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OnePlus got started with affordable so-called “flagship killers” like the OnePlus One and OnePlus 3. But over the years, its phone have become more expensive (as have most phones, to be fair). Its focus on getting more features and advanced hardware have increased too, though, culminating in the recent OnePlus 8 Pro — every bit a true “flagship,” and with a price tag to match. Fans of the brand have thus yearned for a return to the alluring value proposition of old, and the company has finally obliged in the form of the OnePlus Nord.
For as little as £379/€399, Nord has many of the same features offered by the OnePlus 8, but costs £220 less in the UK and €300 less across most of Europe. Memory and storage configurations are the same — 8/128GB for both base models — and so is the main camera. Its 1080p display has a 90Hz refresh rate, there’s an in-display fingerprint sensor, 30W fast-charging, and even 5G. So, why would anyone pay the extra money for the OnePlus 8 when the Nord has all of this? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself throughout this review, and there doesn’t really seem to be a compelling case for purchasing the more expensive model. Unless you’re in the US, of course, where the Nord will only be available as part of a limited test program.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
If the 8 Pro represents the pinnacle of what OnePlus is capable of building, Nord is about keeping the most important bits and getting rid of anything extraneous (read: expensive). “Pretty much everything you could ask for” is the slogan that accompanied the press release, and that’s quite accurate. It’s easy to see where costs have been cut, but OnePlus has mostly made the right choices (redundant cameras aside).
Nord doesn’t feel cheap, but it is noticeably less sleek and light compared to the OnePlus 8. Gorilla Glass 5 covers the front and back, but the warm-to-the-touch frame is instantly recognizable as plastic, despite its misleadingly metallic appearance. The buttons are metal, at least, and the fan-favorite alert slider is present and correct. I do wish the power and volume rocker placement didn’t lead to so many accidental screenshots, but that’s a complaint I have with all recent OnePlus handsets. It’s a shame that the rear glass is glossy instead of the lovely matte finish on the 8/8Pro, but that’s not to say Nord is unattractive. Similarly, the Marble Blue color option isn’t a patch on the sublime Glacial Green OnePlus 8, but you can’t have it all at this price.
If there’s one thing I really dislike about the display, it’s the pill-shaped punch-hole cutout for the dual front cameras. I don’t take a lot of selfies, so this is overkill for me, and it’s also a bit of an eyesore. I’m sure we could make do with a single wide-ish front camera instead. Otherwise, the screen is excellent — the 1080p AMOLED panel has a 90Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling, good black saturation, and solid color reproduction. If you’re in a dimly lit room, you can sometimes notice a slight change in color when the screen switches from 60 to 90Hz, but it’s only a minor annoyance. The display gets plenty bright enough and is thankfully flat, so there’s no problem with accidental touches and off-angle color shift on each side. At 6.44 inches diagonally, Nord’s display is only slightly smaller than the OnePlus 8 (6.55 inches), and the phone fits nicely in the hand as a result.
Underneath the display is a familiar optical fingerprint scanner, which is fast and accurate even though the active area isn’t quite as large as with the newer sensors on the 8 and 8 Pro. The bottom edge contains the usual trio of dual-SIM card tray, USB-C port, and speaker holes, but many will be disappointed to find there’s no headphone jack. Unlike the stereo speakers on more expensive OnePlus phones, the single bottom-firing mono effort here lacks detail but still gets rather loud. The haptics are surprisingly competent thanks to the linear vibration motor, offering a satisfying little buzz as you type. Nord has no IP rating, although it’s said to be able to withstand submergence in 30cm of water for 30 seconds.
So this means it’s waterproof, right?
Alongside the Nord phone and its pre-applied screen protector, the box contains a 30W Warp Charge power brick, USB-A to C cable (USB 2.0), and a TPU case with a nifty USB port plug/cover (see above). My reviewer package also came with a few additional cases and, once again, OnePlus has knocked it out of the park with the sandstone options.
Software, performance, battery life
The software on OnePlus phones has been among the most consistent and easy to use of any Android OEM, in large part because they don’t mess with the core structure and design too much. OxygenOS looks much like Google’s Pixel version of Android and this makes for a great experience. OnePlus usually adds a sprinkling of mostly useful features and customization options, too, and Nord is no different in this respect. I’ve been using the 10.5.1.AC01BA (based on Android 10) build for my time testing, and it’s remarkably stable — no pre-release jank here. A newer version with some bug fixes, stability improvements, and the July security patch is ready to go, but it hadn’t reached my device at the time of writing. As with other phones from OnePlus, Nord will get two years of OS updates and three years of security patches, and the company usually rolls these out in a timely fashion.
Nord is ever so slightly smaller than the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro.
Recent OxygenOS enhancements include getting rid of the terrible Shelf and putting the Google Discover feed to the left of the home screen (you can turn this off if you don’t want it), plus there are some more clock options for the ambient display. Other nifty features such as Zen Mode, Parallel Apps, and screen-off gestures are all on board, too. Thankfully, automatic brightness is no longer problematic as it has been in other recent OnePlus handsets. If you get the OnePlus Buds with the Nord, as I’m sure OnePlus hopes you will, there are some neat Apple-esque software interactions, so you always know how much battery you have and connecting is super easy. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Nord comes with Google Messages and Phone instead of OnePlus’s own SMS and dialer apps, and Duo is also pre-installed — I prefer this but some may be used to the old apps.
There are still some things that irk me about OxygenOS, not least that it still lacks an Always-on Display mode. I’m so used the at-a-glance clock on the screen of each phone I test and it’s genuinely infuriating that OnePlus still hasn’t got round to this, although it is in the works. Dark mode is another sore point — Pixels now have a quick settings toggle and schedule for this, but to enable it on the OnePlus Nord you still have to dig into the settings, making it borderline unusable until OnePlus finally adds a toggle, as promised. The other concern is the sometimes aggressive background app optimization. You can turn off battery optimizations for individual apps and lock specific recent apps in memory, but it would be preferable if OnePlus simply adhered to Android’s pre-existing rules.
Since this is the first OnePlus phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 700-series SoC, it’s tempting to assume that it’s not as “fast and smooth” as its predecessors. In benchmarks, that’s surely true, but in real-world use cases, Nord’s Snapdragon 765G processor holds up fantastically. In side-by-side tests with a OnePlus 8, it’s discernibly slower to open apps and perform certain functions, but the split-second difference isn’t something you’d normally notice. This phone is still rapid and will handle everything you can throw at it, including fairly intensive mobile games.
There have also been no connectivity issues of note. Nord is a performance powerhouse, which is quite the achievement given the price. You can get a phone with a Snapdragon 865 for the same money, but the overall package is unlikely to be this polished. Battery life on the Nord is also stellar — I’ve been finishing each day with roughly 50%, but admittedly, my screen-on time is rarely much more than two or three hours at the moment. Even when I really tried hard to drain it, though, I still only got to 42% with four hours of SoT. This means that most people will be able to squeeze two days out of this thing if they need to. Thanks to 30W charging, Nord can be topped up from 0-70% in a little over half an hour. Optimized charging means if you plug it in overnight, it won’t fully charge to 100% until just before you usually unplug it, preserving the health and longevity of the battery. It doesn’t have wireless charging, unfortunately, but neither does the OnePlus 8, so it’s understandable at this price point.
OnePlus camera performance has improved a lot in the last year or two, but the company still makes some odd decisions. We criticized the inclusion of a macro lens on the OnePlus 8 in place of a telephoto, but the company has made the same mistake again with the Nord. At least the 48MP primary sensor is the same here — which uses pixel-binning to produce 12MP photos —so the image quality out of the main camera is decent if still a little inconsistent. Optical image stabilization is a bonus. OnePlus has a distinct processing style which practically maxes out the dynamic range in daylight shots, and the results are mostly very attractive despite not always being super realistic. Low-light conditions sometimes present problems, but the Nightscape mode does a good job of making up for this.
Since the ultra-wide only has an 8MP sensor, it isn’t capable of anywhere near the same level of detail the main camera captures, but the shots it takes are passable if you only intend to share them on social media. Color reproduction is pretty good, and there’s only a small amount of appreciable lens distortion. The inclusion of the dedicated 2MP macro lens continues to be a perplexing choice. It’s too low-res to be truly useful, and ultra-wide cameras are usually capable of taking similar close-ups anyway. OnePlus would have been better off ditching this and the depth sensor in favor of a telephoto lens. As it is, 2x zoom is achieved by cropping the main camera sensor, and if you go all the way up to 10x with digital zoom, the resulting images are like muddy oil paintings.
With a 32MP sensor on the primary front-facing camera, selfies taken on the Nord are probably better than on any other OnePlus phone. The 8MP ultra-wide that sits beside it is less competent, and I’d prefer if it weren’t there, but I guess some people really like group selfies. Nord supports video recording up to 4K at 30fps on the rear but can manage 4K at 60fps using the front camera, for whatever that’s worth.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The OnePlus Nord is a great phone in its own right, even before considering its price tag. There are other affordable options in Asia and Europe that match or surpass the Nord in certain areas, but as a complete package, it’s hard to beat. Performance is flawless, the software is a delight, and the display is excellent. The cameras are good enough — get a Pixel 3a/4a if you want the very best bang for camera buck — and the build quality is mostly faithful to the reputation OnePlus has built up at this point.
The few bugbears I have with the phone are acceptable for £379/€399, and some of it comes down to personal preference anyway. I can’t see the need for dual selfie cams, but some of you out there might think differently. Another reason this phone represents good value is that OnePlus is generally reliable with updates, and the promised two years of OS version bumps and three years of security patches is far better than most manufacturers are able to offer. Not many phones in this price bracket offer the same peace of mind. If you’ve long coveted a OnePlus phone but bemoaned the rising price of the company’s flagships, this is the one you’ve been waiting for.
- You want a dependable, high-performance phone without paying a premium.
Don’t buy if…
- You want the best camera for your money — a Pixel 3a/4a or an iPhone SE could be a better choice.
- You can find a OnePlus 8 for around the same price on sale.