If you’re a fan of brand OnePlus and money is no object, I’ll save you some time by saying outright that the OnePlus 7 Pro is the best, most powerful phone the company has yet made.
This phone is a beast. The Snapdragon 855 is blisteringly quick, 12 GB RAM is overkill, the 4,000 mAh battery can get you through two days of use and Warp Charge will get your phone juiced up for the day in 30 minutes flat. If that wasn’t enough, you’re getting three cameras on the rear (one’s 48 MP), one on the front (it pops up, by the way), an in-display fingerprint scanner, a colour-accurate 6.67-inch OLED display that runs at 90 Hz and – I’m running out of breath here – the loudest speakers we’ve yet heard on a smartphone.
All this is held together by OnePlus’ OxygenOS, which is, in some ways, even better than stock Android.
There is a catch though, and it’s rather significant. It’s a catch that will put your brand loyalty to the test.
Entering a new arena
To put it simply, would you buy a OnePlus smartphone when you could get an Apple iPhone, Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S device at the same price? Would you buy a Fiat when you could afford a Ferrari?
OnePlus, as a brand, has been conferred the title of budget flagship for a reason. Its phones have usually offered astonishing value. These were phones that packed in powerful hardware and great specs in a package that actually looked appealing. These were never the best phones around, but they were certainly the best phones in their price bracket, and that’s what made them special.
The OnePlus 7 Pro changes all of that. First, at Rs 55,000, this is an expensive smartphone. Second, the phone is now encroaching into territory that is fiercely contested by behemoths like Apple, Google, and Samsung.
This is a price bracket where price is less significant, a category where fiercely loyal users take great pleasure in ripping into rivals and laying bare their souls.
If the budget flagship segment is a gladiatorial arena for the riffraff, the flagship segment is the Colosseum in Rome, where only the elite may entertain.
Those who dare to step foot in this space had better come exceptionally well equipped. Their armour had better be perfect. Weaknesses will be mercilessly exploited, chinks shamefully laid bare for all to see.
If OnePlus is looking to take on Apple, Google and Samsung, it had better have something spectacular on offer. And it does, sort of.
All geared up
When it comes to equipment, the OnePlus 7 Pro has it all, at least in theory. The phone is packing the most powerful mobile chipset available to any Android phone today (Snapdragon 855), more RAM than anyone would ever need (12 GB), storage so fast that it will never break a sweat (256 GB UFS 3.0), a display that will put Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 to shame (6.67-inch OLED), a camera system that looks like it’s ready for anything, and a battery that’s more than capable of powering this phone to victory.
Aesthetically as well, OnePlus has all the bases covered. The curved glass melds smoothly into the body, the gradient finish on the glass back looks expensive, and the fit and finish just generally feels refined. Be warned, the phone is very large and competes with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 9 for sheer size.
This large, sculpted body is paired with a 30 W Warp Charger.
Connectivity comes in the form of USB 3.1 Gen 1 via USB-C, dual-SIM 4G, high-speed Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0 with support for AptX, AptX HD and LDAC audio streaming, and NDC. Oh, and the 256 GB of UFS 3.0 memory is not expandable via microSD or any other means.
For added flair, you get a fast, in-display fingerprint scanner and a front camera that smoothly pops up the moment you need it.
The phone is missing a headphone jack, but a headphone jack-less fate is something we’ve already resigned ourselves to.
Raring to go
All this power isn’t just for show. The phone feels impressively powerful when used. The UI is slick and fast, animations are buttery smooth – thanks to that 90 Hz display – and that QHD+ resolution means that you’ll never see individual pixels.
Whether you’re cycling through dozens of Chrome tabs, Tweeting like a champ or wolfing down chicken dinners in PUBG, this phone has your back. Not once did I see it stutter or come close to breaking a sweat, and this despite the QHD+ display (3140x1440 pixels).
If you decide to, ahem, Netflix and chill, you’re in for a treat. Unlike previous OnePlus phones with their oversaturated displays and unrealistic colours, the OP 7 Pro’s display stands out for its colour-accuracy and pleasantness. To top it off, the speakers are incredibly loud and powerful. They appear to be a bit lacking in bass when compared to those on the iPhone XR (review), but they are louder and the audio will carry across noisy rooms.
Given that there are two speakers, this phone gives you an edge when hunting down those chicken dinners. Stereo separation is great and you’ll hear and place your opponent’s footsteps long before the visual indicator pops up on your mini-map. When watching movies, you’ll thank OnePlus for ensuring that you’re not slowly going deaf in one ear.
Call quality is fantastic and I was happy to get a steady 4G signal in areas where my iPhone X would normally resort to 3G.
Battery life is very satisfactory. A single charge got me through about 36 hours of use. This involved about 6 hours of screen-on time and several hours listening to music and podcasts, not to mention dozens of photos, videos, a 10-minute time-lapse, several rounds of PUBG and more.
Once drained, the 30 W Warp Charger pumped the phone up to 60 percent in 30 min and to a full charge in 75.
Chinks in the armour
While it seems like OnePlus has covered all bases, it actually hasn’t.
For a start, this Rs 55,000 smartphone is not rated for dust and water resistance. While the company has tried to assuage fears of the same with statements to the effect that the phone is unofficially water and dust resistant, the fact remains that you will not be able to avail warranty on a water-damaged phone.
Another issue is UI refinement. The phone has features like raise-to-wake and fast animations, but these features simply don’t work as well or as consistently as they do on an iPhone. And OnePlus’ UI, while good, is a far cry from the elegant fluidity of iOS 12.
But this is just by-the-by. The most pressing concern with the OnePlus 7 Pro is its camera, and it could very well be its undoing.
Camera: A fair-weather friend
For cameras, the phone features three on the rear and one on the front.
The front camera has a 16 MP f/2.0 sensor and pops up when needed. The rear features a 48 MP f/1.6 primary camera with OIS and EIS, a 8 MP f/2.4 3x zoom setup with OIS, and a 16 MP f/2.2 0.6x ultra-wide system with a 117º field of view.
The 48 MP uses a process called pixel-binning to generate a 12 MP image that is, in theory, sharper and brighter than what you’d get from a regular 12 MP sensor. This camera is also optically and electronically stabilised.
This is definitely an impressive package and the choice of cameras do give photographers quite a bit of flexibility when framing their shots.
Unfortunately, the shots themselves are rather lacklustre.
Primarily, everything looks over-exposed and over-sharpened. In harsh lighting, blown-out highlights are the norm. In low light, you might either get out-of-focus and noisy images or, in night mode, in-focus noisy images.
Selfies are not impressive either. The camera struggles to focus in anything but perfect lighting and also tends to overexpose all shots. I’ve taken more blurry selfies with this phone than I have with any of its competitors.
Food shots are decidedly unappetising and images lack a sense of depth, possibly owing to poor contrast. I’d have gladly opted for punchy, oversaturated colours to the Pro’s rather tame efforts.
Video quality is actually not bad. Whether you shoot at 1080p or 4K, images are reasonably well stabilised and relatively noise free. Selfie videos are surprisingly nice and I’d go so far as to say that you’d be fine if you used that 16 MP pop-up cam as a vlogging camera.
As with the photos, the video can sometimes seem over-sharpened.
At Rs 57,999, it’s reasonable to expect brilliance
The thing is, in a phone worth Rs 40,000, I’d still have the same complaints, but I’d be willing to live with the camera’s shortcomings. On a phone that’s going against the Pixel 3 (review), the iPhone XR and the Galaxy S10e (review), I expect nothing short of brilliance.
Photos from the Pixel 3 and iPhone XR will ellicit ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from those around you. Photos from the OnePlus 7 Pro will not. It’s as simple as that.
Sizing up the competition
Now that we know what OnePlus is packing, let’s take a look at the competition.
Versus the Apple iPhone XR: The sheer power and engineering brilliance of Apple’s A12 Bionic chip and iOS 12 means that even the Snapdragon 855-powered OnePlus 7 Pro is just an also-ran.
The iPhone XR’s single rear camera is certainly not as flexible as the OnePlus 7 Pro’s trio of cameras, but the XR can capture better images and video than can the Pro.
The relatively low 720p resolution on the XR display might seem like an issue, but it really isn’t. It’s sharp enough that you can’t identify individual pixels and the screen is one of the best there is. The 7 Pro’s OLED does stand out here, but it’s not game-changingly so.
The one place the iPhone does lose out is in charging time. While the 7 Pro can hit full charge in a little over an hour with its bundled charger, the XR will need a little over two.
Versus the Google Pixel 3: Performance and aesthetics be damned, you’re buying this phone for its camera. And if you do care about performance, know that the Pixel 3 isn’t noticeably slower than the 7 Pro, even when gaming.
Versus the Samsung Galaxy S10e: You wouldn’t think it, but it’s Samsung that has most to fear from the OnePlus 7 Pro. The S10e is a brilliant little phone, but it’s no S10. Its display is a little too blue and not as colour accurate as that of the 7 Pro. It certainly has an edge in the camera department, but it’s not much of an edge. The biggest worry by far is that this Exynos-powered baby Galaxy simply doesn’t have the performance to keep up with the larger OnePlus. The S10e does stutter from time to time and the user experience is simply not as smooth. While loud, its speakers are also not comparable to those on the 7 Pro.
One thing the S10e has in its favour is that it’s eminently pocketable.
A champion in the making
If anything, I’m more impressed that OnePlus produced something as capable as the OnePlus 7 Pro than I am disappointed by the camera performance.
Yes, the camera falls short of expectations, but everything else about the phone is decidedly impressive. You will not find a faster Android phone and you will not find a better display at the asking price of Rs 55,000, at least not new.
I sincerely hope that the camera improves over time, because this is indeed a phone I’d otherwise love to have in my pocket.