OnePlus 7 Pro review: Not a flagship killer, a flagship contender
- 17 May, 2019 20:02
The OnePlus 7 Pro is everything a OnePlus phone isn’t supposed to be. It has a better screen than the Galaxy S10+. It has a nicer design than the iPhone XR. And its front camera puts the Pixel 3 XL’s notch to utter shame.
You might notice that those three phones all cost upwards of a thousand dollars, a stark contrast to the $669 7 Pro. But beyond the tremendous value, it’s the first OnePlus phone I’ve used that truly feels like a flagship and not just a premium alternative. The previous OnePlus models all had attractive price tags while still packing top-of-the-line specs, but they never quite measured up to the phones they were challenging. The 6 and 6T were the phones to buy instead of a flagship. With the 7 Pro, OnePlus has made a phone that Samsung and Apple should fear.
It’s so good, in fact, that its deficiencies—namely the lack of wireless charging and IP-rated water resistance, and a camera that doesn’t quite measure up to the Pixel 3 XL’s—seem that much more glaring than they did on previous handsets. But even with those missing features and a few imperfections here and there, the OnePlus 7 is still a worthy entry to premium space. And we may never look at OnePlus the same way again.
This review is part of our ongoing roundup of the best Android phones. Go there for information on competing models and how we tested them.
Stunning curves and smooth edges
OnePlus introduces a completely new design for the 7 Pro that’s clearly inspired by the Galaxy S10+ and Huawei P30 Pro. Fans of those phones will note the obvious similarities with the “infinity” look, but the curved screen model here doesn’t feel like a mere imitation.
We hear the term “all-screen” a lot, but the OnePlus 7 nearly lives up to it. The chin and forehead on the 7 Pro are barely-there slivers of black that give the 7 Pro a balanced and luxurious feel, though it bothers my eyes that they’re not quite symmetrical. The aggressively rounded corners of the screen match the body of the phone perfectly. Compared to the 6T’s flat-screen design, the 7 has a luxuriousness that rivals that of the Galaxy S10+ and iPhone XS. Once you run you fingers along its sloped edges, you won’t want to put it down.
The cherry on top: There’s no notch or hole to be found. OnePlus pulls off the 7 Pro’s greatest trick with a pop-up selfie camera that magically rises from the top edge when summoned. The mechanism is smooth, fast, and whisper-quiet, and it gives the phone a real futuristic feel. You probably shouldn’t overdo it, due to the natural tendency for moving parts to break, but you’ll certainly be tempted to.
The rear camera isn’t quite as inventive, but there are three of them this time around. As with the 6T, they’re mounted vertically with a slight bump, and set against a back panel that’s clad in a gorgeous matte-blue-, black-, or almond-colored glass.
The button and port layout is also the same as the 6T’s, which has its pros and cons: You get the awesome alert slider, but unfortunately that also means the headphone jack is missing. Theoretically, OnePlus could have used the 7 Pro’s extra thickness (8.8mm, versus 8.2mm on the 6T) to bring back the audio jack. Alas, you’ll need to use Bluetooth headphones or buy an adapter—OnePlus isn’t supplying one in the box anymore.
Amazing screen, so-so fingerprint scanner
One aspect of the OnePlus 7 Pro that might be a deal-breaker for some: It’s big and heavy. With a whopping 6.67-inch display and a 162.6 × 75.9mm frame weighing 206 grams, it’s easily a contender for biggest smartphone of the year, topping the iPhone XS Max and just a hair smaller than the 6.7-inch Galaxy S10 5G (which starts at $1,299, but who’s counting).
Assuming you don’t mind the size, you’ll have a hard time finding a better display. OnePlus calls it Fluid AMOLED, and it’s just as dazzling as Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED. It offers a crisp QHD+ (3120x1440) resolution at 516ppi, remarkable brightness, and a 90Hz refresh rate for impeccable animations and gestures. In lay terms, it’s an absolute joy to use. The only thing I missed was an always-on option, but the tapping and raising-to-wake are plenty effective.
OnePlus has stuck with its in-display optical fingerprint sensor. While it’s less finicky than we experienced on the 6T, it still feels like a step backwards. It’s incredibly fast when it works, but on a whole it’s way less accurate than a standard hardware sensor. I’d much rather OnePlus either returned to the rear fingerprint sensor or adopted a time-of-flight sensor for 3D facial recognition on the next OnePlus phone.
Tremendous speed inside and out
Once you unlock the OnePlus 7, however, you won’t have any complaints. The model I tested had a whopping 12GB of RAM, but even if you opted for a more reasonable 6GB or 8GB, the Snapdragon 855 processor will absolutely shred anything you throw at it. To say I didn’t experience any lag is to understate just how fast this phone is, thanks in large part to the evolution of Oxygen OS, which has become one of the fastest and cleanest custom Android skins this side of the Pixel.
Oxygen OS 9.5 even has some personality of its own. All of the Android Pie features are here—Digital Wellbeing, gesture navigation, streamlined notification shade—but OnePlus has considered how the user and the features coexist before making any changes. For example, there’s a new Zen Mode that goes beyond app timers to force you to take a 20-minute break from using your phone. And when you open the notification shade, a “clear all” icon appears at the bottom of the screen so you can easily reach it.
Gesture navigation is the same as it is on the 6T, which is to say it’s not always as intuitive as it could be. Quibbles aside, it’s almost as if gestures were specifically designed for the 7 Pro’s 90Hz screen. Icons and app screens follow your finger as if you’re physically moving them and flicking them away, giving the whole system a fresh, modern feel.
At some point Android OEMs are going to have to get on the same page with gesture navigation—even more so now that Google introduced another new gesture method in Android Q—but the 7 Pro is easily the best gesture phone, even if it doesn’t have the smartest implementation. For example, without a virtual home button, Oxygen OS leaves no on-screen method for summoning Google Assistant. OnePlus has built a shortcut into the power button, but you need to know where to find it, because oddly it’s turned off by default.
OnePlus also promises that the 7 Pro won’t become obsolete when the 8 Pro makes its appearance. Like a Pixel or Android One phone, OnePlus guarantees two years of version upgrades and three years of security updates. (As such, the 6T is already one of the devices on board with the Android Q beta.) Unfortunately, OnePlus phones are on a bi-monthly cycle rather than a monthly one, but six updates a year is still better than what many of its competitors offer.
Missing features aren’t a deal-breaker
A lot will be written about the OnePlus 7 Pro’s lack of wireless charging, and there’s no denying that it’s a glaring spec sheet omission. Any 2019 phone with a ‘pro’ surname needs to have wireless charging, especially when even the affordable flagships from Apple and Samsung have it on board.
However, while the lack of Qi charging might be an issue before you buy the OnePlus 7 Pro, it won’t be such a big deal afterwards. That’s because you won’t really need to charge it much at all. The 7 Pro comes with a 4,000mAh battery on board. While that’s somewhat small when compared to the Galaxy S10 5G’s 4,500mAh and the Huawei P30 Pro’s 4,200mAh batteries, benchmarks showed 10-11 hours of screen-on time. In my real-world use I never ended the day with less than 30 percent battery life remaining.
That’s because the OnePlus 7 Pro makes the most of every ounce of juice. It’s not just how long it can last—though advanced battery-saving features such as sleep standby optimization go beyond what’s offered on other phones—but also how long you’ll need to keep it plugged it in. Warp Charge 30, which was previously limited to the McLaren edition of the 6T, can take the 7 Pro from inside the red to more than half full in less than 20 minutes (though you’ll have to use the somewhat bulky bundled charger to reach top speed).
Also missing from the OnePlus 7 Pro is IP-rated water resistance. I make that distinction because there’s some confusion over how wet you can get the phone. OnePlus’s founder Carl Pei posted a video of the 7 Pro being dropped in a bucket of water to demonstrate that it is water resistant to some degree, but also warned against trying the “bucket challenge” at home. You won’t find any mention of water resistance on the OnePlus site. So, you probably shouldn’t take your 7 Pro into a pool.
While many fans will shrug at the lack of wireless charging and water resistance, it’s frustrating that OnePlus is being so stubborn, especially when the rest of the phone is so damn good. Yes, it costs hundreds of dollars less than the iPhone XS Max and Galaxy S10, but a ‘pro’ phone comes with certain expectations, and the OnePlus 7 Pro comes up a bit short.
Three cameras make a difference
The OnePlus 7 Pro introduces an entirely new camera system that adds a third ultra-wide-angle lens to the dual-camera array introduced with the OnePlus 5. However, it’s not just the third lens that’s new, if you look at the camera specs:
- Main: 48MP, f/1.6, 1.6 μm, OIS/EIS
- Telephoto: 8MP, f/2.4, 1.0 μm, OIS
- Ultra wide: 16MP, f/2.2, 117 degree FOV
That’s a major bump over the 16MP + 20MP setup in the 6T, and you can see the differences before you even snap your first photo. When you launch the Camera app, you’ll see two options to the left and right of the “1x” indicator for easy 3x optical zoom and 0.6x ultra-wide shots. That makes it easy to switch quickly among the three lenses without pinching or diving into menus, and if you want more granular control, you need only tap again. It’s a fantastic interface and easily one of my favorite camera apps on Android.
The OnePlus 7 Pro definitely takes better pics than the 6T. In all kinds of light, I captured richer colors, more details, and crisper edges than on any other OnePlus phone. Low-light photos also improved noticeably. Autofocus was super fast and there was very little post-shutter lag, even when using the “nightscape” optimization. In a nutshell: The 6T took mainly OK pics, but the 7 Pro’s shots were good and sometimes great.
Funky mechanism aside, the pop-up front camera is basically the same as it is on the 6T, which is to say portraits have blurry edges and some elements are lost to the bokeh effect. But like the rear camera, it takes solid selfies.
However, when compared to the Pixel 3, the deficiencies in the OnePlus 7 Pro are stark. Even though the Pixel phones have inferior hardware compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro, Google’s post-processing still achieves superior results. For the 8 Pro or whatever comes next, I’d like to see OnePlus work on the computational side of things, because that’s where it seems to be falling short.
Should you buy a OnePlus 7 Pro?
Ask yourself these three questions before buying a OnePlus 7 Pro: Do you hate plugging in your phone in to charge it? Do you want to take your phone swimming? Does a top-notch camera matter more than anything else? If you answer yes to any of them, then the OnePlus 7 Pro probably isn’t right for you.
Otherwise, it’s hard to recommend any other phone. Even if you buy the top-of-the-line 7 Pro with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, it’ll only cost you $750, the same price as the iPhone XR and the Galaxy S10e. The OnePlus 7 Pro is superior to those phones in just about every way. The display is remarkable, the design is nearly perfect, and the speed is simply mind-blowing. The camera, while not among the best, is definitely solid.
T-Mobile is again the exclusive U.S. carrier for the OnePlus 7 Pro, but it’ll work with any network. I’m a Verizon subscriber and for the first time, I was able to pop in my SIM into a OnePlus phone and immediately start using it without any hiccups or workarounds. That’s something that can’t be said for most international phones: Anyone can buy an unlocked OnePlus 7 Pro without worrying whether it’ll work with their network. And unless they either hate wires or love water, I suspect a lot of would-be Pixel 3 XL and Galaxy S10+ buyers are going to do just that.