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OnePlus Nord N20
What we like
What we don't like
OnePlus Nord N20
The OnePlus Nord N20 serves as OnePlus’ semi-low-cost 5G offering for North America in 2022. OnePlus gave the phone a modest design refresh compared to its aging predecessor but has made a jumble of the specs and features. More of a slide sideways than it is a step forward, the Nord N20 could struggle to convince buyers it’s worth their time, particularly considering the tough competition. Find out if there is any hidden magic left in OnePlus’ latest budget phone in Android Authority‘s OnePlus Nord N20 review.
What you need to know about the OnePlus Nord N20
- OnePlus Nord N20 (6GB/128GB): $282
The Nord N20 slots into a strange place in OnePlus’ lineup. It’s an obvious successor to the Nord N10 and it plainly stands above the Nord N200. But it’s not quite at the same level as the Nord 2 or Nord CE 2 — two budget phones from the Shenzhen brand that, like previous Nord phones without the extra “N,” seem destined to never hit US shores.
Of course, the Nord N20 is dramatically less capable than OnePlus’ flagship phones, including older models still on sale such as the heavily discounted OnePlus 8T. At the same time, the Nord N20 competes with various sub-mid-rangers from the likes of Samsung, Motorola, HMD Global, and others. The market for $300 phones is a crowded one. Balancing features and performance with value for money is a tricky undertaking.
This phone from OnePlus packs an updated processor, a bigger battery, and a reconfigured camera package, but walks back the display specs and speaker arrangement. It also carries over a whole lot, such as the radios, ports, and other basic features.
The Nord N20 comes in a single SKU. That means one storage/memory combination and one color. You get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in a colorway called Blue Smoke.
At launch, OnePlus is selling the Nord N20 through its favored US carrier partner: T-Mobile. It’s available from T-Mobile’s website and stores, as well as prepaid carrier Metro by T-Mobile. OnePlus says an open market version will be made available eventually. For now, the Nord N20 is a US exclusive.
OnePlus tweaked the design and the Nord N20 looks less dated than its predecessor as a result. It dropped the glossy, curved rear panel of the Nord N10 for a blockier design with a plastic flat rear panel and plastic flat side edges along the mid-frame. The 2.5D “Schott Xensation Up” front glass is curved around the edges and it’s a good look. It’s not unique, but the phone appears modern and sleek. I like how lightweight (173g) and thin it is (7.5mm). The grainy rear surface still manages to collect fingerprints, as does the display glass. This is unfortunate, but not a dealbreaker. The camera module looks like less of an afterthought and more of an integrated design.
The Blue Smoke colorway looks more like graphite or black most of the time. The deep blue shading only peeks through in specific lighting, but I like the subtlety. The phone has a limited IP52 rating, which protects it against light splashing and rain only.
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With the display, you win some and you lose some. At 6.43 inches, it’s a smidgen smaller than the Nord N10’s screen. It carries over the same 2,400 x 1,080 FHD+ resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, and 406ppi pixel density. The big switcheroo is the change from an LCD panel to an AMOLED panel. This is a welcome upgrade that produces better dynamic range and color. On the flip side, however, the screen drops the 90Hz refresh rate of the N10 to a static 60Hz refresh rate. Refresh rates are all over the map at this price point, but the phone’s primary competitors are starting to adopt 90Hz refresh rates as standard. Still, it’s a fine display that’s bright and plenty sharp for the money.
Performance is solid. OnePlus boosted the processor a generation to a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695. This is perhaps the smallest potential update, but it keeps the phone current and competitive. The phone always behaved in a punchy fashion while we tested it, whether that was in battery saving mode or performance mode. Benchmark scores were a little reserved, but they didn’t impact everyday usability. You’re never going to get the very best performance out of a budget phone, but it delivered a smooth enough experience across the board — even when running GPU-intense games such as Genshin Impact or Asphalt 9: Legends. The dedicated gaming mode from OnePlus helps further balance performance and efficiency.
The OnePlus Nord N20 delivered a smooth experience even when running graphically-intense games.
The 6GB of LPDDR4x RAM is carried over from the outgoing phone, but the 128GB of storage was upgraded from UFS 2.1 to UFS 2.2. OnePlus also carried over the phone’s microSD slot for memory cards up to 512GB.
Battery life is slightly better than before too. The Nord N10 had a 4,300mAh battery and OnePlus bumped the N20’s capacity to 4,500mAh. It’s a minor increase, but we’re not complaining. The Nord N20 pushes from early morning to late at night quite easily. I was never worried using the phone through a full day. It often had plenty of capacity to spare with 30% or more still left in the tank at the end of the day. This was after days spent on lots of social networking, emailing, media consumption, web browsing, and gaming.
More reading: Charging habits to maximize battery life
Charging times are slightly better, too. OnePlus juiced the phone’s charging power from 30W on the N10 to 33W SuperVOOC on the N20 via the supplied proprietary charger. Despite the added battery capacity, it takes about 30 minutes to go from 0% to 50% and another hour from 50% to 100%. This is plenty fast for a device in this price range and a step above the competition.
What’s not so good?
Perplexingly, the OnePlus Nord N20 ships with Android 11 and Oxygen OS 11. The OnePlus 10 Pro, which went on sale earlier this year, included Android 12 and Oxygen OS 12 out of the box. OnePlus has not given us a compelling reason for selling its new phone with an 18-month-old operating system and, to be honest, there isn’t one. No phone shipping this far into 2022 should run Android 11 at launch. Moreover, OnePlus is only providing one OS upgrade (to Android 12) and three years of security updates. Speaking plainly, this is a major misstep from OnePlus (just like when it shipped the Nord N10 with Android 10).
OnePlus is only providing one OS upgrade (to Android 12) and three years of security updates. That's poor.
There’s sadly some carrier bloatware to deal with. T-Mobile preinstalled a handful of its branded apps, only some of which can be removed. The real transgression is T-Mobile’s 50% takeover of the Google Discover screen with its T-Mobile Play service. When you pan left from the home screen to your Google Discover tool, you’ll find it’s split into two with one tab for Google and a second for T-Mobile Play. The T-Mobile Play tab is stuffed with T-Mobile-curated, ad-supported video content. This is crummy, OnePlus and T-Mobile.
The radios could be better. OnePlus carried over most of the specs from the Nord N10. The phone packs 5G radios, but it’s limited to a really small number of sub-6GHz frequencies. It’s enough to run on T-Mobile’s mid-band 5G network, though not much more than that. The phone worked well on T-Mobile 5G in my time with it, but this is the T-Mobile version — OnePlus phones have historically been hit or miss with carrier 5G support for unlocked models.
The rest of the connectivity suite isn’t much to write home about, but that’s to be expected at this price. It supports Wi-Fi 5 rather than upgrading to Wi-Fi 6/6E, and OnePlus also stuck with Bluetooth 5.1, rather than Bluetooth 5.2. These older specs mean the phone will be outdated sooner as standards advance, though considering the software support you probably won’t want to hold onto it for that long anyway.
The fingerprint reader is sure to garner some complaints. The Nord N10 featured a rear-mounted fingerprint reader that worked really well. For the Nord N20, OnePlus relocated the fingerprint reader to the front screen. It’s an in-display job that’s located near the bottom edge of the phone. It’s easy enough to train but the location is low enough on the screen that it can be hard to tap comfortably sometimes.
The haptics are particularly bad. So bad, in fact, that I was forced to turn them off entirely. The haptic motor runs slowly and unevenly. It lurches on and then trails off, like the last-gasp buzz from a dying bumblebee. Haptics are hit or miss in this price segment. OnePlus missed and missed hard.
OnePlus cut back the stereo speaker arrangement of the N10 to a mono speaker on the N20. While stereo speakers aren’t a given at this price point, it’s odd to see the company backtrack on this feature. The lone speaker sounds middling at best. It’s a bit thin on the lows and distorts at high volumes. At least there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack.
I can’t pretend to make sense of OnePlus’ decision-making process when it comes to the cameras. The outgoing Nord N10 had a 64MP main shooter and an 8MP ultrawide, as well as dedicated monochrome and macro cameras. The Nord N20 carries over the 64MP primary camera, but drops the ultrawide entirely and keeps the 2MP monochrome and 2MP macro. I don’t know anyone in the real world asking for this combination of cameras.
The OnePlus Nord N20 is not a phone you buy for the camera experience.
The camera does a passable job when the lighting is good enough — check out the samples in the next section to see for yourself. Your middle-of-the-day shots when out sightseeing will turn out fine. It’s everything else that suffers, which means anything with a wide dynamic range in terms of lighting. Details are lost from shadowed areas and bright ones alike, but at least focus is tight most of the time. Unfortunately, low-light shots are noisy and show over-sharpening making nighttime shooting practically pointless. Selfies are soft and somewhat unnatural-looking, too.
Video capture is limited to 1080p at a measly 30fps, which is another downgrade compared to the Nord N10’s 4K/30fps or 1080p/60fps options and behind most competitors. The footage I shot was mediocre in terms of color, sharpness, and exposure. It serves in a pinch but I wouldn’t rely on it for anything important.
OnePlus Nord N20 camera samples
Full-resolution photo samples are available in this Google Drive folder.
OnePlus Nord N20 specs
|OnePlus Nord N20|
FHD+ (2,400 x 1,080)
20:9 aspect ratio
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G
GPU: Adreno 619
6GB LPDDR4x RAM
128GB UFS 2.2
Expandable (microSD to 512GB)
33W SuperVOOC wired charging
Main: 64MP, f/1.79, EIS
Macro: 2MP, f/2.4
Monochrome: 2MP, f/2/4
Front: 16MP, f/2.4
Rear: 1080p at 30fps
Front: 1080p at 30fps
5G: Sub-6GHz only
Dimensions and weight
159.9 x 73.2 x 7.5mm
OnePlus Nord N20 review: Should I buy it?
The OnePlus Nord N20 is a phone with some benefits but more compromises. In general, the hardware has an improved personality thanks to the redesign and it stands out more than some of the vanilla competitors. The screen is solid for this class of device, though we can bemoan the slower 60Hz refresh rate. Battery life is very good, as is the charging speed, as well as the everyday performance of the phone. The Nord N20 lands a bit behind the curve, however, when it comes to the crummy haptics, fingerprint reader, camera performance, and the weak mono speaker.
See also: The best budget camera phones
From our perspective, though, there’s one clear reason not to buy the OnePlus Nord N20: the anemic software situation. There’s no excuse to ship this phone with Android 11 right now, but to offer only a single OS upgrade to the current version of Android — rather than a future version — just isn’t good enough when other brands like Samsung and Apple are raising the standard of software support in the budget sector. It will at least get three years of security patches, which is better than some (looking at you Motorola), but we should expect more even at this price.
The Nord N20 is a basic budget phone with some questionable downgrades and a poor software support guarantee.
T-Mobile and Metro in the US sell a handful of phones in the same range as the OnePlus Nord N20. For example, T-Mobile sells the Nokia X100 5G ($252), the Samsung Galaxy A13 5G ($258), and the Motorola One 5G Ace ($282). These phones have similar screen resolutions, camera configurations, and battery capacities, but slower mid-range processors.
You’d do just as well to seek out unlocked models if possible. The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G ($279), which, aside from processing power and a slight hit in charging speeds, is an all-around more reliable daily driver that will be supported for much longer. Alternatively, if you can push your budget a little further, the Google Pixel 5a ($449) and Samsung Galaxy A53 5G ($449) are huge upgrades that are worth the extra money.
If you really want a OnePlus phone, the OnePlus 8T is still available for just $349 at the time of this writing. It’s far from OnePlus’ greatest phone by some margin, but it’s a massive improvement over the Nord N20 thanks to flagship silicon, a 120Hz refresh rate, better cameras, and 65W charging. If it’s still in stock when you’re reading this, grab it while you can.
The OnePlus Nord N20 isn’t an abject failure, but we know OnePlus can do better — and so can you.
Top OnePlus Nord N20 questions and answers
The OnePlus Nord N20 is worth buying for the crisp OLED screen, overall solid hardware design, speedy charging, and capable performance, but you’ll have to live with outdated software and a meager update pledge, and some curious downgrades with the refresh rate and camera flexibility. There are more reliable sub-$300 phones out there, but for those that can spend a little extra, the Google Pixel 5a and Samsung Galaxy A53 5G are far superior for a bit more cash.