Review: OnePlus Nord

Jonny Lee

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If you read my preview on the OnePlus Nord you already know that I like it a lot.

In that preview I spoke about how happy I am that after years of phone after phone slowly creeping up in price, OnePlus has finally decided to release a mid-range ‘flagship-killer’ smartphone that they’re known for. After using the Nord for a little bit longer and getting more used to it, I’m really pleased to be able to say I still like it just as much.

You can tell the Nord is a OnePlus phone as soon as you see it. The design is very similar to OnePlus’ other smartphones, the 8 and 8 Pro. It looks very clean and sleek. The Nord shares the, now classic, vertical camera stack on the back of the phone, but rather than being in the middle it’s been moved to the right-hand side of the phone. The screen on the front is slightly different as well. The most obvious difference is the addition of an extra selfie camera in the hole punch cut out. But that’s not all that’s different on the front. Unlike the 8 and the 8 Pro, the screen is flat, not curved. I much prefer a flat-screen so on a personal level I am very happy about this change, but it also adds another layer of implied simplicity to the already simple yet effective design. The OnePlus Nord looks great. Especially for a phone that starts at £379.

OnePlus took such a long time to come out with another mid-range smartphone because they wanted to make sure the technology in it was just right. For a phone to be a OnePlus phone it has to be lightning fast. OnePlus were waiting for the right chip to be available at the right price to make their brand new mid-range ‘Nord’, and in the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G they found it. After a couple of weeks using the Nord, when doing day to day tasks I still have to remind myself that I’m actually using a budget-friendly mid-range phone. That’s down to the speed of the processor and the quality of the screen.

The Snapdragon 765G is great. On paper, it’s not as fast as its bigger brother, the Snapdragon 865 which is used in both the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. But in day to day use I didn’t feel the difference at all. It’s so surprisingly snappy. The version I’ve been using also has 12GB of RAM, which means multitasking and switching between apps is a breeze, but I suspect the experience on the slightly cheaper 8GB version would be almost exactly the same. The only place where I really noticed the slight performance deficit was when playing really graphically intensive games. Games like Fortnite and COD mobile have to run on slightly lower graphics settings than the 8 and the 8 Pro, but honestly when gaming that’s not something you notice. And if you don’t game on your phone at all, you won’t notice it at all.

The sense of speed is amplified by the OnePlus Nord’s great screen. After getting into it by using a faultless in-screen fingerprint scanner you’re greeted by a 6.44-inch 1080p OLED panel that, for the price, looks brilliant. Because it’s OLED blacks are deep and look good, the whole thing gets very bright and colours look fantastic. Honestly, this alone would have been enough, but OnePlus have gone above and beyond and given us a snappy mid-range smartphone with a great screen that also runs at 90Hz. The speedy 765G keeps up with the 90 frames per second needed to run this screen at its max speed surprisingly well, and the higher frame rate makes it a joy to use. The high refresh rate takes the already high-speed feeling of the phone and dials it all the way up to Mach 3. Because of the high refresh rate screen, doing everyday tasks like checking social media feel better to do on the Nord than on flagship phones from a year ago still stuck on 60Hz displays. Often a higher frame rate equates to a worse battery life, but with the OnePlus Nord’s 4,115mAh battery I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I would often finish the day with quite a lot of battery to spare. I wasn’t expecting the high frame rate, but I am so happy it’s here. The only downside of the screen I’ve found is that the viewing angles aren’t perfect, but on a phone in this price range that doesn’t bother me.  Oh, and if you feel like taking that speedy feeling even further, the Snapdragon 765G also supports sub 6GHz 5G. Nice.

OnePlus’s smartphone operating system has always been the Android gold standard to me. On their high powered flagship smartphones, it’s yet another layer that adds to the feeling of speed. The animations are always snappy, everything looks good, and it’s easy and intuitive to use. OxygenOS is just as good as the Nord as it is on the 8 and 8 Pro. I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to the less powerful Nord, but thankfully it’s just as good.

Jonny Lee

The build quality also feels better than expected. It doesn’t feel cheap. The back is glass and the sides are metal. It is surprisingly lighter than I was anticipating, but for most people, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t feel quite as well made as the more expensive OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, I can’t quite put my finger on why but when holding the 8 in one hand and the Nord in the other you can tell which one is more premium. There is also no IP water resistance rating, most likely cut to save cost. But OnePlus says it is water-resistant, and I trust them.

Now, let’s talk about the cameras. There are a lot of them on the OnePlus Nord, six in fact. There are 4 on the back, a 48MP main camera, an 8MP ultrawide camera, a 2MP macro camera, and a 5MP depth sensor. The main camera is actually better than I was expecting. It uses the same sensor as the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 7 Pro from last year, so it takes good, but not great, quality photos. They capture a lot of detail and dynamic range is good. The pictures I took tended to err on the side of over-saturation, but were easy to edit to get them looking exactly how I wanted. The pictures aren’t quite as good as those taken from the single camera on the iPhone SE, but the OnePlus Nord more than makes up for that in extra versatility.

The ultra-wide-angle camera is slightly softer than the main camera, which you’d expect at only 8MP compared to 48, but the pictures it takes are still good. It’s just as fun to use as other ultra-wide cameras, and the pictures it takes are good enough for your Instagram profile. The macro camera is disappointing. The pictures it takes are blurry, and just look generally bad, But thankfully it’s only a macro camera, so you’ll never use it anyway. The depth-sensing camera improves portrait mode, so that’s nice if you take pictures of other people often. Flip the Nord over to the front and you’ll be looking at the two-hole punch selfie cameras.

The 32MP standard selfie camera is good. It takes very standard smartphone selfies that aren’t super detailed but they are detailed enough. There’s nothing really remarkable about it. The second selfie camera is worth mentioning though. It’s another 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera, which is a feature only available on the Nord. You won’t find it on the 8 and the 8 Pro. I actually really like it. Adding camera versatility is never a bad thing, but adding camera versatility that people will actually use is even better. The ultra-wide-angle selfie camera is perfect for group selfies, and selfies where you want a bit more of the background in view. I’m a big fan.

Being a mid-range, budget-friendly smartphone, the OnePlus Nord has to sacrifice things to be able to hit that lower price. The most obvious sacrifice is the lower end chip, the Snapdragon 765G. But as I alluded to earlier, unless you’re gaming, that’s really not a big deal. It doesn’t have wireless charging, and there is no official IP water resistance. But when you’re using the phone, unless you’re already heavily invested in wireless charging, plan on taking it swimming with you, or a big mobile gamer, I promise you won’t feel the compromises. At the end of my preview article I wrote ‘right now it honestly feels like OnePlus has met the lofty expectations they’ve created for themselves’.

After using the OnePlus Nord for a couple of weeks now I can safely say OnePlus have met the lofty expectations they’ve created for themselves. The £379 model that comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is an incredible deal. If you can stretch to £479, the version with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage is also very good value for money. For that money, you’re getting an Android smartphone which, I think, feels better to use than some Android flagships from a few years ago. If you’re in the market for a new Android smartphone and you’re on a budget, I can’t recommend any phone more highly than the OnePlus Nord. It’s the mid-range competitor Android has been crying out for since Apple released the iPhone SE, and I think it’s brilliant.

Topics: Technology, phone, Review, smartphone

Jonny Lee
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