One month removed from the massive release of the OnePlus 10 Pro flagship phone, the premium smartphone maker has returned to the ‘midrange’ smartphone scene with an arguably astounding device in the OnePlus Nord N20 5G. Since the affordable OnePlus Nord N200 released last year — yes the N200 released before the N20 — this is the latest OnePlus phones to grace North American markets, at an affordable price point that would make it feel that the consumer is hardly ‘settling’ as per their catchphrase “Never Settle.” Although this is a phone on a budget, it does feel like you’re following those vague rules.
I was absolutely blown away by the presentation of the Nord N20. The box had that slow slide off feel that most premium devices have, with neat packaging and a dynamite 35W USB-C charger included in the box. Considering most smartphones lack the ability to even plug into the wall at the outset, very much like the Pixel 6 Pro, the fact OnePlus includes everything you need to get started is a plus in my books.
The Nord N20 is a sleek device reminiscent of the iPhone series I just came from, so the design choice puts Apple consumers right at home. The crystal clear 6.43” AMOLED display gives users possibly the best display for under $300, and backs the device with a miniature monitor quality which makes movies and gaming on the go an exciting task. For the price point, this feels like a lot more phone than the consumer paid for right from the beginning. There is notable light reflection from the surface of the AMOLED that injects UV rays into the users retinas, which feels slightly cumbersome, but an easy fix would be to get a solid screen protector that prevents glare.
Inspecting the phone revealed that the back is just as gorgeous and stylishly designed, with two prominent back cameras that have an outline with a silver trim. There is a noteworthy 3.5 headphone jack, forgotten by most premium devices, and a MicroSD memory upgrade slot, features that make a welcome return. The ‘Blue Smoke’ colorway is unfortunately the only one available, but it is definitely not settling. The chassis is made of a high-grade plastic, but most glass-made phones would blush at this presentation.
The Nord N20 is only available with the T-Mobile carrier at the moment, so this limits the reach it has on the market giving the carrier a feel of inclusiveness, and upon starting the Nord N20, there were plenty of ‘agreements’ that I had to wade through. There were maybe six or seven of these small agreements, and the notifications tab still notified that ‘You’re almost finished setting up your OnePlus.’
On the flip side, the phone functions extremely well. Switching over from the iPhone was a task made simple if the user has a USB-C to lightning cable at the ready. Most T-Mobile stores have these in their back pocket, unfortunately, most users don’t. Switching over requires the user without this cable to utilize Google Drive, and if the user has many GB of data to transfer, this is a slow grind.
The UI feels like it was a Frankenstein creation between the iOS and Android operating systems. An Android user would feel right at home with the simple OxygenOS, and the functionality feels arguably like the iPhone. Sliding up on tasks running in the background allowed me to swipe away unwanted tasks running, which felt just like an iOS function. Users will want to do this often, considering the phone does become choppy if unused tasks aren’t closed in a timely fashion.
When the phone is running many background tasks, some will close randomly, but reopening the App will show there is nothing lost. This may be due to the backdated Android 11 OS that ships with the phone, OnePlus does promise an Upgrade for the Nord N20 in the future, but until then, this is worth noting.
The Nord N20 does not have wireless charging capability, and does not work with MagSafe charging bases. Also and more importantly, there is no IP rating on the OnePlus Nord N20 that guarantees the phone can survive a splash, or an Arrakis adventure. It is relieving to know a phone won’t immediately terminate over falling into a puddle, but no such safety net exists on the Nord N20 and testing it would’ve felt brazen.
“The Nord N20 is the cream of the crop when it comes to ‘budget’ smartphones.”
A feature not forsaken though was the facial unlock, and an amazingly functional fingerprint scanner that appears below the front of the AMOLED. The fingerprint scanner is another feature that is done well here, and although there is no IP rating, it worked very well in the rain while my fingers were damp. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 processor, powered by a 4500 mAh battery, allows this ‘budget’ phone to speed through basic tasks with ease, and felt like Pokémon Go and Genshin Impact were made for this device. There were considerable frame rate dips in the most demanding areas, but nothing that absolutely broke either game. Although the processor is a step backwards, the battery is surely a step forwards.
The OnePlus Nord N20 was running a full day before it demanded I charge it at 6% battery life. This is after hitting 100% and using the phone as I would normally. A full day of battery life without percentage worrying is a Herculean task, and OnePlus defeats the Hydra here. Even if the battery succumbs to usage, the provided charger and base supercharges the phone at lightning speeds, allowing the user to leave shortly after a ‘fast-charge.’
The cameras are a sight to behold on the OnePlus Nord N20. There are many functions on the camera, including a ‘night-mode’ function, which requires the deftest of hands to utilize, as you must hold the phone completely steady for a good 3 seconds before the capture is made.
Captures are made noticeably clear, with the portrait function outlining details that may even be missed while looking with the naked eye. The 64-MP camera powers through captures and videos without much stuttering or issues to work around, and while there are better phone cameras on the market, for the Nord N20 price this may be the best yet. A small gripe, however, is the front facing selfie camera is off to the left-hand corner, making it difficult to look at the camera while utilizing video chat. A centred camera would have made this more useful.
The Nord N20 is the cream of the crop when it comes to ‘budget’ smartphones. Many smartphone users elect to grab the premium device, such as the upgraded OnePlus 10 Pro flagship, yet never use the extra functionality that comes with the beefier specs. As a device that pushes the user from point A to point B, the Nord N20 performs admirably despite a few hiccups. Consumers in the market for a phone with a long shelf life should be warned that although OnePlus promised an Android 12 update, there is no commitment to an upgrade past that, so this phone may have a short lifespan when all is said and done.