(Pocket-lint) - Once upon a time there was a disruptive smartphone maker called OnePlus. Its aim was to build a truly powerful, flagship-specced smartphone at a fraction of the price of its competition. At the beginning, only a select few seemed to know of OnePlus' existence - after all, the first device launched on the now discontinued CyanogenMod open-source software platform - but even back in 2014 we think it did a sterling job.
Come 2020 and OnePlus has grown into one of the best-selling premium smartphone manufacturers in western Europe and beyond. It's gradually increased its device quality and feature set - with the OnePlus 2, 3, 5, 5T, 6 and 6T succeeding one another in the past six years - and, under the Never Settle mantra, it's kept pushing for the best experience possible. That's what the OnePlus 7 Pro is all about - reaching for the flagship stars.
When the OnePlus 7 Pro launched in 2019 it felt as though the journey was coming to full fruition. Nowadays, it's more about being a true flagship than keeping costs down. It's about no more compromises. It's about squaring up to the big names and not being shy about it. And although the OnePlus 7T Pro has since superseded the phone, the 7 Pro still holds its own very well.
- Mirror Grey/Nebula Blue/Almond
- Water/dust resistant (no IP rating)
- 162.6 x 75.9 x 8.8mm; 206 grams
Look at the OnePlus 7 Pro and you can see immediately it belongs in the top tier along with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S10+ and Huawei P30 Pro. Its front and back are both covered in glass that curves towards those premium, polished edges on both sides, creating a shape that's almost seamless.
Our review unit is the Nebula Blue, which features a similar finish to what we saw on the Thunder Purple and matte black OnePlus 6/6T. Using multiple layers of glass, with one that features microscopic holes in it, the company has managed to achieve a finish that has a soft sheen to it and shows off an s-curve pattern in the right light. Combined with a blue colour that gradients from light to dark, from bottom to top, and the OnePlus 7 Pro has its own unique look.
There are other finishes, though, depending on which colour you choose. The other finishes are more similar to other flagships, in that they're glossy. The Mirror Grey is a dark grey with a very polished finished, while Almond is white with a gold reflective layer.
In typical OnePlus style, the 7 Pro retains the usual buttons, including the Alert Slider, which lets you quickly silence all notifications. This is positioned above the power/sleep key that's been shifted down a little to make up for the fact that the Pro is bigger than its predecessors.
Arguably the most impressive part of the Pro's design is the front, where that big AMOLED screen dominates. It's got curved edges, very slim bezel and no notch or punch-hole camera anywhere to be seen. In other words: nothing to disturb your content.
To work around the new design - and that almost bezel-free screen - some elements needed shifting around. For instance, the selfie camera now lives inside a small pop-up mechanism in the top edge. It's similar to those we've seen from Oppo and Vivo before. In the OnePlus it feels sturdy, and even has a rubber seal around it to stop water from getting into the phone.
Which brings us neatly on to the subject of water resistance. Like its previous phones, OnePlus has built its latest flagship to withstand water and dust, but hasn't got it certified. That means there's still no neat IP-rating to put on the spec sheet, but the phone should still last if you accidentally drop it in water or get caught in the rain while using it.
Look along the bezel at the top edge of the phone and you'll notice a long, slim speaker grille. This forms one part of the stereo sound (powered by Dolby Atmos). The other part is delivered by the loudspeaker on the bottom edge. What we like - and which may seem like a small change - is that the bottom edge speaker is now on the right side, so you likely won't cover it up, accidentally muting the audio, when you're gaming.
The audio itself is fuller, louder and more immersive than what has existed on previous OnePlus phones. Whether you're watching movies or catching up on your favourite YouTube videos, the sound will no longer be mediocre. In fact, you can comfortably use it to play music in a small room.
- 6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED
- QHD+ resolution - 3120 x 1440
- No notch or punch-hole cameras
- Curved edges
- HDR10+ compatible
The screens in OnePlus devices have been steadily been getting better. For the past few years of releases, those displays have offered vibrant colours and great contrast, even offering the ability for display nerds to tune it to their preferred profile.
But there's always been an element that's stopped the display from being true flagship quality though: sharpness. OnePlus' screen choices have never been particularly fuzzy, in fact, at FullHD+, you could argue that the panels were comparable to rivals. They just didn't quite compete with the likes of, say, Samsung or Sony's most premium devices.
That changes with the OnePlus 7 Pro. It's not just OnePlus' best ever display, it's one of the best displays on the market. It starts with the fact that it's now Quad HD+ resolution, making it the company's sharpest yet - and you can really tell. Text is super crisp, with even fine fonts being sharp and well defined.
Then there's the fact that it benefits from the contrast and colours offered by the AMOLED technology used, further enhanced by its HDR10+ compatibility. Watch high dynamic range content on Netflix or YouTube and you'll have a genuinely fantastic viewing experience. The dynamic range is really impressive for a smartphone, reminding us a lot of the Samsung Galaxy S10+. OnePlus is finally working with Netflix to get onboard its HDR and HD resolution certification, so users will no longer have to suffer low-resolution versions of their favourite series.
We watched Star Trek Discovery and The Umbrella Academy, both looking as eye-catching as they should. One could argue that they were quite dark, but with the screen brightness pumped up there's heaps of quality and depth in colour, brightness and shadows.
And that's not all. The OnePlus 7 Pro has a 90Hz screen, which means all the animation looks super smooth. That's a 50 per cent bump in cycles per second compared to usual 60Hz screens - the kind of tech that, until now, has only been available in the designed-like-a-brick Razer Phone gaming phone. So whether you're just flicking between different basic user interface (UI) elements, or playing your favourite game, the smooth frame-rate makes the 7 Pro one of the most responsive and fluid experiences we've ever had on a smartphone.
The very fact that you get all of this on a screen without a notch or a punch-hole disturbing any of its surface is pure wonderment. Sure, there's still the odd app that doesn't fill the screen well, or ends up with little bits cut off at the corners, but at least there's no camera or protrusion interrupting it in addition.
The only complaint we have is with those curved edges. As with any curved screen, while making an attractive looking phone, it does mean some minor compromises. For instance, at certain angles, that curve means the content near the edges shifts in colour - white tends to shift to green slightly - in what's called an aberration. Ignoring that blip, however, and the 7 Pro's screen is probably the best you'll find in a smartphone.
Software and features
- Oxygen OS based on Android 9 Pie
- New Zen Mode for taking a break
- Fnatic gaming mode
Based on Google's Android Pie operating system, the OnePlus 7 Pro doesn't feature tonnes of new software features compared to Android's usual look and feel. But there are a couple of inclusions worth musing over.
The Shelf - which lives to the left of the home screen and features shortcuts and widgets to your favourite apps - now has a Parking Location service. Park up your car, mark the location, then never worry again about having to find it afterwards. It's not a new thing, but it's nice to have it so conveniently placed.
You get software-based notification lights too, since there's no more space for an LED at the top of the phone. Similar to the Oppo Find X, the OnePlus 7 Pro's screen flashes colour up both sides to alert you when a notification comes in, adapting its colour based on the app.
One we particularly like is "quick reply in landscape". If you happen to be gaming with your phone held horizontally and a message comes in from a compatible app (like WhatsApp) then you'll get a small floating keyboard on the right and a chat window on the left. Type away with the right thumb to quickly reply, send, and get back to your game.
Then there's the Zen mode, which we're not 100 per cent convinced needs to be there. Effectively, it stops you from using your phone for 20 minutes, by blocking your access to all apps except the camera, and only allows you to receive incoming calls (or make emergency ones). The idea behind it is born from good intentions - stopping you from staring at your phone on a date night, or when spending quality time with friends/kids - but you could just do that by putting your phone down and leaving it alone for 20 minutes. Self control, people!
Feel the need for speed
- Snapdragon 855 processor
- 6GB/8GB/12GB RAM options
- 128GB or 256GB UFS 3.0 storage
If there's one area OnePlus has focused on more than any other in all of its phones to date, it's speed. It's always been about cramming the most powerful Snapdragon processor inside a phone with light software to make it zip. So it's no surprise to see the same in the 7 Pro. Even with the bigger, higher resolution, faster refresh-rate screen on the front it has tackles all tasks with consummate ease. Actually, that's an understatement: the OnePlus 7 Profiles through it all.
Not only are all animations and transitions between UI layers fluid and almost instant, it loads apps quickly and shows no signs of slowing down or dropping frames - even in quite intense games. Part of that is down to the 90Hz display, but that's not all that's at work.
Inside, along with Snapdragon's latest flagship processor, there's liquid cooling to ensure it doesn't overheat. And then there's something called UFS 3.0. This is the latest form of flash-based storage and improves the speeds of just about everything that involves reading or writing on the phone's storage.
Then there's RAM Boost, which helps prioritise your frequently used apps, ensuring they open quickly.
One element that we felt needed improving from the OnePlus 6T was the in-display fingerprint reader. We had some reliability and consistency issues with that phone. It would often fail to register the fingerprint, and unlocking the phone became something of hassle. With the 7 Pro, it's improved considerably.
OnePlus still uses an optical-based in-display fingerprint reader, but this one has a bigger sensor and is much quicker - almost to the point of being as accurate and reliable as the old physical ones. We did still get a few times where it failed to recognise, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Big battery, but can it handle that display?
- 4,000mAh battery
- Warp Charge 30 - 30W fast charging
The OnePlus 7 Pro has the most capacious battery OnePlus has ever put in a phone, at 4,000mAh. And with that fast-refresh screen this phone needs it. While battery life is not close to being a two-dayer, we found that even on heavier use days the phone would still make it to bed time without a struggle. On moderate/light days, we'd have around half the battery left near the end of the work day, with around 30-40 per cent left at bed time.
These days would normally involve an hour or so of music playing, a couple of hours of gaming or Netflix, with the usual Twitter usage thrown in for good measure. In short: it's perfectly capable of getting through even the busiest of days. And all with the full-resolution and 90Hz settings activated (a settings menu lets you change both of these to conserve more battery if you want).
OnePlus 7 Pro also comes as a 5G phone
- Qualcomm X50 modem
If you're a fan of OnePlus, you also probably heard that OnePlus was one of the first to market with a 5G handset. The OnePlus 7 Pro comes in 5G form as well. The 5G handset will support all the other connectivity of the 4G/LTE device, but with the addition of Qualcomm's X50 modem to allow it to connect to the new 5G networks. In the UK, EE was the first to offer this phone as an exclusive.
Reviewing the 5G version of the 7 Pro separate really makes no sense - the design, display, camera and software experience is very much the same, no matter which device you buy. The only real difference is that the 5G handset is optimised for 5G networks and offer that faster connectivity.
We've been using 5G on the EE network for a couple of weeks. The OnePlus 7 Pro 5G is a great device for this, because when you're on 4G networks you're still getting a great experience thanks to the complete package it offers. It's also worth bearing in mind that 5G is very much at the beginning of its journey and while central London offers some great download speeds, much of the time you'll be on the 4G network anyway.
In terms of device performance, 5G doesn't seem to have a huge impact on the battery life or anything else - it's very much business as usual - but with some much faster data rates. Of course, we have to caveat that by saying again that you'll spend much of these early days on 4G. It's also worth bearing in mind that you can't buy the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G SIM free (at least not in the UK). It's only available on contract from EE, so the price difference is wrapped into the tariff.
Triple cameras, triple the fun
- 48MP primary (12MP auto shots)
- Optical (OIS) and electronic (EIS) stabilisation
- 8MP telephoto (3x zoom)
- 16MP ultra-wide
- 16MP front-facing
Not content with just making the screen much better on the Pro model, OnePlus also wanted to match up with the big-name phone markers on the camera side too. That means a triple camera system made up of three distinct focal lengths: ultra-wide, wide/standard and 3x telephoto.
On the whole, results certainly look strong enough during the day, when capturing in good light. But like so many high-powered smartphones these days there's lots of processing going on to get the images looking good. OnePlus has developed a processing technique called UltraShot, which is a combination of both HDR and and sharpness algorithms. The long and short of it: it takes multiple images at different exposures, layers them up, combining them to give a detailed, vibrant shot (much like Huawei's Night mode).
Although the OnePlus 7 Pro's primary sensor is 48-megapixels, it combines four pixels into one for each auto shot, giving you a 12-megapixel image that's detailed and colourful. In fact, that's one thing we noticed: switching between ultra-wide, primary and zoom cameras, it was the images from the primary camera which consistently looked more vibrant than the other two lower-resolution cameras.
Autofocus did seem to have a hard time focusing on objects close to the camera, which isn't out of the ordinary, but we found we were easily able to get some nice macro images from switching to Pro mode and using the manual focus to get the sharpness we needed. The Huawei P30 Pro, for example, has an automatic Super Macro mode that kicks in for close-ups.
There were a few times we noticed some glitches in the processing of the 7 Pro's images too. Look in the gallery below and you'll see an unusual halo-like effect around a person walking in a regular HDR shot. It wasn't consistently captured in every instance, but is something we noticed a few times.
Like many others, OnePlus has developed a Night mode, but in our experience it's not close to being as impressive as the system from the Google Pixel family. It doesn't seem to draw out as much light from shadowed areas as its competition, and serves only to bring in slightly more light and add sharpness in low-light shots.
On the whole, though, if you're wanting a versatile camera you can point, shoot and get a good shot from almost every time, the OnePlus 7 Pro doesn't get a lot wrong, if anything. Really it's the relative ongoing strength of the competition that adjusts this camera system's overall ranking.
Even approaching a year after it launched, the OnePlus 7 Pro feels like the pinnacle for OnePlus. Something it's been working towards for a number of years. Even though the 7T Pro launched, nothing has changed. It's still a brilliant phone.
With its unrivalled edge-to-edge display and fantastic speedy performance, it's every bit reaching for the flagship stars. Add to that the fact that it's available as a 5G phone too - and you have something special.
In previous years, OnePlus phones were all about speed and performance. The displays were always great for the money, but never quite matched up to absolute best smartphones on the planet. With the 7 Pro it's world-beating stuff on the display front.
However, the competition from Google, Samsung and Huawei's flagships is strong - especially on the camera front, where some slight questions over quality remain - while OnePlus' decision to push to a higher price than ever before puts the brand in a whole new position. It's earned that respect, though, and is ready to spar with the heavyweights.
Overall, the OnePlus 7 Pro offers peak speed and performance, a much better camera system than its predecessors, plus one of the best screens on a smartphone right now. All of that adds up to a grand success.
Originally published in May 2019.
Huawei P30 Pro
With great design and colour options, immense battery life plenty of power and the P30 Pro isn't just a photography phone, it's arguably the best flagship phone we'll see in 2019. Questions remain over the company's software, but all-in-all, the P30 Pro is one of the best phones of 2019 so far. Although, that notch all of a sudden looks quite dated.
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Samsung was never keen on adding notches to its screens, and so worked around the front facing camera by using the hole-punch style cutout. The end result is a truly immersive screen, which is essentially the same as the OnePlus 7 Pro, bar the 90Hz refresh rate. It's a high-end all-rounder that does everything well.