OnePlus Nord Long-term Review: Even better than you thought

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Do you know the most common question that my friends ask me about phones? It’s not about the latest iPhones or the newest foldable phones, instead it usually goes like this: “could you recommend a phone that works well, has a good camera, and doesn’t cost a fortune”? And in the past few months, to my friends who live outside the United States, I always recommend one phone first: the OnePlus Nord. This $400 phone has a beautiful design, it’s not too big, but not too small either, the camera is decent, and it being a OnePlus phone, you can be confident that it won’t slow down after a year or so like so many other budget phones.

Of course, it would be hypocritical to recommend a phone that I don’t use to my friends, so the OnePlus Nord has been in my daily rotation for a while now, and this is my long term review.

Design and Styling

Starting with the design, the OnePlus Nord features Gorilla Glass 5 on both the back and the front. I like that it ships with a pre-applied screen protector, and you can always peel it off if you prefer to enjoy the screen with no protection, but I personally have kept it on. The blue color that we have is such a joyful, vibrant shade of blue that it acts as a small mood booster, and this is probably my favorite phone color for 2020.
You also get a silicone case included in the box. The case is a bit different, it has a geometric pattern on the back and the pattern has a matte, frosted finish, different from the glossy plastic on the rest of the case. The case strikes a good balance of both protecting your phone and still being fairly thin and unobtrusive. It has this weird cap for the USB-C port, and it’s super addictive as a fiddle toy.

OnePlus has gotten all the details right about this phone: you have a power button on the right and the volume keys on the left, and they feel very clicky and responsive, well made. The frame of the phone is plastic, which might actually be a genius decision: it helps make the phone lighter and that is probably one of my bigger complaints about most modern smartphones, they are just too heavy, while the Nord weighs 6.5 ounces, a bit lighter than even the compact iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Performance

Next, let’s talk performance. While I use a bunch of smartphones and try to be as objective as possible, I have to admit that OnePlus phones have been in my pocket the majority of the time in the past few years. Recently, I have switched back to the OnePlus 5, a 3-year-old phone, that still runs like a champ without any stutter. I’m constantly amazed with how OnePlus is able to optimize phones so they remain fast years after their release.

This is important because all new phones feel fast. And yes, the OnePlus Nord feels particularly fast too thanks to the 90Hz fast refresh rate of the screen, but I also have confidence that it will stay fast after years of use.

Screen

Speaking of the screen, you have a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen with Full HD 1080p resolution that looks very sharp. This size of a screen is close to perfect: the phone is not too big but you still get plenty of screen real estate. Now, if you compare this budget phone to the very best phones that cost double or even triple its price, you will see that the Nord screen is not quite on the same level: the big issue is that colors are a bit on the cold side no matter how you tweak them in settings. Here at PhoneArena we test the display on every phone using professional equipment, and you can see a super detailed breakdown of the screen quality of the OnePlus Nord at our website, just check out the description box below, but this chart you see now shows a good illustration of how the screen doesn’t quite hit the color box targets. Again, that’s a bit of a nit-picky thing to mention for a budget phone, but still worth knowing.

As to the fingerprint scanner built inside the screen, we’ve had zero issues. It’s an optical one, and a super fast and quite accurate one.

Great reception

One thing we have noticed with the OnePlus Nord is that it was able to pick Wi-Fi signal in places where most other phones, even much more expensive ones, cannot. My balcony is a place where almost no other phone picks up Wi-Fi signal, but the Nord locks onto it perfectly and maintains a solid connection. For cellular signal, however, I have noticed it drop in elevators where other phones are still able to keep up. So a bit of a mixed story.

The software on OnePlus phones known as Oxygen OS is a super clean and bloatware-free version of Android. Earlier OnePlus phones had a custom screen on the left-most home screen, and now that’s replaced with a Google news feed.

One super weird thing about the OnePlus Nord is that it keeps on popping up strange notifications that I have never seen on any other Android phone. While playing music on Spotify, in a phone call, or doing something else, a notification that says the phone is receiving or refreshing data appears, and then disappears after a few brief moments. That’s just strange.

Cameras

Okay, what about the cameras? There is six of them, four on the back, two on the front, and that’s a lot of cameras. But we have seen phones like the Google Pixel 4a with just one camera on the back and amazing images, so it’s definitely not just about the number. In fact, two of the cameras on the OnePlus Nord, there is no good use for. The macro camera is the worst, it takes blurry images with poor detail, and you’re just better off using the main camera instead to take close-up shots. Another sensor is a depth sensor for measuring depth for things like blurry backgrounds in portrait shots. So you are left with a main and an ultra wide camera. The ultra wide shooter on the OnePlus Nord is nice to have, it gives that nice crazy wide perspective to photos, but quality could be better and detail is quite poor. So we do recommend using the main camera, it has the best quality, with a good amount of detail and most images turn out quite decent. It’s not quite Pixel 4a grade, though, and it’s not quite amazing. We wish colors were not so muted and a bit more animated, as images look a bit flat. The front cameras are nice though and that second camera for ultra wide selfies is really cool.

Battery Life

Finally, battery life. So battery life is better if you use the phone at 60 Hertz, but then you lose a big part of the magic. I personally keep the phone at 90 Hertz, and usually get through a full day, but if I use the phone a bit more, I have to top it up before the end of the day.

Fast charging is amazing here. Unlike other phones like for example Samsung devices, here charging remains fast even when you are charging your phone while using it. There is no wireless charging on board, but to be honest I don’t miss it much.

So time to draw that proverbial line in the sand. Should YOU buy the OnePlus Nord? If you want an incredibly fast phone that will remain fast for years, that charges quickly, that has great Wi-Fi connectivity, and that also happens to look great and be just the right size that is not too gigantic, or too small, absolutely go for it. If you want the very best camera in a budget phone, however, have a look at the Pixel 4a, it’s not quite as fast and good looking, but it has a truly impressive camera.

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