When it comes to the best cheap phones, the OnePlus Nord vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE have long held their place as part of the conversation – and even though they're not current gen (there's the OnePlus Nord 2 and Galaxy S21 FE instead), these handsets are still relevant, and a relative bargain!
The OnePlus Nord set the stage for a stronger focus on the mid-range from OnePlus, setting off a series of phones that have since included the OnePlus Nord N10 5G – staying below the flagship level of the likes of the OnePlus 8 Pro and costing significantly less.
Meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE (which stands for Fan Edition, even though it actually makes the standard Galaxy S20 more tempting to the masses) is a more affordable version of the flagship, easily making it one of the best Samsung phones.
OnePlus Nord vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Design and screen
Both these phones are fairly recognisable as coming from their respective manufacturers, and they both look pretty similar to each other too. Those similarities extend to the screen: the S20 FE's 6.5-inch, 1080x2400-pixel OLED screen is just a shade bigger than the 6.44-inch, 1080x2400-pixel OLED screen sported by the OnePlus Nord. It's the Samsung phone that edges it in terms of refresh rate, though: up to 120Hz rather than up to 90Hz on the OnePlus.
Both phones have super-thin bezels on the front and little punch-hole notches for the selfie cameras, and both phones have a fingerprint sensor embedded in the screen, so there's no need for one around the back. There is a difference in the positioning of the rear camera though, with the OnePlus handset going for a central location and the Samsung phone opting for top left as you look at the back.
You won't find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the OnePlus Nord or the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, but you will find a USB-C port on both devices for charging and connectivity. One edge the Galaxy S20 FE does have is with waterproofing and dustproofing – it comes with an IP68 rating, whereas the OnePlus Nord doesn't have any IP rating at all (it'll likely stand up to a few splashes and a bit of rain, but that's about it).
You get a few more colour options with the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE – you can pick from Cloud Lavender, Cloud Mint, Cloud Navy, Cloud White, Cloud Red, Cloud Orange. On the OnePlus side, you've got Blue Marble, Grey Onyx and Grey Ash. They'll all rather stylish in their own way, and overall it's difficult to split these phones in terms of their looks, their sizes, or their general aesthetic.
OnePlus Nord vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: camera and battery
The OnePlus Nord comes equipped with a quad-lens 48MP wide + 8MP ultrawide + 5MP depth + 2MP macro rear camera – there is an ultrawide mode but no optical zoom. On the front you've got a dual-lens 32MP wide + 8MP ultrawide selfie camera, which is unusual – it's not often that you get two cameras or an ultrawide option on the front. If you're particularly interested in taking selfie shots while fitting a lot into the frame at once, the OnePlus Nord could be the phone for you.
When it comes to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, there's a triple-lens 12MP wide + 8MP telephoto + 12MP ultrawide rear camera on the back, so you get both an ultrawide mode (like the OnePlus Nord) and 3x optical zoom (which the OnePlus Nord can't offer). On the front of the Galaxy S20 FE there's a single 32MP wide selfie camera, so nothing out of the ordinary in that department.
It can be tricky comparing phone cameras directly against each other, but based on the testing we've done with these two phones, both are going to get you very good results most of the time. The Galaxy S20 FE arguably comes out on top overall, especially when it comes to low light shots, and you do get the bonus of that optical zoom as well. Still, the OnePlus Nord camera won't let you down, even if it's not quite on the same level.
Both the OnePlus Nord and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE are similar when it comes to battery life, with a day's use about all you can expect from these handsets – just about standard across the market as a whole. While the OnePlus Nord just edges the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE out in terms of charging speed – 30W versus 25W – the Galaxy phone does come with wireless charging support, which the OnePlus handset doesn't have.
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OnePlus Nord vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Specs and features
The OnePlus Nord comes powered by the respectably mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G chip, which is working alongside 6GB, 8GB or 12GB of RAM, and either 128GB or 256GB of internal storage (there's no memory card slot to expand that any further either). You do get 5G connectivity on the OnePlus Nord, so if the next-gen connectivity has rolled out in your area then you'll be able to take advantage of the improved speeds.
As for the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, it comes running the flagship-level Exynos 990 processor, which is joined with 6GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128GB or 256GB of internal storage (there is a memory card slot in this case, so you can add more storage if you need to). As we mentioned at the start, the phone comes in 4G and 5G editions, so if you need the extra download and upload speeds then you can pay some more to get them (though the 5G model comes with the pretty high-end Snapdragon 865 processor instead).
In terms of raw performance, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE phone has the edge, but the OnePlus Nord is still going to do everything that you need it to do very capably as well – you might just notice a slower frame rate in a few games, for example, compared with the Samsung handset. With the faster processor the Galaxy S20 FE is also likely to last a little bit longer before age starts to catch up with it.
Both these phones launched with Android 10, but Android 11 updates are just beginning to roll out at the time of writing – eventually, both the OnePlus Nord and the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G will get the Android 11 software and all the latest features. On balance we slightly prefer the look and feel of the OxygenOS skin that OnePlus puts on top of Android compared with the One UI skin that Samsung deploys, although there's not much in it.
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OnePlus Nord vs Samsung Galaxy S20 FE: Price and verdict
We said right at the start that these have been two of the best cheap phones that you can get your hands on, and there's no real loser here – buy either of these phones, and you're still getting a top-quality handset with plenty of power, good battery life, and results from the cameras that you can rely on. You may find they're even cheaper than their Nord 2 and S21 FE replacements.
You'll have noticed a few areas in our comparison where the Samsung phone comes out slightly on top – performance, optical zoom on the camera, waterproofing, wireless charging.
With the two phones a similar size and sporting a similar design, it's really that price versus performance calculation that you need to think about if you're comparing these two phones against each other.
Ultimately it's your call whether you think the faster processor, improved camera and extra goodies on the Samsung phone are worth it (and remember if you want to match the 5G on the OnePlus Nord, that's more extra cost). Both these smartphones offer good value at their respective price points though.