OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Which budget phone will win?

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE may be a small phone, but it’s very big on value. Apple’s entry-level smartphone  delivers some premium features, highlighted by the same class-leading A13 Bionic processor that powers Apple's more expensive iPhones. It's no wonder the iPhone SE quickly established itself as the best cheap phone you can currently buy.

OnePlus clearly took notice. It's rolling out a budget phone of its own, the OnePlus Nord. And now that the phone has been fully unveiled, we've got a better idea of what the Nord has to offer — and more importantly, how it can compete with Apple's low-cost option.

In this OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE showdown, we'll look at how the features we've seen in our OnePlus Nord hands on measure up against what Apple's phone has to offer. As great as the iPhone SE 2020 is, the OnePlus Nord figures to provide serious competition.

It should be noted, in 2022 Samsung will release the Galaxy A13 5G, featuring a 90Hz display, for $249.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Specs comparison

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 OnePlus Nord (rumored)iPhone SE
Starting price£369/€399$399
Screen size (Resolution)6.4-inch AMOLED (2400x1080; 90Hz)4.7-inch LCD (1334x750; 60Hz)
CPUSnapdragon 765GA13 Bionic
RAM8GB, 12GB3GB RAM (based on teardowns)
Storage128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
Rear cameras48MP wide (ƒ/1.75); 8MP ultrawide; 5MP depth (ƒ/2.4); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.4)12MP (ƒ/1.8)
Front cameras32MP (ƒ/2.45) and 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.45)7MP (ƒ/2.2)
Battery size4,115 mAh1,821 mAh (based on teardowns)
Size6.23 x 2.88 x 0.32 inches5.45 x 2.63 x 0.29 inches
Weight6.5 ounces5.2 ounces
ColorsBlue Marble, Gray OnyxBlack, White, Product [Red]

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Price and availability

The iPhone SE set a high bar with its low price earlier this year. You can pick up the cheapest iPhone Apple currently sells for $399, which is especially impressive given the iPhone SE's features, as we'll see throughout this OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE face-off.

The OnePlus Nord's price is also low — lower than the iPhone SE's, in fact, when you're shopping for phones in the UK. In that country, the OnePlus Nord will debut at £379 for a model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The entry-level iPhone, with its 3GB of memory and 64GB of storage, costs £419.

We're giving the prices in pounds, because right now, the OnePlus Nord isn't slated to go on sale in the US. That could change depending on interest in the phone, but for now the Nord will be available in the UK and other parts of Europe starting on August 4. (The phone's debuting in India as well.) In contrast, the iPhone SE is widely available, especially in the US.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Design and display

Now that we've seen the OnePlus Nord for ourselves, we know that the leaked images of the phone were spot on. It definitely mirrors the look of OnePlus' more expensive flagship devices, with very little in the way of bezels around the display and a vertical line of cameras descending down the left rear of the device.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As a result, it's not hard to strike a contrast with the iPhone SE. Apple's budget phone sports a design that's straight out of 2016, with bezels surrounding both the top and bottom of the display — there's also a Touch ID sensor on the front of Apple's phone.

While the new iPhone SE isn't as compact as the 4-inch original, the 4.7-inch display on the new model certainly runs counter to the trend of bigger and bigger smartphones. The OnePlus Nord features a 6.44-inch FHD  screen — small compared to OnePlus' recent flagships but quite large next to the iPhone SE. The bigger screen on the OnePlus Nord means it's taller, wider and thicker than the iPhone SE; the Nord weighs more than an ounce heavier than the SE as well.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

iPhone SE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus Nord enjoys one big advantage over the iPhone SE when it comes to displays. OnePlus is using an OLED panel on its budget phone. Many lower-cost devices — the iPhone SE included — turn to LCD screens as a cost-cutting measure. 

But the bigger news is a screen with a faster 90Hz refresh rate, compared to the standard 60Hz iPhone SE screen. OnePlus is adopting the same feature it introduced with last year's OnePlus 7 Pro for its budget phone, meaning scrolling should be much smoother than what you see on the iPhone SE.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Cameras

We're going to find out if four lenses are better than one. The OnePlus Nord is maxing out on cameras, with a 48-megapixel main shooter joined by an 8MP ultra wide camera, 2MP macro lens and 5MP portrait sensor. 

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone SE takes a different route. There's just one lens on the back of Apple's phone — a 12MP shooter. But Apple figures that the A13 processor powering the iPhone SE shoulders a lot of the photographic load by enabling features like portrait effects for both the front and rear cameras plus Smart HDR for emphasizing highlights in faces.

Up front, the OnePlus Nord looks to double the cameras found on the iPhone SE. While Apple’s phone features a lone 7MP selfie cam, the OnePlus Nord will use a pair of front lenses — a 32MP main sensor augmented by an 8MP wide angle lens to squeeze in more people and background details. That wide angle lens offers a 105-degree field of view.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

iPhone SE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

We'll have to put the cameras on each phone side by side to figure out which one takes the better pictures, but from what we've seen from the iPhone SE thus far, the OnePlus Nord has its work cut out for it. The iPhone SE's pictures are much better than what you get from similarly priced phones and can hold their own against images captured by more expensive flagships. There's a reason we include the iPhone SE on our list of the best camera phones. Whether the OnePlus Nord can join it, we'll have to wait and see.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Performance and 5G

As previously confirmed by OnePlus, the OnePlus Nord features a Snapdragon 765G system-on-chip. We've not had a chance to run performance tests on devices powered by this chipset, but it's a safe bet the results won't be as good as what we've seen from the Snapdragon 865, Qualcomm's top-of-the line mobile processor. 

That's significant, because the iPhone SE uses Apple's A13 Bionic processor. And that chip generally outperforms the Snapdragon 865.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

iPhone SE (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

On the Geekbench 5 test for general performance, the iPhone SE tallied scores of 3,226 for multi-core and 1,337 for single core testing. While the Snapdragon 865-powered OnePlus 8 Pro had a slightly better multicore score of 3,379, its single-core score was only 906. (The OnePlus 8 Pro also benefits from 8GB to 12GB of RAM to boost performance — the same amount of memory OnePlus includes in the Nord models.) We wouldn't expect the OnePlus Nord and its less powerful chip to be in that ballpark.

The OnePlus Nord will be able to do something the iPhone SE can't, though — connect to 5G networks. The Snapdragon 765G comes with a built-in 5G modem for connecting to faster cellular networks. Apple isn't adding 5G connectivity to its phones until the iPhone 12 launch this fall.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Battery and charging

We also need to run our battery tests on the OnePlus Nord. But on paper, it's hard to imagine that OnePlus' new phone doesn't outlast the iPhone SE. OnePlus has equipped the Nord with a 4,115 mAh battery — that, and a power-efficient ship, should help the OnePlus Nord last a long time on just one charge.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE

OnePlus Nord (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple doesn't disclose battery sizes, but a teardown of the phone indicated that there's an 1,821 mAh battery inside. As you might imagine, that doesn't translate to impressive battery life. The iPhone SE lasted 9 hours and 18 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over LTE until the phone runs out of power. That's below average for a smartphone; the handsets on our best phone battery life list all last more than 11 hours.

The OnePlus Nord should also charge faster than the iPhone SE since OnePlus is using its Warp Charge 30T technology in its budget phone. The iPhone SE includes a 5-watt Lightning charger that gets a drained phone up to 29% power after 30 minutes. That's not exactly a high bar for OnePlus to have to clear, especially with OnePlus promising that you can get a 70% charge in that time. You can pair the iPhone SE with a faster 18W charger, but that costs extra.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Software 

All iPhones enjoy an edge over their Android counterparts since they ship with the latest version of iOS and they can upgrade whenever a new version is available. That's why the iPhone SE runs iOS 13 now and will be able to upgrade to iOS 14 when that update comes out in the fall. (You can even install the iOS 14 public beta on your iPhone SE now if you're so inclined.)

The OnePlus Nord will ship with the current version of Oxygen OS, OnePlus' spin on Android. That version is built on Android 10, and while OnePlus is usually pretty good about keeping its software up to date, there will be some lag between the release of Android 11 later this year and when it winds up on your OnePlus Nord. It's unclear how many major Android updates you can count on after that, but Apple usually keeps its phones supported for four to five years.

OnePlus promises plenty of optimizations with Oxygen OS, including faster on-screen animations. Also, Google's messenger and phone apps will be the default options on the OnePlus Nord.

OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE: Outlook

Lots of phone makers have set their sights on the midrange phone market this year, as tighter budgets have made people less willing to pay top dollar for flagship phones. So far, the iPhone SE has been the big winner at capitalizing on that trend.

The OnePlus Nord figures to put up a more formidable challenge than other would-be iPhone SE rivals, particularly if its cameras and display are up to the task. The one thing holding the OnePlus Nord back might be its availability. While shoppers in India and Europe shouldn't have any trouble buying the device, folks in the US might not be so lucky — at least, not for a while.

We look forward to updating this OnePlus Nord vs. iPhone SE face-off once we're able to fully test the OnePlus Nord.  And we're keen to see if the iPhone's leading performance and impressive cameras can carry the day against OnePlus' faster display, bigger battery and overall polish.

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.