The OnePlus Nord is something of a return to the past for the "budget flagship" specialist… it's not a flagship, but it is the budget-friendliest OnePlus in years.
The Nord expectedly trims a few aspects compared to the pricier OnePlus 8 line, but still looks to deliver a strong mid-range experience with premium flourishes, including 5G support.
Meanwhile, Samsung has long offered a full array of phones across the price spectrum, and right now the company's best bet for an affordable, reasonably-priced 5G phone is the newly-released Galaxy A51 5G, a lightly enhanced version of the original LTE version.
Which is the flagship-inspired, 5G-toting, mid-range phone that deserves to be in your pocket right about now? Here's what we think so far, and we'll update with a final verdict once we've posted reviews of both handsets.
(Galaxy A51 photos are from our LTE version review)
Design: Sleek superstars
You're looking at a couple of glossy, alluring handsets here, although there is a key difference: while the Galaxy A51 5G expectedly opts for plastic backing, like a lot of mid-range phones these days, the OnePlus Nord actually sticks with glass. It's a simpler look, though; the Galaxy A51 has a bolder, prismatic allure to it.
Plastic has its benefits when it comes to durability, but still, there's no denying that glass backing makes for a more premium-feeling device. The A51 5G adds aluminium for the frame (the standard A51 had plastic there too), much like the OnePlus Nord does.
Meanwhile, both have a vertical camera module on the upper left back, with the Galaxy A51's a little bit chunkier than the Nord's.
Screen: Big and bold
It doesn't seem like you can really go wrong either way on this front, as they're pretty comparably equipped. The Galaxy A51 5G has a 6.5in display while the OnePlus Nord nearly matches it on size at 6.44in. The punch-hole selfie camera is located at top-center on the A51 5G with a double-wide one on the upper left of the Nord.
More importantly, both are AMOLED panels at Full HD+ resolution. Samsung reliably has some of the absolute best OLED screens around, although there is one potentially significant advantage here if everything else is even: the Nord has a faster 90Hz refresh rate, which delivers a smoother-looking screen.
Camera: Sharp shooters?
Two phones, 10 total cameras. That's a bit absurd, to be honest, but that's what you get on an upper mid-range phone right about now.
When reviewing the standard A51, we found the Galaxy's main camera setup – with a 48MP primary sensor, 12MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro camera, and 5MP depth sensor – a bit lacking. It delivered solidly well in good lighting, but was hit-or-miss otherwise. That's very much par for the course with mid-range phone.
We're hopeful that the OnePlus Nord will fare a little bit better given that it has the same 48MP main sensor as the OnePlus 8, but we'll see about the 2MP macro camera plus 5MP depth sensor alongside. We highly doubt it will be flagship-worthy.
You'll get one selfie cam on the Galaxy A51 5G while the Nord doubles up, augmenting the standard camera with a wide-angle one. Are you taking a lot of group selfies lately? (We're not.)
Performance: Should be solid
We're not expecting big differences here in terms of performance. The familiar Snapdragon vs. Exynos battle is waged here again in the upper mid-range, with the Nord housing the Snapdragon 765G and the A51 5G opting for a Samsung Exynos 980 chip (an upgrade over the standard Galaxy A51).
Neither will match up with today's pricey flagship phones on sheer performance as seen in benchmarks, but both ought to run smoothly with rare hitches and handle games pretty well too.
Battery and perks: Samsung's edge
The 4,500mAh battery pack of the Galaxy A51 5G might prove a bit more resilient to long days and heavy 5G usage than the 4,115mAh pack of the Nord, although it's not an enormous difference. The 30W wired fast charging of the Nord is definitely faster than the A51 5G's comparably slim 15W, though!
Neither has wireless charging onboard, however. Samsung has a couple of key advantages that the Nord lacks, however: a 3.5mm headphone port and microSD slot for expandable storage.
Initial verdict: Too early to call
Stacked side by side, it looks like a very close battle. Both phones ought to give you a cost-effective, 5G-capable, premium-feeling smartphone experience, with some potential feature swings in one direction or the other.
The Nord looks very impressive at first glance, with flagship-quality design, a 90Hz screen, and a potentially very good camera. On the other hand, the Galaxy A51 5G gives you the benefits of microSD support and a headphone port, and it's hard to argue with utility. The Nord's £50 advantage can't be ignored, however, starting at £379 as opposed to the Galaxy A51 5G's £429.
We'll see how the battle sways once we've had a chance to survey the complete everyday experience of each phone and put them through their paces. Stay tuned for a final verdict.