The OnePlus Nord is, at its core, a killer budget smartphone offering the kinds of power and features that far eclipse other phones at this price point.
It won’t be the perfect device for everyone, but it’s an extremely compelling package.
The 6.44-inch smartphone arrives with a starting price of £379 and will be available from August 4 in the UK. That price gets you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage space but there’s also a slightly pricier model (£469) which bags you 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
Regardless of which model you choose, the OnePlus Nord comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor and four rear cameras. The screen has a 20:9 aspect ratio, a 2,400 x 1,080 pixel resolution and a smooth-scrolling 90Hz refresh rate.
The Snapdragon 765 is the newest of Qualcomm’s lower-end 7-series chips. It’s an octa-core processor and, while not as powerful as the 865 used in the OnePlus 8 Pro, it does include a 5G modem. Therefore, the OnePlus Nord is fully 5G ready and future-proofed for a good few years.
So, what does the OnePlus Nord forego to get the price down to that level? Well, there’s no option for wireless charging, no official IP rating for water resistance, no telephoto lens and (of course) no 3.5mm headphone jack.
Those missing features are unlikely to bother most users looking around for a mid-tier phone. After all, if having those kinds of options is crucial to you, you’re going to be looking at the OnePlus 8 or OnePlus 8 Pro. Like Apple, with the iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 and iPhone SE, OnePlus is attempting to walk a fine line between offering devices for everyone without cannabalising its own sales too much.
Away from the number-crunching specs sheet, the OnePlus Nord is a good-looking and usable phone. The screen takes up most of the front of the device but notably doesn’t curve around the edges in the same way as the OnePlus 8 Pro as another cost-cutting measure. Incidentally, the Nord comes in two colours: Gray Onyx and Blue Marble. For my money, the Blue Marble is the looker of the pair. There’s a power button on one side and volume buttons on the other, right below the physical slider that puts the phone on mute.
Using the phone day-to-day didn’t feel like any noticable downgrade in terms of performance just because it was an ‘affordable’ handset. In fact, I get the gnawing sense you just don’t need to buy a flagship anymore unless you really are desperate for the best possible camera or gaming experience.
Not only did the OnePlus Nord handle all my usual apps – music streaming, editing notes and office documents and casual gaming – but it didn’t stutter or get too hot in the process. Call quality was perfectly acceptable although I did find the mono speaker at the bottom to be a bit tinny when I didn’t have a Bluetooth speaker to hand.
Of course, you can also pick up a pair of OnePlus’ new wireless earphones, the OnePlus Buds, which are also excellent value for money at just £79.
Truth be told, there were only a couple of things that didn’t gel for me with the Nord. The first was the lack of wireless charging – I hadn’t realised how much I utilise the wireless charging dock on the desk. As a side note here, battery life itself was pretty standard – the 4,115mAh battery can be charged up to 70% in 30 minutes via the bundled Warp Charge power brick but takes longer on non-OnePlus chargers. In total, I made it through a day from 7am to 11pm with roughly 20% of battery life remaining.
The second was that, at 6.4-inches the screen is just a bit too big to comfortably use one-handed. If you’re after a small, powerful smartphone then your options really boil down to the iPhone SE or the Samsung Galaxy S10E at 4.7-inches and 5.8-inches respectively.
If I’m going to criticise the screen’s size then I’m also going to praise its quality. The display is AMOLED rather than LCD and has HDR10+ support so watching movies and videos on it is a lovely experience. It goes up to a respectable level of brightness, too. There’s also a fingerprint scanner embedded in the screen which I found to be fast and accurate and a good alternative if you don’t want to use face unlock.
Around the back of the phone is a rather unsightly camera bump that might not be to everyone’s liking but is worth putting up with because of the camera credentials of this phone.
The OnePlus Nord has six cameras – four at the back and two at the front. It’s the most OnePlus has ever put on a phone and while I don’t particularly care about the 8-megapixel 105-degree ultra-wide selfie camera on the front, I do care about the main 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 on the back.
Utilising that main camera along with the 5-megapixel depth sensor, 2-megapixel macro sensor and 8-megapixel, 119-degree ultra-wide sensor meant I could get a range of interesting, detailed shots. The Nord sets the pictures to 12-megapixels by default as these take up less storage and are fine for social media posting. But if you want to blow up and print out the pictures, I recommend setting it to 48-megapixels and seeing what it can do.
There are loads of shooting modes to employ, like super macro for close-up and nightscape for low-light as well as the obligatory portrait and video options like slowmotion and timelapse.
All these modes are nice and fit the bill, although they’re done better elsewhere. The iPhone 11 handles video better and the low-light modes are better on Google’s Pixel devices. But the Nord rolls it all into a competent package that most people will find more than capable.
Which is kind of in a nutshell what this phone is about – prioritising the things that people care about and disregarding the rest. I’m still astounded at what you’re getting from the Nord in terms of value for money. It bears repeating that the Nord costs £379 while the iPhone SE starts at £419.
If you prioritise power, performance, camera and value for money then the Nord is certainly one of the Android handsets on the market you should be paying very close attention to. For gadget fans like myself, it’ll be very interesting to see where OnePlus goes from here.
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