While the OnePlus 9 Pro did score decently in our review, it failed to earn our full approval like the 8 Pro did, or even the slightly cheaper OnePlus 9. There aren’t many big downsides to the phone, but it does fail to live up to the general expectation of a OnePlus flagship and lacks some of the company's characteristic razzmatazz.
The competition is simply outperforming OnePlus at the moment, with this example from Samsung doing remarkably well both in terms of features and value. There are more than a couple of things that don’t work in the 9 Pro’s favor and should be considered before you cough up over a thousand dollars for this shiny new OnePlus handset.
Inconsistent camera performance
Improved camera performance made up a big part of OnePlus’ pre-launch hype for the 9 Pro, and Hasselblad did turn out to be a good partner. With a little help, OnePlus was indeed able to improve the color science of its top-tier handset. Outside that, though, the camera system on the 9 Pro is still very OnePlus-y, and not in a good way.
The camera processing is still a hit or miss, as it has been with previous OnePlus phones, resulting in muddy shots and ruined fine textures in certain conditions. The thing is, the 9 Pro isn’t very consistent with its images — you just can’t rely on it to produce good results even most of the time. The far cheaper Pixel 4a does a much better job.
The OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t come with a bad camera, per se, and it would’ve easily earned our seal of approval had the phone been cheaper — but it isn’t. At over $1000, the 9 Pro wants to play in the same league as several market-leading handsets (like the S21 Ultra) but it simply fails to match their camera supremacy.
It runs pretty hot, apparently
Although the OnePlus 9 Pro is still new on the market, there has already been a substantial number of user reports claiming that the phone runs abnormally hot in regular use cases, such as taking pictures. Our own Artem frequently saw on-screen messages in the camera app that suggested he stop using the phone and allow it to cool down. Ryne wasn’t able to reproduce the same warning even after deliberately trying to heat the phone with back-to-back 4K video recordings, so this issue doesn't affect everyone.
This heating problem could be linked to the Snapdragon 888, but there isn’t enough evidence to point the finger at Qualcomm just yet. What's more likely at this point is that the issue is caused by the phone's software, and that would mean that an OTA update could fix it eventually.
The good news is that OnePlus is aware of these heating issues and has told us that updates should address these complaints over the next few weeks.
Getting really tired of this. pic.twitter.com/h30dcIB8y1
— Artem Russakovskii (@ArtemR) April 6, 2021
Inadequate software support
We have at times commended OxygenOS for its still relatively clean interface and all the convenient little features it has to offer. However, OnePlus’ Android update policy has become increasingly sluggish. As new phones arrive, older flagships usually fall behind on the priority list and often fade into oblivion with no security updates whatsoever for months-long stretches.
It’s common for OnePlus to delay its major updates haphazardly, as it did with the 7 series more recently and the 6 series last year. And when these Android updates do land, they’re often riddled with bugs that need another few updates for fixes.
Samsung has taken the lead in promising multi-year software support for its popular models launched in the last couple of years (along with Nokia more recently), and it has stood by its commitment so far. Unless OnePlus comes out with similar software assurance for its users, spending top dollar on a phone that won’t last you a long time doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Erratic battery performance
While the 4500mAh battery size seems decent enough for a modern phone, that big, high-res, high refresh rate display proves to be a real challenge. The 9 Pro fails to benefit from any gains that OnePlus promised with the new LTPO panel’s variable refresh rate in a noticeable way. However, super-fast wired and wireless charging tech almost makes up for the middling battery performance — almost.
You may still be able to draw a full day’s worth of juice from the OnePlus 9 Pro, but don't expect consistent battery life from it. In our tests, the screen-on time varied quite a bit on different days with similar usage patterns. While this too could be fixed with a software patch, it certainly isn’t the mark of a well-rounded high-end phone.
Fingerprint scanner position
This may sound like nitpicking, but it can seriously affect your daily use if you’re accustomed to a higher fingerprint scanner position. The sensor on the 9 Pro sits much closer to the bottom edge than on previous OnePlus handsets, making it difficult to reach, especially on such a large phone. The slippery glass back already makes it hard to get a proper grip on the OnePlus 9 Pro, and having to adjust your hand position to find the relatively small scanning area makes it more susceptible to slipping and falling.
Until a few years ago, excellent value was the biggest selling point of OnePlus phones. At this point, it seems like it’s only the handy alert slider that helps them stand out from the pack. On top of that, OnePlus played up the 9 Pro’s Hasselblad-branded camera to a fault. Despite these flaws and the company's increasingly obnoxious overhyping, the OnePlus 9 Pro still has a few likable facets. Whether you can look past the foibles is ultimately up to you.