OnePlus 9 Pro Review: Aiming for the Moon

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It’s no secret that OnePus has struggled with consistency with its smartphone cameras over the years, but it aims to put an end to all the negative press with its new OnePlus 9 series. The OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro’s new camera sensors have been co-developed under the guiding hand of Swedish camera manufacturer Hasselblad, which promises to bring its iconic colour science to OnePlus’ phone cameras. Hasselblad, famous for its medium format cameras that captured the lunar landings during NASA’s Apollo missions (which explains the teasers), has entered a long-term partnership with OnePlus.

It’s not uncommon to see smartphone manufacturers partner with big-name camera or lens makers in order to boost the credibility of their products. When done right, it can lead to very good results that actually benefit the end user, for instance Sony’s long standing partnership with Zeiss and Huawei’s partnership with Leica. Among all the OnePlus smartphones I’ve tested thus far, I can confidently say that the OnePlus 8 Pro came the closest to having a great camera setup, barring its selfie camera.

OnePlus hopes to elevate its cameras to true flagship level, especially with the 9 Pro, and the company has Apple and Samsung in its sights. Apart from the cameras, the 9 Pro is also a true-blue flagship with all the cutting-edge features and specifications one would typically expect. It’s time for OnePlus to put its money where its marketing is. We’re about to find out just how much of a benefit you can expect from the OnePlus-Hasselblad partnership and how much of it is just hype.

OnePlus 9 Pro price in India and variants

The OnePlus 9 Pro is available in two variants in India: one with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage priced at Rs. 64,999, and the other with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage price at Rs. 69,999. OnePlus sent me the latter variant for review in the Morning Mist colour. The RAM and storage used on the OnePlus 9 Pro are LPDDR5 and UFS 3.1.

The new higher pricing makes the OnePlus 9 Pro a proper flagship and a full-fledged competitor to Samsung’s S series and Apple’s yearly iPhone refreshes. The OnePlus 8 Pro shed the “flagship killer” image last year when it went all out in terms of features, putting it on par with the big guns. OnePlus has been steadily bumping up its pricing over the years, but compared to the 8 Pro’s modest increase in price last year, this is a sizable jump of nearly Rs. 10,000 over the previous model. A lot of factors have contributed to this such, as the new Hasselblad partnership and material costs, not to mention local taxes.

I guess the big question is, are fans willing to pay nearly Rs. 70,000 for a OnePlus phone?

OnePlus 9 Pro design

OnePlus hasn’t gone too crazy with the design of the OnePlus 9 Pro, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you see it. I don’t really mind it. The core shape and dimensions make this phone similar to the OnePlus 8 Pro, however the 9 Pro is slightly thicker at 8.7mm and a bit lighter (197g). It has an aluminium frame, and Gorilla Glass on the curved front and back. It looks and feels premium, but I’d recommend the Pine Green or Stellar Black colours which have matte finishes, versus the mirror gloss finish of the Morning Mist trim that I have.

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The OnePlus 9 Pro has similar dimensions as the 8 Pro, but with a new rear design

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a tall smartphone but I quickly got used to the placement of the volume and power buttons. Tactile feedback is good and the alert slider works as expected. There’s no headphone jack but the dual-SIM tray, USB Type-C port (USB 3.1 Gen1), and bottom-firing speaker are in the same positions as they are on the 8 Pro. The OnePlus 9 Pro keeps the IP68 dust and water resistance rating of its predecessor but gets an upgraded 50W (up from 30W) wireless charging system. More on this later.

OnePlus has switched to an LTPO OLED display for the OnePlus 9 Pro, which the company claims cuts power consumption by up to 50 percent compared to the previous model. It’s a 6.7-inch display with a QHD+ resolution, 120Hz refresh rate, and HDR10+ certification. The refresh rate is variable based on the app being used. You also get a new feature called Hyper Touch, which when enabled, is said to improve touch response for certain games such as Call of Duty: Mobile.

The box contents of the OnePlus 9 Pro includes a 65W charger, Type-C to Type-C data cable, SIM eject tool, stickers, case, and the usual documentation. It’s good to see the fast charger and other accessories still included with the phone, unlike the sparse contents of Samsung and Apple’s flagship phone boxes.

OnePlus 9 Pro specifications and software

OnePlus has picked Qualcomm’s best current SoC, the Snapdragon 888. Announced in late 2020, this new beast of a chip was initially seen in the global variants of Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series. In India we briefly experienced it in the Asus ROG Phone 5, but this will be our first full review. The Snapdragon 888 uses a similar CPU structure as the Samsung Exynos 2100, but we’ll see how performance actually differs between the two. It’s built on a 5nm process and features Qualcomm’s integrated X60 5G modem.

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The OnePlus 9 Pro uses a new LTPO OLED display with the same QHD+ resolution as the 8 Pro

The OnePlus 9 Pro sold in India supports just two 5G bands (N41, N78) for both SA and NSA modes, which is less than in other regions such as the US and Europe. This might not be such a big deal now given the state of 5G in India, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Other than the speedy RAM and storage that I mentioned earlier, the OnePlus 9 Pro also features dual-band Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, stereo speakers, an in-display fingerprint sensor, and multiple satellite navigation systems. The company also says it has used a larger vapour chamber, thicker graphite sheets, and a larger copper coil in the OnePlus 9 Pro — all for the sole purpose of managing higher temperatures better.

OxygenOS continues to be a joy to use, and it still is one of the best Android skins around. My OnePlus 9 Pro review unit shipped with slightly buggy firmware but I did receive an OTA update which fixed most of the issues I had. I still think a few more updates are needed to iron out some leftover bugs. For instance, the 9 Pro’s always-on display gets really dim intermittently, to a point where it’s barely visible. The framerate in the camera viewfinder seems to be stuck at 30fps even after you select 60fps, which wasn’t the case before the update.

This is Oxygen OS 11, which is based on Android 11. It looks and feels very familiar to what we last experienced on the OnePlus 8T. Other than a few exclusive settings for the 9 series such as ‘Ultra-high video resolution’ and ‘Hyper Touch’, there’s not a lot that’s new.

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Oxygen OS 11 on the OnePlus 9 Pro needs a bit of polish but otherwise, the experience is very familiar

OnePlus’s extreme gaming mode, called Fnatic Mode, has been renamed to Pro Gaming mode since its partnership with Fnatic has ended. However, I still found remnants of Fnatic Mode branding, including the hidden wallpapers, in the firmware that I was using.

OnePlus 9 Pro performance and battery life

The quick and snappy performance of the OnePlus 9 Pro should come as no surprise, given the kind of hardware it’s packing. The display is brilliant, producing rich and vibrant colours with excellent legibility in any lighting. Scrolling menus and lists feels fluid, and even simple things like dismissing apps and multitasking are highly responsive. Video content on this display is a real treat as the brightness is excellent and colours look lively.

I was happy with the accuracy of the in-display fingerprint sensor, although I wished it had been placed a bit higher up like it is on the 8 Pro. You need to perform some finger acrobatics to reach it if you’re holding the phone. The Customisation option in the Settings app lets you tweak the look of the OnePlus 9 Pro, including the clock faces on the ambient display, fingerprint sensor animations, and edge lighting for incoming alerts. I also like the fact that the edges of the display are slightly less curved compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro, which helps in preventing accidental touches.

The Snapdragon 888 is a very powerful SoC and has more than enough power to tackle today’s apps and games. Benchmark numbers were solid, especially in AnTuTu, in which it easily beat the Exynos 2100 with a score of 6,86,911 points compared to 5,95,576 points.

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The OnePlus 9 Pro’s physical design is quite ergonomic and easy to handle for everyday use

Games ran exceptionally well too. Call of Duty: Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Riptide GP: Renegade looked stunning with their graphics settings maxed out. Most of the games I tested ran at 60fps, except for some such as Fortnite and Brawl Stars which can take advantage of the high refresh rate on the OnePlus 9 Pro.

I didn’t notice any heating when playing games for short durations, however, anything over 15-20 minutes and you’ll feel heat along the metal frame and glass back. I also received an overheating warning when using the camera outdoors on a sunny day. The phone refused to let me shoot even still photos till after it cooled down. It’s not uncommon for phones to heat up with heavy camera use, but I haven’t come across this severe an issue since probably the Sony Xperia Z series days.

The Hyper Touch option is said to increase the touch responsiveness of the display by up to six times in select games such as PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty: Mobile, League or Legends, and Brawl Stars. I’m not a heavy mobile gamer so I personally didn’t notice much of a difference with it on or off, but your experience may vary.

Audio performance is also worth noting on the OnePlus 9 Pro. The bottom speaker and the earpiece together produce high-quality stereo sound which is enhanced with Dolby Atmos. I found the stereo effect to be very good, be it when gaming or watching videos.

The new ‘Ultra-high video resolution’ display option aims to improve the clarity of videos in certain apps such as Instagram. In my experience, video posts do appear a tiny bit sharper but you really need to have a keen eye to spot any difference.

Compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro, I found the OnePlus 9 Pro a little easier to live with. The reduced weight, smaller camera bulge, and milder curvature of the display might seem like small changes but they do impact usability in a big way.

Battery life was pretty satisfactory during the review period. The OnePlus 9 Pro has a 4,500mAh battery which is a similar capacity to that of the OnePlus 8 Pro. There’s also support for 65W fast charging, like with the OnePlus 8T (Review). OnePlus calls this Warp Charge 65T now, which just like on the 8T, charges two smaller battery cells instead of a single large one for a quicker top-up. This lets you charge the OnePlus 9 Pro fully in about half an hour.

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The OnePlus 9 Pro supports the company’s new Warp Charge Wireless 50 fast charging tech

What’s new is faster wireless charging. OnePlus has introduced its Warp Charge 50 wireless charger, which as the name suggests, can now wirelessly charge the 9 Pro at up to 50W. OnePlus sent me the charger as well, and in my testing, I was able to charge the 9 Pro completely in roughly 45 minutes, which is pretty neat. The 9 Pro also supports reverse wireless charging, which lets you charge other Qi-compatible devices with the phone.

Even with heavy use, I consistently managed to get a full day’s worth of battery life, which I think most people should be very happy with. In our HD video loop test, the OnePlus 9 Pro ran for just shy of 16 hours.

OnePlus 9 Pro cameras

Before we dive into the performance of the cameras, let’s dissect OnePlus’ partnership with Hasselblad to understand the level of its involvement. You’ll find the Swedish camera maker’s branding everywhere, from the packaging to the back of the phone. Based on the way OnePlus has been marketing this partnership, many would assume that you’re getting Hasselblad sensors or at least lenses with the OnePlus 9 series, which is actually not the case. For these two phones, Hasselblad has only helped tune the colour processing algorithms of JPEG photos when you shoot in Auto or Pro mode.

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Hasselblad’s colour science has improved skin tones on the OnePlus 9 Pro, compared to the 8 Pro

The colour difference is noticeable in photos of people, as skin tones look warmer and a bit more natural compared to the colours produced by the OnePlus 8 Pro. This difference is amplified when shooting portraits of people under artificial light. For landscapes or other subjects, the difference is less pronounced.

Hasselblad’s influence is seen in the design of the camera shutter button too, which is now an orange dot, just like on Hasselblad cameras. However, this seems to be the extent of the benefit you can expect from this partnership on the 9 series. We could see deeper integration of Hasselblad’s expertise in future OnePlus smartphones, but that’s all conjecture for now.

The OnePlus 9 Pro does have brand new rear sensors, which are said to be custom-developed with Sony. The main camera has a 48-megapixel Sony IMX789 sensor with features such as dual native ISO, 2×2 on-chip lens for quicker focus, and DOL-HDR for better dynamic range in backlit shots for both stills and video. It can also capture 12-bit RAW files, instead of 10-bit, for increased colour information. You’ll still need a third-party app such as Adobe Lightroom to edit RAW files on the OnePlus 9 Pro, as the default gallery app doesn’t support it.

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The new camera sensors in the OnePlus 9 Pro ofter subtle but useful improvements compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro

Next up is a brand new ultra-wide camera with a 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 sensor with a freeform lens to cut barrel distortion (fish-eye effect) at the hardware level even before the image is processed. It has autofocus and can be used for macro photography too. The telephoto camera has an optically stabilised 8-megapixel sensor with 3.3X optical zoom and 30X digital zoom. There’s a new Tilt-Shift shooting mode for simulating the miniaturising effect of a tilt-shift lens.

Sadly, the selfie camera is still the same Sony IMX471 from the OnePlus 8 series, which is now long overdue for an upgrade. The OnePlus 9 Pro also has a fourth monochrome camera (2-megapixels) which is used only when you select the black-and-white filter in the camera app.

Let’s start with the ultra-wide camera, which captures excellent details and colours during the day. There’s barely any visible distortion on objects, especially around the edges of the frame. Exposures and colours were slightly better compared to what the OnePlus 8 Pro’s ultra-wide camera can manage. Objects towards the edges of the frame had slightly better details compared to the ultra-wide cameras of the iPhone 12 Pro Max (Review) and Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (Review).

OnePlus 9 Pro main camera sample (tap to see larger image)

OnePlus 9 Pro ultra-wide camera sample (tap to see larger image)

OnePlus 9 Pro macro camera sample (tap to see larger image)

OnePlus 9 Pro close-up camera sample (tap to see larger image)

The camera app will automatically switch to the ultra-wide camera if you go close enough to your subject for macro photography. Thanks to the use of this lens and sensor, macro shots pack in excellent details. Even in low light, the ultra-wide camera captured very good details, colours looked natural, and distortion was at a minimum.

The new sensor in the primary camera of the OnePlus 9 Pro offers improved details compared to shots taken with the 8 Pro, and the quality that you can expect comes close to what current-gen flagship phones from Apple and Samsung can manage. Close-ups have excellent sharpness, and colours have pleasing levels of saturation. Portrait mode works very well too, even though you still cannot adjust the level of background defocus before or after taking the shot. The new Tilt-Shift shooting mode is a fun addition, which can result in some interesting photos.

OnePlus 9 Pro low-light main camera sample (tap to see larger image)

OnePlus 9 Pro ultra-wide Nightscape camera sample (tap to see larger image)

The OnePlus 9 Pro also captures impressive low-light photos. It automatically reduces the shutter speed a bit so you don’t have to switch to Nightscape mode manually to get a good exposure. It could use a bit more tweaking though, as textures can look a bit grainy when you magnify photos all the way.

The telephoto camera on the OnePlus 9 Pro has the same specs as that of the 8 Pro, except for a longer focal length. This means you get 3.3X optical zoom, versus 3X. At this focal length, the 9 Pro captures good details, although I found colours a bit muted when shooting under sunlight, compared to the 8 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and even the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Images are still usable when captured at 10X zoom, but anything beyond that generally has weak details and colours.

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OnePlus 9 Pro telephoto comparison

OnePlus 9 Pro telephoto camera sample (tap to see larger image)

The Galaxy S21 Ultra is still the master of zoom, as even at 30X, it manages vastly superior photos compared to what the OnePlus 9 Pro can produce. In low light, the 9 Pro will actually use the telephoto camera for stills, instead of just digitally zooming in with the main camera. Autofocus is a bit slow, but the final image quality can be very good depending on the lighting.

Compared to the new rear sensors, the selfie camera is disappointing. Skin tones look warmer than they do with the OnePlus 8 Pro, which is good, but faces lack the natural look of, say, an iPhone. The colours of other objects such as clothing are often unnaturally saturated. Selfies taken in low light look a bit grainy, and textures aren’t well defined. You can’t use Nightscape with the front camera, and videos are still restricted to 1080p. The selfie camera was one of my main gripes with the OnePlus 8 Pro, and unfortunately, nothing has yet been fixed.

OnePlus 9 Pro low-light selfie camera sample (tap to see larger image)

Thanks to its powerful SoC, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s video capabilities have gotten a neat upgrade. You can now shoot 8K 30fps stabilised videos or up to 4K 120fps. Oddly, there’s no 1080p 120fps option. During my testing, I noticed that the 9 Pro was able to only shoot a single five minute 8K clip, and it stopped recording mid-way through the next clip due to overheating. This happened when recording at 4K 120fps too, but lower framerates at 4K and below didn’t seem to set off any alarm bells. While I initially noticed this problem when shooting outdoors during the day, it happened indoors a few times too. The phone cooled down after a few minutes but this might be an issue if you plan on doing a lot of video work with the 9 Pro.

The quality of videos was very good when shooting during the day and also at night. Stabilisation works very well at 4K, with no jitter or shakiness even in low light. At 4K 30fps, you can switch between the main and ultra-wide cameras, but not the telephoto (any zoom will be digital only). However, at 1080p, hitting the 3.3X button will switch to the telephoto camera. When shooting at 8K, or 4K 60fps and above, you’re limited to five minutes per clip. You get Nightscape for video, which improves the exposure in very dark situations but also introduces noise. HDR in videos is enabled automatically when shooting backlit subjects at 1080p or 4K at 30fps, thanks to the DOL-HDR feature of the main sensor.

Verdict

OnePlus already had a pretty solid foundation to build the OnePlus 9 Pro upon. The OnePlus 8 Pro still is one of the best phones the company has made to date, and the 9 Pro is an evolutionary update of it. The newer 5G SoC, faster wired charging, and improved cameras are all capabilities we were expecting it to have, and it definitely delivers. The brand new features include 50W wireless charging and a more power-efficient OLED display. All these improvements make the OnePlus 9 Pro yet another solid OnePlus flagship, worthy of its Pro badge.

The Hasselblad partnership is of course the main talking point whenever OnePlus mentions the cameras of the 9 series, but I do think what makes the rear cameras very good has more to do with the hardware than anything else. Certain colours such as skin tones have improved compared to the 8 Pro, but other features such as the 12-bit RAW, DOL-HDR, and distortion-free ultra-wide photos are all down to the hardware. The selfie camera is possibly the weakest link in an otherwise well-rounded camera setup.

The OnePlus 9 Pro phone isn’t without its issues though. There are quite a few bugs in the software that need ironing out, it does overheat with heavy camera use, and perhaps a better telephoto implementation such as a periscope lens would have been fitting for the price.

Speaking of which, prices for the OnePlus 9 Pro are much higher than you might have expected – you’ll have to pay Rs. 69,999 if you opt for the 12GB variant. A Rs. 10,000 jump in price compared to the 8 Pro will be a little hard to digest for many fans, but looking at the bigger picture, this is still lower than Samsung and Apple’s flagship pricing. If you don’t need things like 8K recording and 50W wireless charging, the OnePlus 8 Pro is still great value, even more so if you can buy it on sale for less than its launch price.

There’s also the OnePlus 9 to consider, starting at Rs. 49,999, which could prove to be the more popular model of the two. And what does OnePlus have in store for us with the OnePlus 9R? We’ll have the answer to that question, and many others, very soon.


Has the Redmi Note 10 Series raised the bar in the budget phone market in India? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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