The OnePlus 9 Pro came out about three months ago, if you can believe it. Since then, it’s received some updates that have improved the overall experience. When I reviewed it, I hailed it as the best Android phone you can get, but I’ve since tempered my excitement.
While the phone is excellent, the updates it’s received haven’t brought it in line with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which remains better in almost every way.
Don’t get me wrong, I really like the OnePlus 9 Pro. It has one of the best displays we’ve seen on a phone and a beautiful build. The curved display adds a level of polish that even the iPhone 12 Pro doesn’t have. However, in comparison to the iPhone 12 Pro and Pixel 5, I find that the OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t earn its place in my pocket anymore.
After three months, here’s what I like — and what I don’t like — about the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Editor’s note: Since publishing this article, OnePlus announced that it will support its flagship phones with three years of platform updates and four years of security patches. This obviates our biggest complaint with the OnePlus 9 Pro, since it will now get three years of Android updates. The original article follows.
OnePlus 9 Pro three months later: What I like
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a beautiful device, expertly crafted and wonderfully designed. It curves to your hand, making its bulk easy to handle. The curved screen adds a waterfall effect to the display, offering the illusion of missing side bezels. I love how this phone looks, even if the mirror-like silver finish is slippery and attracts fingerprints.
This OnePlus 9 Pro leaves nothing to be desired in terms of raw power. As far as Android phones go, the OnePlus 9 Pro is probably the most powerful. It matches the best gaming phones and surpasses them in terms of day-to-day usability. Even intensive titles like Genshin Impact or games that support higher frame rates don’t phase the OnePlus 9 Pro.
Battery life has also been a strong suit for the OnePlus 9 Pro. Once the phone settled in and received a couple of updates, I could easily get through a day, including a few hours of gaming on Xbox Game Pass with the display cranked all the way up. I demand a lot from my daily driver, and the OnePlus 9 Pro came through for me day in and day out.
And if I managed to run the battery too low, there was always Warp Charge to quickly top off (or recharge fully). While the phone doesn’t make it onto our best phone battery life list, it’s still good for almost 11 hours of web surfing over 5G in our testing.
Another place where the OnePlus 9 Pro shines is the display. Not only is it a high quality 6.7-inch AMOLED panel with punchy colors and excellent calibration, but it also can go all the way up to 120Hz (or downclock to 1Hz). It remains one of the best displays we’ve ever tested, almost matching the Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 12 Pro Max. No matter what you’re doing, it’s up to the task.
OnePlus 9 Pro three months later: What I don’t like
The OnePlus 9 Pro’s greatest weakness, if we can call it that, is the camera. While the phone has the best camera we’ve ever seen on a OnePlus device, that still isn’t enough to match the likes of the iPhone 12 Pro, Pixel 5, or Galaxy S21 Ultra. More often than not, I found the shutter speed to be a tad slow — this often meant my photo would come out blurry since I tend to move the phone once I’ve hit the shutter button.
Nightscape, the night mode, was inconsistent in my usage. Most of the time, the photos it produced came out pretty good, and in others, the images came out fairly dark. Compare this track record to Google’s Night Sight on the Pixels and Apple’s Night Mode on the recent iPhones. I ought to stress that Nightscape isn’t bad, it just requires a couple of tries sometimes.
On paper, the OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the best Android phones you can get and it is. However, I don’t trust OnePlus. The company, in recent years, has become unreliable when it comes to updates. While the 9 series is its latest and greatest right now, it’ll likely become less important to OnePlus once the 9T comes out, let alone when the 10 series launches next year.
It’s not unusual for a smartphone manufacturer (outside of Google and Apple) to de-prioritize older devices for updates. But we need look no further than Samsung of all places to see how a company, which has a huge device portfolio, can stay on top of updates. The Korean phone manufacturer says that its phones will get three years of OS upgrades and four years of security patches.
OnePlus hasn’t committed to going beyond its two years of platform updates and three years of security patches. This is disappointing, because it really should. It’s hard to ignore the fact that a person purchasing a Galaxy A, S, or Z phone today will have a device that’s likely supported longer than something equivalent from OnePlus.
A phone’s support life cycle is a huge factor in determining what phone(s) I recommend to people and I admit that I forgot to consider that when I wrote my initial OnePlus 9 Pro review. The phone is great now, but what about in two or three years? Whereas we know the Galaxy S21, S21 Plus, and S21 Ultra will all enjoy better, more secure software support for longer than the OnePlus 9 Pro.
OnePlus 9 Pro: Outlook
At time of writing, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a good purchase, especially if you missed out on the awesome Prime Day deal for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The 9 Pro will get at least two Android updates and three years of security patches. That said, don’t expect either of those to be timely once the 10 or 11 series come out, considering OnePlus’ track record with the 6 and 7 series.
Hopefully, OnePlus continues to improve the 9 Pro’s camera capabilities because the hardware is quite good, especially the ultrawide lens. But as Apple and Google have proven, truly fantastic mobile photography comes down to software.
Another nitpick I have with the OnePlus 9 Pro is the continued lack of Wi-Fi calling for Verizon. Why this is missing three months after release (and certification on Verizon’s network) is beyond me.
In nearly all areas, the OnePlus 9 Pro is near the top of all Android phones available. It has the hardware and software to match or beat the best. So why did I stop using it? I can’t quite put my finger on it — other than I use the iPhone 12 Pro as my personal device. Almost everything is there, but I steadily grew disillusioned with the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is still very much worth buying, but I no longer think of it as the best Android phone.