A drop in price and all is forgiven? Well yes. The OnePlus Nord launched Tuesday, July 21, from €399 is supposed to mark a new beginning, #newbeginnings. OnePlus is trying to reconcile with its early fans, a little overwhelmed by the race for premium and the price break started with the OnePlus 8/Pro. Everything, from the teasing through to the quality-to-price ratio of the OnePlus Nord exudes apology. And, after having been able to take the phone in hand and then test it, I must admit that all is well and truly forgiven.
- ✓AMOLED 90 Hz screen
- ✓Great quad-camera performance
- ✓Powerful Snapdragon 765G processor
- ✓Fluid Oxygen OS experience
- ✕Dated and flashy design
- ✕No telephoto lens
- ✕No wireless charging
- ✕No IP certification
Who is OnePlus Nord for?
The OnePlus Nord will be available in two configurations, 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB, at €399 and €499 and in two colors, Blue Marble and Gray Onyx.
The OnePlus Nord is clearly positioned as a mid-range smartphone. A premium mid-range, certainly, but it is not a flagship killer either. It makes sense, the brand does not want to cannibalize on its high-end catalog that is the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro.
- Read also: OnePlus involved in flagship-killer battle
But if there's one thing that stands out about this model, it's OnePlus' desire not to return to its roots, but to reconcile what has made it successful in the past with new ambitions. It can be considered as a footnote to appeal to its first followers who felt a little left out by the price increase of the OnePlus 8, and of which I am a part.
"A OnePlus phone made the OnePlus way", as the brand says. So we've instilled this willingness to break compromises while adapting it to the manufacturer's broader strategy.
That's why the OnePlus Nord is equipped with almost the same photo module as the OnePlus 8, with an additional depth sensor and a dual selfie camera, making this the first of its kind on a smartphone from the manufacturer. In addition, it also explains why it has embedded a 90 Hz AMOLED display, similar to the brand's flagship as well as an 8 GB RAM/128 GB or 12 GB RAM/256 GB configuration.
If you look at the specifications sheet, it's hard to see what concessions the manufacturer has made to lower the price of the OnePlus Nord, apart from the choice of a less powerful chipset with the Snapdragon 765G, which is a mid-range chip. In any case, at €399 and €499 depending on the version, these are very attractive prices we are talking about.
The OnePlus Nord has left me with good first impressions for...
Its sublime 90 Hz AMOLED screen
The OnePlus Nord has a 6.44-inch AMOLED screen with a refresh rate of 90 Hz. An option that is no longer very rare at less than €500, the price bracket of the most expensive OnePlus Nord. But it is still quite exceptional in the range of less than €400.
At this price, and on smartphones released in 2020, only Realme models offer such a refresh rate. The OnePlus' AMOLED panel is really beautiful and bright at first glance. But note the absence of curved edges and the presence of a pill-shaped hole punch placed at the top left. The bezels are still very thin, but the OnePlus Nord has a slightly more noticeable chin.
As always on OnePlus, the screen is very bright and allows good readability in all lighting conditions, even in broad daylight. The slab calibration and colorimetry are handled very well, although I noticed that the default display setting tended towards cooler tones.
For the rest, the fluidity of the display is really pleasant and the touch screen is very responsive. Add to that the usual fluidity of OxygenOS, its animations, and its excellent haptic feedback, and the first contact with the OnePlus Nord can only be positive.
Its quadruple photo module (almost) worthy of a flagship
OnePlus' desire to make as few concessions as possible is best illustrated by the camera. We find, for the first time on a smartphone of the brand, a dual selfie camera. To the main wide-angle sensor, not a depth sensor, but an ultra-wide-angle 8MP lens with an FOV of 105 ° is added.
Enough to do group selfies with all the friends that I don't have (yet) here in Berlin, but which even allows you to vary the angles of view solo. Especially since the front camera is quite precise and offers a good level of detail.
But it is especially the rear photo module that is interesting. OnePlus prides itself on having carried a quadruple-camera worthy of a flagship. And for once, I must say that it is only an element of language. OnePlus plays on words. Indeed, we find the same main sensor Sony IMX586 of 48MP as on the OnePlus 8. But the comparison stops there.
The main 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 lens is nothing fancy, but it does the job very well. Especially since OnePlus has imported its progress on software processing and optical stabilization made on the OnePlus 8/Pro on the OnePlus Nord.
By day we, therefore, find ourselves with beautiful shots, which have sharpness and a wide dynamic range as it should be. With HDR enabled, the colors are a bit too saturated. It doesn't bother me, but I know a lot of photophiles who prefer a more "natural" look.
There is also an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens with 119 ° FOV (compared to 16MP on the OnePlus 8). The latter has the merit of offering a consistent rendering in terms of colorimetry compared to the wide-angle sensor. But we immediately lose sharpness. The effect of distortion at the edges of the image is more or less well limited by the software processing.
The zoom does not benefit from a dedicated telephoto lens, so you have to be satisfied with the native x2 magnification of the wide-angle sensor, then a digital zoom up to x10. Once exceeded x2, we lose a lot in the level of detail. The pictures have a lot of digital noise.
I found the performance of the Realme X3 SuperZoom more interesting in terms of zoom. But this smartphone has a dedicated periscope telephoto lens, unlike the OnePlus Nord. Note also that the photos below were taken at the end of the day, as the sun was setting.
But look how dynamic range takes its grade as soon as you zoom. The trees are almost completely drowned in the shadows.
OnePlus has also equipped its OnePlus Nord with a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro sensor. These last two are quite anecdotal for my personal use, I must admit. And their concrete utility is rarely demonstrated in practice as explained in the article below.
We are also entitled to a 48MP mode, which allows you to take photos in full format without going through pixel binning (four pixels in one). This makes it possible to display more details that are visible when the image is enlarged (as below) but everything remains totally dependent on good lighting conditions.
Finally, it's a shame not to have integrated a dedicated telephoto lens which, on the OnePlus of 2020, remains reserved for the OnePlus 8 Pro. Despite this, the OnePlus Nord's camera allows enough versatility for consumer use. But we cannot say that this is a photo experience worthy of a flagship.
In any case, at €399, I don't see a cheaper smartphone or at the same price that offers superior performance, apart from the Google Pixel 3a but which does not have much more to offer, unlike the OnePlus Nord.
The power of the Snapdragon 765G
"Release the dragon", shouts OnePlus in its press release. Let’s calm down anyway. As premium as Qualcomm wants to present it, the Snapdragon 765G does not behave, according to our tests on other models, like a truly high-end processor.
This premium mid-range side alone sums up the philosophy of the OnePlus Nord. Offer as much as possible with limited means. During my first gaming sessions, the OnePlus Nord behaved quite efficiently. I was able to run my fairly resource-intensive games like Call of Duty Mobile with the graphics in high.
OnePlus Nord benchmark comparison:
|LG Velvet (765G)||Motorola Moto Edge (765G)||OnePlus Nord (765G)|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1||3001||3023||3219|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Vulkan||2787||2800||3002|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0||3984||4313||4425|
|Geekbench 5 (Simple / Multi)||536 / 1852||587 / 1849||605 / 1936|
We obviously find the gaming mode of OnePlus as well as the Fnatic mode (a gaming mode +), supposed to boost performance. As these benchmarks show, the OnePlus Nord does slightly better than its competitors equipped with the same SoC (it also has more RAM).
The experience is really fluid and OnePlus seems to have optimized its chip well. On the other hand, do not expect to run Fortnite in 60 Fps. I also noticed some overheating of the smartphone when I pushed it at full throttle.
On Sky: Children of the Light, for example, a beautiful game that makes most mid-range smartphones scream in pain, and even my Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, runs quite smoothly but I felt the Nord starting to melt in my hands once past the hour of play.
Here again, we are looking at high-end performance, but a smartphone equipped with a Snapdragon 865 will obviously do better, for a much higher price on the other hand. Compromise, as ever, is needed.
OxygenOS, home sweet home
After several weeks spent evolving under the Android Stock and RealmeUI versions (which have their qualities), what a joy to go back to OxygenOS. The OnePlus interface version 10.5 is the best in my opinion by far.
So, of course, I am totally lacking in objectivity on this point. But if you are used to smartphones from a particular manufacturer, you know as well as I how it feels to be in familiar territory.
The OnePlus Nord comes with the June security patch, and the manufacturer guarantees two years of software updates and three years of security updates. Being able to benefit from the OnePlus user interface on an affordable 2020 model is very good.
We find the usual fluidity of this very sober and refined overlay. And the number of customizations of the interface, icons, and animations gives the impression of a tailor-made user experience.
It should be noted, however, that for once, OnePlus has pre-installed default Google apps like Duo, Messages, and Phone, rather than its own email clients. I don't know if this can really be considered bloatware, as I use it on every Android smartphone I test anyway.
The OnePlus North has left me with less good first impressions because...
Its slightly dated and flashy design
This is the first contact we have with the product. This is why it is usually mentioned first in tests and reviews. This may be the only limitation of our new test format.
Anyway, the first thing that struck me about the OnePlus Nord is this very flashy turquoise blue color, too much for me. OnePlus calls it "Blue Marble". It's true that this color reminds me of those marbles that we all had in elementary school, I think we called them the "planet marbles."
It's a bit too flashy for my taste. It's fluorescent, it shines. I'm sure others will like it, but I'm having a hard time getting used to it for now. I much prefer the colors offered on the OnePlus 8/Pro, such as Ultramarine Blue or the magnificent Interstellar Glow.
The rest of the design is frankly too classic to get carried away. We find the traditional glass back combo that catches fingerprints and metallic edges. On the other hand, I will never tire of the usefulness of the switch on the right edge to switch to vibrating or silent mode.
On the other hand, I must salute its less massive format than its main competitors, as at Realme for example. With dimensions of 58.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm and a weight of 184 grams, we are not facing a featherweight but we do not have the impression of having a brick in the hands either.
I would have preferred to have a retractable or "pop-up" selfie camera so as not to have to deal with the double pill at the top left of the screen which is really difficult to pass. We feel a bit the fall in range, in any case the fact that the OnePlus North is really not a flagship killer but a mid-range.
Good after, the design is still neat. The color and the glass back are really a matter of taste, I admit. But the fact remains that the look of the OnePlus North clearly did not make me shiver with excitement.
Good battery life, nothing more
The 4100mAh battery can be recharged to 70% in 30 minutes with the familiar Warp Charge 30T fast charge. On paper, therefore, there is nothing very transcendent about it.
According to the PC Mark benchmark that I use for the battery, the OnePlus Nord took a little over 14 hours to drop below the 20% remaining battery level, with the screen's 90 Hz constant. This is a more than respectable score but nothing out of the ordinary for a mid-range smartphone.
On this price range, the battery life is a key argument and it is easy to achieve two days of use on many models. In use, the OnePlus North will last a good day and a half with typical use. With more intensive use (gaming, extended video streaming), it will need to be recharged at the end of the day.
However, no wireless charging. It's a shame, especially since this long-requested option had finally been integrated into the OnePlus 8 series. But some will say that it is not an essential feature, which I fully understand.
The lack of wireless charging, telephoto lens and IP certification
I told you at the start of this test, you really have to look to find the concessions that OnePlus had to make to offer the OnePlus Nord at such a competitive price. If we read the technical sheet, we hardly see any differences with the top of the range of the brand.
Yes, the Snapdragon 765G is less expensive than a Snapdragon 865. But we are not on a low-cost chip anyway, and the integrated 5G modem is worth its weight in gold despite everything in terms of production costs.
In reality, OnePlus simply made economies of scale on details that could easily go unnoticed. Details such as waterproofing certification, which costs several tens of euros per unit produced, or wireless charging and the integration of a dedicated telephoto lens.
Details that you would expect to see on a high-end smartphone. But the OnePlus North is a mid-range, we remind you. And to be honest, I am quite prepared to forgive, at that cost, these few technical omissions. For a user who is interested in the price-to-quality ratio, they will have little impact.
First Impressions - Conclusion
The OnePlus Nord is, on paper and after my test, one of the most beautiful phones made by a brand. OnePlus has understood what was missing from its catalog: a more accessible model. But instead of offering a low cost OnePlus, the brand has really done everything to release an affordable model as premium as possible.
So this is not a homecoming or really a new beginning. OnePlus just wants to get off to a good start with its most hardcore fans, while continuing its push towards the high end of the market. The OnePlus Nord is a kind of reminder, a way of saying "Hey, we know we're getting a little more mainstream, but we're not forgetting the community, we haven't totally changed."
We are not talking about a flagship killer. The goal is not to break the compromise, but to push it to the extreme. This is a textbook case of optimization of its production chains by a manufacturer.
The OnePlus North is in my opinion the best mid-range benchmark currently. In any case, it is the smartphone less than €400 that makes the least concessions.
Unlike an iPhone SE 2020, which aims to offer a sufficiently closed front door to Apple's catalog to be sold a little cheaper, the OnePlus Nord marks a real effort by the manufacturer to be as accessible as possible without compromises too much of what makes the brand so popular.
It is a very beautiful success that does not deserve one of the innumerable but especially infamous puns on "North" that I refrained from using to conclude this test. Dear OnePlus, all is well and truly forgiven.