OnePlus Nord review – the new mid-range benchmark

Rating: 8.8/10

Pros:

  • Blue Marble colour is super attractive
  • Fluid display
  • Consistent performance
  • Oxygen OS
  • Priced well
  • Front cameras are tailor-made for vlogging

Cons:

  • No headphone jack
  • Plastic frame
  • Average looking selfies
  • Inconsistent colour science in portraits
  • Could’ve skipped the 2MP Macro camera

OnePlus Nord – Introduction

This phone needs no introduction. The Nord has been hyped a lot and I am going to find out in my review if it actually deserves the hype, and, of course, answer all the questions you might have about the phone before you hit that purchase button. Let’s begin. 

Network quality

Let’s get the basic function of a smartphone out of the way – calling. The OnePlus Nord’s call quality and microphone performance is top notch. Not once did the phone drop connection on my Airtel 4G SIM in Delhi NCR. I almost always got four bars of network coverage. Plus, Airtel’s VoWiFi also worked without a hiccup. And, I got carrier aggregation on the 4G network as well. So, it is safe to say the Nord has no issues with calling or 4G performance. 

I also ran a bunch of speed tests, and I got a download speed of at least 12Mbps and an upload speed of minimum 8Mbps, on the five back-to-back test runs that I performed on the Nord with my 4G SIM. 

By the way, thanks to the presence of the 765G, you get support for 5G in India. However, currently, the only band n78 is supported in the Indian variant of the Nord. This is a sub-6 band. Regardless, the 765G is not equipped to do mmWave. OnePlus’ reasoning is this is the band India is expected to put up for spectrum auction. Well, we’ll just have to wait and watch I guess. 

OnePlus Nord – Design

As for the design, I have already waxed eloquent about what I think of the OnePlus Nord in my first impressions. Essentially, I really like the Blue Marble colour and the feel of the phone in my hand. That’s mostly because of the curved rear and the excellent distribution of 184 grams all across the length and breadth of the design. Not once did the phone feel like it’ll topple out of my hands.

OnePlus Nord – Mr. Phone – 12
OnePlus Nord – Mr. Phone – 11
OnePlus Nord – Mr. Phone – 6
OnePlus Nord – Mr. Phone – 5
OnePlus Nord – Mr. Phone – 4

By the way, the front and back are protected by Corning’s Gorilla Glass 5 solution but what irks me the most about the design is the plastic frame. It looks cheap and takes the sheen away from the otherwise premium design. The other downsides of the Nord is there’s no official IP rating or a headphone jack either. Moreover, the Type-C port at the bottom is of the USB 2.0 kind. This means, you can’t use a capture card directly to stream games. 

Also, there’s no denying that the Nord looks very much like a Realme phone mostly due to the vertical quad camera stack. However, it still looks distinctly OnePlus and I can’t really seem to pinpoint the reason why. To be honest, the Nord’s appeal is going to be this gorgeous Blue Shade for quite a few folks. Although, I must say it – the prototype definitely looked better. 

OnePlus Nord – Display 

The Nord’s 6.44-inch Fluid AMOLED display has a pretty good panel. The colours are extremely vibrant on the deep Blacks of the display, especially in the Vivid colour profile. In fact, the display can do a max colour gamut of DCI-P3 at 100%, which is very good. If you want a more accurate colour temperature you can go for the Natural profile. There’s a pre-installed screen protector on the phone and a case inside the box. The screen protector is not very good if you ask me. I removed it in an instant. 

A lot of you had questions around the display’s brightness levels. Well, it can go up to 500 nits in normal mode and auto-brightness can trigger the High Brightness mode to go up to 700 nits. And, when the display demands it while playing HDR content it can go up to 1000 nits in certain areas where you need more light. Essentially, you won’t really have a problem with viewing it outdoors. Plus, the Nord’s display is great for watching videos on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Prime, and Hotstar, and I got buffer-free playback on my Airtel 4G. 

And, let’s not forget that you get the fluid 90Hz refresh rate as well. Coupled with the improved 180Hz touch sampling rate, the touchscreen experience is great too. Then there’s the speedy in-display fingerprint scanner which unlocks in a jiffy. And, of course. the fairly good linear motor that does a satisfactory job with the haptic feedback. 

Almost everything about the display in this price range is good. So, I had to check if there are any issues with Black Crush or Green Tint on the panel similar to the experience of many folks on the OnePlus 8 Pro. And, I am happy to report that the display is near blemish free. But yes, if I had to pinpoint a problem, it would have to be the auto-brightness setting. It is very aggressive and tends to reduce the brightness a lot. Super conservative coding if you ask me. Also, for some odd reason, I cannot view Netflix videos in full screen mode as the app hasn’t been optimised yet.

To sum it up, I can say this with a fair bit of confidence that under 30k, the Nord has one of the best displays, if not the best. 

OnePlus Nord – Camera

Coming to the cameras on the Nord, I have a very detailed comparison of the phone against the OnePlus 8 and the 8 Pro. You must go check it out to get an idea of how the Nord performs. I’ll just summarise those findings for you now. 

Selfie_portrait_oneplus_nord
Selfie_ultrawide_oneplus_nord
Selfie_oneplus_nord
Portrait_2x_oneplus_nord
Portrait_1x_oneplus_nord
Portrait_wire_oneplus_nord
  1. The 48MP Sony IMX586 camera is very good at capturing details when you serve it with ample light. The quality of pictures are as good as the OnePlus 8. The colour accuracy is not as good as the OnePlus 8 Pro, though. The dynamic range performance despite using an inferior ISP is almost as good as the OnePlus 8 and only slightly worse than the 8 Pro. 
  2. However, the camera starts to struggle when you shoot indoors or in low light. The algorithm uses aggressive noise correction to smudge out the details. In low light, the Nightscape mode works very hard to make the image brighter but doesn’t necessarily retain details or anything. Well, if you don’t care to pixel peep, this will serve the purpose I suppose. 
  3. The ultra-wide angle camera is alright. It goes wider than the 8 and the 8 Pro but don’t expect similar levels of details or dynamic range performance. Anyway, the barrel distortion correction could’ve been better too in my opinion. You can also shoot ultrawide images using the Nightscape mode, but it is not very good. 
  4. The less said about the 2MP Macro camera, the better. This is a pointless addition to pad up the specs. Don’t get swayed by it.
  5. There’s also the 5MP depth camera. I don’t know how it works but it doesn’t have any drastic effects on portraits. I got alright looking portraits and there were issues in edge detection and the faux blur in the background. In fact, I was also annoyed by the fact that the pictures look so drastically different at 1x and 2x zoom. OnePlus needs to fix this in a software update. 
  6. Coming to the selfie cameras on the front, the 32MP shooter takes soft selfies. I mean, you get fairly accurate facial tones, with sometimes the reds being lifted, but I would have really liked sharper pictures. Also, weirdly the 32MP snapper doesn’t shoot pixel-binned selfies in regular mode but it does so in portrait mode. The 8MP ultrawide can shoot 105-degree wide angle selfies. Again, the pictures could’ve been sharper. 
  7. While the Nord can take okay photos, it excels in video recording actually. You can shoot up to 4K30fps videos using the optically stabilised main camera and the ultra-wide angle camera as well. The footage looks pretty good and stable as well. It doesn’t have the high dynamic range of the OnePlus 8 Pro, but it will do for the price. But, the Nord beats even the OnePlus 8 Pro when it comes to shooting videos with the front camera. You can shoot excellent quality videos upto 4K 60fps with good sound recording using the front camera but there’s no EIS. You get EIS up to 4K 30fps video recording which is good enough. Even the ultra-wide angle front camera can shoot 4K 30fps videos with EIS if you want a wider frame. If you want a fairly affordable phone for vlogging on the go, you cannot go wrong with the OnePlus Nord.      
Daylight_oneplus_nord
Dynamic_range_oneplus_nord
Ultrawide_oneplus_nord
Indoor_oneplus_nord

Overall, the cameras on the Nord definitely require some more fine tuning to completely exploit the power of the hardware for better photos. Although, video recording is excellent already.

OnePlus Nord – Software

The main reason why a lot of folks would be interested in the Nord is because of Oxygen OS on top of Android 10. OnePlus’ software UI is possible second only to Apple’s iOS when it comes to hardware software optimisations. 

Which is why, even on a 7-series chipset, Oxygen OS and the optimisation done to hundreds of animations, makes the phone glide in daily usage. I honestly didn’t face a single stutter during my usage. And unlike the OnePlus 7T, which was riddled with bugs at launch, I had a bug-free experience on the OnePlus Nord. Plus, there are no pesky ads in the system UI or notifications from first-party apps. 

There are a couple of things to note about the Nord’s software:

  1. Nord uses Google’s Comm Suite apps such as Google Phone, Google Messages, Google Duo, instead of OnePlus’ very own Messages and Phone app. Don’t worry, you can also record calls using Google’s Phone app but it will inform the person on the other end. So, no sneaky business. Now, my question to OnePlus was why use Google’s apps when you’ve spent so much effort, time, and money into adding India-specific features to the homegrown Messages app? Considering the Nord is going to be a more mainstream phone wouldn’t OnePlus want to use its own apps? And, I got a very vague answer where the rep said they wanted to unify the user experience for folks coming from different platforms. To be honest, if anyone comes from MIUI or Realme UI or OneUI, they are not going to be used to Google Messages anyway, are they?
  2. Moving on, you also get the Google Discover Feed on the -1 page, which is an excellent move. 
  3. And, one new feature that’s been added exclusively to the Nord so OnePlus can test the waters is the direct share feature from the camera app. Once, you take a picture, you can long press the thumbnail at the bottom to bring up the share options. Coupled with the haptic feedback, this was pretty useful actually. 

With all its customisation options and the minimal design, I am convinced that Oxygen OS – despite its minor niggles – is the most refined UI out there. Granted not everyone likes minimalistic UI and sometimes want it to be feature rich – like MIUI – but once you get a taste of Oxygen OS at an affordable price tag with a phone like the Nord, you will find it difficult to go back. And, let’s not forget the fact that OnePlus gives you the assurity of 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates too. 

OnePlus Nord – Performance

Let’s suppose that you didn’t know what processor was inside the OnePlus Nord. And, I gave you the Nord and the OnePlus 8 to use. Without opening the Settings page of PUBG or Call of Duty, would you be able to tell the difference between speed and smoothness? Absolutely not. 

But, when you place the phone right next to a Realme X2 Pro and open the PUBG game settings is when you are greeted to the limitations of the SD765G processor. You can currently play PUBG only on HD and High. Whereas the SD855+-toting can go up to HDR and Extreme. So yeah, if you are a PUBG gamer, Nord is clearly not the phone for you.

Although, I’ve been playing Call of Duty Mobile extensively on the OnePlus Nord since I love this multiplayer experience more. And, it has really been a smooth experience to be entirely honest. No heating issues either. I played the game for 30 mins continuously and the phone touched XYZ degree. Add to that, OnePlus also adds the Fnatic mode for gaming without any interruptions. Now, all of this is pointless if you don’t have a stable 4G/WiFi connection. I had no network instability while playing on Airtel’s 4G and broadband connections on the Nord, and I got a fairly low ping too. Makes sense considering it has the lowest latency among all the networks in India, according to a new OpenSignal report. 

As for the RAM management, there is no doubt that Oxygen OS is more aggressive for better battery performance. But, you can definitely switch off all those optimisations if you want to squeeze more power. 

Now, coming to the audio situation. Yes, there’s only a single mono speaker at the bottom but it is the Super Linear kind and therefore it sounds pretty damn good. If you remember the Redmi K20 series also has it. This speaker can get loud but most importantly it offers a detailed and spatial sound from the single driver unit at the bottom. Here’s a test next to OnePlus 8 Pro’s stereo speakers. Obviously, the 8 Pro is better but this is just to see the difference. 

As for the missing headphone jack, I tried a couple of Type-C to 3.5mm adapters with it and both had an in-built DAC. And, both worked like a charm. Which means passthrough adapters such as OnePlus’ very own dongles will also work. But, since I don’t have a passthrough dongle I can’t really tell the audio quality of the SD765G’s bundled DAC at the moment. I’ll add a comment with my thoughts below once I find a dongle. That said, I tested a few TWS earphones and they all worked exceedingly well. 

The Nord can support upto LDAC codec and the sound quality is great using the DIRAC audio setting. In fact, the equaliser and pre-defined sound modes are pretty useful too. 

OnePlus Nord – Battery life 

The 4115mAh battery inside the Nord can easily last you a day with 90Hz refresh rate on. I got at least 5hrs and 50mins on many occasions and that’s good enough for most folks. If you drop the refresh rate, you should expect better battery life. Also, with the Warp Charge 30T tech you can charge this battery from 0 to 100 in 52mins. So yeah, I have no complaints here. 

OnePlus Nord – Conclusion

The OnePlus Nord does not have the best processor, the best cameras, the best display, the best battery or the best design. And, as a result, many folks are going to find the Nord overhyped. But you know what? Holistically speaking, the sum-of-itsparts makes the One Nord a very desirable phone. And, coupled with the best software experience you can find on an Android phone, the Nord becomes Mr. Phone’s new benchmark for how to make a good mid-range phone that offers an unrivalled user experience. 

Now obviously, there are very many good phones now in the 20 to 30k bracket. So, let’s quickly do a short comparison with the best options. 

Redmi K20 Pro

The first phone that comes to my mind is the Redmi K20 Pro. Till today, the compact design and the full-screen, no distraction display makes this phone very attractive. Plus, you also get a more powerful processor on the K20 Pro. But, the Nord beats it in software experience, camera performance, and battery charging experience. If you want a gaming phone, go for the K20 Pro. If you want a great, everyday all-rounder, the Nord is the one for you. 

Realme X3/X3 Superzoom

The Realme X3 series is the newest in the X series and these are very powerful phones. These are also, possibly, the closest to the Nord in terms of design and camera specs. Anyway, with SD855+ chip and the telephoto cameras on the X3 Superzoom, you cannot overlook these phones. It is the best option right now for PUBG players. However, the Nord definitely has a far better display. Also, the Oxygen OS software experience, with assured timely updates, is better than Realme UI as well. 

The cameras, except for telephoto on the X3 Superzoom and the night performance, are slightly better on the Nord owing to the exceptional video shooting chops. Realme definitely cheaped out on the display but has hit the ball out of the park in many other areas. OnePlus doesn’t do any major cost-cutting like this though, and that’s the Nord’s biggest advantage. 

Samsung Galaxy A51

The Samsung Galaxy A51 is a surprise runaway hit. The biggest attraction is the design despite the polycarbonate body. And, of course the attractive camera setup and the great pictures that you can get out of it. But, if you ask me, the Nord might catch up to the A51 on the camera front especially with its video recording quality. And most importantly, the Nord is better at performance, has a better display with its 90Hz refresh rate, and the software experience is more refined. 

Realme X2 Pro

The Realme X2 Pro is a slightly more expensive option compared to the Nord but a lot of you guys wanted to know which phone you should go for. Well, I will say it point blank – the X2 Pro is a better option. In fact, the phone is so good that it won our best budget flagship award last year. Go for the Nord only if you really love the Oxygen OS experience or want a phone for shooting videos using the front camera. In the meantime, you will end up saving some money while you are at it. 

So, that was my full in-depth review of the OnePlus Nord. I hope it makes your purchase decision easier. Stay tuned to our channel for more full comparisons. Until next time, this is Ershad from Mr. Phone signing off. Goodbye and Godspeed my friends.

Our Latest Videos

Prev 1 of 120 Next
Prev 1 of 120 Next


Ershad Kaleebullah
ershad.kaleebullah@u2opiamobile.com

When Ershad isn't writing, he spends time killing virtual zombies on his PS4. Having worked with a slew of renowned publications like PCWorld, Channelworld, CIO, NDTV Gadgets (now Gadgets360), MySmartPrice, The Inquistr, and 91Mobiles, Ershad brings a whole world of experience to Mr. Phone. He is trying hard to convert all the team members into Apple fans but is facing a lot of resistance. Is anyone willing to help?