The OnePlus Nord doesn’t feel like a super sleek flagship Android phone. And that’s OK – because it isn’t. The new £379 mid-range OnePlus, available to buy widely from 4 August, cuts the right corners to achieve its amusingly modest press release tagline: “pretty much everything you could ask for”. In fact, the only sting in the tail for the new, more affordable OnePlus series – and unlike the OnePlus X from 2015, the Nord is the first in a series – is the small detail that everyone from Apple to Oppo is also giving us “pretty much everything you could ask for” around the £300-£420 mark.
We said it doesn’t feel completely like a flagship. We’ve had a Nord for a few days but we’re not permitted to talk about performance yet; just know it’s one of the luxuries you’re giving up if you choose this over a £700 to £800 OnePlus. The 6.44-inch Nord is slightly thicker, slightly taller and slightly heavier, 8.2mm thick and 184g, than the OnePlus 8, which has a larger 6.55-inch display. We don’t know the exact screen-to-body ratio of the Nord but you can see it’s not quite as painstakingly engineered.
The back is Gorilla Glass 5 with a neat, inoffensive-looking camera array and this time, the two finishes of blue ‘marble’ and grey ‘onyx’ aren’t matte like the premium options but shiny instead. Not the psychedelic shiny of Huawei; more subtle with a metallic gleam round the edges.
All as it should be, considering you get a 90Hz AMOLED display – down from 120Hz but matching other flagships; the same main 48MP Sony sensor as the OnePlus 8’s camera, 5G, OxygenOS 10.5 and the same two years of software and three years of security updates as the premium OnePlus options.
The other major ‘luxury’ you do without is a full-power Snapdragon processor; here it’s the 765G which OnePlus says shouldn’t impact performance – you’ll have to wait for the full review for our verdict. Otherwise, it’s a minimum of 8GB of RAM (with 128GB of storage) and Adreno 620 graphics with a £469 model offering 12GB RAM with 256GB memory. You’re getting a lot for your money here.
While there’s a grand total of six cameras, with a 8MP ultra-wide lens; 4K video at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps with Nightscape and Portrait modes on hand, there’s no telephoto lens. Thanks to an extra 8MP ultra-wide selfie camera, this is also the first (quite large) dual camera cutout in the top left corner of the display. We don’t mind it too much on first impressions.
Rounding out the specs, there’s a 4,115mAh battery with Warp Charge 30T fast charging; dual nanoSIM slots; an in-display fingerprint sensor and a textured ‘alert slider’ above the power button. Wireless charging looks to be missing, there’s no official IP rating – though OnePlus says 30cm for 30 minutes is doable – and there’s no headphone jack. OnePlus has a pair of £79 wireless Buds with a total battery life, including the case, of 30 hours. These will go on sale straightaway on 21 July.
So the OnePlus Nord has cut the correct corners on premium design, the zoom lens etc, but kept some headline features, like the big 90Hz OLED display, to help it stand out in the mid-range. A OnePlus rep told us that the new Nord line of phones sees it returning to “early ideas” at the company, but part of the problem here is one of its own making because it’s not out on its own anymore.
You can buy a 2020 iPhone SE model for £419 – admittedly just 64GB to the OnePlus Nord’s 128GB, but iPhone users tend not to care for such comparisons. The very well reviewed Realme X50 5G, from Oppo, has a Nord-beating 120Hz refresh rate, a slightly bigger screen and battery, a Snapdragon 765 chip and similar specs, all for £300, £80 less than the OnePlus. Then there’s the Moto G 5G Plus (£300-£350) with a 48MP main camera of its own, the titular 5G plus two days of battery and the upcoming Pixel 4a, now expected to be announced in early August. OnePlus’s compass has taken it to a very busy playground.
That brings us to the three aims OnePlus says it had with the Nord: powerful cameras, a smooth experience and “OnePlus quality”. That one’s new. It’s essentially saying yes you can get most/all/better specs for cheaper than the OnePlus Nord but the UI and the updates and all its allegedly 300 optimisations to Android 10 are worth it.
Counterpoint Research puts OnePlus third behind Apple and Samsung for premium phone sales, unsurprising after Huawei’s year, so with some aggressive marketing, beyond the slightly tired pop-ups and pre-sales, it could potentially sell more than the Realmes and the Motos. On paper, it looks like it hasn’t done quite enough to be out on its own, but for those who care more about real-world use, and not just higher or lower spec numbers and speeds, there might be a sweet spot ahead between specced-up phones from brands most people haven’t heard of and the affordable iPhone.
Sophie Charara edits WIRED Recommends. She tweets from @sophiecharara
More great stories from WIRED
☢️ Nine years on, Fukushima’s mental health fallout lingers
🦆 Google got rich from your data. DuckDuckGo is fighting back
😷 Which face mask should you buy?The WIRED guide
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn
Get The Email from WIRED, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm sharp.
Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.