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OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: £399 Android is a bargain iPhone SE rival

OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: £399 Android is a bargain iPhone SE rival

OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: £399 Android is a bargain iPhone SE rival

The OnePlus Nord 2 design is inspired by the OnePlus 9 series with a prominent camera module in the top corner (Metro.co.uk)

Despite being called the OnePlus Nord 2, this isn’t actually the direct sequel to last year’s excellent OnePlus Nord.

Since the first Nord phone was released, the Chinese phone maker has put out the Nord N100 and Nord N10 models as well as the Nord CE “core edition” variant.

Let’s just gloss over that though, shall we?

The idea here is that because OnePlus has gone full mainstream with the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, the Nord 2 is for those who don’t want to spend £800 on a phone.

It offers just about everything a regular user could want in a device at a price less than half that of the flagship.

The main talking point of the Nord 2 is OnePlus’ decision to shift away from Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processors to a Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI chip. While Mediatek’s chips are often poorly compared to Qualcomm’s, I found no discernable difference in performance against, say, a Snapdragon 765G inside the Pixel 5.

The switch to Mediatek may well be a pricing decision. I’m going out on a limb here and thinking it probably saved OnePlus some cash during production. The company’s official line is that using artificial intelligence means this chip is even better than a regular Mediatek processor at this level.

‘Built on TSMC’s 6nm process, the standard Dimensity 1200 boasts an ARM A78 architecture, providing 65% faster CPU performance and 125% GPU performance when compared to the performance on the OnePlus Nord released in July 2020,’ the company said.

‘OnePlus has worked closely with MediaTek to enhance the AI-based features of the processor. To highlight the new AI capabilities of the chipset, OnePlus and MediaTek have chosen the name Dimensity 1200-AI, distinguishing it from the standard Dimensity 1200.’

What that means, to most of us who just want to pick up and use a phone, is that it’s plenty swift when it comes to launching and running apps, playing games or snapping pictures.

The 6.3-inch OLED screen has a 90Hz refresh rate and plenty of brightness (Metro.co.uk)

The 6.3-inch OLED screen has a 90Hz refresh rate and plenty of brightness (Metro.co.uk)

Moving away from performance the rest of the specs are particularly decent for a mid-range phone. There’s a 6.43in FHD+ 90Hz OLED display, a triple-lens camera (one standard, one ultrawide and one monochrome) on the back and two possible storage configurations.

You can choose the base level £399 version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or the £469 version with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. I’m reviewing the latter.

As ever, there are some compromises to be aware of.

The OnePlus Nord 2 has no expandable storage (take that into account when deciding which of the above two models to buy) as well as no water resistance rating and no wireless charging capability. There’s also no 3.5mm headphone jack but I guess that’s hardly surprising anymore.

Despite what the glossy back may lead you to think, there’s no wireless charging on the OnePlus Nord 2 (Metro.co.uk)

If you can live without those, then there’s a lot to like about the Nord 2.

The glass back, corner camera bump and physical mute slider on the side are obvious design cues from the excellent OnePlus 9 Pro. What’s more, the screen is excellent.

There’s a factory-fitted screen protector and a fast under-display fingerprint scanner that’s very helpful if you’re masked up while out and about. While the flagships boast a 120Hz refresh rate, I found the 90Hz option on the Nord 2 perfectly suitable for day-to-day usage. At peak brightness, you can comfortably use this outside in direct sunlight.

Complimenting the screen are a pair of beefy stereo speakers that come in handy for media consumption.

I found the camera performance on the Nord 2 to be pretty good, but short of spectacular. Obviously, there’s no collaboration with Hasselblad here and, unlike the 9 Pro, the brand’s name and influence is nowhere to be found.

The rear-facing camera bump includes a main camera, ultra-wide camera and monochrome camera (Metro.co.uk)

The rear-facing camera bump includes a main camera, ultra-wide camera and monochrome camera (Metro.co.uk)

What’s also amusing is that OnePlus bills this as a ‘triple-camera’ system when the third in question is a just a 2-megapixel monochrome one that I doubt you’ll use very much unless you love black and white photography.

But the actual main camera? That’s using the same 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 sensor found in the Oppo Find X3 Pro and it’s put to good use here. OnePlus has also utilised the sensor for the secondary 12.5-megapixel ultrawide camera.

The Nord 2 uses an Auto HDR (high dynamic range) mode that works to balance the lighting on both foreground and background so you don’t have a wildly over or under exposed photo. If you’re just interested in pointing and shooting, this is for you.

The HDR smooths out the lighting - in reality there was a greater contrast of shade under the tree but it means the foreground and background are balanced (Metro.co.uk)

The HDR smooths out the lighting – in reality there was a greater contrast of shade under the tree but it means the foreground and background are balanced (Metro.co.uk)

I personally find OnePlus phones tend to favour a slightly more processed image that’s a bit more colourful than what’s produced by Google’s Pixel devices. There’s a self-explanatory ‘Night’ mode that takes a few seconds to produce very well-lit images in darker environments.

OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: £399 Android is a bargain iPhone SE rival
The OnePlus Nord 2 (L) seems to play up the colours and lighten the image when compared to the same picture taken on a Google Pixel 4 from 2019 (R) (Metro.co.uk)

If you switch over to the ultra-wide camera the quality seems to drop a bit and the image isn’t quite as rich as what the main camera offers. Similarly, you won’t get great zoom results here. There’s up to 10x digital zoom at your fingertips but it isn’t really worth using.

The wide-angle lens is good for landscapes but has a cooler tone than the main camera on the OnePlus Nord 2 (Metro.co.uk)
Don’t even bother with the 10x digital zoom (Metro.co.uk)

There’s also no dedicated macro mode, so shooting close-ups can be a bit hit and miss.

An attempt at macro photography with the OnePlus Nord 2 (Metro.co.uk)

The selfie camera, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. It’s a 32-megapixel sensor and also offers HDR as an option. There are the usual tricks: portrait mode, a timer and plenty of filters to change things up.

Videographers will find the Nord 2 can shoot 4K footage topping out at 30fps. There’s no 60fps or 8K video option here but the combination of optical and electric stabilization means that shaky video is kept to a minimum.

A cool little feature is the option to shoot video from both the front and back cameras at the same time. So you could be filming a scene and, at the same time, yourself talking about it.

The last thing to be aware of with the Nord 2 is the battery life. On board is a 4,500mAh battery that in no way, shape or form will last you longer than a day.

Thanks to the bright OLED screen, 5G connectivity and multitasking with all that RAM, it doesn’t take long to drain the battery down. However, the ace up the sleeve with OnePlus phones is always the fast charging. The bundled ‘Warp Charge’ 65W brick will juice the phone right back up again in 35 minutes.

From starting the day at the (admittedly, mad) time of 5.30am, I was down to the bare bones of battery by 9.30pm that night. And, as mentioned previously, there’s no wireless charging here. If you’re going to opt for the OnePlus Nord 2, you need to be prepared for little quick hits of charge rather than expecting it to run a marathon.

The Nord 2 5G comes in a choice of blue or grey (Metro.co.uk)

Still, the OnePlus Nord 2 stacks up pretty well against the competition. It’s priced the same as Apple’s budget option, the iPhone SE, which only offers a single camera, a smaller screen, no 5G and less storage.

For less than £400, this is a very capable and well-designed Android mid-ranger. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a ‘flagship killer’, but it’s got plenty to recommend it to the frugal phone buyer.

It comes in a choice of two colours – Blue Haze and Gray Sierra – and OnePlus has pledged to support the Nord 2 with two years of major Android updates and three years of security updates.


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