The latest OnePlus flagship smartphone, the OnePlus 7 Pro, might be good enough to catapult this quirky firm to fame and fortune.
And its been a long time coming: My personal history with OnePlus goes back to the OnePlus 3T, which I described as “a stunning mid-range Android handset that picks up where Google left off with Nexus.” I’ve owned several OnePlus handsets since then, and each has impressed. The OnePlus 5T offered “a modern design, a stunning 18:9 display, crazy-fast facial recognition, and more for about half the price of a typical smartphone flagship.” The OnePlus 6 introduced a few curious compromises, but it was still “a better value than other flagship smartphones.” And last fall’s OnePlus 6T, with its in-display fingerprint reader and teardrop notch, was “best value in flagship-class smartphones.”
You can see the similarities in each review, and that is by design: OnePlus has always targeted the sweet spot of the smartphone market, and it has always provided the best overall value in a field crowded with well-funded competitors.
That said, the price of OnePlus handsets has risen in tandem with the prices of flagship smartphones over the years, too. That initial OnePlus 3T I loved so much two years ago started at just $439. But a base OnePlus 5T was $499. An entry-level OnePlus 6 would have set you back $529. And the OnePlus 6T? It started at $549.
That creeping escalation continues with the OnePlus 7 Pro, which starts at $669, the biggest jump yet in model-over-model OnePlus pricing. That will trigger some groans, and in this case, I’ll join in with the chorus. But OnePlus is (somewhat) justifying this differential by noting that it also sells a non-Pro OnePlus 7, which is essentially a lightly-updated version of the 6T, for about the same price as that handset. The catch? You can’t buy it in the United States.
In a world of $1000+ flagship smartphones, $669 is still quite the value, of course. That this pricing falls well under the $749 starting price of the entry-level iPhone XR is, I’m sure, not coincidental. That it falls neatly between the $480 starting price of the Google Pixel 3a XL and the $899 starting price of the Pixel 3 XL is, likewise, I’m sure, by design. The OnePlus 7 Pro is more expensive than previous OnePlus handsets, but it still offers the same value, in the context of today’s smartphone market.
As important, and with just one major exception, the OnePlus 7 Pro appears to finally step back from the cliff of quirky design choices that marred the otherwise-excellent previous two OnePlus handsets. For example, the OnePlus 6, as good as it was, didn’t support wireless charging and came with a single mono speaker. The OnePlus 6T was even more compromised: It had the same issues as its predecessor but also came with a lackluster camera (compared to other smartphone flagships) and no headphone jack. Controversially, it also included an in-display fingerprint reader, which was fast … when it worked. But like other in-display fingerprint readers—I’m looking at you, Huawei—it didn’t work a lot.
The OnePlus 7 Pro seeks to fix these problems while one-upping the rest of the smartphone industry in ways that are both obvious and exhilarating. Does this justify the price increase? Assuming it all works as advertised, yes. But it leaves a hole in that $400 to $600 range that, weirdly, Google is now suddenly targeting again with its Pixel 3a and 3a XL. I’m not sure we can call what OnePlus is doing the sweet spot anymore. Maybe just the sweet spot for flagship smartphones. I don’t know.
But let’s focus on what OnePlus is doing, which is redefining, again, what it even means to be a smartphone flagship. The design looks modern and sleek, and with OnePlus being the first to truly remove both the notch and bezels from its smartphone face, the OnePlus 7 Pro stands alone in its modernity. This will be even more obvious this fall when Apple ships new iPhones with humongous notches, thick bezels, and an ugly, square camera array on the rear. Forget Apple’s marketing. The OnePlus 7 Pro is the first real “all screen” flagship.
It achieves this feat courtesy of a peekaboo front-face camera that pops out of the top of the device like the periscope in a submarine. That looks goofy to me, but it’s hard to argue with the resulting display design.
Speaking of cameras, the biggest change in the OnePlus 7 Pro, to my mind, is its elevation from camera also-ran to camera dominance: This handset boasts the single best photo score that DxOMark has ever given to a smartphone, beating out industry heavyweights like the Huawei P30 Pro and Google Pixel 3. When you factor in selfies and video, the OnePlus 7 Pro comes in second place, behind the P30 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S10. Impressive.
Internally, the OnePlus 7, like the past few OnePlus handsets, is an absolute beast. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, an Adreno 640 GPU, 6, 8 or 12 GB of RAM, and 128 or 256 GB of UFS 3.0 2-lane storage, heady specs that outperform … well, everything. There’s a 4000 mAh battery, and the OnePlus 7 Pro supports Warp Charge 30 Fast Charging, which can provide a 50 percent charge in only 20 minutes, an industry best. It even has stereo speakers—finally—and they provide Dolby Atmos support out of the box.
Aside from the camera system, however, the biggest new feature is the display. It’s not just edge-to-edge, it’s also the fastest and best overall display in the industry, according to DisplayMate, which awarded it A+ grades in every single test, and its unique 90 Hz performance. (Most other smartphone displays run at 60 Hz; if you’re not yet tired of the phrase “buttery smooth,” you will be.)
So. What’s missing?
OnePlus continues to ignore waterproofing tests because they are expensive but the device is, wink, wink, waterproof, really. Not officially. But really.
There’s no wireless charging. Which I don’t consider a major handicap.
It still includes, controversially, an in-display fingerprint reader. OnePlus says it’s improved, and is faster and bigger. But I would still prefer a physical fingerprint reader, on the back. Or facial recognition that was actually secure.
There is still no headphone jack. Come on, OnePlus. This is an area where you could differentiate.
And that camera system, for all its goodness, provides only 3x optical zoom. It arrives after the P30 Pro, which provides 5x optical zoom and a good 10x hybrid zoom too.
OK, I’m nitpicking now. There aren’t many downsides, at least not on paper.
I’m hoping to get a OnePlus 7 Pro review unit this week so I can find out for myself—and for you—if OnePlus has finally delivered on its “never settle” promise. But from what I can see so far, they have done so. And if this handset’s camera in any way challenges the market leaders, OnePlus will have done something I considered impossible given its previous efforts. And I can’t wait to find out if that’s true.