- ✓Distinctive and attractive design
- ✓Dual front and quad rear cameras
- ✓5G and dual SIMs
- ✓High-quality 90Hz AMOLED screen
- ✓Fast charging
- ✓Oxygen OS is both capable and subtle
- ✕Battery life could be better
- ✕Disappointing speaker
- ✕No IP rating for dust/water resistance
- ✕No 3.5mm headset jack or MicroSD card slot
OnePlus has gone back to its roots with the new OnePlus Nord, which aims to deliver a mix of features and performance at a lower price than you might expect. The Chinese company isn't abandoning the flagship handset sector, which it currently serves with the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro; but with a starting price of £379 (inc. VAT), the OnePlus Nord is very much a mid-market contender.
The Nord is a 5G-ready dual-SIM handset that comes in two variants. The entry-level model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage costs £379, while the top-end 12GB/256GB version costs £469. OnePlus currently has no plans to launch the Nord in the US.
Both the front and back of the Nord are glass, and the back comes in two colours, Gray Onyx and Blue Marble. I was sent the top-end spec in blue for review. This doesn't have the type of multi-tone finish you might expect from the use of the word 'marble' -- instead, the finish is rather pearlescent. The blue colour is much paler than you might think, and very distinctive.
The back is pretty slippery and could easily slide off the arm of a chair or sofa -- it certainly did on mine. It will need a wipe from time to time to remove fingerprints, but this is less of a problem than on some handsets.
The back of the handset has a tall lozenge in the top left corner housing the main quad-camera array. There's a silver OnePlus logo in the middle, and the company name is spelled out at the bottom for good measure.
The sides are shiny and reflective, and poorly colour-matched to the back, which mars the industrial design somewhat. Also, while the side buttons are metal, I suspect the sides themselves might be plastic.
It's good to see that OnePlus retains its alert slider on the right edge. This allows you to quickly flick between ring, vibrate and silent modes. The handset doesn't have an IP rating for water/dust resistance, and there's no 3.5mm headset jack. You may be tempted by the OnePlus Buds -- the first OnePlus true wireless earbuds -- which launched alongside the Nord and cost £79.
The Nord is comfortable to hold -- not too wide for my hands and while tall, not unduly so. For the record, the handset's dimensions are 73.3mm wide by 158.3mm tall by 8.2mm thick, and it weighs 184g.
The 6.44-inch screen is a flat AMOLED panel. Moving away from the curved panel used on the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro is a sensible move as it saves production costs. OnePlus has achieved a minimal-bezel design, with a respectable screen-to-body ratio of 86.2%. And while some may find the in-screen front camera lozenge in the top left corner annoying, I didn't find it so.
The screen delivers a clear, sharp and readable image with 2,400-by-1,080 resolution (408ppi), and can be configured for a default 90Hz or 60Hz refresh rate. If you opt for 90Hz the handset will automatically switch between 90Hz and 60Hz depending on the usage scenario. I had no issues watching video, reading websites, perusing email and social feeds with that self-toggling setting.
I was pleased to see that OnePlus includes its Reading Mode on the Nord. This is part of its OxygenOS overlay for Android 10, and it sends the screen into either mono or a chromatic colour mode depending on your choice. It can be set to kick in when you launch specific apps, or can be toggled from the pull-down menu. I find it excellent for ebook reading sessions.
Sound quality from the speaker isn't great. There's plenty of volume, but sound becomes distorted as it gets louder. The speaker grille is tiny, and gamers will need to be especially careful not to cover it, because if the grill is obscured, sound doesn't just muffle -- it all but disappears.
OnePlus uses the same 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor from the OnePlus 8 for the Nord's primary rear camera, which has an f/1.75 wide-angle lens and OIS. The quad rear array is completed by an 8MP f/2.25 ultra-wide-angle (119°) camera, a 2MP f/2.4 macro camera and a 5MP f/2.4 depth sensor.
There are two front cameras: a 32MP f/2.45 Sony IMX616 (the highest resolution front camera OnePlus has ever implemented); and an 8MP f/2.45 ultra-wide-angle (105°) camera to help you cram more into selfies. The back and front cameras both shoot 4K video.
The main rear camera shoots its stills at 12MP resolution by default, with 48MB being an optional setting. Even in 12MP mode I found everyday test shots -- taken in the limited time I've had this handset so far -- to be impressive.
SEE: 5G smartphones: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
I've had mixed success with the 'Nightscape' mode, which OnePlus says takes up to nine photos, blending them together to enhance low-light performance. It's been difficult to get out and about to test this fully during the review period, but I've found that it takes seconds to get all the shots in the bag, and a steady hand is required to get a sharp image. Even then, the quality seems to depend on the range of light sources the camera can draw on.
The OnePlus Oxygen OS overlay that sits on top of Android 10 provides multiple Android tweaks, but these are subtly blended in rather than obtrusive, so the mix of Android and Oxygen is near-seamless and very user-friendly. On my 256GB review unit, 25GB was used by the Android/Oxygen combo, leaving me 231GB free for my own content. There is no MicroSD card slot for adding external storage.
The OnePlus Nord is powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 765 5G chipset. I didn't notice stumbles or stutters during the review period, and benchmark performance was good, averaging 620 (single core) and 1951 (multi core) under Geekbench 5 (comparative scores here).
Battery life was reasonable but not outstanding: the 4,115mAh battery managed 11 hours 27 minutes on the PC Mark rundown test, and dropped 17% from a full charge when asked to stream full-screen video continuously for three hours. The Nord supports the OnePlus Warp Charge 30T system, taking the battery from zero to 70% in 30 minutes. There's no support for wireless charging.
The Nord has the OnePlus intelligent charge system on board. This is designed to look after battery health by avoiding overcharging. So, if you are in the habit of putting your handset on charge overnight, an AI component learns when you start to use it in the morning, stops the battery charging when it reaches 80%, and allows charging to complete in time for your morning start. People with erratic sleep patterns won't feel the benefit.
OnePlus has done a good job with the Nord. The Blue Marble version has a distinctive appearance, a great AMOLED screen and good front and rear cameras. These are all important factors whatever your budget. In addition it supports 5G and two SIMs, the Oxygen OS is subtle but accomplished, the fast charging works a treat, and the alert slider is something every handset maker should emulate.
On the downside, battery life is average, sound quality isn't great, and the speaker is easily muffled when you hold the phone in landscape mode, to the point of becoming just a faint murmur. Still, as affordable phones go, the OnePlus Nord seems to have got the mix just about right.
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