2021 has been a transformative year for OnePlus. The company has diversified into a series of mainstream, mass-market devices that are the antithesis of everything the brand once stood for. This was further reinforced by the company’s recent revelation that it will essentially become an Oppo sub-brand, while merging the codebase for Oxygen OS with Color OS. Looking back though, it is clear to see that this transition started with the OnePlus Nord.
Hype can make or break a product and nobody knows this better than OnePlus, the master of pre-launch hype. The OnePlus Nord launched to a month-long campaign that proclaimed the phone as a game-changer for affordable phones. Unfortunately for OnePlus and fans, the phone proved to be a bog-standard — boring even — mid-ranger, something we’re increasingly getting accustomed to with the broader Nord lineup.
However, boring doesn’t have to mean bad. While the phone didn’t launch to stellar reviews, OnePlus has a history of issuing updates that can turn a product around. In the case of the OnePlus Nord, many of the software issues have now been resolved, making it arguably a better phone now than it was a year ago.
But with the OnePlus Nord 2 on the horizon, how much has the Nord improved, and is it still worth a purchase one year later? Let’s take a look in our OnePlus Nord long-term review.
OnePlus Nord review recap
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the OnePlus Nord, it is likely you don’t remember much about our initial verdict on the OnePlus Nord. Our video review should get you up to speed about everything the phone has to offer. You can also refer to our written OnePlus Nord review to find out more about the company’s first mid-range smartphone.
How well has the OnePlus Nord aged?
The OnePlus Nord marked the launch of the first non-flagship OnePlus device, but that doesn’t mean it was a slouch. In fact, even today, the Snapdragon 765G-toting smartphone stands out as one of the more powerful smartphones at its price point. Of course, there’s more to a phone than hardware specs, and software optimization can make a world of difference.
OnePlus has consistently issued software updates to squash out bugs.
In day-to-day usability, the OnePlus Nord performs exceptionally well, with a fluid interface. I’ve been using the phone intermittently over the last year, and while I’ve faced a few issues with receiving notifications reliably, software updates have squashed that bug. Multitasking is also aided by the 12GB of RAM onboard and in normal use, apps tend to stay in memory.
I’m not much of a smartphone gamer but had no trouble testing out the latest games from our best smartphones games selection, including the likes of Genshin Impact. That said, you will have to turn down a few settings to max out frame rates. Performance-wise, the biggest competition for the Nord in India comes from the Poco X3 Pro and its Snapdragon 860 chipset, but expect a whole range of compromises to optimize for performance at that price. The flagship-killing Poco F3 is an even more powerful option for European buyers, though the software implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
There is, however, one area in our OnePlus Nord long-term review where the Nord is starting to show its age. The 4,115mAh battery wasn’t the largest even when the phone launched, but with a year of intermittent use, the battery doesn’t last nearly as long and overnight charging is essential. More importantly, that data is without accounting for use on 5G networks, something that is bound to put a bigger dent on overall battery life.
30W charging isn't the fastest anymore, but suffices for the segment.
Fast 30W charging continues to be a great feature. OnePlus was one of the earliest brands to toss in fast charging in the mid-range segment. Since then, a few brands have introduced even faster charging options. However, 30W is not bad at all and a full charge takes under an hour.
Elsewhere, the display on the OnePlus Nord remains a standout feature. The 6.44-inch screen has impeccable calibration on the natural setting, and viewing media content remains a very enjoyable experience. Additionally, the 90Hz refresh rate is well, refreshing, and makes the interface buttery smooth to use. It’s worth noting that, unlike some other OnePlus devices, the OLED display hasn’t shown any signs of burn-in. HDR support remains spotty and doesn’t always trigger. While it worked in YouTube and Netflix, I couldn’t get it working in Amazon Prime Video.
My favorite aspect of the display, however, is the fact that it is a flat panel. Yes, curved displays can look more visually appealing in product photographs, but the no-nonsense approach of flat panels and the complete absence of accidental touches makes it a winner in my books. Unfortunately, auto-brightness is still hit or miss on the phone and you are best advised to set screen brightness levels manually.
The flat display continues to be a joy to use, but the in-display fingerprint reader is not.
Finally, there’s the in-display fingerprint reader. It wasn’t the most reliable thing at launch, and subsequent software updates haven’t entirely fixed my gripes with it. The phone refuses to accept fingerprints every once in a while and it can be quite infuriating.
Overall, the OnePlus Nord didn’t introduce a groundbreaking design when it launched. However, that staid look has stood the test of time as a safe bet. While design trends changed from loud gradients to giant camera arrays, the focus on everyday usability has helped the OnePlus Nord continue to be a comfortable daily driver.
This is further reinforced by the relatively small 6.44-inch screen that goes a long way towards making the phone usable in one hand. The overall fit and finish have also held up, and the OnePlus Nord continues to look like a modern, if not unremarkable mid-range choice.
Better cameras but still not great
With six cameras onboard, you’d expect the OnePlus Nord to have impeccable imaging credentials. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The primary 48MP sensor here has been a mainstay of OnePlus phones for generations and is getting especially long in the tooth. Despite the familiar sensor, the OnePlus Nord launched with poor camera optimization.
Over the course of the year, the company has plugged away at it, and while the imaging software has improved, it is far from class-leading. My gripes arise from the limited dynamic range and general softness in images. There’s also the issue of color accuracy with boosted saturation levels.
The 8MP ultra-wide camera wasn’t great when it launched and that continues to be true. A year of use later, the perceived image quality has deteriorated further, with ultra-wide photos in anything but perfect lighting coming across as noisy and blurry. The company’s approach of using aggressive noise reduction doesn’t help either.
Finally, the 2MP macro camera might as well not exist. There’s just not enough detail here and I rarely if ever found myself using the lens. This isn’t even close to the incredible telemacro system that Xiaomi has debuted across its portfolio. Overall, I wish OnePlus had opted for the ultra-wide camera-based macro system found on phones like the OnePlus 7T Pro, which would have given a boost to both the wide-angle capabilities as well as the macro sensor.
Over at the front, I like the idea of having dual lenses and the versatility it affords. At launch, the front-facing cameras were prone to cranking up the beautification filters to the max. The consistent software updates have largely fixed the issue and while the cameras won’t be winning any photography awards, they do a serviceable job. That secondary ultra-wide selfie camera, in particular, is very versatile and lets you capture larger groups with ease.
OnePlus Nord long-term review: The verdict
Having spent a week with the phone for our OnePlus Nord long-term review, it is clear to me that despite its rather boring first appearance, the OnePlus Nord was designed for long-term usability over short-term thrills. The essentials are on-point, even though it has a few rough edges. The design has stood the test of time, and performance is more than adequate, even today.
On the other hand, omissions like the lack of stereo speakers or an IP rating are even more noticeable than ever in 2021. And imaging, even though it has improved, is clearly not the phone’s forte — a problem that plagues OnePlus in general.
The OnePlus Nord has stood the test of time as a reliable performer, but isn't a very good deal today.
For all its positives, the OnePlus Nord isn’t necessarily a compelling purchase. One year on, the OnePlus Nord is still sold at nearly full price both in India and Europe. Meanwhile, alternatives like the Redmi Note 10 Pro/Pro Max or the Google Pixel 4a offer a lot more bang for the buck with their well-rounded packages or imaging prowess.
Moreover, with the OnePlus Nord 2 on the horizon — and the promise of improved imaging and a much faster Dimensity 1200 processor — it makes little sense to pick up the original Nord at full price. It’s still a solid option in the mid-range segment if you can land a good deal on it, but there are better alternatives out there.