At this point, most Android enthusiasts are familiar with the history of OnePlus’s phones. What started off as “Flagship Killer,” offering flagship-level specs at bargain prices slowly just turned into “regular old flagship” over the years. Last year’s OnePlus Nord N200 (opens in new tab) showed signs that the company is trying to get back to basics with its more affordable models but didn’t quite hit the mark in every area.
Enter the OnePlus Nord N20 (opens in new tab), the follow-up to the N200 that’ll make you forget the other Nord’s exist. That’s thanks to a striking design that feels as high-end as it looks, a gorgeous AMOLED display, and a pair of large dual cameras on the back. It’s almost everything we’ve wanted in a OnePlus X successor (opens in new tab), and it’s undoubtedly going to be one of the best budget Android phones (opens in new tab) of 2022.
Almost a flagship killer
The OnePlus Nord N20 looks a bit like if the OnePlus X and the Nord 2 (opens in new tab) had a baby. Like the OnePlus X, the Nord N20 clearly follows closely with the latest iPhone design language while not looking exactly like an iPhone. It’s the appearance of a higher-end phone without carrying the burden of a high price tag.
Similarly, the 6.43-inch AMOLED display will immediately make you think that this phone costs a lot more than it likely will — the assumed price tag being somewhere between $299 and $349 in the U.S. — until you start scrolling, that is. At 60Hz, it’s easy to shrug away the panel as boring old tech but, like the OnePlus X, the Nord N20 makes small concessions where it’s necessary to keep the price tag low.
Truth be told, unless you’re using a phone with a higher refresh rate next to a phone with a lower one, your eyes likely won’t care too much after a few seconds’ use. It’s also good that we’re seeing only a 60Hz panel on this phone because it’s likely powered by the Snapdragon 695 processor which, if other sub-$400 phones are anything to go by, won’t be able to handle 90Hz or higher and still deliver a consistently smooth experience.
When compared to the OnePlus X — which launched at the end of 2015 with the same flagship-level processor as the OnePlus One did in 2014 — the Nord N20’s processor selection is a bit of a letdown. Comparatively, the Snapdragon 695 performs similarly to the Snapdragon 855, a flagship-level processor that was released in 2018.
That’s a gulf of four years’ flagship performance on the Nord N20, versus just a year for the OnePlus X when it came out. But, compared to the existing Nord N200 — which uses the extremely underpowered Snapdragon 480 — the Snapdragon 695 is a massive upgrade.
But here’s where I believe OnePlus is getting its priorities right in a way that it didn’t with the OnePlus X. The OnePlus X might have provided amazing everyday performance and a killer display that was unheard of at this price range — and, indeed, is still incredibly uncommon at Nord pricing — its camera experience was truly awful.
It may not be a flagship-level processor, but it provides an important middle ground between flagship and entry-level performance that, at this point in 2022, is really only important for hardcore gamers or high-end photo processing. After all, North American carriers killed the affordable flagship category (opens in new tab) and it’s high time someone else resurrect it.
Part and parcel to this is the camera experience, which OnePlus certainly doesn’t seem to be forgetting this time around. That’s because the Nord N20 looks to have a significantly upgraded camera when compared to the existing Nord N200 that U.S. customers can buy.
To compare, the existing Nord N200 at T-Mobile features a 13MP main camera, a 2MP macro camera, and a 2MP monochrome camera on the back. They’re really not very good cameras, but the Nord N20 should change that. OnePlus is throwing away the two hokey auxiliary cameras and replacing them with a single 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera, while the main sensor is seeing a big upgrade to a 64MP sensor.
It might not output the same quality of the 48MP sensor found in the recently-released OnePlus 10 Pro (opens in new tab) but, if it can at least keep the same under-the-hood processing and camera software as the 10 Pro, will deliver a much better experience than what’s expected of a Nord series thus far.
Going for the win
Notably absent from the design is the OnePlus alert slider, which I find to be a particularly silly thing to withhold. The alert slider remains one of my single favorite things about OnePlus phones, and it not only helps differentiate them from the stiff competition in the Android space, but it also provides a simple solution to an annoying problem in Android: toggling between ring, vibrate, and silent modes.
The Nord N20 is launching later this month, so while there’s no hope of seeing the alert slider added before release, I hope OnePlus will consider adding it back in the future. It’s probably the only real downgrade from the OnePlus X from a release timeframe perspective, even if everything else that we know so far looks like it’ll knock it out of the park.
After all, what else are you going to consider at this price point in the U.S., especially from a carrier? Motorola is the 3rd-largest smartphone manufacturer (opens in new tab) in the U.S. simply because it has products in the price range that makes sense for a large number of people, even if most of them aren’t particularly good devices.
With a device like the OnePlus Nord N20 — and more competitive Nord phones at even lower prices — we could very well see OnePlus continue to rise in market share and overtake Motorola so long as it keeps quality high and the price low.