It’s easy to criticize brands that have made their name on aggressively low price to performance when they steadily bump up costs and move away from the “flagship killer” roots. However, the OnePlus Nord feels like a step back and reassessment of what we should expect from future mid-rangers.
Corner cutting is always an area that has become a bugbear for OnePlus fans —and ourselves — but when you consider that mid-range smartphones require some savage readjustments to meet pricing demands, it’s more expected here. Because of that, it’s interesting to see just how OnePlus has achieved said feat with the Nord.
In the past, the firm has struggled to pick the “right” areas to cut back. When the entire package is built on this premise, it’s even harder to escape glaring holes on the checklist. Making big leaps into the mid-range market means that the OnePlus Nord feels like a consequence of consumer pushback and a shift in spending across the entire smartphone industry.
Realigning with the original OnePlus vision of flagship performance at an affordable price tag has resulted in this great little package that is the OnePlus Nord.
Hardware and design
The OnePlus Nord feels like a real improvement over the OnePlus 8 in the design stakes — and more like a real successor to the OnePlus 7T from a design perspective. The candy bar stylings of the Marble Blue instantly attracts attention, especially in a sea of glass slabs.
This feels like a OnePlus smartphone, with the same soft curves and playful design choices. It’s a lightweight handset but has a dense, packed feel in the palm that I think really helps enhance the faux-premium feeling. Plastic isn’t a bad thing, as it can take punishment much more than soft metal, but you can definitely tell.
I like how the OnePlus Nord feels eminently more compact than the massive OnePlus 8 Pro, while the ever-so-slightly boxier backplate helps stabilize the handset when in your palm. I’m hoping that the plastic side bezels don’t chip or scratch easily, but overall the package here just feels great to hold.
Moving the camera module from a central position to the top left is something I personally really like. It’s a look that is unique for OnePlus smartphones, too, with that vertical layout. Overall it’s a competent showcase of OnePlus’ design and “Color, Materials, Finish” efforts in recent years. It’s nice to see a glossy smartphone, but there is no denying that a matte finish might have been more consistent with prior OnePlus smartphones.
With that said, side-by-side with the OnePlus 8 series and the OnePlus Nord feels very much like the younger sibling that does most of the same things but with just the right omissions.
Getting a 6.44-inch 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED panel within the sub $500 price bracket feels like a really smart move. Rival devices often come with cheap LCD panels and are sort of expected when you lower your smartphone budget, but a good AMOLED is clearly an important part of the package here.
Praise aside, I have noticed some issues with the display at low brightness on my device. When getting below the 20% threshold, there are significant yellow or green-tint issues on my particular unit. You can also see banding along the notched portion of the screen. I believe this might be a manufacturing fault with my device, but it’s something to note. While frustrating, this problem only appears when auto-brightness is enabled. To alleviate it I often keep brightness set at 60% and have had no issues since.
The in-display fingerprint reader is just as good as those found on the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro. I’ve had no issues at any point unless trying to unlock with wet fingers. I have noticed a slightly smaller activation area, but that isn’t a major problem for accuracy and consistency.
Moving back to a flat display is also another important distinction that I think might make the OnePlus Nord a better buy than the OnePlus 8. Curved displays are great, but a flat display is just more comfortable to use for a gesture-based interface — and the OnePlus Nord sort of proves that.
Software and performance
OxygenOS is one of the best experiences on Android and it continues to impress on the OnePlus Nord. OxygenOS 10.5 is just as snappy and slick as it is on the flagship OnePlus 8 Pro. I find this is enhanced with that 90Hz, as animations feel smoother and interactions slightly more responsive.
OnePlus has cleaned up the (minor) bloat a little further this time around, too. You’re treated to the Google Messages app, Phone dialer, and Google Discover replaces OnePlus Shelf. However, setting up as fresh, Netflix and Facebook were pre-installed on my unit. I only use the video streaming services, so this was a surprise.
Two years of OS updates and a further year of security patches is still a little irksome when the similarly priced iPhone SE will get around five years of support. However, that’s another argument for another day.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G is a compromise but keeps things ticking along nicely here. It’s definitely not in the same league as the Snapdragon 865, but I’ve yet to see anything that has me wanting more juice from this chipset.
Gaming has been smooth and apps load reasonably quickly, but it’s the lack of UFS 3.1 storage that I feel is the most noticeable. The OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro are a step or so ahead when loading applications. Everywhere else, I actually haven’t been able to notice the differences between the Snapdragon 765G and 865 day-to-day.
The battery on the OnePlus Nord is pretty solid, but it definitely won’t get you through multiple days unless you are a really light user. I’ve still seen between five and six hours of screen time using the OnePlus Nord as my main smartphone.
Being able to just slap the OnePlus Nord on the 30W Warp Charger is a great for taking you from near dead to full in no time. I won’t lament the lack of wireless charging, as the OnePlus 8 doesn’t come with cable-free charging as an option, so it was unlikely to come to the cheaper model. Charging speeds and methods aside, I have no doubt that the OnePlus Nord will get you through most days with plenty of headroom to spare.
The OnePlus Nord packs in essentially the same camera setup on the OnePlus 8, which means you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The package is pretty good for the pricing, but it’s not in any way exceptional.
My biggest gripe is the digital zoom that instantly deteriorates when going past 2x zoom. I’m not sure why a telephoto wasn’t included, but it would have made at least some difference. Ultra-wide shots can be particularly soft in certain lighting conditions — but I’ve made no secret of my lack of love for these types of shots so it doesn’t affect my photo taking.
The macro sensor feels like a real waste. I’ve been unable to get anything impressive up close, while the depth sensor might make a difference, but the Pixel 3a does more with a single sensor that it too feels like it has been added to “make up the numbers.”
At the front, the 32-megapixel selfie camera takes some really high-quality selfies that are about the best I’ve seen on a OnePlus smartphone to date. If you’re a fan of group selfies, the 8-megapixel front-facing selfie camera will be a really useful inclusion, but shots are softer and it would be nice to have an ever-so-slightly wider field of view.
The bottom firing speaker really manages to get loud, but it’s tinny and lacks any oomph. It’s also really easy to cover when holding the device.
The only other Android device that matches the haptics on offer here is the Google Pixel 3a. I would actually say that the haptics on the OnePlus Nord are the best on a sub-$500 smartphone I’ve used. Every interaction or word typed has that satisfying clink, and the buzzes really help improve the experience.
The OnePlus Nord is about the first device that really tackles the existence of the Google Pixel 3a in any meaningful way. Yes, you can get cheaper Android smartphones in global markets, but the compromises often hold back the overall enjoyment of the experience of using said device on a day-to-day basis.
At £379 or €399, the total package on offer doesn’t feel all too different to OnePlus devices such as the 7T or even the OnePlus 8. With prices of the so-called “flagship killer” brand skyrocketing toward $1,000 or $1,000, we need far more options in or around the $400-500 price range. OnePlus has managed that with the OnePlus Nord.
Software is still one of the core components in this package, and it feels every bit as good as a regular OnePlus device. OxygenOS is fast, fresh, and this genuinely feels like a rival to the Pixel 3a, the iPhone SE, and likely even the Pixel 4a — whenever it does come to market. You get a heck of a lot of smartphone for your money, it’s just disappointing that the first OnePlus Nord series device won’t be officially available in the United States.
To me, the OnePlus Nord feels like a jewel in the OnePlus crown as the new go-to “enthusiast” Android smartphone that won’t break the bank. You’re getting essentially the OnePlus 8 experience but at nearly half the price. And now there is no doubt that the Pixel 3a and upcoming 4a have some serious competition for those wanting clean software and simplified hardware experience.
Where can I get the OnePlus Nord?
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