OnePlus was known for high-quality, speedy smartphones that cost much less than the equivalent flagships from Apple, Huawei, Oppo, and Samsung. The young company challenged the status quo with “flagship killer” phones. However, over the years OnePlus slowly raised prices until its devices cost almost as much as the competition. Case in point, its 2021 premium flagship, the OnePlus 9 Pro, is barely cheaper than the top device in the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. In a return to form, however, OnePlus decided to take a real swing at the fiercely competitive mid-range in 2020 with the OnePlus Nord.
The OnePlus Nord is the firm’s answer to the likes of the Pixel a series, the Galaxy A family, the Realme X50, or the LG Velvet. With a downgraded processor and a suitably reduced price, is the experience also watered down? Find out in Android Authority’s OnePlus Nord review.
Update, April 2021: Added references to new alternatives and made changes throughout to reflect software updates.
Design: Standard stuff
- Gorilla Glass 5 (both sides)
- 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2mm
- 6.44-in Full HD+ (2,400 x 1,080), 20:9
- Punch hole AMOLED
- 90Hz refresh rate
The Nord looks and feels very much like its competitors. It’s a Gorilla Glass 5 sandwich with shiny plastic rails. The bezels are thin with a double punch hole in the top left corner of the display. There’s a volume rocker on the left edge, and a power button and alert slider on the right. Microphones are on the top and bottom of the chassis, and the bottom is where you’ll also find the speaker, USB 2.0 Type-C port, and a dual-SIM card tray. On the rear is the typical pill-shaped, multi-camera module in the top left.
In hand, the OnePlus Nord feels solidly made. There aren’t any creeks or rattles when applying pressure to the device, and the plastic rails feel strangely metallic. The buttons and mute toggle feel tight and tactile. The feedback is surprisingly crisp for a mid-range smartphone — it might sound a bit crazy, but feedback is very important; it adds a sense of quality to a device and can be hard to get right. There’s no official IP rating, so don’t expect the Nord to survive a dunk in the pool.
This hardware is very much what you expect from a modern mid-range smartphone.
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The OnePlus Nord comes in two colors: Gray Onyx and Blue Marble. The latter, which I reviewed, is striking to look at. It’s vibrant and features a metallic sheen in certain lighting conditions. The shiny blue rails complement this cool colorway.
Display: Standing out
The OnePlus Nord’s display is one of the better examples in the mid-range smartphone market. This high-contrast AMOLED has inky blacks and punchy colors. It makes for a much nicer display than what we typically see in this segment, where companies seem to want to push ever-higher refresh rates rather than quality basics.
Speaking of refresh rates, the Nord sports a 90Hz display, which is integral to its speedy user experience. It’s smooth and responsive, and is complemented by short animations in Oxygen OS. This makes the phone feel snappy. The 90Hz refresh rate is also great for supported games, making them more engaging and immersive.
The in-display fingerprint scanner was quick and accurate in my two weeks with the device. About every 10-12 tries it would get me to re-scan to unlock. This is better than what I’ve experienced with other mid-range smartphones with in-display fingerprint scanners.
Performance: All the speed you need
- Snapdragon 765G
- 1 x 2.4GHz, 1 x 2.2GHz, 6 x 1.8GHz
- Adreno 620
- 6/8/12GB RAM
- 64/128/256GB storage
- No microSD card
Processor: Pint-sized power
The OnePlus Nord comes with a sub-flagship Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chipset, enabling good performance, as well as sub-6GHz 5G support. The Nord represented the first time that OnePlus used anything but a flagship processor in one of its devices.
This translates to slower performance compared to the brand’s marquee phones in the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 9 families, though that’s to be expected. Lagging and hangups were a bit more common with the OnePlus Nord due to its sub-flagship chipset. That said, the Nord is not a slow phone whatsoever. The 765G is a capable chip, near enough matching the Snapdragon 845 in both CPU and GPU performance. You can certainly feel that in the zippy user experience.
Continue reading: Snapdragon 765G vs Snapdragon 865
Gaming with the Nord was a good experience, though don’t mistake it for a gaming phone. Some 2D and lower-end 3D titles can easily hit the 90fps mark. You’d be happy playing 8 Ball Pool or Clash Royale on the Nord. However, heavier games such as Real Racing 3 and Fortnite do show some performance issues. Firstly, stutters are more frequent in high-action moments, such as gunfights in Fortnite. Secondly, frame rate drops occurred more often in games that rely on CPU-intensive features.
Battery: Business as usual
- 4,115mAh battery
- Warp Charge 30T fast charging (30W)
OnePlus breaks the 4,000mAh mark with the Nord’s battery. Combined with the power-efficient Snapdragon 765G, it makes for some good battery performance. I was easily able to get a full day of use, ending with about 20% left in the tank. This included both Wi-Fi and 4G connections, Bluetooth earphone connectivity, and lots of social media browsing.
The Nord delivers good battery performance, but is not quite best in class.
This isn’t quite best in class. I compared the OnePlus Nord’s battery with those of the Oppo Reno 4, LG Velvet, and Realme X50. These phones share the same SoC and have 4,000, 4,300, and 4,200mAh batteries, respectively. In our in-house tests, the Nord came last by a notable amount of time.
The Nord is also good, if not special when it comes to charging. OnePlus carried over its Warp Charge 30T technology from its flagship phones, which will charge the Nord from 0-100% in 57 minutes. The Nord’s competition is able to charge in about the same amount of time, if not less.
OnePlus Nord review: The camera is meh at best
- Main: 48MP, f/1.8 (IMX586)
- Ultra-wide: 8MP, f/2.3
- Macro: 2MP, f/2.4
- Depth: 5MP, f/2.4
- Selfie: 32MP, f/2.5
- Ultra-wide: 8MP, f/2.5
- Video: 4K at 30fps
- 4K at 30fps
- 1080p at 60fps
- 1080p at 240fps
The OnePlus Nord ostensibly has a “flagship-class” camera, in that it shares the same main sensor with the OnePlus 8. However, to call the Nord’s images flagship quality would be incorrect. There’s no denying that it packs lots of versatility with its whopping six cameras. More, however, is not always better.
The Nord’s main 48MP camera takes acceptable images. There’s a reasonable amount of sharpness in photos, and it captures highlight detail well. However, the colors do seem to be washed out and aren’t always true to life. Moreover, there’s often a lot of contrast, with crushed shadows a problem in particular.
You’ll notice in these images that the trees are really dark, almost completely pitch-black in parts. This was absolutely not the case in person, and so it’s a shame that the Nord wasn’t able to capture these details. Going through my sample images, I noticed quite a bit of lost detail in the shadows despite adequate lighting conditions.
The 8MP ultra-wide camera displays a quality drop in every area. The most apparent issue is the general lack of sharpness, particularly at the edges of the frame. OnePlus’ software also seems to be incorrectly applying noise reduction to areas that it thinks are noisy. A good example of this can be seen in the ultra-wide shot of the grassy part of the beach. In the bottom corners, there’s a strange smeary effect that doesn’t look right.
The Nord’s portrait mode shots aren’t amazing, either. Despite having a 5MP depth sensor, there does seem to be some confusion in edge detection. It got really spooked out by the blinds behind me, which resulted in all sorts of strange focus spots. Portrait selfies, on the other hand, looked more accurate and rather believable. There are some rough spots here and there, but by and large the portrait selfies beat out the main camera selfies.
Since the OnePlus Nord comes with a dedicated macro camera, I took a few macro shots. The images come out at 1.92MP and are of fairly poor quality. They look soft and the colors are washed out. There’s a lot of noise reduction in low-light images, which creates a watercolor-like smoothness.
Nightscape mode on the Nord is fairly usable with the main camera. It was able to capture a few stars and a factory in the night sky fairly well. It’s not perfect, but it’s good considering the Nord’s price.
However, when you switch to the ultra-wide you just get a mess due to the smaller sensor, slower lens, and lack of OIS. Right out of the gate, the system isn’t able to capture enough light for a well-exposed image. This results in some images that you’d be forgiven for thinking are just black screens.
Selfies are hit and miss due to OnePlus’ over-the-top processing. There’s a fair amount of dynamic range, some reasonably accurate colors, and nice contrast. However, there seems to be some skin smoothing despite that setting being turned off completely. This becomes particularly prominent in low light, which makes for some fake-looking selfies.
The Nord’s video is surprisingly good for a mid-range smartphone. Sure, it doesn’t shoot 4K at 60fps, but the 30fps footage looks clean. It reacts to exposure changes well, it focuses painlessly, and the stabilization is smooth. There’s an option for “cine” mode which cuts off the top and bottom of the video to create a cinema-style aspect ratio. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it works. Front-facing video is sharp with good colors, though it is a little shaky and doesn’t capture much dynamic range.
Software: A breath of fresh air
- Android 11
- OxygenOS 11
Oxygen OS is known for its feature-rich, yet clean user interface. The OnePlus Nord runs Android 10/Oxygen OS 10 out of the box, but can be upgraded to Android 11/Oxygen OS 11. You’ll find heaps of customization options and fluidity throughout. It comes with a total of seven non-Google “bloat” applications, most of which you are able to uninstall.
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You’ll find customization options for features such as ambient display along with color themes and the option to cut out the punch-hole portion of the display by disabling the top section of pixels. OnePlus also packs in several fingerprint animations, battery icons, system-wide icon packs, and a couple of different fonts. This allows you to make the phone you own without the need for extra applications and services.
Oxygen OS 11 gives you the option to enable what they call “Quick gestures” which are customizable off-screen shortcuts. For example, you can draw an “O” to open an app, or a “V” to quickly open the camera. These add to the sense of efficiency within OxygenOS which is seen as one of the fastest Android skins.
OnePlus has a solid track record of updating its older smartphones. The OnePlus 5 and 5T were updated to Android 10, and those devices launched running Android Nougat. With this in mind, the Nord should receive a decent amount of long-term support. That said, OnePlus hasn’t made specific promises for a minimum of three years of upgrades/patches like rivals OEMs such as Samsung and Google.
OnePlus Nord specs
OnePlus Nord:6.44-inch Fluid AMOLED
2,400 x 1,080
20:9 aspect ratio
90Hz refresh rate
In-display fingerprint sensor
Corning Gorilla Glass 5
OnePlus Nord:Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
OnePlus Nord:6GB / 8GB / 12GB LPDDR4X
OnePlus Nord:64GB / 128GB / 256GB UFS 2.1
- 48MP main (f/1.75, 0.8µm)
- 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.25, 119 degrees)
- 5MP depth (f/2.4)
- 2MP macro (f/2.4)
- 32MP main (f/2.45, 0.8µm)
- 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.45, 105 degrees)
Warp Charge 30T (5V/6A)
No wireless charging
OnePlus Nord:OxygenOS 10.5
OnePlus Nord:Gray Onyx
|Dimensions and weight|
OnePlus Nord:158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2mm
Value for money
- OnePlus Nord (6GB/64GB, India only): Rs. 24,999 (~$334)
- OnePlus Nord (8GB/128GB): £379 (~$488)
- OnePlus Nord (12GB/256GB): £469 (~$604)
The OnePlus Nord starts at £379 in the UK for the 8GB/128GB model. A cheaper variant is available in India with only 64GB of storage and 6GB of RAM. Notably, the OnePlus Nord is not officially available in the US.
The £379 starting price makes the Nord a significant £170 cheaper than the OnePlus 8T. The Nord’s main competitors on price are the Google Pixel 4a, Realme X50 5G at £299, and the £399 Samsung Galaxy A52 5G. The Pixel 4a is the pick of the bunch and presents an arguably better software experience and has better camera performance, but falls behind in its build materials and performance. It is, however,
After years of only releasing top-tier flagships, OnePlus is back in the mid-range category with the OnePlus Nord. It cuts some corners, but we think many people will really like this phone — especially because of its £379 price tag.
At £469 for the 12/256GB option, the Nord competes with the Poco F3 — a device with a faster processor, but some questionable software bugs. It also competes with the slightly more expensive Google Pixel 4a 5G which sports the same processor and a better camera setup, but compromises on build materials and battery tech.
Since the OnePlus Nord’s launch, the company has released two lower-end Nord devices, namely the Nord N10 and the Nord N100. These phones compromise on their camera setups, performance, build quality, and displays, but only cost $179/£179 and $299/£329, respectively. And yes, those are prices in dollars — the Nord N10 and Nord N100 are both available in the US.
Overall, when weighing up whether or not the OnePlus Nord is the phone for you, you’ll need to ask yourself whether or not Oxygen OS is worth the compromise. What you’re paying for with the Nord is Oxygen OS.
OnePlus Nord review: Should you buy it?
“New beginnings” was OnePlus’ take with the Nord. It was something that they hadn’t tried before — making a mid-range smartphone with a mid-range chip. However, OnePlus had to balance value and not cannibalizing its flagship line. This has lead to something which is, by all accounts, a very average phone, albeit one that offers good value. The sheer amount of hype generated by the firm leading up to the launch was way overdone. What OnePlus did is set the Nord up for an underwhelming reception.
The OnePlus Nord is an average mid-range smartphone. It’s got an acceptable camera, a good screen, decent specs, and solid battery, and it comes in a cool color. It’s not exceptional by any stretch of the imagination, though. From our point of view, Oxygen OS and the value for money are the strongest reasons to buy the phone.
We hope you found this OnePlus Nord review helpful. Are you picking one up? Tell us in the comments.