The OnePlus Nord — or the OnePlus Z, if you prefer — sounds like a fabulous phone. Reportedly, it boasts a big 6.4-inch screen with a fast 90Hz refresh rate, multiple cameras including two up front, and a lower price tag than what we've seen from recent OnePlus handsets. One rumor has the Nord being as cheap as $299.
A low price tag means a less powerful processor, but the Snapdragon 765G expected to power the OnePlus Nord will still feature 5G connectivity. In short, the OnePlus Nord seems like a very attractive addition to the growing market of midrange phones that boast some premium features without a corresponding spike in price.
But if you live in the US, it sounds like you're going to have a hard time getting your hands on this phone. Where's the love, OnePlus?
- Google Pixel 4a vs. OnePlus Z: Which Android budget phone will win?
- iPhone 12 leak just revealed a big missing feature
- Plus: OnePlus' sleek AirPods rivals just leaked
Earlier this week, OnePlus CEO Pete Lau announced plans to launch a "new, more affordable smartphone product line" — essentially confirming that the OnePlus Nord was imminent. But he also revealed release plans in which the new phone would launch in Europe and India first, with US phone buyers on the outside looking in.
"But don’t worry, we’re also looking to bring more affordable smartphones to North America in the near future as well," Lau sad in a forum post at the OnePlus website (opens in new tab). An optimist could take to mean that the OnePlus Nord will eventually reach other markets, including the US, while a pessimist might conclude that OnePlus' budget phone plans are still up in the air — at least as far as the US is concerned.
OnePlus' plans to concentrate on other markets with the more affordable OnePlus Nord makes sense when you look at the bigger picture. Still, we hope the phone maker doesn't completely forget about the US when it comes time to introduce a lower cost phone that still follows the OnePlus knack for packing in premium features.
Why the OnePlus Nord will debut elsewhere
It's easy for people in the US to forget, but it's a big, wide world out there full of people who also want to buy smartphones. And with Apple and Samsung dominating the US smartphone market, phone makers like OnePlus can often find better chances of success in other countries.
OnePlus in particular has a strong following in both India and Europe, according to Ramon Llamas, research director for mobile devices and AR/VR at research firm IDC. "In fact, when looking at India, volumes are nearly on parity with its total volumes going into China," said Llamas, referring to OnePlus' home market. "And within Europe, volumes have been steady across multiple markets, mostly showing increases from a year ago."
India, in particular, is an attractive market for a low-cost product as the OnePlus Nord is rumored to be. Consumers there aren't as willing to pay the exorbitant prices for flagships as US smartphone buyers are, so there's likely to be demand for a phone that delivers premium features at an affordable price.
"India [is] certainly a target market for the affordable smartphone, so [that's] another reason to include [it]," said Gartner research director Anshul Gupta, who also cites OnePlus' strong brand recognition in India.
Put it all together and it's not difficult to understand why Europe and India will be the first to get the OnePlus Nord when the phone debuts, most likely in July. But wouldn't it also make sense to include the US in that launch, given the spike in interest in budget phones as of late?
OnePlus Nord and the US: There would be challenges
Not necessarily, analysts say. While OnePlus has definitely made inroads in the U.S. market, that's been with its flagship devices like this spring's OnePlus 8 family. And as much buzz as OnePlus has enjoyed with its lineup of self-described "flagship killers" over the years, Apple and Samsung still dominate in this country.
"A low-cost option allows [OnePlus] to reach a different market segment, and that can only help grow the company’s footprint," Llamas said. "But it’s going to go up against stiff competition from a long line of vendors who are already there."
One of the challenges facing OnePlus — and really any phone maker that's not peddling an iPhone or a Galaxy flagship — is that Americans still largely buy their phones directly from the companies providing their wireless service. That means phones have to be sold through on of the major carriers to have any chance of succeeding in this country.
OnePlus has made some strides in that regard. Since the OnePlus 6T, the company's phones have been available through T-Mobile. (Sprint, which is being absorbed into T-Mobile, has offered OnePlus phones as well.) With the OnePlus 8 this year, Verizon joined the mix of carriers selling OnePlus devices, which are also available unlocked through the phone maker itself.
Adding those carriers has been a good start for OnePlus, according to Tuong H. Nguyen, senior principal analyst at Gartner. But competition and branding remain hurdles to overcome.
"Other tier 1 brands — LG, Lenovo, Sony — have had a difficult time competing in this market, while lesser known brands including those from China have an even more difficult time than their tier 1 counterparts," Nguyen said. "On top of this, US consumers have been exposed to negative press around Chinese products... that can potentially make it difficult for OnePlus to get a better foothold in this market."
Why the OnePlus Nord should come to the US
Despite all that, the time seems right for phone makers to roll out new midrange models that tout some standout features. Apple's revamped iPhone SE has certainly captured the imagination of smartphone buyers, even with an aging design, while Motorola has introduced a trio of Moto G models that deliver long battery life (in the case of the Moto G Power) or a handy stylus (in the case of the Moto G Stylus).
These phones have earned solid reviews not just because they offer premium features like the iPhone SE's top-of-the-line A13 Bionic processor or the Moto G Power's battery that delivers the best phone battery life. They also happen to be affordable, and that's a big phone concern for shoppers at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has rattled the economy.
We don't know exactly what OnePlus will charge for the OnePlus Nord — some rumors put the phone's price tag at less than $499 or even $299. That would put the phone in the company of the iPhone SE, Samsung Galaxy A51 and, potentially, the Google Pixel 4a, if Google's long-rumored successor to the Pixel 3a ever ships. The fact that same many big name phone makers are competing for the same audience suggest there's a big opportunity for the company that can get the mix of features and price tag right.
Given OnePlus' track record with feature-packed phones — its flagships compare very favorably with devices that cost hundreds of dollars more — the OnePlus Nord would seem to be a strong candidate to fill that need. While Europe and India are good markets for that phone to debut in this summer, there's certainly an audience waiting for the OnePlus Nord in America.