OnePlus Nord Review: The King of Mid-Rangers

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Back when OnePlus used to make smartphones with top-of-the-line hardware and minimal design, it posed as a “flagship killer” of phones with equivalent hardware from Samsung, Apple, LG, Oppo, Huawei, and many more. However, they slowly transitioned to making actual flagships and kept increasing the price for its devices. As a result, OnePlus’s current 8 series lineup of devices is now no longer cheaper than the flagships from Apple and Samsung.

OnePlus has finally decided to go “back to its roots” and hold its ground in the competitive mid-range segment with the OnePlus Nord. To keep the price under control, the company has sacrificed on many aspects of the devices but somehow has managed to keep a perfect balance. At a starting price of ₹24,999 in India, the OnePlus Nord makes it difficult for Realme, Samsung, Vivo, and Oppo to justify the value of their sub-₹30000 smartphones.

How does the OnePlus Nord fare in day-to-day usage? Was the hardware downgrade the right decision? You can find out the answers to your questions in this review of the OnePlus Nord.

OnePlus Nord: Uncompromised Design

The OnePlus Nord feels great in hand. In terms of design, it has taken cues from the Oppo Find X2 Lite, which isn’t a bad thing. Both the rear and the front portion of the device is covered by Gorilla Glass 5 protection, which are held together with a polycarbonate midframe.

On the front, the screen is what you would expect from a 2020 mid-range device. The bezels are quite thin on the top and sides, with a slightly more prominent chin at the bottom. The thin bezels are accompanied by a pill-shaped punch hole at the top-left corner of the screen.

You will find your typical volume rockers on the left side of the frame, along with a power button and OnePlus’ convenient alert slider on the right. The bottom of the frame consists of a single speaker grill, along with the USB Type-C charging port (2.0 data transfer speeds) and a SIM card slot. Microphones are found on both the top and the bottom of the frame.

Overall, the OnePlus Nord is a solidly built device. When applied pressure, the device doesn’t make any creaking noise, and the polycarbonate frame has a metallic finish. The buttons are at least made out of metal, and they all give satisfying tactile feedback. The OnePlus Nord doesn’t miss out on much in this department, but the plastic frame offers less structural integrity compared to metal, as proved by JerryRigEverything’s OnePlus Nord Durability Test.

The OnePlus Nord has two color variants: Blue Marble and Gray Onyx. We have the one with the Blue Marble finish, which looks stunning under direct light. The frame also has a darker metallic blue coat, resulting in a two-toned finish.

OnePlus Nord: Excellent Display

The OnePlus Nord sports a 6.44-inch Full HD+ (2400×1080) display that has a tall 20:9 aspect ratio. It is also an AMOLED panel, which has a higher saturation and contrast level than IPS panels, and it can also produce pitch black. Mid-range devices from Samsung, Realme, and Oppo also offers an AMOLED display, but none of them look as great as the one found in the OnePlus Nord.

The excellent display is also complemented by a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s quite difficult to go back to a smartphone with a 60Hz screen after experiencing high refresh rates. The 180Hz touch sampling rate also makes the device much more responsive, as it already is thanks to the snappy OxygenOS-flavored Android interface.

There’s an in-display fingerprint scanner as well, which has been fast and reliable throughout our hands-on. It’s actually marginally better compared to the in-display scanners in other mid-range devices.

OnePlus Nord: A Decent Performer

The OnePlus Nord is the first OnePlus smartphone without a flagship Snapdragon 800-series chipset inside. Instead, it is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 765G chipset, which not only delivers the same flagship-level CPU performance as the previous-gen Snapdragon 845 but also integrates a sub-6GHz 5G modem.

The octa-core Snapdragon 765G has a single Kryo 475 Prime (Cortex-A76) core clocked at 2.4GHz, followed by another Kryo 475 Gold core that goes up to 2.2GHz. It also has six efficient Kryo 475 Silver (Cortex-A55) cores clocked at a lower 1.8GHz, handling background tasks and saving power while the device is in an idle state. The Snapdragon 865 is much faster than the 765G, which roughly translates to OnePlus Nord being slower than the OnePlus 8. However, it isn’t unexpected considering the major price difference between the devices.

In Nord’s defense, the 765G is still a very capable chipset, offering almost the same performance as the Snapdragon 845 in raw processing and graphics horsepower. It isn’t advertised as a gaming phone by any means, but it can hit 90fps in casual games. In PUBG Mobile, the graphics preset was on HD by default and frame rate on High, providing a smooth and lag-free experience overall. Sadly, Fortnite struggles to run smoothly on this device, and the frame rate drops quite a lot below 30fps at times. Graphic-intensive titles like this are bound to tax the 765G chip hard.

If you are looking for day-to-day usages, such as browsing the web, scrolling through social media, and watching high-resolution videos, then the OnePlus Nord can deliver almost the same level of experience as its flagship brothers. It’s worth mentioning that all the RAM/storage variants of the Nord are using LPDDR4X and UFS 2.1 technology, whereas the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro come with LPDDR5 memory and faster UFC 3.0 storage.

OnePlus Nord: Solid Battery

It’s also the first time for OnePlus to break the 4000mAh threshold for the battery capacity on its devices. The Snapdragon 765G inside offers superior power-efficiency, and you can expect to get a full day of usage with more than 20% of battery left. In our testing, we had a mixed-use of both Wi-Fi and cellular connections. We also kept Bluetooth enabled for wireless earphones.

Following the tradition, OnePlus has put its Warp Charge 30T fast-charging technology in the Nord, which can charge the device from 0% to 100% in less than an hour. A 30W Warp Charger is also shipped with the device, so you won’t have to pay extra to unlock Nord’s fast charging capabilities.

OnePlus Nord: Average Camera

The OnePlus Nord shares the same rear primary sensor as the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 7T, the famous Sony IMX586. It gives OnePlus the opportunity to call the Nord a flagship-class camera performer, which definitely isn’t the case. It does have six cameras in total, but that doesn’t mean it’s also better than other mid-range devices.

The primary 48MP sensor can capture passable photos. Thanks to the pixel-binning, the 12MP photos come out as sharp and detailed as you would expect. But, the color science is a bit off and lacks the punch. Furthermore, the contrast levels are often higher than usual, and the dynamic range is lackluster at its best. Despite proper lighting, the photos came out a darker, with shadows crushed at the point where the objects start to lose details. However, the night mode in the software handles low-light situations quite well, which is also helped by OIS (Optical Image Stabilization).

The same can be said for the 8MP ultra-wide camera, but worse in some aspects. Due to its low-resolution, the pictures come out softer than the primary sensor, and they are noticeably grainier. Places with small details, especially foliages, looked like oil-painting in some instances.

The 5MP depth sensor isn’t mindblowing either. The edge detection is a hit or miss, and it takes some tries for the sensor to focus on the subject correctly. It’s surprising considering that the front cameras produce a better portrait mode effect without additional hardware.

The last sensor in Nord’s rear quad-camera array is a 2MP macro sensor, which is just as bad as it sounds. OnePlus probably didn’t have any reason to add this in the camera system whatsoever, except the “quad-camera” marketing.

The 32MP primary front camera can take decent selfies, with proper dynamic range and accurate colors. But, OnePlus has gone over the board with the skin smoothing, even with the beautification features disabled. The 8MP ultra-wide front camera can help you take a wider selfie, but it suffers from the same issues as the ultra-wide lens at the back. Also, just forget about low-light selfies.

The video quality is actually decent when compared to other devices in the same price segment. While you get 4K/60fps video capturing with the front camera, the rear camera is stuck at 4K/30fps for unknown reasons. Overall, video recordings from the primary rear camera come out great, and they are also optically stabilized. The same can’t be said for the front camera, which only uses EIS for stabilization. It also doesn’t have auto-focus capabilities.

OnePlus Nord: Best Android Experience You Can Get

OnePlus is famous for its custom Android skin named OxygenOS. It offers the same stock Android user interface, but with additional device-specific features that make the user experience much better. It is also bloatware-free, which is something other mid-range devices are not known for. The customization options are vast, and the performance optimizations provide a smooth Android experience overall.

You can change how your ambient display looks, as well as hide the pill-shaped cutout by adding a black bar on top of the display. You can even use third-party icon packs, change the battery icon, and switch to a system-wide dark mode if you want to. In addition, OnePlus offers its own take on Google’s full-screen gesture navigation system. These small features of OxygenOS make it so much better than the stock Android.

Plus, the OnePlus Nord will reportedly receive two years of major platform updates and three years of security patches. In general, OnePlus is one of the only Android phone manufacturers with an excellent track record of updating its older flagships.

OnePlus Nord: Verdict

The OnePlus Nord offers great value in the mid-range smartphone market, especially with its uncompromised build and promise of frequent Android updates. The company is no longer known for its “flagship killers” for sure, but it definitely has the potential to capture a significant portion of the mid-range segment.

At ₹24,999 for the 6GB/64GB variant, the OnePlus Nord is pretty much unbeatable, if only you overlook the fact that the Redmi K20 Pro (6GB+128GB) from Xiaomi offers the Snapdragon 855 and premium design at the same price in India right now.

However, if you want a taste of OxygenOS and guaranteed Android platform updates, then the OnePlus Nord is a must-buy for you. The 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB variants cost ₹27,999 and ₹29,999 respectively. Note that the 6GB/64GB variant won’t come in India until September.

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The OnePlus Nord offers great value in the mid-range smartphone market, especially with its uncompromised build and promise of frequent Android updates. The company is no longer known for its “flagship killers” for sure, but it definitely has the potential to capture a significant portion of the mid-range segment.

  • Design
  • Display
  • Camera
  • Performance
  • Battery

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