After slowly creeping towards the premium end of the pool, OnePlus is back doing what it does best. Stirring things up!
It’s one for the books. Almost like the proverbial son returning home after having conquered the world. OnePlus has been slowly inching towards the top of the ladder not just in terms of specs but also the price but the Nord signals the brand going back to its truly affordable roots, without compromising on the key elements that make for a premium smartphone experience. Having spent considerable time crafting the hardware and apparently even more time working on the online marketing strategy, Nord is the child born with a silver spoon. Thankfully, it has the features to be Prince Charming too. Quad camera set-up that’s plucked out of the OnePlus 8 with an added depth sensor, first-ever dual selfie-cam on a OnePlus device, 6.44in AMOLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate, a 5G ready Snapdragon 765G processor and up to 12GB of RAM. This collection of specs wouldn’t be out of place on a more expensive device, but the Nord has landed at a starting price of a frankly ridiculous ₹24,999, making this test even more dramatic.
Offered in two colours, the Blue Marble is the inevitable poster boy and for good reason. It’s reminiscent of the iPhone 5C and makes you realise why more brands aren’t experimenting with pop colours. Build quality itself doesn’t give away the asking price of the Nord and points to an all round great design that is easy on the eyes and hands. Sure, it doesn’t break any new ground but OnePlus was going for a “family” look, as prosaic as it may look now. There are no LED lights to indicate notifications but the beloved slider for alerts is very much intact and you do get the essentials even when the screen is off.
There are no visible signs of cost-cutting but look closer and you can tell that the frame is polycarbonate instead of aluminium and there’s a single, bottom-firing speaker and no SD card slot, so if you’re salivating at the India-specific 6/64GB variant at the entry-level price of ₹24,999, you might want to curb your enthusiasm to save 378 pics of pity the Persian cat.
Stuff received the 12GB/256GB variant and in this spec, it was hard to tell the Nord and the OP8 apart in everyday use, even despite the lower-rung SD765G processor instead of the SD865 on the OP8. If you really want to get picky, you could measure the additional second it takes to optimise the HDR image after you’ve captured an image or the couple of seconds slower load times for Call of Duty but in isolation, it’s performance everyone can live with without ever wanting more. The inherent smoothness present in all OnePlus devices is tangible on the Nord too, the 90Hz display only heightening the experience. The display quality is fantastic too, supporting HDR and Vibrant Colour Effect. Watching Cursed on Netflix was a delight with the natural looking colours that have just the right amount of saturation, unlike some of the other Samsung-sourced displays that overdo the reds and cast a bluish tone on the whites.
It’s mono speaker is a bit of a downer as far as the audio experience is concerned but it plays sufficiently loud and maintains intelligibility so you won’t be straining your ears to catch the dialogue at least. The usual platter of Oxygen OS makes it a great device for reading too, with different settings for Reading Mode and a great screen overall that’s as natural looking as any Android ever got.
Battery life with a sizeable 4115mAh capacity and WarpCharge 30T is never an issue of anxiety, but the back does heat up a fair bit when made to work hard on tasks like Slow-motion video, continuous gaming or watching HDR videos.
Cameras on budget OnePlus devices have typically turned out to the chinks in their armour but the Nord manages to strike a higher score. And for the better considering its largely similar to the more expensive OP8. The additional 5MP depth sensor theoretically should improve edge detection and help with AR apps but in use, doesn’t add much value. Portrait images are great in natural light with excellent edge detection and a high level of clarity and detail helped by a great HDR implementation. But more often than not, difficult edges like hair strands or flora do get blurred out.
(Top: Portrait mode; Left: Macro mode; Right: 48MP mode)
To be fair to OnePlus, some of the best in the business too are still struggling with this so at its price point, I wouldn’t use that reason to complain. What I do have beef with is the advertised 48MP resolution and the macro lens, both of which add little to no value to the overall camera experience. More often than not, the same subject looked sharper at the default 12MP resolution and the less said about the 2MP macro lens, the better. You are better off using the main camera and cropping out the part of the image you want to use as it gives you much sharper focus. Everything at this price though feels good enough and where OnePlus scores big is in its NightScape low-light mode which has been getting progressively better with timely updates. Comparing the same low-light scene with and without NightScape shows that it offers more clarity, sharpness and dynamic range with better highlights and is impressive indeed.
In video mode, you can go up to 4K/30FPS but the 1080p/60FPS works well enough. With the dedicated depth camera, I was hoping for a portrait mode in video too but that isn’t included yet. Hopefully, with a future update one can hope.
Overall, for its price point, the Nord’s camera performance is par for the course and exceeds expectations in some areas like low-light resolution and daytime selfies. The 105 degree wide-angle does pack in more friends/scenery but is prone to noise in dimly lit situations.
A distinctive name, a distinctive colour and a distinctive online marketing campaign spell success for the Nord from the word go. Combined with the now well-established OnePlus brand cache, the Nord successfully brings true performance to the budget category, without any of the bloatware or traditional pitfalls associated with it. 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates are promised for Nord users and if there’s anything to learn from OnePlus’ claim, it’s the commitment to their “fans”. The 6/64GB version might be a unicorn but choose either of the top two variants and you’ll still end up with a competitive sub ₹30,000 phone that is sure to give other brands sleepless nights.