July 21st saw OnePlus release its latest handset: the OnePlus Nord. This new addition to the OnePlus line is aimed squarely at those who want flagship features at an affordable price. OnePlus has made no bones about the fact that the Nord isn’t a flagship phone, but has it done enough to make this a competitive smartphone?
You’ve likely already seen my first look at the OnePlus Nord. I was initially impressed with the handset, so I have spent my time since putting the phone through its paces. The Nord isn’t being “officially released” in the United States, but you can grab one from the OnePlus online store in the U.K. in August, and it’s scheduled to go on sale in Europe, India, Hong Kong, and Malaysia. There are two variations of the handset in terms of RAM and storage, with 8 GB/128 GB and 12 GB/256 GB versions available. U.K. prices are £379 and £469, equivalent to about 485/600 in USD.
So, price-wise we’re looking pretty good. It is certainly an inexpensive handset, but can it cut the mustard when we’re talking performance? We’ll come to that shortly but, first, let’s remind ourselves about those all-important specs.
- 6.44-inch, 2400×1080p, AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate
- OxygenOS 10.5 (Android 10)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G 5G processor
- 8 GB/12 GB RAM
- 128 GB/256 GB storage
- Type-C USB port (no headphone jack)
- Power switch, volume rocker, sound mode slider
- Rear cameras
- 48 MP main camera
- 8 MP ultra-wide-angle camera
- 2 MP macro camera
- 5 MP depth sensor
- Front cameras
- 32 MP main camera
- 8 MP ultra-wide-angle camera
- Bluetooth 5.1, Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4G/5G
- Battery: 4115 mAh
- Colors: Blue Marble/Grey Onyx
- Dimensions: 158.3×73.3×8.2mm
- In the box: OnePlus Nord Handset, Type-C charging cable, WARP Charge 3.0 adapter, preapplied screen protector, clear smartphone case
- Price: $484 (8GB/128 GB), $599 (12 GB/256 GB)
- Specs as reviewed: 256 GB/12 GB, Blue Marble, £469
How Does It Look and Feel?
One of the most important criteria for a flagship phone is the look and feel of the handset. I have to say that, despite its mid-range price, the OnePlus Nord is a stunning handset. I reviewed the Blue Marble variation and the first thing that struck me about the handset, when I unboxed it, was the color.
It is a vibrant blue hue, with a certain smoothness to it that affords the color an almost milky quality. The rear of the handset lacks the pizzazz of similarly priced handsets, such as Honor’s 20 Pro model. There are no reflective patterning or “triple 3-D mesh” gimmicks here. But that is what I love about the handset.
The color design is simple yet impactful. It still makes a statement despite this simplicity, giving it that professional flagship appearance. The Blue Marble is offset by a metallic, icy-blue strip that runs around the circumference of the phone.
Aside from its nice colorway, the Nord makes a couple of changes when compared to previous handsets like the OnePlus 8. Gone is the curved screen—a feature I have never really been a fan of, as my first look attests. Instead, we see OnePlus returning to the flat-screened form; a great move, in my opinion. Gone is the weird screen discoloration that typifies a handset’s curved edges.
A common design element that I don’t appreciate is the rear camera “bump,” and the Nord is no different in this respect. You’re pretty much going to have to use a case because the module protrudes fairly prominently from the rear of the handset. I don’t feel like the glass face of the rear camera set could withstand much in the way of a beating, and it isn’t protected at the edges by any form of bezel. Rather, it sits on a metallic blue foundation that offers no protection for the glass. With this in mind, it is a good job OnePlus include a clear plastic case in the box.
The phone’s 6.44-inch, 2400×1080p AMOLED display is beautiful, with vibrant colors popping where they should and darks remaining deep. It has a 90 Hz refresh rate, a OnePlus staple at this point, which is perfect for playing games and watching videos on the fly. Thanks to this, screen animations are hella nice, too.
The screen looks fine and performs well in bright light. But, in all honesty, we haven’t had a day sunny enough to test it in direct sunlight, at least not since I received the handset to test. This is what comes of my living in England’s perpetual drizzly autumn. However, on brighter days in mid-afternoon, it works well outdoors and I don’t find myself squinting to read the content on the screen.
Hook Me Up to That OxygenOS Supply
On to the software. OnePlus has bestowed the Nord with the same in-house software as its 8-series handsets, OxygenOS. As an Android user, the Nord’s OS is familiar to me. As a result, I never feel like I can’t find what I’m looking for with Android’s set-up. It is an ecosystem I enjoy using, but I particularly enjoy OnePlus’ version of the Android software. You will find very little in terms of bloatware, so the handset isn’t slowed down by unnecessary invasive apps that some smartphone brands insist on including within their Android builds. (I’m looking at you, Huawei.)
The software has some really nice touches that I have yet to come across with another device. One such feature deals with a common problem faced by many smartphone users, digital wellbeing. OnePlus has introduced a brilliant software feature called “Zen Mode.” When activated, this reduces the functionality of the phone drastically, giving you time to just be, instead of checking Twitter notifications every 15 seconds. It is also handy if you want to take a nap or meditate without your phone constantly buzzing. I love this little feature.
The appearance of the screens is entirely customizable. The option exists to change the clock on the lock screen to a nice centralized analog face, which I prefer over a digital time display. There is even the option to display the time as though it were being spoken. However, this feature only works if you touch the screen to activate it, rather than press the power button. If you press the power button to bring the Nord out of standby, you get the standard digital display. I’m sure this is something that can be addressed in the next software update, though.
I can also change the wallpapers, and I really like the dynamic images that come bundled with the software. The fingerprint animation can even be changed, which is a really nice touch, too.
System customization is also available. Here, you can change accent colors and tones. You can change the shape of the system icons (although I have kept mine circular), and add any custom icon packs to the already included Oxygen and Hydrogen icon packs.
One software feature I should make a fuss of is the navigation. Here, OnePlus has retained the features present in the 8-series. So, you can select between old-style button navigation (the icons that pop up at the bottom of the screen), or more modern gesture navigation. Personally, I prefer the button navigation, as I am forever closing Whatsapp when I don’t want to, thanks to my stupid fat thumb-tips and the proximity of the space key to the area that performs navigation gestures at the bottom of the screen.
Do We Have Flagship Performance?
Bearing in mind that this is a mid-range phone, it might not surprise you to know that OnePlus has downgraded the processor slightly. Where the OnePlus 8 runs with a beefy Snapdragon 865 chipset, the Nord has the 765G. This isn’t really any great shakes as, at this mid-range price point, you’re still benefiting from some muscular processing power.
That said, I don’t feel like the phone struggles with any tasks I throw at it. Even intensive games like Call of Duty Mobile don’t cause the phone to struggle, at least not that I notice. This is the case when both 90Hz and 60Hz screen modes are active, so it clearly isn’t an issue that the processor has been downgraded a touch. The phone has a nice “gaming mode” which optimizes performance during play.
The review unit is the 12 GB RAM / 256 GB storage, £469 version. The extra 4 GB RAM (compared to the £359 version) will allow you to run more apps at once. However, in realistic terms, are you ever going to be running that many RAM-guzzling apps all at the same time? Unlikely. The huge storage is great, though. Especially for someone like me who stores a lot of lossless .wav files on my phone to play music.
See, performance is where things get a bit tricky. I love the OnePlus Nord, but I can’t help feeling that there are plenty of other smartphones on the market that are doing a very similar job. The Xiaomi Redmi K30i 5G, for example, is very similar (save for the 8 GB RAM compared to the review unit’s 12 GB). It has the same processor, the same number of cameras, the same storage, and it costs a lot less.
Likewise, the RealMe X50 5G is currently retailing in China at around $440 for the “Master Edition.” This has the same processor, same RAM, same storage, and it knocks spots off the Nord in terms of refresh rate, packing in a whopping 120 Hz. The point here is that, in spite of the alleged 300+ software optimizations that OnePlus bundle into their Android version, performance-wise the Nord isn’t spectacularly different from its peers.
It is worth knowing that you cannot expand the phone’s storage capacity, as there is no microSD card slot. I mean, sure, the Nord comes with either 128 GB or 256 GB of internal storage, but it would be nice to have the option. If you store a lot of media on your device—like music, for example—then you’re probably going to feel bereft. However, if you are just a casual smartphone user, you probably won’t notice it isn’t there.
How Well Does It Work?
So, we’ve taken a look at the specs, performance, and how the Nord looks, but does it do what it is supposed to do? Does it actually function well as a phone? In short, yes it does. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to a 5G network, so I am unable to comment on the 5G capabilities of the phone. Most of my city has 4G+ (which is active on my sample handset when I’m not connected to W-Fi) with only a few spots capable of offering 5G. I attempted to test it by traveling to a nearby area covered by 5G, but it only ever reached 4G+.
My phone signal remains strong wherever I am, which may simply be down to my carrier (Vodafone) having excellent coverage across the U.K. However, I live in somewhat of a coverage dead zone for calls, as I am smack-bang in the middle of an apartment complex, or at least I thought I did until I received the OnePlus Nord. My Huawei P30 Pro is generally pretty crappy for calls when I am downstairs at home, meaning I have to go upstairs to conduct a conversation. Not so with the Nord, which holds its connection perfectly.
In terms of the battery, I am suitably impressed. Comparing it to the P30 Pro, I can get around the same battery life out of the handset, which is approximately a day-and-a-half. So, you are getting flagship battery life at half the price of a flagship phone, which is really good. The battery handles intensive tasks well—I was actually using the phone to stream Tidal tracks all day, during battery testing, without running out of juice.
The WARP 30 charger boosts the 4,115mAh battery quickly and efficiently, meaning I can pop it on to charge, go and get ready to start my day, and it will be fully charged when I return. A full charge from empty takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on whether you need to use the handset while it charges and what that usage entails. This rings true to OnePlus’ claims that that battery can charge to 70% in 30 minutes. It is worth noting that the Nord doesn’t have wireless charging capabilities. Boooooo!
I’d like to point out that the phone has no specifications in relation to its IP rating. This deals with dust and water ingress, so it would be useful to know that your phone isn’t going to cause an explosive electrical fire in your backpack at the first sight of a rain cloud. This is an unfortunate oversight by OnePlus. Sure, it says that the smartphone can cope with 30 cm of water for 30 minutes. This would suggest an IPX7 rating, but I don’t want to put my neck on the line here as it is just conjecture on my part.
A Neat Camera
The Nord claims to have a flagship camera, so let’s see if I agree with that statement. Okay, so the camera is 48 MP with an aperture of f/1.75, which does take nice photos. Colors are very bright, and the images are crisp and clear. Optical image stabilization is a nice touch given that this is marketed as a mid-weight handset.
The default image size is set to 12 MP. This offers more in terms of dynamic range while keeping the file size low. You can toggle between 12 MP and 48 MP, although do be aware that 48 MP pics are going to absolutely hammer your storage, both in terms of device storage and any cloud services that your photos may be uploaded to.
The now-standard “Portrait” mode is present, blurring the background for those artsy bokeh-style effects, which you can see in the first image. There is also a “Nightscape” mode, which will enhance images taken in low-light situations as depicted in the third photograph below. This can be adjusted to allow you to take a long-exposure photo if the camera is on a tripod. Exposure can be anything between 8 and 30 seconds long. There are also time-lapse, panorama, slow-motion, Super-Macro (illustrated in the third photo below), and Pro camera modes, so pretty much what you would expect from a stock camera app.
Video-wise, you’ve got: 4K video at 30 fps; 1080p video at 30/60 fps; super slow-motion 1080p video at 240 fps; and time-lapse 4K 30fps,1080p 30 fps. Video footage looks excellent when played back on both the phone screen and when the file is viewed on a larger monitor. Unfortunately, I don’t have a 4K display (I know, I’m a Luddite), but 1080p video footage looks good and has the high definition you should expect from such a lens.
The front-facing dual camera is very good indeed. This is the first handset from OnePlus to boast a dual front camera, and it has made much of the fact that it is kicking selfie sticks into the garbage pile. You have a 32 MP main sensor, which takes great selfies (although I look decidedly wooden on every selfie I take, so I don’t take many). The 8 MP ultra-wide-angle lens is good enough for group selfies, with some nice software trickery included that removes the fisheye distortion around the edges of the image.
Does the OnePlus Nord Sink the Flagship Phone?
Okay, so let’s look at it this way, the OnePlus Nord is certainly an inexpensive handset. For around $600, you’re getting a really attractive handset that performs well and has a bunch of features that you’d expect from a flagship phone.
The camera is great and definitely stands out against other mid-range handsets. However, I just can’t help but feel that there are plenty of alternatives out there that can do pretty much everything the Nord can. Sure, you might have 8 GB of RAM instead of the Nord’s 12 GB, or half the storage space but, in reality, I don’t think these are things you’d necessarily want to pay double the price for if this phone carried a flagship price. I mean, most casual smartphone users won’t notice the difference an extra 4 GB of RAM actually makes.
All that said, I do really like the OnePlus Nord. At a mid-range price point, with the specs it carries across the board, I’d say it is a great handset and worthy of your investment. It looks good and it works very well. I’m going to give it a thumbs up. I’m not sure if OnePlus have sunk the flagship phone with the Nord, but the torpedoes are definitely aimed squarely at the flagship market for the next in the Nord series.
Here’s What We Like
- Great camera
- Nice software tweaks
- Zen Mode
- Plenty of storage and RAM
- Looks like a flagship handset
And What We Don't
- Lots of comparable alternatives
- Camera bump protrudes too far from the handset
- Downgraded chipset
- No SD card slot