OnePlus Nord

The OnePlus Nord is a return to company’s “flagship killer” roots. Years ago, OnePlus made $299 phones that duked it out with high-price flagships. Then it became a company that just makes flagships, selling them for about the same prices Apple does. The Nord (€399, or about $456) poses the same question that initially made OnePlus so popular: Why buy anything more expensive? Unfortunately, the phone isn’t coming to the US, so we’re not going to rate it. But it’s worth seeing what we’re missing.

Design and Display

The Nord is about the same size as the OnePlus 8, but it’s a little thicker, with edges that are rounded rather than coming to more of a point. The glass back has shimmering, ceramic-looking color under it. Our test unit is a robin egg blue, which OnePlus calls Blue Marble, that matches the company’s OnePlus Buds headphones. It’s striking, and reminds me of the delightful Nextbit Robin, a beautiful but failed phone from a few years ago. There’s also a gray color dubbed Gray Onyx.

oneplus budsin-depth story about the OnePlus 8 screen here.

Surprisingly Smooth

The one place where OnePlus cuts corners here is with the CPU, as the Snapdragon 865 in the OnePlus 8 has been downgraded to the 765G. But the company’s focus on speed, especially with its software, makes it hard to tell the difference.

OnePlus’ Oxygen OS, as always, is the fastest, most Google-like verison of Android short of Google’s own phones. OnePlus doesn’t install many redundant apps—the browser is Chrome, the email program is Gmail, and long pressing the power button gives you Google Assistant. There are a few redundancies. OnePlus has its own Gallery app along with Google Photos, and its own file manager along with Google Files. But I’m not bothered because the experience here is so fast and smooth.

front faceGoogle Pixel 4; the PCMark results are between the OnePlus 6T and the 7 Pro; and the GFXBench results are like the OnePlus 7 series. It’s really hard to see a problem with any of that, as long as you aren’t playing lots of Fortnite or Call of Duty.

See How We Test Phones

The Nord comes in two storage variants in Europe—an 8GB/128GB unit (€399) and a 12GB/256GB model (€499). There’s also a 6GB/64GB unit in India. I tested the 12GB/256GB unit, which has 219GB available. There’s no expandable storage, so it’s probably worth paying for the slightly bigger one.

Battery life is excellent. I got 11 hours, 10 minutes of video playback over Wi-Fi. That’s on par with other top Android phones. It does come at a slight cost, which is very aggressive power management—OnePlus really likes to kill processes and turn the screen brightness down when the phone is running low on battery.

Network Performance

Here’s the real reason why I’m not rating the OnePlus Nord: It doesn’t work very well on US networks. There are two models of the Nord. The one for Europe has LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/26/38/39/40/41/46 and 5G band N78, with 4×4 MIMO on bands 1/3/40/N78.

The one for India has LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/26/28/32/34/38/39/40/41/66 and 5G bands 1/3/7/28/78, with 4×4 MIMO on bands 1/3/4/7/38/41/N1/N3/N7/N78.

oneplus family front5G bands are on either of those phones. For 4G, they’re missing bands 13 (Verizon rural coverage), 71 (T-Mobile rural coverage), and 23/29/30 (AT&T supplementary speed), as well as 4×4 MIMO connectivity on any US band. The phones will work, they just won’t get the coverage and speeds that phones designed for the US market will have.

So to that end, I couldn’t test coverage, speed, or call quality on the Nord—it just isn’t a fair comparison. But I imagine it won’t be bad. OnePlus has done a good job of pouring in nearly every band used outside North America, as well as pumping up some of those bands with 4×4 MIMO for better speed and coverage. And using Qualcomm’s 765G chipset, as opposed to competing lower-cost chipsets, usually bodes well for reception.

The Nord is also a dual-SIM phone, with dual 4G, but there’s only 5G on one SIM at a time.

Camera: Nice for the Price

The OnePlus Nord has the same camera array as the OnePlus 8: a main 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor with an f/1.75 aperture; an 8-megapixel, 119-degree wide-angle camera; a 2-megapixel dedicated macro camera; and a depth sensor. Only the first two of those matter. I compared the OnePlus 8 with flagship phones, but I decided to take the Nord out and compare it with what its primary competition would be in the US, the $399.99 Apple iPhone SE.

good lightThe US Is Missing Out

Most of the phones sold in the US that cost over $300 are either Apple or Samsung flagships. They have advantages over this OnePlus Nord—most notably, even better cameras, especially in low light—but they cost a lot more, often $500 or more above the Nord’s price. Meanwhile, the Nord massively outpaces lower-cost phones in the US, even the aging but beloved Pixel 3a, which has a terrific camera but isn’t nearly as fast, or with as many different lens options as the Nord.

oneplus family rearOnePlus Nord Specs

Operating SystemAndroid 10
CPUQualcomm Snapdragon 765G
Dimensions6.2 by 2.9 by 0.3 inches
Screen Size6.44 inches
Screen Resolution1,080 by 2,400 pixels
Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)48MP, 8MP, 2MP; 32MP, 8MP
Battery Life (As Tested)11 hours, 10 minutes

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July 27, 2020
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