OnePlus 9 Pro vs iPhone 12 Pro Max: has OnePlus made the ultimate "flagship killer"?
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If you want a true rival to the iPhone 12 Pro Max that is not made by Samsung, the OnePlus 9 Pro is probably your best option.
The new phone by OnePlus has one of the most hyped camera systems and bears the iconic Hasselblad logo on its back, but does the hype really translate in a camera system that can beat the iPhone?
This might be the biggest lingering question, but it's not the only one. After years of making cheaper "flagship killer" phones, the OnePlus 9 Pro is now a flagship itself, with a price of $1,070 in the US, just $30 shy of the the iPhone 12 Pro Max (the difference grows to $130 if you compare the OnePlus against the same 256GB storage model of the iPhone).
So... OnePlus no longer can use its lower price as much of an excuse, and it has to face the big boys. Is the OnePlus 9 Pro the ultimate "iPhone killer" that won't "settle"? There is only one way to find out, so let's put the 9 Pro side by side with the iPhone 12 Pro Max, and get to comparing them in this epic clash of flagships.
Hint: one of these phones comes with a charger in the box ;)
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Design and Size
The OnePlus is not as bulky as the iPhone, and it feels more comfortable to handle
While both the OnePlus 9 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have the same size 6.7-inch screens on paper, the tapered edges of the OnePlus make it actually much narrower and way more comfortable to hold, while the extra width and flat sides of the iPhone make it feel too big and definitely less comfortable to hold and handle. We also appreciate that the OnePlus is an ounce lighter compared to the iPhone, which weighs in at almost exactly half a pound and definitely feels on the heavy side. The two feel equally well put together and they also both have an IP68 water protection rating, which we appreciate.
You get the standard toughened glass on the back here, with a matte finish on the iPhone, while on the OnePlus, you have the silver version with a glossy finish, while the green one comes with a matte texture, which is a nice variety to have. We also love the gradient on the silver model that gives the OnePlus a bit of a special look, while the iPhone has a more traditional and a bit less exciting, single color appearance.
One cool little feature that both share (and that you don't get on phones by other brands) is the mute switch! It's a two-way button on the iPhone that toggles between sound on mode and a vibrate mode, while on the OnePlus it is a 3-way button for either fully silent mode, vibrate only or sound on.
And as for what's missing on both, well... that's a headphone jack, but that's hardly unexpected these days.
With a fast, 120Hz refresh rate the OnePlus has the smoother moves
Both the OnePlus 9 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max have extra large screens measuring 6.7 inches and both are of the OLED kind with rich and vibrant colors, excellent viewing angles, and they also get very bright outdoors. In short, these are two incredibly good looking screens.
There are some differences between the two, though, and the biggest one is that the OnePlus supports a 120Hz fast refresh rate, so scrolling on that screen appears much smoother, while the iPhone runs at half that rate, 60Hz.
The OnePlus screen also has the slightly higher resolution, but to be honest, you really have to look very up close to notice the differences and from a normal viewing distance both of them look perfectly sharp.
For screen nerds, below you will find the complete specs for each of these displays:
|OnePlus 9 Pro||iPhone 12 Pro Max|
|Display size||6.7", curved||6.7", flat|
|Resolution, density||1440 x 3200 pixels, 516ppi||1284 x 2778 pixels, 458ppi|
|Frame rate||1Hz - 120Hz Dynamic||60Hz|
|Peak brightness||1,300 nits||1,200 nits|
|Additional features||HDR support||HDR support|
The iPhone also retains its signature notch, which houses the complex Face ID sensors and front camera, while the OnePlus features a much more discrete punch hole camera on the side that doesn't obstruct your view. You get used to the notch on the iPhone in daily use, but it remains an annoyance while watching videos and playing games.
We have also done our traditional suite of display measurements and you can dive in even deeper in the numbers below:
The Snapdragon 888 on the OnePlus is fast, but not as fast as the Apple A14
The OnePlus 9 Pro comes equipped with the latest and most powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip, while the iPhone 12 Pro Max uses Apple's home-grown A14 Bionic chip.
Both are the most powerful solutions for each platform, using the most advanced 5nm manufacturing technology. Still, they are not the same. In fact, the cross-platform GeekBench shows a noticeable advantage for the A14:
|GeekBench 5 Single-core||GeekBench 5 Multi-core|
|Apple A14 Bionic (measured on iPhone 12 Pro Max)||1593||4235|
While important for specs nerds, this is probably not something that the average user should be overly concerned with as both phones will provide sufficient speed for most tasks. In fact, the faster 120Hz screen refresh rate on the OnePlus might actually be the deciding factor in perceived smoothness, and not the processor.
Sustained Performance in gaming
The above screenshots should be of great interest to gamers. These are the results from the 3D Mark Wildlife benchmark which unlike other gaming benchmarks that only run for a couple of minutes, runs for 20 minutes straight, with intense gaming to see whether the chips inside the phones will heat up and throttle after extended heavy use.
It reveals a few interesting behaviors, notice how the iPhone is capable of super powerful bursts of performance, but it quickly throttles to its regular working temperature after just a minute, while the Snapdragon on the OnePlus kind of throttles but is then again able to bounce back to peak performance.
5G and Wi-Fi Connectivity
The big question around the OnePlus 9 Pro is whether it will be available on all US carriers or not.
Currently, T-Mobile is the only carrier to offer the phone, but the phone has also been certified by Verizon Wireless, so you can use it on both carriers. The OnePlus 9 Pro is not certified for AT&T's 5G network, meaning that if you take it to that carrier, it will only work on its LTE network.
The iPhone, on the other hand, has the advantage of being available for all three US carriers AND supporting mmWave 5G. Is that something you should care about? If you are among the 1% that have mmWave coverage AND you really need those super fast speeds, than yes, but for most users this shouldn't be a deciding factor.
In terms of Wi-Fi connectivity, both phones support Wi-Fi 6, but we have noticed in our usage that the OnePlus has the much longer range and stays connected in places where the iPhone drops the Wi-Fi signal. If you have a weak connection or no connection in places in your house, and you cannot upgrade your Wi-Fi setup, switching to the OnePlus phone might actually solve your problems.
Can a OnePlus phone match the camera quality of the iPhone?
For years, the number one complaint against OnePlus is that the company just wasn't able to make a camera that would be on par with the very best. Well, last year's OnePlus 8 Pro challenged that assumption, it was the first truly great camera by the brand, and we have high expectations for the OnePlus 9 Pro as well.
First, here is a look at the camera specs on each phone:
|Camera Specs||OnePlus 9 Pro||Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max|
|Main camera||48MP Sony IMX789 sensor, 23mm lens, f/1.8 aperture, OIS||12MP sensor, 26mm 7P lens, f/1.6 aperture, sensor-shift stabilization|
|Ultra-wide camera||50MP Sony IMX766 sensor, 14mm lens, f/2.2||12MP sensor, 13mm lens, f/2.4 aperture|
|Telephoto camera||8MP, 3X zoom (69mm), f/2.4 aperture, OIS||12MP sensor, 2.5x zoom, 65mm lens, f/2.2 aperture, OIS|
|Other camera||2MP monochrome camera||LiDAR|
The biggest difference might just be in how wide the main camera on the OnePlus is compared to a noticeably narrower view on the iPhone main cam. Let's take a look at some photos:
< OnePlus 9 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max >
The main difference in daytime photos comes down to colors: the OnePlus has these more neutral tones compared to a more vibrant look on the iPhone with much higher contrast. We would argue that the iPhone has a bit larger than life colors, but they do "pop" more and usually catch the eye of the viewer .
< OnePlus 9 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max >
When it comes to zooming, the OnePlus can go up to 30X zoom, while the iPhone maxes out at 12 zoom in photos. At about 3X zoom the quality is similar and the iPhone even has a bit of an advantage, but long range zoom like the above 10X zoom shot is a win for the OnePlus.
Portrait mode above can be hilariously wrong on OnePlus phones and sometimes takes two or three attempts. The iPhone is by no means perfect, but it usually gets it more or less right from the first go.
< OnePlus 9 Pro iPhone 12 Pro Max >
And here is a portrait photo using the wider, 1X view, where again the OnePlus has weirdly cut out a part of my head.
In low light, the OnePlus usually captures slightly darker photos than the iPhone, but they have a more authentic "night time" feel, while the iPhone is brighter but looks a bit doctored.
And this above photo shows that the iPhone can sometimes get the white balance completely wrong, this building definitely has white walls as you see them on the OnePlus.
OnePlus teased its new ultra-wide camera like the second coming and it certainly performs well, but maybe not quite up to the incredible hype.
It is in low light, however, that we see the true power of the ultra-wide camera on the OnePlus as it can capture even better photos than rivals.
On the video front, you can shoot up to 8K video on the OnePlus, while on the iPhone you get 4K video resolution. On the other hand, you can record HDR at 10-bit and 4K resolution on the iPhone, while the OnePlus cannot record HDR video.
Do keep in mind that both these extras come at the expense of file size: 8K video files take up 1GB of space for just a minute of recording and lack any form of video stabilization, so a gimbal is strongly recommended, while 4K HDR on the iPhone also takes a bunch of space to record, but at least it does support video stabilization.
At the regular, non-HDR 4K30 recording option that most people would use, we found that the iPhone captures a bit more in the frame with its main camera, while the OnePlus crops in, and when you switch to the ultra-wide camera, the difference grows even more as the iPhone has the much wider field of view. Stabilization is good on both phones, but if you have to be picky, there is a bit of a jitter as you walk on the OnePlus, while footage from the iPhone appears almost perfectly smooth. In low light, the iPhone definitely had the better dynamic range and we would give it the upper hand.
Battery Life and Charging speeds
- 4,500mAh battery for OnePlus 9 Pro vs 3,687mAh battery on iPhone 12 Pro Max
- OnePlus 65W fast charging vs iPhone 20W fast charge
- OnePlus has fastest ever wireless charge at 50W vs 15W
Finally, these two have different battery sizes. Android phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro typically come with larger batteries than iPhones, and this is also true here as the 9 Pro has a 4,500mAh battery, significantly larger than the 3,687mAh battery on the iPhone. That's a nearly 20% difference in size!
However, in our daily routine, we noticed the OnePlus 9 Pro draining a bit faster than the iPhone. On a typical day, starting at around 8am with a fully charged phone, yours truly would need to top up the OnePlus at about 8pm, while the iPhone would usually last all the way until the morning or even into the next day.
That's anecdotal evidence of course, but we have also run a series of battery benchmarks in identical conditions on both phones and below are the results:
Interestingly, in web browsing, which is our light use test case, the iPhone smoked the OnePlus with nearly two and a half hours better score, but in YouTube video playback and for 3D gaming, the OnePlus lasted longer.
For charging, the iPhone 12 Pro Max can only go up to 20W, while the OnePlus 9 Pro supports 65W wired charging speeds. And yes, this is literally three times faster! Currently, the 12 Pro Max takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes for a full charge, while the OnePlus 9 Pro will charge fully in just around 30 minutes, which is indeed super impressive.
Oh, and while we're on the charging topic, the iPhone was the first mainstream phone to ship without a charger, an unfortunate move that luckily OnePlus does not follow as the 9 Pro comes with a charger in the box for free. Take that Apple!
Both the OnePlus 9 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max also support wireless charging, but again, Apple is going with slower speeds. The current MagSafe wireless technology supports up to 15W speeds, while the 9 Pro can top up fully in just 43 minutes with the compatible 50W wireless charger that OnePlus sells separately for $70.
Finally, let's look at the prices. OnePlus phones used to cost as low as $300 for the original "flagship killer" OnePlus One, only to reach full flagship level these days. The OnePlus 9 Pro starts at $970, which is higher than the $900 initial price of last year's OnePlus 8 Pro, but keep in mind that in the United States you can only buy the $1,070 256GB version of the 9 Pro. Don't forget that neither of these two phones supports expandable storage, and the storage you buy is what you get.
And here is a price comparison:
|OnePlus 9 Pro||iPhone 12 Pro Max|
*not available in the US
Yes, the OnePlus is still marginally cheaper than the iPhone, but the difference is almost negligible these days.
With all things considered, has OnePlus managed to create the ultimate "iPhone killer"? It seems that the 9 Pro falls a bit short of the hype, especially in the camera department, but it's a solid Android flagship with great build quality, fast and clean interface, industry-leading fast charging tech and an improved camera that is very good but just a step short of great. The iPhone, on the other hand, provides you with that iOS fix, and the ecosystem that comes with it in the form of AirPods, Apple Watch, AirTags, etc. It's also a truly great camera and we found that its battery lasts a bit more in average use.
So... pick your favorite and let us know your reasons why in the comments below!
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