Ever since OnePlus added a Pro variant to its annual lineup — starting with the OnePlus 7 Pro (review) back in 2019 — we’ve all been yearning for the brand to fix the camera performance. Which is why the company’s 2021 goal had to be simple: elevate the camera experience to at least match the Samsung Galaxy and Apple iPhone lineups. Now, there were two ways for OnePlus to achieve this:
1. Hire talented smartphone camera engineers like Nokia, Huawei, and Google did.
- Partner with a legacy camera brand to tune the phone’s camera performance.
Knowing OnePlus and its penchant for creating marketing hype, the partnership with Hassleblad was not a surprising move. But, if history is any indication, such partnerships have a tendency to be underwhelming. For example, the Moto Mod+Hassleblad partnership was a major dud. But, is it any different on the new OnePlus 9 Pro? I have the answer to the question and trust me, it’s going to make many folks happy.
Table of Contents
OnePlus 9 Pro Camera: a Branding Partnership that Actually Works
The first question we need to address is – does the Hasselblad partnership actually work? You know what, I went deep in my standalone camera review video to answer that question. But, since you are here, let me give you a quick rundown:
- Hasselblad has solely worked on the colour processing algorithm to ensure that you get natural colours every single time you click a picture. And, you know what? It actually does work. I got close to natural colours every single time I took a picture. Even the accuracy of the reds were spot on, something many phone algorithms get wrong. Including the iPhone 12 Pro Max, as you can see from the image below.
- The new IMX 789 sensor offers extremely sharp details in daylight and beats both, the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. The dynamic range performance is pretty spot on too. But yes, I did notice a lot of noise in the shadows and the iPhone 12 Pro Max is ever-so-slightly better at dynamic range performance.
- The Nightscape mode just kills. Low light shots come out extremely bright, detailed, and colour accurate too. The sharpness levels are so good that it puts the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Galaxy S21 Ultra to shame.
- Add the excellent 50MP ultra wide angle camera with a Freeform lens into the mix, and you get a potent camera duo. The pictures from the ultrawide angle camera, whether you shoot in regular daylight or low light, is extremely good looking too.The colour science consistency between the primary and the ultrawide is spot on too. I can’t wait to take it out on my next vacation, if that ever happens.
- Interestingly, similar to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the OnePlus 9 Pro switches to the Super Macro mode when you want to shoot close up shots. But, by default, the natural bokeh from the f/1.8 lens attached to the 48MP shooter looks so creamy and gorgeous. And, about that Super Macro mode, it is crisp and sharp.
- Not all’s hunky dory, though. The selfie camera is not flagship grade for sure. I mean, it is not bad but it doesn’t offer the same kind of selfie performance that you can expect from Samsung’s S21 series or even the iPhone 12. In fact, there are a few mid-rangers that offer better selfies.
- The portrait shots, in ample light and in low light, are not up to snuff either.
- You can shoot up to 4K 120fps video and 8K 30fps videos now, thanks to the Snapdragon 888 SoC inside the phone. What I don’t understand is why OnePlus hasn’t added the 4K 120fps recording option to the Slow Motion mode. Because, most 120fps videos are used to slow down to 30fps for crisp footage. Regardless, it looks great. 8K 30fps looks extremely detailed too with good stabilisation to boot. But 8K videos are definitely an overkill.
- Talking about “normal people” video recording quality of 4K 60fps. The footage looks good, both on the wide and the ultrawide cameras. The optical image stabilisation and HDR performance is flagship-grade too. However, the sound recording continues to be average at best. Something, OnePlus needs to fix next year for sure.
- You can shoot only up to 1080p 60fps selfie videos. Proper flagships offer 4K video recording from the front camera. Heck, even the OnePlus Nord offers it. OnePlus definitely dropped the ball here.
- Now that we’ve looked at the quality of the pictures, I have to talk about the camera app. The Hasselblad Shutter sound is so classic and mesmerising, someone should make an ASMR video of just the sound. While the sound is great, the new Red shutter button always confused me into thinking that I was actually shooting a video instead of capturing a picture.
- Furthermore, the Pro mode has been relabelled to Hasselblad Pro mode now. You can shoot 12-bit RAW and it offers control over ISO, exposure, shutter speed, manual focus with focus peaking and more.
- There is a new Tilt Shift mode as well. I like the way it has been implemented on the phone where you can use a pinch and zoom, and swivel to actually define the plane of focus and defocus. I managed a couple of fun shots but the novelty wears off quickly. Let’s think of it as a feature that’s available when you want it. Otherwise…you have Instagram’s editing tools anyway to simulate it in post. In fact, even Peter McKinnon suggests making Tilt Shift images in post.
My final consensus is that the OnePlus 9 Pro makes the right strides in the camera department to compete against and, sometimes, even beat the iPhone 12 Pro Max and the Galaxy S21 Ultra. I am waiting to see what this Hasselblad partnership coupled with the $150Mn investment in camera R&D by OnePlus for three years brings in the future.
OnePlus 9 Pro Design: Understated Elegance
Moving on from the camera to the design of the phone. The OnePlus 9 Pro’s design is very similar to the preceding OnePlus 8 Pro, except for the camera module on the rear. I’d have liked it if OnePlus had sent across the Pine Green or Astral Black variant for review instead of this glossy Morning Mist variant. I just prefer matte finishes over glossy ones because they get smudged up pretty easily.
Anyway, this glossy Morning Mist variant looks extremely elegant and is fitting for a premium flagship. You’ll notice the gradient design moves from a Silver shade to a Black one gradually and it increases the degree of reflectivity of the surface along the way. Plus, the camera module on the rear has a very slight bump and the layout along with the Hasselblad branding looks super classy. The frame around this module and the main structure is made of metal too.
Also, OnePlus has mastered the art of “burdenless” design language by now. The in-hand feel is great too and the alert slider continues to be a useful inclusion. Furthermore, I must say, I do really dig that new silicon case you get inside the box.
OnePlus 9 Pro Display: A+
The OnePlus 9 Pro’s curved 6.7-inch AMOLED panel uses the new LTPO technology to move between 1Hz to 120Hz adaptive refresh rates as the situation demands. For example, it will choose to stay at 1Hz if you are just looking at a picture or switch to 120Hz in supported games. It continues to be one of the smoothest panels out there. Couple that with the great touch response, you get a display that responds to your slightest of touches. Now, if you are a gamer, OnePlus also offers you a special Hyper Touch supersampling mode where it ups the refresh rate to a whopping 360Hz. It does work and totally elevates the gaming experience by a lot.
The haptic feedback on the display is great too but the iPhone 12 Series and the Galaxy S21 Series offer a slightly more refined feedback. The in-display fingerprint scanner has been moved lower now for some reason. Must be due to the shuffling of some internal display parts, but it continues to unlock the phone at blazing speeds so I don’t really care about the changed position. It is just a matter of realigning your muscle memory.
Remember how the OnePlus 8 Pro’s display was unfortunately mired in controversy? Thankfully, the OnePlus 9 Pro fixes all of that. I faced no Green Tint or Black Crush issue on my panel. The colour calibration is absolutely spot on too. I used the DCI-P3 palette, so I could edit pictures on the fly. By the way, MEMC makes a comeback this year, but it is not something I prefer while watching content.
By the way, the pre-applied screen protector is awful and doesn’t extend to the curved edges. It is good enough until you buy a better one. I removed it instantly.
Basically, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great phone for consuming HDR content on the phone with its peak brightness capability of 1300nits. But yes, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best display out there with higher peak brightness not just in HDR mode but also in High Brightness Mode (HBM). But, then again, there’s such a massive difference in price, which needs to be considered too.
OnePlus 9 Pro Performance: Powerful But Power Hungry
It is no surprise that the OnePlus 9 Pro is powered by the latest Snapdragon 888 SoC, 8/12GB of LPDDR5 RAM, and 128/256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. OnePlus has also added a new Turbo Boost 3.0 Memory Optimisation which compresses the data on the RAM to make it smaller and pulls out storage from unused internal storage to be commissioned for Virtual RAM purposes. All this means that you have more RAM for your apps to perpetually exist in suspended state. I am exaggerating, obviously, but you get the drift.
I did test the performance and clearly the OnePlus 9 Pro just aces all the benchmarks. It scores higher than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3DMark as well. This is mostly because the Adreno graphics on the SD888 is better than the Mali one on the Exynos 2100. I also ran Tauceti’s Silent City FPS test, which is made on the Unreal engine. In that test, the OnePlus 9 Pro scores much higher than the Snapdragon S21 Ultra. Plus, the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t throttle the CPU as much as the S21 Ultra does as you can tell from our CPU throttle test numbers.
But, the OnePlus optimisation tends to push the limits of the Snapdragon 888 processor. This means that the phone tends to heat up more compared to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which runs cooler.
I had a first hand experience while shooting camera samples for the camera comparison using these phones. More than once, I got the “unable to take pictures because the phone’s temperature is too high” message. So, the Indian summers could be hard on the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The audio performance of the OnePlus 9 Pro is good enough. The stereo speakers sound loud and full, and you get your standard Dolby Atmos support as well, which honestly doesn’t mean much.
OnePlus 9 Pro Software: Oxygen OS With No Bugs
The OnePlus 9 Pro runs on Oxygen OS 11.2 based on Android 11. It is a clean, fuss free software experience that has one of the best design languages among mobile operating systems out there. I love the fact that there are no ads and there are customisation options aplenty. From changing the accent colours to cool Always On Display options, the OnePlus 9 Pro has it all. There’s also a new contextual search option that works similar to Apple’s Spotlight Search. For example, you can type “selfie” to directly open the front camera and capture one.
Although, I am still miffed that you cannot bulk delete apps from the home screens or search on the Widgets page. Also, oddly enough I noticed a typo in the Hyper Touch feature explanation, something that OnePlus is never known to make. Let’s also not forget that Samsung’s OneUI has become pretty awesome now including the fact that Samsung is committing to three years of software updates and four years of security updates for most of its phones. OnePlus’ update cycle to Android 11 has definitely been slightly wonky with the Nord receiving it only recently. Which is, unfortunately, broken too.
OnePlus 9 Pro Battery Performance: it’s All About the Mad Charging Speed
The OnePlus 9 Pro’s Snapdragon 888 SoC is very power hungry. And, therefore it drains the 4500mAh battery inside the phone pretty fast. I got around four hours and 30 minutes of screen on time (SoT) on QHD+ and 120Hz adaptive refresh rate setting. And, that number improved ever-so-slightly on FHD+, 120Hz setting to around four hours and 45 minutes. That’s not really great battery life, if you ask me. I expected the LTPO display to actually improve the battery performance over the OnePlus 8 Pro.
But, to be practical, I can easily live with the battery life performance. How? Because this is the fastest charging phone I have ever used. I actually managed to charge the OnePlus 9 Pro from 0 to 100 in 30 minutes flat using the in box 65W Warp Charge 65T GAN charger. That’s not it, you can also buy the Warp Charge 50 Wireless charger separately for super fast wireless charging. While OnePlus claims that it can charge it in 43 minutes, I managed 1 hour and 2 mins in my testing. That is blazing fast too.
Fast wireless charging alone is a huge, huge selling point for me. Plus, in a day and age where brands are excluding the charger from the box, OnePlus is bundling the fastest one out there. Really commendable stuff.
OnePlus 9 Pro Network: 5G-ready
The OnePlus 9 Pro supports 5G and WiFi 6. Both these protocols don’t mean much in India. Because 5G is still a while away and WiFi 6 routers are still not very popular. By the way, the OnePlus 9 Pro supports only the n41 and n78 bands in India.
So, for all practical purposes, what you need to know is – how is the 4G performance? Well, it was great on Airtel’s 4G network in Gurgaon with support for Carrier Aggregation. The call quality was great with absolutely no call drops either.
Should You Buy the OnePlus 9 Pro?
With the OnePlus 9 Pro, OnePlus has really delivered on that camera upgrade promise. The Hasselblad partnership was a masterstroke, if you ask me. Which, therefore, puts it squarely in competition with the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Let’s quickly compare:
- The camera performance, except for zoom, selfie, and portraits, is better on the OnePlus 9 Pro compared to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
- The gaming performance is definitely better on the OnePlus 9 Pro but daily performance is equally good on the S21 Ultra’s Exynos 2100.
- Design is subjective and both have their own unique, timeless IDs.
- Display is slightly better on the S21 Ultra.
- Software is more reliable on the S21 Ultra just because Samsung is now providing assured upgrades in the future. But, I like Oxygen OS’s UI design.
- Battery life is most definitely better on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. But charging speeds are in the OnePlus 9 Pro’s favour. Which is also important, if you ask me.
- Most importantly, OnePlus 9 Pro is much cheaper than the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
Now, why am I comparing it to the S21 Ultra and not something like the S21/S21+? Well because, the OnePlus 9 Pro is far superior to those phones.
And, about the price rise from Rs 54,999 for the OnePlus 8 Pro to Rs 64,999 for the OnePlus 9 Pro, I saw it coming. To spend money on camera R&D and offer a great shooting experience, doesn’t come cheap. That said, it is definitely on the higher side for a OnePlus phone. On the flipside, looking at the pricing of competing devices, I wonder if other brands can match this pricing and offer the kind of features that OnePlus offers. Take for example, the smaller Samsung Galaxy S21. It is priced at Rs 73,000 odd right now and you don’t even get a brick inside the box! And, like I mentioned, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a far better phone than both, the Galaxy S21 and S21+.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that, despite all of its problems, the OnePlus 9 Pro is my favourite Android flagship of 2021 yet.
So, what did you think of our review of the OnePlus 9 Pro? Do let us know in the comments below.
OnePlus 9 ProRs 64,999
Design and Build9.2/10
What Is Good?
- Best cameras on a OnePlus phone
- Beastly performance
- Elegant design
- Super fast wireless charging
- Super fast wired charging
What Is Bad?
- Gets hot sometimes
- Battery life is average