OnePlus 9 vs. OnePlus 9 Pro

Posted on March 28, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Mobile with 14 Comments

You can save hundreds of dollars by choosing the OnePlus 9 instead of the OnePlus 9 Pro. But whether you should do so depends on your needs. So let’s take a quick look at the differences between these two handsets, some of which are big and obvious, and some of which are small and subtle.

First, here’s the number to keep in your mind as you sort through the differences that matter most to you: 340. That’s the number of dollars you will save now by choosing the OnePlus 9 over the Pro, and it’s a big number.

More specifically, the OnePlus 9, with its 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB of non-upgradeable storage, costs $729, compared to $1069 for a OnePlus 9 Pro with 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. I don’t see additional choices on OnePlus.com right now, perhaps because we’re still in the pre-release pre-order phase. But there will be a 12 GB/256 GB variant of the OnePlus 9 that will cost $829, and there will be an 8 GB/128 GB variant of the OnePlus 9 Pro that will cost $969. So the true cost difference may be $240 soon, and depending on availability. But that’s still a big number.

With that out of the way, on to the differences.

There are different color choices available with each phone. The OnePlus 9 is available in Astral Black or Winter Mist, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is available in Morning Mist or Pine Green. I really like the colors, in particular Pine Green, but let’s be real here: You’re going to put a case on this thing, so the only real color that’s going to peek through is around the camera lenses. I wouldn’t base my purchase on these choices, but you may feel more strongly about it.

The OnePlus 9 is made of plastic. Where the OnePlus 9 Pro utilizes the standard glass and aluminum sandwich design that’s common to premium smartphones, the OnePlus 9 has a plastic frame, not glass. Does it matter? Nope, not in the slightest. Aside from the fact that you are, of course, going to put it in a case anyway, the OnePlus 9 looks and feels just as premium as the 9 Pro. And, seriously, I’ve never understood the trend away from plastic in smartphones.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has a bigger display with a higher PPI. These similarly-sized handsets fall into the “large and tall” category of smartphones, but the 9 Pro is a bit bigger and taller than its non-Pro stablemate: 6.7 inches on the diagonal vs. 6.55 inches. The respective heights of the two handsets are very similar: 6.43 inches for the Pro and 6.3 inches for the non-Pro. And while the resolution and pixel density are quite different—-the OnePlus 9 Pro has a Quad HD+ (3216 x 1440) display panel at 525 ppi, the OnePlus 9 has a Full HD+ (2440 x 1080) display at 402 ppi—I don’t think many people would really notice without comparing side-by-side and looking specifically for any differences.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has curved display edges. OnePlus is trying to split the difference between those who dislike curved display edges and those who are just wrong in the head, and so the OnePlus 9 Pro has slightly curved display edges, where the OnePlus 9’s display is flat. Flat displays are very much preferable and I wish that the OnePlus 9 Pro used such a panel. And I don’t have much faith in OnePlus’s claims that it has minimized mis-taps through software. Curved display edges are an affectation from the past and they have no functional advantages, just disadvantages. Ah well.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has a superior display, too. The OnePlus 9 has what’s called a Fluid AMOLED display, and it can run at a high refresh rate of 120 Hz or just at the more normal 60 Hz refresh rate if you wish to save a bit of battery life. But the OnePlus 9 Pro one-ups the 9—and every other smartphone on the market—with its own unique Fluid AMOLED display with LTPO (Low-Temperature Polycrystalline Oxid), an ultra-low-power panel that, among other things, has a variable refresh rate capability that lets the handset automatically switch in 1 Hz steps between just 1 Hz and the full 120 Hz, further improving battery life while maintaining the right display experience regardless of what you’re doing. If you’re reading, for example, the display will run at a very low refresh rate, but if you’re gaming or scrolling the display will amp up to 120 Hz.

Fun fact: LTPO was created by Apple and is part of the newest Apple Watch generation. This technology is rumored to appear in the next iPhones as well, but it’s interesting that OnePlus did it first.

The OnePlus 9 Pro has more and different camera lenses and capabilities. This one is a bit complex to explain, so here goes nothing.

The OnePlus 9 has three camera lenses: A 48 megapixel (MP) main lens, a 50 MP ultra-wide-angle lens, and a 2 MP monochrome lens. The OnePlus 9 Pro, meanwhile, has four camera lenses: A 48 megapixel (MP) main lens, a 50 MP ultra-wide-angle lens, a 2 MP monochrome lens, and an 8 MP telephoto lens. So it would appear that the camera systems are essentially identical except that the 9 Pro includes that additional telephoto lens.

Sadly, there’s more to it than that.

While the technical specifications of the main lenses on each smartphone are the same—a 1/1.43-inch sensor size, 1.12µm pixels, and a focal length of approximately 23 mm—-the OnePlus 9 uses a Sony IMX689 sensor while the 9 Pro uses a newer Sony IMX789 sensor, which was originally exclusive to OnePlus’s corporate parent OPPO. It’s not clear how or whether the newer sensor is better than its predecessor, but it’s backed by optical image stabilization (OIS) on the 9 Pro, a feature the OnePlus 9 lacks.

As for the telephoto lens, it falls into that gray area I call “better than nothing.” It sports 3X optical zoom, and that’s the setting you’ll get if you choose the telephoto button in the viewfinder while using the new Hasselblad Camera app. Compared to the long-range shooters from Huawei (which sport an internal periscope) and Samsung, the OnePlus 9 Pro telephoto experience isn’t at all impressive, and if you further zoom (using digital zoom), you’ll quickly suffer from motion blur and a watercolor-like effect similar to what Samsung delivers at much larger zoom levels. But it’s about as good as anything from Apple.

Also, we should touch briefly on video recording. Both phones can record 8K video at 30 fps, 4K video at 30 or 60 fps, and 1080p video at 30 or 60 fps. But only the OnePlus 9 Pro can record 4K video at 120 fps.

The OnePlus 9 Pro can charge wirelessly at a much faster rate than the OnePlus 9. The OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro both include a 65-watt Warp Charge 65T charger in the box, which charges the phones from 1 percent to 100 percent in under 30 minutes. And, yes, that charger is powerful enough to charge most USB-C-based laptops (at up to 45-watts). But when it comes to wireless charging, the two phones are quite different: The OnePlus 9 supports 15-watt wireless charging, just like the iPhone 12 family and other modern smartphones. But the OnePlus 9 Pro supports an incredible 50-watts of wireless charging and can completely charge the 9 Pro in under 45 minutes. Granted, you’ll need a OnePlus Warp Charge 50 Wireless Charger to achieve this magical feat, and that will set you back another $69.

And finally, the OnePlus 9 Pro is water- and dust-resistant. Where the OnePlus 9 does not officially support any water or dust resistant standard, the OnePlus 9 Pro is certified for IP68 water and dust resistance and it can be safely submerged in up to 5 feet of water for 30 minutes. But here’s the trick: The OnePlus 9 really supports the same IP68 water and dust resistance as the 9 Pro, but it’s only certified when you purchase the phone through T-Mobile (in the U.S.). Why? Because OnePlus has to pay for that certification, and by not paying for it for the OnePlus 9, it can keep the price of those models lower.

So, how did we do?

I hope this information provides any potential OnePlus 9 Series customer with the data they need to choose between the 9 and the 9 Pro: Just list out the unique 9 Pro features you can’t live without and figure out if they justify the additional $240 to $340 you will need to spend on the OnePlus 9 Pro. If they don’t, the OnePlus 9 is probably the better choice.

Looking at this math from a personal perspective, I’d have a hard time walking away from the OIS on the main lens and the 3X telephoto zoom, as meh as it is, that the OnePlus 9 Pro provides. But that said, the slightly smaller size and the flat display you get with the OnePlus 9 are preferable to me. Features like super-fast wireless charging and a certified IP68 rating are much less interesting to me, and I couldn’t care less than the OnePlus 9 is plastic.

But it’s a tough choice. The good news is that both handsets appear to be excellent flagship-class competitors to the best that Apple and Samsung now offer. Overall, I suspect that the camera experience will be better on Samsung overall, thanks in part to the more saturated shots (assuming you like that) and the dramatically better zoom capabilities. And the rest of the OnePlus value proposition—the high-end specs, the optimized software, and the lower cost compared to Apple and Samsung—remains intact. So it looks like OnePlus has finally landed near the top of the heap, and that’s all we had any right to dream for.

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Comments (17)

17 responses to “OnePlus 9 vs. OnePlus 9 Pro”

  1. djross95

    Paul, the latest version(s) of OxygenOS moved away from its previous 'stock Android' vibe to one that looks a bit more like Samsung OneUI. The OnePlus community didn't seem too enamored of the change, to say the least. Can you comment on that? Thanks, and nice review as always.

  2. billbecker

    Third paragraph, second line, I think that OnePlus 9 should be OnePlus 9 Pro.

  3. lewk

    It really sucks that you can't officially buy OnePlus phones in Australia.

  4. rickeveleigh

    Is it just me or does the red 1 on the clocks in the screenshot really annoy anyone else?!

  5. brettscoast

    Good wrap again Paul. Really enjoying your articles on the OnePlus 9 phones. You have dissected the 2 choices quite well.

  6. peterc

    That’s a good summary of these two handsets. For me the high hz flat screen, fast charging and the ease of one handed use with a much improved camera system means I’m likely to upgrade to the OP 9. I may wait until UK lockdowns ease and I can try a OP9 pro in the hand to satisfy my curiosity, mainly to see the better screen, but £629 in the UK for the OP9 8/128 and you get free Oneplus buds z too. Think I’m sorted really.

  7. winner

    I also don't understand the move to glass backs over plastic.

    • mike2thel73

      In reply to Winner:

      this reply is also to paul thurrott in regards to why companies still are sticking with glass...


      i mean no disrespect to either of you but to me it's simple...


      the phone makers need to justify their prices with their premium smartphone choices.... I would imagine there are a lot of people (ones who don't buy cases for their smartphones and people who are just shallow (buying a phone based on the outside design))


      For me personally it don't matter because i'm putting a case on any smartphone I buy but if people are spending close to a 1000 or more for a smartphone for some people the materials better justify the price....and that's only one part of it.

  8. winbookxl2

    WOW, talk about innovation and high tech at an affordable price. Great Job Paul! Thanks for providing an in-depth explanation of these two devices.

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