It’s rare to see a smartphone get the world hooked to its arrival unless it’s one made by a certain Cupertino-based giant. But the OnePlus Nord is certainly an exception. It’s a smartphone that’s cheap and just works. At Rs 29,999, the beefed-up 12GB RAM variant of the OnePlus Nord we received for review is quite compact for today’s standards, but underneath the glass is a well-oiled machine that’s tuned to get the job done without distractions. That’s essentially what this OnePlus device embodies. And for OnePlus loyalists, the entry price of Rs 24,999 in India makes it even more pragmatic. So we put it through our test process that involved watching episodes while taking a dump, losing three consecutive rounds of Call of Duty: Mobile, and taking the lethal risk of going out of the house to take photos. How does the OnePlus Nord shape up? Let’s find out —
OnePlus Nord Performance
The OnePlus Nord may not have the best silicon inside, but it feels just as fast as its flagship siblings launched this year. It’s like using a shrunken OnePlus 7T because of a similar flat 90Hz display and the OxygenOS UI.
A lot of the credit goes to the Snapdragon 765G. Its spec sheet has more in common with the flagship 8-series chips than the 7 and 6-series silicon. However, benchmark scores show a paltry 10-12 per cent gain in performance over the Snapdragon 730G on the Poco X2, which makes me wonder whether OnePlus could have just avoided the expensive 5G modem and stuck to an older chip with just a minor downgrade in performance. Then again, 5G is something OnePlus needs to offer in markets in Europe, so the Snapdragon 765G seems like a feasible choice. Here’s what the benchmarks say —
When compared against the best mid-rangers before this (Poco X2, Realme 6 Pro), the OnePlus Nord is indeed ahead, but as stated before, only by around 10-12 per cent. Which isn’t groundbreaking for this segment, like how the Snapdragon 730 was last year.
And when pitted against the high-end offerings like the OnePlus 8 and the Realme X3 SuperZoom, the gap between mid-range and flagship remains just as wide, and even though Qualcomm touts the 765G as bridging that gap, we don’t really see that play out in action in these synthetic tests.
Then again, benchmarks only tell us part of the story. In reality, the OnePlus Nord feels nothing like a budget smartphone. And that’s partially because there’s more RAM in my review unit than there normally is, and the deep-seated optimisations OnePlus are known for which makes this thing run silky smooth. It takes a little more than a second to unlock and reach the home screen, open up Instagram and zombie scroll a few posts, or do a quick Google search. Launching the camera is ever so slightly slower than the OnePlus 8 Pro.
We also ran a CPU throttling test where an app parses complicated code on the cores continuously to see if there’s a dip in performance over a period of 30 minutes. The Nord fared really well on this test with the CPU only throttling to 89 per cent of its performance during the 30-minute sprint.
Having said all this, it will be interesting to test how the variant with 6GB RAM and 64GB storage fares in daily usage.
OnePlus Nord Gaming
The Snapdragon 765G is also cut out for gaming, with some of the Snapdragon Elite Gaming features trickling down from the flagship platform. And gaming is something the OnePlus Nord can handle fairly well, in terms of performance. Popular games like PUBG Mobile and COD: Mobile run at 100% stability. And that means, no frame drop.
Call of Duty: Mobile ran the best with everything maxed out. The phone clocked 60 FPS with 100 per cent stability and high graphics. I could move around with ease, but aiming and shooting on the small screen took time, especially after using the ROG Phone III as my gaming phone.
PUBG Mobile didn’t allow the HDR graphics to kick in, however. Which is weird because this has an HDR screen and the chip supports HDR-gaming. So the frame rate is locked to 30 FPS at the highest settings while dialling it down will take it to 40 FPS. But you still get 100 per cent stability in all.
However, we can’t really say the OnePlus Nord is cut out for gaming. The compact form factor is particularly a hindrance to high-octane gaming. You have less space for your button layout and even lesser space to nail the aim. The touch response, on the other hand is really good. In general, the touch sampling is set at 120Hz, but when you start a game like COD: Mobile, the touch sampling rate shoots up to nearly 240Hz which is real handy in quick scoping an enemy with a sniper. So while the form factor is more geared towards non-gamers, you can get the gaming performance you so desire, should you choose to.
OnePlus Nord Software
It’s not the spec-sheet that particularly interested me when the OnePlus Nord arrived. I was more excited to try out OxygenOS decoupled from a flagship processor for the first time. A part of me actually wanted this to feel slower than the software on the flagship OnePlus devices. I mean, it’s surely logical for a Snapdragon 765G to run the same OxygenOS build with at least some compromises. Turns out, that’s not the case here.
OxygenOS on the OnePlus Nord is the same as the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Every little feature that’s there on the 8 and 8 Pro, is also there on the Nord. Well, everything except for the Phone and Messaging app, which remains unexplained. But all of it works just as well as it does on its flagship devices. And that is essentially what most people buy into when getting a OnePlus device, and one where the Nord nails it.
Speed, customisations, and minimalist aesthetics are all ensured, even with a slower processor in hand. The bugs that are present on the OnePlus 8 Pro are ironed out in this one. The 8 Pro still freezes while browsing apps like Instagram, Facebook or Chrome. The Nord has no such issues.
More than the benchmark scores, it is the overall experience of using the OnePlus Nord that makes this a pragmatic choice for long term use. Having said that, I’ve only had the phone for around ten days, and in this little time frame, we’ve faced no issues whatsoever.
OnePlus Nord Camera
OnePlus built up a lot of hype around the camera, but the spec-sheet is simply the same as what you’d expect on a mid range phone. That includes an OIS-stabilised Sony IMX586 48MP camera, along with an 8MP ultrawide lens, and two 2MP cameras for macro and portrait shots. Now, on the face of it, there’s nothing extraordinary about the camera system. We see the 48+8+2+2MP stack all the time in the mid-range segment. Oh, and there are two more cameras on the front. OIS is certainly useful, but I fancied a telephoto lens in the mix.
There are also a few weird misses. For one, the OnePlus Nord cannot do 4K at 60FPS from the rear camera, but can do so from the front. When asked about it, OnePlus said there are issues with thermals when 4K@60FPs is enabled. Once that’s figured out, the feature will arrive via an update. Also weird is the inclusion of a 2MP macro camera when the brand can very well do so using the primary camera, like it does on the OnePlus 8 Pro. The results are also far better from the 48MP lens, and OnePlus could’ve shaved off costs by excluding the fourth camera.
Using the camera over a period of ten days shooting things I see near my house, the OnePlus camera feels well-tuned but not extraordinarily good. The details are what you’d expect from a 48MP camera, and the colour reproduction is quite natural — you get what you see. The best performance is delivered by the 48MP primary camera where the details and sharpness are good enough for viewing on the small screen. The 8MP ultrawide lens comes a close second with perhaps the best dynamic range in this segment. The other two lenses bring the overall camera performance down, however.
The Nightscape mode is also quite well tuned and you get images that look sharp in lowlight, provided you don’t zoom in. Portraits come out a little softer on details but gets the colours quite right. As for videos, the OnePlus Nord doesn’t suffer from the focusing issues we experienced in the OnePlus Nord.And the 1080p at 60 FPS output is just about decent as compared to the mid-range phones in this segment.
You can check out our camera review where we pitted the OnePlus Nord against the Realme X3 SuperZoom and the OnePlus 8 series.
And here are a few photos we shot over the day –
(Mind you, these are resized for the web. Head to our Flickr gallery to check out the samples in their original resolution)
OnePlus Nord Primary Camera Samples
OnePlus Nord Ultrawide lens samples
OnePlus Nord Nightscape Shots
OnePlus Nord Macro Photos
OnePlus Nord Portraits
OnePlus Nord Battery Life
The 4115mAh battery on the Nord isn’t the best feature of the smartphone, but the Warp 30 charger certainly is. Despite a smaller display, the Nord guzzles a lot of power and I have a feeling it’s the Snapdragon 765G that’s to blame. Particularly the 5G modem. Even when it’s not running 5G. I start my days at around 9:30AM with full charge, and by 5:30PM I have around 15 per cent remaining, which is certainly disappointing for a phone at high-functioning enthusiasts. My usage varied between browsing social media, taking photos, reading articles and an hour of gaming during lunch. By the evening, I had to plug it in and that’s where the Nord proves its mettle. A mere 20 minute charge was enough to charge the phone from 15 to 50 per cent, which is modest enough. Battery drain while playing COD Mobile was around 8 per cent after 15 minutes (at the highest settings), and 30 minutes of watching Grand Tour on Prime Video dropped the battery by 6 per cent. These are on the higher side, and I believe, it needs a few more updates to get the power consumption right.
OnePlus Nord Design and Display
The design is certainly one place where OnePlus seems to have poured its heart and soul into. To choosing the colours, to deciding on the form factor, this is one place where the Nord is uniquely placed. There’s no other viable compact smartphone right now, and this one becomes an obvious choice for them. The size is significantly smaller than the OnePlus 8, but it’s also wider, because it had to maintain the 20:9 aspect ratio. So while you can easily reach for the notification shade with one hand, you won’t be able to press the enter button on the keyboard with your thumb. The Nord also gets the physical alert slider on the right side, and thanks to the small size, left handers can also reach it with ease. Also, while the front and rear panel are reinforced with Gorilla Glass 5, the frame itself is polished plastic. It feels really smooth like the aluminum frames of its flagship, but it’s plastic. OnePlus has confirmed it.
The OnePlus Nord is another big highlight. It’s a primary ingredient in making the experience smoother and faster, particularly for the 90Hz refresh that’s adopted across the UI, stock apps and even some third party apps like Instagram and Facebook. However, I like it more because it’s not curved along the edges. With both the 8 and 8 Pro taking the curved route, the Nord gives a way out. The panel is also HDR10+ certified and hits 820 nits in peak brightness and 8 nits at its lowest. It could have been a little brighter, but HDR on Netflix and other OTT apps is certainly a bonus for this price. The dual punch-hole cameras drilled into the top left corner of the display didn’t bother me all that much, unless I was playing games. While videos don’t take up the area around the cameras, games certainly do and the buttons tend to hide behind the cameras, which is quite annoying.
The OnePlus Nord delivers on everything, but the hype. It’s a perfectly ordinary smartphone by today’s standards, but is extraordinarily smooth and responsive. Among a sea of phones that flash the latest hardware but are marred by shoddy, ad-ridden software, the OnePlus Nord is an oasis of the time that was — when smartphones were still something personal and not a billboard taken over by advertising popups and notifications. It’s something that we can stand behind and recommend simply for getting the basics right. However, with devices like the Realme X3 SuperZoom and the Redmi K20 Pro rocking the flagship Snapdragon 855 SoC, the Nord is not the outright choice, but one that’s pragmatic and sensible.
If we have to sum up the experience for the OnePlus Nord review, it’s a compact smartphone that offers the smoothest smartphone experience in this segment, even with the compromises OnePlus had to make for lowering the price. Yes, there are phones out there with better hardware (Redmi K20 Pro, Realme X3 SuperZoom) but they aren’t necessarily better in the experience. It’s also still too early to say how this smartphone will hold up over a year or more, but if there are any unexpected discoveries, we will surely revisit this conclusion. Do stay tuned for the video review dropping later in the day.