OnePlus Nord was launched with great fanfare back in August. The company returned to aggressive and ruthless marketing. It seemed that OnePlus was about to release a cure for COVID-19. The hype died down almost immediately after the launch, when people realized that it was just another mid-range smartphone.
The OnePlus Nord is an attractive smartphone, especially in blue. It looks like a smaller version of its larger brothers. The company has made sure that the design remains: an elongated camera array on the back, characteristic curves on the sides, and a knurled head switch.
The Nord doesn’t have premium materials like its flagship brethren. The metal frame has been replaced with a polycarbonate frame with a polished chrome finish. However, the back is made of Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which also protects the display. The Nord’s glass back looks better than the plastic backs that adorn most other phones in this price range (and one very expensive Samsung Galaxy Note20).
As for the front, OnePlus decided to cut out an elongated oval on the display. It’s a bit annoying and intrudes a lot on the status bar. We are constantly thinking about the pop-up cameras of 2019 and cannot understand why they were abandoned in favor of such a solution.
Nord’s design flair is compactness in a sea of ever-expanding smartphones. However, Nord is not a small phone; It is quite tall due to the elongated 20:9 display. However, it is significantly narrower than many large gathers, making it much easier to work with. The device is slightly lighter than most major flagship devices, including the OnePlus 8 Pro.
Nord is more comfortable, especially for people with small hands. It is much easier to work with one hand. The only problem is the location of the power and volume buttons; they are located exactly opposite each other, and it is very difficult to press one without putting pressure on the other and without accidentally taking a screenshot.
OnePlus Nord has a 6.44-inch AMOLED display with 2400×1080 resolution. The refresh rate is 90 Hz, but it does not always work in this mode.
The image quality on the display is impressive for a phone at this price point. The display isn’t as well calibrated as on the more expensive OnePlus 8 series devices, but this can only be seen in a side-by-side comparison.
The best thing about the display, perhaps, is that it is not curved. Yes, flat screen displays are now as rare as having a headphone jack. The screen on the Nord is more comfortable to use than the curved display on the OnePlus 8 Pro as it results in fewer accidental clicks.
OnePlus has not announced HDR support in this smartphone, however Nord supports HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG content. This means that apps that offer HDR content, such as YouTube and Netflix, will play content in HDR when available. Amazon Prime Video, however, ignored the HDR tag in the software and only played the SDR version.
The OnePlus Nord does indeed have a 90Hz screen refresh rate. However, it varies, as it often does. The phone normally runs at 90Hz, but some apps such as YouTube, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Maps and the camera run at a fixed 60Hz.
By far the worst thing about refresh rates is the complete lack of support for overclocking in games. This applies not only to Nord, but to all OnePlus smartphones with high-hertz displays. This seems like a criminal waste of hardware, as gaming is an area where high refresh rates are not only easier to accept, but also the most beneficial.
Overall, the Nord’s display is still pretty good. At least the panel itself is quite competitive in this price range.
The OnePlus Nord performed very well in the battery life test. The battery capacity is 4115 mAh and it’s not the biggest battery in its category, but thanks to the low power consumption of the Snapdragon 765G chipset, the phone delivers a satisfying battery life.
When it comes to charging, one can definitely say that the standard OnePlus Warp 30T is one of the fastest. It will take about an hour to fully replenish the energy, which is still impressive, although there have been faster solutions for a long time.
Software and Performance
The OnePlus Nord runs the OxygenOS 10 skin on top of Android 10. At the time of publication, the phone has just received the OxygenOS 10.5.8 update with the September 1st security patch.
While super-fast updates may not be OnePlus’ forte, the company has made a name for itself with a fast and clean user interface. OnePlus has made a lot of changes to OxygenOS over the years, but the focus has always been on keeping it clean and running smoothly, so you never feel like you’re wading through years of accumulated junk you get when using some of the other Android implementations.
Although the smartphone does not have a standard user interface, it carefully mimics the design of that of Google. This gives the user the impression of using an almost standard shell, but at the same time much more customizable. This customization ability works at every level, from the launcher to the default OnePlus apps to the OS itself.
Besides cleanliness, OnePlus also prioritizes speed. This includes faster animations and transitions, as well as identifying stress points to eliminate any dropped frames. The result is a consistent and fluid interface that is a pleasure to use, especially on these high refresh rate displays.
Nord also ships with Google’s version of the Phone and Messages apps instead of the OxygenOS versions. Both apps are inferior to what OnePlus does, so naturally users were upset when they first discovered them on their new smartphones. For example, the Google Phone app didn’t have a voice recording feature like the OnePlus app. Google Messages also doesn’t have a way to sort incoming messages into notifications and chats like the OnePlus app does. Eventually, Google rolled out the voice recording feature for the Phone app, but the Messages app is still quite limited.
Nord works exceptionally well. This was especially surprising to us because the phone does not feature the latest flagship chipset. Instead, it has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G, which isn’t bad on paper, as well as one of Qualcomm’s faster chips.
However, OnePlus is taking full advantage of this chip because, in practice, the OnePlus Nord feels as fast and responsive as any 2020 flagship. We often have to switch between devices as we test them, and often find ourselves moving between the Nord and the much more expensive OnePlus 8 Pro. To say that we have always noticed a performance difference between the two would be an overstatement. The OnePlus 8 Pro does feel smoother and more responsive, but that could be due to the 120Hz refresh rate display. When it comes to devices in this price range, the OnePlus Nord puts the competition to shame with its combination of a 90Hz display and excellent software optimization.
Gaming performance is acceptable. While the GPU in the Snapdragon 765G can run games at 90Hz, it would still be nice to be able to run games at an unlocked frame rate so they can run as smoothly as possible. In particular, simpler 2D games would have no problem running at maximum frequency. It is not clear what OnePlus is more afraid of: increased power consumption or more heat from the processor. In any case, it’s a pity that the company decided to leave it locked at 60Hz.
The OnePlus Nord has more cameras than any other OnePlus smartphone, with four on the back and two on the front. Let’s focus on the cameras on the back.
The Nord has the same 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor as the OnePlus 8, as well as all of last year’s OnePlus smartphones. This sensor has been in use for a couple of years now and is starting to lose ground.
The image quality of the main camera on the Nord is quite consistent with a smartphone in its price category. In good light, detail, dynamic range and color accuracy can be quite decent. There’s even a fake 2x digital zoom mode that also produces decent results as the image is just cropped in the middle.
Unfortunately, the Nord doesn’t have an objectively good camera, and there are a few problems here. Despite the claimed resolution of 48 MP, the final images have a resolution of 12 MP. This in itself isn’t a major downside, but these 12MP shots often come out softer and lack detail compared to some of the 12MP photos on more expensive phones.
In addition, there is a common OnePlus color problem. The colors from the OnePlus cameras are neither particularly accurate nor pleasing. There will always be some weird color cast that doesn’t match or enhance the original scene. Primary colors such as red and green are rarely displayed accurately.
Nord also has a problem with dynamic range in some scenes. OnePlus uses a very aggressive contrast curve for some reason, which often results in the phone crushing detail in the shadows and highlights. This happens more often in less than ideal lighting.
The Nord is also equipped with a new 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera. She disappoints even in her middle class. The images are very bland and should only be used if you don’t expect to be zooming in on the image. If you just want a wider perspective, this camera is great, especially if you’re shooting in good light. But otherwise, this sensor is a serious downgrade compared to what is found on OnePlus flagships.
Continuing this downward trajectory of quality is the macro camera, the worst of the three cameras used on the back. The meager 2MP resolution means you won’t get any extra detail.
On the 8 Pro and 7T series, OnePlus included macro photography using the ultra wide angle lens. Since the camera behind this lens was of reasonably good quality, macro photography was also quite good and usable. Switching to a dedicated low-quality macro camera on the Nord increases the number of cameras, severely reducing image quality.
Overall, the Nord has a mediocre camera system. The main 48-megapixel camera can produce usable images most of the time, but the other cameras are seriously disappointing in terms of quality, and it feels like the focus was only on having a lot of cameras.
OnePlus Nord is a great mid-range smartphone. For the price, you get a very well made and well designed smartphone with a great display, great performance and mostly clean software. Battery life is pretty good too, and OnePlus DASH charging is still incredibly fast.
Combining all of this in a relatively compact flat-panel body makes the Nord more attractive than OnePlus’ own flagship phones. Nord especially makes the standard OnePlus 8 an underdog. The OnePlus 8 Pro still has a lot going for it, but the vanilla version is marginally better than the Nord despite the significant price difference.
The main drawback is the cameras, most of which are practically useless. Even if there are six of them, they are all of varying degrees of mediocrity. The main camera can take decent images, but still not as good as the Pixel 4a. Here, the focus is clearly on including as many cameras as possible rather than their quality, and this shows in image quality.