OnePlus Nord 2 Review: Easily my favorite OnePlus phone
The OnePlus Nord 2 is the company’s first for a couple of things. It’s the first smartphone from OnePlus to feature a MediaTek chip for one, and it’s also the first smartphone to launch with the product of the OxygenOS and ColorOS merger. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Nord, as I found the value proposition it gave wasn’t up to snuff with other smartphones you can buy in Europe. The OnePlus Nord 2 changes the game a little bit, and I’m extremely impressed with it.
OnePlus Nord 2: Specifications
|Specification||OnePlus Nord 2 5G|
|Dimensions & Weight|
|SoC||MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI|
GPU: ARM G77 MC9
|RAM & Storage|
|Battery & Charging|
|Security||In-display fingerprint sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||32MP Sony IMX 615, f/2.45|
|Port(s)||USB Type-C USB 2.0|
|Audio||Dual Stereo Speakers|
|Software||OxygenOS 11.3 based on Android 11|
|Other Features||Alert Slider|
About this review: I received the OnePlus Nord 2 for review from OnePlus UK on July 20th, 2021. My colleague Aamir Siddiqui also received a unit from OnePlus India for a hands-on. OnePlus did not have any input on the contents of this review, nor on the previous hands-on.
OnePlus Nord 2: Design
The OnePlus Nord 2 features a lot of “OnePlus” design language, particularly in the camera bump. It looks very similar to the camera bump in the OnePlus 9 — one large sensor above another, one small sensor, and one flashlight. My thinking for this is OnePlus wants the Nord 2 to look like a flagship, even if it isn’t. There’s also the coveted alert slider on the side that you can use to switch between silent, vibrate only, and full notification sounds.The back of my Haze Blue unit doesn’t attract any fingerprints. It has a glossy feel to it and is somewhat slippery in the hands, but if you can get past that, then this is a perfect no-case smartphone. I was slightly surprised to see that Nord Blue didn’t make a reappearance (given that “Nord” is even in the name), and I prefer how the original Nord Blue looks. Even still, if it’s not to your taste, you can pick up the device in Gray Sierra instead for a more muted look.
The OnePlus Nord 2 isn’t a compact smartphone by any means, but it’s definitely a little bit shorter than some of the flagships I’ve used this year. I can more or less continuously use it one-handed, with the occasional need for my other hand to tap something at the top of the display. It’s also light because it’s smaller, so it’s comfortable in that respect, too. I’ve been able to watch YouTube and Netflix on it without any problems whatsoever, though I would prefer a larger screen for media consumption.
The back of the phone is glass, and the sides are plastic with a “metalized” coating. It’s basically just a glossy plastic, and you’re able to feel that when holding it.
OnePlus Nord 2: Display
The OnePlus Nord 2 features a Full HD, 90Hz AMOLED panel that comes in at 6.43-inches with a 20:9 aspect ratio. It gets sufficiently bright (though it can be difficult to see under direct sunlight) and looks good for all kinds of content. The hole-punch camera may be an eyesore for some who want to get into gaming or who like to consume a lot of content on their smartphones, but otherwise, it’s perfectly fine for the average user.
I’ve found the display is very consistent too. An easy way to test a display for inconsistent brightness is to set the brightness to its lowest, open up an incognito tab in Google Chrome, and then look around the display. Screen uniformity has been an issue with some OnePlus devices in the past, but my OnePlus Nord 2 unit is more or less completely uniform. Keep in mind not all AMOLED panels are completed equal, and even if this is not a problem for my unit, it may be for yours. It’s also important to understand this is admittedly a niche case and for most people, it’s not something that’s even noticeable outside of opening up an incognito tab and actively looking for a non-uniform display. Rest assured, in day-to-day usage, it is completely unnoticeable.
From an eye test, the display seems to maintain its 90 Hz refresh rate at nearly all times. There’s no fancy display tech here, meaning you won’t be getting HDR support or a super bright display. There’s no 10-bit color support either, making this a rather standard panel. There’s nothing really wrong with that at this price point, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s a fairly practical display that will get the job done without any fluff on top.
OnePlus Nord 2: Performance
The performance of the OnePlus Nord 2 is likely the biggest question mark for many. MediaTek has never been known for performance and even quit making flagship SoCs a couple of years ago after failing to compete with Qualcomm. The company has seen somewhat of a renaissance with its Dimensity line of chips, and so far, I’ve had fantastic experiences with each that I’ve tried. The MediaTek Dimensity 1200 AI is no different.
The MediaTek Dimensity 1200 AI was built as part of a collaboration between MediaTek and OnePlus and places a pretty heavy emphasis on — you guessed it, artificial intelligence. The Dimensity 1200 features an octa-core SoC, with a “prime” Cortex-A78 core clocked up to 3GHz, while the other three performance cores are Cortex-A78 cores clocked up to 2.6GHz. The other four cores are Cortex-A55 clocked at up to 2.0GHz.
As for the GPU, it comes with a nine-core ARM Mali-G77 GPU, supporting MediaTek’s HyperEngine 3.0 gaming technologies. This includes 5G call and data concurrency support, as well as a multi-touch boost for increased touchscreen responsiveness. The complete combination also allows support for ray tracing in games and AR apps, and it also supports super hotspot power savings.What all of this translates into is a performance-oriented smartphone that certainly makes the mark. It’s undoubtedly a step up over the Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G that was used in the original Nord, and it’s around the same level as a Qualcomm Snapdragon 870 in terms of raw performance. I haven’t noticed a boost to artificial intelligence in any way, shape, or form, but it apparently primarily powers some of the company’s AI-based features as part of OxygenOS.
Sustained performance, storage speed, and gaming
The OnePlus Nord 2 has very good sustained performance and even went more or less toe-to-toe with the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. It throttled to 74% of its performance after half an hour of stress testing using the CPU Throttling Test app on the Google Play Store. That means there should be minimal impact to performance in long gaming sessions, with only the most taxing of games dragging it down. The storage speed also won’t be a bottleneck for your favorite games and apps, as the UFS 3.1 storage is extremely quick. Games like COD Mobile and PUBG load quickly with no noticeable speed issues.
I’ve been playing Wii games and GameCube games as well on smartphones, and I’ve found the gaming performance on the OnePlus Nord 2 has been perfectly apt, though obviously not quite on the same level as a typical flagship smartphone. Games like The Simpsons: Hit & Run play well through Dolphin Emulator but are noticeably not being played on a Snapdragon 888, with occasional hitches I expected from a mid-range smartphone. Mario Kart Wii plays well, as does New Super Mario Bros: Wii. It’s not going to be a perfect emulation device, but for the price and performance it offers, it does a pretty great job as a portable emulation machine on a budget.
Battery and Charging
The MediaTek 1200 AI isn’t a particularly power-hungry chipset from my usage of the phone, though it’s also not the most power-efficient that I’ve used. From my testing, it seems to be marginally better than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 for battery life but still isn’t incredible. It’s been quite changeable, ranging anywhere from four hours of screen-on-time with heavy usage to up to six hours. Six hours is much higher than I’ve ever got on a Snapdragon 888 device, but about average for devices like the Google Pixel 5.
The charging speed of the OnePlus Nord 2 makes the at-times-poor battery life acceptable for my use case. Coming in at 65W, this device can charge up in merely half an hour, and it can charge up to about 60% in just 15 minutes. While it won’t suit everyone to trade battery life for charging speed, I generally prefer a slightly sacrificed battery life for a faster charging speed. The OnePlus Nord 2 battery life certainly isn’t bad and gets me through the day pretty much all the time, but it’s also easy for me to top it off if I really need to for a few minutes before I leave my house or anywhere where there’s a plug.
CameraThe OnePlus Nord 2 has an interesting camera arrangement, as the primary sensor (which has optical image stabilization) is the same sensor as the one powering the wide-angle camera on the OnePlus 9 series. There’s no Hasselblad branding here, but the camera is capable of some pretty great shots. The OnePlus Nord 2 has a great primary camera sensor, full stop. Not for a mid-range, but in general it’s very good, even if the other sensors aren’t very good. The wide-angle camera gets the job done, and the monochrome camera merely exists. I think OnePlus struck a great price-to-performance ratio here.
In video performance, the OnePlus Nord 2 has greatly impressed me. I attended my first concert in over a year in the United Kingdom, and the OnePlus Nord 2 handled it like a champ. I was slightly worried I had only brought the Nord 2 for photos and videos in case it wasn’t good enough, but it was pretty much just as good as anything else I could have brought with me. The stabilization is also noticeable, too.
Software: OxygenOS based on ColorOS
This is the first phone to be released with the product of the OxygenOS and ColorOS merger. This has been one of the better OxygenOS experiences in a long time, but there are still a handful of problems. For starters: “OxygenOS” is clearly a skin on top of ColorOS, and some elements have barely been changed at all. The camera app is just the OPPO Camera (even though the package name says it’s the “OPLUS Camera”) complete with OPPO’s icons, and the battery statistics page is lifted straight from ColorOS. I don’t have a problem with any of that, but it’s interesting just how obvious the merge is in some places.
There’s nothing wrong with ColorOS, and there haven’t been any major problems with it for a long time that don’t exist in other Android variants. ColorOS on the OPPO Find X3 Pro is my favorite Android variant, and I don’t have a lot of bad things to generally say about it. If the merger can streamline the process of adding features and ultimately lead to a better experience, then it doesn’t make sense to have a problem with it, in my eyes.
However, there is one problem I’ve run into, and it relates to notifications. Previously, there have generally been issues with OnePlus smartphones and notifications. We’ve seen it time and time again, and it’s been one of the most consistent problems on any OnePlus smartphone to date. Interestingly though, it’s only with Slack. It’s not that the notifications are delayed, it’s that they never even come through at all. I’ve spoken to other reviewers who mention having the same problem, but those reviewers also confirmed that, just like me, it’s also the only app they have problems with.I don’t have problems with Gmail, I don’t have problems with WhatsApp, I don’t have problems with Facebook Messenger — yet all of these are apps I’ve had problems with on previous OxygenOS devices, and it’s so close to being perfect. I’m hoping OnePlus spots this problem and fixes it because if they do, I pretty much have no complaints. Dont Kill My App rates OPPO’s ColorOS pretty highly for notification delivery, which I believe has been carried over to the OnePlus Nord 2 for the most part.
In terms of features, all of your favorite OxygenOS features are here on the OnePlus Nord 2. It has the same user interface, the OnePlus Shelf (as part of the OnePlus Launcher), gaming mode, zen mode, and parallel apps to name a few. I haven’t found any features I actively used in OxygenOS before not included here, and I imagine the company has brought over all of the most-used features, if not everything.
The OnePlus Nord 2 is a return to form for OnePlus
I don’t generally like to commemorate companies on returning to more “consumer-centric” loyalty, as the motive of any company is to make a profit. No matter what, any move that tries to bring a lower-cost phone to consumers is still in the interest of the company, so they can make money on their other products in the future. Even still, the OnePlus Nord 2 manages to capitalize on the “Never Settle” mantra in a way I don’t think the company has in a long time.
The dual stereo speakers are decent (though generally, the top one is not hugely noticeable), battery life is pretty good, there’s NFC, fast charging, a fantastic camera, and you even get an included case and charger in the box. It’s an excellent all-in-one package the company has put together at a much lower price than I would’ve expected, coming in at €399 / ₹29,999 for the base model. The MediaTek Dimensity 1200 is absolutely worthy of being in a flagship smartphone, yet here it is in the OnePlus Nord 2 instead. There’s no compromise on performance, and that’s all that matters for most people.
I’m a big fan of the OnePlus Nord 2, and I think this is one of the best phones the company has made in a very long time. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Nord, this phone is certainly different, and I think its well-balanced spec sheet and much-improved software will help it go even further in sales than the original Nord did. This is genuinely a flagship experience for less.