OnePlus 7 Pro review: an enormous phone from the future

In a sea of notches, the OnePlus 7 Pro looks like something from the distant future. I somehow ignored the launch of it entirely, but stumbled upon it online, blown away by the design, and initially assumed the it was one of these prototype phones that would never make it to market.

Not only is the OnePlus 7 Pro very real, it's one of the best phones available today. It looks more forward-looking than the iPhone X design ever did, and delivers on a 'next generation' feeling...while shipping overnight, today.

I've written extensively about how much I love Google's Pixel devices, but found myself surprised that OnePlus had somehow leap-frogged the company's phone efforts. Over the last month, I've been using a OnePlus 7 Pro, and I have thoughts about what it means for smartphones.

Read on for whether or not I'll be replacing my Pixel with a OnePlus, and if it's truly worth grabbing.

Design

Back of OnePlus 7 Pro

This phone has everything that I figured the iPhone X was going to be—futuristic looks—without the compromises that Apple made to get it out the door first. The OnePlus 7 Pro has a true edge-to-edge display, with a fingerprint sensor integrated invisibly into the screen.

OnePlus achieved this by hiding the front-facing camera in a little motorized pop-up chunk at the top of the screen, which keeps the screen design unbroken, and frankly, feeling like something out of Westworld. 

Pop-up camera on OnePlus 7 Pro

That display? Delightful, thanks in large part to the 90hz refresh rate, which makes animations feel slick, natural and look just right. After using an iPad Pro and the OnePlus, which both have high refresh rate displays, everything else looks wrong, which makes using this phone all the more addictive. 

If I had to summarize what a high refresh rate means in practice, the only phrase I keep coming back to is it makes the screen 'lickable.' Everything looks crisp, natural, and incredibly vibrant, which matters when you're looking at it all day, every day—but it's hard to get how magic it is through text or video until you experience it yourself.

As someone who never really wanted Face ID in the first place, and was perfectly fine with Touch ID, burying the fingerprint sensor under the screen is what I'd always hoped for. 

Especially when coming from the Pixel 3, which has the fingerprint sensor on the rear of the phone, it's really nice to not need to pick it up to unlock, and having it in the display directly reminds me of how the feeling I had when Touch ID debuted on the iPhone: just right.

While some have complained about the responsiveness of the sensor, I've had no problems with it: the phone unlocks fast and reliably, with the exception of if your hands are wet at all, which isn't surprising. It works well, and frankly, having it embedded in the screen feels magic.

In-display fingerprint sensor on OnePlus 7 Pro

The design itself is lovely, with shiny back coatings available in metallic colors, which caught my eye in the first place. In your hand it feels just as solid as an iPhone, and OnePlus' delightful hardware mute switch is something every Android phone needs—it makes the confusing sound settings much easier to deal with.

Essentially, OnePlus has pulled off iPhone-level hardware, on Android, beating Google at its own game. If it didn't have a logo on the back, you might think it were an iPhone, and that's an impressive feat. 

Camera

Taking a photo on OnePlus 7 Pro in wide mode

Google's master stroke with Pixel was always going after building the best camera on the market, but can the OnePlus keep up? The answer is... complicated.

It takes pretty decent photos, particularly after a bunch of fixes landed in a software update, but it's not quite on the same level. Photos are crisp and sharp, but lack the punch that makes the Pixel 3 such a good camera—where the Pixel nails every shot reliably, the OnePlus has the occasional swing and miss.

That's not to say it's awful, but it's just not quite there. Take a look at the gallery below for a few examples:

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But, despite this, the 7 Pro stands its ground by adding a few great things the Pixel doesn't have: it has three lenses on the back, one normal, a wide lens, and a telephoto one for a bunch of extra zoom.

Being able to switch into the ultra-wide selfie camera on Pixel 3 is one of my favorite features of that phone, but having it on the back camera is even more useful. It feels like having a GoPro glued to your phone, and it's lovely—but for whatever reason, you're limited to only using it for photos, not video.

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Even more useful is the telephoto lense, which allows you to zoom in way more than any other device I'd used in the past—it has 10x optical zoom. It means you can get right in close to the action, without losing significant quality, like you can see above (the far left is the wide lense, middle is the 'normal' one and far right is zoomed in to the maximum optical zoom). It's wild and one of the more exciting things in smartphones right now.

The motorized selfie camera is a whole other topic: yeah, it's wide too and actually genuinely pretty good—but it does need to slide out when you're using it. I thought I would hate this, but it's fast to open and well integrated into the software with a subtle animation on the screen as it's popping up.

Selfie camera opening OnePlus 7 Pro

While I was initially worried about a motorized camera, I came to realize there's a huge benefit of having it tucked away: it's private by default. 

I don't love having a camera pointing at me all day, and with it tucked away unless it's being used I can be sure it's not secretly watching me. That was a good part of why I never really wanted an iPhone X anyway—you can't change your face, so you shouldn't use it as your password—I'm willing to take the risk on motorized for that, and actually came to like it! Plus it's a fun party trick, I guess.

Taking a selfie on the OnePlus 7 Pro

The side effects of that camera are a little funny, however, with it automatically popping up if you swipe to stories on Instagram to upload a photo, and occasionally being surprising when accidentally triggered! 

That said, it works well and I've had zero problems with it in general—a surprising non-issue in every day use, and far better as a solution to front-facing cameras than notches ever were. I'd be willing to take a bet that the mechanism will last a long time, provided it's not repeatedly shoved back down, which I'm more than happy with.

Performance and boring spec bits

Demonstrating Google Maps on OnePlus 7 Pro

In 2019, I find it needlessly dull to talk about phone specifications and performance and prefer to leave it out, but in this case, it's worth mentioning: the 7 Pro is a beast. 

Comparing to the Pixel 3, the 7 Pro is like a Toyota Prius trying to race a Tesla Model S. Not only does the 7 Pro have a ton more RAM (between 6-8GB depending on the model you choose, versus just 4GB in the Pixel), but its CPU is clearly leagues ahead if you directly compare them.

In practice, this means apps stay in the background for longer without being suspended, so you can switch between a bunch of stuff and they won't resume from sleep or forget what you were doing. 

The high refresh rate display, which I mentioned earlier, also contributes dramatically to this feeling. Because animations are rendering at 30-40% faster frame rates, everything just feels faster, and I saw far fewer visual glitches with the 7 Pro than I ever have on the Pixel 3.

It feels far more like an iPhone in this regard, as Apple's performance management has always meant that devices feel responsive, never alluding to heavy workloads that might be going on.

The Pixel 3 never felt slow, but the best way to explain it is that the 7 Pro just feels really fast by comparison, and it's hard to undo once you've experienced that. 

The software

Android on OnePlus 7 Pro vs Pixel 3 compared

Out of all the Android manufacturers, there are very few that offer a 'pure' Android experience, which I'd argue is the largest benefit of using a Pixel. Pure Android is lovely to use, but Samsung, LG and everyone else slather on their custom interfaces, crufting them up in the process.

OnePlus walks a delicate line between pure Android, with a little extra customization magic sprinkled on top. There are useful enhancements, such as a 'parallel apps' feature that lets you clone certain apps like Uber, so you can log in to two separate accounts on one device—these add value without ruining the experience.

I don't love the default OnePlus launcher, which feels messy even out of the box, but the good news on Android is you can just change that! Flipping on Lawnchair launcher provides a Pixel-like experience without much hassle, and was worth the five minutes it took to set up.

Where OnePlus has customized Android, it does so tastefully, too. In the control center, for example, the buttons feature cute animations while transitioning, a nice touch. It's also possible to disable certain status bar icons by default, like the NFC logo, and force the screen to always stay in QHD+ mode.

One of the best additions, and the most surprising, is that OnePlus offers an alternative to Google's official gestures that hide the buttons altogether. I had always wondered why Apple and Google wasted screen real estate with white bars to indicate gestures, which OnePlus' gestures forgo entirely.

Flip on the setting and the Android on-screen buttons disappear forever, and apps are stretched to the bottom of the display, making it truly edge-to-edge. To get home, you swipe up from the bottom edge, and going back is a swipe upward from the left or right sides of the screen. 

These are so much more intuitive than Google's own gestures, and don't interfere with the menu bar gesture that every Android user is already using, unlike the changes arriving in Android Q.

Other than this, my one gripe: the always-on display is no good. In fact, it's not always-on at all, and it only wakes up when a notification arrives or if I double-tap on the screen. 

The ambient display on Pixel is one of my favorite features, and it reduces my notification anxiety: I can see the time and any notifications without waking up the phone and getting sucked in, and omitting this seems like a bizarre miss.

OK, but...

Pixel 3 vs OnePlus 7 Pro

All of this said, the OnePlus 7 Pro has a serious problem: it's enormous, to the point that I find it difficult to hold. Yes, it's beautiful, but it's impossible to do anything productively with a single hand, because that screen goes on forever

I don't know if this is a technical limitation that drew OnePlus to make it so large, or if it was a design decision, but it feels about an inch over the top, and that ruins the experience in so many ways. It feels akin to holding a surfboard in my hand, and is so unwieldy that I constantly worried about dropping it by accident.

The 7 Pro is so good across the board that I can forget this at times, but whenever I only have a single hand free, it's a painful reminder of the enormity of the phone. And when I say painful, I mean literally, it hurt to hold this thing after a while, because it's heavy and big. 

I have fairly average-size hands for a man, and asking around, the size of the device seemed to be the second thing on people's mind, after wow, this is cooler than an iPhone. I mean, look at the photo below and tell me that looks comfortable—it's

Had OnePlus had made the 7 Pro available in the Pixel 3's form factor, stretching the display to the edge, it would be just right, but as it stands, I just can't get past the size today. I want to switch to this phone in almost every other regard, but between the hit-and-miss camera and the enormous size, it's hard to commit to. 

Obviously this will probably be largely subjective, and you should try one for yourself to see if it's too big to hold. For me, it's the deal-breaker on a device that hits so many good notes across the board—an inch smaller and I could probably deal with it.

One other thing that makes the device stand out is dual physical SIMs. As someone who has moved countries once, and probably will again at some point, this is a killer feature for me. 

Being able to have my home SIM in and get two-factor codes or phone calls is the best, and it was particularly useful when I visited Canada and my European plan didn't cover data there. 

There's a bunch of other annoying smaller bits, but for the large part, OnePlus did a good job, and the experience is one of the best out there in the Android world.

The verdict

OnePlus 7 Pro on a table

If you can get past the size, I'd argue that the 7 Pro is the best Android phone available today. For the price, starting at $699, it feels like a steal given the Pixel 3 starts at $799, and the quality of the hardware in general feels much more premium for the price.

But, for me, I'll be sticking with the Google Pixel. We've reached the point in smartphones where I want something reliable, with regular updates, and a great camera. I love the hardware OnePlus is doing, but the size puts me off, the camera isn't quite up to scratch and the first-party Google updates/support are a big advantage.

If you don't care about that, or just want to feel like you live in the future, today, the OnePlus 7 Pro is for you. It's a great phone, at a killer price, and you'll have the thing everyone else will probably clone two years from now, today.

Most importantly: OnePlus has put Apple on notice. When an iPhone can easily breach $1,000 these days, it feels like you're getting a $3,000 phone in the 7 Pro, for a fraction of the cost, and long-term, it's going to be difficult to convince people to splash out when it comes time to upgrade.

📱 OnePlus 7 Pro — starts at $699

The good
  • 👍 Lovely display with high refresh-rate
  • 👍 Great hardware design
  • 👍 Pop-up camera = private by default
The bad
  • 👎 It's enormous
  • 👎 Software updates and support not as good as Google
  • 👎 Cameras are hit-and-miss

Our score


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By Owen Williams

Owen is an independent technology journalist with a background in software development and helping people understand the industry. Based in the Netherlands, Owen writes a weekly column for Medium's OneZero, and was previously Editor at The Next Web and Digital Director at VanMoof. 

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