Why the OnePlus Nord is so familiar, yet so unique: In conversation with Shawn Liu, Head of Product

Why the OnePlus Nord is so familiar, yet so unique: In conversation with Shawn Liu, Head of Product

Reminiscent of the OnePlus X, yet so refreshingly new

The OnePlus Nord takes on a different meaning for everyone aware of its existence. For OnePlus, the Nord is a rerun towards its former territory of affordable yet powerful smartphones. For OnePlus fans, Nord is a premium mid-ranger that can beat any other in its category thanks to its rich array of features. For current or former OnePlus owners, the Nord is an excellent opportunity to relive the OnePlus experience once again, even without burning a hole in their pockets. OnePlus Nord, most importantly, is the culmination of the expectations of anyone who has ever used – and enjoyed — a OnePlus smartphone. Nord has also been conceived from the same principles as early devices from the company and offers compelling specifications at a great price.


While that is how we see Nord from the outside, we spoke to Mr. Shawn Liu, Head of Product of OnePlus Nord, to get insights about what led to the inception of this new mid-range device from a brand that has been devotedly making flagships. We also spoke about whether we can expect to see more phones with the Nord branding, and most importantly, what does Nord mean. And some more about what makes Nord a special phone.

Hands-on with the OnePlus Nord: The true OnePlus X successor
OnePlus Nord XDA Forums

How is OnePlus Nord positioned in the market alongside other OnePlus devices?

Before its launch, the device was known by several different names, and each one added to its personality in its own way. Not too long after the official unveiling of the OnePlus 7T series last year, the company’s prospective mid-range smartphone leaked online as the OnePlus 8 Lite. Eventually, the leakers’ community dug up evidence for the name OnePlus Z – a generational leap from the OnePlus X, which was the OG mid-ranger from OnePlus. Later we also heard about the device being referred to as “Avicii,” which actually happens to be the codename for this device – supposedly named after the deceased Swedish DJ.

While these names had some familiarity with previously launched devices, “Nord” is outrightly distinct. More importantly, the word Nord holds little importance for Indians as compared to European users. So the first question that arises in our minds is about the logic behind this brand new christening – and Mr. Liu shares OnePlus’ narrative.

The word Nord comes from the concept of true north… This product line reminds us to always search for our true north, and we hope it will keep reminding our users of their own.

While we are adapting our business strategy for more sustainable growth, our philosophy remains the same: We are focused on creating the best in class experiences for our users.

Beyond its geographical denotation and significance for the Scandinavian region, Nord represents OnePlus’ quest to soar and be at the top (of its market) and also inspire the users to follow the same route.

Another question that arises in our minds is about OnePlus’ strategy about Nord’s positioning among other devices, especially as the introduction of the Nord pushes the OnePlus 8 (review) in a complicated and somewhat awkward position. The Nord comes with more diverse camera setups on both — the front and back — as compared to the OnePlus 8. The OnePlus 8 Pro (review), on the other hand, can be visualized as the more flavorful flagship, meant to achieve parity with premium smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus. Meanwhile, last year’s flagship OnePlus 7T (review) continues to exist alongside the OnePlus 8 series as well as the Nord.

Mr. Liu helps draw a line between the Nord and the other devices. The OnePlus 8 series caters to the segment of users who are aware of the latest trends and are in search of the latest and the best technologies on their smartphones. OnePlus Nord, on the other hand, is “aimed to extend the OnePlus experience in more affordable price segments,” he tells us. For enthusiasts and new users, the OnePlus Nord clearly serves as the “entry path” to the OnePlus experience.

Will there be more Nords?

Despite competition from its siblings, the OnePlus Nord sits in a very comfortable position in terms of its pricing. This is reinforced by the reputation that OnePlus has built for itself in global markets on the back of first-class products — something that wasn’t really around at the time the OnePlus X was introduced. So will we see the company advance with more mid-range devices, presumably under the Nord branding?

Mr. Liu has an assuring answer to this question as he sees a definite scope for more devices that align with the Nord’s philosophy. He says:

While we are adapting our business strategy for more sustainable growth, our philosophy remains the same: We are focused on creating the best in class experiences for our users.

In addition, OnePlus has grown and flourished, and we have a better understanding of what our consumers want. Our R&D capabilities, resources and expertise have greatly improved since we launched OnePlus X.

OnePlus Nord as product

Mr. Liu also addressed some of our questions about the product itself, including our concerns about the lack of the headphone jack. OnePlus purged the headphone jack out of its ecosystem, starting with the OnePlus 6T in favor of its Bluetooth headset. Along with the Nord, OnePlus also launched its first pair of TWS earphones — the OnePlus Buds that fare well in our review.

For the users seeking choices in the mid-range segment, especially in India, the headphone jack is a vital feature to have. Yet, it has been skipped from the Nord — and Mr. Liu explains why. According to him, critical aspects such as “a flagship camera, smooth experience, and maintaining the OnePlus quality” have a higher priority. Accepting that the decision between keeping and removing the 3.5mm headphone jack from the Nord was tough, he tells us the choice for the latter option is backed by the company’s confidence in this decision.

The OnePlus Nord is easily seen as the spiritual successor to the OnePlux X (review) but with a few key differences, especially in performance. The OnePlus X was powered by a previous-generation flagship processor while the OnePlus Nord comes with the Snapdragon 765G that caters to the sub-premium rather than the flagship segment. Naturally, the OnePlus Nord does not fit the same cadre as the other recently launched smartphones when it comes to performance and gaming — even though the brand has always been hailed for its fast and smooth smartphones. On our question about gaming capabilities of the OnePlus Nord, Mr. Liu says, “One single feature cannot drive the overall functionality of a smartphone.

He goes on to assert:

Every smartphone built by OnePlus is made to perform with the promise of a fast and smooth experience, inherently making the OnePlus Nord a gaming phone.

On the matter of e-sports partnerships, he adds:

Our community which involves hardcore gamers have always appreciated our gaming initiatives via their participation and we will continue to explore opportunities in the future with brands which share our vision.

OnePlus Nord

Lastly, Nord’s mid-range configuration means it does not come with any IP ratings or protection against water damage. Interestingly, OnePlus phones until the OnePlus 8 Pro have lacked official IP ratings even though the phones have featured seals and gaskets to seal off the inlet of water into the phone. Addressing this, Mr. Liu says,

Our devices have always been equipped with the necessary components required to protect the hardware from water damage, regardless of an IP rating, which in most cases increases the cost of the device.

Mr. Liu also mentions that while Nord can survive being submerged 30cm under (presumably fresh) water for 30 seconds, it is not recommended to abuse this. More importantly, water damage is not covered under warranty, even in the case of phones that do come with IP ratings. He notes,

The OnePlus Nord can be submerged in 30cm of water for 30 seconds, but like all smartphones in the market today, it is not advisable to do so. Your warranty doesn’t cover water damage, and this is the case even with IP certified devices.

This unadvertised ability of the Nord is likely to let it remain safe in case of accidental, light splashes only, and we reiterate that users should not treat this as a stamp of water resistance.

OxygenOS – is it the best OnePlus Nord feature?

Mr. Liu says OnePlus is confident of producing more devices that approach the mid-tier with “refined user experience.” At the heart of this rich experience lies OxygenOS that has come to be one of the most preferred Android overlay skins for the smooth experience it offers. Mr. Liu affirms,

We look forward to bringing this experience to a larger audience through this product line and are excited to see what the future holds.

OnePlus’ OxygenOS has been heralded as one of the best choices for user experience by many seasoned Android users, including many experienced writers and editors on the XDA Developers Portal team. OnePlus has always been appreciative of the contribution made to OxygenOS by the community of users, and the same has been utilized for the OnePlus Nord.

1500 days of OxygenOS: Talking to OnePlus about custom ROMs, Open Ears, Android 10, and more

One example of this community-driven effort is the optimization of the camera experience on the OnePlus Nord based on the feedback shared by community users. OnePlus invited several community members with a knack for professional photography to software trials to improve the image quality and the overall Camera experience.

oneplus oxygenos

Besides, the OnePlus Nord comes with special features including Work-Life Balance, Shot on OnePlus (SOOP) app, and more specially designed for the users in India by the software R&D team in OnePlus’ new R&D center in Hyderabad, India. The R&D team in India has also contributed to maintaining the same smooth scrolling experience on the Nord’s 90Hz displays on the OnePlus 7 Pro/7T or the newer OnePlus 8 series by optimizing the GPU rendering.

When it comes to other features unique to the OnePlus Nord, it comes with a set of wallpapers inspired by elements common to the Nordic or Scandinavian region such as snow, sand, glacier, and stone. We have also ported out these wallpapers for you, including four live wallpapers that can be installed on any other OnePlus device. The brand has also created new ringtones for the OnePlus Nord ” inspired by the renowned electronic vibes from the Scandinavian region.

Download the OnePlus Nord wallpapers and live wallpapers

Besides software, the Indian team has also had significant contributions to the hardware of the OnePlus Nord. The team collaborated with the global R&D team in Taipei to produce new design formats and helped achieve the optimal design quality. Additionally, they worked with carriers from around the world to optimize 5G compatibility besides the stability of VoLTE and VoWiFi services on the device.

India as OnePlus’ global base

OnePlus believes that its R&D facility in India is bound to evolve as a global R&D base for the brand and especially owing to its contribution to software development. Mr. Liu tells us,

India is set to become the largest global software development base for OnePlus by 2022. India not only represents a very important market for OnePlus but equally represents a very impactful market of talent and resources that are impacting what we do globally.

Our team not only showcases the company’s state-of-the-art technology and innovations but also drives software innovations for global markets as well as India. We presently have over 300 employees and aim to have 1000 employees in the next two years.

OnePlus India R&D Center in Hyderabad - Logo Feature Image

OnePlus is undeniably one of the most sought after brands in the sub-premium segment. But despite the brilliance portrayed in the products, OnePlus has also been caught in the outrage and agitation against brands of Chinese origin following political tension and border escalations between India and China. Addressing this, Mr. Liu says,

We have always been and always will continue to focus on creating the best products out there and hope that our product speaks for us.

Our bond with our Indian community is extremely strong. We are humbled and overwhelmed at the same time to witness the kind of loyalty and support they have bestowed on us over the years.

OnePlus Nord is different!

OnePlus has been offering a hardcore and unleashed smartphone experience to smartphone users. OnePlus One – the first phone that the brand produced instantly became to be known as a flagship killer among in the community for its potential to replace significantly more expensive premium smartphones dominating the market back in the day. As opposed to the early set of phones with barebones specifications, OnePlus has been focussing on improving the quality of user experience since the OnePlus 3. With each increment to the product line, OnePlus phones have gotten slightly better than the previous model. But, the cost of these improvements (literally) has translated to a pronounced increase in prices of the newer phones.

The OnePlus Nord is different, yet former and existing OnePlus users should feel right at home with it!

About author

Tushar Mehta
Tushar Mehta

I am a Senior Editor at XDA. I have been reviewing gadgets for over five years and gained experience by working for prominent tech publications in India before joining XDA. I enjoy fiddling with all smart objects and my love for software customization dates back to the Symbian S60 days. I like to devote my spare time idealizing the romantic union of technology and philosophy or spacing out on Pink Floyd. You may email me at [email protected]

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