OnePlus Nord N Series: Pick a side!

  1. yashonagori
    The Lab - OnePlus 8 Pro Reviewer Nov 3, 2020

    yashonagori , Nov 3, 2020 :

    Hey everyone,

    I hope y’all are staying safe and healthy! OnePlus recently announced the launch of the Nord N10 5G and the N100 devices in Europe and North American regions, a launch which took the tech community by surprise and obviously drew in a ton of curiosity and questions.

    Some people thought of this as a welcoming change, while others like me were very skeptical of it. There are many aspects to this decision, which honestly, I was unaware of, so me and @YRJ decided to go on record with a conversation we shared regarding the same, where he was quite optimistic about these new devices and the future of OnePlus in general, and I had quite the opposite view. Before we get into the main conversation, here’s a bit of a throwback.

    OnePlus started off as a brand which released one device per year, extremely concentrated on the single segment of budget Flagship Killer, with the idea of bringing down all necessary premium features down to a price point which makes it the value champion. The vision and ideology was carried upon into the upcoming generations for a few years, with them switching over to semi-annual releases with the T series in the OnePlus 3 lineups.

    Eventually, there were additions to the lineup of devices offered by OnePlus, with them trying to diversify their offerings. There was a gradual yet noticeable upward trend in the pricing of subsequent launches, and OnePlus seemed to be aiming to enter the ultra-premium segment and compete head to head with the Galaxies and iPhones of the world.

    With the launch of the Nord, things took an unexpected yet very interesting turn. OnePlus had released that they have left their original segment far behind and moved on over to another category altogether with their flagship offerings, and now they were looking to get a piece of the pie that was so heavily filled in, especially in the Asian markets where the consumers are more budget-oriented. Still, there was another huge segment left to capture, and that was the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the ultra-budget segment, which now seemed to have been taken care of with the launch of N10 5G and N100 devices.

    It might seem like it, but entering a new segment and changing your whole philosophy isn’t your average Joe’s task. It takes up a multitude of hours of planning and executions. With the recent rise in community outrage and protests against some of the decisions that have occurred within OnePlus, this sure seemed like a really bold and (maybe) iconic move. Without any further ado, let’s go over those concerns with @YRJ!

    @yashonagori : Hey Yash, I’ll get right into the topic. Personally, I have always envisioned OnePlus as brand similar to Apple in a sense that they release the minimum number of devices each year, stay focused and concentrated, aim to be the best in the category in which they compete, perfect their product, and once the goodwill has been established, charge a premium that their consumers would be willing to pay, and obviously, Never Settle. I visioned them eventually becoming the BEST and go-to brand in the Android universe. Up until the 7 Pro, it seemed like the case. But with the recent decisions, it seems like they are deviating from their whole philosophy and adopting a completely different strategy.

    Especially with the launch of the 8 series, where the 8 Pro seemed like the best device to ever exist, but even that was plagued by a plethora of issues. The 8 seemed to be in a really awkward position as well because except the curved display and updated internals, didn’t have anything over the cheaper and in my opinion, much more value for money, the OnePlus 7T. The 7T is the last device that I can remember being true to OnePlus’ brand. I thought with the issues coming up with the 8 series, OnePlus would finally take a step back and address the existing issues first, without being in a rush to release more devices in succession. And then came the subsequent Nord launches, which heavily disappointed me as a fan. But isn’t a wrong strategy in any manner, it’s just that the fans had a different set of expectations which were fueled by OnePlus themselves, but now they’re slowly creeping in towards being like any other android smartphone manufacturer, who make good enough devices but not the BEST or perfect ones. So what’s your take on that?

    @YRJ : As you said, OnePlus really had it going their way up until the OnePlus7T. For me, it was the peak of OnePlus. The 7T was the perfect phone, in terms of value and overall performance. It did everything so good. Even the choice of cameras, the flat display, the design and everything else spoke premium. I remember going to my college with the OnePlus 7T and receiving many compliments just on how premium the device looked. But then OnePlus wanted to spice things up and decided to enter the ultra-premium segment with one of the highest prices in the market with OnePlus 8 Pro and OnePlus 8.

    They had somewhat entered it with the 7 series, but with the 8 Pro, it was definitive. Even though the series was unfortunately plagued with many issues, it was still the best value flagship available in the market with top-notch internals and performance to put justice to those specs on paper. It was something which you could call premium.

    And then, they decided to go in the exact opposite direction with the Nord. At one end, you have the premium flagship devices with the 8 and 8 Pro, and on the other extreme end, you have the budget series Nord. The Nord is a peculiar device. It was a device which got OnePlus back into the mid-budget segment. A phone with a great screen for the price, the experience of OOS, a decent design, competitive cameras for the segment and decent enough internals. I can see what OnePlus was thinking and aiming for with this, but then again, you'd think they have gone against their very own mantra of “Never Settle” because, well, you are settling for less than the best in clearly more than a few departments, right? But that's not how never settle works! Imagine you have $500 to spend on a smartphone then never settle would be to get the best 500 bucks can buy. Not getting the Note 20 Ultra or the OnePlus 8Pro. That's what Never Settle is and always has been, atleast according to me. With the initial devices, the pricing was in similar segments but they were the absolute best in terms of necessary features, but now, the narrative has changed.

    But looking at the brighter side, the Nord brings the experience of Oxygen OS back to the budget segment. Personally, OOS has always been my favourite Android skin and I think I speak for you here as well. Now, what OnePlus seems to be doing here is that they’re bringing down the price of their cheapest offering and allowing budget-oriented users to get a taste of what they have to offer, and hopefully have them stick around till the time they finally decide to upgrade to a premium device, which could very well be the OnePlus 8 Pro in the current scenario.

    @yashonagori: That’s an interesting perspective you know. But in my opinion, I feel like they could have chosen another way of compromising on the devices by maybe starting a subsidiary under OnePlus, to keep the branding of “Never Settle” intact, which in some way might take a hit right now.

    @YRJ: For that, I have a simple question that I want to ask you. BBK, OnePlus’ parent company, already has a number of subsidiaries working under it, namely, Vivo, RealMe and Oppo. Now imagine you have 4 devices lying on the table, the highest-end devices from each of the above brands and an OnePlus 8 Pro, which one would you go for?

    @yashonagori: Definitely the 8 Pro, no cap.

    @YRJ: Yes exactly, and OOS is something which is very unique to OnePlus and they cannot part ways with it or release its rights so easily. I recently got a chance to try out the Vivo X51, and just holding it my hands was a very unique and pleasing experience in itself. But as soon as you starting using the device, you find that the UI and UX are so underwhelming to the point that it makes you not want to interact with the device. And that’s their best offering, imagine using a budget device from them. The experience is not good at all. This is where OnePlus has played their trump. With the Nord, the budget users get to experience a software skin which they might be very unfamiliar with and not even realize what they were missing out on.

    The only issue that I can sense here is the arrival of OOS 11 to the Nord, N10 and N100. There have already been many who dislike the general appeal of it and feel that the OnePlus has departed from the very core of stock android with the update. But then again, there’s a very high chance that users of this segment are switching from a Samsung device, so having a few similarities in the UI and UX makes sense in a way that users won’t find it overwhelming switching to an entirely different ecosystem. They are creating a ladder structure which is quite similar to Samsung’s. All in all, it seems to be a well thought out plan and if everything goes in their favor, OnePlus might emerge victoriously and look back with pride on these releases.

    @yashonagori: Definitely, I can see that happening. As much as enthusiasts would hate it, at the end of the day, this is a business. One huge issue that I’ve seen occurring in the budget segment is durability and longevity. Devices from subpar brands often are portrayed as appealing and at par with the flagships, but over the longer term, the poor software-hardware integration really stands out and takes the device down the drain. Many phones become absolutely unusable in a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, up until last year, I had a few friends who were still using the OnePlus 3 series smartphones or maybe the 5 and had no issues whatsoever. The only thing that could force them into upgrading was physical damage and their own choice to finally upgrade. The devices never gave up on them. Bringing this experience down to the budget segment can have a very big impact on OnePlus.

    That being said, one can’t be totally optimistic here. OnePlus have been slipping past minor and a few major issues with the recent releases. If they are not able to fix that first, entering into new segments won’t make any sense at all. I’m curious to see how that turns out. Another thing that bugs me is the choice of going for quantity over quality, especially with the camera systems. There is absolutely no need of having 6 subpar cameras on a budget device. Yet, every budget manufacturer seems to be pushing in on that. What is your take on it?

    @YRJ: That’s a good question. I think that these companies aren’t actually dumb and they very well know what they’re doing. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of every company is to push maximum volumes of their products and generate profit. Coming to the multiple camera systems, it is yet again nothing but a psychological tactic to influence the buyer to get their phones over the competitors. Enthusiasts like us know that having 1 very well optimized and perfect camera is much better than having 4 options, all of which do a subpar job.

    However, the target demographic for smartphones like the Nord, that is the mid budget segment, do not understand the technicalities and ONLY emphasize upon the quantity of features/specs that the description can accommodate and how well it can be perceived over other competitors. I’ll take an example. If a photography enthusiast like you or me has to pick between a 6-camera device like Nord or a 3-camera device like pixel, we are more likely to choose pixel because we know what it is capable of, if we pick on the sole basis of camera performance.

    On the other hand, the actual target demographic for the Nord, which mostly encompasses the general masses, would definitely reject the pixel over the Nord because on paper, the Nord seems for feature packed. Another thing that goes into the decision-making process of these people is the resemblance of their device to a premium device which they cannot afford. Although we know that the camera performance of a Nord is not comparable to say, an 8 Pro, however on the sole discretion that they at least look alike, the person may lean towards the Nord.

    So ultimately, the choice is not between whether or not to disappoint the enthusiasts in the community, but rather to actually sell their product to the actual demographic who will buy these devices. And as per figures, the Nord is the most selling device in Q3-2020 in India in the Rs. 20,000-30,000 segment. That explains what the people who are actually looking to buy it want.

    @yashonagori: Why didn’t I think of that! Now that you’ve actually made some good points, I see how these decisions would make sense from a company perspective. But I’m still not convinced that these were the right choices entirely. Something still seems off. Maybe it’s the timing of the releases? Especially with the rising issues in the community.

    @YRJ: Okay so about that, I feel like this was more of a do or die move. Before the Nord, OnePlus had moved to an entirely different segment of smartphones, that is, the ultra-premium segment. With that move, the pressure started mounting on. Earlier, it was a definitive case that OnePlus was the value champion even though it might slightly lag behind in areas like the cameras. But now, especially at that price point, the iPhones/ Samsungs/ Pixels have arguably better phones, Samsung basically makes the displays so they have the edge there too, iPhones internals cannot be beaten by any other chip on the planet, Xiaomi is planning to announce 120W wireless charging and so much more.

    All in all, OnePlus were slowly losing their grip in their respective segment, and in order to sustain they needed additional revenue streams to get out of this slightly sluggish period until they finally came out with their new unique selling point. And for that, the Nord was the perfect answer and timing couldn’t have been better in fact. It is indeed a weird time, but if they make it out alive from this, that would be more than commendable and this decision would be celebrated more than any other.

    @yashonagori: Those are actually some very good points that you have put up Yash. But in my mind, I’m still very skeptical as to how OnePlus will handle the pressure, since the past trends have indicated some possible red flags. I hope they remain true to their vision of Never Settle, because otherwise they might as well end up being just another company in the market.

    Concluding the conversation, I’d want to say that every coin indeed has two sides, and though the decision to launch and expand the Nord lineup may seem a bit questionable from an enthusiast’s perspective, it was something that had to be done from a business point of view. As consumers and appreciators of the brand, it is in our hands to keep the community thriving. We need to have more open discussions, involve the staff and ensure that our voices are heard and catered to. That’s what makes us truly OnePlus. As always, Never Settle!
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2020

  2. YRJ
    The Lab - OnePlus 7T Reviewer; Community Hero 2020 Nov 3, 2020

  3. Starcommander
    OnePlus Accessory Tester Nov 3, 2020

    Eclair Nov 3, 2020

    Last edited: Nov 9, 2020

  5. Dresa91
    User of the Year 2016; Most Active User 2020 Nov 3, 2020

    Starcommander, YRJ and yashonagori like this.
  6. Arjun_Choudhry
    Jelly Bean Nov 3, 2020

    Arjun_Choudhry , Nov 3, 2020 :
    Excellent post Yash.
    I feel that OnePlus was a year or two early in entering the entry level segment, considering they had barely created a major dent in the mid range segment. A couple of generations of refinement in the mid-range segment would have been preferably, compared to joining the already jam-packed entry-level segment

    Hemangb2, AzureB1te, Kenox80 and 8 others like this.
  7. Shailender Sharma
    Marshmallow Nov 3, 2020

    YRJ and yashonagori like this.
  8. Rajith H M
    Eclair Nov 3, 2020

  9. mokaeswar
    Ice Cream Sandwich Nov 3, 2020

    Shekhar1012@, YRJ and yashonagori like this.
  10. AritraDeb
    Gingerbread Nov 3, 2020

    AritraDeb , via OnePlus Nord , Nov 3, 2020 :
    I've been using a Nord, not because of the camera module. I knew that the 2MP and the 5MP are absolutely trash. I chose Nord to experience the famous Oxygen OS. To some extent, yes I love it. But the Nord is far from being perfect. Few bugs are really a turn-off! I keep sending feedback using the Community app, but haven't recieved much 'effective' help as of now. This is why, I have felt that the latest N10 and N100 are just not good enough.

    OP is not able to fix the OG Nord completely as of now and on top of that, they are expanding. The only problem is, myself as a consumer, will not recommend any of the lower Nords just because my experience with the OG Nord is not as was promised. And I am not complaining about the two trash camera sensors. There needs to be a lot of optimizations in Nord's software. I understand that it is a mid-range phone, but still, the flaws that I have been pointing out, are something that even Samsung would fix in their mid-range phones.

    Anyway, let's see how this turns out. I am sure there are so many users out there who may wish to buy the OP flagships if their Nord experience really measures up. Let's see. But, I do appreciate these kinds of posts. It would be great if the management of OP can also push some clarifications. That would mean a lot to us users. As always, cheers!

  11. Sutar Hafiz
    Froyo Nov 3, 2020

    yashonagori likes this.
  12. GokulLee
    Gingerbread Nov 3, 2020

  13. GaganCK
    Gingerbread Nov 3, 2020

    yashonagori likes this.
  14. Dipesh619
    Gingerbread Nov 3, 2020

    yashonagori likes this.
  15. John j
    Jelly Bean Nov 3, 2020

    John j , Nov 3, 2020 :
    New nord N10 looks better and has dual speaker setup, who's going to buy the original nord now.

  16. Abhirup0517
    Cupcake Nov 3, 2020

  17. chicagoron
    Gingerbread Nov 3, 2020

  18. Antonio_Luis
    Ice Cream Sandwich Nov 3, 2020

    Antonio_Luis , via OnePlus 8T , Nov 3, 2020 :
    I work for T-Mobile, and launching these devices in North America, and in particular for Tmobile, is a huge win. With my ears to the consumers, there are so many people that come in asking for a good cheap phone to buy, and for years, Samsung has been the go to. They offer so many devices at so many different prices ranges, that they soak up the low end segment, and walk away with a victory because they are basically uncontested. More devices, in more people's hands generated brand awareness and brand loyalties.

    OnePlus entering this segment in the US, and hopefully with T-Mobile, allows for a competitor in the low end market and a much better one at that. Now when people come into the store asking for the best cheap smartphone, I can confidently point them to OnePlus N10 or N100 and know that the customers are going to get the most for their money. Over time this will generate brand awareness, brand loyalty and hopefully when or if people want to purchase a more expensive device, they'll consider OnePlus over the competition.

    This is a huge market in the US that Samsung has dominated and they've been uncontested for a long time. OnePlus can take a huge chunk of the pie, which can extend into the mid-range and premium markets as well.

    fragargon, YRJ, M.Word and 2 others like this.