The OnePlus 7 Pro landed on the smartphone scene this year without a ton of hype, but generated a ton of noise. Could a smartphone costing only $700 really match up with $1000 plus flagship phones from Apple and Google and actually surpass them in several areas? I saw enough reviews saying that it could that I decided it was time to give it a try. I’ve been using it for nearly a month now including our two week vacation to Spain and have come to appreciate just what OnePlus was able to do to set itself apart in a crowded market.
For the last year, I’ve been using the Pixel 3Xl from Google. While the camera continues to surpass every other phone out there, it was starting to feel older than its age to the point where I was constantly frustrated using it. Plagued by memory management issues from day one along with coming with a measly 3GB of ram , it got to the point where the camera would take 15 seconds to open and receiving a text would make music stop playing. It didn’t matter how good the camera was if I missed every moment while it loaded or it crashed because a call came in. I was ready to try something different.
For those less familiar with the brand, OnePlus is a Hong Kong based smartphone company who has bene making affordable but powerful Android phones for several years. Taking feedback from their community of users and providing benefits and deeper access to their process than other manufacturers, there is a nice customer focused vibe that the company exudes. Their custom Android skin is slick and minimal and unlike heavier ones from bigger companies, actually feels like it improves Android, especially on a big phone. This year OnePlus set out to prove it could play with the biggest phone makers and outcompete them with a powerful flagship phone with huge specs but an affordable price tag. The 7 Pro was the outcome.
It’s difficult to compare the 7 Pro with other phones because of this. At the price range, there are no other big pones like this, only smaller variants of flagships like the iPhone XR and Pixel 3. On size alone, the 7 Pro is in its own class. The massive 6.7 inch screen is huge, and even though the screen goes edge to edge completely, making the overall phone body smaller, there’s no getting around the fact that this is a large phone. However, I did get used to it pretty quickly. There is some hand gymnastics involved to reach the top edge of the screen, but because of the excellent OneUI, OnePlus’s Android version, most actions don’t require a full reach up to the top. The huge size does help make the phone feel substantial and premium.
Where the 7 Pro really stands out it the screen. With absolutely no bezels all around, it’s a uniquely edge to edge display that no other phone has matched. Even more, the screen itself is incredible. It’s super bright, even in direct sunlight and the automatic brightness is the best I’ve seen on a phone, dropping it down in the dark and pumping it up in bright light. It’s also got a 120 hertz refresh rate, making scrolling and videos feel incredibly smooth. After even a day of use, it’s really hard to go back to any other phone screen. Watching videos on this screen is an incredible experience. I find myself grabbing the phone more often just because I want to look at the great screen.
Because the screen goes all the way to the top edge, there’s no room for a front facing camera. OnePlus solved this in a unique way, with a motorized pop up camera that raises when in use and closes back down into the phone body when not. They’ve even tested it with thousands of operations and have a feature that automatically closes it if it detects a drop, helping to prevent breaking or snapping it off.
Coming from the Pixel, the OnePlus camera is a bit of a disappointment. While the utility of the three camera system, regular, wide angle, and telephoto zoom lenses, is great and allows more unique shots than the single lens on the Pixel, the image quality just isn’t there. You can read more and see examples from my in-depth camera review, but the short version is that the pictures are fine and if coming from any phone other than a Pixel you’ll probably never notice, but they just aren’t as dynamic, contrasty, and evocative as the shots the Pixel produces. When the Pixel 2 came out, it set an unrealistically high bar for pretty much every other camera, and most are still playing catch up to it.
More and more, specs aren’t as important in the smartphone world. In the early days of Android, they mattered a lot when the system didn’t optimize quite as well and phones were generally slower. On the iPhone side, the software uses the hardware so well that performance often isn’t noticeable. Around the time the Pixel 1 came out, Android started getting better about this and it’s become less of a factor. Or at least I thought so until I went from the Pixel to the 7 Pro. Going from 3GB of RAM to 6 in particular made a huge difference. On the Pixel, most of the time opening any app beside the most recent one meant fully reloading itt and waiting for it to become usable. With the 7 Pro, I can just about open any app that I’ve opened in the last day or two and it’ll load instantaneously because of the additional memory. The screen refresh rate also helps make everything feel incredibly fast. I thought the pure Android experience on the Pixel line was a snappy and responsive as Android could be until I tried out this phone.
One of the major criticisms of the Android ecosystem and manufacturers other than Apple and Google has been an inability to provide timely updates, leading to fragmentation of Android versions across devices. OnePlus has never been problematic and because of the light version of Android, tends to get updates as fast – and occasionally even faster – than Pixel devices. In fact as I write this, the only two Android devices that can use my work email due to security patch version requirements are the Pixel line and the 7 Pro. The last several versions of Android haven’t been incredibly exciting feature-wise, but it’s still nice to get them quickly and especially to get security updates immediately.
The two biggest sacrifices I see OnePlus made to keep this phone at this price were with wireless charging and an official IP waterproof rating. It lacks both. Wireless charging isn’t a huge deal because the phone comes with a fast charging “warp” charger which charges incredibly quickly. Though once you get used to wireless charging at your desk, in the car, and on your nightstand, it does become nice to have. While the phone is sure to survive a brief rain storm and probably even an accidental drop into some water, it makes me nervous, as a person who once accidentaly took their phone into a hot tub on a cruise ship, to not have a waterproof rating which pretty much every other flagship phone does. OnePlus says this is to save consumers money because certification isn’t free, but it does mean I won’t be bringing this phone into the pool like I was able to do with my Pixel.
My final verdict on the phone after a month of using it as my main “daily driver” phone is that OnePlus has made incredible progress and it’s pretty incredible that they can make such a great phone with these specs at this price. It brings other flagship phones and their pricing into question. The screen and performance are truly game changing coming from just about any other Android device and nearly worth the price alone. The main area of concern is with the camera. Coming from any phone other than a Pixel, it’s likely fine, but once you’ve experienced a few of the “wow” moment photos the Pixel can produce, it’s very hard to go back. You’ll get decent pictures, and some great ones in well-lit conditions from the 7 Pro, but so far I haven’t encountered any that make me stop and say, “wow” the same way the Pixel does on a frequent basis.
This puts me in an interesting position. I definitely can’t go back to my Pixel with its performance issues now, especially after experiencing the buttery smooth version of Android on the 7 Pro. But, I also can’t imagine losing a year’s worth of excellent and dynamic pictures, especially of my kids with the Pixel camera and coming back to look at the just ok pictures from the 7 Pro. Maybe it’s time to give iOS another try – stay tuned!