Tom's Guide Verdict
The OnePlus Nord should be your new default choice for a midrange Android phone. It's already a bargain for the tech it offers, but combined with OnePlus' hardware and software design sensibilities, the Nord manages to feel special despite its low price.
90Hz refresh rate
Polished design for a budget phone
Excellent battery life
Macro camera is ineffective
Lacks wireless charging
No US availability
Why you can trust Tom's Guide
Starting price: £379, £469
Display: 6.44-inch AMOLED (2400x1080; 90Hz)
CPU: Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 8GB, 12GB
Storage: 128GB, 256GB
SD Card slot: None
Rear camera: 48MP wide (ƒ/1.75); 8MP ultrawide; 5MP depth (ƒ/2.4); 2MP macro (ƒ/2.4)
Front camera: 32MP (ƒ/2.45) and 8MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.45)
Battery: 4,115 mAh
Charging: 30W wired
Security: In-display fingerprint, 2D face unlock
Operating system: Android 10 with OxygenOS 10.5
Colors: Blue Marble, Gray Onyx
Size: 6.23 x 2.88 x 0.32 inches (158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm)
Weight: 6.49 ounces (184 grams)
The OnePlus Nord is proof that you don't have to build a budget phone by subtraction. OnePlus hasn't made its new entry-level model by removing or downgrading the features of its flagship phone, or reviving an old model with a new coat of paint. Rather, the Nord is the product of a whole new design with high-quality components and features. And as this OnePlus Nord review will demonstrate, the resulting device is both an exciting piece of tech and an easily-rationalized purchase.
Unlike other phones at this price, OnePlus has chosen to add some luxurious touches, like a 90Hz refresh rate display, an attractive glass back design and a whopping six cameras across the front and back. The overall performance — particularly when it comes to processing power— is about what you'd expect for the price. However, the phone feels so good to use moment-to-moment you'll never feel like you're missing out on the flagship Android experience by buying a cheaper handset.
- Check the Nord's competition: The best Android phones
- OnePlus Buds review: Can it beat Apple's AirPods?
- OnePlus Nord vs OnePlus 8: What's different?
If you want the best tech OnePlus has to offer, consider going for the OnePlus 8 instead, or even the OnePlus 8 Pro if you don't mind the higher price. If you want to stick to the $400 mark, then you may want to wait and see what Google offers in the upcoming Pixel 4a, or look to Apple's new iPhone SE. But as things stand currently, phone buyers on a modest budget should have the Nord at the top of their shortlist. It's one of the best phones of the year, and it just so happens to be kind to your wallet.
OnePlus Nord review: Price and availability
Currently the OnePlus Nord is only available for purchase in Europe and India, although OnePlus is considering bringing the Nord to the US at a later date if the phone sells well. If that uncertainty won't do, then until July 28 you can try to sign up to be one of 50 North American beta testers for the Nord.
You can pick up the Nord for either £379 for the basic model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, or spend £469 on the 12GB RAM and 256GB version. That converts to $482 and $597 respectively, which fits with OnePlus' continued assurance that the Nord is a sub-$500 phone.
OnePlus Nord review: Design and colors
The Nord's chassis belies its price, looking both premium and modern. That's a combination that's hard to find on phones in this price range.
The full-screen display immediately makes the Nord look attractive, even if the double-width punch-hole camera notch in the top left corner is a lot more conspicuous than other punch-holes. The display is flat, rather than the more premium curved sides that some Android phones get, but it's not something I missed. If anything, sometimes having flat sides can be easier to use gesture navigation with, as it helps you avoid the irritating accidental presses that were more common on the OnePlus 8 Pro.
On the back of the OnePlus Nord, you have a slightly curved glass panel — which feels very comfortable to hold — with a camera block in the top left corner, and some simple logos for decoration. It's a very minimalist look, but that's always been OnePlus' goal, and it's one I think is always worth pursuing.
The overall phone is fairly large, measuring 6.2 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches and weighing 6.5 ounces. It seems all the more colossal when you compare the Nord to the iPhone SE (5.5 x 2.7 x 0.3 inches and 5.2 ounces) and the Pixel 3a (6 x 2.8 x 0.3 inches and 5.2 ounces). But most of that extra size comes in the form of the Nord's height, not its width, which would cause more problems for people with small hands.
Perhaps OnePlus' most unfortunate habit is neglecting to have its phones IP tested for dust and water resistance. While it did test the OnePlus 8 Pro, the Nord has no official rating. OnePlus claims the phone is water resistant, but there's no guarantee, so you won't have the peace of mind you'd get with the IP67-rated iPhone SE.
For color options, you can pick between Marble Blue or Gray Onyx. Our OnePlus Nord review unit was in blue, and I really like its glossy and cheerful appearance. The blue is also present on the metal side rail of the phone, which gives the phone an attractive design element to admire even if you have it screen up.
OnePlus Nord review: Display
OnePlus has fitted an FHD 6.44-inch AMOLED display to the Nord, which would be praiseworthy enough on its own. But OnePlus also gave it a 90Hz refresh rate, a feature you don't expect to find on a phone of this price. Taken together, it's the best display I've tried at this price range, and I don't see it being easily beaten.
Watching Michaela Coel's sitcom Chewing Gum on the Nord was great fun, as the display excellently rendered the strange and colorful filter the show casts over London's Tower Hamlets. Trying out something moodier with the trailer for Netflix's Cursed, the OLED panel did what it does best and really brought out the blacks of the shadow-cast scenery, while still making the magic effects look exciting and dangerous.
The panel is rated for a maximum brightness of 1,000 nits with HDR enabled, or 700 nits normally. We weren't able to measure the brightness ourselves to confirm this, but I had little trouble reading the screen when I took the Nord out for a walk on a sunny day. I was carrying the iPhone SE with me at the same time, and its dimmer LCD display (rated for 625 nits) proved much harder to read without turning it constantly to try and deflect the glare.
OnePlus Nord review: Cameras
While rival mid-range phones often have just one camera each front and back, OnePlus has outdone itself by fitting six total cameras to the Nord, which is one more than it gave its flagship OnePlus 8 Pro.
On the back, you have a 48MP main camera, 8MP ultra wide camera, 5MP depth sensor and 2MP macro camera. Meanwhile, on the front there's a 32MP main camera and 8MP ultra wide selfie camera.
That's a whole lot of lenses. However, OnePlus has historically struggled to keep up with other companies when it comes to photo quality, not quantity of optics. Unfortunately, here is where we see some of those weaknesses return.
Take this close-up shot of a thistle, using the main rear camera on the Nord and the single rear camera on the iPhone SE. In terms of image fidelity, it's too close to call a winner. But the color is what makes the difference. The OnePlus' image is much colder, something you notice with pictures from the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro too, be that because of the sensor or OnePlus' post-processing. Meanwhile, the iPhone SE's picture stands in contrast, making the green of the background and the purple of the flower look its best.
I also tried this shot with the Nord's 2MP macro camera. We at Tom’s Guide are not big fans of macro cameras, since they seem to often be added onto mid-range and budget devices just so the manufacturer can bump up the sensor count, rather than for any major benefit to the user. I'll admit this is probably the best image I've ever got from a smartphone's macro camera, and I like the sense of depth it gives to the scene. But with murky colors like this, I still see no reason not to take close-ups with the main sensor instead when possible.
As a secondary test of the main lenses, I tried this scene of a forest path. Since the background of this shot is a lot darker, the higher resolution sensor on the Nord can come into its own. Being able to make out the leaves on the shaded trees means the OnePlus easily beats the iPhone here, although they're tied if I only look at the foreground.
Finally, I waited until nightfall to try out the Nord's Nightscape low-light mode. I was expecting it to conquer the iPhone here, since Apple hasn't fitted the SE with a night mode, unlike its flagship iPhones. Sure enough, the Nord gives you the colors and detail you need to appreciate the tree, while the iPhone SE can only capture the same scene in gloomy hues that muddy the details in the leaves and tree bark.
Another sensor the Nord benefits from is an ultra wide sensor, which I tried out with a shot of these trees on the side of a golf course. There's not really any way to compare the iPhone SE here, it only has a regular, single wide lens for its camera. All I can say is that at least the Nord can produce an ultra wide image, though I'd be curious to see how it compares to an equivalent camera on a more expensive smartphone.
Trying out a Portrait mode shot with the OnePlus was a pleasant surprise, thanks to the 5MP depth sensor that rounds out the quartet of cameras. It means you can get bokeh and other photo effects on any shot you like, while the iPhone SE's software-only solution requires a human face before it can start to figure out where to blur the background. So when I took these shots of Holly the beagle, the iPhone moaned that it couldn't detect a face, while the OnePlus simply applied some bokeh to the background, resulting in a pretty decent shot.
As a fairer test of the two phones' special effects skills, I turned on portrait mode again to test the selfie cameras. With its depth sensor advantage gone, the Nord still turns out a good shot, with a nice strongly defined foreground and background. The iPhone SE does much the same, except the colors are more saturated. I don't think the color temperature difference here is as big a problem for the Nord as it was in our earlier thistle comparison, but it's still enough for me to declare the SE's image the better one here.
There's still one more Nord camera to look at: the ultra wide selfie camera. To show what it can do, here's a normal landscape selfie taken with the Nord's main front camera.
And below is what the same shot looks like with the ultra-wide sensor instead.
You get so much extra selfie space with this sensor enabled, which is great if you have a large landscape to capture or many friends to fit into a shot. But since there's still a moderate lockdown in the U.K., I don't have either, so you'll have to enjoy how much more of the trees and shrubs behind me you can see instead.
You can't dispute the fact that OnePlus is offering a diverse range of photo options on the Nord. The macro lens is a waste of space as far as I'm concerned, but the rest of them produce good shots, with a few beating the class-leading iPhone SE thanks to OnePlus' more generous hardware and the smart inclusion of Nightscape mode.
OnePlus Nord review: Performance
The Nord has a tough time when it comes to specs, because no matter how good it is, the phone will always pale in comparison to the iPhone SE. There's nothing wrong with the Snapdragon 765G chip inside OnePlus' handset, particularly paired with the maximum 12GB RAM (8GB on the base model). But the A13 chip inside the budget iPhone is a flagship-level piece of silicon that can beat even the Snapdragon 865 chipset that sits one whole tier above the Nord's silicon in Qualcomm's pecking order.
In the all-round Geekbench 5 test, the Nord scored 602 on the single core trial and 1948 on the multicore one. The iPhone SE achieved 1,337 for single core and 3,226 for multicore, marking the Nord's inevitable defeat to the A13 chip.
In 3DMark’s Sling Shot OpenGL graphics benchmark, the Nord scored 4,521. That's much better than the Pixel 3a's 1,602, but it's an unfair comparison since Google’s phone is over a year old and uses a Snapdragon 6-series chipset, the next level down from the 7-series system-on-chip in the Nord. It will be interesting to see how the Nord fares against the Pixel 4a, but that phone has yet to emerge from Google's stable.
When it comes to storage space, OnePlus has been quite generous yet again. The cheapest Nord comes with 128GB of capacity, while the more expensive version gets 256GB. The Pixel 3a and iPhone SE only offer 64GB by default, with their initially attractive prices going steadily higher if you want similar storage space to the Nord.
It's briefly worth mentioning here the speakers built into the Nord. They produce sound at a decently high volume, even though listening to Tyler, the Creator's album Igor revealed they’re a bit treble heavy. More notably, the speakers don’t fire in stereo, unlike the iPhone SE’s. It's one of the few premium features that OnePlus hasn't tried to squeeze into the Nord. It's a weakness, but not one that should bother potential buyers too much.
OnePlus Nord review: 5G connectivity
The Snapdragon 765G chip gives the Nord compatibility with the common sub-6Ghz 5G networks found in the U.K. and most of the U.S. However, there's no sign of millimeter-wave (mmWave) support, meaning this won't be a good choice if you're a Verizon 5G customer in the US.
OnePlus does offer a unique OnePlus 8 handset that does work with mmWave though, so perhaps if the Nord ever makes it to the U.S., the company might consider adding mmWave connectivity.
OnePlus Nord review: Battery and charging
At 4,115 mAh, the battery in the OnePlus Nord is larger than what you'd find in some flagship phones. It's also more than twice as large as the battery in the iPhone SE; one of the most notable weaknesses of Apple's cheap handset. OnePlus phones have tended to perform slightly above average at best when it comes to battery life, so the Nord is already in a good place.
We used a modified version of our custom battery test on the Nord, letting the battery drain from full while the phone browsed the web over an LTE data connection until it ran out of power. With the screen's brightness set to 50%, and the display refresh rate set to its basic 60Hz, the Nord lasted 11 hours and 18 minutes before it ran out of juice. (Normally, in our tests, we set the screen to 150 nits of brightness, so this isn't an official result.)
Bear in mind that you won't get as long a run time if you put the Nord's display on its maximum 90Hz refresh rate, but this is a very good result. It beats the OnePlus 8 (11:04) and OnePlus 8 Pro (11:05), which would ordinarily land it a spot on our best phone battery life list.
Keep in mind that we can't directly compare this score with our other battery life tests until we get the Nord to our proper testing lab for verification. However, since the Pixel 3a managed 11 hours and 59 minutes on the official test, and iPhone SE managed 9 hours and 18 minutes, it's safe to say that the OnePlus Nord is quite efficient overall.
Charging up the Nord again once it's empty doesn't take long. The phone comes with the same Warp Charge 30T block that OnePlus also throws in the box for the OnePlus 8 series. While not the fastest charging tech around, the charger still delivers power quickly. OnePlus estimates you can get to 70% full from empty in 30 minutes of charging; in our own testing we got the Nord to 68% full in the same time.
There's no wireless charging option on the Nord, a lacking feature it shares with the Google Pixel 3a. The iPhone SE does have wireless charging though, thanks to its borrowed iPhone 8 body. While wireless charging can be convenient, and will only become more common in cheap phones in the next few years, I don't miss it on the Nord, particularly since it uses the incredibly common USB-C connector, which you should be able to find anywhere you go.
If you're concerned about keeping your battery in tip-top condition for as long as possible, then you'll be pleased with the Nord's optimized charging feature. After learning what times of the day you tend to charge your phone (e.g. overnight while you sleep), the Nord will then limit the phone's total charge to 80% during most of its time plugged in, reducing the strain on the battery. It will then only charge the last 20% just before you're due to unplug the phone, meaning the battery spends less time at the more stressful higher percentages, keeping it in better health for longer.
OnePlus Nord review: Software and security
I'm so happy to see OxygenOS 10.5 appear on the Nord, as it's an excellent take on Android 10. It's attractive to look at and navigate through, and only has a few pre-installed apps taking up space in storage. The animated wallpaper and the way apps pop in and out of focus are pretty minor parts of the Nord experience, but they look great and make swiping through menus and apps really enjoyable, particularly with the 90Hz display on.
There's no big special features to mention, just lots of welcome improvements to the basic Android experience. One I particularly appreciate is the ability to access the notification shade by swiping down anywhere on the display, and the app drawer by swiping upwards. With the display on the Nord being as large as it is, users with small hands may have found it tricky to use the phone normally without having to constantly adjust their grip. This single optimization makes the Nord so much easier to use, almost rivaling the naturally compact interfaces of the iPhone SE or Pixel 3a.
OnePlus has given the Nord the usual Android unlock method of a sub-display fingerprint sensor, which is a nice touch since it likely would have been cheaper to mount the fingerprint reader on the back of the phone instead.
You can also use 2D facial recognition in tandem with this. It's less secure than using your fingerprint and thus only an option for unlocking the device, but it is a nice addition. I had no problem with reliability or speed either, as it unlocks just as quickly as the Face ID on my iPhone 11 Pro does.
OnePlus Nord review: Verdict
The Nord isn't meant to be a flagship phone, but it offers enough of a premium experience that it’s as enjoyable to use as a much more expensive device. Sure, I wish OnePlus would rethink some of its camera choices, and it’d be nice if the chipset offered a bit more muscle. But I'd still recommend this to anyone looking for an Android device — particularly those who take a look at the thousand-dollar prices of flagship Androids and cringe in fear.
The Nord easily dispatches the Pixel 3a, but you're unlikely to be considering the 3a if you're looking to buy a phone right now, given that it was recently dropped by Google and is on the cusp of being replaced. The Pixel 4a — if and when Google finally releases that rumored phone — will be the Nord's biggest challenger. It's rumored to be cheaper than even the well-priced OnePlus phone, will likely have excellent photography based on Google's previous Pixels and will offer a similar high-quality Android experience. For the time being though, the OnePlus Nord is easily the best inexpensive Android phone you can buy.
That just leaves the matter of the iPhone SE. Some users are just going to prefer Apple or Google's interfaces, no matter what the hardware offers, so it's hard to really call one better than the other. But say you're platform agnostic. If hardware quality is even a small priority for you, then given OnePlus' awesome display, excellent battery life and more versatile cameras, I don't think the iPhone SE's wireless charging or superior chipset makes it worth passing up the chance to own a Nord.
- More: OnePlus Buds vs Apple AirPods: Which wireless earbuds are best?
Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.