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OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: The best phone under $300

A capable and beautiful budget phone with some limitations

Back view of OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

The OnePlus Nord N20 is a beautiful budget phone that looks like it costs hundreds more. It also has an AMOLED display, good battery life, and decent performance for the price. But you also have to accept subpar cameras and a bad software update policy.

Pros

  • +

    Beautiful design

  • +

    Good performance for the price

  • +

    Solid battery life

  • +

    Nice display

Cons

  • -

    Limited to T-Mobile for now

  • -

    Very underwhelming cameras

  • -

    Dubious monochrome and macro sensors

  • -

    Comes with Android 11 and will only get Android 12

OnePlus Nord N20 5G: specs

Price: $282
Android version: 11, Oxygen OS 11
Display: 6.43-inch AMOLED (2400 x 1080)
Refresh rate: 60Hz
CPU: Snapdragon 695
RAM:  6GB
Storage / Expandable: 128GB / Yes
Rear cameras: 64MP (f/1.8) main, 2MP (f/2.4) monochrome, 2MP (f/2.4) macro
Front camera: 16MP (f/2.4)
Video: Up to 1080p 30 fps
Battery: 4,500 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:20
Charging: 33W (charger included)
Size: 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches
Weight: 6.1 ounces

Fresh off the heels of the OnePlus 10 Pro, OnePlus has another phone targeting bargain hunters. The OnePlus Nord N20 is a $282 budget-friendly handset that has some features you usually see limited to more premium devices, such as an AMOLED display and 33W fast charging.

A beautiful housing wraps around all of that. Even though its body is plastic, the Nord N20 looks like it should cost a whole lot more. The gold accents around the two big camera lenses, the deep blue hue of the back, and the flat sides all come together to make for something that immediately catches your eye.

In this OnePlus Nord N20 review, I’ll walk you through why I think this is the best phone for those on a tight budget, despite some limitations typical of cheap phones.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Price and availability

The OnePlus Nord N10 in 2020 clocked in at $299, while the OnePlus Nord N200 in 2021 came in at $239. The OnePlus Nord N20 sits right between them at $282. It comes with 128GB of storage (expandable up to 512GB) and 6GB of RAM. This is a lot of phone for less than $300.

Unfortunately, the Nord N20 is only available at T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile for the time being. If you find that too limiting, OnePlus has promised that you will be able to buy the phone elsewhere sometime in the near future. 

In terms of price, the OnePlus Nord compares favorably to the Moto G Stylus (2022), which costs $299. That phone sports a stylus, as the name implies, but it is overall similar enough to the Nord N20 that you might consider it as an alternative. 

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Design

I love the OnePlus Nord N20’s design. The clean and, dare I say, professional aesthetic appeals to my sensibilities, especially the deep blue colorway. The two large camera lenses, surrounded in light gold accents, draw your attention right out of the gate. The smooth plastic back has a sparkly effect to it that makes the phone almost glitter in the sun. 

Back view of OnePlus Nord N20 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The flat edges also contribute to a premium look. At 2.9 inches wide, the Nord N20 is easy to hold without those edges digging into your hand (unlike the iPhone 13 Pro Max that I use on a daily basis). One thing I like about plastic phones is the weight — the Nord N20 is just 6.1 ounces, which feels positively light.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The OnePlus Nord N20 also has a 3.5mm headphone jack and an in-display fingerprint sensor, which I love to see. The power and volume buttons all feel solid and clicky, too. But this is a budget phone, which means compromises. One of the most notable hardware trade-offs to me is the shoddy vibration motor, which is noisy and feels cheap. You can’t have everything at this price.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Display

Measuring 6.43 inches, the OnePlus Nord N20’s AMOLED display certainly impressed me, even if it is limited to a 60Hz refresh rate. With an FHD+ resolution, content of all kinds looks great. Videos like Blade Runner 2049 and the Thor: Love and Thunder teaser trailer are vivid and vibrant, even in the Nord N20’s Gentle color calibration.

Here’s what we measured for the OnePlus Nord N20’s display.

OnePlus Nord N20 Moto G Stylus (2022) iPhone SE (2022)
Display size6.43 inches6.8 inches4.7 inches
sRGB (%)179 / 103128 / 84115
DCI-P3 (%)127 / 7390 / 6081
Delta-E0.34 / 0.30.27 / 0.310.21
Peak brightness567560550

The Nord N20 easily beats the Moto G Stylus (2022) in color reproduction, but both phones are right in line with each other when it comes to their max brightness. They are very visible in all but direct sunlight, where it becomes extremely difficult to see them, especially with sunglasses.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G display

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The Nord N20 had the lowest Delta-E color accuracy score (where 0 is perfect) compared to the Moto G Stylus (2022) and iPhone SE (2022). Both of those handsets use IPS LCDs, but the Nord N20’s AMOLED panel achieves deeper blacks.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Cameras

With the OnePlus Nord N20, you get a triple rear camera setup. The 64MP main sensor does the heavy lifting, but its 2MP monochrome and 2MP macro companions are dubious at best. Around front, there’s a 16MP selfie shooter.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G cameras

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

To test the OnePlus Nord N20’s cameras, I used the latest Moto G Stylus. Starting outside with this photo of some books, you can see that both phones produced a presentable image. To my eye, the Nord N20’s shot is a tad brighter than the Moto’s, but that comes at the cost of approaching overexposure. The colors still look vibrant in either picture, but I think I prefer the Moto G Stylus’ photo since it doesn’t appear to have as much of an overexposure near-issue as the Nord N20.

Heading inside to photograph the same set of books on their shelf, I see problems in both shots. The Nord N20’s focus is extremely soft, even blurry on some of the spines. The Moto G Stylus (2022) has brightness issues, making for a dim picture. I don’t think either photo is good, but at least the Moto offers stronger focus. On the spine of Where the Sidewalk Ends, I see the Nord getting right up to the line of overexposure again.

I headed into my basement to test both handsets in a low-light environment without their night modes. In this shot of my Mass Effect helmet, the clear winner is the Moto G Stylus (2022). You can see more details of the helmet, whereas the Nord N20’s image is dark and almost grim. The carbon fiber effect is not as easy to see in the Nord’s picture. Both devices struggled here, but the Moto came out on top.

For this portrait of me, the Nord N20 won out slightly. The Moto G Stylus (2022) produced a softer image that I do not like, despite its pleasant bokeh effect. The Nord N20 has a warmer and more inviting look to it, even if I don’t care for the overall shot. You can still make out my ruddy complexion, while the Moto applied too much face smoothing and beauty effects, making me look unnatural.

Wrapping up with the rear cameras, here’s how the two phones handled those books from before, but this time at night. Unsurprisingly based on its earlier low light performance, the Nord N20 fell flat on its face, with only one of the books being legible and discernible. The Moto G Stylus (2022)’s image is brighter, but the phone struggles with blurriness and noise. However, I can make out that there are five books there, and I can see the red towel I put down. Both photos are atrocious, but the Moto wins out again.

Finally, when it comes to selfies, the Nord N20 once again falls behind the Moto G Stylus (2022). The former ironed out the lines and wrinkles in my face, making me look unnaturally smooth. However, you can more clearly see the blue of my eyes. 

The Moto’s selfie, meanwhile, is much truer to life. It captured the ruddiness of my face and beard, even if it has harsher shadows than the Nord. The background is also warmer, like with the red car behind me.

OnePlus Nord N20 macro sample (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Since the Nord N20 comes equipped with macro and monochrome sensors, I captured a few samples. The macro shot is bad, with terrible brightness and horrible focus. I attempted this image multiple times and this is the best the phone could do.

OnePlus Nord N20 monochrome sample (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As for the monochrome sensor, there isn’t a dedicated monochrome mode on the Nord N20, so I used the B&W filter. I suspect that the sensor is merely used for “details” to aid the main camera, as we’ve seen on other phones in the last five or so years.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Performance

A Snapdragon 695 serves as the Nord N20’s brains. We hadn’t gotten a phone with the Snapdragon 695 in for testing before this one, so I definitely wanted to see what this chip can do. This is an octa-core system-on-chip with a max frequency of 2.2GHz and equipped with a X51 5G modem, which supports sub-6GHz and mmWave. You don't get Wi-Fi 6 on this chip, so that's a connectivity standard still reserved for the more expensive phones.

Here’s how the Nord N20 fared in our benchmarks.

OnePlus Nord N20Moto G Stylus (2022)iPhone SE (2022)
CPUSnapdragon 695Helio G88A15 Bionic
Geekbench 5 (single-core / multicore)696 / 1995368 / 13241718 / 4482
3DMark Wild Life Unlimited (FPS)7450
3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited (FPS)2112

The Nord N20 smokes the Moto G Stylus (2022). And, in my experience, the Snapdragon 695 has far fewer performance hiccups than the Moto’s Helio G88, making the Nord N20 much more pleasant to use. But I brought out the iPhone SE (2022) to show you what performance you can get if you can spend about $140 more.

As decent as the Nord N20’s performance is, it still struggles with higher-end gaming. Not only did it stumble more than once on the 3DMark benchmarks, but I had to lower the settings considerably in Genshin Impact and Call of Duty: Mobile to have a playable frame rate. Simpler games like Dead Cells weren’t as taxing.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As the name suggests, the OnePlus Nord N20 sports 5G connectivity, but you just get sub-6GHz support. There’s no mmWave or C-band here. T-Mobile’s sub-6 network is pretty reliable (and C-Band is not really a part of T-Mobile’s 5G setup for now), so you’re not losing out on too much with the Nord N20.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Battery life and charging

With a 4,500 mAh power pack, the OnePlus Nord N20 stands to last a long while on a charge. OnePlus’ flagship, the OnePlus 10 Pro, is one of the longest-lasting Android flagships in our best phone battery life list, so I went into this Nord N20 review with high expectations. And based on our testing, I wasn’t disappointed.

Here’s how long the Nord N20 lasted.

OnePlus Nord N20Moto G Stylus (2022iPhone SE (2022)
Battery size4,500 mAh5,000 mAh2,018 mAh
Battery life (Hrs:Mins)11:2012:307:38
Charging33W10W20W
Charging percentage (15 mins)311031
Charging percentage (30 mins)562161

We test phone battery life by setting the display to 150 nits and then tasking the device to endlessly reload web pages over a 5G connection. The Nord N20 turned in a respectable result, though still about an hour shy of the Moto G Stylus (2022). But at a whopping four hours longer than the iPhone SE (2022), the Nord N20 wins a gold star. It misses a spot on our best phone battery life list by just 20 minutes.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G web browsing

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As for charging, the OnePlus Nord N20 leads the best cheap phones at 33W. That blows the Moto G Stylus (2022) out of the water. Just look at how much battery percentage the Nord regained compared to the Moto — 56% versus 21% after 30 minutes. (The new Stylus charges at a measly 10W.)

A 33W charger comes included with the Nord N20, so you won’t spend any of the money you save buying a separate charger.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Software

Other than the cameras, the Nord N20’s other major failing is the software. The phone comes equipped with Android 11 with Oxygen OS 11 on top. Android 11 is a great platform, and Oxygen OS 11 was pretty stable in my experience, but the problem here is one of timing.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G about phone

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Android 11 is more than a year and a half old, and Android 12 has been out since last fall. I asked OnePlus to comment on its update policy for the Nord N20, and the company told me that the Nord N20 will only get to Android 12 with three years of security patches.

Phone makers had months of access to the betas in the months leading up to the Android 12’s launch. To that degree, I think OnePlus should be ashamed. I didn’t think any company could do as bad with updates as Motorola, but OnePlus sure tried. At least, your Nord N20 will remain secure for three years.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G software

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As for what the software can do, Oxygen OS 11 sports some nice customization options and a clean look. The improvements in version 12 that we saw on the OnePlus 10 Pro will hopefully come in due time. For example, I’d really like to see the Nord N20 get access to the three different dark mode options, something I’m quite fond of on the 10 Pro.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Verdict

For $282, the OnePlus Nord N20 is definitely the best phone for the money. Even with lackluster cameras and the shamelessly bad software update policy, this phone is still a good buy if your phone budget maxes out at $300.

The Nord N20 and Moto G Stylus (2022) trades blows pretty evenly. The Nord looks and feels better, not to mention the stronger performance and better display. But the battery doesn’t last quite as long (a little more than an hour shy of the Moto) and the cameras are pretty bad — I didn’t think I could see cameras worse than the Moto in 2022.

And then there’s software support. Again, I didn’t think a phone maker could do as bad as Motorola, but OnePlus managed to. You’re only guaranteed to get a version of Android that’s already six months old. That’s pathetic.

However, if you’re strapped for cash and need a new phone, then the OnePlus Nord N20 should be at the top of your list. If you have more flexibility, then I’d suggest checking out the $429 iPhone SE (2022) or $449 Galaxy A53 as more fully featured alternatives. Otherwise, the OnePlus Nord N20 is the phone to get when money most definitely is an object.

Jordan Palmer
Jordan Palmer

Jordan is the Phones Editor for Tom's Guide, covering all things phone-related. He's written about phones for over five years and plans to continue for a long while to come. He loves nothing more than relaxing in his home with a book, game, or his latest personal writing project. Jordan likes finding new things to dive into, from books and games to new mechanical keyboard switches and fun keycap sets. Outside of work, you can find him poring over open-source software and his studies.