OnePlus Nord 2 review: near top performance at a mid-range price | Smartphones

The Nord 2 is the latest mid-range smartphone from OnePlus that offers near top-level performance but at half the price of its flagship devices.

Priced from £399, it sits below the £629 OnePlus 9 and £829 9 Pro and follows on from the successful first Nord.

Being lower in cost does not make the Nord 2 small, however. It is a large smartphone with a 6.43in 90Hz OLED screen that looks good for the money. The front and back are made of the older scratch resistant Gorilla Glass 5, not the latest significantly tougher Victus, and the sides are plastic with a metallic finish.

oneplus nord 2 review
The device looks simple and understated, and feels solid and well made despite the plastic sides. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Nord 2 is one of the first devices from the Chinese smartphone brand since it merged operations with its larger sibling Oppo, sharing development resources for both hardware and software. Both brands are owned by Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics, which also owns the Vivo, Realme and iQOO brands. Combined, the five brands make BBK the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer by volume.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.43in 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED (410ppi)

  • Processor: MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI

  • RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: OxygenOS 11.3 (Android 11/Color OS 11.3)

  • Camera: triple rear camera: 50MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP mono; 32MP selfie camera

  • Connectivity: 5G, dual sim, wifi 6, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 and location

  • Water resistance: no rating

  • Dimensions: 158.9 x 73.2 x 8.3 mm

  • Weight: 189g

Almost top-flight performance

oneplus nord 2 review
Fully charging the phone with the included USB-A to USB-C 65W power adaptor took about 40 minutes. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Nord 2 is one of the first mainstream smartphones to use MediaTek’s flagship Dimensity 1200 processor, instead of one made by the dominant Qualcomm. MediaTek has hitherto been known for creating cheaper, lower-power chips for budget devices, but has recently upped its game, attempting to compete on an equal footing with Qualcomm.

On paper the Dimensity 1200 has similar performance to last year’s top Qualcomm phone chip, which means the mid-range Nord 2 is about as quick as last year’s top Android smartphones and significantly faster than last year’s Nord. The result is a very fast-feeling smartphone that handles games and other intensive tasks better than most mid-range competitors.

Battery life is slightly below average lasting 34 hours between charges, meaning it keeps going from 9am on day one until 7pm on day two, with the screen used for under five hours between charges. Note that active use of data services over 5G had a greater impact on battery life than competitor phones with Qualcomm chips.

Sustainability

OnePlus says the battery in the Nord 2 should maintain at least 80% of its capacity for 1,000 full-charge cycles. Longevity is aided by the optimised charging system. The battery can be replaced (£12 plus tax and labour) and the smartphone is generally repairable by OnePlus in the UK.

The company offers a trade-in programme for its own phones and models from rivals. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones. OnePlus does not publish environmental impact assessments but did publish a sustainability report for 2020.

OxygenOS 11.3

oneplus nord 2 review
The software has plenty of customisation options but is fairly refined straight out of the box. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Nord 2 is one of the first OnePlus smartphones to run a new version of the company’s OxygenOS software – now a customised version of Oppo’s ColorOS, which is based on Android 11 with Google services. It is still one of the fastest and best versions of Android available.

OnePlus offers software support for three years from release for the Nord 2, including two years of Android version updates plus a further year of bimonthly security updates. Samsung offers four years and Apple offers five for their respective phones, so OnePlus still has work to do.

Camera

oneplus nord 2 review
The main point-and-shoot camera on the back is good, the other two are not great. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The back of the phone has three cameras: a 50-megapixel main, an 8MP ultrawide and a 2MP mono, the last of which can be safely ignored.

The main camera shoots images at 12.6MP as standard and is very capable, producing crisp and well-balanced pictures in good light with HDR enabled. Low light performance is equally good with the dedicated Nightscape mode producing usable shots in very dark scenes and marking a significant step up from last year’s Nord. Video capture was nothing to write home about but perfectly solid.

The ultrawide camera is decidedly average, however; soft on detail even in good light and struggling in low light. There is no optical zoom camera on the Nord 2, but the 2x digital zoom was surprisingly serviceable. There’s no macro mode either, and the camera struggles to focus for close-up images.

The front-facing 32MP camera is very good, capturing an almost scary amount of detail in the face in good light. I recommend enabling one of the various beauty modes if you don’t want to see every wrinkle and blemish.

Observations

OnePlus Nord 2 review
There’s a fast and accurate fingerprint scanner under the screen for unlocking the device. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • The phone comes with a pre-installed screen protector and good clear rubber case.

  • The 65W power adaptor does not support USB-PD and so cannot fast charge other devices such as laptops or tablets.

  • Bluetooth performance wasn’t as strong as some rivals, meaning I got some interference with some weaker true wireless earbuds when used in congested areas.

Price

The OnePlus Nord 2 costs £399 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB storage or £469 with 12GB/256GB.

For comparison, the OnePlus 9 costs £629, the 9 Pro costs £829, the Xiaomi Mi 11 costs £649, the Google Pixel 4a costs £349 and the iPhone SE costs £399.

Verdict

The Nord 2 strikes a good balance between cost and high-end features in the mid-range.

It looks more expensive than it is, is well made, performs well, has a fast OLED screen and a great fingerprint scanner. The battery life is solid if not fantastic and the plastic body will mark more if you drop it, but most will put it in a case anyway.

The main and selfie cameras are good, but the rest aren’t, and there’s no formal water resistance rating. You also only get a disappointing three years worth of software support losing it a star.

Pros: slick, good performance, good 90Hz screen, good software, fast charging, fast fingerprint scanner, alert slider, reasonable camera, lower cost.

Cons: only three years of software support, no optical zoom, screen glass not the toughest available, no water-resistance rating, plastic frame, USB-A charger.

oneplus nord 2 review
OnePlus’s signature alert slider in the side is useful for quickly silencing the phone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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