Thus, there’s not quite the excitement surrounding this release as there otherwise might have been. However, to dismiss it as just another mid-range OnePlus would be to do the Nord 2 a disservice, since it’s a superb smartphone in its own right. The price is good, the specifications solid and it’s also a far more interesting phone than you might have initially expected.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: What you need to know
That’s because the Nord 2 is the first OnePlus phone to stray outside the confines of the Qualcomm family when it comes to its choice of mobile processor. Instead of a Snapdragon 765G or 750G, as you might expect given the sub-£500 price tag, the OnePlus Nord 2 employs a Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI chip.
This, however, doesn’t relegate the Nord 2 to the lower leagues as it once might have. The Dimensity 1200-AI, as you’ll soon discover if you read the performance section below, is a fabulous smartphone processor and one that outperforms its mid-range Snapdragon alternatives.
In fact, in some areas, the performance of the Nord 2 rivals that of last year’s flagships. And battery life, once the bane of this League 2 chip manufacturer, is impressive as well.
Other than that, the OnePlus Nord is as you’d expect from OnePlus: top quality at a reasonable price. It has a 6.43in FHD+ 90Hz AMOLED display, there are three cameras on the rear (one standard, one ultrawide and one monochrome) plus a single 32MP selfie camera at the front. As is now becoming standard on even mid-priced phones like this, the Nord 2 has 5G connectivity, too.
The OnePlus Nord 2 will be available to pre-order on the OnePlus website from 26th July.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Price and competition
The OnePlus Nord 2 sits at the top of the Nord product range and its price reflects that. There are two variants of the phone available in the UK. The cheaper model costs £399, and this comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and is available in grey. Spend £469 and you get double the RAM (16GB), twice the storage (256GB) and the choice of opting for the blue finish. Otherwise, the two phones are identical.
At this price, a few high-quality alternatives spring to mind. The first is the Google Pixel 4a. It’s getting a little long in the tooth now and doesn’t have 5G, but its single camera is second to none and it still feels as lovely to use as it did when it was first released. Plus, it’s now available at around £300 to £350, which is a bargain. If you want your Google phone with 5G, then be prepared to pay almost double the price for the larger, slightly more capable Google Pixel 4a 5G (£469).
The Apple iPhone SE (2020) costs the same as the Nord 2 but comes with a smaller screen, a less attractive design, and it lacks 5G and only has one camera. Alternatively, the Nokia 8.3 5G (£330) is worth considering, which has a bigger screen than the Nord plus an extra macro camera for close-up shots.
Perhaps the Nord 2’s biggest rival, however, comes the superb Poco F3. At £340, this phone comes with decent cameras, a 120Hz display, 5G connectivity and even quicker performance than the OnePlus Nord 2.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Design and key features
The most noticeable thing about the design of the OnePlus Nord 2 is its similarity to the premium OnePlus 9 Pro. From the front, it looks like any other mid-priced smartphone with its all-flat, frame-filling display and hole-punch selfie camera in the top left corner.
Flip it over, however, and everything changes. The rectangular camera housing in the top left, which frames three lenses and the phone’s dual LED flash, looks nicely balanced, and the glossy Gorilla Glass rear is curved in all the right places. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to pick up fingerprints all that readily, either, although this might be a consequence of the bright blue colour distracting the eye.
A cursory glance around the edges of the Nord 2 reveals a few talking points. First, this phone brings back the three-position alert slider switch, where the Nord CE abandons it. This allows you to quickly swap between “silent”, “vibrate” and “ring” modes without having to touch the screen or even unlock the phone. Perfect for those moments when you need to silence your phone quickly.
The second is less positive; there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack. There’s also no microSD card expansion, no dust and water resistance rating and no wireless charging. All disappointments, although at this price these features are never guaranteed.
Fortunately, most other things are present and correct. The phone includes fast charging via OnePlus’ Warp Charge 65T, which is good for a 100% charge in 29 minutes, and even comes with a charger in the box. There’s fingerprint login via an in-screen reader on the front of the phone, plus face unlock and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity.
The OnePlus Nord is also able to boast of one feature many of its rivals cannot: dual 5G SIM card slots – although I’m not sure how many people have two 5G SIMs they could put in it.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Display
The OnePlus Nord 2’s display ticks all the boxes at this price as well. It’s plenty large enough at 6.43in across the diagonal, it utilises AMOLED technology for superior contrast and colour vibrancy and it has a 90Hz refresh rate, so scrolling and swiping around the OxygenOS 11.3 UI feels super smooth.
It can’t match the very best in the business technically – sit it next to an iPhone 12 Pro and you’ll see the difference when watching Netflix or Prime Video content – but, otherwise, it’s perfectly respectable.
Peak brightness in auto mode reaches a readable level of 556cd/m2 in daylight conditions and, while playing back HDR content, I recorded highs of around 510cdm2. It isn’t the most impressive display I’ve ever encountered on a phone but it’s nice and vibrant and it beats last year’s OnePlus Nord hands down.
Another thing I like about the Nord 2’s display is that OnePlus has finally calmed down a bit on the colour mode front. So, instead of giving you four or even five modes to select from, on this phone you only get two: Gentle (sRGB) and Vivid (Display P3). Colour accuracy in each mode is respectable, too, if not spectacular, with the average Delta E colour variance coming in at 1.79 for Gentle and 2.19 for Vivid.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Cameras
OnePlus is making a big thing of AI enhancement with the Nord 2’s camera setup, but I’ll get to that in a moment. For now, let’s concentrate on the hardware specification, which is respectable but hardly groundbreaking.
The main camera is a 50MP (f/1.88) effort, using the same sensor found on the OnePlus 9 Pro’s ultrawide camera but with a regular non-ultrawide lens slapped on the front. This is accompanied by an 8MP (f/2.2) ultrawide unit with a 120-degree field of view and a 2MP (f/2.5) mono camera that’s used solely for enhancing black and white shots. Both the main cameras deliver pixel-binned 12MP images, as does the 32MP (f/2.45) selfie camera.
Disappointingly, the Nord 2 misses out on the macro camera included with the original model, and I’m not at all convinced how much the mono camera adds in its place.
However, the two other cameras (and in particular the main camera) do deliver detail-packed and well-judged shots by and large. Most impressively, perhaps, I found that the Nord 2’s camera was just as good as the Google Pixel 4a’s across many of my tests and, in some circumstances, better than it.
For instance, in both the close-up and wide-angle shots of the lilies below, the Nord 2 produces the superior picture that’s more accurately focused and packed with details – two areas where the Pixel 4a’s image misses out on:
I’m not as keen on the “AI scene optimiser”, as it tends to oversaturate and pastelise colours. In the shot of the white flowers below, you can see the Pixel 4a produces a more natural shot with better contrast, where the Nord 2’s capture is flatter and a bit candy coloured.
However, if you turn off AI and disable HDR, the results tend to look much more natural, and images still look packed full of details and burst with colour.
Nightscape isn’t completely without fault, however. Sometimes you’ll find ghosting if you haven’t managed to hold the camera still for long enough. However, this is the first time on any OnePlus phone that I’ve been able to say anything positive about Nightscape, so we’re on the track.
Where the Nord 2’s camera starts to fall short is its portrait mode. Although it seems to successfully identify and isolate subjects, the amount of bokeh applied to the background is far too weak, and there’s seemingly no way to adjust it, either while capturing the portrait or afterwards, in the OnePlus photo editing software.
As for video, that’s disappointing as well. There’s no high frame rate recording here and, bafflingly, no 4K capability, either. All you get is 1080p at 30fps and, although stabilisation is effective, the results are understandably very soft when compared with the Google Pixel 4a.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Performance and battery life
If the cameras are a bit of a mixed bag, then the performance and battery life are anything but. Indeed, the Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI is so good that the OnePlus Nord 2 has a huge advantage over every other phone in its price bracket.
The Dimensity, like so many other smartphone processors, is an octa-core chip that has its CPU cores split into groups, each aimed at performing tasks at differing levels of performance. There’s one “Ultra Core” clocked at up to 3GHz, three “Super Cores” clocked at up to 2.6GHz, and four “Efficiency Cores” clocked at up to 2GHz, with graphics rendering delivered by an Arm Mali-G77 MC9 GPU.
Anecdotally, performance feels perfectly snappy and smooth. Firing up PUBG Mobile for a quick blast of battle royale action saw an unwrinkled and responsive frame rate all the way up to the game’s maximum settings. Even when the action got a little manic, the Nord 2 was able to keep up with zero frame drops.
In benchmarks, too, the Nord 2 impresses. Only the iPhone SE and the Poco F3 are faster:
The graphics performance is particularly eye-opening. Ignore the onscreen graphics benchmark for now as the GFXBench test clearly isn’t working with the Nord 2’s 90Hz display yet, but you can see its true potential in the offscreen test, which you can expect real-world performance to mirror pretty closely.
Indeed, with the Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI onboard, the OnePlus Nord 2 delivers an all-round level of performance that isn’t far off those provided by this year’s flagship phones. That not only means scorching levels of performance today – for an embarrassingly reasonable price I might add – but it also should ensure the phone stays responsive for many years to come.
Even our battery life test, which in the past we’ve seen Mediatek-driven phones fail miserably at, was dispatched with nonchalant ease. The OnePlus Nord 2’s 4,500mAh battery helped it last 22hrs 26mins. That’s not as long as the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, which reached 24hrs 43mins, but it outlasted the Google Pixel 4a by nearly four hours and almost doubled the iPhone SE’s woeful 11hrs 35mins result.
OnePlus Nord 2 review: Verdict
All of which contributes to what is a highly positive overall picture for the OnePlus Nord 2. It isn’t perfect, of course: there’s no wireless charging, microSD card slot or IP rating and video capture is restricted to a disappointing 1080p at 30fps, but the Nord 2 easily hits back in other ways.
Crucially, it’s quicker than most other Android phones at this price – only the Poco F3 is quicker, battery life is also very good and the stills photography capabilities are excellent. The AMOLED screen also delivers sumptuous imagery, whether you’re browsing the web or binge-watching Loki on Disney Plus.
On balance, I’d say that makes the OnePlus Nord 2 a fantastic all-rounder in its price bracket. If you’re not too bothered about missing out on 4K video and you have £400 going spare, then you can’t go wrong with this phone.