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The OnePlus Nord shares a lot of the DNA of the OnePlus 8.
OnePlus has officially announced the Nord, its first serious attempt at a midrange handset since 2015s ill-fated OnePlus X. Yet, despite the fact that it starts at just £379 (around $480), the phone shares a lot of the DNA of the $699 OnePlus 8 released just a few short months ago, which, along with the OnePlus 8 Pro, was the companys flagship handset for this year.
Its still got a 1080p OLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, Sub-6GHz 5G, Warp Charge 30T fast charging, and the same 48-megapixel main camera sensor as the OnePlus 8. Thats not to say there havent been concessions made to reach this lower price point, the most important of which is that the Nord is powered by a slower Snapdragon 765G processor, but in a lot of other cases the compromises are small.
The Nord will be available in both blue and gray with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage for £379 / 399 or with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for £469 / 499 (around $594). Itll be widely available starting August 4th in Europe, but OnePlus plans to sell some of the handsets early today via its own website and at a John Lewis pop-up on July 31st. Its only coming to Europe and India for now, although OnePlus says it has plans for a limited beta launch in the US. Youll have to wait until next week for our full review, but for now here are my initial impressions based on using the 12GB RAM model.
Its got a 90Hz display, just like the previous phone.
If offering similar specs to the OnePlus 8 in a midrange phone sounds like a recipe for stealing some of the 8s thunder, then you wouldnt be entirely wrong. In fact, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei told me thats almost the point. Although he says the two phones are targeting different markets, he doesnt want the company to be afraid of competing with itself.
Its never been a fear because I believe that if youre not the one disrupting yourself then all your competitors on the market will feel free to disrupt you, Pei says.
What does a phone thats disrupting its own lineup look like?
In a lot of respects, it looks like a handset with broadly similar features, just offered with slightly lower specs. The Nords screen is a great example. Its still got a 90Hz refresh rate, its still OLED, and its still 1080p, but its also a little bit smaller at 6.44-inches and it doesnt curve round the edges of the device like the 8s did. That makes the phone feel a little less premium, but the impact on day-to-day usage is minimal.
There are four cameras on the rear of the Nord.
Then there are its rear cameras. On the back of the OnePlus Nord, youll find four rear cameras, a 48-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel ultrawide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera, and a 5-megapixel depth sensor. Thats technically one more camera than the OnePlus 8 (which lacked a dedicated depth camera), but the important thing is that the camera youll actually use to take your photos has exactly the same 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor. The compromise, meanwhile, comes with the wide-angle camera, which has half the resolution of the OnePlus 8s.
When it comes to the front-facing camera, however, OnePlus is actually breaking new ground with the Nord. Here youll find two front-facing cameras, including an 8-megapixel sensor ultrawide camera with a 105-degree field of view, as well as a more traditional 32-megapixel selfie camera. It means the screens hole-punch cutout is twice as big, but its a useful feature if youre trying to take a selfie with a group of friends or just want to include more of your environment.
The big question, and one thats hard to answer based on specs alone, is what sort of impact the Nords less powerful Snapdragon 765G will have on its camera performance. Its long been clear that software processing is almost as important as hardware when it comes to picture quality, meaning we could still see a difference in picture quality between the 8 and the Nord, despite the Nords similar sensors.
OnePlus Nord specs
- Screen: 6.44-inch OLED, 2400 x 1080 resolution with a 20:9 aspect ratio
- Rear cameras: wide-angle 48-megapixel, ultrawide 8-megapixel (119-degree) lens, 2-megapixel macro camera, 5-megapixel depth sensor
- Selfie camera: wide-angle 32-megapixel, ultrawide 8-megapixel (105-degree) camera
- Dimensions: 73.3 x 158.3 x 8.2 mm, 184g
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
- Memory: 8GB or 12GB RAM
- Storage: 128GB to 256GB
- Battery: 4,115mAh
- OS: OxygenOS 10.5 based on Android 10
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.1 with AptX, AptX HD, LDAC, and AAC, Sub-6GHz 5G, LTE
- Biometric authentication: fingerprint sensor
- Fast wireless charging: Warp Charge 30T
If there are any other significant downsides to having a slower processor, then Im yet to feel them in day-to-day use. Apps open quickly and feel responsive to use, and even spending a brief time in a more intensive 3D title, Sky: Children of the Light, didnt reveal any serious performance hiccups.
In fact, Pei says it was the quality of midrange processors like this that gave OnePlus the confidence to attempt making the Nord in the first place. We didnt take the plunge until now because we felt like the technology wasnt really ready to deliver a good experience, Pei tells me. Now we finally feel like technology, especially the processor, has matured to the level where we can deliver the same experience that consumers have come to associate with OnePlus: [a] fast and smooth experience in a midrange package.
The Nords 90Hz screen can probably take credit for a lot of how smooth the phone feels to use. Its a feature thats virtually unheard of at this price point and it offers a marked improvement over the 60Hz panels that are still common on most phones. OnePlus is no stranger to high-refresh rate panels, but its great to see this come to a midrange device, even as many other manufacturers are only now bringing them to their flagship devices.
As well as feeling smooth to use, the Nords 6.44-inch screen also feels very big. I asked Pei whether the company had ever considered making a phone with a smaller screen, but he said the trade-offs arent worth it. Not only is having a bigger display important for content consumption, he told me, but its also important for battery life.
If you reduce the size of the phone, the first thing that you have to compromise on is the battery life, Pei said, Making it even smaller would kind of tilt the balance in a way thats not optimal for the overall user experience.
Its hard to disagree too much with Pei here. The OnePlus Nord includes a very respectable 4,115mAh battery, which is only a hair smaller than the 4,300mAh battery in the 8. It also wont have to power a separate modem thanks to the integrated model in the Snapdragon 765G, while Qualcomms flagship processors this year have to be used with separate modems.
If these differences sound minor to you, then I really wouldnt blame you. But look at the OnePlus 8 and the Nord side by side and, yes, its easy to tell which of the two is the more premium device. The 8 has the curved display, while the Nords is flat, and the rear of the Nord is a little cheaper and more plastic-feeling in comparison.
On first impressions, however, the Nord doesnt feel that different in day-to-day use. It still feels quick and responsive, its camera specs are in a similar ballpark, and its not missing out on any features that werent already missing from the OnePlus 8 like wireless charging and an IP rating (you had to jump up to the OnePlus 8 Pro for both).
The result is a really interesting device that, on paper at least, ticks a lot of the boxes for what youd like to see in a modern smartphone, regardless of whether its technically a midrange or a flagship. Thats especially interesting in the context of the recently released OnePlus 8, of which the Nord is definitely nipping at the heels. Whether the Nord manages to deliver on them in practice will be a matter for our full review.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge