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Between 2015 and 2018, whenever friends or family members ask me which phone to buy, I’d usually recommend a OnePlus, explaining my reasoning with some variation of “OnePlus [model number] is very good, almost as good as the best iPhone or Samsung, but at half the price.”
I stopped making that recommendation with last year’s OnePlus 7 Pro, not because it wasn’t good. Far from it; the 7 Pro held the “best phone on the market” for several months in my book, but it was also because OnePlus phones began climbing in price to near flagship level.
In my opinion, if you have to ask someone what phone to get, that means you’re a casual smartphone user, not a tech enthusiasts. And if you’re in that camp, then you don’t need to pay premium pricing for the most high-end phone. A mid-tier is more than good enough.
And so while OnePlus climbed into premium flagship quality over the past year, it also lost the “best value on the market” title—until now, with the Nord.Recommended For You
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Back to its roots
I interviewed OnePlus cofounder Carl Pei two weeks ago, and he told me the company decided to make the Nord because mobile tech has advanced to a point that even mid-range components can offer almost tip-top performance.
I agree. In fact, the descriptor I used for OnePlus handsets from 2015 to 2018 applies to the Nord again: it’s almost as good as the best of the best, but at half the price.
The key for readers is to look at the areas in which the Nord isn’t as good as the best of the best, and then decide for themselves if these compromises are worth making to save $500.
Where the Nord can go toe-to-toe with the best
Let’s start with what’s good first: with the $400 Nord, you’re getting an all-screen design that feels modern, unlike Apple’s dated looking mid-ranger iPhone SE 2. The 6.44-inch OLED panel refreshes at 90Hz, so while it’s not as bleeding edge as the 120Hz panels used by the OnePlus 8 Pro, it’s still a technically superior display panel than 99% of the TVs and monitors that we come across everyday in offices, at train stations, at malls and homes.
The processor powering the handset is a Snapdragon 765G, which whether in benchmarks or real-world tests hit high marks despite it being a tier below the 865.
OnePlus’ widely acknowledged best, fastest, smoothest software (OxygenOS) is here, of course. Every time I jump back to a OnePlus phone after having used another phone for a stretch, there’s always a moment in the first hour when I mutter to myself “this software is so good.”
I can’t stress this enough: OxygenOS is in my opinion the best version of Android around. Even better than Google’s own stock Android. OxygenOS’ animations are faster; there are more customization options; more tricks to get the most out of a phone; more shortcut gestures.
Where the Nord had to compromise to meet the low price point
Here’s where OnePlus had to cut corners to sell you this phone at half the price of flagships: the chassis of the phone is made of plastic; there’s only a mono speaker system; no wireless charging; and no official water resistance rating.
None of these shortcomings so far are that big a deal. The phone still feels nicely constructed despite the plastic; the bottom-firing speaker is good enough; the 4,115 mAh battery is enough to power the phone all day so you don’t need to charge often; and I used the phone in the rain with no issues.
The only areas of compromise that actually bothers me are the cameras. In all, the Nord advertises six cameras: two selfie cameras and a quad-camera main system, but only two of them are good (the main front and back camera). The rest range from serviceable to pointless—just there to arbitrarily increase the lens count (it’s more marketable to say you have a quad-camera system than a dual-camera system).
But at least OnePlus got the main cameras right. The main camera on the back is a 48-megapixel Sony IMX f/1.8 lens with very similar hardware to the flagship OnePlus 8 Pro. It’s fast to focus, and produces pleasing colors with good sharpness. Even at night, if there’s enough city lights (like the first image below), photos exhibit excellent dynamic range and little noise. The 32-megapixel selfie camera is excellent, too, although I’m no selfie expert.
But then there are the other lenses. The 8-megapixel ultrawide angle camera is solid during well-lit conditions, but in a lower light situation it falls apart due to smaller sensor and lack of pixels to stretch across the ultrawide canvas. The third and fourth cameras of the main system are macro and depth sensors, but other brands have proven you do not need a dedicated camera just for macro images or bokeh portrait shots. These two lenses are almost decoration more than real functional lenses.
The other selfie camera, meanwhile, is an ultrawide angle camera for group selfies. It works as advertised, so those who take selfies with several people would welcome its inclusion, but for me, I’d rather have a smaller hole-punch cut-out.
The degree to which you’re impressed by the Nord likely depends on where you are
Sometimes I wonder if the marketing team of Oppo and Vivo are jealous of OnePlus, because despite all three sharing the same parent company and have very similar hardware, OnePlus has this level of brand recognition, acceptance, and following in the west—particularly the U.S., that the other two haven’t yet achieved.
This is mostly due to clever marketing on OnePlus’ team—it has always aimed for the western market first, with launch events and pop-up events held in the U.S., and a young, native English speaking Pei as the face of the company. Oppo and Vivo, by and large, still feel like a Chinese brand first and foremost. (Nothing wrong with that, by the way; and both Oppo and Vivo sell way more phones in China than OnePlus).
But this explains why the Nord was released to so much hype, and so much coverage from U.S. media, while the similarly priced Reno 4 Pro from Oppo launched in the same week and went mostly under the radar.
And because the U.S. phone scene is so limited and lacking compared to the scene in Asia, this gives the Nord very little competition in its $400 price range. There’s the iPhone SE 2, and Google Pixel 4a, that’s about it. So by default, the Nord is a top three best value phone.
But for me here in Asia, there are great $400 phones that hit the market every few weeks. And the competition is a lot stiffer. The Nord is still a very good value, but so too is the Poco F2 Pro, Oppo Reno 4 Pro, Realme X50 Pro and Meizu 17 Pro.
To be honest, the mid-range phone isn’t for me, because I’m a power user, a tech geek, a phone enthusiast. I always use the most powerful phone. But if I have to choose between these wonderful mid-range options, the Nord wins by a hair, because OnePlus’ software is that good.
Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/bensin/2020/08/12/oneplus-nord-review-so-many-great-mid-range-phones-in-asia-but-oxygenos-still-king/