A premium-build Android smartphone with the best technology and no trade-offs, all at a lower price than other flagship mobiles – that’s the promise of the OnePlus 9 Pro. It certainly looks to be the part: it's a 5G phone fitted with a big, bold 6.7in AMOLED display ready to whip up HDR video on the go.
The phone is metal-framed with a subtly curved glass screen and a camera bump so loaded with lenses that you might miss the fact that the cameras have been designed in conjunction with Hasselbald. The Swedish photographic giant recorded man’s first arrival on the Moon, so it should be able to make something Instagrammable out of your summer staycation.
The OnePlus 9 Pro price is either £829 ($969) or £929 ($1069) depending on which colour you choose. The finishes themselves do not warrant a cost discrepancy but they do indicate the varying specs on offer. The Stellar Black and Morning Mist options attract the lower price tag and come with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage. The Pine Green option, meanwhile, demands the higher asking price and is fitted with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage instead. Here, we’re reviewing the Morning Mist model.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a big phone, with its 6.7in screen making it as big as the largest iPhone, the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Its dimensions are similar, but it’s noticeably thicker (8.7mm compared to 7.4mm) and a little lighter (197g vs 226g). Fortunately, the OnePlus 9 Pro is also significantly cheaper and offers a tempting saving on other similarly sized premium competition, such as the Apple handset and Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra.
This device looks pretty good and feels nice in the hand. The 2.2mm aluminium frame design fits the flagship part, as does the gently curved Gorilla Glass. It’s IP68 rated, too, which means it is water-, dust- and dirt-resistant.
On the left side of the frame is the volume rocker. On the right is the power button and a three-way slider switch to select between silent, vibrate and ring profiles. The fingerprint reader is at the bottom of the display and the software allows for face unlocking too. As is often the case these days, there’s no 3.5mm headphones socket – it’s USB-C only so will require an adapter for use with most wired headphones.
Screen 6.7in AMOLED
Resolution 1440 x 3216, 525ppi
Rear camera Quad array (48MP, 50MP, 8MP, 2MP)
Front camera 16MP x3
Dimensions (hwd) 163 x 74 x 9mm
The tie-in with Hasselblad brings a mighty-looking four-camera shooting set-up. It makes for quite the lump on the rear of the device to the point where it feels a little top-heavy to hold. With that and the sheer size of this phone in mind, it's best operated with two hands – unless you really do want to put its body strength to the test.
If it’s a big phone you want, that screen’s going to be important and the 6.7in AMOLED on the 9 Pro is built with many of the mod-cons you’d expect. Its 1440 x 3216 resolution (QHD+), 525ppi display makes for a 21:9 aspect ratio which is cut down to 16:9 with black bars at the ends while watching TV and film. It’s HDR10+-enabled, which is a bonus, and there’s support for playback of MKV, MOV, MP4, H.265 (HEVC), AVI and other video formats.
It's capable of 10-bit colour depth and a dynamic refresh rate up to 120Hz that can be automatically controlled to bring that battery-sapping speed down when doing something less demanding than gaming. The LTPO (low-temperature polycrystalline oxide) power-saving display tech will also help on that front too. The 1300-nit peak brightness is on a par with other phones at this price – it isn’t great in bright daylight conditions, but it’s good enough for viewing in shaded spots or indoor settings.
That high refresh rate works a charm when we play PUBG Mobile Hundred Rhythms. OnePlus has increased the syncing speed between the processor and the display to a stated 360Hz for compatible games. The company claims that's six times faster than standard displays. This so-called Hyper Touch technology is designed to make gaming more responsive and offer better reaction times, too.
There’s not so much as a hint of a stutter as we race around the PUBG Playzone in a jeep or on foot. It’s as silky a gaming experience as we’ve seen on mobile, even during fast pans or when leaping about in the heat of the bullet-riddled action.
The OnePlus 9 Pro spoils gamers with two separate modes. Game Mode automatically optimises CPU, GPU and RAM, while Game Mode Pro restricts background app usage and shuts off notifications and phone calls during your gaming. We particularly like the mini settings menus you can pull down during gameplay in case you need to make any quick changes.
The AMOLED on the OnePlus 9 Pro comes with a good few settings to play with. We like both Vivid and Natural modes, while the Advanced section allows some customisation of colour range, tint and white balance to find something in between. Natural is a particularly good option for SD content, but otherwise we find Display P3, combined with taking down the colour temperature a notch, achieves the best blend.
We watch The Witcher in HDR on Netflix and are impressed with the results. It puts the contrast metadata to good use and, despite the moody aesthetic, nothing is blown out or lost to the shadows. A scene in a dingy tavern pierced by shafts of daylight is a particularly good example of the OnePlus’ handling of detail.
Every part of The Witcher is brought out nicely by the 9 Pro, despite the anti-hero skulking in the gloomiest corner of the bar. His leather epaulettes, every angle of his chiselled face and the details of the stonework behind him are brilliantly clear. At the same time, we can still make out the dust particles dancing in the beams of light from outside right next to him. You’ll struggle to find a mobile phone at this price, with this size screen, that can do HDR better. It means that catching an episode of your favourite show while on the move need not feel like a second-class experience.
Lighting levels are still good with SDR material. Watching the Berhert ambush scene in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 in Full HD on Disney Plus, we get excellent detail of the advancing Ravagers while still maintaining some black depth. The opening shots of the film also demonstrate the enjoyable and but natural colour balance that this phone can create. Ego’s blue car looks the part as it cruises the Missouri countryside with its blend of browns, greens and yellows in the ploughed fields, grass and bare earth.
There’s a steady judder to any long camera movements, but that’s typical from what you’ll find in mobile phones at this price and size. OnePlus has added some motion processing technology which, for our tastes, falls a little into the soap effect. It’s not available for all apps but it definitely presents a usable and effective smoothing option that some might prefer.
However, there are some areas where this performance is beaten, including black depth. The quest for brightness and dark detail delivery means that those blacks aren’t as pure as they might be. Another possible improvement is with the close control of the picture.
The Award-winning Sony Xperia 5 II, for example, has purer blacks, while also managing to be a little brighter. The Sony is also better at shading and makes the OnePlus 9 Pro look a little blunt in comparison. The difference isn’t so stark at HDR, but with Full HD and SD pictures the OnePlus doesn’t quite dig up the same levels of texture, colour nuance or overall sense of image depth.
Skin tones and the sheen to the clothing in Blade Runner 2049 are good but short of the excellence the Sony can manage. In the street food scene, K’s leather coat is rendered well but misses some tactile quality. The call girl’s fluffy pink coat is just short of offering that truly lifelike feathery feel.
Where the 9 Pro has a big edge, though, is with pure scale, and there’s a lot to be said for a bigger screen for watching on the go. It may not have the best implementation of screen tech we've seen, but the overall package is still one that makes viewing enjoyable.
On the audio front, there’s no wanting for file format support with both Apple lossless and FLAC represented as well as the other usual suspects. If you prefer your music wireless, there is Bluetooth 5.2, with both aptX and aptX HD onboard as well as the Sony-developed hi-res audio code LDAC technology. The device is certified to handle up to 24-bit/96kHz bitrates too.
The camera is a huge draw for many, so getting Hasselblad involved feels like a coup for OnePlus. Hasselblad has calibrated the screen to get the best and most natural colours, and has also tuned the dedicated 2MP monochrome lens (which is one of four on the 9 Pro).
The main lens is backed by a 48MP Sony IMX789 sensor, complemented by a 50MP ultra-wide shooter, an 8MP telephoto with 3.3x optical zoom, and a front-facing 16MP set-up. The camera array does a particularly nice job of capturing the fine details and textures in the fur of our (unofficial) test cat, and the bright chairs and crayons around him are pleasing both on and off the device. Colours are good, particularly when shooting the 12-bit RAW files, although the Xperia 5 II does a slightly truer job with lighter pastels. The optical image stabilisation is very impressive while shooting 4K video at 60fps as we track our test subject on his prowls. It should be noted that the OnePlus 9 Pro can rather impressively capture 8K at 30fps and 1080p at up to 120fps.
All of this is orchestrated by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, which makes glitch-free mincemeat of any set of tasks we throw its way. All that engine, screen and multimedia fun does come at a fair cost to the battery, though. You won’t get much more than a day of heavy usage out of this device before you need to recharge. Fortunately, the One Plus 9 Pro’s Warp Charge 50 power plug allows a full juicing in under 30 minutes. There’s a wireless charging mobile stand also available (£70), which does the same job in not much more time. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a bedside option, though; its fan is a little noisy once it revs up into action.
The front face of the OnePlus 9 Pro's software experience is the company’s Oxygen OS version 11. It’s a light and unobtrusive skin which allows you to more or less strip right back to Android 11, but it’s worth getting to know the UI before you start stripping away. We like the gesture navigation, the wallpapers, widgets and particularly the OnePlus Notes app which is something stock Android has never really dealt with as well as iOS phones do.
Dolby Atmos audio settings don’t always bring the best possible sound out of a smartphone but the Music preset on the OnePlus 9 Pro has advantages. The base level of audio in this portable is not the most exciting and the Dolby processing adds at least an impression of the missing dynamism.
We listen to Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival and there’s enough on show to give a passable sense of John Fogerty’s cracking voice, the humming bassline and the twangs of the lead guitar, but it’s less of a thrill than it should be. It’s a clean enough sound that reveals the major details of this fairly busy song and offers a perfectly healthy, if uninspiring, representation across the tonal range.
Without the Dolby processing, it’s possible to pick up a better sense of rhythm and cohesion. While that’s tempting, given the fairly loose presentation, the audio becomes particularly flat. Much like trying to sleep under a blanket that’s too small, we can make adjustments but, either way, part of us is left cold.
With Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper’s Delight, there’s just about enough of both rhythmic and dynamic elements to keep this more pared-down track bouncing along. Between the vocals and the famously sampled bassline, it’s still a reasonable listen. Compared to the best devices in this field, though, the OnePlus is some way behind sonically. There’s little low-level detail available in either the rap vocal or the bass guitar and so much more to enjoy that the Pro 9 can only gloss over.
Playing classical music reveals just how this device is left wanting when it comes to dynamic discrimination. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”: I.Allegro should have a huge variation between the piano and the orchestra, but the opening blasts sound all too similar to the soloist. While there’s some sense of stereo imaging, there’s little texture to the instruments. The gentle strokes of the piano keys sound much like the more powerfully struck chords.
This phone won’t destroy your favourite songs, but it might have you wondering whether you really want to listen to them all that much. The sound is merely ‘okay’, and that is the only faint praise we can offer in this department.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a compelling way of getting some top features and a decent video performance from a phone without having to pay the typical flagship premium. All that stands in the way of true greatness is the need for a little more finesse with video and the distinctly average music performance. OnePlus doesn’t have the same audio heritage as other brands and it really shows here. This phone has the apps, the connectivity and the storage to deliver hi-res music, but not the best audio circuitry – and that's a bit of a shame.
Still, its huge screen is good at this price and makes for an enjoyable way of watching TV and film wherever you are, and the Hasselblad camera array and gaming smarts add two more useful and attractive dimensions. The 9 Pro isn't perfect, but it's a tempting big-screen smartphone proposition nonetheless.
- Screen 4
- Sound 3
- Features 5
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Read our Sony Xperia 5 II review
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Read our Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max review