Anton D. Nagy contributed to this Samsung Galaxy S21+ vs OnePlus 9 Pro comparison.
I think no company has won more of my comparisons than OnePlus. It’s really not that difficult for any phone that defied the establishment so aggressively. It would almost be ridiculous for me to sit here and tell you to buy a Galaxy S9+ for nearly double the price of a OnePlus 6 for example. And sure, we’ve known that every Galaxy has had extra perks that each OnePlus didn’t, but these were never worth double the price.
For the better part of a decade, recommending OnePlus to my friends and family has always been a no-brainer. They weren’t the best phones, but they were too good for the price.. So I’m sure you can imagine why this comparison for me is so conflicting. What happens at the crossroads of this premise, when the price can no longer save you? It either means your product has grown up to truly compete against the big kids, or that you’ve lost a bit of touch with what the market wants.
On one corner we have the OnePlus 9 Pro, which the company calls your best Shot as part of a very bold marketing campaign. On the other, we have the Galaxy S21+, what Samsung calls the Every Day Epic, and proof of part of this conflict. See, before I would’ve done this comparison against the Ultra or a Note, but given how these two phones are now priced nearly the same, let’s just say I did my best to make this debate as fair as possible.
I think that if you’re already jumping away from the regular OnePlus 9 or Galaxy S21, then you’re not necessarily on a budget where compromise is common. Once you scratch the thousand dollar mark, then other elements come to play like quality, capability, and even social status. That last premise alone is a hard pill to swallow for OnePlus as its reputation for value is not in line with Samsung’s fame for extravagance.
That said, once you measure them side by side, you’d be shocked at who wins what. Visually both phones could not be more similar. I’d give Samsung the edge in quality materials with its Gorilla Glass Victus vs Gorilla Glass 5, even if both frames are made of shiny aluminum. The 9 Pro is slightly taller and thicker, but then oddly narrower and lighter than the S21+. I can’t even say I consider Samsung’s design more cohesive given the contour shapes since OnePlus has addressed that in how they’ve made this camera hump more of a classic. If anything I’d pick the S21+ since its weight distribution seems a bit more refined in the hand, and you’ll have less of a burden keeping its matte finish clean, while on the 9 Pro, that depends on what variant you can find, or your carrier is selling.
Where I never thought OnePlus would win is on the display front. Samsung has always been the king of this department, but this year you have to go Ultra if you want all the fun. They’re both 6.7-inch LTPO AMOLED panels that cap at 1300 nits of brightness. They both offer a variable refresh rate at 120hz, and yes, I mean the S21+ is a flat panel for better ergonomics, but its benefits end there. The 9 Pro has more resolution at Quad HD+ versus Full HD+, the 9 Pro has slightly more screen-to-body ratio, and can go lower in refresh rate than the Galaxy when needed. Really the only place you won’t find much of a difference is in their dual firing speakers which are both loud and crisp (Audio Test) (Audio Test). Also, even if both have an in-display fingerprint scanner, the 9 Pro is faster, but the Galaxy is more secure.
Now if we switch to internals, the similarities return. They’re both powered by the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 888, start at the same RAM and Storage, have the same IP Rating, sport both flavors of 5G, the latest Wi-Fi though Bluetooth is newer on the 9 Pro. Then the mix varies where the Galaxy has a larger battery, but the 9 Pro has significantly faster charging both wired and wireless.
So yes, hardware is slightly Galaxy territory, the 9 Pro wins the display, Specs is a tie, and well, the software is kind of a matter of taste. Both devices run on the latest version of Android 11, but with dramatically different approaches in visuals. Any purist in aesthetics will drift more to Oxygen OS on the 9 Pro. This continues to be one of my favorite approaches to Android given its snappy performance-matched stock Android visuals and a decent list of perks that make this phone behave better than even a Pixel. OneUI on the other hand is Samsung’s take on Android, where aesthetics are different, and animations are somewhat overbearing for anyone coming from stock. Maybe the reason why I prefer it is because it even beats OnePlus in perks like the side menu for multi-tasking shortcuts, or support for features like DeX, or the benefit of a completely separate environment with Secure Folder. I drift to OnePlus more for stupid little things like facial detection for notifications, or the three-way mute slider, but again, your favorite is up to you.
I’d even say you’ll struggle to find differences in day-to-day user experience. It’s come to the point where companies have realized that gimmicks can’t compensate a user’s need for endurance, and I’ve had no problem ending the day with each phone, with the S21+ maybe lasting slightly longer. Phone calls are great on both, and I can’t even say I notice differences in the 5G experience on T-Mobile’s network, though you and I know that’s still a work in progress.
The last tie breaker left is the camera, and we have two dramatically different philosophies here. OnePlus is willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a brand most consumers no longer remember, along with crazy specs, but then Samsung has been slaying competitors with photography since the Galaxy S6. OnePlus easily wins the spec race, but results are what matters.
During the day photos are comparable with both phones offering three focal lengths even if the zoom range varies. I’m more inclined towards the warmer results and dynamic range of the S21+ but if contrast is your jam, that Hasselblad tuning on the 9 Pro should be your pick. Also, macros are OnePlus territory thanks to its play with the Ultra-Wide.
The problem is when the light gets dim. The excess tuning on the 9 Pro just kills the dynamic range, which then affects detail, and the darker it gets, the less reliable OnePlus can be about it.
Selfies and portraits belong to the Galaxy. Sadly OnePlus chose to go fixed focus, so that makes its results be washed out and stale, with far better color and dynamic range from Samsung.
And when we go to video, both phones do 8K, both do 4K at 60, and even if OnePlus does 4K at 120, I find the results from the Galaxy to be more balanced and consistent, even if stabilization is a close match.
Where the Galaxy just annihilates OnePlus is in its 4K at 60 selfie video capabilities, now with 3 generations of experience at it, where OnePlus seems to think 1080p is still good, and don’t even get me started on that horrible dynamic range from the 9 Pro.
Galaxy S21+ vs OnePlus 9 Pro conclusion
To Conclude, I have to admit, I never thought I’d see the day when a OnePlus would lose to a Galaxy. It seriously makes no logical sense for a value-driven company to lose to a premium brand unless of course, the value-driven company tries to compete with the big kids and fumbles.
This isn’t new. We saw how Huawei came from a cheap phone maker to a slayer of the competition in a couple of generations, but if you ask me what made them successful, I’d call it walking the talk. They didn’t just partner with Leica for a name to be strapped on their cameras. Devices like the P20 Pro are still taking better photos than phones that have launched 3 years later. If you’re gonna go all out with a marketing campaign, then you better deliver the goods to own the title.
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. Even if the camera isn’t everything for most users, why would you pay almost the same money for lesser performance? If I had to pick between the two, I’d choose the Galaxy. I continue to have a sweet spot in my heart for OnePlus and how they’ve defied the establishment, but again if the price can’t save you, sadly, it is what it is.