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OnePlus 9 Pro review: A killer flagship

The OnePlus 9 Pro is painfully close to a perfect flagship

OnePlus 9 Pro review
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The OnePlus 9 Pro marks the end of any affordable flagship killer DNA left in the top offering from OnePlus, this is simply a great flagship phone.

For

  • Top-of-the-line performance
  • Unmatched wired and wireless charging
  • Vivid 120Hz adaptive display
  • Solid camera experience
  • Useful software optimizations

Against

  • Slightly disappointing battery life
  • Software update track record
  • Lacks a periscope zoom lens

Laptop Mag Verdict

The OnePlus 9 Pro marks the end of any affordable flagship killer DNA left in the top offering from OnePlus, this is simply a great flagship phone.

Pros

  • + Top-of-the-line performance
  • + Unmatched wired and wireless charging
  • + Vivid 120Hz adaptive display
  • + Solid camera experience
  • + Useful software optimizations

Cons

  • - Slightly disappointing battery life
  • - Software update track record
  • - Lacks a periscope zoom lens
  • -
  • -
OnePlus 9 Pro specs

Price: $969 ($1,069 as tested)
OS: Android 11 /  Oxygen OS 11
Display: 6.7-inch QHD AMOLED (3,216 x 1,440)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12GB
Rear cameras:
48MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 50MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2); 8MP telephoto (ƒ/2.0); 2MP monochrome
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 10:29 (60Hz); 11:44 (Smart 120Hz)
Size: 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.34 inches
Weight: 6.95 ounces  

The OnePlus 9 Pro still manages to undercut the pricing of its flagship competitors from Samsung and Apple. But the one-time flagship killer definitely finds itself firmly planted in the pantheon of flagships these days with its $969 price point, a $70 jump from the OnePlus 8 Pro.

While OnePlus has been on an upward trend in its pricing for years now, it’s perhaps a dangerous move in a year when we saw Samsung slash the prices on the Galaxy S21 lineup by $200. A $30 price advantage on the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus and iPhone 12 Pro is pretty negligible and the company doesn’t have anywhere near the marketing budget or brand cache of its rivals. 

Without that price advantage, OnePlus 9 Pro has to just flatly beat some of the best from Samsung and Apple. And without spoiling the review, in many ways it absolutely does. Now it isn’t perfect. There’s some things that I would still love to see the company address in both software and hardware. But overall the OnePlus 9 Pro is easily one of the best smartphones you can buy today.

  OnePlus 9 Pro: Price and configurations 

The OnePlus 9 Pro starts at $969 and is available in two configurations, the base model features 8GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage. For an additional $100, you can bump that up to 12GB of RAM with 256GB of storage. 

I reviewed the Morning Mist model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. This color is available on either the base or upgraded model, while the matte Pine Green color option is limited to the high-end configuration. A matte Stellar Black colorway also exists, but it is not available in North America.

OnePlus 9 Pro in hand

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Design 

OnePlus describes its design philosophy as “burdenless” and while I generally agree, there are no glaring problems with the OnePlus 9 Pro. However,it also lacks any real distinct personality. The build quality feels excellent, it matches the IP68 protection of most other flagships, but ultimately it’s a fairly bland design that blends in with dozens of others.

At 6.4 x 2.9 x 0.34 inches and 7 ounces, the OnePlus 9 Pro is slightly thicker than some of its competition, but otherwise quite similar in size. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (6.4 x 3 x 0.31-inches, 7.1 ounces) and iPhone 12 Pro (5.8 x 2.8 x 0.29-inches, 6.7 ounces) don’t look outsized in either direction compared to the OnePlus 9 Pro, although obviously the iPhone 12 Pro with its 6.1-inch display is quite a bit shorter.

The curved back and display of the OnePlus 9 Pro is comfortable to handle, but it definitely suffers from a bit of slippery phone syndrome. I was quite glad to put it in the soft-touch rubber case that OnePlus sent along with the review unit. This was also in part to cover up the fingerprint nightmare that is the Morning Mist color of my review unit. The mirror-like finish looks beautiful until you take it out of the box, after that it’s a mess, I would highly recommend the matte Pine Green option if you have any intention of using it without a case.

OnePlus 9 Pro bottom ports

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The OnePlus 9 Pro doesn’t have many ports to speak of, just the USB Type-C and SIM card slot both located at the bottom of the phone. It does however, manage to stand out against most other Android phones by offering a ringer switch in addition to the typical power (multifunction) button and volume rocker.

I may sound like I’m coming off a bit harsh on the design of the OnePlus 9 Pro, but I want to stress that it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the ergonomics, it has a more minimal rear camera array than most other flagships so it doesn’t lay too awkwardly on a table even without a case. I really dislike the Morning Mist color option, but a case or the Pine Green colorway solves this problem immediately.

My biggest problem is that it simply fails to stand out, we saw both Apple and to a lesser degree Samsung carve out a more distinctive look for their phones this year, I’d love to see OnePlus come up with some design feature that is uniquely its own.

OnePlus 9 Pro: Display 

The OnePlus 9 Pro features a 6.7-inch, QHD (3216 x 1440) AMOLED with an LTPO display. That last detail is what allows it to offer its 120Hz adaptive refresh rate that can slow all the way down to 1Hz when you are viewing static content. This is one of the biggest differentiators between the OnePlus 9 Pro and the standard OnePlus 9.

Support for HDR10+ content as usual drove me to Our Planet on Netflix, this time around I watched some of “The Coastal Seas” with the OnePlus 9 Pro in its Vivid setting. The coral reef and sea turtle were a perfect match for this screen with the starburst pattern on the turtle’s shell popping off the screen with intense streaks of yellow cutting across its otherwise brown and orange palette. The fine detail and more slight color differentiation in the coral show off the clarity of the display, while the deep blue of the sea in the background sets off both foreground elements nicely. 

OnePlus 9 Pro display showing Our Planet

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

With its more natural settings turned on, the OnePlus 9 Pro reproduced 84.9% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. That’s well ahead of the Galaxy S21 Plus (73.5%) and slightly edges out the iPhone 12 Pro (81.9%). Switching the display settings to vivid takes you all the way up to 147.4% DCI-P3 coverage, which falls just a hair below the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (150.4%).

The results of the Delta-E color accuracy test (lower is better) were excellent for the OnePlus 9 Pro at 0.20 on its natural setting. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus (0.18) is one of the only phones we’ve seen better this result and it was considerably ahead of the iPhone 12 Pro (0.28). 

While not the brightest phone we’ve ever seen, the OnePlus 9 Pro is up there with the top contenders at 722 nits of brightness. This was behind both the Galaxy S21 Plus (747 nits) and the iPhone 12 Pro (743 nits), but none of them are struggling in any lighting condition.

OnePlus 9 Pro with OnePlus carbon fiber case

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Audio 

The OnePlus 9 Pro features front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos audio that allows you to choose between a few distinct modes for general listening. Once you connect up a pair of wireless headphones you get access to additional styles and a full equalizer.

I listened to Demi Lovato’s “Dancing with the Devil,” and the OnePlus 9 Pro’s stereo speakers were able to fill my 12 x 18-foot listening space easily. With that said, the powerful bass on the track was completely blown out on the speakers at anything much beyond 60% volume and was tinny even at a more manageable volume. The at-times complex overlapping vocals and keyboard on the other hand were excellently reproduced, as was the deliberate faint crackling effect overlaid on the song. 

The advanced Bluetooth 5.2 support and more extensive options available via headphones will still have you running for a pair of cans when you want to really appreciate what you are listening to. But for sharing a quick video or when you simply don’t have headphones available the OnePlus 9 Pro will hold up just fine.

OnePlus 9 Pro playing Dancing with the Devil by Demi Lovato

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Performance 

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a performance monster. It leverages the Snapdragon 888 and up to 12GB of RAM to deliver the fastest results we’ve seen from any Android phone and easily wields enough power to handle anything you are likely to throw at it.

OnePlus has a Pro Gaming Mode that when enabled will turn on any time you launch a supported game to both maximize performance and block all notifications. I played several rounds of PUBG Mobile to test this out and even at maximum settings the game remained smooth at its max 90Hz refresh rate. There are, of course, a growing number of games that support 120Hz. I dipped into Alto’s Odyssey and Dead Trigger 2 to experience that and again, the phone can handle it without dropping a frame.

In terms of more normal tasks, you aren’t going to overload the OnePlus 9 Pro. I launched almost 60 Google Chrome browser tabs while also running a Netflix video in the background and I didn’t notice a slowdown in the browser or when jumping between apps.

The OnePlus 9 Pro as I said is the fastest Android phone that we’ve benchmarked now with a Geekbench 5 multi-core score of 3,685. The Asus ROG Phone 5 very briefly enjoyed its reign at the top with a score of 3,672. Looking at its direct competitors it easily tops the Galaxy S21 Plus (3,300) and shockingly even manages to outpace the A14 Bionic powered iPhone 12 Pro (3,669). 

OnePlus 9 Pro showing Chrome browser

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Graphics wasn’t as big a win for the OnePlus 9 Pro, scoring 35 frames per second in the Wild Life Unlimited 3DMark test. It’s narrowly ahead of the Galaxy S21 Plus (33 fps) but Apple turned the tables on it this time with the iPhone 12 Pro (51 fps). 

Our Adobe Premiere Rush benchmark saw it fall slightly further; our video transcoding test requires the phone to convert a 4K video to 1080p. The OnePlus 9 Pro completed the task in 1 minute and 3 seconds. The Samsung Galaxy S21 Pro (1:00) was just ahead and the iPhone 12 Pro (0:27) flexed on them both again in this one.

While OnePlus did boast of some of its new cooling methods and it has always applied some software tweaks to draw the most performance out of its flagship, it was a bit surprising to see it take the lead over the ROG Phone 5 and even the iPhone 12 Pro. Rest assured, performance is never going to be your problem with the OnePlus 9 Pro.

OnePlus 9 Pro on Warp Charge 50 wireless charger

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Battery life and charging 

The OnePlus 9 Pro includes a 4,500mAH battery, just like the OnePlus 9, it’s perhaps slightly shy of what you would expect from a top-tier flagship, but not terribly low. The Galaxy S21 Plus packs a 4,800mAh battery for example, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra a full 5,000mAh.

The battery life performed about as expected based on those figures with the OnePlus 9 Pro lasting 11 hours and 44 minutes on average at its Smart 120Hz setting in our tests, which involves constant web browsing over cellular (T-Mobile) at 150 nits. Somewhat inexplicably turning the refresh rate down to 60Hz dropped it to an average of 10 hours and 29 minutes. Both results were ahead of the Galaxy S21 Plus (9:42 adaptive; 9:54 60Hz) and the iPhone 12 Pro (9:06).

This was the first time where I had real-world testing come up notably shy of our benchmark results, the opposite is far more common. I often found myself needing to charge up once at some point during the day in order to make it through my normal roughly 7:30 AM to 10:30 PM schedule with review phones. During a normal day with a review device, I’m normally running Netflix and/or YouTube streaming for 90 minutes to two hours, web browsing, social media, gaming and then capturing some photos and videos. 

OnePlus 9 Pro battery settings

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Now I don’t want to suggest that the battery life is going to be a problem for most users, I’m putting phones through the wringer during testing, but it’s at least worth considering. The reason I think most will dismiss this completely as a problem is the other side of this section, which is battery charging.

The OnePlus 9 Pro, like the OnePlus 8T before it, supports 65W wired charging and that charger comes in the box with the phone. In our testing, it can take you from 0% up to 61% in just 15 minutes and all the way up to 99% in 30 minutes. So when I say I needed to top up to make it through the day, I mean literally 5-10 minutes on the charger and there was no way I was going to end the day without at least 20% left.

Wireless is almost as fast at 50W, now the Warp Charge 50 wireless charger is a separate $69.99 purchase, if you hate having to plug in this is worth the investment. Having a wireless charger that is twice the speed of most wired chargers on other phones is truly amazing.

I’ll be curious to see if OnePlus can improve the battery life with software updates. However, even if it can't, the fast charging renders this a non-issue for the vast majority of users.

OnePlus 9 Pro rear camera array with Hasselblad branding

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Cameras 

The cameras have garnered the most attention of any feature of the OnePlus 9 Pro due to the company’s announced $150 million dollar partnership with famed camera brand Hasselblad. Hasselblad is emblazoned on the back of the rear camera array and the camera app itself shows off the Hasselblad DNA with the company’s signature orange shutter button and custom shutter sound. That shutter sound is incredibly satisfying by the way, I will definitely be leaving it on.

With all of that said, the partnership is still fresh with the OnePlus 9 Series only getting to benefit from software-based enhancements including applying Hasselblad color science. Hasselblad’s input on hardware won’t likely come to bear until perhaps a OnePlus 9T in the fall or more likely the OnePlus 10 or whatever the 2022 OnePlus flagship is called.

Returning to the present, the OnePlus 9 Pro features solid camera hardware with a 48MP Sony IMX789 main sensor at f/1.8, an ultra-wide 50MP Sony IMX766 sensor at f/2.2, an 8MP 3.3X telephoto at f/2.4, and finally, a 2MP monochrome camera. The front-facing camera is a 16MP Sony IMX471 at f/2.4. This compares favorably to what you get with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus, but obviously lacks the outlandish top-end MP count or zoom range of something like the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

However, the specs aren’t as important as simply capturing a nice-looking image and that is where OnePlus has often fallen down in the past. So let’s take a look at some samples to see what kind of impact Hasselblad has had already.

Wide-angle camera

The 48MP Sony IMX789 sensor that OnePlus is using as the primary wide-angle camera is a large sensor at 1/1.43". It’s not quite up to Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra standard or the top Huawei phones, but it is still among the best available today. The Hasselblad color-tuning was the biggest change for this year and a notable flaw in the past for OnePlus cameras, so I gave that special attention. You can judge for yourself of course, but overall I found the image quality to be excellent and thought it handled varied environments and lighting conditions well. I occasionally encountered some oversharpening. However, it was typically in outlier cases such as the first image in the gallery below where it clearly failed to properly parse the trees in the background on the right side.

Turning to color science, I’m a big fan. It’s more staid than what you get from Samsung and a little more hyperreal than the iPhone 12, but I think that results in a nice middle ground that is just a slightly idealized vision of what you see in person. The OnePlus 9 Pro does have a tendency to lean slightly cold at times, similar to the Pixel line it brings up the blues a little excessively in some cases. If you want to take matters into your own hands, this is easily done with the Pro mode though giving you exacting control over all of the camera settings.

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro wide-angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro wide-angle camera sample

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle lens

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OnePlus 9 Pro wide-angle camera sample

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle nightscape

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle Nightscape

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle super macro

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample wide-angle super macro

Ultra-wide camera

The 50MP Sony IMX766 ultra-wide angle completes the one-two punch for the OnePlus 9 Pro, it may have a quad-camera array, but these two are what matters. The colors here again were excellent in my experience, but slightly less consistent than the main sensor for me. That wasn’t always the case, but looking back through it would occasionally push slightly lighter or darker than the same image captured with the main sensor that seemed to always be dialed in for me. The fact that you get 50MP from the ultra-wide is awesome for capturing a large scene and being able to crop in after the fact.

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample ultra-wide angle

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OnePlus 9 Pro ultra-wide camera sample

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera samples ultra-wide

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OnePlus 9 Pro ultra-wide camera sample

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample ultra-wide

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OnePlus 9 Pro ultra-wide camera sample

Telephoto camera

That segues nicely into the 8MP telephoto lens. It gives you about a 3.3x zoom, similar to what you have on the iPhone 12 Pro Max. The colors were again quite good, but you can definitely feel the limitations of this lens. Fine details in the images get muddy as soon as you zoom in even slightly. In most cases, I would recommend using the 48MP primary and simply cropping in rather than turning to the telephoto. Hopefully, we see OnePlus move to a periscope zoom next year as 3.3x just isn’t enough reach to justify the drop off in quality. 

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

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OnePlus 9 Pro camera sample telephoto

Front-facing camera

OnePlus has been guilty of wild over smoothing with its front-facing camera at times in the past. So I was happy to see that appears to have been addressed with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The portrait mode also did a phenomenal job with separating me from the background. It still has slightly more misfires on my hair than the Pixel or iPhone, but it’s much improved over past efforts.

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OnePlus 9 Pro front-facing camera sample

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OnePlus 9 front-facing camera sample

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OnePlus 9 Pro front-facing camera sample portrait mode

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Video 

OnePlus 9 Pro offers 8K video capture at up to 30fps and 4k at up to 120fps at either a 16:9 or 21:9 aspect ratio. It also has a couple of specialty modes like time-lapse and slow-motion (1080p at up to 240fps). It’s not the options or quality that you get out of the iPhone 12 Pro Max or Galaxy S21 Ultra, but I was happy with the results. Autofocus was sharp and reliable, colors looked good and while I lack an 8K panel to test on, the output looked crisp and clean on my 4K display.

OnePlus 9 Pro theme and customization options

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

OnePlus 9 Pro: Software 

The OnePlus 9 Pro ships with Android 11 in the form of OxygenOS 11, the Android skin from OnePlus. OnePlus has moved away from its once near-stock Android experience with OxygenOS 11 now offering something more akin to Samsung’s One UI at least in terms of its aesthetics. However, it avoids slowing down the OS and delivers a number of handy extra features not found in stock Android.

In fact, a number of the OxygenOS 11 additions are specifically meant to enhance the speed of Android. Features like Turbo Boost 3.0 memory optimization should allow you to keep 25% more apps open and accessible in the background. It certainly feels like it’s working, I didn’t notice any slowdowns or glitches when switching apps or navigating the OS and the animations on the OnePlus 9 Pro look amazingly fluid as well. 

Other add-ons include Pro Gaming Mode, which blocks notifications from other apps as well as calls and texts and maximizes the CPU and GPU to ensure the best high frame rate gaming possible. 

OnePlus 9 Pro quick gestures

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Customization is the other advantage of OxygenOS 11 and it’s too deep to cover in this review. But OnePlus gives you more options than virtually any other manufacturer when it comes to theming, calibrating your display and audio, using quick gestures to launch frequently used apps. Somewhat reminiscent of the ROG Phone 5 again, if you like tinkering with the settings on your smartphone the OnePlus 9 Pro has you covered.

The one downside to OxygenOS 11, is that OnePlus has been a little slow on the draw when it comes to software updates. They aren’t one of the worst by any means, but they are a month or two behind on security updates at times and offer two years of major OS updates, which is the minimum that’s acceptable on a flagship these days. You can opt into a beta program that will get you updates faster, but those of course can have bugs so you’ll want to be a little cautious there.

OnePlus 9 Pro review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Bottom line

In the ever-narrowing field of high-end flagships, it is largely a duopoly between Samsung and Apple. The OnePlus 9 Pro isn’t going to change that, but it absolutely belongs in that discussion. There are unquestionably areas where it comes up shy, but others where it obliterates Samsung and Apple. Fast charging is the most obvious example. 

The OnePlus 9 Pro cameras can’t hit some of the heights of the Galaxy S21 Ultra or the iPhone 12 Pro Max. However, scale that back to the Galaxy S21 Plus and the iPhone 12 Pro that are its actual price competitors, and things are considerably closer. I am most interested in where the company can go from here with additional investment in hardware. But software improvements this year have absolutely made a meaningful difference. I’d be happy to use this as my primary camera and I never could say that about a OnePlus phone in the past.

The biggest hurdle that OnePlus needs to clear right now is within its own control and that’s the software update situation. It needs to bring this up to par with Samsung with at least three years of major Android OS updates and to hit those monthly security updates regularly. OnePlus has the hardware and in many ways the software to compete with the best. Now it needs long-term software support to push them over the top.

Sean Riley

Sean Riley has been covering tech professionally for over a decade now. Most of that time was as a freelancer covering varied topics including phones, wearables, tablets, smart home devices, laptops, AR, VR, mobile payments, fintech, and more.  Sean is the resident mobile expert at Laptop Mag, specializing in phones and wearables, you'll find plenty of news, reviews, how-to, and opinion pieces on these subjects from him here. But Laptop Mag has also proven a perfect fit for that broad range of interests with reviews and news on the latest laptops, VR games, and computer accessories along with coverage on everything from NFTs to cybersecurity and more.