OnePlus Nord 2 Review: do you even need a flagship?14
The OnePlus Nord 2 is the company's FE moment. And if you ever wondered about what happened to OnePlus flagship killers, well... they're back. Unfortunately, the Nord 2 might first slaughter OnePlus flagships before killing others. Let me explain.
One year after its launch, we now have the sequel: the OnePlus Nord 2. This one has got to be better, but also has to leave some exclusive features for the money-making flagships. After using it for a while, we’re not sure it leaves much for the flagships, as this phone outlives expectations easily. OnePlus made a gamble by using a different chip inside this phone, not made by Qualcomm like most others, but a MediaTek one, and this gamble might just be what defines the Nord 2. It also improved the camera, the speakers, all without changing the looks and styling. It is much like what Samsung did with the popular Galaxy S20 FE, a phone similar to the flagship ones, equipped with a top-notch processor, all at an affordable price. That's kind of what the Nord 2 is as well.
There are two models of the phone: the base version has 8GB of RAM and 128 gigs of on board storage and costs 400 euro, and then you can also step up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB storage for 500 euro. There is also a cheaper model with 6GB RAM/128GB storage for India, but it is not likely to arrive to other markets. Also, OnePlus does not plan on releasing any version of the Nord 2 in the US, ever. We don't really know why, but consumers in the US will only get the cheaper N series.
Design, Colors and Size
Ideal size for most people and a premium feel thanks to the glass back
The Nord 2 is right in that sweet spot of not being too small, nor too gigantic. With a 6.4-inch screen, tiny bezels and a modern look, this is a phone that most people can work with.
As for build quality, there really aren’t that many compromises as you might expect on a budget phone: the back is made of glass, only the frame and the sides of the phone are plastic, but it all feels solidly put together. It is a phone that feels substantial. At 189g (6.5oz) of weight, it is about the same size and weight as the original. We just recently reviewed its cheaper sibling, the Nord CE, and that one was an all-plastic true light-weight at 170g (6oz), while the Nord 2 does feel a bit hefty.
You also get 3 fresh looking colorways, our favorite is the smooth Blue Haze model, but the others also look interesting:
- Gray Sierra — inspired by the shiny chassis of luxury sports cars, 3D anti-glare glass that feels thinner and with a more rounded shape
- Blue Haze — porcelain-like finish that bends and reflects light for a visual appearance that sparkles
- Green Wood — cool and leathery pine-tree look
All of the colors look and feel premium, and having the same camera styling as the flagship OnePlus 9 series adds to that. The only thing missing here is the Hasselblad branding, but we’ll see if that actually matters a bit later in the image section.
What you also get is the signature for OnePlus 3-way physical mute key, so you can easily slide it to switch between ring, vibrate and silent modes. There is no headphone jack here, in case you were wondering. You also don’t get any special water protection rating. OnePlus phones are usually well engineered not to let water in, but no official IP rating here so don’t get too adventurous and definitely don’t try intentionally dunking this phone in water.
Finally, we love that while other phone makers remove items from the box, OnePlus gives you a lovely see-through case for free. How many other manufacturers do that? Kudos to OnePlus for that! It is those little details that OnePlus always gets right and that are all the more impressive in the context of a budget phone.
6.4" 90Hz AMOLED for pretty colors and smooth scrolling
While the Nord 2 brings upgrades in a few key areas, the display seems to have remained mostly the same as on the original. You get a 6.4-inch AMOLED screen with 1080p resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. It’s a flat screen, with no curves, which we honestly prefer. But it’s also an all-around excellent screen with the typical for OLED deep blacks, excellent contrast and great viewing angles.
The only two areas where it falls slightly behind screens on more expensive flagships is the lack of support for HDR and the lower peak brightness, so a more expensive phone usually gets brighter and a bit easier to use outdoors. However, when you’re outdoors, a new Smart Ambient Display mode kicks in to improve readability.
We should also mention the 90Hz, a welcome feature, but again it is limited a bit by the processor. Everything scrolls smoothly on a simple webpage, but if you scroll around Twitter or the ‘Gram you’ll notice a bit of a micro-stutter, it’s one of those little things that feel a bit better on a flagship.
We also do appreciate that you get a pre-applied plastic screen protector which protects from scratches.
How good is the new MediaTek chip?
Of course, you cannot have everything on a budget phone... or can you? The Nord 2 is equipped with a processor you probably haven't used before: the MediaTek 1200 rather than a chip made by Qualcomm (last year’s Nord ran the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor).
We were incredibly curious about this chip: we know that it’s made on TSMC’s 6nm process and OnePlus promises up to 65% faster CPU performance and 125% GPU performance compared to the first-gen Nord. Those are some big numbers.
And it seems that this OnePlus' gamble has paid off handsomely. The phone feels incredibly fast in daily use, but also crushes the benchmarks, here is how it compares against other phones of the same price range, it is almost out of their league (the iPhone SE is still more powerful, though).
OnePlus made a gamble by using a processor from a company different than Qualcomm, but it was a great call: the phone beats most of the rivals at the same price range handsomely, and competes with way costlier devices. While it doesn't overheat, it does tend to warm up a bit under load, so that's one one thing that we ought to mention.
Can it finally compete?
We loved the original Nord for its speed, but the cameras were... just fine, not quite the best in class. So we were excited to hear OnePlus is moving to a brand new 50MP Sony sensor for the main camera, and dropping the gimmicky depth sensor and macro cameras of the original. Plus, that new camera styling looks so good!
OnePlus says that you get a triple camera system on the back, but you really have only two of them that count: the main one and the ultra-wide. The third one is a monochrome sensor for black and white photos… and hear us out, OnePlus, every app out there has a black-and-white filter that does the same job! This third camera simply doesn’t make any sense.
- Main 50MP Sony IMX 766 camera with OIS, f/1.88 aperture
- 8MP ultra-wide camera
- 2MP mono camera
What we want to highlight here is the sensor for the main camera that just so happens to be the same one that OnePlus uses in its much more expensive OnePlus 9 flagship series. Promising, right?
For selfie shooters, the second generation Nord drops the dual front camera setup in favor of just a single, wide lens:
- 32MP front camera with Sony IMX615 sensor, 1080p front video
The warmer colors on the Nord 2 represent the sunset better in this picture, you get better gradient in the skies, the blacks are not crushed that badly as on the first-gen phone, and the image as a whole looks gentler, more balanced and more likable.
In low-light, the Nord 2 again captures richer colors and more light in dim environments. There were less blurry photos too and the camera app felt faster.
Is this the best camera in this price range? Not quite: we noticed a few issues with the photos, the one that bothered us the most has to be a yellow/green tint to most of the photos, so you don't get enough color contrast, colors are just not as rich as they should be, and in low light, photos often come out with a very noticeable orange tint, especially when there's incandescent light involved.
If we had to pin-point one area where the original Nord fell a bit short, that was video recording. Apart from the mediocre footage, it had severe limitations: you couldn’t switch to the ultra-wide camera once you had started recording with the main one, for example. We also noticed that continuous auto-focus was sluggish in video. So… we were really curious to see if OnePlus actually fixed those issues with the Nord 2.
The Nord 2 also has a few tricks up its sleeve like the new Dual View video mode where you can have footage from the rear and front cameras all at once, great if you are trying to explain something.
Audio Quality and Haptics
Speaking of fixing things, the original Nord came with a single bottom firing speaker that just didn’t keep up with the no-compromise approach everywhere else. It was loud, sure, but lacked any depth and sounded annoyingly tinny.
Thankfully, the Nord 2 improves that as it adopts a pair of stereo speakers that deliver richer sound, with more bass to it. It's still not a great speaker, in case you're wondering, but it's a big improvement. What it lacks is still a bit of definition and clarity, but it is loud enough and gets the job done way better than the original.
Haptics 2.0 are also here to give the Nord 2 a better tactile experience. The original Nord also had good haptics, but here you get a more pronounced vibration feedback which will not let you miss notifications, but also is discrete enough to help you typing faster.
4,500mAh battery keeps the lights on longer
One of the most appreciated upgrades coming with the Nord 2 is a bigger battery. While the original had a 4,115mAh battery inside, the second-gen jumps to a 4,500mAh capacity.
That means a full 0 to 100 charge in just around 30 minutes, a feature that even the most expensive Samsung and Apple devices don’t have. And that is hugely impressive. OnePlus pulls this off with one clever trick: it uses a Dual Cell battery, basically meaning that you have two tiny batteries that charge simultaneously splitting the 65W power input from the charger. We did not quite get a full charge in 30 minutes in our testing, but it was close.
Nord 2 charging times:
- 5 mins -- 8%
- 15 mins - 30%
- 30 mins - 71%
- 40 mins - 93%
- 44 mins - full charge
Conclusion, Software Updates and Alternatives
At the end of the day, the Nord 2 takes the excellent first-gen Nord and delivers improvements in almost every aspect, perfecting an already great formula. The gamble to use a MediaTek chip has paid off big time: this phone is impressively fast, much faster than others in its price bucket.
On the topic of longevity, OnePlus promises two major updates, and since the phone ships with Android 11, that means you will get Android 12 in 2022, and Android 13 in 2023, oso that's compromise compared to flagship phones that get 3 years of major updates.
Interestingly, the Nord 2 might also be a direct competitor to the costlier Galaxy S20 FE. The Nord 2 with its impressively fast processor is almost on par with that phone, and the only major feature missing on the Nord is a zoom camera, but the Galaxy lacks the fast charging and a few other OnePlus tricks.