With the OnePlus Nord, the Shenzhen-based company has returned to its roots and released a smartphone with a design and dizzying list of features that doesn’t seem possible given the price tag on the box. If you’ve grown slightly disillusioned with OnePlus in recent years, as the company has increased its smartphone prices in a bid to bring features like 5G and 90Hz high refresh-rate displays to market ahead of more-established players like Samsung, Huawei and Apple, the OnePlus Nord is confirmation that OnePlus hasn’t forgotten about what made it successful in the first place.
Even the name is a quiet acknowledgement that OnePlus had strayed from what some of its passionate fanbase adored about the brand during the first few years of its short five-year existence. “Nord”, which means “North” in a number of European languages including French, Danish, German, Italian and Swedish, was chosen as OnePlus sees this new affordable handset as a chance to return to its true north.
So, has OnePlus managed to bottle the same magic that enthralled fans across the world five years ago? Thankfully, yes.
For those who bought a OnePlus 3 for £329 when it launched back in June 2016 and haven’t been keeping tabs on the company in the intervening years… the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, which cost £599 and £799, respectively, must’ve been quite a shock. But the OnePlus Nord, which starts from £379, seems like a perfect continuation of the firm’s so-called Flagship Killer ethos.
OnePlus Nord review: Price and Availability
OnePlus Nord starts from £379. For that, you’ll get 8GB of RAM and 128GB of non-expandable storage and 5G support. If you fancy something slightly faster, the top-end model costs £469 and ships with 12GB of RAM – for comparison, that’s more than the standard Samsung Galaxy S20 5G (£899) model – and 256GB of storage for all of your music, photos, videos, apps and games.
OnePlus Nord is available now. OnePlus lets you discount the SIM-free price of the Nord by trading in your previous smartphone too.
OnePlus Nord review: Design
There’s no denying it, OnePlus looks absolutely stunning.
The Blue Marble finish is one of the nicest we’ve seen on a smartphone in years. Picking up the OnePlus Nord for the first time, we were genuinely astonished that this handset cost £379. The fit-and-finish is superb – this is a smartphone punching well above its weight. There’s a 6.4-inch edge-to-edge AMOLED on the front, protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5 to stop any scuffs and scratches. Unlike the OnePlus 8 Pro, the screen is flat, which might be a cost-cutting decision but honestly, makes for a much better viewing experience. The back panel is glass too, which feels really premium – and is a rarity at this price.
Nord has the same vertically-stacked rear-camera set-up seen on the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, which looks good, but does create a little wobble when resting the smartphone on a flat surface.
OnePlus has kept its trademark Alert Slider, which lets you toggle between Ring, Vibrate and Silent modes with a satisfying click. Why every Android manufacturer haven’t nicked this feature is a source of almost constant bafflement – it’s an elegant system and means you’ll have one less thing to dig around in the Settings menu to find.
Unlocking the Nord is handled with a fingerprint scanner embedded in the display. It’s fast and reliable, although it does have to illuminate the screen around your fingertip (unlike the ultrasonic system on Samsung smartphones), so if you’re not completely covering the sensor, it can be blinding at night.
Charging and wired audio is handled by the USB-C port at the bottom of the OnePlus Nord. Chances are, you already have a pair of Bluetooth earbuds or headphones. If not, you’re going to want to invest in some as the single built-in speaker included on the Nord is pretty lacklustre.
OnePlus Nord review: Features
OnePlus Nord ships with the latest version of OxygenOS. If you’re not familiar, OnePlus’s operating system includes a few very subtle tweaks to the version of Android you’ll find on Google, Motorola, and Nokia smartphones.
In our experience, OxygenOS often performs faster – even on a mid-range handset, like the OnePlus Nord. Coupled with the 90Hz high refresh-rate AMOLED panel and the generous 8GB of RAM, this £379 smartphones flies through everyday tasks – from scrolling through social media feeds, replying to text messages, sorting your inbox, or all at the same time thanks to the side-by-side multi-tasking in OxygenOS. Games also run stutter-free.
Not only that, but there’s a truckload of really smart additions, like the ability to raise the handset to answer calls, or flip it over to mute an incoming call. There’s baked-in support for customisable icon packs if you want to tweak the look of your homescreen as well as a hidden partition within the App Drawer – where every app installed on your phone is listed – for any app icons you’d rather not have on full-display.
Just like its pricier phones, OnePlus promises two years of software updates – so you’re guaranteed to get Android 11 in the coming weeks, as well as Android 12 next year – and three years of security updates. That’s another real rarity in this price bracket.
And on the subject of things not usually available in this price bracket – let’s talk about 5G support. Although you might not have access to 5G right now, support for this next-generation mobile network technology is a must-have to future-proof your smartphone if you’re going to hold onto it for the next two, three or four years. 5G on the OnePlus Nord means you’ll be able to download files at speeds of well over 300Mbps – that’s over 4x faster than the average home broadband speed in the UK.
That means you’re probably better off downloading something to watch on your next flight in the queue at the departure gate, rather than the night before on your home Wi-Fi connection. Unfortunately, 5G isn’t widespread near us, so we weren’t able to test whether the supercharged speeds seriously impact the 4,115mAh battery. But given the excellent all-day battery life on 4G we’ve experienced, we’re confident you won’t have to carry around an external battery pack with the OnePlus Nord regardless of what mobile data speeds you’re clocking up.
OnePlus Nord review: Camera
If you’re looking to buy a new smartphone for the camera, you might want to avoid the OnePlus Nord. OnePlus has fitted the Nord with six cameras – yes, really. There’s a dual-selfie system on the front, which lets you take ultra-wide snaps. Google debuted this feature with the Pixel 3 and then inexplicably ditched it from every subsequent smartphone. We loved the ultra-wide selfies then, and we love them on the OnePlus Nord – being able to include everyone in the viewfinder without having to work out who has the longest arms, or, worse still, having to use a selfie stick is phenomenally useful. Selfies from the ultra-wide lens are a little softer than the primary 32-megapixel front-facing camera, but honestly, you won’t really be able to tell once Instagram’s compression algorithms get their hands on your image.
On the back, OnePlus Nord has a quadruple-camera set-up complete with a 48-megapixel wide-angle camera (the same one fitted to the OnePlus 8), a dedicated Macro lens for close-ups, a depth-sensor to improve the bokeh-style blur behind your Portrait Mode shots, and an 8MP ultra-wide lens. It’s a lot. And honestly, it feels like OnePlus only added half of these cameras in order to be able to shout about having half a dozen lens on its phone.
The Macro lens is awful. Seriously, don’t use it. Shots are blurry and grainy and not a patch on what you can get from the Macro lens on the pricier OnePlus 8. The ultra-wide camera is fine, but images are a little soft. And Portrait Mode shots aren’t as nice as what you’ll find on the similarly-priced Pixel 3a. Photos from the main camera are fine, especially when you’ve got a lot of light to work with. 48-megapixels might seem excessive, but it does mean you’ll be able to do a considerable amount of cropping and editing without losing sharpness.
OnePlus Nord has a great selfie set-up and the rear-camera is capable of taking some good shots, but if you’re packing for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday, you might want to add a digital camera to your suitcase, or a Google Pixel or iPhone 11 Pro.
OnePlus Nord review: Final Verdict
- Pros: Stunning Design, Premium Build, 5G Support Futureproofs The Phone, High-Refresh Rate Display, Fast-Charging Can Be A Lifesave, Ultra-Wide Selfies
- Cons: Speaker Isn’t Great – You’ll Need To Carry A Bluetooth Speaker With You, Cameras Aren’t Great
It’s astonishing how few corners OnePlus seems to have cut in order to achieve the OnePlus Nord’s jaw-dropping £379. It supports 5G. It has superfast charging that tops-up 70 percent of the battery in half an hour. It has an AMOLED display with a 90Hz high-refresh rate. It has an all-glass design. It has three years of guaranteed Android updates. It has 8GB of RAM.
In fact, the only thing it doesn’t have is an amazing camera. If you’re only looking to upgrade your phone for the camera, you’d be better off spending the money on a discounted Pixel 3, the new Pixel 4a, or an iPhone SE. While none of these have the dizzying number of lens found on the OnePlus Nord, they all take a better shot every single time you press the shutter.
But at £379, we’re willing to forgive a mediocre camera, especially since OnePlus Nord exceeds expectations with everything else. The Nord is a supercharged, stylish reminder of just how impressive the results are whenever OnePlus tries to kill flagship smartphones. And anyone who buys the Nord will be glad that OnePlus definitely hasn’t forgotten what made the smartphone start-up such a success in the first place.
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