OnePlus 9 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G, a price war

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Given that Samsung has running promos for the Galaxy S21 Ultra that bring its starting price down to a grand, while OnePlus issued its first $999 phone last year, the OnePlus 8 Pro, it doesn't seem illogical to compare the upcoming OnePlus 9 Pro with Samsung's finest for the season any more. 

OnePlus is expected to release the 9 series some time in the middle of the spring, and provide an intriguing mix of mid- to high-end features housed in a premium body, bringing its value-for-money fight to T-Mobile in the US, which is said to carry both the OnePlus 9 and the 9 Pro that we are comparing with the S21 Ultra here.

Key OnePlus 9 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra differences:

  • OnePlus 9 Pro charges twice faster wired and thrice wirelessly.
  • OnePlus 9 Pro is lighter and more compact.
  • OnePlus 9 Pro has better display refresh controls, and Pixelworks factory color calibration.
  • OnePlus 9 Pro has the better ultrawide camera.
  • OnePlus 9 Pro is $130 cheaper at launch.
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra has longer battery life.
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra has more memory.
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra has better main and zoom cameras.
  • Galaxy S21 Ultra has display digitizer with S Pen stylus support.

Also read:

OnePlus 9 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra price, size, and display

Hardware-based refresh control, and the Pixelworks color and calibration magic give 9 Pro the best mobile display

  • Price: $969 vs $1199.99 ($999 on promo) for 128GB
  • Colors: Black, Silver and Pine Green vs Black, Silver, Brown, Navy, Titanium
Big 6.7"/6.8" display phones can't be compact, and the OnePlus 9 Pro as well as the Galaxy S21 Ultra can't be an exception. Moreover, the premium glass housings add to the weight and bulkiness, making them very uncomfortable to carry around and use with one hand. That being said, the OnePlus 9 Pro is quite a bit lighter and more compact in all dimensions, so it feels slightly more palm-friendly.

From the back, the phones don't look all that different, camera island at the top left corner and all, Samsung's Infinity-O design moved the punch hole for the front camera in the middle of the display, while OnePlus 9 Pro keeps it at the top left corner. The OnePlus mute switch is, naturally, present to set the buttons of the 9 Pro apart from the Ultra.
As for displays, the Oppo Find X3 Pro has an improved 6.7" 120Hz@1440p display that, just like last year with the X2 Pro, found its way into the OnePlus 9 Pro. What would be the enhancements given that the X2 Pro and OnePlus 8 Pro, already had some of the best mobile displays in the industry? 

Well, we are happy to report that we have a new "best mobile display" crown in the OnePlus 9 Pro. How did it beat the 6.8" LTPO panel of the S21 Ultra that can reach record brightness, and offers granular 10Hz-120Hz refresh rate at the full display resolution, as well as HDR10+ support? Well, all of that, plus even lower, 1Hz-120Hz variable refresh range, and a Pixelworks X5 Pro visual processor that works together with the camera and CPU to enhance the visuals real time, say Pixelworks, and we are happy to report that the panel is indeed the best mobile display so far:

One thing the 9 Pro won't be able to replicate, though - the active S Pen digitizer that the S21 Ultra has. Granted, it comes with a case that tacked on makes the phone even bigger, but that's the price to pay for the doodling streak in you.

OnePlus 9 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra specs, performance and battery life

The beasts of a phone are only separated by the amount of RAM and storage they will be available in, as the Snapdragon 888 and its integrated X60 modem come standard. The OnePlus 8 Pro starts with 8GB RAM/128GB ROM version, whereas the S21 Ultra keeps it real with 12GB RAM, all the way to a 16GB RAM/512GB model that is so in vogue that it's currently sold out over at Samsung.

Higher is better
OnePlus 9 Pro
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra

The 4500mAh battery in the OnePlus 9 Pro can't be a match for the huge 5000mAh unit in the Galaxy S21 Ultra but last year the OnePlus 8 Pro scored extremely well on our battery life tests, even in the demanding 3D gaming endurance benchmark. Thus, we kept our hopes high that the best-in-class Galaxy S21 Ultra battery life performance in our database can be replicated by OnePlus, frugal LTPO display and everything. Unfortunately, the larger battery of the S21 Ultra played its part, and the OnePlus phone showed shorter endurance than Samsung's finest.

Browsing test 60HzHigher is betterBrowsing test 120Hz(hours)Higher is betterVideo Streaming(hours)Higher is better3D Gaming 60Hz(hours)Higher is better3D Gaming 120Hz(hours)Higher is betterFull Charge(hours)Lower is better
OnePlus 9 Pro11h 45 min
11h 29 min
9h 16 min
9h 6 min
No data
0h 30 min
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra16h 7 min
14h 43 min
8h 52 min
8h 40 min
5h 3 min
1h 8 min

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On the other hand, the 65W charger that the OnePlus 8T shipped with, stays in the OnePlus 9 Pro box as well, and now charges for the breathtaking 29 minutes, way faster than the not-slouchy S21 Ultra. There is a "one more thing," too, in the form of a 50W wireless charging support that takes the unit to 100% for 40 minutes, so the battery round is not the easy win for Samsung as it looks from the tests here.

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OnePlus 9 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra camera comparison

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The OnePlus 8 Pro camera specs are a bit contradictory - it sports a 48MP main camera plus monochrome and 3x zoom units but also a new 50MP sensor which makes a cameo in the OnePlus 9 as well. Compare that to the 108MP main beast and 10x periscope zoom of the S21 Ultra, and you'll see how the flagships stack up in the camera hardware department - the 9 Pro has only the ultrawide camera advantage. 

Thankfully, OnePlus stepped up the 9 series camera effort and it is the best thing that has happened to the company's phone cameras in a while. It intends to plow $150 million in the span of three years in camera hardware and software in partnership with the storied camera company Hasselblad. Yes, that's the one used to shoot the Earth after the lunar landing.

The 9 Pro is first to get a new custom Sony IMX789 main camera sensor, while both it, and the OnePlus 9, sport the Sony IMX766 sensor with fluid camera lens for the ultrawide camera to avoid distortions and aberrations typical for such wide lenses, but on a hardware level. The partnership with Hasselblad has brought on per-unit sensor and color calibration, too, so you let's pit some samples against the Galaxy S21 Ultra. You can also check our in-depth 9 Pro vs s21 Ultra vs 12 Pro Max camera comparison.

As you can see, while the 8-series demonstrated that OnePlus can finally create pretty decent camera kits, and we see that the 9 Pro performs well, the monstrous camera set on the S21 Ultra, however - 108MP main sensor plus 10x/3x optical zoom cameras - is hard to beat for any current phone, not just the 9 Pro. 

Perhaps save for the excellent 50MP ultrawide Sony camera with freeform lens on the 9 Pro, and some macro shots, the Galaxy S21 Ultra excels in detail, dynamic range, low-light sharpness, selfie and portrait capture, as well as cleaner zoom levels. Thus, if you meet Samsung's flagship at a price close to the 9 Pro, it's a no brainer given that the display is almost as good, and the battery life way better, too.

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