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Pretty phone with some questionable choices | #android | #security | #hacking | #aihp


The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is in the house, and there’s a lot to love here for an inexpensive Android phone. The successor to the Snapdragon 690-powered Nord N10 5G, the Nord N20 has a Snapdragon 695 with an improved CPU and the same GPU. Aside from the internal improvements, there’s a better camera, a 60Hz AMOLED display instead of a 90Hz LCD, and 33W SuperVOOC charging. It also comes with an all-new design, which actually reminds me a bit of the OnePlus X (that’s right; we’re going back to those days).

There’s a lot to unpack here. It’s a lot of good, some bad, and frankly, most of the bad goes away when you factor in the price point for the intended market.

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OnePlus Nord N20 5G: Specifications

Specification OnePlus Nord N20 5G
Display
  • 6.43-inch FHD+ AMOLED
  • 60Hz refresh rate
SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 695
RAM & Storage
  • 6GB RAM + 128GB storage
  • Expandable up to 512GB
Battery & Charging
  • 4,500mAh
  • 33W wired fast charging
Security In-display fingerprint scanner
Rear Camera(s)
  • Primary: 64MP
  • Monochrome: 2MP
  • Macro: 2MP
Front Camera(s) 16MP
Port(s) USB Type-C
Audio N/A
Connectivity
  • 5G
  • 4G LTE
  • Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth
Software OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11

About this hands-on: OnePlus US shared the OnePlus Nord N20 5G with us for review. OnePlus did not have any input in this hands-on.

OnePlus Nord N20: Design and Display

I want to be clear that in my opinion, this is the most beautifully designed OnePlus device that we’ve seen in a very long time. I wish this was the OnePlus 10 Pro; it looks so good. The Nord N10 5G looked like a plasticky version of a premium OnePlus device, with smaller camera housing. In other words, if you held a Nord N10 next to a OnePlus 9 Pro, it was clear that the Nord was the cheaper sibling.

That’s not the case anymore. The Nord N20 has a flat back and flat sides, something we haven’t seen in a OnePlus device since the Snapdragon 801-powered OnePlus X. Indeed, despite the 8-series processor, the X was the firm’s first attempt at the mid-range, so the throwback is fitting.

The blue color sparkles in the light, and it’s delightful to look at. This is a device that looks and feels premium.

OnePlus Nord N20 side view

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G keeps the headphone jack. I didn’t test it out, because frankly, I haven’t used a headphone jack in years. But the option is there for users who want to, and that is what matters.

OnePlus Nord N20 side view

Just like its predecessor, the Nord N20 doesn’t have my favorite OnePlus feature, the alert slider to turn on and off notification sounds. On the OnePlus 10 Pro and other flagships, it has settings for sound, vibrate, and silent. You won’t find it here, so you have to toggle the sound states from the software as you do on every other Android device.

Top-down view of OnePlus Nord N20

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G has a 6.43-inch 2,400 x 1,080 AMOLED display, which has a 60Hz refresh rate. Thanks to the AMOLED technology, you get true blacks and more vibrant colors than the backlit LCD that was on the N10. However, as tends to be the case with budget phones like this, that comes with a trade-off. The screen is indeed prettier, but it doesn’t have the 90Hz refresh rate that we saw on the N10.

I don’t want to go too deep into the refresh rate, because frankly, this is a sub-$300 phone and the scope of this article is not to compare it to the 120Hz screen on the OnePlus 10 Pro. That would be silly. The OLED screen is beautiful, but it’s not as smooth as the screen on the N10. Devices outside of the US do come with a better positioned 90Hz AMOLED that would have been a good upgrade for this Nord series, but the US market has fewer options when you go down the budget. So you get a 60Hz AMOLED instead. The phone also comes with a hole-punch cut-out, which is a bit smaller than the one on its predecessor.

Close-up of hole-punch cut-out

Ultimately, I love the design of this device, and for the price, I like the display as well. This is a phone that feels good to carry, and I reckon that average consumers shopping in this price range will agree on these points as well.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G has a 64MP f/1.8 camera, which needs work

Alright, I’ve praised the design, so now it’s time to look at something that doesn’t work. That’s the camera. I have no doubt that OnePlus will improve this with a few updates in the first few weeks of availability, but you should not rely on that happening.

Blue phone on brown chair

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G has a 64MP main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture, and that’s it. There’s no ultra-wide sensor, and no telephoto lens. It has a couple of sticker cameras, including a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens, both of which will provide zero value to you throughout the lifetime of the phone. We call them sticker lenses because they may as well be stickers, and they only serve the purpose of allowing the OEM to say that it’s a triple-lens camera.

First, let’s go straight into samples, including some from the 16MP front camera.

I didn’t go too crazy, since this is just a hands-on article and I’ve only had the phone for a short period. You’ve got some low-light photos from when I was out to dinner, and some nighttime photos. There are some issues here. First, we’re going to compare one of these photos to one taken with the iPhone 13 Pro. Yes, I know it’s silly to compare a $300 phone to a thousand-dollar phone, but this isn’t about hardware quality. It’s about the color reproduction.

To be clear, I originally had no intention of shooting this shot with my iPhone at all, and to be clear, it’s the iPhone that’s accurate while the Nord is completely washed out. The reason I pulled out my iPhone was that I saw the results on the Nord and realized just how bad they were. It’s really bad.

Here’s the issue. In my opinion, smartphone cameras require a lot of trust. Even with a $300 smartphone, the user is going to use that camera, and they need to know what they’re getting when they take that phone out of their pocket to get that shot. The biggest flaw is taking a picture and not knowing if you’ll get the desired result. Other pictures looked fine. This one looks horrible.

Other shortcomings of the camera are pretty typical for a mid-ranger like this one. The nighttime photos don’t handle tricky lighting very well, and it’s tough to focus on certain parts of images like flowers.

33W SuperVOOC charging is fast

This year’s OnePlus 10 Pro ships with 80W SuperVOOC charging (and 65W SuperVOOC in the US), but we shouldn’t ignore just how fast 33W SuperVOOC is on a sub-$300 device. The Nord N10 supported Warp Charge 30T, and I’ve noticed relatively slow charging speeds from plugging the 33W SuperVOOC charger into it. Frankly, that’s neither here nor there, as the charger does come in the box, so you probably won’t use a Nord N20 charger to charge a Nord N10, or vice versa.

I did compare the charging speed to that of the OnePlus 10 Pro, which actually uses 65W SuperVOOC in the United States, so to be clear, 80W charging isn’t being used here.

OnePlus Nord N20 charging chart

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G took 73 minutes to charge from 0-100% for its 4,500mAh battery, which is pretty great. With double the wattage, the OnePlus 10 Pro takes half the time, which shouldn’t be surprising. You also get up to 80% in less than 45 minutes, so you’re still getting a lot of juice in a short amount of time.

Performance is solid, but incremental

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G packs a Snapdragon 695 chipset and 6GB LPDDR4x RAM, along with 128GB UFS 2.2 storage. This is a modest improvement over the Snapdragon 690 that was in the Nord N10, especially given that the predecessor had the same RAM and the same amount of storage, although the storage in the N10 was UFS 2.1. You continue to retain the microSD slot on this device as well.

Geekbench single-core Geekbench multi-core AnTuTu
OnePlus Nord N10 5G 605 1,847 345,671
OnePlus Nord N20 5G 687 1,956 375,885

Given the price, I feel like you’re getting more than you pay for here. The biggest competitor in the space is going to be Motorola’s Moto G, and I don’t think they’re as competitive as they used to be. Even the latest Moto G costs $100 more than this, packing an HD 90Hz display, 6GB RAM, and a Dimensity 700.

Also, strangely, the Nord N20 runs Android 11, which seems like an odd choice given that Android 13 is around the corner. OnePlus is promising one major update, which will then bring this device to Android 12 in the future. The device should have launched with Android 12 in 2022, which would then give any water to the update promise — otherwise, OnePlus is just playing catchup. The company does promise a total of three years of security updates as well.

Conclusion

There is a lot that I love about the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, and there’s some that I don’t. Let’s start with the bad.

The camera is unacceptable. The reason that it’s unacceptable isn’t to do with low-light performance or general image quality. If that was the case, it would be a matter of managing expectations. It’s unacceptable because you won’t know if you’re going to get a good photo or not. Things might be fine most of the time, but then you’ll go to shoot the wrong color in the wrong lighting, and suddenly, you won’t be able to capture that memory the way you remember it.

Angled view of OnePlus phone on a tree

The display feels shaky if you’re used to a higher refresh rate, but that AMOLED screen sure does look pretty. And I have to say, if I’m choosing between this 60Hz AMOLED display or the 90Hz LCD of the Nord N10, I’m picking this one. Your opinion may differ, and yes, a 90Hz AMOLED would have served the best of both worlds.

And of course, the design of this phone is just stunning. I wasn’t kidding when I said I think this is the prettiest phone since the OnePlus X. It’s a touch of Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro with the frosted back, a touch of the LG Velvet with the lack of a large camera housing, and yet it’s still definitively OnePlus. You’ll feel good about carrying this around. 33W SuperVOOC charging is pretty sweet too. A lot of companies still aren’t including charging with this wattage in flagships, let alone lower mid-tier devices.

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is available now from T-Mobile for $282 full price, or free if you add a new line. At that price, it becomes hard to see faults even though some choices on the phone can be considered questionable. The US smartphone market does not have a whole lot of good options under $300, and if you care about the experience beyond the simple spec sheet, the OnePlus Nord N20 ticks that box and lets you get a phone that seemingly works for what it says it can do. The previous Nords have done well in the US market, and there’s nothing really here that fundamentally impedes this one from doing so again. So if you are in the market for a budget smartphone, the OnePlus Nord N20 is worth considering.

    The OnePlus Nord N20 5G looks to succeed the Nord N10 in the US market, but makes some curious decisions in the process like a lower refresh rate but AMOLED display, Android 11, and more.

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