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OnePlus 9 Pro review: Distinct but modestly priced, all-round premium phone

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a smartphone that deserves every bit of its premium tag. Though reasonably priced, the phone cuts no corners and offers the wholesome experience that justifies its 'Pro' moniker

OnePlus in India | Chinese smartphones | OnePlus

Khalid Anzar  |  New Delhi 

OnePlus 9 Pro
OnePlus 9 Pro

The 9 Pro seems to have placed Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus, known for its midrange flagships, in the league of best premium smartphone makers alongside those like Samsung and Apple. The previous-generation premium (the OnePlus 7 Pro, OnePlus 7T Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro) were also good, but they lacked the imaging competence, design superiority, innovation and novelty offered by the best premium smartphone brands.

A distinct product with something exclusive to offer is what needed to make a meaningful stride in the premium smartphone market. After struggling to get that right for some time, it may to have cracked that with the OnePlus 9 Pro. From its Hasselblad partnership for the camera system to a QHD+ resolution screen of 120Hz refresh rate, ingress protection rating and fast wireless charging support, the OnePlus 9 Pro has a lot to show for itself. It does seem to justify its price tag of Rs 69,999? Read on to know how:

OnePlus 9 Pro: Design

The OnePlus 9 Pro does not look like any of its predecessor; it looks better. Made of glass and metal, the smartphone has fine ergonomics for comfortable use and good in-hand feel. The glass on the front and back has a two-side curved profile with smooth corners and edges that make the phone easy to handle and operate. That said, even as the phone is fun to use, its glossy glass back (morning mist colour – review unit) is prone to fingerprint marks and smudges. It also makes the phone susceptible to accidental drops if you are not careful in handling the phone. Therefore, the phone needs constant care with regard to cleaning and handling. On the positive side, the OnePlus 9 Pro handles everyday abuses without taking any dent or scratches. Moreover, the phone is IP68-rated for water and dust resistance. Therefore, the phone has a shot at surviving in the face of water and dust but it is strongly advised not to intentionally put its ingress protection capability to test by doing so.

OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro: Display

OnePlus has come a long way in adding finesse to its fluid AMOLED display technology, and the OnePlus 9 Pro brings the best of that. Its 6.7-inch two-side curved screen of a QHD+ resolution boasts adaptive refresh rate that automatically sets the refresh rate based on on-screen content requirements. While there are that have AMOLED panels of 120Hz refresh rate, and even adaptive refresh rate tech, there is none in India so far capable of variably adjusting the refresh rate all the way down to 1Hz. OnePlus says its adaptive refresh rate tech, named ‘Smart 120Hz’, uplifts the user experience without compromising the battery efficiency. While the user experience is top-notch and the screen justifies the ‘fluid’ moniker, the battery efficiency claim seems a little overstated. Nevertheless, there is an option in the display settings to switch the screen to 60Hz and fullHD+ resolution to improve the on-battery time.

Battery efficiency aside, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s display capability goes beyond its Smart 120Hz refresh rate tech. It is an HDR10+ certified AMOLED panel of 10-bit colour depth with exceptional brightness. The former comes to notice while rendering supported high dynamic range content, and the latter aids the phone’s sunlight legibility. Besides, there are tons of value-added features like ‘Vibrant Colour Effect Pro’, ‘Motion Graphics Smoothing’, and ‘Ultra-High Video Resolution. These features make use of the display’s peak potential and dramatically improve the phone’s multimedia rendering capabilities. Important to note that the commonly used apps like Instagram, Prime Videos, Netflix, VLC Player, YouTube, etc, are optimised to take advantage of these features for an enhanced user experience.

From a smooth user experience to an impressive multimedia rendering capability, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s display is perfect for every occasion. However, it has some glitches that seem to stem from the operating system. These include unresponsiveness to touch and the broken full-screen app functionality. While the former makes the phone unusable until you lock and unlock it, the latter does not allow you to manually set the app to use full screen. Surprisingly, the display setting to make an app use full-screen display fails to fetch the app list.

OnePlus 9 Pro -- Apps display scaling issue
OnePlus 9 Pro -- Apps display scaling issue

OnePlus 9 Pro: Camera

This is one area where OnePlus has always struggled to match the imaging competence offered by other premium smartphones, leave alone outshining them. Well, the equation changes with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The phone’s primary sensor takes detailed shots, irrespective of lighting conditions. It is quick in fixing focus and captures the frame with almost zero shutter lag. Moreover, it is tuned to capture natural colours, resulting in true-to-life imaging experience.

The primary sensor is a stellar performer but it is the phone’s freeform lens-based ultra-wide-angle sensor that steals the show. I do not remember the last time I used the ultra-wide-angle camera on a smartphone and enjoyed it as much as I did with the OnePlus 9 Pro. There is a colour symmetry between the primary and the ultra-wide-angle camera, and the latter is as good a performer as the former – at least in daylight conditions. Unlike the conventional ultra-wide-angle sensors, the OnePlus 9 Pro takes flat frames with minimal distortion of any sort. Therefore, the frames appear to have been taken from a regular camera with a wide field-of-view.

Adding versatility to the package is the telephoto lens, which enables up to 3.3x optical zoom. In terms of performance, however, it is the weak one in an otherwise good package.

For imaging enthusiasts, there is a manual mode named ‘Pro’, which lets users tweak the key camera settings like focus, shutter speed, white balance, ISO, etc, before taking shots. The manual mode is not new to but the one available on the OnePlus 9 Pro has been co-developed in partnership with Hasselblad, a Swedish camera equipment maker known for sending cameras to the moon on NASA missions. OnePlus has said that the Pro mode is backed by Hasselblad’s ‘Natural Colour Calibration’ algorithms. Unfortunately, the improvement is not the monumental "our greatest leap forward in mobile photography yet" as advertised by OnePlus. Moreover, the Pro mode is limited to the primary sensor, and so is Hasselblad’s natural colour calibration processing. This not only dampens the utility of the otherwise spectacular ultra-wide-angle sensor but also kills the OnePlus 9 Pro camera system’s prospect of being an all-rounder good for both amateurs and pro users.

Overall, the OnePlus 9 Pro camera system is different (in a good way), competent, consistent and fun to use. It delivers the performance one expects from a premium smartphone. Moreover, it opens the possibilities no other smartphone maker has explored and experimented with. Denting the package, however, is the much advertised Hasselblad ‘promise’ because it is restricted to the primary camera through the Pro mode, and the outcome is generic.

OnePlus 9 Pro: Performance

Performance has always been at the core of OnePlus smartphones and the OnePlus 9 Pro is no different. It is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 system-on-chip, paired with up to 12GB RAM (LPDDR5) and 256GB internal storage (UFS 3.1). It ships with Android 11-based OxygenOS 11 operating system, which deserves praise for keeping the user interface close to stock Android while integrating value-added features to elevate user experience (customised colour tones, dark mode, night mode, hidden space area, etc).

From graphic-intensive games to multimedia editing, there is nothing that the phone could not handle. Moreover, there is a game space with built-in Pro Gaming mode (earlier known as Fnatic mode) for enhanced gaming performance. The OnePlus 9 Pro supports networks, both standalone and non-standalone, and WiFi 6. Though both could not be tested at present, these make for a future-ready smartphone which you might not have to upgrade to experience connectivity benefits in the times to come. The phone also has stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos support.

OnePlus 9 Pro: Battery

The OnePlus 9 Pro is powered by a dual-cell battery of a combined 4,500mAh capacity. The phone’s battery seems underpowered, especially when the display is set to QHD+ resolution and Smart 120Hz refresh rate. Thankfully, the phone ships with a 65W fast-wired-charger, which replenishes the completely drained battery fully in about 45 minutes. It is a universal charger with USB-C to USB-C cable. Therefore, you can use it to charge laptops, tablets and other devices that support power delivery charging (charges at 45W). Coming back to the OnePlus 9 Pro, it supports 50W fast wireless charging, too. The phone takes about an hour to charge through OnePlus Warp Charge 50 Wireless Charger (sold separately for Rs 3,990). Wireless charging warms up the phone’s back side but not so much as to make it uncomfortable to use.

OnePlus 9 Pro review: Verdict

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a distinct smartphone that deserves every bit of its premium tag. Though reasonably priced, the phone cuts no corners and offers a wholesome experience that justifies its ‘Pro’ moniker. The phone is a complete package, competent enough to take on other flagships from established brands like Samsung and Apple. Check out the Galaxy S21 Plus (review) if you would still rather choose Samsung over OnePlus just because the latter has narrowed the price gap, which used to be wide until last year.

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First Published: Mon, April 05 2021. 13:50 IST