OnePlus Nord 2 5G Review: Affordable power

When the original OnePlus One was launched in 2014, it came in at a price of Rs 21,999. Despite having a few bugs, it seemed to be an unbelievable rate compared to other ‘flagship’ phones, which is to say the most expensive ones. The landscape has changed over the years and the OnePlus decided that they didn’t need to settle for super-affordable powerhouse devices. Once they had proved themselves, it was time to up the ante.

Soon, the price of OnePlus’ main phone began to creep ever upward. To retain goodwill and sell more devices, they had released scaled down versions and offered them at lower prices. Now, in Series 9, we have the 9R, 9, 9Pro and the more affordable Nord CE and the just-launched Nord 2. Prices range from Rs 24,999 to Rs 69,999.

Oxygen not in shortage

The one overwhelming aspect of OnePlus’ new phone is that the brand is going back to its Oppo roots. It is uncertain how this re-assimilation will pan out in the future. But the Nord 2 is the first device to show that the tide has turned.

There is no longer a a strong ‘bond’ with the ‘stock Android’ with regards to the much-loved OxygenOS – the interface that has been the biggest strength of OnePlus phones so far. Now, elements from ColorOS – the software used on Oppo phones – have crept in, disconcerting those who didn’t expect them. For now, none of the changes are making any earth shattering difference. In fact, they are more of an annoyance for those who have been really aware of each feature of OxygenOS. But it’s worrying because the interface underwent a recent overhaul in any case and now will be pulling in ColorOS elements. This would take it further away from the operating system that was once voted to be better than Android itself. Could this be the full transition to ColorOS?

The differences are visible in the camera app and some of the settings. But, in the larger scheme of things, OnePlus says users won’t even notice as the changes are behind-the-scenes and to the codebase. OnePlus says the leveraging of Oppo’s resources will only make the system more stable and strong.

Unmistakeable OnePlus

On the outside, in terms of design, the Nord 2 looks like the rest of the series 9 phones for this year. If you compare the phone to one of the OnePlus 9 phones, you can see that the Nord 2 is from the same family. It comes in four colours. One of them is an interesting olive green with a faux leather finish. I would have loved to get my hands on that, but I have the haze blue variant, and this has used before on the original Nord and other models.

The build seems strong and sturdy and although I didn’t intend to, I have dropped the device twice —without a case and without damage. Though the front and back are both glass, the frame is “plastic made to look like metal”. No major complaints though.

The sides of the Nord 2 look fine. It does, thankfully, have the famous alert slider unlike the Nord CE. But there isn’t a 3.5mm jack.

The 6.4-inch screen is a simple 1080p AMOLED with a HDR10+ support and a 90Hz refresh rate. If you haven’t experienced a 120Hz screen this won’t matter. It isn’t a specially bright display so if you’re out in the sun a lot, choose something else. The bezels are thin, in keeping with phones today but the lower edge is ever so slightly thicker. Overall, it’s a fine display.

This a nice phone to hold, especially with its 6.4 inch display and the ergonomics are quite good. Except that the phone is slippery (which is how I dropped it) so you better use a case — or pick up the Green Wood edition. The is lighter than say the OnePlus 9 Pro, which has done its bit to carry my repetitive stress injury forward.

Dimensity power

If there’s one feature that’s totally different on this phone, it’s the Mediatek’s Dimensity 1200 chipset. Moreover, it has been customised and fine-tuned for the Nord 2 in some way. It’s equivalent to the earlier flagship processor, Snapdragon 865. On the device that I had, it was paired with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. It’s quite fast and zips through all ‘regular’ tasks. It’s not designed to be particularly a gamer’s phone, but can handle games. Haptics have been improved over recent OnePlus phones.

There’s been recent controversy over OnePlus ‘throttling’ performance, resulting is some apps running slower than usual. This is mostly to preserve battery and prevent heating. This time OnePlus has given users the option of going full throttle if they want — but they then have to take the hit on battery life and also tolerate the phone heating up.

The 4,500mAh battery lasts very well compared to other OnePlus phones. We also get a 65W charger, which tops the battery up at high speed. This can be considered one of the highlights of the Nord 2 as it borrows a flagship level charging solution here. There’s no wireless charging, but many will argue that you hardly need to subject the device to long sessions of charging when a quick shot will do the job. I tend to agree.

The camera set is what is supposed to have been improved hugely on the Nord 2. The primary 50MP camera is a Sony IMX766, which – ironically or otherwise – is the sensor used by the OnePlus 9 Pro for its wide angle lens. The camera is not bad, but no leap in photography. The images use a lot of processing and AI. They seem to do what they like with colours. Turning AI off will help if you see a realistic image as oppose to those an imagethat is Instagram oriented. Low-light pictures are certainly filled with brightness and light that isn’t really there, but often flat. There’s the mandatory 8MP wide angle lens, giving less-than-detailed results, and the usual 2MP monochrome sensor. The selfie camera has 32MP. Software updates are bound to improve the cameras in the near future. Even without that, the cameras are more than usable – just not as good as they could be or should be even at this price.

Times have changed dramatically since the first Nord was brought into the market. Back then, it was one-of-a-kind. That isn’t the case any longer, thanks to companies like Xiaomi, Samsung and some of OnePlus’ own cousins such as Realme. If OnePlus doesn’t hold on to it’s software advantage, I think Nord 3 will have to struggle uphill breathlessly. As it is, the Nord 2 has a battle on its hands. But if you’re a OnePlus fan and the other models are too expensive, head for the Green Wood variant and you’ll be sure to have something special.

Price: Rs 27,999 Rs 29,999, Rs 34,999

Pros: Fluid and fast, pleasant enough display, good ergonomics, 65W fast charging with good battery life, nicely priced

Cons: Cameras still need improvement, plenty of competition to tackle, no 120Hz refresh