Gadgets for humans

The OnePlus Nord is the beefy boy in the $400 phone market

My colleague and I often discuss what makes a phone mid-range. In India, the norm is to consider phones in the ₹20,000-₹30,000 ($267-$401) price bucket as mid-range. In Europe and in the US, that range goes up when you count in USD.

But in all regions, the newly launched OnePlus Nord is an attractive buy without shelling out too much money. The phone has a sturdy build, with a good screen and reliable performance — ticking almost all boxes for a phone in this price range.

I’ve been using this device for more than two weeks, but before we talk about this phone more, let’s look at its impressive spec sheet.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.44-inch full HD screen with a 90Hz refresh rate
  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
  • RAM: 6GB(India only)/8GB
  • Rear camera: 48-megapixel main sensor (f/1.75) + 8-megapixel wide-angle sensor (119-degree field of view) + 2-megapixel macro sensor + 5-megapixel depth sensor
  • Front camera: 32-megapixel main sensor (f/2.45) + 8-megapixel wide-angle sensor (105-degree field of view)
  • Internal storage: 64GB (India only)/128GB/256GB
  • Battery: 4,115mAh
  • Charging: 30W warp charging
  • Software: Oxygen OS 10.5 based on Android 10

What’s good

Let’s start with the build and design of the device. It’s not unique from a material or shape perspective: both sides have glass and the frame is made out of plastic. It’s not premium, but it’ll do the job for the price. What stands out is that gorgeous Blue Marble color. The gray onyx variant is, well, meh.

OnePlus has managed to cram in a full HD screen with 90Hz with this phone. The screen is bright and colorful, the tuning was a touch too warm for me. But I was able to quickly change it through the settings, so no big problem there. The 90Hz screen is great to have to smoothly scroll down your social media feed and play games with high frame rates. It’s insane that Samsung launched the $999 Note 20 with support for just a 60Hz refresh rate.

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G is a good enough processor to handle most of the tasks. I played resource-intensive games such all Call of Duty Mobile without any major hiccups. Music or video streaming was a breeze, along with handling a barrage of notifications from email and social apps. This proves that you might not need a Snapdragon 8xx series processor for your daily smartphone needs.

The device’s main camera takes sharp pictures with good color accuracy and details — but it needs to have ideal lighting conditions for that. And that’s where the camera‘s might ends.

What needs improvement

The OnePlus Nord has a hole punch on the front to house two selfie cameras, and that creates a problem with some apps as the hole overlays buttons. It’s not clear if that’s a device problem or an app problem, but it’s annoying. Also, the bottom-firing speaker sounds tinny, and it’s easy to cover them while holding the phone horizontally.

The rest of this section is about the device’s cameras, so buckle up. The main camera often struggles with the dynamic range and color accuracy even when there’s enough light around. It might not be shining bright daylight, but I’ve seen cameras in this range do a better job.

While other cameras do add length and options to the specsheet, the quality of execution is okay at best. The wide-angle sensor takes acceptable photos in the daylight, but lose some details. The marco sensor doesn’t do a good job of capturing details at a close range and you might want to say, “You had one job!” The depth sensor doesn’t make a visible difference when I’m taking photos of pets or objects using the portrait mode, which is what I can do during the pandemic.

The selfie camera takes washed-out photos and the dynamic range is off the mark. Sure, OnePlus can fix some of these issues with a software update, but that’s been the case for a lot of OnePlus phones and the company might need to change its habits.

Conclusion

The OnePlus Nord is has a great set of features for a sub-$500 phone. In the hardware department, it might trump a lot of phones in the range. The cameras are a bit disappointing, but they’re not bad for the price range, and a software update might improve things considerably. There’s no doubt that OnePlus’ newest offering is a solid value for money, and the company will sell a lot of these units.

In India, the phone might have competition from the likes of the Vivo V17 or Samsung’s Galaxy A70 or A80. The iPhone SE 2020 is in the same price range in Europe, but it’s more than $150 costlier in India. The Pixel 4a might also be in the contention, but it will take a while till the device hits the shelves. Till then, Nord can have a party of its own.

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Published August 14, 2020 — 13:14 UTC