Nord is a new series of OnePlus phones, and it marks a return to the origins of a brand that started out as a very affordable flagship killer, one that has now reached a more premium price point. Someone at OnePlus must have looked at the pricing and thought "hmm, I think our phones have become somewhat a lot more expensive than we intended".
The result is in my view a fantastic return to the original OnePlus concept, and yes, such a thing used to exist. I've still got my original OnePlus 1, it still works as well; a phone so exclusive that the only way to get one was to be invited to buy one by someone who had already previously bought a phone. This made it both extremely exclusive, while at the same time it was still a cheap phone, as in, you couldn't get an entry-level Sony for the same money at the same time. This was brilliant marketing, but also covered up the fact that OnePlus was so small and had so little cash flow that they had to produce small batches of phones as they couldn't afford to just make a million and then have them sit around in a warehouse. It had crazy security for the time, including awesome facial recognition, something that no mainstream phones had even been near at that point.
Nord continues where the originals left off, and while I actually prefer the old design with sharp corners and industrial monolithic style, one of the new "sandstone black" covers is still the same colour, the same gritty and textured finish - a homage to the original. Or so I like to think. The cover is also affordable. The Nord comes in two variations, our is the big and expensive one with 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage. While it is the cheaper model that's advertised, it's still a steal considering the specs of the phone. Honestly, most people would buy the 8GB RAM/128 GB and hardly know the difference, 128GB of storage is easily enough for my use, even with a lot of photos taken.
The phone is made with a simple yet sturdy design, yet it retains beauty despite the simplicity. My main criticism is the dual selfie-cam placed to the left, mainly because I don't do selfies. But extra points for positioning and integrating it into the status line of the phone. The shape of the phone means it rests easily in the hand, and one-handed usage is actually possible. It also comes in Onyx Grey and Blue Marble.
OnePlus doesn't get enough credit for the way menus are optimised and made more accessible, and you feel the extra care that has gone into improving the system over stock Android. Oxygen is fantastic; everything is slightly tweaked, either in terms of core mechanics, or icons used, and I love all of it. They have also added a cascade of new options for simple things such as navigation or swiping, and I simply didn't bother with trying all of them as I quickly found one that suited me perfectly. It's simple everyday improvements, like having extra options added to the swipe-down menu instead of having to go to the options and scroll through 17 different sub-menus.
An often overlooked aesthetic is the red charging cable, it is brilliant when you have 27 different white and black cables lying around. Like the new optical fingerprint scanner, it's lightning-fast. You get more than 2% charge per minute, and the scanner reads and accepts directly each and every time - you'll wonder why you ever bothered with anything else.
The camera is lifted from the OnePlus 8. It's a 48MP using the Sony IMX586 sensor, with an icon switching between 12MP and 28MP. Most camera modes are on a sliding bar, so no need to go into different menus to find them. Yes, there is HDR support, a Night mode that actually works, plus Pro and Standard modes that take great photos. There is also a 5MP depth camera, 8MP wide-angle, and 2MP macro camera that works surprisingly well. Video support is 1080p 30/60FPS and 4K 30FPS, while slow-motion goes to 240 FPS.
The selfie cam is 32MP with a Sony IMX616 sensor, a wide-angle lens, and support for 60FPS 1080P video, or you can go 4k video in selfie mode if you like. I hate selfie cams, but this one manages to impress.
OnePlus should also get an award for making a camera that actually works in anything but bright sunlight with a Night Mode that isn't grainy and filled with image noise. Meanwhile, standard mode actually does take in enough light to capture reasonable images in the dark. One of the reasons is that the camera takes multiple images at the same time, and then merge them into one optimal super-image. And it works.
The raw performance is interesting, but of course not on par with a flagship phone that is three or four times the price. However, I did not find it wanting at any point, nor experience any sluggishness or lag. The CPU never went above 88% usage, and Geekbench said 609 single-core and 1928 multicore performance. If you are an ultra-hardcore mobile gamer, these numbers may be too low for you, but then again, you would not be the target audience anyway.
The display is 90Hz AMOLED. 90Hz in a phone this affordable is unheard of and I really hope it becomes industry standard. It's just like the refresh rate on PC monitors, when you have seen the promised land, going back to 60Hz feels like taking an arrow to the knee. OnePlus claims 2048 levels of light intensity, and while I can't verify that, it is very fluent and doesn't feel like a five-step scale like others. The screen protector is applied from the factory - thanks for that, I always make a mess of it - and like most others, Gorilla Glass 5 is used. It's a 6.44" display with 2400x1080p and 408PPI. Most apps for some reason reported 409PPI, but at least that shows the phone delivers. Text is crisp and clear, colours are vivid, and the only thing missing is a wider format, but that would nullify the one-hand usage.
The sound comes from one loudspeaker at the bottom; its acceptable, and can play fairly loud music (or whatever). The speaker for phone conversations is, in contrast, fantastic, and can be very loud, which is very useful for conversations with those people that insist on talking while in windy conditions.
5G was not available at the time of testing, despite it being an integral part of the Snapdragon 765G platform used in the Nord. This particular Snapdragon model is also what powers the Google flagship phones instead of the 865 or 865+. The main difference is the X52 5G modem chip used instead of the X55/60, which in theory allows for twice the download speed. The 865 also uses Kryo 585 with 8% higher clock speed than the Kyro 484 in the 765G. Both use an octa-core setup. The 865 also uses LPDDR5 RAM instead of the LPDDR4x RAM in the Nord, and Adreno 650 instead of Adreno 620. It comes down to cost. The extra performance you get in the 865 is really expensive, and only power-users will be interested and willing to pay for the performance bump.
MIMO-Wifi is supported, including 4x4 MIMO LTE, Bluetooth 5.1, Aptx and AptX HD. The battery is rated at 4115mAh, lasts a full day with no problems, and while I am a big fan of wireless charging, the 6A Warp charger is a blast for fast charging. Software-wise, OnePlus gives two years of phone updates and three years of security updates.
All in all, I am impressed. Not only has OnePlus returned to their original mission statement, but it has also set a new standard for what an affordable phone is capable of, what it looks like, and how good it is during daily use. I handle a lot of phones yearly due to both my own reviews and second opinions at the GR office, and, simply put, this phone kicks ass and sets OnePlus far ahead of the competition. You get so much phone for a very reasonable amount of money. I hope OnePlus sells incredible amounts of the Nord, the company deserves it.
Loading next content