OnePlus Nord hands-on review: OnePlus goes back to basics

OnePlus made its name by squeezing top-spec smartphone components into keenly priced products. However, that philosophy has gone by the wayside in recent times, as prices have steadily risen and the firm has elbowed its way onto the top table alongside the big names. The oddly titled OnePlus Nord is aimed at changing that; at re-establishing OnePlus once more as the king of budget smartphones; at helping OnePlus re-find its “true north”, as founder Carl Pei put it in a recent Instagram post.

With more brilliant budget phones on the market than ever before, however, jumping back in and winning cost-conscious customers over is going to be no simple task.

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones you can buy today

OnePlus Nord: Key specs, price, release date

  • 2.4GHz Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 785G SoC
  • 6.4in 90Hz 1080 x 2,400 AMOLED display
  • 8GB RAM/128GB storage; 12GB/256GB
  • Rear cameras: 48MP, f/1.75 main (1/2in sensor); 8MP, f/2.2 ultrawide; 5MP depth; 2MP, f/2.4 macro
  • Front cameras: 32MP, f/2.4; 8MP, f/2.4 105-degree ultrawide
  • In-screen optical fingerprint reader
  • 4,115mAh battery
  • Warp 30T fast charging
  • Oxygen OS 10.5 (Android 10)
  • Price: £379 (8GB, 128GB); £469 (12GB, 256GB)
  • Availability: From August 4 at OnePlus.com

OnePlus Nord: Design and features

That’s presumably why OnePlus has chosen to plump, for the first time in its history, for a non-8-series Qualcomm chip as the phone’s beating heart. And it’s this choice that has allowed the firm to keep the price at what looks like a very reasonable £379.

The incumbent Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G is no slouch, however. In this guise, it comes with 5G connectivity built-in and in general use it should feel as responsive as a smartphone needs to be. What’s more, OnePlus is backing it up with its usual generous smattering of core componentry, with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage available on the base model, or 12GB and 256GB if you’re willing to spend £90 extra. As with previous OnePlus handsets, though, there’s no way to expand storage, so choose carefully to avoid disappointment.

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Other cutbacks are harder to detect. The Nord lacks an IP rating just like the pricier OnePlus 8, but the firm says it has undergone unofficial testing (at a depth of 30cm for 30 seconds) and so it should be able to shrug off a light shower or two.

The glass on the front is of the flat variety rather than being curved at the edges but this isn’t a huge deal. With both the front and rear of the phone clad in Gorilla Glass 5, it should still resist fingerprints, scuffs and scratches nicely, and note: it also comes pre-fitted with a screen protector, as all OnePlus phones do.

Otherwise, it looks as good from the front as phones costing hundreds more: the screen fills most of the front of the phone, with narrow bezels above, below and to either side, and is punctuated only by two cameras, punched into a flat-sided oval in the top-left corner.

The OnePlus Nord is just as good looking from the rear as it is from the front. It’s available in two colours: the “blue marble” in the photos here and “grey onyx” for those who prefer a more sedate, businesslike appearance.

Both colours have pleasant, faintly metallic sheen to them and the surrounding frame of the phone is colour-matched to the hue of that rear panel. The whole lot is offset by the phone’s four cameras, arranged in a vertical stack in the top-left corner.

Elsewhere, the buttons and ports are in exactly the same places you’d expect them to be on a OnePlus phone. On the right edge is the do-not-disturb slider and power button. On the left is the volume rocker. And on the bottom edge is a USB-C port, SIM card tray and single speaker grille. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack.

All in all, it’s a pleasant enough phone to look at, if not particularly groundbreaking.

OnePlus Nord: Battery life and charging

Underneath that attractive skin – alongside the Snapdragon 765G processor and 5G modem – is a 4,115mAh battery which, combined with said processor, should lead to decent battery life.

Both Snapdragon Snapdragon 765-based phones we’ve reviewed so far – the Motorola Edge and Motorola Moto G 5G Plus – have lasted past the 20-hour mark in our video rundown test. And although both have larger batteries than the OnePlus Nord (4,500mAh and 5,000mAh respectively), I’d expect it to get close.

The phone also benefits from OnePlus’ rapid charging tech, Warp Charge 30T, with a compatible charger included in the box – OnePlus claims this can charge the phone to 70% in 30 minutes. You’re also getting clever optimised charging tech, which analyses your sleeping patterns and holds the charge at 80% until a couple of hours before you wake up and only then completes the charge. The idea is to keep the phone’s battery in good health for as long as possible.

OnePlus Nord: Display

You might think there would be some form of compromise on the display front but the Nord ticks most of the right boxes here as well.

Measuring 6.44in across the diagonal, this screen employs AMOLED tech, which delivers oodles of contrast and vivid colours. It even has the same high 90Hz refresh rate that the OnePlus 8 did, so scrolling through your Instagram feed should feel silky smooth.

Resolution-wise, too, the OnePlus Nord’s 1,080 x 2,400 matches its pricier sibling pixel for pixel.

READ NEXT: The best budget smartphones you can buy today

OnePlus Nord: Cameras

With six cameras arrayed across the front and rear of the phone, the Nord is not short on options for the photo-obsessed.

At the front you have an 8MP (f/2.4) ultrawide camera with a 105-degree field of view, and a high-resolution 32MP camera that can capture 4K video at 60fps.

At the rear, the main camera is a 48MP (f/1.75) Sony IMX586 module with a 1.2in sensor that captures 12-megapixel stills by default. That’s the same as the OnePlus 8’s main camera, so if you’re interested in how it’s going to perform step on over to Nathan’s full review of that phone and check out the camera samples.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the sheer number of beady eyes on the back, the Nord has no zoom lens. Instead, it’s accompanied by an 8MP (f/2.2) ultrawide camera, a 2MP macro (f/2.2) and a 5MP depth camera intended to improve those blurry background portrait shots.

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OnePlus Nord: Early thoughts

The big question is, will all of this go together to produce a smartphone worth buying? Or should you forget OnePlus altogether and opt for a cheaper rival?

In the end, it’s likely to come down to how much you value build quality and looks over other, more practical concerns. The OnePlus Nord, certainly, is one of the best looking phones we’ve come across at this price (£379) and the specification isn’t bad, either. But there are others aiming for the same slice of the smartphone market (the Motorola Moto G 5G Plus) with a very similar specification.

We’ll find out which you should in our full review, which we’ll be publishing very soon. For now, though, the OnePlus Nord represents a very welcome return to the budget smartphone arena for OnePlus.


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