OnePlus Nord Beta Program (US & CA) Review – Feature rich phone for mid-price range

  1. Kunal_Goel_31
    Cupcake Aug 29, 2020

    Kunal_Goel_31 , Aug 29, 2020 :
    This is another stab by OnePlus at the mid-range market, and in all fairness, the OnePlus Nord is a pretty solid and well-rounded product.

    OnePlus knows its way around designing a lifestyle brand, and the Nord has a distinctive look of its own. I received the Gray Onyx version, which frankly, I like much better than the other flashy variant – Blue Marble, but that’s a personal choice.

    The thick rubber USB Type-A to Type-C charging cable and the 30W wall charger are the same as on other OnePlus phones. I also got a nice silicone case in the box, so the bells and whistles are all there, even with the cost-effectiveness. The only notable omission is a USB Type-C to 3.5mm dongle, since the Nord lacks a 3.5mm jack, which I’m personally disappointed about.

    The OnePlus Nord offers a clean, classic look with its flat display, classic body shape and elongated, vertical main camera assembly. But, the pill shaped selfie camera punch-holes do take away from the “classic look”. It is a little bit of a distraction from the full-screen content along with taking away some room in the Android status bar.

    The flat Gorilla Glass 5 surface on the front is a welcome sight and doesn’t introduce warp in the videos while providing better handling for gaming. At the same time though, the 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm body of the OnePlus Nord is a bit wider than the OnePlus 8 although the OnePlus 8 has a bigger 6.55in display compared to Nord’s 6.44. It is also little bit heavier at 184g. But, the OnePlus Nord neither looks or feels cheap. The curvature of the sides and the finish make for a delightful user experience and the weight feels more reassuring than burdensome.

    The OnePlus Nord has a plastic middle frame which isn’t quite apparent, thanks to the excellent design skills of the OnePlus org. The metal power button and alert slider are nice but oddly enough, the volume button is not metal.

    Things notably missing from the mix - a stereo speaker setup, a microSD slot, a notification LED light and a 3.5mm jack. The fingerprint reader is an in-display unit and offers very solid performance, both in terms of accuracy and speed.

    The Nord has a 90Hz AMOLED display. The Fluid AMOLED panel on the Nord is a bit smaller and less "trendy" than that found in the OnePlus 8 but still delivers.

    Starting with image sharpness and resolution, you get the familiar FullHD+, 20:9 display. Since the OnePlus Nord has a slightly smaller panel, its pixel density is slightly higher than the OnePlus 8, at a respectable 408ppi. The Nord delivers technically infinite contrast, with perfect blacks. The Nord has 2048 levels of automatic brightness and advanced awareness and smart brightness response, based on both ambient lighting conditions and currently displayed content, which seemed to work great in different lighting conditions over the last 7 days that I used it.

    I managed to measure a maximum brightness of a quite unimpressive 324 nits on the Nord, in its default vivid color mode and with all of the auto brightness systems turned-off. That increased to an impressive 756 nits in max auto mode, when in bright ambient light. Thus, it is fantastic to use outdoors, even in direct sunlight, something which many phones struggle with.

    Color reproduction - You get a choice between vivid, natural, AMOLED Wide Gamut, sRGB and Display P3 modes in the settings menu, as well as custom white point correction, with any of the latter three. The out-of-the-box vivid mode should be great for most users, delivering a nice balance between OLED color science and a respectably-low average deltaE of 5.6 and a maximum of 9.0. Natural brings down exaggerated colors and results in a more balanced, but a bit average deltaE of 3.6 and a maximum of 5.9.

    The OnePlus Nord has an HDR 10+ certification and is far from the best I have seen on a phone, but we can't expect more from a mid-range phone.

    Toggling ON the 90Hz mode in the display settings has a significant effect on responsiveness, and is a joy to work with, although not as much as 120Hz. Noteworthy is the automatic smarts of the 90Hz display which drops down to 60Hz if the Nord notices that you’re not interacting with the display. A sound decision in my opinion, which saves battery life. For video apps/playback, the UI browsing happens in 90Hz but when the video playback begins, it switches back to 60Hz to be battery conscious. I admire the extra layers of automation OnePlus has put into its high refresh rate controls. It is one of the most complicated and, I believe, user-friendly implementations.

    Battery life and charging
    The OnePlus Nord is rocking a 4,115 mAh battery, noticeably more than OnePlus 7T. It was easily able to get through a pretty heavy usage day with still some juice (10%) left, which is better than my OnePlus 7T. I think I was able to get about 6.5-7 hours of screen time before the battery died out, with using it during that time pretty heavily, which is not “normal usage”.

    I also performed a web browsing test using an automated script which reloads a webpage every ten seconds and it survived around 13 hours on that test compared to 12 hours on my 7T.

    The OnePlus Nord offers 30W Warp Charge support and so does the included wall charger. OnePlus advertises 70% charge in 30 minutes on the Nord. Instead I got 62% in 30 minutes and a full charge took an hour and two minutes.

    The OnePlus Nord only has a single bottom-firing speaker with no hybrid stereo setup with the earpiece either. I tested all the provided presets and got average loudness results all the time. The Movie mode increases treble a little better to improve dialogue comprehension. Safe to say that the single speaker doesn’t compare with the dual speakers’ set up, but its better than my earlier 6T, and an acceptable cost-cutting measure.

    Oxygen OS 10.5
    OnePlus Nord is running Oxygen OS 10.5.2, on top of an Android 10 core. It retains a close to AOSP appearance, with all the additional features carefully stacked on top to provide one of the most responsive Android experiences in the market.

    OnePlus switch is one of the best migration solutions out there as a built-in software to migrate backup data and is compatible with other Android devices. For finger-print scanner, it is relatively low placed on the display of the Nord, and some thumb stretching is needed. You can also register your face to unlock the phone and it worked very quickly and reliably, as is with my 7T.

    There are many customizable options such as disabling app drawer, automatic trigger of app search function, change UI look, light theme, dark theme, or semi-dark theme, etc. Live caption is a relatively new Android feature that is supported on the Nord, that can transcribe any audio into on-screen captions without needing an internet connection.

    Though OnePlus is known to be among the top phones in various benchmarks, Nord isn’t a flagship, and thus, we should tone down our expectations a bit.

    I started with some CPU and Geekbench tests and the Nord performed quite well. Geekbench Multi-core test score was around 1950 sitting well below 7Ts 2854 but well above scores for similar range phones such as Motorola Moto G 5G Plus, vivo X50 Pro, Oppo Reno3 Pro 5G, etc.

    Similar was the result for single core Geekbench test where the Nord was at 612 v/s 7Ts 775 and sub-600 scores for similar range phones as listed before.

    For some GPU benchmarks, GFX 3.0 Manhattan (offscreen) test scored the Nord at 57 v/s sub-50 scores with other similar phones with the same Adreno 620 GPU. The GFX 3.0 Manhattan (onscreen) scored the Nord at 51 v/s other similar phones at sub-50.

    These results are among the highest for a phone with Snapdragon 765G and Adreno 620 GPU, meaning that the maximum juice out of the available hardware is being used.

    OnePlus Nord borrows the same camera from OnePlus 8 - Sony IMX586, 48MP, 0.8µm, 1/2.25", Quad-Bayer sensor, behind an f/1.8 lens. But for the ultrawide, the Nord gets a smaller 8MP, f/2.3, 119-degree unit, compared to 16MP for 7T and 8. The Nord also gets a dedicated macro snapper, with a resolution of 2MP, alongside a 5MP depth sensor. The Oxygen OS camera app is the same as OnePlus 8 with full feature functionality.

    I was impressed with the camera performance considering it’s a mid-range phone. In good light, there is plenty of detail. The color intensity is still well saturated, but on the flip side, skies come out looking a bit grainy if you are into pixel-peeping.

    OnePlus has made it very easy to switch to the full 48MP resolution of the main camera with just a single tap on the main camera UI, but I don’t think this lends well to the performance. 48MP pics came out looking softer and noisier than their 12MP counterparts.

    The lack of the dedicated telephoto snapper is quite apparent - The 12MP, 2x zoom shots are a bit too noisy. The quality is still respectable.

    The 8MP ultrawide snapper (downgrade from 16MP) struggles in terms of sharpness and range that the 16MP provided, and this is thus, definitely a cost-cutting decision.

    The Portrait mode comes with 1x and 2x zoom levels and the 5MP depth camera performs exceedingly well here. Portrait shots were very impressive with excellent depth and subject separation. Though the auto settings were great, the phone lacks a setting to select the intensity of blur effect.

    For the 2MP dedicated, fixed-focus macro camera, I had to put in extra effort to get usable shots, but the results were satisfactory.

    For the 2 selfie cameras, in good lighting, both perform very well – both on details and sharpness. Colors were quite vibrant. The 8MP (over the 32MP) offers slightly greater saturation but apart from that both are quite similar overall.

    The Nord can capture video at up to 4K at 30fps from both its main and its ultrawide cameras. At the full 4K resolution, vidoes from the main camera look good with great details. Colors look nice but probably a bit more saturated than is ideal. 4K footage from the ultrawide lens has a noisier output and overall a lower quality, though, similar color wise. Even the FullHD video quality doesn’t drop down that much from 4K at 30fps for both cameras.

    I tried shooting at 2x zoom which come out in FullHD which were nice but maybe a bit too soft. The Selfie video is possible from both selfies lenses and is quite good even if not amazing, limited by the narrow dynamic range.

    Low-light photo quality for the Nord gave me mixed results. There is a bit of noise but level of details is quite good, as is the contrast and color saturation. Even using 2x zoom in low-light gives respectable results. But with ultrawide lens, noise and softness increase a lot, but that is expected from ultrawide lenses.

    Nightscape mode here is the ultimate winner. Pictures come out brighter, more detailed and better contrast. It is available both on the main and ultra-wide lens but not with a 2x zoom.

    For videos in low light, the main camera performs surprisingly well whereas the ultrawide produces a lot of noise.

    With the selfie cameras, results are pretty mediocre in low light and not to be excited about, even with the option of screen-flash.
    See some of the test pictures here.

    For the mid-range market, there are tons of options and the goal is to deliver the right value formula, in the context of which, it’d be tough for me to say that there is an overall better alternative to Nord. There are a few that’d be comparable, but I’d not say anyone is better.

    Then it comes to your personal tastes – plain Android OS or Oxygen OS, telephoto lens value, better chipset, option to have 5G, single speaker v/s dual speakers, etc. Despite all the fanfare around it, we should understand that Nord is a mid-range device, and in that light, its commendable what OnePlus has been able to provide in the form of Nord.