OnePlus Nord 2 review: a bonafide mid-range champ

OnePlus' latest Nord 2 has been announced starting at Rs 27,999. Here is our full review of the device.

Review Summary

Expert Rating4/5

Design
★★★★★
★★★★★
Display
★★★★★
★★★★★
Software
★★★★★
★★★★★
Camera
★★★★★
★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★
★★★★★
Battery
★★★★★
★★★★★

Pros

  • Decent performance
  • Excellent photography
  • Software experience still the best
  • Superfast 65W charging

Cons

  • Mono sensor not very useful
  • Screen brightness could be better
  • Low-light photography needs improvement

The new mid-range offering from OnePlus is here in the form of the Nord 2. This is OnePlus’ latest attempt to gain a firmer foothold in the market that it had more or less abandoned sometime ago in its conquest for dominance of the premium segment. This is the third iteration in the Nord series in India, and I believe it to be the most important one. OnePlus prides itself on offering a solid performance experience for the price and it is the foundation on which its empire has been slowly building.

OnePlus has employed the Dimensity 1200 5G flagship chipset to be the harbinger of processing prowess. Realme has done the same with the X7 Max (review) while iQOO and Xiaomi are employing the services of Qualcomm and its Snapdragon 870 chipset in this segment. The Nord 2 has some strong competition but this time around OnePlus has put in a greater emphasis on the phone’s image taking capabilities as well to tilt the odds in its favour. Launched at a starting price of Rs 27,999, here is a full review of the OnePlus Nord 2 to see if it is worthy of your consideration.

Verdict

The OnePlus Nord 2 delivers on most aspects, and is priced as such to gain a wider audience in the highly lucrative mid-range segment. With its emphasis on camera performance, OnePlus has redefined its legacy while still packing in a punch with its processing capabilities. 

Design and display

OnePlus has perfected the art of infusing premium-ness in the design language for all its phones. The Nord 2 is definitely a work of art in terms of the in-hand feel and overall build aesthetic. The glass sandwich construction sees a Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back which provides a certain measure of resistance to scratches but does nothing to impede fingerprints. From the outset, the Nord 2 is nearly identical to the OnePlus 9 (review) thanks to the overhaul in the former’s camera layout over the last iteration. One of my complaints from the Nord CE’s (review) design was the omission of the alert slider, which has now thankfully been taken care of. The headphone jack is gone but that is something I can live with thanks to the bevvy of quality wireless audio products flooding the market. The triple-camera housing brings in the big circular rings and like the OnePlus 9R (review) there is no Hasselblad branding around it. As a whole, the OnePlus Nord 2 is reasonably light in the hand while the build of the phone seems quite solid. I do like the Blue Haze colour scheme which brings lighter elements of the Blue Marble gradient present on the original Nord. The design doesn’t get more premium than the Nord 2 in the mid-range segment.

Moving on to the display, OnePlus has implemented the same 90Hz Super AMOLED display it has been using on previous Nord phones. It has an FHD+ (1,080 x 2,400) resolution and a 20:9 aspect ratio along with a single punch-hole display, unlike the dual cutout present on the original Nord. I have generally been a fan of the viewing experience OnePlus provides and the Nord 2 makes use of several key new elements to amplify this. The AI resolution boost can upscale the resolution on lower-quality videos while the AI colour boost heightens the colours. OnePlus has said that the former is compatible with major apps like YouTube and Instagram. I did test it out on a couple of videos with favourable results.

The usual screen colour temperatures and profile options are present to fine-tune the display to your liking. Support for HDR10 and WideVine L1 allows the Nord 2 to leverage HD quality videos on OTT platforms for a more enjoyable experience. While the AMOLED panel works as advertised in its ability to provide excellent viewing angles and deep blacks, I do have some complaints with the slightly less than acceptable brightness levels. Even so, the 90Hz refresh rate works like a charm with negligible stuttering and making the whole interface silky smooth. While 120Hz has become pretty much a norm these days, users coming from a 60Hz display should be more than satisfied with the Nord 2’s 90Hz screen capabilities. 

Cameras

The 50MP Sony IMX 766 sensor found on the OnePlus 9 makes its way to the Nord 2 for handling the primary photography on the device. The rest of the triple-camera layout comprises an 8MP ultra-wide sensor and a 2MP mono lens for B&W photography. I did not found the OnePlus 9 camera performance particularly delightful but that was more due to the device’s pricing than its photo-taking capabilities. On the Nord 2, the image capturing is far more superior with respect to its cost. 

  • Daylight shooting is one of the Nord 2’s greatest strengths and it shows how good OnePlus’ colour science has become over the years. With saturation kept at a minimum, the Nord 2 clicks realistic shots with a pronounced white balance that combines with excellent dynamic range capabilities. The detailing is sharp and spread out over the entire frame, unlike a few other OEMs which keep the focus centred. While regular photos are pixel-binned you do have the option to click detailed 50MP shots to further your ability to zoom into a shot. It comes at the expense of occupying significantly more space on your phone though.
  • My experience with the phone’s camera was quite good and the phone’s display did enhance the final output. Focus speeds are fast as is the phone’s PDAF capabilities but I did long for quicker shutter speeds. The sensor’s large size created a shallow depth of field providing for a very natural bokeh in close-up shots. Edge detection of the normal portrait mode is fantastic but getting into a position to activate it is a cumbersome task. The Nord 2’s ultra-wide camera is league’s below the main sensor in every aspect from detailing to the dynamic range but it does manage a decent 119-degree field of view. Unlike the OnePlus 9, there are no macro capabilities on the sensor which would have been a nice addition to have. Instead, there is a monochrome lens that doesn’t seem as useful in comparison. In reality, a B&W filter over a normal photo from the primary sensor does the job even better. 
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  • Night photography has been the bane of OnePlus smartphones for some time. This time around the company has taken steps to remedy the situation. While shots in low light generally include a lot more details and better exposure handling than I expected, without assistive lighting from a secondary source, the usual problems of noise and poor highlights creep in. Don’t get me wrong, nighttime shots are occasionally very good and the AI computational algorithms expose the viewfinder beforehand for a clear shot. Even so, the dedicated Night mode can sometimes cause oversharpening and pumps up colours unnaturally high. OnePlus has, on many occasions, improved low light capabilities on its smartphones via software updates and I have no doubt it will keep on improving the Nord 2’s as well.
  • The selfie camera on the front has a 32MP sensor and it makes use of much more refined face detection and detailing than previous OnePlus devices. My facial features look much more pronounced and the skin tones match perfectly. The new Dual View Video is a handy tool for vloggers allowing you to record from the front and back camera simultaneously. Nighttime selfies are just about fine with the AI enhancements generally smoothening out a lot of the face. Portrait mode works quite well but only in sufficient sunlight.

Performance and software

The Dimensity 1200 AI marks the first time OnePlus is parting from Qualcomm to use MediaTek chipsets. I can understand OnePlus’ reasoning since the Taiwanese silicone maker usually provides more VFM alternatives to its American counterpart. Already a part of the Realme X7 Max, the Dimensity 1200 has been modified for the OnePlus Nord 2 with certain AI enhancements. I compared the performance of the Nord 2 with the X7 Max and Mi 11X (review) and found that the benchmark numbers on the Nord 2 are slightly lower than the X7 Max even though the chipset used is almost the same.

However, benchmark numbers and real-life performance can sometimes differ. I found that the Nord 2 is an extremely capable device whether it’s running heavy applications or intensive Battlegrounds India (BGMI) gaming. It handles stress quite well with multiple Chrome tabs and applications running in the background. There was never any instance of freezing or lag to disrupt the performance. BGMI runs on the Extreme frame rate option with graphics capable of going till UHD. There were slight heating issues after about an hour of running the game but it did not impede the frame rate in the slightest. The camera app works in conjunction with any other processor-intrinsic task with the kind of fluidity I have come to see in premium OnePlus phones. 

In terms of storage options, the Rs 27,999 starting price will give you 6GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of non-expandable UFS 3.1 internal storage, which I believe to be a fair deal. You can go all the way up to 12GB + 256GB, but I think that 8GB RAM should be more than sufficient. There are other aspects of the device which are compelling as well. For instance, the in-display fingerprint sensor never misses a beat and offers lightning-fast authentication. OnePlus has also included stereo speakers which sound good, but aren’t really as loud and clear as the one on the OnePlus 9. An underrated but truly appreciable feature is the amazing haptic feedback on the Nord 2 which lends a more premium touch while interacting with the device. Of course, the phone is part of the tidal wave of devices that support 5G although the current 4G capacity is excellent enough on Jio’s Noida network. The microphone and earpiece on the device work as expected.

Let’s also talk about software for a moment as the OnePlus Nord 2 is the first phone which has been launched after OnePlus’ announcement of deeper integration with OPPO’s ColorOS. At the moment Nord 2 runs the OxygenOS 11.3 UI which has some elements of the ColorOS interface, specifically in the camera app. Most of the UI elements are more-or-less the same as previous OxygenOS versions and I sincerely hope OnePlus maintains it for all future updates. The minimalistic approach and theme customisability of OxygenOS is always appreciated as is the lack of bloatware. OnePlus is extremely fast in providing software updates, so expect Android 12 to drop on the Nord 2 real soon. It remains to be seen, however, the extent to which ColorOS is going to be integrated on OnePlus devices going forward.

Battery

In terms of battery life, the 4,500mAh cell on the OnePlus Nord 2 suffices most of my daily needs from a smartphone with about 20-25 percent left at the end of the day. OnePlus also has some neat battery-saving tricks tucked away in the settings menu which further extend the usage. I got about 2-3 hours of BGMI on maximum settings which drained the battery by about 60 percent. Even so, the Warp Charge 65T technology juices up the device from 0 to 100 in less than 30 minutes. On PC Mark’s Battery 3.0 test the Nord 2 scored 13 hours 38 minutes, which is par for the course for a phone with a 4,500mAh battery.

Final Verdict

I like the direction OnePlus is heading with the Nord 2. It isn’t all about 5G or getting a better software experience to the mid-range segment which was the basis of the very first Nord. This time there has been a concise effort to bring in better performance, camera and design elements to establish dominance over the competition. The company has done a remarkable job in that regard and the OnePlus aficionados are going to love the ease of use provided by the Nord 2. Competition to the device comes in the form of the IQOO 7, Mi 11X and the X7 Max, with each of them offering something or the other that trumps the Nord 2. However, in terms of overall functionality, I think the Nord 2 packs in more of a punch than each of its competitors. 

Editor’s rating: 4 / 5

Pros

  • Decent performance
  • Excellent photography 
  • Software experience is still the best
  • Superfast 65W charging

Cons

  • Mono sensor not very useful
  • Screen brightness could be better
  • Low light photography needs improvement