OnePlus Nord hands-on: An affordable 5G phone that packs a hell of a punch

OnePlus Nord hands-on: An affordable 5G phone that packs a hell of a punch

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A OnePlus phone with 5G, high-end specs and an affordable price tag? Say hello to the OnePlus Nord. OnePlus has always been known for doing more affordable handsets, but its phones have been getting increasingly expensive, with the top-end OnePlus 8 Pro ($999 at OnePlus) sitting almost exactly at that $1,000 threshold. The company’s new phone, called the Nord, aims to change that. 

Read more: OnePlus Nord’s YouTube docuseries is really weird, but I can’t stop watching it

OnePlus Nord price and availability

OnePlus hasn’t given exact pricing details at the time of writing, but it has said that the Nord will cost under 500 euros. That converts to about $570, £450 or AU$820, so this is a much more affordable device than its top-end 8 Pro sibling. It’ll go on sale in the UK and wider Europe later this month, although the company has said that it won’t be available in the US.

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Whether the company decides to give the phone a US launch — or creates a variant of it for US customers — remains to be seen.

A beautiful blue design

Despite that lower price tag, the Nord still packs a hell of a punch. I love its bold blue color with the metallic edging and its screen that stretches all the way to the edges. The display measures 6.4-inches which for me felt comfortable to use in one hand. There’s a fingerprint scanner built into the display too, so there’s been no need to take up space with a dedicated scanner somewhere else. 

What you don’t get is any IP rating for waterproofing, which means it’s probably best if you don’t intentionally drop your phone down the toilet. But then, I can’t think of a phone I’d want to intentionally drop down the toilet. It’s a shame, as the OnePlus 8 ($699 at OnePlus) has IP68 waterproofing which helps keep it safe from spilled drinks, but that waterproofing is likely one of the compromises OnePlus had to make to keep the cost down.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The screen’s 2,400×1,080-pixel resolution is lower than the 8 Pro’s, but it still looked perfectly crisp and clear in my hands on time, so I don’t think you’ll notice much difference. Even when watching high-definition videos on YouTube, I didn’t think for even a moment that this thing was lacking detail. 

Under the hood is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G processor, which brings 5G connectivity to the Nord and actually makes it among the most affordable 5G phones around. Of course you’ll need to be on a service plan that supports 5G and you’ll need to be in an area where 5G is available. 5G is in its infancy so coverage is still quite patchy in many areas of the US and the UK, but it’s smart to buy a 5G phone now so you’ll be ready to take advantage of those speeds when they’re more easily accessible.

The processor itself has eight cores and it’s backed up by either 8 or 12GB of RAM, depending on the variant you go for. Either option should be powerful enough for anything you’re likely to throw at it, while the various tweaks OnePlus has made to its Android 10-based Oxygen software, has resulted in a smooth and lag-free experience.

I really like OnePlus’s software actually. It’s neat and simple and there’s no unnecessary clutter or preinstalled bloatware which just makes it a much more pleasant experience in use.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

OnePlus Nord cameras

There are three main lenses on the back. There’s the standard zoom camera, which is a 48-megapixel Sony sensor — the same one found on the OnePlus 8 in fact. That’s joined by a 12-megapixel super-wide angle lens and a 2-megapixel macro camera that lets you focus close-up on tiny details. 

I’ve only done some quick tests with the camera but the results look decent, especially considering the more affordable price of the thing. Shots look well-exposed, nice and sharp and with vibrant, accurate colors. 

There’s also a portrait mode which uses the 5-megapixel depth sensor to give some attractive out-of-focus backgrounds to your portrait shots as well as other features like 4K video, slow motion and a night mode for capturing brighter shots in low light. 

On the front is the first dual-lens selfie camera we’ve seen from OnePlus. The main front lens offers a huge 32-megapixel resolution, to let you see every excruciating detail on your face, while the other is a wide-angle lens, which OnePlus says is designed to let you fit more of your friends into the scene. Or if social distancing has left you all alone, you can take a big wide lonely selfie and then badly Photoshop some new friends in. 

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There’s a 4,115-mAh battery inside the Nord which should be able to provide enough juice to keep you going for a whole day. As always, that’ll depend on how you use it — if you spend all morning streaming videos then you’ll probably need to give the Nord a boost in the afternoon. 

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the name “Nord” — sadly it has nothing to do with the race of people in the Elder Scrolls games. It’s so named because “Nord” means “North” in some European languages. OnePlus says that North on a compass “points towards growth and success,” which it doesn’t; it’s just a direction. But who am I to argue? 

Misunderstanding of compasses aside though, I’m impressed with this phone so far. It looks great, has solid specs, 5G and it’s certainly more affordable then the rest of the OnePlus range. 

OnePlus Nord specs comparison

OnePlus Nord OnePlus 8 OnePlus 8 Pro Apple iPhone SE (2020)
Display size, resolution 6.44-inch; 2,400×1,080-pixels 6.55-inch AMOLED; 1,080×2,400 pixels 6.78-inch AMOLED; 1,440×3,168 pixels 4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334×750 pixels
Pixel density 408ppi 402ppi 513ppi 326ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.23×2.88×0.32 in 6.3×2.8×0.31 in 6.51×2.93×0.35 in 5.45×2.65×0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.3×73.3×8.2 mm 160×72.9×8.0 mm 165×74.4×8.5 mm 138.4×67.3×7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.49 oz; 184g 180g 199g 5.22 oz; 148g
Mobile software Android 10 Android 10 Android 10 iOS 13
Camera 48-megapixel (standard), 12-megapixel (wide-angle), 2-megapixel (macro), 5-megapixel (depth-sensing) 48-megapixel main, 2-megapixel macro lens, 16-megapixel ultra-wide 48-megapixel main, 8-megapixel telephoto, 48-megapixel ultra-wide, 5-megapixel ‘colour filter’ 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 32-megapixel, 8-megapixel (wide-angle) 16-megapixel 16-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Apple A13 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 256GB 128GB, 256B 128GB, 256B 64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB, 12GB 8GB, 12GB 8GB, 12GB Not disclosed
Expandable storage No None None No
Battery 4,115 mAh 4,300 mAh 4,300 mAh Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8
Fingerprint sensor In-screen In-screen In-screen Home button
Connector USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack No No No No
Special features 5G-enabled, 90Hz refresh rate, 30w fast-charging 5G enabled, Fast-charging, 90Hz display 5G enabled, Fast-charging, fast wireless charging, 120Hz display, IP68 water resistance Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging
Price off-contract (USD) $570 (converted from 500 euros) $699 $899 $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB)
Price (GBP) £450 (converted from 500 euros) £599 £799 £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB)
Price (AUD) AU$820 (converted from 500 euros) TBA TBA AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)

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