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OnePlus 9 Pro long-term review: how does it hold up 2 months later?

On: June 9, 2021

The OnePlus 9 Pro is the company’s most ambitious flagship yet. Not only does it feature some seriously powerful hardware, but it’s also the brand’s most expensive smartphone to date. OnePlus has been slowly moving away from its flagship killer persona over the last few years, and the OnePlus 9 Pro with its starting price of Rs 64,999 is clearly playing in the big leagues.

At this price, most buyers looking for a flagship would traditionally veer towards the Samsung Galaxy S series or an older / discounted iPhone model. Getting users to consider the OnePlus 9 Pro instead won’t be easy, and it comes as no surprise the phone packs deluxe features like like 65W wired charging, 50W wireless charging and Hasselblad-branded cameras.

Also read: OnePlus Watch review

OnePlus flagships typically come with a few issues out of the box, which get ironed out with a host of updates. Keeping this in mind, I’ve used the phone extensively over the last 2 months to see how it holds up over time. Let’s take a look at how the OnePlus 9 Pro fares in the long-run, and if it’s worthy of burning that hole in your pocket.

Design

New design aside, what stood out for me the moment I picked up the OnePlus 9 Pro was that it felt noticeably more compact than the OnePlus 8 Pro (review), which I had been using as my primary smartphone for the better part of a year. It’s not much of a difference on paper – the OnePlus 9 Pro shaves off a few millimetres in size and thickness, and is a couple of grams lighter at 197g – but its enough to make it more comfortable to use one-handed. For me especially, this made reaching far corners of the screen easier.

OnePlus has retained the curved display on the 9 Pro, but the back panel is where there’s a major shake up. The boring center-aligned vertical camera module seen on the OnePlus 8 Pro has shifted to a more modern rectangular island on the top right corner. This houses two big camera sensors outlined in chrome rings, along with two smaller ones. Apart from the sensors and flash, what stands out is the Hasselblad branding emblazoned in silver. The only OnePlus branding on the phone is the minimal logo on the centre.

The OnePlus 9 Pro is available in Morning Mist, Pine Green and Stellar Black colours. I got the first one, which is a stunning greyish-silver that looks really slick. Unfortunately, it features a glossy finish that picks up fingerprint and smudges easily. I would recommend the Pine Green or Stellar Black variants that feature a matte finish.

This time around, OnePlus is bundling matching cases inside the box, which is a huge improvement from the ugly transparent cases that yellow over time. Given the glass build though, I would advise investing in a strong case. OnePlus sent me the Karbon protective case, which looks great paired with the Morning Mist colour and offers solid protection thanks to the hard build and slightly raised bumpers. While the phone itself is fragile, OnePlus has included an IP68 rating which means you can submerge it in fresh water for up to 30 minutes. It’s still not recommended for use in seawater or swimming pools though.

The port and button placement is the standard affair, with the power button and alert slider on the left, volume rocker on the right, and Type-C Port and SIM card tray at the bottom. One major gripe I had with the OnePlus 8 Pro was the thin, flimsy alert slider. The brand has rectified that on the 9 Pro, and it’s now larger with rounder edges, making it easier to locate and use. For those who are new to OnePlus phones, the alert slider functions like the iPhone’s mute switch, but adds an extra layer of control by letting you switch between ring, vibrate and silent sound profiles. It’s probably the most underrated feature on OnePlus phones, and one that I end up using multiple times through the day.

Display and sound

OnePlus never disappoints when it comes to displays, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is no different. The 6.7-inch AMOLED LTPO panel features QHD+ resolution, a 120Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ support. I set the display resolution to FHD+ through my usage to reduce the toll on battery life. You can choose between a 60Hz and smart 120Hz refresh rate, with the latter switching the refresh rate depending on the apps or content you’re using. The adaptive refresh rate is enabled thanks to the LTPO hardware, which lets it drop to just 1Hz (such as when viewing a photo). The brand also claims this allows it to reduce power consumption by up to 50 percent.

Swiping and scrolling through the OnePlus 9 Pro is incredibly smooth and fluid. In fact, if you’re rapidly scrolling through social feeds like Twitter or Instagram, it can be a bit disorienting sometimes. The quality of the display is top-notch, with vivid colours and inky blacks that makes any sort of media viewing a real treat. The screen brightness maxes out at 1,300 nits, which made it legible even under direct sunlight.

The in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and accurate, although it is placed quite low on the screen. This requires you to stretch your thumb to access it. It is annoying initially, but I barely noticed it after a few weeks of use. The haptic feedback is also worth mentioning, and while it doesn’t come close to what you get on an iPhone, it’s still pretty good for an Android device.

The accompanying stereo speakers are loud and clear for phone speakers – I enjoyed streaming TV shows on the OnePlus 9 Pro, and even used the loudspeaker to listen to music on Spotify sometimes. Call quality on the phone is also good, whether you’re using it for calls via the earpiece or on speaker. The only complaint I have is that the proximity sensor gets activated occasionally (I had the same issue on the 8 Pro). There were more than a few instances when I inadvertently muted myself or put a call on hold.

Cameras

The OnePlus 9 Pro features a quad camera setup at the back, consisting of a main 48MP Sony IMX789 sensor with f/1.8 aperture and OIS, a 50MP ultra-wide Sony IMX766 14mm equivalent sensor, an 8MP telephoto camera with OIS, and a 2MP monochrome sensor. The biggest addition to the cameras is of course the Hasselblad partnership, which you will mainly notice in the way the cameras now handle colours. Inside the camera app, the shutter button has also been updated to match Hasselblad’s distinctive orange colour.

Starting with the daylight shots, the camera’s colour tone has really improved. It’s somewhere between an iPhone’s natural tones and Samsung’s over-saturated ones, resulting in visually pleasing photos. The result is rich colours that don’t look overly vivid.

OnePlus has talked about how the ultra-wide camera on the 9 Pro has minimal distortion around the edges, and in my experience this is true. There’s almost no distortion on the sides, which can make for some compelling landscape shots. The colours between the primary and wide-angle camera are also pretty much on par. That said, for both cameras, zooming into any shot will reveal smeary details which appear oversharpened. In some cases where there’s a bit of backlighting, images reveal crushed blacks in the shadows.

The cameras on this phone are generally very quick to focus, with almost no delay in pressing the shutter button and capturing the final image, unless you’re taking night shots.

Close up shots with the main camera turn out really well, and you can get some stunning images of flowers and objects. The OnePlus 8 Pro’s main camera had an issue with the background in close up shots looking hazy, but this seems to have been sorted with the 9 Pro. You can set the cameras to automatically switch to Ultra Macro mode when you get too close to an object. The 9 Pro uses the 50MP ultra-wide camera for macro shots, which makes them far more detailed than you’d see on other phones with low-resolution sensors.

 

The telephoto camera however is a disappointment. You get 3.3x optical zoom, but anything beyond that is frankly unusable. The slider above shows a 3.3x optical zoom shot and a 10x digital zoom shot, and you can see the loss of detail even in the former. The fourth mono camera doesn’t really do anything except capture black and white images. You can enable the mode by selecting mono within camera filters. I couldn’t quite tell the difference in quality of the mono mode versus the standard black and white filters available in the camera app.

 

In low light, the dedicated Nightscape mode does a good job in lightening the darker areas, while retaining the sharpness and keeping the noise in check. Portrait shots are stunning in daylight, with good edge detection and natural looking bokeh. The selfie camera works well in daylight, but when there’s a dip in lighting, you’ll notice some over-smoothening of skin tones.

As for the video, the phone can shoot up to 1080p 60fps, 4K 120fps and 8K 30fps. There’s also an option to enable HDR video. Unfortunately, the video quality looks oversharpened even in daylight, and in low-light there’s a fair amount of grain.

When it boils down to it, the OnePlus 9 Pro has a good primary and ultra-wide camera, but the remaining cameras are not flagship material. Compared to the periscope lens on the Galaxy S21 Ultra for example, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s telephoto lens comes nowhere close, and there’s still a long way to go for video.

Performance and software

The OnePlus 9 Pro is powered by Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset, which comes with 5G support. In India, we’re still a year or more away from commercially available 5G, so I won’t spend time talking about it. Day to day usage was smooth as silk for me. I multi-task quite heavily on my phone for work, and the phone breezed through switching between various apps and tabs in Chrome with no hiccups. I’m not a gamer, but my colleague Pratik did test the gaming chops of the phone, which you can watch in the embedded video below. Here’s the gist though:

  • The OnePlus 9 Pro offers one of the best gaming experiences we’ve tested with jitter-free gameplay and high resolution graphics
  • After 45 minutes of playing PUBG Mobile, the temperature increased from 31°C to 39°C. While it did feel hot to the touch after the session, the increased temperatures didn’t affect gameplay in any way
  • The battery dropped only 13 percent during the same period, from 86 percent to 73 percent
  • The phone supports 60fps gameplay on Extreme frame rate if you enable smooth graphics
  • It maintained a median FPS of 60 throughout the gameplay

The OnePlus 9 Pro ships with OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11, and during my 2-month long usage, there have been quite a few software updates rolled out. OxygenOS has been one of my favourite custom ROMs, owing to the clean interface and useful modifications to stock Android. The phone even uses Google apps for the dialer and messages. There are some pre-loaded OnePlus apps like Community and the OnePlus store, but you can uninstall these. The phone also comes with Google’s Discover feed to the left of the homescreen.

Apart from that, there are plenty of useful features like Zen Mode, Comfort Vision to automatically adjust the screen colour based on ambient light, gesture support, Parallel apps and App locker, not to mention the several customisation options.

Unfortunately, OxygenOS has lost its sheen over the last couple of years. When you use a new OnePlus phone these days, you’re getting what feels like a beta version of the software. There are several bugs I encountered during my usage, most of which were sorted out with future updates. For example, when I set up the phone, I couldn’t access Netflix which was pre-loaded. The app required an update, but when redirected to the Play Store, it said that Netflix wasn’t supported on the device. I resolved the issue by deleting the app and downloading it via an APK. Netflix is still buggy on the device though – there have been many instances when the video resumed playback despite the screen being off. I’ve also encountered a half-frozen Netflix screen on a few occasions.

I’ve also had issues with some unresponsiveness from Instagram and WhatsApp occasionally. And of course, the delayed notifications are still around. I have WhatsApp Web and Slack on my laptop, and the notifications on my phone are almost always delayed. What’s really disappointing though is that OnePlus promises just two years of software updates for its flagships – even Samsung is now guaranteeing three years of OS updates and four years of security updates for its phones.

Battery and charging

The OnePlus 9 Pro features a 4,500mAh battery, and the wired fast charging speeds have been bumped up to 65W to match last year’s OnePlus 8T. The biggest upgrade though comes in the wireless charging department, which supports 50W speeds – the highest on any commercially available smartphone in India. The latter is supported only on OnePlus’ Warp Charge 50 wireless charger, for which you’ll need to shell out an additional Rs 3,990.

In day-to-day usage, the battery lasted me just about a day, although there were times that I needed to top it up by 9pm or so. I got about 5-6 hours of screen time on average, depending on my usage. Do note that I had the display resolution set to FHD+. If you set it to QHD+, you’ll see a faster dip to the red.

What makes up for the average battery life though is the insane charging speed. The 65W wired charger can top up the battery entirely in about 30 minutes, and even a 10 minute charge is enough to juice it up for a couple of hours usage. The wireless charger gets pretty close to that number – you can go from 0 to 100 percent battery in under 45 minutes which is pretty amazing. The new wireless charger also supports charging both vertically and horizontally, the latter useful if you want to continne watching a movie while you’re charging your phone.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the Warp Charge 50 wireless charger is that it features a detachable charging cable. This means you can just plug it into the 65W charger, reducing your cable clutter. Full disclosure though – the first week of testing I had issues with wireless charging. I found that phone often stopped charging after a few minutes, with the wireless charger flashing red. This was caused by the phone overheating and pausing charging. This issue was also resolved within a couple of weeks.

Bottomline

At Rs 64,999, the OnePlus 9 Pro comes with almost everything you would want out of a flagship – the Snapdragon 888 chipset, powerful camera setup, an IP68 rating, large battery with fast wired and wireless charging, and clean software. Where the phone still has some catching up to do is the camera performance – while the results are pretty good, they still have some way to go before they can be on par with Samsung or Apple flagships. And while I love OxygenOS in principle, the company really needs to fix the buggy software and ensure a minimum of three years of OS updates.

Luckily for OnePlus, the Rs 60k – Rs 70k bracket in India doesn’t have a lot of options. You can grab the iPhone 12 Mini and Samsung Galaxy S21 at those prices, but both are compact flagships and not everyone’s cup of tea. There’s also the Vivo X60 Pro+, which comes with similar hardware and great cameras, but misses out on key features like stereo speakers, an IP rating and wireless charging, not to mention the bloatware in FunTouch OS. The Mi 11 Ultra (review) is another contender, but unfortunately the phone hasn’t gone on sale in India yet, which takes it out of contention. This still leaves the OnePlus 9 Pro as possibly the best option in its price range. If you can’t justify spending that amount though, the OnePlus 9 (review) is actually a great phone, and one that offers similar features at a cheaper price.

Pricebaba’s rating: 7.5 / 10

What works

  • Powerful performance
  • Fast wired and wireless charging
  • IP68 rating
  • Vivid, smooth display
  • Gorgeous design

What doesn’t

  • OxygenOS is buggy
  • Only two years of Android updates
  • Cameras are a hit and miss
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Ketaki Bhojnagarwala

Ketaki has over 10 years experience writing on tech, having worked at the Hindu Business Line and 91mobiles earlier. When she's not editing copies or reviewing the latest gadgets, she spends her time binge-watching Netflix and reading fantasy fiction.