I’ve spent the better part of the past couple of weeks with OnePlus Nord (the 12GB-256GB model) to try and get to know this “mid-range” offering. I put that in quotes because this phone is not really mid-range and is closer to a flagship, with a specs package that should carry a price much higher than it does. That’s made for some interesting testing, since it sets expectations into a weird-but-good place.
Let’s dive into it – this is our OnePlus Nord review.
What’s good about OnePlus Nord?
This price for these specs.
OnePlus pulled off a bit of magic with this price and this set of specs for Nord. At €399 to start and topping out at €499, you would expect far less than OnePlus is giving you here.
You get a 6.44″ AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate, Snapdragon 765 processor with 5G, 128GB or 256GB storage, 8GB or 12GB RAM, 4115mAh battery with 30T Warp Charging, quad rear camera, dual selfie cameras, Bluetooth 5.1, in-display fingerprint reader, an all glass body (plastic frame), and Android 10 under OxygenOS.
The phone I can think of that comes close to matching this is Samsung’s Galaxy A71 5G, but it costs $200 more to start, tops out at 8GB RAM, doesn’t have a 90Hz display, and has slightly slower charging. The A71 does have a headphone jack, larger battery, and what I’m assuming is a better camera, though. But again, the A71 5G costs $600 and Nord ups it in a couple of key areas while staying significantly cheaper.
I don’t know how OnePlus did it, so I’m going to assume they are giving up any major profit margins in order to make a bunch of headlines for the value they are delivering. They probably did that.
Performance as usual.
This is the first phone I’ve tested with a Snapdragon 765 chipset in it and so far I have nothing but positives to takeaway. If this is the chipset that everyone is using instead of the Snapdragon 865, that’s totally cool as long as they optimize it the way OnePlus has.
While we don’t do that whole benchmark thing, I can tell you that this phone runs like a much more expensive phone. It runs like all of OnePlus’ higher-tier phones and might even trick you into thinking it’s one of those. Nord isn’t stuttering or hanging up as it tries to process a task. I don’t have connectivity issues or slow-loading of apps or worries about jumping from app to app or if the camera will load quick enough to get the shot I need. Even the in-display fingerprint reader and face unlock are instant.
This really is a OnePlus phone through and through, which means it’s smooth and fast.
The display looks nice!
At 6.44″ with a full HD (1080P) resolution and 90Hz refresh rate, this is a really nice AMOLED display. You get controls over its appearance like you would on other OnePlus phones with screen calibration options (including Wide Gamut, sRGB, and Display P3). OnePlus included their reading mode for those who crush a book or two on their phone, night mode to help ease that eye strain, and adaptive brightness that learns your usage patterns.
Viewing angles are quite good, with little-to-no color shift at off angles. I’m talking about a 90-degree angle still showing a clean image on the Nord. Max brightness is also impressive, even in sunlight, which we’ve had plenty of in Portland the past week. I was worried that a cheaper phone might have a display that struggles in a situation like that, but Nord performed well. I really don’t think that OnePlus went cheap on the display in this phone.
You still don’t have an easy switch to turn on the dark theme, and instead have to go through OnePlus’ painful customization process to do that. That has led me to leave dark theme on at all times, which has taken some getting used to. I only mention that as a display concern because the display doesn’t quite get dim enough at the lowest levels to leave the light theme on in dark situations (like in bed at night).
This display has excellent touch responsiveness too, and of course, that 90Hz refresh rate is a joy to look at. While not 120Hz, this is still plenty smooth and my hope is that we see more mid-range phones adopt higher refresh rates. Going back to 60Hz from 90 or 120 is something I don’t think I could ever do.
Overall, OnePlus deserves quite a bit of praise for the display they used in a phone that costs this little.
Battery life isn’t an issue.
Most of OnePlus’ phones are battery champs, probably because they push extra aggressive background app limits. I think both of those things are true again on the OnePlus Nord. Well, I hesitate to call it a battery champ, I just haven’t run into battery issues and thus have no complaints.
I’ve been through two software updates during testing and neither have changed battery life in any significant way. I am still pushing between 3 and 4.5 hours of screen on time each day. On the lower end of usage, I will go to bed with 50% battery left. If I crank up the usage, we are looking at 20-30% battery left at night.
With a 1080p display and this decent-sized 4115mAh battery, I kind of expected even better battery life than this, but I’m not worried. At the end of the day, I didn’t need to sniff a charger. If it came to that, I could always reach for the included 30W charger and get back to 50% or more in a few minutes.
For those looking for wireless charging, OnePlus Nord doesn’t have it. Is that a huge negative? No. The phone costs €399. You’ll be OK with wired stupid-fast charging.
Software is the software we like.
This newest version of OnePlus’ custom Android is as good as all of the others and I’m obviously a fan.
You get the same experience here that you would on a more expensive OnePlus phone, with options for ambient display, night and reading modes, status bar customizing, quick gestures and gesture navigation, face unlock, and some advanced stuff like scheduled power on/off, the app locker, and battery optimization settings. You have an audio tuner and Google’s Live Caption and so much more. If you have used a OnePlus phone, you know this experience. It’s the experience we like and have raved about for years.
After a second update during testing, I’m now running Android 10 with OxygenOS 10.5.2AC01BA. That should tell you that OnePlus is likely to update Nord just like they do their other phones. That should mean regular security updates, as well as bigger feature updates with bug fixes and performance improvements along the way. I’d imagine this will see at least a couple of Android version updates too.
The design is fine.
The design of OnePlus Nord isn’t special by any means nor is it offensive. Like, it just looks like a bunch of related phones from other BBK brands, like OPPO and realme. OnePlus says they went through a bunch of prototypes and then decided on this body at the last minute. I don’t necessarily think they screwed up, it’s just that this phone doesn’t look or feel unique outside of the blue color I’ve been testing.
You get glass on the front and back surrounding a plastic frame. Plastic is fine at this price point and you shouldn’t be put off by that. In fact, plastic is a pretty refreshing material with its lighter weight. They tossed in their alert slider, added a hint of color to the frame, and then slapped that vertical camera housing on the back left corner with some OnePlus logos. Again, it looks fine.
As far as in-hand experience goes, Nord is most definitely on the larger side, but I’ve found it pretty easy to use. Don’t get me wrong, stretching to that notification area can be difficult with one hand. Thankfully, the lesser weight compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro and the software tweaks to help you get info from the top of the screen help there.
Does Nord feel premium? Eh, I actually thought the back was plastic, but it’s apparently glass. The phone feels a lot like a phone that costs $400, so I guess that’s fitting. I didn’t go into it hoping for it to feel like the OnePlus 8 because I knew the price. I went in expecting Pixel 3a and think it’s much nicer than that.
What isn’t so great?
Camera is pretty average.
I hate to put the camera here as if it’s bad, I just can’t put it above as an area I have been impressed with. Look, I get that this is a $400 phone and that I shouldn’t expect the world, but Google spoiled us last year with the Pixel 3a at this price point and probably will again with the Pixel 4a. OnePlus also told us that this is the same main camera that they used in the OnePlus 8, a phone that costs $300 more.
The setup is a 48MP main shooter paired with 8MP wide, 5MP depth, and 2MP macro lenses. I found some use out of the wide angle lens, but you will mostly just stick to the regular 48MP camera while using this phone because the other two cameras are mostly worthless.
For features, you get OnePlus’ excellent app with portrait, nightscape, video, and pro modes, their UltraShot HDR, video resolution up to 4K 30fps, and long exposure shooting at night. Google Lens is baked in too. By no means is the OnePlus Nord lacking in camera features you’ll want.
As for the results, I’m just not sure I took any photos that I love. I often found results as flat and dull at one moment and then aggressively punchy the next. It does really excel with portrait mode and dynamic range can be very good, but I’m not sure I can say the same when indoors without perfect lighting. The few night shots I took are decent enough, as were some close-ups, yet landscapes didn’t impress me at all. It’s a mixed bag and not one I’m ultimately shocked by at this price.
This is the big issue with this phone and you know that. As much praise as I just sprayed upon Nord, it doesn’t matter if this audience can’t buy it. I can sit here all day and tell you that this is the best Android phone for the money and that we should all consider it, but getting one won’t be easy. Forget that silly beta program, owning a OnePlus Nord will require an import from another country. That’s not the hardest thing, it’s just not something most want to deal with.
I don’t know why OnePlus is skipping the US. I have a feeling it involves carriers, and that’s really unfortunate. The US wireless ecosystem is still a carrier-run enterprise, which means they all have too much power in deciding the phones made available for you to buy. It could also be that OnePlus is seeing poor sales from their direct-to-customer model in the US and that this price point with possible low margins doesn’t make sense.
Either way, it’s unfortunate for US customers that Nord can’t be theirs. This phone is priced at a point where it would make a fool of its competitors here. Maybe they’ll give us something sooner than later, I just worry they’ll attach to a wireless provider and it won’t be the value it is now.
Unboxing and Tour
Should you buy a OnePlus Nord?
The OnePlus Nord is one of those rare phones that I would tell you to buy no matter what your budget is. Everything about this phone punches above its price point.
The performance of the Snapdragon 765, impressive display with 90Hz refresh rate, solid battery life, and software that improves Android in many ways would cost you more than €399 if anyone else was selling it. OnePlus gave us one hell of a package that should not be ignored and should get strong consideration from you even if you have $1,000 to spend.
There is one problem with OnePlus Nord and that’s the situation involving its availability. If you are in Europe or India, you may as well buy this phone. If you are in the US, attempting to import one isn’t a terrible idea or you could cross those fingers and send all of the positive thoughts to OnePlus to try and convince them to bring it here.