GoPro HERO 9 Black review: a big battery boost, and finally a front-facing screen!

We put the bigger, better, badder GoPro HERO 9 Black flagship action cam through its paces

T3 Platinum Award
GoPro HERO 9 Black review
(Image credit: Mark Mayne)
T3 Verdict

The GoPro HERO 9 Black rocks a front-facing color screen and boosted specs across the board, yet GoPro has kept complexity to a minimum. This means that pretty much anyone can pick up a HERO 9 Black and shoot genuinely impressive 5K video. That impressiveness isn't just due to the resolution – although that is near-Hollywood quality – but the astonishingly good stabilization and capture options as well.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Massive specs on every front

  • +

    Potent but easy for beginners to use

  • +

    Extremely robust build quality

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    On the heavier side for some mounts/applications

  • -

    Voice controls improved but still slightly buggy

The GoPro HERO 9 Black sits in the middle on the current GoPro HERO lineup, having been replaced in September 2021 by the latest flagship: the GoPro HERO 10 Black. Despite some strong efforts from competitor brand DJI in recent years, GoPro still dominates our best action camera ranking with its incredibly robust, feature-packed cams, led by the HERO range.

The GoPro HERO 9 Black will be instantly recognisable to pretty much everyone, as will the basic functions, but GoPro has cranked up specs almost everywhere compared to its predecessor – the HERO 8 Black – as well as adding Apple-esque design tweaks to what was already a potent platform. 

While it's not quite the most powerful or best GoPro on the market, it's still an absolutely excellent action cam. We put it through its paces to see how it functions in practice – read on for our in-depth GoPro HERO 9 Black review. 

Alternatively, our GoPro Hero 9 Black vs Hero 8 Black showdown and GoPro HERO 9 vs HERO 10 showdown will walk you through the main differences between this cam and the models above and below it in the lineup.

GoPro HERO 9 Black review: Price and release date

The GoPro HERO 9 Black launched September 16, 2020 and is available for purchase across all territories. In the US, the MSRP is $349.98 with a one-year subscription to GoPro, or $449.99 without a subscription (unsure about signing up? See our article on Is a GoPro subscription worth it?).

Bargain-hunting? Head to our dedicated GoPro deals page to get the full low-down, and if you're not set on a GoPro, explore alternatives in our best cheap action camera roundup. You can also save if you opt for one of the older models. Read our past reviews below to see if they're a better value for you:

GoPro HERO 9 Black review: design

Same old, but different – the GoPro HERO 9 Black manages to follow the design cues of the previous GoPro generations, but with some vital tweaks, most noticeably the long-awaited full-color, front-facing 'selfie' screen. This small screen not only immediately sets the HERO 9 apart from the HERO 8, but is also indicative of just how seriously GoPro has taken the DJI Osmo Action as its biggest rival.

Next to the new screen, that newly-boosted 23.6MP sensor may look similar to the HERO 8 at first, but there's a surprise in store – the lens cover is back, and in Gorilla Glass no less. A simple twist allows you to not only swap out scratched lenses, but also upgrade via the Max Lens Mod ($99.99 or $69.99 with subscription), a whopping 155-degree FOV that delivers 'unbreakable' video stabilization. 

The Max Lens Mod (available globally in October 2020) also boasts a 'powerful horizon lock,' which works even when the camera is rotated a full 360 degrees, though you'll be pretty happy with the native GoPro HERO 9 Black's impressive Horizon Leveling skills.

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GoPro HERO9 Black review

(Image credit: GoPro)
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GoPro HERO9 Black review

(Image credit: GoPro)

In addition, avid GoPro users have the series of 'Mods,' GoPro accessories that were introduced with the HERO 8 to play with, all engineered with different superpowers. There's an attachable LED light that maxes out at 200 lumens (see our full GoPro Light Mod review for more on that one), another to improve audio capture via a directional mic (check out our full GoPro Media Mod review), and another, the Display Mod, that adds a two-inch front-facing display. 

Of these, the Media Mod for HERO 9 Black ($79.99 or $55.99 with subscription) and Display Mod ($79.99 or $55.99 with subscription) are available for the HERO 9 now (launched Sept 16, on the same day as the HERO 9 Black), while the Light Mod is already available for the HERO 8. The HERO 8 Light Mod adds 200 lumens and 200 lux 1m to optimize lighting during shoots and is available now ($49.99 or $34.99 with subscription). It's also compatible with the GoPro Volta, a grip / battery pack / remote control combo. 

The overall build quality – as you'd expect – is excellent. Rubberized industrial corners blend into unmarkable matte plastic, while critical areas such as the battery cover and mounting tabs are comfortingly solid alloy. Those mounting tabs will be familiar to GoPro HERO 8 users, and will be just as well-received, folding flat for storage but easily extended and clamped for use. The HERO 9 is no giant, but it's slightly bigger than the HERO 8 in every respect. It's packing not only a more powerful sensor, but also another 500mAh in the battery department, as well as a 16% larger rear screen – improvements all around. 

Another improvement is the packaging – the HERO 9 is GoPro's first camera to ship without plastic packaging, arriving in a zippered travel case instead. That's one less accessory to pay for and less packaging to wrestle with – win-win.  

GoPro HERO 9 Black review: Features and usability

As you'd expect from a GoPro, the controls are beautifully simple to operate, even with just two buttons – power/mode on the left side and record start/stop on the top right. There are four pre-loaded Capture Presets (Standard, Activity, Cinematic and Slo-Mo) that let you jump right into recording the action without getting bogged down in endless settings, which has long been a key USP in GoPro's favor. There are up to 10 slots available for your own custom settings when you need them, catering to professionals.  

By linking to the GoPro app via Bluetooth, and over Wi-Fi for more intensive tinkering, you can remotely control the camera, preview shots and share them directly, as well as make edits on the go. Finally, you can create 1080p live streams instantly, with presets for social channels including Facebook and YouTube as well as a manual option for the perennially awkward. 

In a particularly well-timed nod to the remote-working world of the ‘new normal,' GoPro has added the ability to use the HERO 9 as a wired webcam. Add the USB-C charging cable and the GoPro Webcam desktop app, and you're good to go. A nifty magnetic mount shaped like a crocodile clip provides the perfect screen mount for this, adding extra value for professional vloggers and casual Zoom-callers alike. It's also convenient for traveling, keeping those tedious tasks to a minimum.

GoPro HERO 9 Black review

(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

That bigger battery may be responsible for piling on a few grams, but it does add a claimed 30% battery life. In testing, the battery life on the HERO 9 was strong, enough for shooting multiple videos at full 5K quality and hundreds of images at a time, and the test model came with an additional battery pack for extra juice when out and about. The only snag here is that without an external charger, the battery can only be charged onboard (via USB-C), forcing you to switch batteries in the camera to juice up both. The battery door does just clear the mounting screw even when mounted the wrong way, so it's not necessary to remove the camera from your favorite mount to charge, whatever your preferences. 

The only real drawback on the HERO 9 is that the solid build quality does add to its weight, making it a pretty chunky device. That's not an issue in many cases, but in some mounting situations (like on the side of a lightweight helmet), you'll definitely notice that 158 grams more often than you might like. The GoPro Android app is surprisingly finicky with connections too, occasionally losing connection and finding it tricky to reconnect, although this was during intensive testing as opposed to normal use.

GoPro HERO 9 Black review: Video and stills

It almost goes without saying, but the HERO 9 really does produce incredible quality video and stills. This is, in part, due to the significant bump in sensor resolution. However, the real stars of the show are GoPro's backroom work with presets and software tools. Hypersmooth and TimeWarp will be familiar to HERO 7 and HERO 8 owners, but here they're both upgraded once again (now both on V3) and deliver noticeably better results even on stock settings. 

Horizon leveling is now built into the camera, not just the app, and is immediately noticeable. Using the GoPro-supplied RC buggy in testing creates astonishingly smooth and watchable footage even in extremely bumpy situations, closer to a professional rig than an action cam. That impression is boosted when grabbing frames from 5K video because the oceans of resolution available still come out at 14.7MP/16:9, as if you're using a high-end DSLR. Also like an DSLR, the burst function for stills is impressive, augmented by LiveBurst (from the HERO8) that captures 1.5 seconds of the action before and after you hit the button to ensure sure you don't miss the best bit of the action. 

GoPro HERO 9 Black review

(Image credit: Mark Mayne)

This package so far adds up to a powerful and competent device, but GoPro has packed in even more, with Hindsight and Scheduled Capture tools. The latter is excellent for time-lapse shots – just set and forget. The former, on the other hand, adds real magic to the mix, enabling you to capture up to 30 seconds of footage before you hit the shutter button – a huge boon for those of us who realize too late that something awesomely video-worthy just happened. 

There's more good news. The occasionally-buggy voice controls on the HERO7 and HERO8 are now improved. Although limited to 14 key commands, the voice control in quiet environments works perfectly, although less so in noisier situations, which are usually the times when it really needs to work seamlessly. 

GoPro HERO 9 Black review: Specs

Weight: 158g (no frame required)

Dimensions: 71.0W x 55H x 33.6D (mm)

Video: 5K30, 4K60, 2.7K120, 1080p240 

Photo: 20MP

Max video bitrate: 100Mbps (5K, 4K)

Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

App: GoPro App integrated with Quik

Horizon levelling: On Camera + With the GoPro App

Digital lenses: SuperView, Wide, Linear, Linear + Horizon Leveling, Narrow

Burst: 20MP Auto, 30/10, 30/6, 30/3, 10/3, 25/1, 10/1, 5/1, 3/1

Time Lapse: 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, 60 seconds; 2, 5, 30, 60 minutes

TimeWarp 3.0: 2x, 5x,10x 15x and 30x recording speeds

Night Lapse: Auto, 4, 5, 10, 15, 20 seconds; 1, 2, 5, 30, 60 minutes

Touchscreen: 2.27" LCD rear, front Color LCD With Live Preview

Waterproofing: 10m (33ft) without a case

GPS: Yes

Voice control: Yes

Microphones: 3

Battery: Removable 1720mAh lithium-ion 

Stabilisation: HyperSmooth 3.0 with High and Boost options

HDR: SuperPhoto, auto HDR processing

Live Streaming: Yes, via app

Other: Portrait mode, auto orientation

Memory storage: MicroSD with at least class 10 or UHS-I rating

Should I buy a GoPro Hero 9 Black? 

As ever with a new GoPro edition, it's hard to not like the HERO 9's newly-honed imaging abilities, and the supporting software just keeps getting better and better. Overall, GoPro has done one thing incredibly well here, and that's to make the 9 seem substantially better than the 8 (which will obviously see a significant price drop now that the new, more desirable model has arrived). 

Unlike previous models though, the step-up that the HERO 9 brings is across the board, and that front-facing screen will make it a no-brainer for those wanting to capture properly-framed direct-to-camera moments. The new horizon leveling, smoothing technology really does make a vast difference to the quality of video you capture while moving. 

Mark Mayne has been covering tech, gadgets and outdoor innovation for longer than he can remember. A keen climber, mountaineer and scuba diver, he is also a dedicated weather enthusiast and flapjack consumption expert.