The Upgrade

Review: The OnePlus 7 Pro Hits the Android Sweet Spot

It’s not the best device on the market, but the price and performance is right

NoNo notch, no laser-cut holes, no ungainly chin — just unblemished, AMOLED screen. That’s what you’re getting with the OnePlus 7 Pro, the upcoming flagship phone from a Shenzhen-based company best-known for Android devices that offer competitive features at a “midrange” price.

Don’t mistake the OnePlus 7 Pro as a no-frills update, though. As with Samsung’s Galaxy S10 line, the OnePlus 7 Pro hides the fingerprint sensor under the lower third of the screen. And for the selfie camera — the one that Apple’s carved out a notch for — OnePlus settled on something risky.

We put our smartphones through hell — can a pop-up camera survive all of it?

The pop-up, 16 MP selfie camera is a surprisingly solid piece of engineering.

Hidden along the top edge of the phone is a physical pop-up camera module that, as soon as you tap the selfie camera button in the camera app, rises up out of the body with the slight sound of mechanical gears whirring. OnePlus isn’t the first to do something like this, and it surely won’t be the last. Still, I had my reservations: We put our smartphones through hell — can a pop-up camera survive all of it?

In short, the camera is tougher than I expected. But before we dive into specifics, let’s step back a bit and take a good look at the OnePlus 7 Pro, out May 17 with a starting price of $649. It’s a gorgeous Android handset that I’ve used for the last couple of weeks.

Familiar, but good design

In some ways, the OnePlus 7 Pro is simply a larger version of all those other beautiful slab phones. It has a familiar-looking aluminum edge, Gorilla Glass 5, and three cameras on the back.

OnePlus chose an eye-pleasing matte finish for the back, which also happens to make the slab less slippery and completely fingerprint resistant. As on Samsung’s Galaxy S10, the front-left and right edges gently curve toward the back, making the rather substantial device comfortable to hold. The edges include a standard volume rocker and power button, along with a rather odd three-stage switch for “Silent,” “Vibrate,” and “Ring” modes.

Along the bottom edge is the SIM slot, USB-C port, microphone, and speaker. Adjacent to the top edge is a barely discernible speaker slot (squeezed between the glass screen and aluminum frame), the pop-up camera, and another mic for noise cancellation.

Unlike Samsung, OnePlus didn’t bother with redundant biometric unlocking features. You can use the in-screen fingerprint reader or a PIN number. That’s it. Fortunately, OnePlus’s fingerprint sensor is easier to find — it literally glows bright green when you place your finger on or near it — and it also works faster and far more consistently than the scanner on the Galaxy S10+.

Diving into display

OnePlus packed the 7 Pro with an absolutely gorgeous 6.67-in, 3120x1440-pixel “Fluid AMOLED” screen. The “Fluid” part refers to the amped up, 90hz refresh rate. (The Galaxy S10, by comparison, clocks in at 60hz). Higher refresh rates mean less smudging and screen-tearing during games, action movies, and sports.

This is an excellent screen. It’s color rich, accurate, responsive, unblemished, and huge. I had a great time playing PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Asphalt Legends, Mortal Kombat, and watching endless YouTube videos.

Good lenses

Some truly impressive camera specs have been packed into the OnePlus 7 Pro. First there’s the 48 MP, f1.6 main camera, complete with optical image stabilization. It’s complemented by an 8 MP, f2.4 3X, OIS optical zoom camera. (Apple’s iPhone XS and the Samsung Galaxy S10 top out at 2X optical zoom, but also up the megapixels to 12.) Finally, like the Galaxy S10, there is an ultra-wide angle 16 MP, f2/2 camera. That’s a lot of stats, all of which add up to this: The OnePlus 7 Pro takes great pictures.

A photo taken with the OnePlus 7 Pro’s 48 MP camera.

These are all excellent lenses, and I was especially impressed with the main camera. As with all other Android cameras I’ve tested, the colors tend to be somewhat richer and deeper than what you might get with an iPhone. I generally believe Apple’s approach to photography is truer to real-life, but I can’t say I dislike what I get from the OnePlus 7 Pro, especially considering all the extra detail packed in with the 48 MP lens.

OnePlus 7 Pro’s Nightscape low-light photography doesn’t hold up well against Google’ Night Sight.

Like the Google Pixel 3, the OnePlus 7 Pro includes an extreme low-light capture mode, in this case called Nightscape. It can gather a photo with virtually no ambient light. Unlike the Pixel 3’s Night Sight, OnePlus’s ultra-low-light mode doesn’t ask you to stand still while it captures the photo. Instead, it does most of the image work in post-processing. The end result, though, is almost more impressionist painting than real photo: It doesn’t look quite right.

At a glance, the portrait mode shots from the 16 MP pop-up camera look decent, but it didn’t do a great job making my head stand out from the background.

Using both the main and telephoto camera, the OnePlus is capable of solid, if imperfect, portrait mode shots. Unlike the iPhone XS or Samsung Galaxy S10, the “bokeh” effect — the aesthetic quality of the blur produced by the out-of-focus parts of an image — is not editable before or after the photo is taken.

The ultra-wide camera creates good-looking, distortion-free 117-degree images. If you want to reintroduce some curves at the edges, you can turn off distortion correction in the settings.

The 117-degree ultra-wide pulls in a lot of the scene, and software cleans up the edge distortion curves.

OnePlus’ selfie camera is a 16 MP, f1.6 shooter that emerges smoothly from the top of the phone when you switch to selfie mode, and it takes high-quality pictures.

The largest concern about this camera is durability. Who’s to say it won’t break moving up and down? But OnePlus has put considerable thought into protecting this little pop-up lens. First of all, if you try to push the camera back down into the body, the camera automatically retracts, and you get an on-screen notice warning you to never push down on the camera. The more likely scenario, though, is that you drop the phone while the selfie camera is exposed. In this case, OnePlus uses the on-board sensors to detect a free fall, and instantly retracts the camera before the phone hits the ground. I was a little skeptical, so I opened the selfie camera and repeatedly dropped the phone. By the time the phone hit the ground, the camera was safely back inside the OnePlus 7 Pro’s body every single time. Impressive.

As for video, you can shoot up to 4K while using the 3X optical zoom lens. The phone also supports 1080p at 60 FPS, plus slow-motion up to 240 FPS at 1080p and up to 480 fps at 720p. Just note that you can only shoot up to one minute of slow motion video. Overall, I was pleased with the video quality, both in standard and slow motion.

Oxygen, zen, and bad icons

I’m not a fan of Android overlays, which put custom features over the “stock” operating system — and OnePlus’s Oxygen OS does nothing to change my opinion. The proprietary icons for apps like Gallery, Notes, and Messages are all terrible. More frustrating, though, is the way OnePlus hides some of its own most important utilities, like Screen Recorder and Zen Mode, a layer deep in Settings. You have to swipe to the left to find them.

Can you stand not using your phone for a solid 20 minutes?

Zen Mode is an interesting utility. Instead of trying to help you manage your screen time with intricate time management utilities, it essentially locks your phone for 20 minutes. The only features that work are photos (you can take them, not view them) and emergency calls. You simply can’t unlock the phone to access any other apps. It’s a self-enforced time-out. The idea has merits. It reminds me a bit of what Palm has tried to accomplish with Life Mode, though that’s more flexible and forgiving than Zen.

Screen Recorder is a lot like the one you find on an iPhone XS, but with a nifty twist: the ability to record external audio. This might come in handy for creating narrated app walkthroughs and even play-by-play recordings for game apps. The phone’s mic is sensitive, though, so try to avoid jostling the device while you’re recording.

Energetic performance and long life

The OnePlus 7 Pro uses Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon 855 chip, and at least with my review unit — a pricer $749 model with double the RAM and storage of the base unit — The Geekbench numbers were roughly on par with what I got from the Samsung Galaxy S10+, approaching Apple’s impressive A12 Bionic numbers. This is a high-performance device that, thanks to a liquid cooling system, never felt warm in my hands, even after nearly an hour of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. For those who really love to game, the phone includes a mode that’ll block calls, notifications, and dial down background activity to steer all the performance to your games. I turned this on as I played Asphalt Legends, but didn’t notice any performance change. Perhaps that’s because the baseline performance is so damn good.

I gamed a lot on this big-screen phone.

OnePlus claims that the 7 Pro also has an improved haptic system. Yes, I felt vibrations — strong ones — at all the right times, but they weren’t demonstrably better than anything I’ve felt on similar devices.

Battery life from the large, 4000 mAh battery is simply fantastic. I got 20 hours on a charge with almost constant play and was able to fully recharge using the included Warp Charger in just 70 minutes.

These Bullets Wireless 2 earbuds are a little old-school, but the sound and battery life are good.

OnePlus also handed me a pair of its OnePlus Bullets Wireless 2 Bluetooth headphones ($99). With their two earbuds connected by a neck cable that also includes controls and supposedly as much as 14 hours per charge in battery life, they feel like an oddly retro pair of earphones. But there is a modern flourish: Snap the magnetic buds apart and place them back in your ears and the OnePlus 7 Pro will know to switch its sound output from its speakers to your headphones. That’s pretty smart. And while the fit is just okay, the sound quality is very good.

I’m surprised that the OnePlus 7 Pro lacks wireless charging and any kind of water and dust protection (OnePlus says it can handle rain and a drop in a puddle), but, given that the phone costs hundreds of dollars less than a Galaxy S10 or iPhone XS, I can live without them. I’m also somewhat disappointed in the portrait mode photography, though I suspect a software update could fix some of the imperfections I noticed.

If it weren’t for these deficits, the OnePlus 7 Pro would be my new favorite Android Phone. The screen is stunning, the performance eye-popping, and the cameras are all excellent, even though I’m not a fan of that crazy pop-up selfie camera. It’s not the ultimate Android smartphone, but the 7 Pro sits at the perfect sweet spot of price, quality, and performance.

Tech expert, journalist, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan.