The OnePlus brand, which originally coined the phrase ‘flagship killer’, has been moving slowly into the premium smartphone space in recent years. Now the company seems to going back to its roots, by offering more affordable smartphones in price segments which it had abandoned. The newly-launched OnePlus Nord (first impressions) is not a flagship phone nor is it a flagship killer, but it is a stab by the company to re-establish a foothold in the mid-range.
In terms of pricing, the OnePlus Nord starts at Rs 24,999 for the 6GB RAM + 64GB version. This is incidentally also the price point the OnePlus 2 was launched at nearly six years ago. However, unlike six years ago the competition in the mid-range segment has reached new heights. We have several smartphones from Realme, OPPO, Xiaomi, and Vivo that are all vying for a bigger share of this lucrative market. The OnePlus Nord is the start of a brand new series from the company but does it have what it takes to keep up with the competition? In this detailed review, I will try and answer this question.
Design and display
- Display: 6.44-inch AMOLED
- Refresh Rate: 90Hz
- Protection: Gorilla Glass 5
- Resolution: FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080)
- Connectivity: USB Type-C
The Nord design includes a quad-camera layout at the back, and a dual-punch hole camera cutout on the top right at front. While OnePlus has marketed the Nord as a mid-range offering, it has not skimmed on premium materials for an aesthetically pleasing device. The front and back of the device are covered with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 protection like the flagship OnePlus 8 series. A narrow design, trimmed edges, polished aluminium frame and a curved back panel gives an easy grip to the device. OnePlus also offers a clear plastic case with a textured finish that will give additional protection to the device.
The OnePlus Nord is available in Onyx Black and Blue Marble colour variants, and I have received the latter variant for review. While I haven’t seen the black variant, I’m more attracted towards this teal-like colour option that is a breath of fresh air in the saturated dual-tone gradient-based market. The quad-camera layout is present on the top left, like several of Realme’s phones and the camera housing slightly juts out, making the phone wobble on flat surfaces. There is a single bottom-firing speaker on the device as opposed to the stereo speakers on the OnePlus 8 series. Alongside the speaker is a USB Type-C port and the dual-SIM tray. OnePlus’ signature alert slider with its textured finish is present on the right side of the device along with the power button. The tactile and clicky volume rocker buttons are on the left. I will have to say that OnePlus has done a very remarkable job of giving a premium appeal to the Nord.
Another area that doesn’t involve compromise is the display which is arguable one of the best in the segment. The device has a 6.44-inch FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080) AMOLED panel with a 20:9 aspect ratio and 408ppi. Unlike the OnePlus 8 series, the screen is flat and does not curve on the sides, which prevents any accidental touches. The Nord does, however, retain the fluid 90Hz refresh rate experience. As I have come to expect from OnePlus, the Nord’s screen has excellent colour reproduction and contrast ratios. Viewing angles and the deep blacks on the screen are great due to the AMOLED nature of the display.
Display customisation options on the device are quite extensive. You have several options to adjust the colour tone along with the amount of saturation. There are modes which make the display more suited for reading an ebook or browsing through your phone at night. The display gets sufficiently bright during daytime but does not go as dim as I want when I’m about to sleep. The refresh rate on the phone is of course variable and there is an intelligent auto-switch feature which adjusts the refresh rate wherever 90Hz is not needed.
- Rear cameras: 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 5MP depth sensor and 2MP macro sensor
- Front cameras: 32MP main and 8MP ultra-wide
The OnePlus Nord features the same camera setup that you would see on the OnePlus 8 (review) with the addition of a depth sensor. OnePlus has said that it is providing a flagship camera experience with the Nord, but that is strictly speaking not true since the OnePlus 8 didn’t have a flagship camera in itself. The Nord has a 48MP Sony IMX 586 primary sensor which was seen on phones dating back last year, including the OnePlus 7 Pro (review) and 7T series. The other sensors on the OnePlus Nord include an 8MP ultra-wide sensor, a 2MP macro sensor and a 5MP depth sensor. On the front, a first for OnePlus smartphones is a dual selfie camera setup which includes a 32MP primary sensor and an 8MP ultra-wide lens.
Photo quality from the main sensor in good daylight conditions is superb, not unlike the flagship OnePlus devices. You get vibrant photos with colour reproduction and exposure handling that are top-notch for the price. I do prefer more natural-looking shots so I keep auto HDR off, although you get better contrast ratios and saturation levels with the HDR on. Like other 48MP sensors, the OnePlus Nord also clicks pixel-binned 12MP shots which the company says is better for dynamic range. You can take UHD 48MP shots as well which add in a lot more detail and exposure although in overcast conditions there is hardly a difference between those and pixel-binned shots.
The ultra-wide sensor, while at a lower resolution than the primary lens, happens to click fairly detailed and exposed shots at the cost of skewed colour temperatures. There is no autofocus either. The 2MP macro sensor doesn’t fare too good, churning out shots that are usable but only under bright conditions. Then there is also the 5MP depth camera which basically is useful only for portrait mode shots. To that end, the depth camera works well to give a nice background separation from the subject and also manages to keep a lot of details as well.
OnePlus Nord is also one of the few phones in its price range to offer OIS. From the main camera, the phone can shoot 4K videos but only at 30fps although at 1080p you have the option to shoot at 60 fps and also 240fps super slo-mo.
Under low-lighting conditions, the Nord employs its AI-based Nightscape feature for additional exposure and details. On the OnePlus 8, I had said that low-light photography needs work for a phone of its price tag. The OnePlus Nord, while not taking the greatest night shots, is still fairly capable for its segment. Under street lights, the Nord amplifies the exposure giving the shot a saturated look, but keeps quite a lot of details although quite a few times there is a problem of overexposure. For example, a relatively dark alleyway is brightened up by Nightscape as though there was a floodlight illuminating it. When the luminosity of external light sources drops, the camera pumps in more noise which gives the shot a grainy look but still manages to produce a good focus on the subject. I’d still call the Night mode a work in progress, but I have high hopes after seeing stellar camera improvements in previous OnePlus software updates.
On the front, there are two cameras with the primary sensor being a 32MP Sony IMX616 lens with a fixed focus and f/2.45 aperture. While OnePlus does use its signature face smoothening, I’m happy to see that most of my facial features retain high levels of detail. There are three levels of beautification to choose from, which will give you more Instagram-like selfies but with unnatural amounts of oversharpening. To add more in the frame, you can use the 8MP ultra-wide camera on the front which works well in good lighting but not so well otherwise.
Performance and software
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
- RAM: 6GB, 8GB and 12GB
- Storage: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB
- Software: Android 10 with OxygenOS
The OnePlus Nord, after the Vivo X50 Pro, happens to be the second smartphone in India powered by the Snapdragon 765G SoC. OnePlus usually makes use of top-end Qualcomm chipsets in its phones, but the brand believes that users would still be able to get a flagship-grade experience from the 765G SoC that powers the Nord, at least as far as day-to-day tasks are concerned. Benchmarking numbers are as expected from a relatively high powered mid-range chipset. On Geekbench, the OnePlus Nord has multi-core and single-core and multi-core scores of 600 and 1,835 while Antutu showed an overall score of 275,761. These are scores that are very similar to the Vivo X50 Pro, which costs nearly twice as much but has the same chipset. However, when compared to the Realme X3, the scores of Nord don’t match up, thanks to a flagship-grade Snapdragon 855+ chipset on the former. The Realme X3 has scores of 476,587 on Antutu while on Geekbench’s single-core and multi-core test the scores were 741 and 2,422.
That being said, OnePlus was right about the fact that you will not be missing flagship-level performance during basic to intermediate usage. These include tasks such as opening a bunch of apps in the background and switching between them. Opening multiple Chrome tabs and simultaneously playing music on Spotify while a file is being uploaded on Google Drive, all happen with the kind of fluidity I’ve come to expect from OnePlus. This could have been partly because of the 12GB RAM variant I have received, but the 8GB version of the device should suffice as well. The 90Hz screen makes navigation experience even smoother. It is only during heavy tasks, such as playing PUBG Mobile, do you see a very slight dip on an otherwise snappy and performance-centric device. The frame rate settings max out at Ultra instead of Extreme even when you set the graphics on the lowest option. HDR graphics are not available and the frame option for highest supported graphics, which is HD, is maxed out at High. Long story short, the OnePlus Nord might not be the absolute best option for gaming.
For authentication, the OnePlus Nord uses an in-display fingerprint sensor that is one of the fastest in the smartphone world and also less prone to failed attempts. Face authentication, while less secure than the fingerprint sensor, is also extremely fast and reliable even in dim lighting. In the interest of future-proofing, the OnePlus Nord also has 5G capabilities but it will be of little use until the proper infrastructure is present. The OnePlus Nord also lacks a stereo speaker setup and instead relies on a bottom-firing single speaker. It is not the best I’ve heard, but is quite crisp and loud even at max volume. Call and microphone quality on the device are as good as expected.
As for the software, I have maintained that OnePlus’ OxygenOS offers perhaps the best user experience in the Android world. That opinion has not changed with the OnePlus Nord and it is one of the biggest contributors to the flagship-level experience that the company is trying to provide. I will not go into too much detail about OxygenOS, as you can read it in our OnePlus 8 Pro review. The lowdown is basically this: delightful and easy UI navigation, lots of customisations options, assurance of fast Android updates, lack of bloatware and ease of access.
- Capacity: 4,115mAh
- Charging speed: 30W Warp Charge 30T
The OnePlus Nord packs a 4,115mAh battery which is just about as good as other devices in the same price range. While the 765G SoC is quite a power-efficient, I have noticed that the Nord just about makes it through one day of usage and that too when I haven’t been playing any intensive games during the time. Mostly my usage consists of streaming a lot of YouTube, Netflix, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and listening to Spotify podcasts. After a full day, the OnePlus Nord showed about 10 percent of battery. If we throw in some intensive gaming into the mix, then the Nord might need a top-up charge in the evening.
Quite a lot of this could be attributed to the fact that the screen operates at 90Hz, although I have selected the variable refresh rate option. The phone does support Warp Charge 30T for a fast charging experience. 0 – 50 percent can be achieved in about 20 minutes while a full charge from 0 percent will take about 60 minutes. Our standard battery test, which loops a video on repeat at half brightness and volume showed that the phone lasted 19 hours which is slightly less than what a phone with a 4,000mAh battery should last.
The starting price point of Rs 24,999 opens a lot of possibilities for OnePlus when it reveals new devices in the Nord lineup. The OnePlus user experience is second to none and while it was being served on its most premium devices, it has trickled down to this more affordable device. The battery life on the device might be in need of fine-tuning, but the display and camera are top of the line.
The competition, mainly Realme’s X3 series and Redmi K20 Pro (review), offer a flagship-grade chipset, albeit from last year, which could be key if you are involved in hardcore mobile gaming. Apart from that only the Realme X3 Superzoom (review) offers a set of features that the Nord lacks, such as a 64MP primary sensor, a periscope lens with 5X optical zoom, and a higher refresh 120Hz screen. The closest feature-rich option to the Nord is definitely the Realme X3 SuperZoom. However, OnePlus’ excellent software experience is lacking in both the X3 and K20 Pro. The Nord also has the advantage of being 5G capable, whenever the technology is ready in the Indian market while the other devices are not.
So who is the OnePlus Nord really for? I have established that while it is not a best in any specific department, it is definitely an all-rounder. For non-gamers and those looking for the premium OnePlus experience on a budget, the OnePlus Nord is an excellent choice. Well worth its asking price.
Editor’s rating: 4 / 5
- Premium design
- Top-notch display
- Best-in-class software and UI
- Night mode needs work
- Not made for extensive gaming
- Average battery life