Blog » ForemostList Reviews » OnePlus 9 Pro Review 2021

OnePlus 9 Pro Review 2021

The OnePlus 9 Pro smartphone (starting at $969.99) delivers a streamlined flagship experience to T-Mobile subscribers, finally catching up to its competitors. The phone itself is light in the hand, and the user experience is weightless as well. The cameras take knockout photos in pretty much all conditions and the integrated fast charging is the best we’ve seen. The Galaxy S21 Ultra scores a bit better in our battery and wireless radio testing, it works with Samsung’s excellent S Pen stylus, and its camera offers killer optical zoom, so it just edges out the 9 Pro to be our Editors’ Choice among flagship smartphones. Still, the OnePlus 9 Pro is outstanding. If you’re on T-Mobile and want a top-notch, loaded phone that makes your heart sing, you’re now spoiled for choice.


The OnePlus Promise Is Finally Realized

OnePlus was once a company that made a single great phone at a time. Now it has a full line of phones at T-Mobile (and providers like Google Fi, Metro, or Mint Mobile, which use T-Mobile’s networks): the $969.99 OnePlus 9 Pro, the $729.99 OnePlus 9, the $299.99 OnePlus Nord N10, and the $179.99 OnePlus Nord N100. They all share the OnePlus philosophy, which means speedy, elegant software and a streamlined physical design.

Cameras have always been the one place OnePlus tended to fall behind Samsung and Apple, so OnePlus made a deal with Hasselblad for color tuning and bought a new sensor from Sony. As a result, the 9 Pro’s camera is mostly on par with the latest from Samsung, only slightly short only on optical zoom.

If you aren’t a T-Mobile subscriber, read no further. The 9 Pro is only designed to work well with that carrier. But if you’re on T-Mobile or an aforementioned sub-carrier, you will find quite a lot to like here, especially if you covet the Galaxy S21 Ultra but think it’s just a bit too hefty.

The OnePlus 9 offers similar overall performance to the 9 Pro but steps down a bit on screen, camera, and radio quality, and it doesn’t integrate super-fast wireless charging. If you don’t mind those downgrades, you can save $240 and get an even smaller and lighter phone. See our review of the OnePlus 9 for all the details.


Light, Sleek Design

The 9 Pro’s base model has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The 12GB/256GB model costs an additional $100. There is no memory card slot. The phone is perfectly sized, measuring 6.42 by 2.89 by 0.34 inches (HWD) and weighing 6.9 ounces. That’s a little wider than the 2.8 inches we use as the cutoff width measurement for small phones, but it’s noticeably smaller and lighter than the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and narrower than the OnePlus 8 Pro. Of the three, the 9 Pro is the easiest to use with a single hand.

The OnePlus 9 Pro comes in green or silver.

The design, very in tune with OnePlus’s “burdenless design” philosophy, is slim and elegant. The phone’s body is rounded, with the traditional OnePlus mute switch on the left side and the Hasselblad-branded camera module on the back. The camera doesn’t stick out nearly as much as recent Samsung camera bumps do (because it doesn’t have a giant periscopic zoom lens in it). The front-facing camera is a hole-punch on the upper left corner, just like on the 8 Pro.

The phone has an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance, and comes in two colors. If you’re not going to put your phone in a case, we like the matte pine green better than the mirrored silver “morning mist” glass back, which has a greasy-fingerprint problem. Our review unit came with a black carbon-fiber case that made that issue moot. (There’s a third, black phone, but OnePlus tells us it won’t be sold in the US.)

The back of the OnePlus 9 Pro in silverThe mirrored back of the silver case is a fingerprint magnet.

Unlike the Galaxy S21 Ultra and recent iPhones, your OnePlus phone comes with a cable and a 65W charger. Luxury! There’s a reason: OnePlus uses proprietary USB-C chargers. Though the phone will charge from any USB-C source, it’ll only achieve its highest charging speeds with the included charger.

There’s no headphone jack, and no headphone adapter included in the box. At this writing, OnePlus’s own (very good) USB-C headphones are out of stock. You’ll have to go with a third-party adapter or third-party wireless USB-C earphones. You can also go wireless. OnePlus Buds and even less expensive Buds Z both offer customizable tap functions that only work with OnePlus phones. If you’re looking at other wireless earbuds, try to find a pair that supports Qualcomm’s aptX HD codec, since it’s the highest-resolution codec available on the 9 series.

As for the onboard speakers, the audio quality is excellent. Dual stereo speakers deliver audio with a peak volume of 98dB and a surprising bit of mid-bass. For voice calls, which have a maximum volume of 81dB, the phone supports the best codec T-Mobile can handle, HD voice with EVS.


A Bright, Yet Battery-Saving Display

The bright and beautiful 6.7-inch, 525ppi, 3,216-by-1,440-pixel screen can be dialed back to 1080p in the phone’s settings if you want to conserve battery life. The display uses a relatively new technology called low-temperature polycrystalline oxide (LTPO) that reduces power consumption and gives phone manufacturers more control over refresh rates. It was previously seen in the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and the Galaxy S21 series. It’s worth noting that only the 9 Pro, not the 9, offers this screen technology.

The LTPO display of the OnePlus 9 Pro, displaying an image of cloudsThe LTPO display helps save power.

This is a top-of-the-line OLED display with a bonus: It’s very visible in direct sunlight. A screen protector is preinstalled; we didn’t remove it from our test unit. According to DisplayMate Labs tests, the 9 Pro’s display set to Auto Brightness mode beats the 8 Pro, the Galaxy S20 series, and the latest iPhones in ambient light, but not the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. The 9 Pro also improves the maximum color gamut in its vivid display mode, which helps it maintain color saturation in outdoor lighting.

High brightness mode results

Besides in brightness and color, the 9 Pro’s display isn’t easily distinguishable from other recent top-of-the-line OLED panels. The real news is power optimization, as the LTPO panel dynamically—and imperceptibly—changes its refresh rate from 120Hz all the way down to 1Hz to save energy. Check out our in-depth exclusive for more on the display.

Color shift results


Impressive Speed and Ease of Use

OnePlus phones are always fast. The 9 and 9 Pro, along with the Galaxy S21 series, are the only US phones with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 chipset. (There are others in the world, but they aren’t sold here.) The two OnePlus phones scored a bit better than the Galaxy S21 Ultra on Geekbench, with single-core scores around 1125 and multi-core scores around 3700. That’s a 24% increase on single-core results and a 12% increase on multi-core results over the OnePlus 8 Pro. None of these phones can surpass the iPhone 12, though, which scored 1596 SC and 4049 MC with its Apple A14 processor.

The Snapdragon 888 provides a lift in graphics performance, too. On the GFXBench Car Chase offscreen benchmark, the 9 Pro scored around 70fps, with 37fps onscreen in WQHD mode and 58fps onscreen in HD mode. That’s a major jump up from the 8 Pro, which scored 51fps offscreen and either 26 or 45fps onscreen depending on screen resolution.

Unfortunately, the web benchmark we usually use, Basemark Web, wasn’t available while we were testing the phone. The Jetstream browser benchmark doesn’t seem to be compatible with either OnePlus phone and we couldn’t get it to complete its tests.

See How We Test Phones

These benchmarks don’t take into account OnePlus’s software, which incorporates a bunch of performance enhancements. In our experience with OnePlus phones, they feel like the speediest Android phones, even faster than Google Pixels (because Pixels don’t use the top chipsets any more).

The phone runs Android 11 with OnePlus’s OxygenOS enhancements, and OnePlus says it’ll get updates as far as Android 13 along with bi-monthly security updates for three years.

The 9 Pro in a charging cradle displaying a game.High-end games play well here.

OxygenOS has always had a bunch of nice touches, such as the ability to install two copies of social-media apps for different accounts, a setting to change screen color based on ambient light, and a Zen mode that temporarily disables the phone’s most distracting functions. With this version, OnePlus adds RAM compression that it says increases the number of apps that can remain in memory with saved state. Our test unit had no problem keeping seven apps in memory, even with the giant RAM-hog Genshin Impact at the back of the line.

To test cooling, which OnePlus says it’s improved over previous models, we ran a processor-pumping app called CPU Throttling Test on the 9 Pro, the Galaxy S21, and the 8 Pro for 15 minutes. At the 10-minute point, the 8 Pro’s performance took a sharp dive to about 80% of peak. Both of the newer phones were still maintaining closer to 90% performance at that time. After 13 minutes of pumping the processor, the Galaxy S21’s performance smoothly declined to a little over 80% of peak, while the 9 Pro remained in the 90% range. Finally, the 9 Pro’s performance declined significantly at almost exactly 15 minutes as the phone attempted to cool itself down. During the test as a whole, the 9 Pro and Galaxy S21 performed at 87–88% of max performance, while the 8 Pro was down at 78%.

Gaming performance is amped up with a 360Hz touch response rate, but only in four apps: PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty, League of Legends, and Brawl Stars. OnePlus says it will work on adding 360Hz touch support to more games. That would definitely help this feature rise from a curiosity to a differentiator. The Samsung Galaxy S20 phones offer a 240Hz touch sampling rate; Samsung doesn’t give a spec on the Galaxy S21, but we think it’s the same.


Ultra-Super-Mega-Fast Charging

The pair of batteries in the 9 Pro total 4,500mAh. That’s short of the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s 5,000mAh, but OnePlus has a range of software tricks up its sleeve to keep the phone charged—so many that we’re not even sure all of them came into use during our testing.

On our standard battery test, running a YouTube video over Wi-Fi at full screen brightness, the phone lasted for 8 hours, 50 minutes in WQHD resolution and 9 hours, 40 minutes in HD. Display brightness matters a lot to battery life: Take the brightness down to 75% and those numbers jump to 12 hours, 40 minutes on WQHD and 13 hours on HD. Technically, that’s shorter than either the Galaxy S21 Ultra, which managed 11 hours 20 minutes at 100% brightness, or the Galaxy S20 FE, at 12 hours 30 minutes at 100% brightness, though it’s still pretty credible.

But there’s more to this battery than meets the eye. To start with, the display slows down to 1Hz when you’re looking at static content, such as an email you’re mulling over or a page of an e-book. That can be a huge power saver. OnePlus also has a reputation for losing less power to background processes than Samsung does. If you use 75% screen brightness most of the time, you’ll probably get more than a day of battery life from one charge.

OnePlus 9 Pro with USB-C Port in focusThe Warp Charge 65T charger can completely recharge the 9 Pro in about 30 minutes.

The 9 Pro also has by far the fastest charging speeds of any phone we’ve ever tested. It comes with a Warp Charge 65T USB-C charger, which charges the 9 or the 9 Pro from 0% to 20% in six minutes and to 100% in just 36 minutes. That’s twice as fast as any recent Samsung phone charges. If you use a third-party charger, the phone will charge at up to 18 watts, with correspondingly longer charge times.

The real breakthrough is in OnePlus’s new Warp Charge 50 wireless charger, a $69.99 accessory cradle that plugs into your existing Warp Charge 65 adapter to provide 50-watt wireless charging for the 9 Pro, or 15-watt Qi charging for any other device. In testing with the Warp Charge 50, the 9 Pro went to 29% in 11 minutes and 100% in 46 minutes. Other phones, including the 9, take between 90 minutes and two hours to wirelessly charge completely.

This all fits with OnePlus’s approach to phone power: It may not have the biggest batteries in town, but it can refill them the fastest.


With This OnePlus, T-Mobile Takes the Cake

Like other Snapdragon 888 phones, the 9 Pro uses a Qualcomm X60 modem, which works with all of the features T-Mobile intends to use in the next few years, including new airwaves and aggregation schemes. It has Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi 6 as well, but not Wi-Fi 6E (unlike the Galaxy S21 Ultra).

The 9 Pro is certified only for T-Mobile’s 5G network in the US. If you try to use it on AT&T or Verizon, OnePlus says it will only connect to 4G networks. At this price, and especially competing against Samsung and Apple phones that get 5G on all carriers, that’s a dealbreaker.

You laugh, I’m sure. Didn’t we previously tell you to turn off Verizon’s nationwide 5G? Yes. But a $1,000 phone should be a three-year investment. By the end of 2021, Verizon and AT&T will both be ramping up C-band, a new 5G system that should be much faster than their existing nationwide 5G. OnePlus phone owners won’t be able to take advantage of that.

OnePlus 9 (left) and OnePlus 9 Pro (right).OnePlus 9 (left) and OnePlus 9 Pro (right).

The exclusion of Verizon and AT&T is especially frustrating because the 9 Pro has all of the 5G technologies needed to make those carriers sing, including CBRS, C-band, and millimeter wave. We suspect OnePlus just didn’t want to pay to get their phone carrier-certified this time, unlike Samsung and Apple, who made sure their unlocked phones work on any major carrier.

This is a single-SIM phone, with no eSIM option. With a T-Mobile SIM in, the phone enabled Wi-Fi calling, “smart 5G” (which turns 5G on and off to save battery), and dual-channel network acceleration (which uses Wi-Fi and 5G at the same time if necessary). With an AT&T SIM in, as expected, the phone used only 4G and lacked Wi-Fi calling.

The big spec difference between the 9 and the 9 Pro is that the 9 Pro has mmWave. T-Mobile currently only uses mmWave in seven cities, and they’re most likely to roll it out in super-crowded places: sports stadiums, concert halls, convention centers, and the like. It’s a might-be-nice, not a must-have.

We tested the 9 and the 9 Pro against the Samsung Galaxy S21 with 86 rounds of tests using Ookla Speedtest software in New York City, in a range of network conditions. (Editors’ Note: Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s publisher.) Over 17 tests, the Galaxy S21 turned in the best performance, the 9 Pro got a boost from mmWave to come in second, and the 9 dropped to third. Across a range of non-mmWave tests with mixed signal quality, the Galaxy S21 came in first place again. In a standalone T-Mobile mid-band “ultra capacity” area, on the other hand, the three phones performed almost identically.

If you’re outside a major city, you’re probably most concerned about weak-signal performance. In our tests, the Galaxy S21 showed the strongest 4G RSRP signal 29 times; the 9 Pro was strongest 26 times, and the 9 was strongest 22 times. So the Galaxy S21 wins once again, though not by much. Over six rounds of testing in a weak-signal area, the Galaxy S21 showed stronger signal only three of the times, but the 9 Pro had two signal dropouts. The Galaxy S21’s edge is slight but noticeable.


Blinding You With (Color) Science

Imaging collaborations aren’t new for smartphone manufacturers. Huawei has partnered with Leica for years; the Zeiss name is plastered on the back of smartphones from Nokia, Sony, and Vivo. Hasselblad’s only previous US partnership was with Motorola on its clunky but capable True Zoom Moto Mod, but the 9 series brings Hasselblad back to the smartphone market in triumphant style. The 9 Pro is capable of taking incredible photos with every lens.

The 48MP primary lens has an f/1.8 aperture, optical image stabilization (OIS), and electronic image stabilization (EIS). There’s also a 50MP ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture, and a 8MP telephoto lens with an f/2.4 aperture, as well as a 2MP monochrome sensor. You’ll find all the usual flagship bells and whistles on the 9 Pro: dual LED flash, multi-autofocus with omnidirectional PDAF+LAF+CAP, 8K video at 30fps and 4K at up to 120fps, and super-slow motion at up to 480fps in 720p. 

Back of OnePlus 9 Pro with camera in focus

For the most part, the camera app is intuitive and easy to use. The shutter button is a Hasselblad-branded orange, and it makes a distinct Hasselblad shutter sound. Our only complaint is that we found Tilt Shift mode a bit clunky and difficult to use. 

The camera's Pro Mode has Hasselblad touches.The camera’s Pro Mode has Hasselblad touches.

Some of the 9 Pro’s most significant camera features are in the software. Hasselblad worked closely with OnePlus to update its color science and develop additional features for pro smartphone shooters. The photos’ colors are warm and inviting, with reds and blues getting a healthy saturation boost while yellows and greens tend to be a little undersaturated. Since OnePlus and Hasselblad put a big emphasis on the 9 series’ color science, we compared the 9 Pro to a few other flagships and found it stood up extremely well to the competition. 

Apple seriously improved its color science with iOS 14 and the iPhone 12. Where the 9 Pro tends to saturate reds and blues, Apple focuses more on boosting luminance, so the iPhone 12’s photos tend to look a little more true to life than the 9 Pro’s. 

Place photos from the 9 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra side by side and you can immediately recognize the difference between the two cameras. OnePlus takes a lighter hand with boosting saturation and other computational adjustments; Samsung is much more aggressive. In one of our test photos, a dreary March sky captured on the Galaxy S21 Ultra suddenly became blue. The 9 Pro was much more accurate in its overall representation of the scene. 

Side-by-side photos of a building under a cloudy sky; in the photo on the left, the sky looks blueThe photo colors from the 9 Pro (right) are more accurate than the ones delivered by the Galaxy S21 Ultra (left).

In Pro mode, you can adjust ISO, focus exposure time, white balance, and a number of other settings. There’s also the option to shoot in 12-bit RAW format, which offers 64 times the color data of the 10-bit RAW on other flagships. 

The ultra-wide 50MP lens is a Sony IMX 766 sensor that’s significantly larger than the one in the IPhone 12 Pro Max. In our tests the lens did a terrific job in both good and low light. Photos are crisp with excellent depth of field and solid background detail. 

Side-by-side ultra-wide-angle photos of a buildingUltra-wide-angle shots are a major advantage for the 9 Pro (right), which creates much less edge distortion than the Galaxy S21 Ultra (left).

Our shots taken with the primary lens were impressive as well. In good light, the 9 Pro holds its own against other flagships, with realistic depth of field and hardly any loss of fine detail.

A snowy rooftop with several sculptures and other objectsThe primary lens takes top-notch photos even in muted light.

Then we tried photos in low light. The primary lens did well, as expected, and we were particularly bowled over by the ultra-wide lens’s performance. Our evening test shots were excellent and lacked any of the distortion we usually see in low-light scenes. 

A cityscape at night, with lights reflecting off a damp streetUltra-wide low-light images are beautiful, with surprisingly little distortion.

The telephoto lens is a noticeable improvement over the 8 Pro’s but still doesn’t compare with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra’s. At lower zoom levels, our test shots had plenty of detail, though there was some expected loss of detail in the distance.

Side-by-side photos of colorful fruit in bins at a grocerOur 3x zoom comparisons were a mixed bag. Sometimes the 9 Pro’s photos (right) showed more processing than the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s (left). At other times, the 9 Pro’s photos looked better.

As we bumped up the zoom, however, we started to notice significant blur and noise when compared with the same image taken on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. We also noticed some unnatural sharpening on a few of our telephoto test shots taken outdoors. 

Side-by-side zoom images of a skyscraper; the one on the left is much clearerAt 10x zoom, the advantage of the Galaxy S21 Ultra’s optical zoom lens (left) becomes clear. The 9 Pro’s digital zoom (right) can’t compete.

Smartphone macro lenses are rarely worth using, but here the 9 Pro really stands out. Our macro shots were much sharper than expected, and leagues better than photos taken with the 8’s 2MP macro lens.

A photo of red and green macarons on a white plateMacarons, in macro.

The monochrome sensor works in tandem with the main sensor to take beautiful black-and-white photographs with lots of depth and inky blacks. Huawei included a similar feature for years and then suddenly removed it, causing an outcry from smartphone shutterbugs. If you knew and loved that feature, the 9 Pro’s resurrection of it will delight you.

Black-and-white photo of public art installation in which a large white sculpture of a hand grabs a tree trunkThe monochrome lens takes stunning black-and-white photos.

On the front of the 9 Pro, you’ll find a 32MP lens. It performs extremely well in any lighting condition. There’s a little background blur in our photos, which is to be expected. Foreground detail and depth of field, however, are spot on. Portrait mode works without a hitch as well. Our test shots had a natural bokeh and perfect depth mapping in every shot.

A selfie of a bearded white man in glasses and a capSelfies are detailed and clear.


One Small Step Shy of the Crown

The OnePlus 9 Pro is an excellent phone. At $970, it holds its own against the slightly more expensive Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro. It doesn’t quite match the Galaxy S21 Ultra on camera zoom or network performance, but it’s lighter and sleeker, it has some unique camera tricks, and there’s that renowned OnePlus speed and elegant software. That amazing fast charging and the battery-saving display also make a big difference in day-to-day use. The 9 Pro is better than the OnePlus 8 series in every way, so the upgrade is easily warranted. It only fails to nab our Editors’ Choice award because the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is even more outstanding and can be used on any carrier. At least on T-Mobile, the 9 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra together currently define the Android state of the art. Depending on your priorities, either will serve you very well for the next few years.

OnePlus 9 Pro Specs

Operating System Android 11
CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
Dimensions 6.42 by 2.89 by .34 inches
Screen Size 6.7 inches
Screen Resolution 3,216 by 1,440
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing) 48MP, 50MP, 8MP, 2MP; 16MP
Battery Life (As Tested) 9 hours 40 minutes

var facebookPixelLoaded = false;
window.addEventListener(‘load’, function(){
document.addEventListener(‘scroll’, facebookPixelScript);
document.addEventListener(‘mousemove’, facebookPixelScript);
})

function facebookPixelScript() {
if (!facebookPixelLoaded) {
facebookPixelLoaded = true;
document.removeEventListener(‘scroll’, facebookPixelScript);
document.removeEventListener(‘mousemove’, facebookPixelScript);

!function(f,b,e,v,n,t,s){if(f.fbq)return;n=f.fbq=function(){n.callMethod?
n.callMethod.apply(n,arguments):n.queue.push(arguments)};if(!f._fbq)f._fbq=n;
n.push=n;n.loaded=!0;n.version=’2.0′;n.queue=[];t=b.createElement(e);t.async=!0;
t.src=v;s=b.getElementsByTagName(e)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(t,s)}(window,
document,’script’,’//connect.facebook.net/en_US/fbevents.js’);

fbq(‘init’, ‘454758778052139’);
fbq(‘track’, “PageView”);
}
}