OnePlus Nord Review: At what cost simplicity?

OnePlus Nord was released in the Summer of 2020 in just about every global smartphone market but North America. If you’re living in Europe or India, you’re in luck, this is a surprisingly high-quality phone for a very reasonable price. If you live in the United States, this smartphone is a very big, but very promising, tease indeed.

Why this phone matters

Use this smartphone side-by-side with a significantly more powerful, more expensive smartphone like the OnePlus 8 Pro and you’ll see a marked difference in display intensity and smoothness – since the one has 120 Hz and the other has 90 Hz image refresh rate. But the difference isn’t so massive that I’d dismiss using one phone out of hand.

That’s the kicker, here – it’s meant to take advantage of the everyday smartphone users’ growing awareness of the lack of significant change in smartphone technology year-to-year over the past half-decade. Why buy a smartphone for twice this amount when the differences between the two is so small?

At the point at which this review is set to go live, there’s a OnePlus Nord Beta Program in the works, with its eye on North America. “While this new smartphone product line will initially be available in Europe and India, we look forward to bringing more affordable smartphones to North America in the future.”

Hardware

This smartphone has a 90hz image refresh rate AMOLED display. This should be the new baseline for every new smartphone from this point forward. In the very near future, this won’t seem all that magnificent, but right now it feels like a premium experience.

Under the hood is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G with a Snapdragon X52 5G Modem-RF System with connectivity with networks around the world. OnePlus suggests this modem is capable of rolling at speeds up to 3.38 Gbps, but until we’ve got actual 5G coverage here in the USA beyond the most massive cities, we won’t be able to test the max abilities of a device like this.*

The phone is 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2mm – and its front side is flat… gloriously flat! Much like devices such as the Razer Phone (which is flat and entirely rectangular), this device’s relative resistance to curving sides and edges makes its display seem larger than it actually is.

There’s an in-display fignerprint sensor which works about as well as the best in-display fingerprint sensors we’ve used in the past. That is to say it works great, so long as your display is entirely clean and scratch-free, and your finger is not covered in paint.

This phone has NFC, GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, SBAS, A-GPS, and NavlC. It’s very, very prepared to map the vast majority of the planet. Wi-fi support includes 2.2 MIMO and Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, both 2.4G and 5G.

There’s no headphone jack on this smartphone, which is a bummer – but it’s got OK speakers! You can connect with Bluetooth for… decent audio, or USB-C. This device has Bluetooth 5.1 with support for aptX, aptX HD, LDAC, and AAC.

Software

OnePlus has cultivated an ideal attitude toward manufacturing a smartphone with Android. They’re utilizing the best of Google’s efforts in developing Android, customizing the experience JUST enough to call it their own. The software here is essentially the same as it is with any other OnePlus phone still getting updates here in 2020.

OnePlus released this smartphone with what they call OxygenOS 10.5. OnePlus included a set of fingerprint scanning animations from which to choose, custom icon abilities, and access to the always interesting Dark Mode. UPDATE: The OnePlus Nord has the OnePlus software guarantee of 2 years of software updates (operating system updates), and 3 years of security updates.

Camera

The main rear sensor on this device is the same as the OnePlus 7T. That’s a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor camera with an f/1.75 aperture, EIS, OIS, and pixel capture size at 0.8μm/48M or 1.6μm(4in1)/12M.

There’s an “ultra wideangle” camera at 8-megapixels with an aperture of f/2.25 and a field of view 119-degrees. There’s a dedicated 2-megapixel camera with an f/2.4 aperture. The last lens is a depth sensor at 5-megapixels with an f/2.4 aperture.

You’ll roll with multi-autofocus (PDAF + CAF), but no reasonable zoom. Video on the back set of cameras is 4K at 30fps, or up to 60fps at 1080p. There’s also a “super slow motion” system that allows 240fps video at 1080p.

Above you’ll see a collection of photos captured by the OnePlus Nord. All photos were captured with the back-facing collection of cameras unless otherwise marked.

This device is capable of capturing photos as least as high-quality as those captured by comparable devices like the Motorola Edge+ (which is significantly more expensive), and the Xiaomi POCO F2 Pro (also unavailable in the USA). The only weakness I’ve found thus far is the camera’s tendency to push shadowy elements a bit too far into black – but that’s a software issue, more than likely, and can (probably) be tweaked by OnePlus in future software updates.

Oddly, the front-facing camera setup allows up to 60fps 4k video (and up to 60fps 1080p). The front-facing set of cameras on this device include a 32-megapixel shooter with Sony IMX616 sensor (with 0.8μm/32M;1.6μm(4in1)/8M pixel size), and an f/2.45 aperture. There’s also an 8-megapixel camera with f/2.45 aperture and a 105-degree field of view for “ultra wide selfie” photos.

Battery Life

OnePlus Nord has a decent sized battery and no issues with staying alive for 10-hour periods of heavy usage without a sweat. This smartphone has “Warp Charge 30T”, speedy charging with OnePlus’ own chargers – one of which is included with purchase of the phone.

Per OnePlus, this speedy charging system should send the phone from 0% to 70% battery inside a half hour. Over the period I’ve had the phone for review, I’ve found that claim to be quite accurate.

5G coverage and lack of USA release (for now)

*The OnePlus Nord is not made for the United States – or at least this iteration of the first “Nord” phone is not made to be used in the United States. It’s made to be sold in Asia and Europe, including India (first and foremost), Hong Kong SAR, China, and Malaysia, as well as 28 other countries, from Austria to the United Kingdom.

To drive that point home, it’s important to note that the phone isn’t made to work with mobile data from every carrier in the entire world. OnePlus goes so far as to show the device’s connectivity radio bands for India and for Europe separately – with no suggestions for USA or South American carrier coverage.

Per OnePlus, “in some regions across North America, Nord may experience signal stability issues. That’s because all Nord review units are European and don’t have support for the following bands: ATT: B14, 30, 29, 48, TMO: B25, 71​.”

For 5G in India, that means N78, while in Europe the phone rolls with N1, 3, 28, and 78. If your chosen carrier works with 5G connectivity that is not covered by that list, you will not get any sort of 5G coverage. This isn’t to say that the OnePlus Nord won’t ever be released in the USA – or that a future OnePlus Nord smartphone won’t ever be released in the USA. It’s just that this model isn’t specifically made to be sold in the USA or covered by US-based mobile data carriers.

Wrap-up

This smartphone is highly decent, delivering a smashing combination of a solid smartphone experience and good value. In a world where it’s increasingly apparent that smartphone users are looking for reliability over extravagance, the OnePlus Nord phone we’ve reviewed here today is a prime example of balance.

The OnePlus Nord was announced for release in two iterations: One with 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage, the other with 12GB RAM and 256GB internal storage. The lesser of these will cost you 27999 rupees, 399 euros, or 379 GBP. If you ramp up to the greater of the two devices, you’ll pay 29999 rupees, 499 euros, or 469 GBP.

Once you start into the higher prices, you might want to look back to the OnePlus 7 Pro, instead, as its latest pricing setup isn’t all that different, with a larger display with more pixels, a more powerful processor (SoC), with a few tradeoffs like a smaller battery, and a lesser set of cameras.

If you’re looking for a surprisingly high-quality smartphone from a reliable and quickly growing smartphone company, the OnePlus Nord might be the phone that best suits you.

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