The smartphone market has steadily changed in recent years, and not necessarily for the better. With Apple and Samsung continuing the dominate the conversation in the U.S. (with Xiaomi not far behind in other parts of the world), the underdogs have fewer scraps to feed on.
But that hasn't stopped OnePlus, which has grown into a mid-sized player in its own right. With impressive growth year-over-year, the Chinese company wants to continue to push the envelope. It still has some improvements to make, but I hope that the recent restructuring with its sister company Oppo will help speed things along.
- The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the best Android phones
- Check out the best Samsung phones for Galaxy fans
- Plus: Google Pixel 6 could take on iPhone 13 with September 13 launch
2021 was already a good year for OnePlus with the release of the OnePlus 9 series. In fact, the OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the best Android phones, going toe-to-toe with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. And that's exactly what OnePlus has aimed for: beating Samsung at its own game. That has largely translated to something akin to mimicry, as recent hardware and software design decisions can attest.
As we look into the next six months, when Samsung gears up to launch the Galaxy S22, I wanted to take a look at how the OnePlus 10 Pro can surpass Korea's best. It'll be no easy feat, nor do I think the next OnePlus phone will sell in numbers capable of actually challenging Samsung's stranglehold on the U.S. Android market. A man can dream, though, right?
The biggest difference between the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes down to the cameras. OnePlus has improved significantly with the 9 series, but it still can't match Samsung in most respects, let alone Google or Apple. The partnership with Hasselblad seems to have helped somewhat, but that alone cannot make the OnePlus 9 Pro a superior camera phone.
I personally would prefer to see the OnePlus 10 Pro with three camera lenses: a main wide-angle, an ultrawide with the improved lens distortion tweaks that we saw on the 9 Pro, and a telephoto with at least 3x optical zoom. Get rid of the useless monochrome sensor and save some money that way.
But beyond just the hardware, OnePlus needs to continue its advancements in computational photography. I'm outspoken in my dislike for Samsung's approach to post-processing, as stated in my reviews of the Galaxy S21 Plus and on the Galaxy Z Flip 3. I like the more natural color reproduction on the OnePlus 9 Pro's photos, but a Pixel will handily beat that phone in any scenario. I'm no software engineer, but OnePlus should keep working on its photography algorithms.
OnePlus' night mode, called Nightscape, needs serious work. It's better than nothing, but it's inconsistent in my experience. It can't hold a candle to Google's Night Sight or Apple's Night Mode, and that comes back to OnePlus needing to improve its software. Samsung's night mode is also fine, with it being consistently better than Nightscape.
Universal 5G support
With the launch of the OnePlus 9 series, OnePlus had a really shady 5G support lineup. T-Mobile was offered out of the gate with Verizon certification coming later, but support for AT&T's 5G network never came to pass.
Whereas with the Galaxy S21 family, you get support for all three 5G networks right out of the box. It's pretty safe to assume that this will be the case for the Galaxy S22. OnePlus is not a plug-and-play situation for every smartphone buyer in the US, so I'd like to see the company improve this for the OnePlus 10 Pro.
And for the love of all that is holy, get proper Wi-Fi calling support on all carriers.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is a really pretty phone, but the massive camera hump is unsightly. Compare this to Samsung's new contour design for the Galaxy S21, where the camera module blends seamlessly into the frame. It still sticks out, but it's not nearly as bad as the Galaxy S20 series was.
I don't think anyone likes camera humps, but they're a part of smartphones now. It's the price of all that hardware, especially the telephoto lens. But having a smoother design for the OnePlus 10 Pro will help it stand out against the Galaxy S22.
Undercut Samsung's pricing
The OnePlus 9 Pro was the most expensive OnePlus phone ever, while Samsung lowered the prices for the Galaxy S21 series by $200 as compared to last year's Galaxy S20 phones. In my book, the 9 Pro goes head-to-head with the Galaxy S21 Ultra, a feat in and of itself.
But if OnePlus wants to make inroads against Samsung, it needs to undercut the Korean firm's pricing. That'll help the OnePlus 10 Pro be easier to recommend, especially if its feature set is comparable or superior to what Samsung offers with the Galaxy S22.
OnePlus has always played the role of the underdog, and while those days are gone, it can still make a name for itself by offering top-tier features for less.
It took some coaxing, but OnePlus came out and said that the OnePlus 9 Pro is IP68-certified. That's good, and a significant improvement over previous years. That said, the Galaxy S21 series are also IP68 and certainly durable enough without being rugged smartphones.
For the OnePlus 10 Pro, OnePlus needs to be forthcoming with durability information. How strong will the phone be? What sort of water resistance will it offer? These are questions that OnePlus should answer outright when it announces the phone, giving potential customers a peace of mind about the phone.
It'll also help sales of the regular OnePlus 10 if OnePlus applies the same durability standard to the cheaper phone. After all, the Galaxy S21 family share the same IP ratings.
OnePlus 10 Pro: Outlook
OnePlus has come a long way since its founding, but it still has further to go if it hopes to match Samsung. While it has its fervent fans, the Chinese upstart does not have nearly the same pull as Samsung, especially in the US. The OnePlus 9 Pro is a good phone, but its 5G issues certainly added some confusion to the buying process. Here's to hoping that OnePlus resolves that for the next phone.
We're probably still six months away from the OnePlus 10 Pro and a lot could change between now and then. I hope that OnePlus takes to heart the criticisms and suggestions that many of the 9 Pro reviews levied. The company already proved that it was listening to feedback by matching Samsung's update policy, at least on the mainline phones — the Nord and Nord N series do not have the same 3-year/4-year support structure.
The OnePlus 10 vs. Galaxy S22 battle will probably be a fierce one, and I'm excited for it.