The OnePlus 9 Pro is a nice phone, and one I have no problem recommending to a fan of the brand, but if you really want the best bang for your buck at this price range, the Galaxy S21+ is just a better phone.
We as tech reviewers and content creators get asked very often what kind of smartphone is the best — and we never have any one answer. It almost always comes down to us responding with our own question: “what is it that you prioritize from your smartphone experience?”
Often it seems like a hard question to answer, especially in an age when smartphones are trying to be powerhouses and everything to everyone. But one company has been illustrating what products can look like when you prioritize and optimize some features over others. But here we might have the most compelling example of what that philosophy entails. This is our POCO F3 review.
Third time’s a charm
If you’ve followed POCO over the years, you will know what to expect from the latest in the F line. After all, the first Pocophone F1 was a deliberate appeal to people who wanted high-powered internals but weren’t too pressed on the aesthetics.
POCO themselves make it clear they know you might put a case on this, so a bit less effort on the design front was needed, which could further bring down the price. But I have to admit that while that philosophy definitely remains, the POCO F3 is quite the step forward in the company’s design.
The F3 is delightfully thin, managing to pack in quite a few good points in a body that is sleek and pretty attractive. The fact that the phone is thin means any cases you put on it, like the included clear case, will add to the ergonomics and keep from making things too bulky. I like that it’s a clear case too — despite my unit having a typical glossy black backing made of Gorilla Glass, I still like the look overall.
POCO made a couple of other colors of the F3 that stand out more, including that blue edition that puts a bit more flair around extra branding. If anything, the phone gives me some Galaxy S20 FE vibes with its flat display, center punch hole camera, and comfortable curve on the backing.
POCO F3 specs
Subtle touches like having a proper power button that still has a fingerprint reader in it are appreciated — while I never really thought about the difference, I’ll admit that feeling for the real power button is a win for tactility. Finally, the display is quite large at 6.67 inches, meaning there is plenty of room for all of the media and gaming that you might do here given the internals.
And that’s really the biggest story with the POCO F3 — the powerful spec sheet. So let’s just go through all of that now. The F3 sports the Snapdragon 870, the processor that lands under the top of the line Snapdragon 888 but is still a step up from the well-regarded Snapdragon 865. It’s great to see that there is increased nuance in performance processors, because it means that manufacturers like POCO have plenty of choices of what to use, without much fear of sacrificing much in terms of speed and reliability.
Think of it as an RTX 2070 instead of a 2080 — you know you’re still going to have a good time even if you’re not rocking with the absolute best. So it’s no surprise that the Snapdragon 870 is a proper workhorse, taking everything that you can throw at it, including high-performance gaming. I even played a bunch of different games in a bunch of different ways without issue whatsoever.
Couple the heart of the POCO F3 with some supporting specs like up to 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of storage, and nearly every type of typical smartphone user will have enough room to get work done, watch a ton of stuff, and comfortably play all of the games available in the Google Play Store in the foreseeable future. The heart of this phone is really its main draw, and POCO continues to give it the right attention.
Cutting just enough
The other layer to that attention is making sure their offerings are affordable. POCO prices this phone at around $400 US, which again begs the question of ‘what do you prioritize the most?’ Well, POCO paints the picture for you and all other manufacturers as to what the answer could be.
Let’s start with the display. It’s a large but vibrant AMOLED display that isn’t QuadHD resolution. Most of you out there won’t mind, and for everyone else, when you remind yourself of the price, it makes perfect sense. A higher resolution is a norm in high-end smartphones, but as POCO’s flagship, the F3 doesn’t see it that way — instead, the company puts more focus on the AMOLED offering because it is not something you get in the other phone they released, the X3 Pro.
AMOLED helps MIUI achieve always-on display capabilities on top of making nearly all viewing enjoyable. The other specific inclusions include the 120hz refresh rate, which makes the experience silky smooth in both interface and gaming. Speaking of gaming, 360hz touch sampling ensures that you have accurate and ultra-responsive results when playing. All of this is to say that the display has just enough of what you could call luxuries stripped away while leaving a clear picture of what many users will find essential to their viewing and touch experience. Sure, you can look past all of this give and take and strive for even high-powered displays, but then the price will go up in a hurry.
Admittedly, there are a few other places where the cuts get a little deeper. POCO did away with the headphone jack, opting for the USB-C adapter route. Thankfully, the speakers are quite good, as the F3 has a stereo setup via the grills on the top and bottom. The onboard storage is fixed without an SD card slot.
The 4,520mAh battery, which actually gave me impressive runtimes, is charged by an included 33W fast wired brick and cable — however, wireless charging is completely omitted. Another luxury, sure, but still something worth noting. These are all things you have to consider when looking at the POCO F3 — your priorities might set you on a different path with a completely different price point, but I think POCO did a great job of creating a package of essentials that make us all question just how much we actually need certain features or luxuries.
Making MIUI look like my UI
Some thoughts on the software before we get to the place where POCO definitely and famously dials things back. MIUI, with the POCO Launcher, in this case, is more or less business as usual — but that’s in terms of MIUI’s recent developments and in the scope of other Android iterations.
What was once a convoluted and rather overwhelming package of features and design choices is now easier to fathom, at least on the surface. The home screens even bear Google Discover as the extra screen and the many different features MIUI touts are easily accessible but mostly tucked away.
And then you start digging — the robust AoD customizations are always welcome, the notification center and quick settings can actually be split now depending on which side from the top you swipe down from, and the robust theme store makes it easy to really change up the look if you want to get creative. One feature I’ve personally used a ton is floating windows, through which I shrunk certain apps like Telegram and put them in the corner while playing games or watching media. It’s a key feature in the Game Space layer, after all, which gives players access to performance monitoring, game recording, and more.
MIUI still comes with its many extras, including preinstalled games and applications which take some time to remove. And every time you install something from the Play Store, MIUI’s security layer performs a scan and will serve you an ad if you haven’t turned that off yet. Indeed, MIUI is still a service-forward operating system, which might bother some people who don’t want to be fed suggestions or recommendations across portions of the interface. But with some time and a little work, MIUI can be as simple or as showy as you prefer.
Shutterbugs, look elsewhere
Okay, that brings us to the camera, which can be summed up pretty simply: this is not a package for people who think the cameras make or break the value of a smartphone. That’s not to say the POCO F3 is bad at taking photos and videos, it’s just not going to hold a candle to top-tier smartphones whose cameras get an hour of presentation time during events.
True to current norms, the POCO F3 sports three rear cameras — the main sensor is a 48MP shooter while the supporting sensors are an 8MP ultra-wide and a 5MP macro. Obviously, the best results come from the main sensor, which will do well in good lighting situations as most phones do. Binning brings the results down to 12MP photos, which are also helped along by HDR and post-processing.
All of this lends to decent lower light photos, too, before you move over to the actual dedicated Night Mode. The other sensors are decidedly lesser experiences, with the ultra-wide providing the dramatic looks but far less detail and quality. And finally, the macro lens is a novelty shooter that gets you close to subjects and fairly decent results as long as you have a really steady hand.
So, clearly, this is not a phone for avid smartphone creators — instead, it’s the example of the axiom ‘the best shooter is the one on you.’ When you do need to get a quick shot or a memory, you have a capable main shooter that won’t excel in quality or resolution but will get you that snapshot or simple video. That also goes for selfies via the 20MP front-facing shooter.
There will be no 4K, or perfect portrait cutouts using this smartphone, but I would venture to say many of you watching this will be okay with that — besides, if high creation was your first need, you probably already knew not to look toward POCO for it. Casual creatives — maybe those who do enjoy their social media from time to time — can have a good time with the POCO F3, since MIUI’s camera app does afford this shooter plenty of options for having fun, including dual video recording, the clone mode, and the recently introduced Movie Effects. The camera might not be the best, but again — that was never meant to be the point.
Short expense for the long term
The point, then, was to make a phone that was compelling enough in all the right ways to appeal to the most common type of user — the one looking for a balance between everyday work or enjoyment and the price.
Every phone manufacturer has its ways of tackling this equation, and often it’s at the expense of the overall performance. But those phones around this price point often go obsolete quickly in multiple spec departments, especially the camera. It seems POCO sought to just embrace that truth and make sure that their flagship phone can still be one you can rely on years from now since the powerful Snapdragon 870 is sure to handle all that Android demands of it for years to come.
Other phones with midrange processors, less active software development, and even more dialed back specifications will require a replacement once their essentials begin to show signs of slowing down. And that’s all before the cameras even factor in. The POCO F3 is far from the perfect phone, and that was by design — because it might be the perfect example of the phone to get when the balance of high performance and low price outweigh everything else.
Microsoft released a beta of their web-based xCloud game streaming service recently. It would seem that this version of the service will work with any web browser that supports WebRTC, so let’s see how that works.
I decided to plug an Xbox controller into the USB port of my Pinebook Pro running Manjaro Linux and the open-source Chromium web browser.
If you have an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, you can try the new beta web-based streaming service at Xbox.com/Play as well. The system requirements say that you need a Windows 10 PC or an Apple iOS 14+ device, but… guess what… Linux works, too.
Of course, you’ll also want a high-speed 10Mbps+ internet connection for the streaming, and an Xbox controller plugged in via USB or paired via Bluetooth. Microsoft mainly built this version because Apple won’t let them make a game streaming app for the Apple App Store, so the web-based method is a workaround for that. The bonus is that this web-based version happens to work with a lot of other platforms too.
This Pinebook Pro has extremely low specs by the way. It’s a six-core, 1.4GHz, Pine64 ARM processor with only 4GB of RAM and 64GB eMMC storage. If that was running Windows 10, everything would be laggy!
See below for how Xbox Game Streaming actually works on this very inexpensive Linux laptop running Manjaro XFCE Linux.
As you’ll see, the simple games work quite well, while more action-oriented games are probably going to need a bit more processing power on the client-side. Outriders worked ok, but there was certainly some latency, and Halo 5 Guardians turned out to be practically unplayable.
OK, so, we started scripting this video as your typical Pocketnow Daily, where I go through a recap of all things Apple, but then I realized I had just too much to say to only report the news. The event ended, and then I was hoping for a “One More Thing,” and it didn’t happen.
Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what was announced was great, then some was expected, and then some was underutilized potential, and some just didn’t happen, so let’s dive in. I’m Jaime Rivera with Pocketnow and let’s dive into our Apple Spring Loaded Event recap..
So let me start with the things we didn’t get.
No AirPods, which have been heavily rumored for this event. Seems Ming-Chi Kuo’s predictions were right in that production won’t begin until the fall.
No iPad mini update, which at this point seems either dead or maybe some silent update that’ll come later. We’re gonna talk more about iPad soon, and why I’m so disappointed.
As for what we did get, historically this was once a Services event, and we got some of that. Apple Card now supports families, so spouses can share credit together, and you can even share your card with children 14 and older with spending limits. I guess Apple has never met my kids.
Now, something I’m a bit disappointed about is Apple Podcasts, but I might just have to wait for it to launch. Right now all we heard was a new design, with recommended content to explore, ways to subscribe and get early access to content, and support for 170 regions. What we didn’t hear was support for video, which I’m hoping I miraculously missed or something. If Apple wants to bank on how popular video has become to this medium and how Spotify is leveraging this, they need to act fast.
Purple iPhone 12
Also, in a very non-Apple fashion, we get a new color for the iPhone 12 being released mid-term. This isn’t new though, we saw it with the white iPhone 4, and with the Product Red editions of iPhone, but a product purple is interesting. By the way, the original code name of the iPhone project was Purple, so it’s funny that we had to wait 13 years to actually get one. Yes, it’s for both the regular 12 and the mini, with pre-orders starting Friday and available on April 30th.
Now, a big deal was made about how Apple’s Find My feature is taking a step further with AirTags. Guys this is not your typical Bluetooth Tracker. If you have an iPhone with a U1 chip, Apple offers something called Precision Finding, which provides visual, audible, and haptic feedback of where your product is, and not just sounds or a half-baked map view. There are added privacy measures to void unwanted detection, and there will be a ton of accessories that help you clamp them to whatever you want. Pre-orders start Friday, and they’re available on April 30th. They start at $30 bucks, but you can get 4 for $100.
Apple TV 4K
A product I thought was going to die into TV apps was the company’s Apple TV, but nope, the 4K variant is getting some much-needed updates. A12 Bionic chip that can now play HDR content at a high refresh rate, meaning if you filmed anything in Dolby Vision on your iPhone 12 Pro, you’ll finally be able to watch it streamed through AirPlay. To ensure color accuracy, there’s now even a Color Balance feature that helps you use your iPhone to calibrate the signal the Apple TV will send to your television. Maybe what took too long to see is this new Siri Remote.
The previous one was terrible. Now, in iPod fashion, you have a click pad that’s touch-enabled and allows circular gestures for job control. There is now a Power and a Mute button for you to control your TV, and the Siri button is now out of the way, as it should be. That starts at $179 for 32 gigs of storage, with more capacity for a couple of extra bucks, with pre-orders beginning April 30th. But then from now on, you’re gonna be hearing a lot of – available in the second half of May, which is not like Apple. Odd we’re not getting confirmed dates.
24-inch iMac M1
But alright, as for the two cool kids in the room, let’s talk about the first, the M1 iMac. This portion of the event started well with those Spectrum colors paying an homage to the original iMac. That whole slim body we’ve dreamed of is here. I mean it was all going well, but those white bezels, like, who can get immersed in content with that? Anyways, it’s powered by the M1 chip, and this is what allows such a slim profile.
There are two fans that don’t make more than 10 decibels of noise at the bottom, with a logic board that’s tiny when compared to the past. This is now a 24-inch 4.5K retina display that supports the P3 color gamut, 500 nits of brightness, True Tone, a reflective coating, you get the picture. I’m honestly more excited for the 1080p camera with computational video and a 3 mic array that allows beamforming so that the rest of the room doesn’t bother your calls. There’s also spatial audio thanks to a crazy set of speakers at the bottom, there’s a magnetic fabric cable behind that has an ethernet port on the power adapter. Like seriously pretty cool.
There’s even a new set of Mac Keyboard accessories with two supporting Touch ID, a new Magic trackpad, and Magic Mouse with new colors to match, though we’re still not sure if they still charge awkwardly through lightning. Even better, this would be the first M1 product with more than one USB C port. There’s actually 4 with two supporting Thunderbolt, though obviously in the worse placement ever at the back.
Cause it wouldn’t be an iMac if that wasn’t weird, but there are a couple of catches you should know. First, the Price starts at $1299, but then color options are limited, you don’t get the ethernet adapter on the power brick, and you lose the two extra USB C ports, and touch ID on the magic keyboard unless you buy separately. To get all the bells and whistles, you have to pick the $1499 or $1699 models. Orders also start on April 30th, with availability in the second half of May. I think even that base model is enough for anyone looking for a powerful creative beast since we’ve proven the M1 has exceeded expectations on Apple’s laptops.
Honestly, I think my biggest problem is with the second product. So to provide some context, ever since the first-generation iPad, we’ve dreamed about Apple making a tablet. Steve Jobs famously made fun of it. But at the time, the dream included OS X. The last thing we wanted was an iPod Touch with a larger canvas, and this is why it was so highly criticized. The only reason it took off was that it was priced way below what people predicted. And listen, I get it, the iPad wasn’t ideal, but its A4 chip laid the foundation that created the M1 chip that now has every chip maker and their mother fighting to catch up to. So of course, you start an event with an M1 chip on an iPad Pro, at the time when macOS Big Sur already runs on it, and I was literally standing on my chair just ecstatic.
Sadly, no, you have all the power of a MacBook Pro on an iPad Pro, that continues to be neutered by an Operating System that’s designed mostly for phones, oh and by the way, with the phone handling widgets better. So yes, we now have 5G support, the Pro cameras have this crazy motion tracking feature that lets you apply chroma effects in real-time, there’s an ultra-wide Face ID camera that can track you for wider Face Time calls.
Guys, we even get Thunderbolt support over USB-C, and yes, crazy improvements in performance when compared to the previous model. The problem is that if you know anything about iPads, that won’t mean much about how apps will run, so then what’s the point? Also, my second problem is that the whole mini LED display with Pro Display XDR claims is only available on the larger model, which is priced so high that at that point, just buy a MacBook Air and save some money.
But alright, I’m gonna calm down, because I have a little theory when it comes to all this underutilized potential. Either this is the most powerful creative tool that continues to be neutered by its operating system, or Apple has something else up its sleeve. Like, maybe not macOS, but if a Mac can run iPad Apps, what if this the way to get Mac Apps to run on an iPad, and then you choose what form factor you want?
Like, what if this is finally the way to get Final Cut Pro running on an iPad? Cause, unless this happens at Apple’s next event in June, I hate to say this, but you’re fine with an iPad Air or a MacBook Air. There is simply no purpose for this product other than bragging rights of performance you won’t be able to achieve. There’s no such thing as iPad apps that can only run on the Pro models unless you consider Lidar limitations which people barely care about.
Anton D. Nagy contributed to this iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison.
Apple and Google have a very different approach to their line-ups when compared to competitors. While most companies are deliberate about creating a distinction between what’s affordable and what’s not, Apple and Google are really good about blurring the lines for a reason I think others should consider: brand reputation.
The best way for any company to retain customer loyalty is to not water down the experience you get, regardless of the variant you bought. If you know the Pixel brand is known for photography and timely software updates, you expect it at whatever the price the brand is being utilized. To a certain degree that gives consumers peace of mind knowing that choosing a less expensive iPhone is not really a downgrade if what they lose is features they probably don’t care about, and not quality in the experience.
This is why the Pixel 4a and the iPhone SE are so popular. You can go cheap with the confidence that performance is speedy, software updates are guaranteed, and the camera will be better than most, and I think it was a learning experience for Google. To see the company skip flagships for a year and focus more on the experience is only proof of how Apple’s iPhone XR and 11 experiments worked. Success clearly lies in the midrange, but the 2020 approach for both companies is more than interesting.
On one corner we have the iPhone 12, what Apple will never call its mid-ranger, and also the closest kin to the company’s Pro lineup ever. On the other, we have the Pixel 5, what Google calls its Ultimate 5G phone, and yet another case of mid-ranger denial. Right now there’s a bit more than a benjamin standing in-between their price tags if you read the fine print. The biggest question is, which one is the best investment for you.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, part of your decision is already made based on the ecosystem you’re currently on. If you love elements like FaceTime, iMessage, your HomePod, or your Apple Watch, then you’re pretty much locked into your iPhone. Android on the other hand is a bit less stringent since pretty-much every single Google service works on an iPhone, and that even extends to their speakers and smartwatches. Unless you’ve made hefty purchases on the Google Play store that won’t follow you to Apple’s App Store, switching away from Android is easier.
I’ve always been more of a fan of Android’s versatility, but iOS 14 is making the competition tough, and it’s not just the widgets. I actually wish there were more of those six months later, but at least the apps I care about are now supporting this. For me, it’s things like the smarter App Library, and the smart hand-off that happens between products. Cases like how I still struggle to find a better smartwatch than Apple’s offering, or how much I love my AirPods Pro is proof of how valuable Apple’s Ecosystem is in adding value to any iPhone, cheap or expensive.
If only iOS had smarter services, because Siri is no match for the Google Assistant, and the widgets menu is no match for the Google feed. If Android is your jam, no phone does it better than Google’s own. From snappy performance to getting the latest version of Android on day one to the perks in notifications and home control with Android 11, to all the feature drops that Google is pushing out lately, this Pixel 5 is a true investment. I only wish it would be supported for longer, as Apple has already proven to be the king of this by pushing iOS 14 to its 5-year-old iPhone 6S.
The hardware story is quite different though. Not sure if you noticed but this is the first time I don’t compare the best Pixel to a Pro iPhone. Not launching a flagship is kind of a smart move given our current economy, but if we’re to be fair, Apple’s mid-ranger compares to more modern flagships better than the Pixel. It has the same chip from its Pro models, supports all flavors of 5G, has the same connectivity, wireless charging, and IP rating. By contrast, Google decided to pick a midrange chip to cut the cost. It’s no slouch in things like 5G flavors and other forms of connectivity, and if anything sweetens the pot is offering double the starting storage than the iPhone for less money, and all while not skimping on wireless charging and water resistance.
I wouldn’t say either phone does better at 5G or any other form of wireless connection, but I do prefer the Pixel for endurance. The iPhone 12 is no slouch, but somehow Google can really stretch out its power pack for a tad longer.
I’d even say the Pixel has a better display. They’re both gorgeous OLED panels with vibrant color, contrast, and viewing angles, but the iPhone offers a brighter display at up to 1200nits that’s a hair taller and is protected by a stronger ceramic shield. Still, the Pixel has no notch, offers Always-On options, and has the 90hz refresh rate that Apple is already late to adopt. That said since the Pixel lacks an earpiece that can be convenient for phone calls in noisy environments, the iPhone does a far better job at its dual-firing speakers.
As for the rest of the build, even with Google’s choice for Gorilla Glass 6 at the front, the coated aluminum at the back will do a better job at surviving a fall than Apple’s back glass, which is horribly expensive to repair. I’m a bit more inclined towards the flat finish on the iPhone 12 and its color options, but the Pixel 5 in Sage is also quite the looker. The fingerprint scanner at the back is also more useful during this pandemic than Apple’s Face ID as we continue to wait for iOS 14.5, but I do wish Google didn’t remove the privacy features we had on the Pixel 4, as only the iPhone 12 hides your notifications on the lock screen until your face is detected.
The last claim to fame for these phones is photography, and this is the department where we see the most similarities in our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison. Both offer an ultra-wide and a primary camera, and enough software processing to make their specs almost irrelevant. Each company is focusing more on giving you the most practical and automated point and shoot in your pocket, and I think both do a comparable job.
If the Pixel was first at computational photography, the iPhone has caught up almost entirely cause you’ll have a hard time telling them apart during the day. From dynamic range to detail, to even color reproduction, the results are nearly identical at whichever focal length you pick. There were a few cases where I preferred the iPhone for closeups, but very sporadic.
In low light, I think we’ve gotten to the point where other higher-end phones do better than the Pixel. I don’t think the iPhone 12 does better, especially when you switch cameras, but it’s not as if the Pixel is that much better. Obviously the further your subject, the lesser the detail on both.
Selfies and Portraits are the mixed bags where the Pixel does better in most scenarios and is able to capture more than one subject every single time. The iPhone struggles with more than one person, but then provides more natural skin tones in my opinion, even if I do prefer the Pixel’s crop or the lack thereof in portrait mode.
Really the video is where the iPhone just obliterates the Pixel. If you’re a creator looking for a B Camera or home movies are your jam, you should pick the iPhone 12. Even if Stabilization is on-par, the dynamic range and detail that Apple provides are second to none, though remember these are phones, and that only applies with enough light on both cases. Maybe where that’s most evident is in selfie video, where the iPhone has been slaying most Android Phones with 4K at 60fps for a second year in a row, while the Pixel is still stuck at just 1080p, and a very uncomfortable crop for VLOGGING.
To conclude our iPhone 12 vs Pixel 5 comparison, I agree, this is a very tough call. Software is a matter of taste, where I find Apple’s ecosystem to provide more value, along with its longer support in software, but then Google provides a more useful approach to services. The iPhone has more variety in the hardware, but then the Pixel might be more durable and gives you double the storage for less money.
Once you throw the camera into the equation, the Pixel is looking like a better option if you care more about photography, but if video is important to you, it falls really short when compared to the iPhone.
I know, it’s hard to pick, and I’m gonna surprise you by picking the iPhone for the first time ever, and the reason has more to do with commitment. You get more for your money with the Pixel, but for how long? Google has been fumbling around with its Pixel phones since the days of the Nexus a decade ago, while Apple is not playing around. The iPhone has been a driving force for smartphones since its inception. If you’re the kind of person that holds on to a phone for more than a year or wants a good resale value, I think the iPhone is a better pick. Just the simple fact that the chip on this iPhone is on par with Apple’s own MacBooks says a lot about performance in the long run, even if I’d stretch a little extra money for double the storage if I were you.
This is the OnePlus 9 Pro, and by all counts, I think this is the phone the company has wanted to make for years. The product that will establish them more as part of the cool kids, where we see more established players like Samsung and Apple. Companies that have gained enough brand recognition to become status symbols, that have earned customer loyalty for years.
The biggest question is if this is the phone we’ve wanted them to make. This is the company that became famous for flagship killers. Products that defied that establishment with better value at acceptable compromise. There’s even proof that the strategy worked as we saw companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung diversify their lineups in order to launch their own sort of affordable flagships.
Now, in their defense, that flagship killer does exist in the OnePlus 9, which is such a dramatic improvement from before, that it deserves its own separate review. The Pro is more a showcase of everything the company can do, and I think the only way to judge it correctly is to forget the past. I get the impression that OnePlus is so certain of the 9 Pro’s capabilities, that this is the most expensive phone they’ve ever made. This price bracket is tough because we even debate the Apples and Samsungs that created it. That would mean that this phone is better than those, not just for the price, and there’s only one way to find out. This is our OnePlus 9 Pro review, in both video and text format.
OnePlus 9 Pro review video
Even if we’re going clean slate, the OnePlus 9 Pro seems like a blend of many successful ideas from the past. I think Huawei was first at calling any of its phones a Pro, and actually owning that title. Their reputation for cheap phones was so bad in the early days that I wouldn’t even care to review any of them before the Nexus 6P or P10, but then we saw the company drift so dramatically towards quality and capability, that they became a driving force that was hard to be ignored.
I mean, the P40 Pro Plus was my favorite camera on a phone last year. It also demonstrated the importance of co-branding with photography experts like Zeiss on Nokia and Leica on HUAWEI to prove that they’re taking photography seriously. What’s different with OnePlus is that this would be the youngest company to try to do all this, and for Hasselblad, a second chance at getting this right.
Visually, I’m gonna call this my favorite design on a OnePlus phone, ever. No more aggressive camera humps to wobble much on a table, and a far lighter build that feels more balanced in the hand. I’m not sure if it’s the cutout or the co-branding on it, but this phone looks like one of those classic Chevies from the 50s and 60s. I think the morning mist color plays a huge role in that appearance from the top, but the bottom is a mirror that made filming this phone a nightmare.
It does have this cool way of making fingerprints almost blend with the gradient, but I recommend you consider the other matte color options. Still, staples like the three-way mute slider are still here to remind you that this is a OnePlus phone.
From the front, we have the company’s best display on a phone. Dubbed its Fluid Display 2.0, we’re talking OLED with fewer curves, 10-bit color, 1300 nits of brightness, QuadHD+ resolution, and LTPO, so the variable refresh rate can go from 1 to 120hz based on your usage, and we have up to 360hz touch sampling for gaming. Certifications include HDR10+ from the panel and even Dolby Atmos from the speakers for content consumption. Oh, and by the way, this includes Qualcomm’s new Aqstic platform for improved wireless performance.
And since we began talking specs, In typical OnePlus fashion we also have the latest ones, with the amount of RAM and storage directly tied to how much you’re willing to pay. The latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, IP68 resistance, Dual flavors of 5G, and even a Dual-Cell battery that enables Warp Charge 65T, meaning crazy fast 65 watt PD from the charger that’s actually included in the box, or 50-watt wireless that’s only possible if you grab the optional stand. Also, that wireless charging is now reversible for accessories.
That said, I have a feeling you won’t need to charge this phone much. Testing any phone’s 5G in New York is rough, and even if Google Fi is still not pushing blazing speeds, they were good given the city’s infrastructure. Phone calls were loud and crisp even on Subway stations, but this would be the first OnePlus phone I test that isn’t dual-SIM. It might just be that the T-Mobile approach now became regional, so just keep it in mind. Regardless, after 10 days of testing, this proved to be an all-day phone every single time, no matter how hard I taxed it.
A lot of it has to do with Oxygen OS on top of Android 11. Even if OnePlus is not as quick as Google at pushing you new versions of Android, they’ve been number 2 for at least two years. It’s fast, aesthetically pleasing, includes the Google Feed on the launcher, the Power Menu in the power button, but then has its own set of perks focused on flexibility.
You can easily switch to Amazon’s assistant, you have Reading Mode which is still one of my favorites, Zen Mode to force you to take a break from your phone every now and then. Maybe my favorite is to use facial recognition to only show me notifications on the lock screen when it detects it’s me, and the fact that the optical fingerprint scanner on the display can also be used to lock specific apps.
But alright, if anything the first part of this review proves that this is very much a OnePlus phone in everything we’re used to, which is great. I’ve always been a big fan of using them and was accustomed to accepting the OK cameras because the price was just too good. Now we have a Hasselblad collaboration, and a retail ticket to match, and if you were to look at the spec sheet, OnePlus is not playing around. The Primary sensor is one of the best Sony makes right now, the Ultra-Wide is also the best on any phone right now, which doubles as a Macro camera, and even if the Telephoto is not designed to honor all the lunar marketing prowess that Hasselblad is known for, it looks pretty good on paper.
The results are.. Well, good depending on your scenario. If you have enough light you’ll get the typical photos you’ll expect from any phone with great color, contrast, and detail. In close-ups or macro shots, you get some really good dynamic range, though it can blow out colors when taxed too hard. The problem is that the slightest gloom will somehow have the camera software favor light over the shutter. This makes it really hard to capture detail unless you have a steady hand, and the darker it gets, the more the color tuning gets in the way of the detail.
And sure, inconsistencies are expected when switching focal lengths since each is a different sensor, but in some cases, even saturation varies. It’s as if the software magnifies the grain and sometimes makes a dark vehicle look cartoony. If you like to take photos of animals you’ll find yourself frustrated. I get the impression that the software wants to push that Hasselblad contrast so much that it forgets that all that is pointless without detail. Just keep in mind that on the phone they’ll mostly look good. My findings are when you pull these shots into a computer and compare them to other flagships.
That means that obviously at night, finding detail only becomes more difficult. Some photos are good, some are not. The way light reflections are handled could have a lot to do with it, again, because of that slower shutter being used.
You’ll see what I mean in portrait shots where unless your hand is ultra steady, the detail will be lost. Same story with Selfies where I struggle to find any shot that I can say I like as skin tones are just completely gone over this sort of hue the camera is trying to bring in how it handles light.
In video, sure, you have 8K and I love that the ultra-wide sensor is good enough to assist, pushing a far better crop than Samsung. You also have 4K at 60 and even 120 to get some really smooth cinematic shots. Just make sure you have enough light as that will require more shutter work.
Stabilization is somewhat inconsistent though, with some video working well and some not so well, so just keep that in mind. Really my problem is having selfie video that’s 16 times lower in resolution than what the primary cameras can do, throwing the versatility of what you can do with this phone just out the window if you care about being able to frame yourself in-home movies.
In photos, I feel a software update is needed urgently, and in selfie video, I mean the megapixels are there, and if the OnePlus Nord can do 4K, seriously the flagship should too.
OnePlus 9 Pro review conclusion
To conclude, I think that OnePlus has achieved a lot of what it intended with this launch. If the desire was to prove that it could launch a true flagship that competes against the premium sector, the hardware is all there, and all it needs is a bit more software tuning to become one of the best Android phones you can buy right now.
The only problem is perception, and it has a lot to do with how young the brand is. I asked at least 5 friends that were average consumers to pick between the 9 Pro and the iPhone 12 Pro or the Galaxy S21 Plus, which are almost the same price, and none of them picked the OnePlus. Sadly, if the 9 Pro is not really a better phone, or doesn’t have a halo feature that makes those other phones look bad, once you remove the value proposition from the equation, it’s a hard sell.
For sure, in cases like photography, it has Improved a bit, but not completely. And then if the company chooses to trail behind in things like selfie video at a time when social media is a huge part of our lives, then why should you pay more for the 9 Pro if a regular iPhone 12 can tackle these things for less money? If there was one product that needed that whole Never Settle mentality, it’s this one.
If you’re a OnePlus fan, I have no problem recommending the 9 Pro. It’s definitely the best phone they’ve ever made and we know the company is speedy about software updates to address the shortcomings. Now, if you’re not, you might want to consider what features you care about most before choosing this over any of its flagship competitors.
Anton D. Nagy contributed to this Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
With the release of the Galaxy S21 line, Samsung also introduced an update to their truly wireless earbuds. Despite having quite a few options in the lineup — ranging from long battery life to simple sound to interesting bean designs, Samsung decided that they would put all of that together to create their version of a Pro earbud. I have already done a Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review over on my channel, but weeks later I have a couple of extra thoughts on these little earbuds.
Let me put this out there right now: despite me saying these aren’t the absolute best I’ve ever used, the Galaxy Buds Pro has become my go-to every day truly wireless earbuds. So let’s talk through that. This is Pocketnow and this is our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review video
Small yet mighty
The terminology of Pro might make you think that Samsung’s track record of making small earbuds is shifting. Instead, Samsung manages to make earbuds that are basically the same size as the previous Galaxy Buds Live, to the point that style shells for the Live can actually fit on the Buds Pro case.
The overall footprint of the Galaxy Buds Pro is pleasantly small, making for a package that can be thrown easily in any pocket or bag. The case still has some smarts installed, with the USB-C port providing conventional charging on top of the wireless charging capabilities. It’s kind of nice to be able to put the Buds Pro case on a wireless charger while I’m using whatever phone was previously sitting on it — I barely think about how much battery the Live case has, because it’s constantly being topped up. So while it might not have the longevity of the Galaxy Buds+, the give and take means I’ll take the better sound in the Pro despite that sacrifice.
The word Pro
Obviously, the actual shape of the Galaxy Buds Pro is different than the Galaxy Beans — in the first move toward what could constitute the word ‘Pro,’ Samsung comes back to an in-ear driver that creates a seal in one’s ears for better-isolated sound. The result inevitably is better bass response, for a bit more bump than before. That’s not to say Samsung completely moved away from the lessons learned with the Buds Live — the Buds Pro still has a small vent that allows for just a little bit of air to filter through so that you don’t have a total and potentially uncomfortable seal. This is something that actually adds to the earbuds’ ambient sound feature, which we’ll get into later.
The Buds Pro has touch-sensitive areas on both earbuds that can be customized in the app, but basically provide just the typical tap and hold controls. Single, double, and triple taps on either earbud give you playlist control while holding either earbud can control volume, activate voice assistance, or change up the sound modes. Either earbud can be used on their own, making for the usual scenario for me where I have one earbud in until it runs out of battery and then switch up to keep the background tunes or podcasts rolling. And finally, if you want to turn on the pairing mode to get the Buds Pro connected to a new device, both earbuds have to be in and pressed until the mode is activated.
Samsung sound, now Pro
Now obviously sound and sound mode quality might be different across other people’s I found in my JV review and since then, the Buds Pro provides a great listening experience that works for multiple genres of audio content. Finding the right ear tip for a comfortable but robust seal is the first step toward a good sound experience, and I found the already installed tips to be just fine. The music I generally listen to came through very pleasantly, from hip-hop tunes to poppy R&B to electronic songs from Daft Punk (shouts out to them, end of an era). While I did say that there is better bass this time around, I will also admit that I’m a bit of a bass head especially for my hip-hop songs, so it’s good that in the Samsung app there are equalizer settings — Bass Boost was an obvious choice.
But for yet another layer of immersion on top of the raw sound profile, you get the active noise cancellation. That’s part of the joy of the Buds Pro, as the typical construction finally meets the features of the previous releases and puts them all together. The noise cancellation only works when both buds are in, at which point you can select two levels: high and low. The high setting seems to make the bass response stand out even more, so if you have this on with bass boost, you’re definitely in for a bump.
Overall, I’m really happy with the sound of the Galaxy Buds Pro but I have to restate the point I made in my first review: these are not the best-sounding earbuds I’ve ever used — that accolade for me goes to the Sennheiser Momentum 2. They’re also not the best noise-canceling earbuds I’ve ever used — that distinction still goes to the Sony WF1000Xm3. But like I said at the beginning of the video, the Galaxy Buds Pro has become my go-to dailies — and it comes down to how practical they are for my personal utility.
Talk to me
It all has to do with the last sound mode — Ambient Sound. The mode that uses the microphones to funnel in the sounds of the outside world. It’s there so that you can continue engaging comfortably with the outside world, even with both buds in — this is a feature that Samsung took further with detection, where the buds will automatically turn down the volume and max out the ambiance when its sensors and microphones can tell you’re trying to talk to someone. It’s sensitive enough so that the one sentence of ‘sorry, repeat that’ can trigger it.
And while it’s a nice mode to have especially when you’re just jamming out with both buds in, you can forget about singing along with your music. It’s only really useful for those incidental moments like a family member trying to get your attention. I still prefer to have as much environmental awareness as possible. when I’m out and about.
Talking to people in the meat space is one thing, but of course, you can use these earbuds and their microphone arrays for voice and video calls. Here is your test of the microphone quality using the Galaxy S21’s Pro Video mode, where the earbuds can be used as the Bluetooth audio input.
My use case
This brings me to my use case. If you want to just have some literal background tunes while running around and getting things done, you can do what I do and have one of the Buds in at half volume with Ambient Sound on max. Let’s call this the multitasker’s scenario, in that I can listen to audiobooks, podcasts, news, or YouTube videos without it fully taking my attention away from the task at hand. I can continue enjoying that content even if I’m walking around in a grocery aisle, without blocking out speaking scenarios with workers or cashiers. And if I need even more open hearing, a quick tap to pause the media is just fine because the maxed out Ambient Sound mode in just one ear lets me comfortably interact.
This is the way I use the Galaxy Buds Pro more than half of the time. The fact that the sound is plenty good to enjoy, the active noise cancellation does a proper job of blocking out the world, AND the ambient sound mode can help me maintain awareness makes these earbuds one of the most satisfyingly versatile pairs I’ve ever used.
It’s not all high notes, though, as Samsung’s move to marry multiple features into a Pro model actually makes the Galaxy Buds Pro regress a tiny step backward in the fit department. Don’t get me wrong, I love that these are the more typical earbud design because it means the low-end response is better — but it’s almost as if Samsung prioritized small size over design cues that might help keep the buds in one’s ear.
The Galaxy Buds Live, with all of its quirks, fit really nicely in my ears, while the wingtips of the Galaxy Buds+ gave them that needed a bit of extra security. I appreciate that the overall footprint of these earbuds is so small, but without these little extras, extended-wear times for me eventually mean a bit of sweat internally or externally makes them slip. It can get kind of annoying and considering the vast differences in people’s ear sizes and anatomy, obviously, your mileage will vary.
The specter of Samsung
You might have noticed that in this video I’ve been using the Galaxy Buds Pro with a phone that isn’t made by Samsung. The Buds Pro, like most all Samsung accessories, can be used with any Android device as long as you install the companion app. This means installing not just a frontend app, but also some backend services. While all of these things are innate to any Samsung smartphone or tablet, you’ll have to just install the additions to your phone to get the most out of these earbuds.
This includes sound mode switching, the equalizer, getting notifications read aloud, and using the Find My Earbuds feature that blares sounds from each earbud if you forgot to put them back in the case. But for those of you who want the lowest latency, the Gaming Mode feature is only available if you pair these with a Samsung phone. That’s the thing about high featured earbuds like these — Samsung tuned them for best use with a Samsung phone, which makes sense but is something you have to keep in mind.
With the occasion of our Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro review, we want to take this opportunity and award these earbuds with our Recommended badge for all-around value true-wireless earbuds.
All things considered, the Galaxy Buds Pro provides so many features in a package that sums up the best parts of Samsung’s previous audio products. Even though the fit might be a point of contention, the practical use cases that each and every capability the Buds Pro bring to your ears makes them so useful.
If anything, the $199 price tag is right in the middle between the more affordable offerings that don’t have as many features and the higher-priced competitors that excel in certain departments like noise cancellation and battery life. Despite each particular part not being the best, Samsung used the sum of those parts to pleasantly achieve the term ‘Pro.’