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Does the OnePlus 7 Pro Pixelate the Pixel 3 XL?

A few months ago, a headline like the one above would have been unthinkable. The Pixel 3 XL was the darling of geek hood (although news about its being buggy and sluggish was beginning to filter out), with its stunning camera and of course, the promise of pure, untrammelled Android combined with assured updates (I am considering the Pixel 3 XL rather than 3 because it clearly possesses the superior hardware). Yes, there were competing Android devices like the Samsung Galaxy S10 series and Huawei’s superb Mate 20 Pro, but they lacked the perceived essential purity of the Pixel, and came loaded with software from their manufacturers. The Pixel was in a zone of its own, it seemed.  

A week after using the OnePlus 7 Pro, I am not so sure.

For, the latest device from OnePlus casts a much longer shadow across the Pixel than any of its predecessors ever did. Yes, when OnePlus had arrived on the phone scene in 2014, it had been embraced by many Nexus enthusiasts who saw it representing ideals similar to those of the Nexus – good hardware and software blending to deliver a smooth performance at a remarkably affordable price. However, those comparisons faded away when the Pixel came on to the scene with much more premium pricing. In effect, that was Google stepping away from the budget flagship segment and heading for more premium pastures. OnePlus remained a very good option for anyone wanting a “flagship killer” device but the Pixel itself seemed to have passed into the premium zone, tussling with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S and Note devices and of course, Google’s bête noire, Apple’s iPhone. The price gulf between the Pixel and the OnePlus was just too wide – in fact, when the OnePlus 6T was released, its price of Rs 37,999 was similar to that of the last Nexus, the Nexus 6P, and was still less than half of what the Pixel 3 XL commanded at Rs 83,000. There were other differences too – the Pixel could boast of having better hardware, especially in terms of display, cameras and speakers. Yes, OnePlus devices had great processors, LOTS of RAM and storage, and their software was the closest thing you get to stock Android without actually going with stock Android, but… the Pixel offered more in other departments.

The OnePlus 7 Pro, however, changes that equation totally. The Quad HD advantage of the Pixel 3 XL has been totally negated by the spectacular 6.67-inch fluid AMOLED display (with no notches, unlike the huge one on the 3 XL) with a 90 MHz refresh rate which some are calling the best in the market, on par with what Apple and Samsung are offering. Stereo speakers too have made their way to OnePlus in the new device. And then there is the matter of cameras. From what I have seen so far, the cameras of the OnePlus 7 Pro cannot consistently match the computational photography magic of the Pixel 3 XL, but they no longer can be considered to be the utter outsiders of the “best cameras on a phone” competition that their predecessors were. Indeed, the three cameras on the back of the OnePlus 7 Pro (a 48-megapixel main sensor, a 16-megapixel ultra wide-angle and an 8-megapixel telephoto) have a few tricks up their sleeve which even the Pixel 3 XL cannot match – the 3X optical zoom, the high resolution 48-megapixel shots and of course the ultra-wide snaps.

Also telling is the fact that the OnePlus 7 Pro’s cameras actually work much faster than the one on the Pixel, whose “processing” time is becoming the stuff of legend. What’s more, at the time of writing, there was already news of OnePlus working on a software update which would significantly improve the performance of the cameras of the OnePlus 7 Pro. Will it make the OnePlus 7 Pro boss the Pixel 3XL in the camera department? Honestly, I doubt it. Google’s phones seem to be freakishly gifted in that department in spite of having just a single sensor, but you will not be losing out on too much on the photography front if you opt for a OnePlus 7 Pro. And while I think the 8-megapixel selfie shooter of the Pixel is better in terms of image quality (especially in portrait mode) than the 16-megapixel one on the OnePlus 7 Pro, there are some people who would prefer the pop up mechanism on the OnePlus, as it simply leaves one with more display and has no notch. The same “snazzy” factor might make some prefer the in-display fingerprint sensor on the 7 Pro as compared to the more conventional sensor on the rear on the Pixel 3XL. The 7 Pro also not only has a larger battery (4,000mAh as compared to 3,700mAh) but also comes with Warp Charge, which is faster than what the Pixel 3 XL offers, although the latter does have the advantage of wireless charging (something the OnePlus 7 Pro lacks).

And of course, all this is topped off with Oxygen OS, which is about the closest any quality Android UI has come to stock Android. There are hardly any third-party apps (Netflix did come on ours, though) and the interface itself is clean and uncluttered. Most crucially, however, it is updated regularly. Sometimes almost too frequently for comfort. The OnePlus 6T is part of the Android Q beta programme and at the time of writing, even the almost three year old OnePlus 3T had got the Android Pie update. No, it might not get Android updates as speedily as the Pixel does, but OnePlus’ Oxygen OS is a dynamic yet clutter=free Android UI, and one which is updated regularly with new features. Which is the way software should be really.

In short, with the 7 Pro, OnePlus has either overcome (display, sound) or totally reduced the advantage the Pixel held against it. In fact, the only points where the Pixel 3 XL still holds a very clear edge over the OnePlus 7 Pro are speedy Android updates, water and dust resistance with an IP rating (the OnePlus 7 Pro claims to have both but has no IP rating) and wireless charging. The OnePlus 7 Pro on the other hand has clearly the better design and display, cameras that are capable of some serious magic on their own, bigger battery (with faster charging), a more contemporary selfie camera and fingerprint scanner, and a UI that is updated almost as regularly as stock Android is.

The OnePlus 7 Pro starts at Rs 48,999 for a 6GB +1 28GB model; the Pixel 3 XL starts at Rs 83,000 for a 4GB + 64GB model.

In short, the OnePlus 7 Pro in short offers many of the software benefits of the Pixel 3 XL, with generally better hardware and design and a good update record.

And a price that is more Nexus than Pixel.  

Thinking of investing in a Pixel 3 XL? I really think you should check out the OnePlus 7 Pro too. Really.

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Nimish Dubey

Nimish Dubey has been writing on technology since 1999. He has contributed to a number of publications and websites including The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Mint, Economic Times, Outlook, and India Today. He is currently the Editorial Mentor at TechPP.com and a regular contributor to Indian Express. When not writing, he loves to read and listen to classic rock.