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Introduced as a reversal to the rising pricing trajectory of the OnePlus 8 series, the OnePlus Nord is a pocket-friendly phone for a more cost-conscious world. However, in building a phone that embodies the “OnePlus experience,” has the company built a phone that makes one of its own models redundant?
I’ve had the OnePlus 8 since it launched earlier this year, and I often find myself using it when I’m not juggling other reviews. However, I’ve been using the OnePlus Nord as my primary phone since I got the unit about ten days back. Swapping between the two devices, it’s pretty clear that OnePlus has something very intriguing on its hands with the Nord.
In fact, when comparing the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus Nord, I can’t escape the lingering feeling that OnePlus has made its vanilla flagship entirely redundant.
Our verdict: OnePlus Nord review: Buy it for Oxygen OS and the value for money
Do you really need to spend an extra €300 on the OnePlus 8?
First, let’s talk pricing. The OnePlus 8 starts at €729 (~$858) in Europe, £599 (~$771) in the UK and Rs. 44,999 (~$602) for the 128GB storage model with 8GB of RAM. This goes up to €829 (~$975), £699 (~$901) and Rs. 49,999 (~$669) respectively for the top-end 256GB model with 12GB of RAM.
Meanwhile, the OnePlus Nord starts at a much lower €399 (~$469), £379 (~$488) , and Rs. 27,999 (~$375) for the 128GB model with 8GB of RAM and goes all the way to €499 (~$587), £469 (~$604), and Rs. 29,999 (~$401) for the high-end 256GB model with 12GB of RAM. India even gets a special cut-price model with 6GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for just Rs. 24,999 (~$334). Bargain!
The OnePlus Nord isn’t for the spec-frenzied audience, but that’s okay.
The Nord’s pricing makes it clear that OnePlus is gunning for a more mass-market audience than just the spec-frenzied fans. Embodying the OnePlus spirit, the Nord makes all the right sacrifices and delivers a smartphone package that gives most competitors a run for their money. More importantly, it’s really made me question the role of the OnePlus 8 in the company’s lineup.
Starting off with the overall look, one glance at the Nord makes it obvious where it gets its design ambitions from. There are similarities across OnePlus’ 2020 product portfolio but interestingly, the Nord ends up doing some things a lot better.
Owing to the smaller size, the way the Nord felt in my hand was surprisingly good. More importantly, it was better than the OnePlus 8 in a few ways. With a smaller screen, the Nord is both shorter and not quite as wide as the OnePlus 8. The difference is a lot more tangible than what the specs might suggest.
Additionally, while the thickness has gone up ever so slightly, the Nord has curvier edges that nestle perfectly in the palm of your hand. On the OnePlus 8, I often found the edges digging into the sides of my hand while typing out long texts. This was not the case on the Nord, and I definitely prefer the design choices made here.
Sure, the smaller screen might not be ideal for avid multimedia consumers. Here’s the kicker though — the screen has the exact same resolution as the OnePlus 8, and the smaller size results in a slightly higher pixel density. Visually, I couldn’t see a difference between the two panels. With the tuning set to natural on both phones, the displays on the OnePlus Nord and OnePlus 8 look identical.
The flat display is honestly more comfortable to use and doesn’t register any false touches to boot.
I particularly enjoyed the return of the flat display on the Nord. Now, I have nothing against curved edges, but they add little utility and can often register false touches. I wasn’t too enthused by the switch over from a flat screen on the OnePlus 7T to the curved panel on the 8. The Nord fixes that. Of course, your mileage may vary.
One of the key selling points of OnePlus phones is their performance. If you chase specs, without doubt, the OnePlus 8 and its Snapdragon 865 ace the Nord and the Snapdragon 765G. On paper, the Snapdragon 765G performs closer to the two-year-old Snapdragon 845. That said, it still manages almost anything you throw at it.
Go in-depth: Tested: The OnePlus Nord beats the 7T Pro at sustained performance
As my colleague Rob pointed out in his performance-focused article linked above, the Nord excels at sustained performance. Both the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro exhibited dips in CPU and GPU performance over time, and further slowed down with heat build-up. In contrast, the Nord was able to hold steady for longer. In fact, the Nord was able to sustain peak GPU performance for the entirety of the test. This means it has better cooling and optimization than previous OnePlus devices. Rob’s lab findings matched up with my personal experience of using the OnePlus 8 vs OnePlus Nord.
I have over 300 apps installed on my phone and use a fair chunk of them every single day. Equipped with 12GB of RAM (I was using the top model), multitasking was never an issue on the Nord. Not once did the phone struggle to keep up with my use. I will, however, admit that I’m not much of a mobile gamer. The added performance boost brought by the faster GPU on the OnePlus 8 might make it worth the investment.
The other aspect that stood out to me was just how similar the camera setup is between the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus Nord. The Nord’s ultra-wide camera halves the resolution and the 2MP macro camera is still trash, but that’s a sacrifice many could be willing to make for the sheer cost advantage the Nord enjoys.
Finally, what really had me excited about the Nord was the dual selfie camera setup. I don’t click too many selfies, but the ultra-wide selfie camera on the Google Pixel 3 has always held a special place for me. Like the Pixel, the Nord’s ultra-wide camera comes in very handy when capturing larger groups of people. The reality didn’t quite live up to expectation, unfortunately, but there’s hope OnePlus can tweak the selfie cameras’ quality through software updates.
Read more: The OnePlus Nord is here, but should you wait for the Pixel 4a?
OnePlus 8 or OnePlus Nord: You told us
OnePlus started off as an alternative to the high prices of flagship hardware from incumbents. Over time, the company’s phones lost some of their pricing advantage, but the Nord is a true return to form.
I know there will obviously be some buyers who want the all-out performance afforded by the OnePlus 8. For everyone else, the Nord gives you everything you need and then some.
My findings seem to tie in with broader consumer sentiment too. In a poll asking our readers on the site and on Twitter which of OnePlus’ current phones is the best choice right now, 67.1% voted in favor of the OnePlus Nord over the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Even with two other options, the Nord still took the lion’s share of the vote. It is obvious that for most consumers the phone ticks all the right boxes at the right price, and is a resounding return to roots for the brand.
By choosing the Nord over the OnePlus 8, you lose out on a bit of performance and a slightly better ultra-wide camera. But for a whole lot of buyers, the overall cost savings more than make up for these sacrifices.
With the OnePlus Nord, the company settled in all the right ways — and that’s not a bad thing. Carl Pei’s quote from our interview on the OnePlus Nord rings true in context. The Nord isn’t made for the hardcore fan, but rather it’s meant to bring a wider audience into the fold. However, in doing so, the company might just have made the OnePlus 8 irrelevant.
Want to find out more about the OnePlus Nord? Check out our additional coverage.