OnePlus Nord N10 review: Cheap, but is it any good?
After the OnePlus Nord was introduced, it was followed up by a couple of more affordable models that bore that Nord moniker: the Nord 100 and the Nord N10 5G. We decided to take a look at the Nord N10 5G for ourselves, which saw its price slashed recently and hence, positioning itself as OnePlus' most affordable 5G smartphone to-date.
- Good battery life
- Supports 5G
- 90 Hertz refresh rate
- No AMOLED display
- Will receive only one major Android update
- No wireless charging supported
- No IP certification
Who does the OnePlus Nord N10 5G target?
Your svelte body is lying in front of me, showcasing your 6.49-inch IPS LCD in my face while staring at me with your 16 MP selfie camera without breaking into a smile. It is quite clear that we were not meant for each other. Considering you are my first review unit at my new workplace, I am willing to make concessions even if it is not a high-end model. Perhaps the next OnePlus review unit would be handled by seasoned veterans such as Ben or Antoine, or they might not even mind picking up this 190-gram chassis that is covered by a combination of Gorilla Glass 3 and plastic, as opposed to this relative newcomer who has not written a review in a very long time.
All of these have culminated into this particular moment in time where our paths cross, my dear OnePlus Nord N10 5G. I did think while spelling out your name that as long as 5G networks are not widely available, having a "5G" suffix in the moniker does nothing much apart from making it more of a mouthful.
Generally speaking, it looks like OnePlus is expanding its catalog of devices recently: The China-based company caters to the premium market with the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, while the OnePlus Nord brings back memories of delivering plenty of value for money in the mid-range segment without having to breach the €400 mark. In between the two polar opposites, there is the budget-flagship OnePlus 8T to hold the fort.
A few months ago, OnePlus decided to spice things up a bit with the introduction of the N100 and also the OnePlus Nord N10 5G. The Nord N10 5G is available in a sole configuration - 6 GB RAM and 128 GB of expandable storage, and you would also have no problems choosing the colour since only "Midnight Ice" is available. It was priced €50 cheaper than the OnePlus Nord, making the Nord N10 5G the company's most affordable 5G smartphone to date with a recommended retail price of €349. Why am I writing in the past tense? This is because OnePlus has officially lowered the price by a further €50 just before this review was published, which means you can now pick up the OnePlus Nord N10 5G for €299. This move is a shrewd one, allowing those who want to stretch every dollar that they have to be prepared for a 5G future without having to break the bank.
There are compromises to be made at a cheaper price point, as this is unavoidable. The Nord N10 5G is no doubt, an inferior handset compared to the OnePlus Nord. You will have to make do without an AMOLED display, live with a slower Snapdragon 690 chipset (instead of the Snapdragon 765G in the Nord), and also be prepared for a poorer photography experience due to the camera setup. It is not all doom and gloom though, as there are certain areas in which the N10 5G does excel in, so let us get down to the nitty-gritty.
What the OnePlus Nord N10 5G does well
Considering how the Nord N10 5G is a OnePlus product, it will of course, arrive with Oxygen OS right out of the box. You will end up with the Android 10-based Oxygen OS 10.5 in this case, which is close to stock Android albeit having some OnePlus touches along the way. By remaining close to the stock Android experience, OnePlus is able to roll out relatively quick updates - at least in theory. Personally, I tend to veer towards such simple interfaces that do not end up cluttering a smartphone too much with additional features that are more often than not, unnecessary. Unfortunately, Oxygen OS 10.5 is not perfect, which we will cover later.
Two-day battery life and 5G on board
The battery life on the Nord N10 5G was impressive. While the specifications sheet listed down a 4,300 mAh battery which on paper, does not sound outstanding considering how it is supposed to power a 90 Hz display, but my everyday usage allowed me up to 2 days' worth of juice. Of course, one's usage pattern will differ from another person's, so context is important. With Warp Charge 30T on board, this smartphone will be charged in no time at all. It takes approximately 55 minutes to juice it up to 100%, and even a 30-minute charge will deliver two-thirds of power to keep you going throughout the day.
The name itself is self-explanatory: this smartphone supports 5G. 5G connectivity works for only the primary SIM card and not the optional secondary SIM slot, so it might be a bit of a downside here. Being the cheapest 5G smartphone from OnePlus, it is certainly worth checking out if you want a decent future-proof entry-level 5G smartphone. If there is no need for a second SIM card, you can always insert a microSD card for an additional 128GB of storage space. One should not take memory expansion slots for granted these days, as with the presence of a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
Concerning this matter, should we even list down a 3.5mm audio jack and a microSD card slot as a "feature"? After all, many of us are already rocking to wireless headsets for our portable entertainment needs. In addition, the Nord N10 5G comes with stereo speakers, so if you want to blast your favorite tunes for the rest of the world to hear, the Nord N10 5G will gladly oblige.
Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 chipset - better than expected
When the processor for the OnePlus Nord N10 5G was announced, one would notice the frowns among OnePlus fans. After all, it is only the Snapdragon 690 chipset that will see action here as opposed to the more capable Snapdragon 765G. In reality, however, it is not all that bad - at least you will not be able to notice it at the outset if you are not a power user.
The SoC is a solid performer, where day-to-day functions are handled smoothly without any issue. After all, following up on social media apps like Instagram and Facebook, as well as sending and receiving WhatsApp messages are not processor intensive. Sure, there are some apps that do take a bit longer to launch, while more complex games will see dropped frame rates, but the average smartphone user ought to be able to easily live with this SoC.
What the OnePlus Nord N10 5G doesn't do so well
Design and build quality
I would always prefer to share with our readers what a particular device does well as opposed to its shortcomings. However, dealing with the cons of a device is still a necessary evil, and each time I look at the design of the Nord N10 5G, I ponder over the thought of introducing yet another category - "What makes the OnePlus Nord N10 5G mediocre", because the smartphone is not visually striking at all.
It is not limited to just having a single "Midnight Ice" color, as this shade of dark blue is rather pleasant to look at. Instead, I question the choice of materials used. The OnePlus Nord might have a plastic back that is covered in glass, but the Nord N10 5G features Corning Gorilla Glass 3 that is fused to a plastic frame, making it look (and feel) cheap. Never mind that you get scratch-resistant 2.5D glass in front, it still does not carry that refined look.
It is not the lightest smartphone in the market with a 190-gram weight, but I do admit that in spite of the 6.49-inch LCD pane, the phone is rather comfortable to hold. The edges around the display could have been slimmer, and while I would not deem the screen-to-body ratio of 83.5 percent to be outdated, it could do better at this price point. On the top left lies a punch-hole selfie camera which lacks a notification LED. This would have been forgivable if there was an Always-On display, but since it is not an AMOLED screen, you might want to check your phone frequently to remain on top of all notifications.
The OnePlus logo is emblazoned just above the center at the back, the same place where the fingerprint sensor also lies. Looks like OnePlus decided to ditch the under-display fingerprint scanner for this model. The camera module in the Nord N10 5G is located in the upper left corner which does carry some design cues from the OnePlus 8T. Apart from that, I love the color at the back the most, as it varies between a different shade of bright blue to almost black, depending on how you hold it as light reflects. It's a shame that this back will probably soon be ruined by scratches and covered with fingerprints, as OnePlus did not include a basic silicone case in the box nor a screen protector.
While we're ranting, I'd also like to point out that the OnePlus Nord N10 5G does not come with any IP certification. Apart from that, this handset does feel rather robustly built, with solid buttons and a responsive display.
Since we've already talked about the display earlier on, let us continue from where we left off, shall we? I have already criticized OnePlus for using an IPS LCD panel instead of an AMOLED display. This would mean the usual drawbacks are there: less vivid and crisp colors, as well as lower contrast and brightness levels.
Due to the fact that the Full HD display with its 6.49-inch screen diagonal is slightly larger than the Nord, the pixel density will also be lower. However, with all the cost-cutting measures that the N10 5G had to go through as opposed to the first Nord smartphone, it is quite remarkable that the Chinese manufacturer has thrown in a 90 Hertz display into the mix. This is definitely a plus point for a mid-range device.
Unfortunately, the camera happens to fall under the section of our review where we discuss its cons. Now, I don't want to be too critical, because just like the display, the camera is actually rather decent. It all boils down to a question of whether it is decent enough at this price point considering the camera performance on the more expensive OnePlus Nord is far superior.
OnePlus has decided to 'sacrifice' the camera's performance with the Nord N10 5G in order to keep the price low, doing away with Sony's sensors while settling for the Samsung GW1 sensor. The camera setup comprises of the following:
- Main camera: 64 MP, f/1.79, EIS
- Ultra-wide: 8 MP, f/2.25, 119°
- Macro: 2 MP, f/2.4
- Monochrome: 2 MP, f/2.4
- Front cam: 16MP, f/2.05, EIS
All of the above, sans the front selfie cam, still makes up a whopping four sensors at the back! It sounds like a lot at first, but truth be told, the macro and monochrome sensors at 2 megapixels each are pretty much useless in reality. The main camera itself is actually a decent performer if the surrounding weather cooperates and provides you with great lighting conditions. The lower the amount of available light, the more mediocre results you'll end up with. Unfortunately, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G is no different from other mid-range handsets in this aspect.
If the sun is shining brightly or the lighting conditions are good, the camera's performance increases accordingly. Realistic colors are captured in great detail.
My impression of the camera's performance when the sun decided to hide behind the clouds began to go south, as the captured colors are paler and more blurry overall since there is no optical image stabilization built-in.
This becomes even more noticeable when night falls and if we decide to snap some photos with it. It's noisy, details are lost, and the colors look rather weak. I have already considered the following pictures that were taken at night to be the best of the lot:
As for the 16-megapixel selfie cam, I would say that its performance is par for the course where mid-range smartphones are concerned. However, I always have had a difficult time judging selfies considering the way I wear my hair, my enthusiasm in this aspect is rather limited. In this case, however, I have to chalk the somewhat mediocre to myself and not OnePlus' phone.
Probably a lot of things about the Nord N10 5G - like the camera - wouldn't strike me as negative points if OnePlus hadn't released the Nord and shown how much better it can be for just a little bit more money. You see, the OnePlus Nord and its price tag continue to be the benchmark in its category, no matter what facet of the Nord N10 5G we're talking about.
Software updates: Where did you guys come up with this idea?
I mentioned at the beginning, I like OnePlus' software because I lean more towards being a purist and love stock Android. However, we definitely need to bring up the issue that OnePlus already made an announcement on how the N10 and N100 models will receive only a single major Android update in addition to various security updates. To be honest, I find that to be a very disappointing move, because the N10 5G won't go too far after receiving the Android 11 update.
OxygenOS 11 is still eagerly awaited by OnePlus fans for many of its devices, so it probably will not arrive on the OnePlus Nord N10 5G anytime soon. How does this work? You would end up with a smartphone in your hands that will receive its latest software update not too long after before it all ends with nothing else but security updates for another two years. Surely OnePlus could have handled it better!
To end my misgivings of the OnePlus Nord N10 5G, I think that it was a mistake to omit wireless charging support and IP certification. These are, after all, sore points that we had with the OnePlus Nord and hence, it is logical to extend it against the more affordable models.
Final verdict: An OK all-rounder save for the price
If you decide to buy the OnePlus Nord N10 5G for €299 (~$299), then you would be just fine only if you do not take the OnePlus Nord at €399 (~$399) into consideration. For €100 less, you end up with an inferior chassis, a camera downgrade that replaced the Sony sensor with a Samsung sensor, an LCD display instead of AMOLED, a slower Snapdragon processor, and far fewer software updates for a shorter period of time.
For me, this means I cannot dish out a "Buy" recommendation for a smartphone that actually does not allow itself to excel in any way. However, the devil is always in the details: if you were to compare both handsets and their accompanying prices, I would always advise you to pick the OnePlus Nord for €100 more since it delivers far superior value. In reality, however, it is not likely that the OnePlus Nord will see a price drop, while the Nord N10 5G's latest price cut has made it more attractive.
Even before the price was lowered by OnePlus to €299 for a brief amount of time, the street price was hovering around €275. Hence, it is quite possible that the price will drop even further, and by then, there would be a huge enough price gap between the Nord and the Nord N10 5G that I might recommend the latter.
All in all, however, I think it's a shame that the Chinese company hasn't been able to bring that familiar OnePlus spirit that was showcased in the OnePlus Nord over to the Nord N10 5G.
The OnePlus N10 5G is now the manufacturer's cheapest 5G smartphone, but if you value 5G functionality, I can only recommend that you go for OnePlus' second most affordable 5G model after all - the OnePlus Nord.
Not a bad device. Probably my favorite from OnePlus since their first phone. 128 GB is not enough if you're not offering expandable storage. I have a couple of cards full of movies, comics, music, books that I swap through phones. Sure I can load stuff on through USB C readers and such, but that's always really clunky. I've had the port time out on large transfers many times. And reading over the port for a full movie is power intensive and gets very hot on the drive end of things. At the price point for storage, give me the full TB and I can forgo my cards. It's worth the extra bucks at this point.