OnePlus 7 Pro First Impressions

Posted on May 17, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 13 Comments

The OnePlus 7 Pro is the shot heard ‘round the smartphone world, a wake-up call for the makers of too-expensive and over-hyped flagships. Like previous OnePlus handsets, the 7 Pro offers a compelling blend of high-end specifications, carefully curated features, and lower-than-expected prices. But with this handset, OnePlus is really reaching for the stars as it seeks to move past the handful of issues that prevented its previous phones from truly attaining the firm’s “never settle” mantra.

Whether it succeeds remains to be seen, and that’s what the review process will uncover. But even to this jaded reviewer, the OnePlus 7 Pro is obviously something special, and a step above the mostly-excellent handsets that OnePlus shipped in the past. There’s a weight—no, a density—to the device that suggests luxury car quality rather than unnecessary heft, and a smoothness and elegance to the display that is likewise unusual and quite welcome.

This isn’t unique to the OnePlus 7 Pro—OnePlus has always done a tremendous job promoting its brand and creating a sense of community—but the high quality red and white color-coded accessories that ship with the device really help to drive home the sense that you’re taking part in something special. This is a vibe shared only by Apple, while other companies—Samsung, of course, but especially Google—have suffered by comparison because they’re just copying Apple. But OnePlus and its devices are unique.

Anyway, once you get this magical slab of multi-layered and colored glass out of the box—my review unit is colored Nebula Blue, which OnePlus tells me is “partly inspired by the endless possibilities and mysteries of space”—you can just enjoy it for engineering and design miracle that it is. And then forget all about that, since you’ll want to—need to—cover it all up with a case. Which, by the way, OnePlus provides in the box. Because details matter.

OK, move past the form factor, Paul. They get it, it’s beautiful.

And so, too, is the display. It’s a very tall 6.67-inch AMOLED display with a Quad HD+ (3120 x 1440, 516 ppi) resolution and an unheard-of 90 Hz refresh rate. And it extends, just about literally, to every edge of the front of the handset with nary a notch or camera hole cutout to mar the experience. This isn’t an “all-screen design” like Apple promises, with big bezels and a big notch to occlude the view. It’s an all-screen design. Really.

Yes, there are, of course, tiny bezels all around. But they appear to be less than one-third the width of the bezels on the latest iPhone flagships and really just serve as a minimal frame for the display. There are also lightly curved edges on the left and right sides of the display, similar to what we see in Samsung’s flagships and on the Huawei P30 Pro, but perhaps a bit less pronounced. Whether you like this kind of display curve is, of course, subjective, but I think it just adds to the elegance and premium nature of the device. (And further proves the need for a good case.)

In use, the display lives up to OnePlus’s claims of “visual fluidity,” where that 90 Hz refresh rate—compared to 60 Hz on most smartphones—imbues everything that happens on-screen—scrolling, animations, swipes—with an inescapable sense of smoothness. This may ruin me for other phones. It’s a concern.

To achieve this all-screen design, OnePlus had to do something about the front-facing camera, of course. Its solution seems goofy and impractical on paper, and I still have worries about the long-term, but it appears to work really well. When you indicate a need for the camera, it quickly slides, periscope-like, out of the top of the device. And when you switch back to the rear camera, it likewise slides back inside the handset.

I like it. And assuming it’s reliable over time, this seems like a better solution than using a small, teardrop-shaped notch like the OnePlus 6T or a camera hole cutout, both of which can still be a bit distracting.

Speaking of cameras, one of the things I’m most interested in testing on the OnePlus 7 Pro is its rear-facing three-lens camera system. This would be true in any situation, of course. But the OnePlus 7 Pro has achieved the best-ever score for photography from DxOMark, and the second-best overall camera system score, which includes selfies and videos as well. And that means that OnePlus may have finally overcome one of the few legitimate gripes I’ve had with previous OnePlus handsets: The phones, overall, were excellent. But the cameras were generally just good to very good, and not market leaders.

To this end, the OnePlus 7 Pro features a 48 MP main camera with a f/1.6 aperture and a 7-piece lens, a 16 MP ultra-wide-angle lens with a 117-degree field of view, and an 8 MP telephoto lens with 3x optical zoom. This camera system is supported by an updated Nightscape 2.0 low-light mode, which was inferior in previous releases, and an updated Portrait mode as well.

And I’ve not tested it all that much. And I can’t say that I’m particularly blown away by the first several photos I’ve taken. But I like that the Camera app provides one-tap access to each lens—1x zoom with the main camera, 3x optical zoom with telephoto, and ultra-wide-angle with the third lens—allowing you to quickly capture different views of the same scene.

From top to bottom: ultra-wide-angle, 3x optical, 1x

Speaking of light testing, the performance is excellent, as it should be with the review handset’s Snapdragon 855 processor, 12 GB of RAM, and 256 GB of (very) fast UFS 3.0 2-lane storage. From a benchmark perspective, the handset delivered scores of 3489/10839 in Geekbench (for single-core and multi-core, respectively). The Snapdragon 845-based Pixel 3 XL scored 2333/8196.

To get a rough idea of the day-to-day experience, I watched a few minutes of Extremely Wicked Shocking Evil and Vile on Netflix, and was pleased by the video quality and the device’s stereo separation; previous OnePlus handsets were maddeningly limited to a single mono speaker.

The in-display fingerprint reader is clearly improved over the version that debuted last year in the OnePlus 6T. It’s faster, and though the target area is apparently bigger, the green light burst that appears (for some reason ) when you authenticate is smaller and less obtrusive. I recall that being an issue in the dark, in particular. That said, I prefer the old rear-mounted fingerprint reader and wish OnePlus would reconsider. I assume what they’re really waiting for is Android-based facial recognition that actually works.

I was intrigued by Warp Charge 30, OnePlus’s updated fast charging technology because it can now charge the device to 50 percent in just 20 minutes. The system is proprietary, as before, which is fine, but it also requires a much bigger power plug than before, too. In fact, it’s about twice as big and is about the same size as the power plug for my MacBook Air. But here’s the trick: Unlike other fast chargers, it supposedly won’t heat up the device, and it will work normally during high-intensity tasks like gaming. Color me intrigued.

Finally, we need to discuss software, if briefly. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of customized Android skins and home screen replacements, but OnePlus is widely lauded for its take on Android, called Oxygen OS. This includes both low-level changes, mostly performance optimizations, and OnePlus’s unique take on the Android user experience.

And … I will give it another shot. I’m sure that the low-level changes are both necessary and positive. But it’s weird to me that OnePlus uses its own gesture navigation, and that the default navigation scheme—which involves three software buttons like in olden times—is so antiquated looking.

Beyond this, the latest Oxygen OS version does support useful and unique features like a screen recorder, a Zen Mode for making the phone unavailable for 20 minutes, and other unique features. I’ll give it all a fair shot.

Next up, I’ll get all my apps installed, load the device up with content, and get busy. This is one device review I’m really looking forward to.

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