Tech review: OnePlus Nord is an affordable 5G smartphone

The relatively-affordable Nord feels like OnePlus returning to the value-for-money approach that has defined the brand.
The relatively-affordable Nord feels like OnePlus returning to the value-for-money approach that has defined the brand.PHOTO: ONEPLUS

The new OnePlus Nord (available on Lazada and Shopee) is a solid mid-range smartphone that costs just $649 - affordable for a 5G-capable model.

It comes at a time when smartphone makers have bumped up their pricing, especially for 5G models.

OnePlus, too, has increased its prices this year. The OnePlus 8 Pro, which debuted in April, was the Chinese smartphone brand's most expensive model yet, at $1,298.

Thus, the relatively-affordable Nord feels like OnePlus returning to the value-for-money approach that has defined the brand.

My first impression of the Nord is that it feels like a premium smartphone, thanks to a curved, dangerously smooth glass back and a near-bezel-less facade.

The edges of the phone have a glossy metallic finish. However, this frame is, like many cheaper phones, made of plastic and not metal.

There is also no headphone jack, while the speaker is a single downward firing one that can be muffled by a cupped palm when holding the phone in the landscape orientation.

Despite having just 128GB of internal storage on the base model, the Nord does not have a microSD card slot for expandable storage. But at least the Nord retains OnePlus' distinctive alert slider, a physical toggle that lets you switch between silent, vibrate and ring modes.

I have no complaints about the Nord's in-display fingerprint sensor, which feels like one of the better ones in the market in terms of accuracy and speed.

But it took me a while to get used to the Nord's hole-punch camera cutoff, mainly because it is wider than usual to fit a second, ultra-wide camera for group selfies.

Despite having one more selfie camera than most smartphones, the selfie photos taken by the Nord did not impress. The ultra-wide camera is usable in a pinch, but photos had too much noise for my liking.

The image processing for the main selfie camera is also not as good as top-tier models. Photos with a bright light source in the background often turned out overexposed.

As for the rear quad camera unit, the main 48-megapixel (MP) camera appears to be of a similar grade as the one on the OnePlus 8. Using the usual pixel-binning technique, it shoots 12MP photos that look sharp with good colour accuracy.

Its low-light mode, dubbed Nightscape, produces decent enough photos at night, albeit not as good as flagship smartphone cameras. The resulting low-light photos also exhibit a yellowish cast.

The secondary cameras are fairly mediocre. The ultra-wide camera is passable, but photos by the macro camera look soft and unfocused.

In short, the extra cameras often feel like they are simply there to make up the numbers for OnePlus to tout that the Nord has a quad camera system.

Unlike its cameras, the Nord's Amoled screen is actually quite good. It is bright, colourful and supports a 90Hz refresh rate for a smoother feel when navigating the phone interface. You can still select the standard, less power-hungry 60Hz refresh rate to conserve the battery.

It also supports High Dynamic Range (HDR10) videos in the Netflix app, though the HDR effect on phones remains far inferior to the experience on a HDR television set.

Thanks to the use of the mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, the Nord is one of the most affordable 5G-capable smartphones in the market. Most 5G phones use the flagship and more expensive Snapdragon 865 chip.

On paper, the Nord should work with sub-6GHz 5G networks, such as the one launched by StarHub last week. However, a software update may be required for the Nord before it can tap StarHub's 5G network.

The Snapdragon 765G offers more than sufficient computing power for most tasks. It may be a tad slower at opening apps but I encountered no lag while using the Nord.

It probably helps that OnePlus' Oxygen OS interface is relatively lean. It is basically stock Android 10 with a few OnePlus extras such as Parallel Apps, which lets you run two instances of messaging apps like Telegram, on the same device.

With the Nord's display set to run at 90Hz, it usually has around 30 per cent battery life at the end of a typical work day for me.

In The Straits Times video-loop battery test (at maximum screen brightness), the Nord clocked 14hr22mins compared to 16hr5min for the Vivo X50 Pro, which also uses the Snapdragon 765G chip.

If you are not too picky about the quality of smartphone photos, the OnePlus Nord offers a fluid, near-stock Android experience with some nice extras like 5G connectivity and a 90Hz screen at an affordable price.

FOR

Affordable for a 5G phone

90Hz screen

Smooth and clean user interface

AGAINST

No headphone jack or expandable storage

Secondary cameras feel superfluous

SPECS

Price: $649

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G (Single-core 2.3GHz, single-core 2.2GHz, hexa-core 1.8GHz)

Display: 6.44-inch Amoled, 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, 408 ppi pixel density

Operating system: Oxygen OS 10.5 (Android 10)

Memory: 128GB, 8GB RAM

Rear cameras: 48MP (f/1.8), 8MP ultra-wide (f/2.3, 119-degree), 5MP depth (f/2.4), 2MP macro (f/2.4)

Front cameras: 32MP (f/2.5), 8MP ultra-wide (2.5, 105-degree)

Battery: 4,115mAh

RATING

Features: 4/5

Design: 4/5

Performance: 4/5

Value for money: 4.5/5

Battery life: 5/5

Overall: 4/5

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