Getting to grips with OnePlus Nord: The most beautiful apology?

One price cut and all is forgiven? The OnePlus Nord launched on Tuesday 21 July from €399 ($460) onwards, and it is supposed to mark a new start, #newbeginnings. OnePlus is trying to reconcile with its earlier fanbase who were more than a little thrown off by the race to the flagship finish line and insane price increase, beginning with the OnePlus 8/Pro. Everything, from teasers to the communication advertisements, all the way through to the OnePlus Nord’s price/quality ratio breathes of an apology. On paper, I have to admit that the OnePlus Nord is a very nice way to make up for all of the company’s past indiscretions.

Who is OnePlus North for?

First of all, I must make it clear that this is a preview of the device and not a proper review. All of the observations that I will make are based on a few days of use and are in no way definitive. In fact, I have not been authorised by the manufacturer to publish photos taken with the OnePlus Nord, benchmark figures, performance tests, or even to compare OnePlus Nord to other models. A full review will of course be published very soon that will reflect my final opinion of the smartphone.

The OnePlus Nord will be available in two configurations, 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB, at €399 ($460) and €499 ($576) and in two colours, Blue Marble and Gray Onyx. It is available for pre-order today.

That’s all there is for the disclaimer. Now, let’s get to the point. The OnePlus Nord is clearly positioned as a mid-range smartphone. A premium mid-range, certainly, but it is not a flagship killer either. It makes sense, the brand does not want to cannibalise on its high-end catalog that is the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro.

But if there’s one thing that stands out about this model, it’s OnePlus’ desire not to return to its roots, but to reconcile what has made it successful in the past with new ambitions. It can be considered as a footnote to appeal to its first followers who felt a little left out by the price increase of the OnePlus 8, and of which I am a part.

“A OnePlus phone made the OnePlus way”. A OnePlus smartphone made the OnePlus way, as the brand says. So we’ve instilled this willingness to break compromises while adapting it to the manufacturer’s broader strategy.

That’s why the OnePlus Nord is equipped with almost the same photo module as the OnePlus 8, with an additional depth sensor and a dual selfie camera, making this the first of its kind on a smartphone from the manufacturer. In addition, it also explains why it has embedded a 90 Hz AMOLED display, similar to the brand’s flagship as well as an 8 GB RAM / 128 GB or 12 GB RAM / 256 GB configuration.

If you look at the specifications sheet, it’s hard to see what concessions the manufacturer has made to lower the price of the OnePlus Nord, apart from the choice of a less powerful chipset with the Snapdragon 765G, which is a mid-range chip. In any case, at €399 ($460) and €499 ($576) depending on the version, these are very attractive prices we are talking about.

The OnePlus North has left me with good first impressions for…
… Its 90 Hz AMOLED screen

The OnePlus Nord features a 6.44-inch AMOLED screen with a 90 Hz refresh rate. This happens to be a configuration that is more common in smartphones that retail for less than €500 ($577), which happens to be the price of the most expensive OnePlus Nord. However, the more affordable version of less than €400 ($461) does not make it any less 

At such price points, and on smartphones that are released in 2020, only Realme models offer such a refresh rate. OnePlus obliges with the same, where the AMOLED display is really very beautiful and luminous right from the get go. 

But one will note the absence of curved edges and the presence of a pill-shaped punch placed on the top left corner of the display. The edges remain very thin, but the OnePlus Nord has a slightly more noticeable chin.

The double pill-shaped punch at the top left of the OnePlus Nord’s 90 Hz AMOLED screen (the screen protection makes it less discreet than it really is) / © NextPit

As for the rest, the smoothness of the display is really pleasant and the touch screen is very responsive. Add to this the usual fluidity of OxygenOS, its animations, and excellent haptic feedback, and the first experience with the OnePlus Nord is nothing short of positive.

… Its quad-camera module worthy of a flagship (on paper)

OnePlus’ desire to make as few concessions as possible is best illustrated by the camera setup. For the first time on a smartphone from OnePlus, we find a double selfie camera configuration. To keep the main wide-angle sensor company is not a depth sensor, but an ultra-wide-angle lens of 8 MP with a 105° FOV.

This is enough to take group selfies with all the friends I don’t have (yet) here in Berlin, but that I will test with my colleagues from NextPit.

However, it’s the rear photo module that is especially interesting. OnePlus prides itself on having loaded a quad-camera setup worthy of a flagship. And for that matter, you end up with almost the same set of lenses as on the OnePlus 8, although the latter is €200 ($231) more expensive, and sports an extra sensor!

The OnePlus Nord has almost the same camera modules as the OnePlus 8 / © NextPit

The 48MP Sony IMX586 main lens is nothing special but it does the job very well. Especially since, according to the first pictures I was able to take (which I can’t show you here), OnePlus imported its progress on software processing and optical stabilisation made on the OnePlus 8/Pro to the OnePlus Nord.

For the rest, there is an 8MP ultra-wide-angle lens with 119° of FOV (compared to 16MP on the OnePlus 8), a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro sensor. I must admit, these last two are adequate enough for my personal use. And their practical usefulness is rarely demonstrated in practice as explained in the article below.

It’s also a shame not to have integrated a dedicated telephoto lens which on this OnePlus model, which continues to remain the private domain of the OnePlus 8 Pro. I will let you know in my final review what this camera module really delivers in terms of zoom, ultra-wide-angle, and low light performance (with NightScape mode).

… The power of the Snapdragon 765G chipset

“Release the dragon,” shouts OnePlus in its release. Let’s calm down anyway. As premium as Qualcomm wants to present it, the Snapdragon 765G does not, based on our past tests on other models, behave as a truly high-end processor.

This premium mid-range side sums up the philosophy of OnePlus Nord in a nutshell: Offer as much as possible with limited means. During my initial gaming sessions, OnePlus Nord performed quite effectively. I was able to run my fairly resource-intensive games, such as Call of Duty Mobile with the graphics in high resolution.

OnePlus has a gaming mode and the Fnatic mode (a gaming plus mode), which are supposed to boost gaming performance. My initial impression was a rather positive one. The experience was rather smooth framerates with not much overheating during the short amount of time spent with it. 

Again, this will need to be confirmed with benchmarks and a longer usage period. All the more so since, in its recent history, OnePlus has never integrated a chipset in this price range into one of its smartphones. In fact, I’m asking to see if the OnePlus Nord is capable, like the OnePlus 8/Pro, of running Fortnite at 90 FPS with the graphics cranked up to the maximum level.

… OxygenOS, home sweet home

After spending several weeks with Android Stock and RealmeUI versions (which have their fair share of qualities), what a pleasure it was to switch back to OxygenOS. The 10.5 version of the OnePlus interface is by far, the best in my opinion.

So certainly, I am totally lacking in objectivity on this point. However, if you’re used to smartphones from a particular manufacturer, you know as well as I do what it feels like to be back in familiar territory. 

The OnePlus Nord comes with the June security patch, and the manufacturer guarantees, as always, 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates. I’ll talk more about this in detail in my full review, but having the OnePlus user interface on a 2020 model at an affordable price is a very good point.

I deliberately omit details about the battery performance, which I won’t comment on without being able to evoke benchmarks and after having used the smartphone long enough. Just take note that the 4100 mAh battery can be recharged to 70% in 30 minutes with the Warp Charge 30T fast charge, that much we already know.

There is no wireless charging, though. Which is a shame really, especially since this long-requested option had finally been integrated on the OnePlus 8/Pro. Now let’s turn to the first negative impressions.

The OnePlus North has left me with less good first impressions for…
… Its design a little dated and gaudy

This is the first experience that we have with the product. That’s why it’s usually mentioned first in tests and handling. This may be the only limitation of our new article format.

Anyway, the first thing that struck me about the OnePlus Nord is this very flashy turquoise blue colour, which is too much for me. OnePlus calls it “Blue Marble” or “Blue Ball”. This colour reminds me of those marbles we all had in elementary school, I think they were called “planet marbles.”

The Blue Marble colour of OnePlus North is very flashy / © NextPIT

It’s a little too flashy for my taste. I’d call that a “Fortnite” color. It’s neon, it’s shiny, it screams out, it’s like “lunch.” I’m sure that others will like it, but I’m having a hard time getting used to it right now. I much prefer the colours offered on the OnePlus 8/Pro, such as Ultramarine Blue or the beautiful Interstellar Glow.

The rest of the design is frankly too classic for me to get carried away. There’s the traditional glass back combo that is proven to be a fingerprint magnet, along with the metallic edges. However, I’ll never get tired of the practical usefulness of the switch on the right edge to switch to vibrate or silent mode.

The famous OnePlus silent mode switch / © NextPIT
… No wireless charging, no telephoto lens, and no IP certification

I told you at the beginning of this preview, you really have to dig deep to discover the concessions that OnePlus had to make in order to offer the OnePlus Nord at such a competitive price.

If you took a glance at the specifications sheet, you will see almost no difference with the brand’s top range handsets. 

Yes, the Snapdragon 765G is less expensive than a Snapdragon 865. But we’re not on a low-cost chip anyway, and the built-in 5G modem is worth its weight in gold as well.

In reality, OnePlus simply made economies of scale on details that could easily go unnoticed. Details such as waterproof certification, which costs several tens of euros per unit produced, or wireless charging capability and the integration of a dedicated telephoto lens.

Those are details that you’d expect to see on a high-end smartphone. Considering the OnePlus North is a mid-range device, and to be honest, I’m quite willing to forgive them for it at this price, those are a few technical omissions that makes sense. For a user who is interested in value for money, they will have little impact.

First Impressions – Conclusion

The OnePlus Nord is, on paper and from my first impressions, one of the most beautiful turnaround handsets made by a brand. OnePlus understood what was missing from its catalog: a more accessible model. But instead of offering a low cost OnePlus, the brand has really done everything possible to bring out the most premium affordable model possible to the masses.

So it’s not a back-to-basics or a new beginning. OnePlus just wants to get a fresh start with its hardcore fans, while continuing its push towards the higher end of the market. OnePlus Nord is kind of a wake-up call, a way of saying, “Hey, we know we’re getting a little bit more mainstream, but we’re not forgetting about the community, we haven’t totally changed.”

We’re not talking about a flagship killer. The goal is not to come to a compromise, but to push it to the extreme. As mentioned earlier, and I will have to confirm it further in a more thorough review, this is a textbook case of production optimisation lines by a manufacturer.

So much for the preview. I’ll see you very soon in my complete review to know if, after this turnaround, whether all is really forgiven or not.

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