From the get-go, I can tell you that this OnePlus Nord review is a love letter to the mid-range phone. Times are changing and you really don't need to spend loads of cash on a high-end flagship smartphone. Screens, chipsets and camera lenses are getting cheaper which ultimately means the mid-range market is able to thrive.
At the end of the day, what's the point in spending over the odds on one of the very best smartphones if they're only just faster and take only slightly better photos than something that costs half the price? Even Apple has a mid-range handset now in the form of the iPhone SE.
The recent release of the OnePlus Nord 2 means the original Nord is now cheaper than it's ever been before. The newer generation switches up the camera, puts some extra force behind its processor and has packed in a better battery – so what is it that you care more about, value or performance?
And, while the OnePlus flagships like the OnePlus 8 Pro or the more recent OnePlus 9 Pro are still their crowning glory, branching out into the competitive world of mid-range smartphones is a no-brainer for the brand, joining Google, Apple and Samsung in the segment that's now busier than ever.
Our comprehensive OnePlus Nord review should all of the burning questions you have about the handset – how it performs in daily use, what kind of quality photos you can expect from it, how it feels in the hand, how long the battery lasts, and importantly how it stacks up against some of the best Android phones.
Anyone thinking of buying the OnePlus Nord in 2021 will find this review helpful, it should hopefully make that choice easier. If you're looking to spend even less on a phone, they've just released an even cheaper model, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G which is definitely worth considering as well.
The OnePlus Nord has also won the Best Value Phone award at the T3 Awards 2021, so if you're considering it then be sure to read up on why the judges thought it was so good. Later this year we're expecting to see the OnePlus Nord 2 make an appearance so watch this space, there could be a new champion on the horizon.
OnePlus Nord review: design and screen
With a mid-range phone like this, the question is where to cut the corners to save on price, but the OnePlus Nord definitely isn't holding back when it comes to the screen. The 6.44-inch, 1080 x 2400 pixel AMOLED display on show here is superb to look at and use – bright, clear, and thanks to its 90Hz refresh rate, very fluid in everything that it does.
OnePlus says it's worked on a host of tweaks and optimizations in the background to ensure a quality visual experience, and that's exactly what you get whether you're flicking through photos, websites, or Netflix episodes. You can also customise the display in a host of ways, with night and reading modes available, plus a colour temperature setting.
As far as design goes, we're impressed with what OnePlus has done here as well. Besides the screen it's a premium-feeling phone, lightweight and thin, with a plain but stylish aesthetic. There's a bright Blue Marble colour, which is the one we tested, as well as a more muted Grey Onyx option, but they both score highly in terms of their look and feel – and a mention too for the traditional OnePlus mute switch that's on the side of the phone, a feature we wish that more manufacturers would decide to adopt.
Only if you held this up next to a £1,000 smartphone and looked closely would you be able to spot any differences in the style or build quality. What you don't get is IP68 waterproofing (though a few light splashes and rain showers should be fine), or a headphone jack – it's the USB-C port or wireless for headphones. There's a fingerprint sensor built into the display, which works better than most we've tried in the past.
OnePlus Nord review: camera and battery
Cameras are another area where mid-range phones have really caught up in recent years. The quad-lens 48MP+8MP+2MP+5MP on the back of the Nord does a fine job in most conditions, and can usually get decent shots in the dark too – though the night mode that OnePlus calls Nightscape tends to make for some rather weird brightening effects, even if it means that certain parts of the image become more visible.
Details are well captured, even in lighter and darker areas, colours are well balanced, and shutter speed is fast too – we'd have no qualms about using the OnePlus Nord as our everyday camera. The ultrawide lens is helpful for fitting more in a scene, and you get an ultrawide mode around the front as well, with the 32MP+8MP front-facing selfie cam (OnePlus says this should put an end to the selfie stick, but we're not so sure).
Admittedly photo quality isn't quite up to the very best phones on the market at the moment, especially at night, though it's closer than you might think. This is one area where it's still worth investing some extra money on a flagship if you want the very best pictures and video – there's no telephoto lens here either, so no optical zoom. For social media and casual use though, the OnePlus Nord can more than hold its own.
As always, it's difficult to be definitive about battery life on a review unit, as our time with them is short and brand new batteries always perform well. With intermittent, occasional use – less than you would normally use a phone in 24 hours – we were seeing drops of around 40 percent per day in the level of the 4,115mAh battery. Two hours of video streaming, meanwhile, knocked the battery down from 100 percent to 78 percent. That suggests you'll have plenty left in the tank at the end of each day with the OnePlus Nord, and that it'll last for 10 solid hours of movie watching.
OnePlus Nord review: other specs and features
The Snapdragon 765G processor from Qualcomm is running the show here – not quite the best chipset inside an Android phone this year (that'll be the Snapdragon 865), but close enough for most people. We found performance speedy and responsive all round, from jumping between apps to jumping between browser tabs, and the only difference you might find compared to the Snapdragon 865 is an extra second or two on loading screens.
In general use we had no issues at all: streaming video, playing demanding games, editing photos... the OnePlus Nord handles it all with aplomb. With the entry-level £379 model you get 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which again should be more than enough for the majority of users, and if your budget can stretch to £469 then you can get hold of the model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
You're getting some very decent specs here for your money, and there's 5G on board too, which is just about becoming standard as we move through 2020. The Geekbench scores of 605 (single-core) and 1894 (multi-core) show you are taking a hit in the performance department compared with the very best phones on the market, but in day-to-day use we don't think you're going to have any complaints.
OnePlus OxygenOS is on board, running on top of Android 10, and it's been one of our favourite Android variants for a while now. The visuals are eye-catching without being showy, the additional settings (like lock screen customisations) are thoughtfully done, and bloatware is kept to a minimum (all the traditional Google apps are present and correct).
OnePlus Nord review: price and verdict
How has OnePlus got the price of the Nord so low? There are compromises here, they're just not that easy to spot. The OnePlus 8 (starting price £599 at launch), for example, has a (slightly) faster processor and a (slightly) bigger screen than the Nord, and its display supports HDR10+ playback, so your movies and shows will look a little better. The OnePlus 8 also has Wi-Fi 6, two speakers rather than one, and a bigger battery, though the Nord beats it in terms of camera sensors on the front and back.
None of these are deal-breakers for most people, but it shows the sort of subtle tweaks that OnePlus has made with the Nord to get it to a more affordable level. We'd say the OnePlus Nord is the better value for money phone, and in the bang-for-buck department it would rank higher than most of the handsets we've come across in the last couple of years. Yes, better screens and better cameras are out there on the smartphone scene, but you'll have to pay a lot more money to get them.
As we've said, there are a lot of phones in this price bracket now, but we're struggling to think of one that we'd recommend ahead of the OnePlus Nord for £379 (8GB/128GB) or £469 (12GB/256GB). Even now it's a good hundred or so less than that thanks to its age and sales.
Don't let our five-star rating trick you into thinking that this is a flawless phone – you can find handsets with better cameras and faster processors and waterproofing – but for the money you spend this is a really impressive combination of hardware and software. The mid-range continues to be the most compelling part of the smartphone market, and that has to be good news for anyone wanting to buy a phone that won't break the bank. If you can find the Nord 2 for a similar price then it's a no-brainer to buy, but even this older handset is still super.