what different types of shutters sound like, this might as well be a default sound from audiobooks, and lastly, there is a Hasselblad watermark you can have applied to images, but thankfully it is disabled by default, those are fine but not really the important part of this partnership, that would be the “Natural Colour Calibration with Hasselblad” and the Hasselblad Pro Mode. The Natural Colour Calibration with Hasselblad does seem to be doing something, compared to the 8T and other OnePlus phones I’ve checked out, the default auto colours coming out of the OnePlus 9 Pro do seem a lot more subdued in a good way, whilst highly saturated poppy colours are sometimes nice to look at, a lot of the time life isn’t always that colourful, and when you’re trying to capture an accurate image without having to shoot in RAW and then going into lightroom to fix it, having a camera that doesn’t look like it’s met up with Lucy in the sky with her diamonds is really quite nice.
The Hasselblad Pro Mode however is a bit more, well pro. It strips out even more of the auto image prettying features to give it an even more neutral Hasselblad-y tone, there is a histogram on the screen, a horizon line indicator to help you get level shots, you can even bloody turn on focus peaking! Along with the usual pro-mode features of manual focus, manual ISO, manual shutter speed etc you also get the ability to shoot in 12bit RAW which is so past my realm of capabilities that I’m worried to even try it out. But the thing to note is that currently, the Hasselblad partnership for OnePlus is just software, which means you should think of it as a first-gen Huawei/Leica partnership on the P9, it is good but limited, and it has scope to improve, which if this is what they can do on gen 1, the future’s looking bright.
Video performance is actually not bad for an Android phone. Most Android phones that aren’t high-end Samsung or Huawei phones generally struggle with video recording, but I’d say that the 4K and even the updated 8K video recording on the OnePlus 9 Pro is surprisingly impressive given one condition, you are stable, even with the steady shot stabilisation tech OnePlus has, I just haven’t had a great time with anything faster than a brisk walk whilst bracing both sides of the phone. however, in a baffling find, the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t use its telephoto camera for zooming whilst in video, so in my video tests you can see that the zoomed portions look, well rubbish. I don’t know why OnePlus has done this, but given the zoom results on photos weren’t all that encouraging, I’m thinking OnePlus decided to just cut their losses, you can see our 1080p30 test here, our 1080p60 test, our 4k30 test, 4k60 test, 4k120 test and lastly, 8k30 test.
Lastly, the front camera which is just fine, does some odd things to facial hair even with all the beauty filters turned off, and the skin tones just seem all out of whack, I know I’m pale, but I don’t look as pasty as I’m appearing in some of the selfies on the 9 Pro would suggest I am. The IMX477 is a couple of years old by now, and given that this is the flagship phone for OnePlus I was really hoping we’d see a better selfie camera here, or perhaps even autofocus, but alas, no.
OxygenOS has evolved a fair bit in the last year, what was once a fairly lightweight visual OS, sticking pretty close to AOSP/Google Experience, with OxygenOS 11 that changed, giving it more of a Samsung OneUI and more distinctive “OnePlus” look to it, many weren’t a fan, myself included, but the more I’ve used it the more it is growing on me, even if I would still prefer something a bit closer to the Google experience. OxygenOS 11.2 is what mine is running, this is on top of Android 11 and a march security patch, plus my favourite recent android upgrade, seamless updates. Seamless updates allow you to download and install a system update on a separate partition of storage and reboot directly into the updated one, no rebooting the phone and waiting a few minutes to update, then a few more minutes to optimise the applications, a simple 10-second reboot after it is installed and you’re done.
Whilst aesthetically the OxygenOS isn’t my favourite, I can’t say anything but praise it for the speed and fluidity of the software. Apps and interactions are near-instant and stability, for the most part, has been on point, with the only issues I had, being with pre-release firmware or ongoing android issues, such as media controls in the status bar just not going away. I can’t fault OnePlus for this when it happens on my Pixel 4a as well. I will say OnePlus does have some of the nicer stock apps; the weather app is gorgeous, the voice recorder app is simple and clean as is the OnePlus Gallery app.
One of the features I was interested to try out that doesn’t appear to be in the software yet, or that I just couldn’t get working is the new analogue AOD option that has a second hand. I know that doesn’t sound all that interesting, but with the new LTPO screen going from 1-120hz, I wanted to have an analogue always-on display to have it running at 1Hz to see what the battery hit was like, hopefully, this comes in the future.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is the peak of OnePlus right now and it is a great phone. It boasts a somehow both striking and subdued design, insane battery charging speeds on both wired and wireless and a camera capable of hanging with the big boys. Even the downsides of the 9 Pro are minor qualms. The camera tuning issues are software, they can be fixed. The less than great battery life can be tweaked or changed by you the user. I’d suggest there are only really two competitors for OnePlus right now: Samsung and brother company Oppo.
Samsung is the one that OnePlus needs to look out for. With its vast sums of money and carrier agreements worldwide, Samsung could take over a market segment in a year, even if they were languishing in last place previously. Even Oppo, with the new Find X3 Pro, has the same screen (or close enough), a more interesting camera setup and design. It even has a better track record than OnePlus does for software updates. When you’re charging at the minimum £829 for a 9 Pro, you need to do better than 2 years of software updates.